Updated: Jul 11, 2020
What can I expect from the Philippines?
We have all heard of the Philippines some way or another. Maybe you've seen an inspiring documentary or come across a beautiful picture on social media. Maybe you have heard of a friend that's gone to the islands, and most likely never wanted to leave. No matter how you have heard or seen the Philippines most likely it lives up to its reputation: paradise. The country is full of some of the most stunning beaches, landscapes, and sunshine! Not to mention how kind the people are.
However, having over 7,000 islands it can become quite daunting to figure out your itinerary. We were forced to "plan ahead" for the first time because we had to book connection flights, limited transit seats, and plan our route so that we wouldn't have to back track or get stuck. Even through the headache of preplanning we still had an incredible time in the Philippines. We extended our visa once while we were here allowing us to spend nearly two months, second longest than we stayed in any other county (Malaysia was the first). You will not be disappointed.
Keep in mind this was the only country we had trouble with getting into without a "return ticket". We usually just buy one way tickets from place to place not knowing how long we will be staying. When we got to the airport we realized this was not going to work. You MUST have proof of a flight leaving the Philippines before being able to board your flight. Check the money saving tips below to see how to get around this.
Top Things to do in the Philippines
1. Island hopping: obviously! 2. Renting a scooter is a must 3. Swim with whale sharks 4. Surfing in Siargao 5. Visit the waterfalls 6. Turtles, turtles, turtles
Typical costs for the Philippines
Visa. This was the first country where we actually didn't need to apply for a visa prior to arriving. However, if you are looking to stay longer than 30 days like we did, you will have to go to the embassy and get a visa for an extension. (We did ours in Dumaguette).
Accommodation. Depending on the island you decide to go to, the accommodation prices will vary. We found private room homestays for as little as $10 a night on islands like Siquijor. In more popular tourist locations like Siargao or El Nido expect to pay a little more. We stayed at a very, very basic homestay in Siargao for $20 a night and then switched to a hostel.
Food. You can find very affordable food in the Philippines especially if you are willing to eat at eateries. The eateries (local diners) were our FAVORITE places as all of the food is homemade and delicious all for $0.50-$2 a meal. Western food will cost you a bit more because the ingredients are sometimes not a local find at $4-$7.
Transportation. expect to haggle! Your haggling skills will be put to the test in the Philippines so be ready. There are many transportation options from tricycles to minibuses to jeepneys and ferries and more. You will need to plan out your itinerary a little more if you are trying to get from island to island in the Philippines. Flights will obviously be the fastest and most convenient way, but if you have the time and want to stay on a budget, there is almost always a local way to get to the islands you want without a costly flight.
Excursions. We actually found the excursions to be on the cheaper side here. If there are entrance fees, it will be fairly priced from $1-2 USD. You can also swim with whale sharks, go dolphin watching, swim with turtles and more on day trips from typically $15-$20 a person if you DIY and escape all the tour groups by going on your own.
Cleanliness. The Philippines was to our happy surprise on the more eco conscious side. Unfortunately, on islands like Siargao or Siquijor they are experiencing the effects of global warming first hand. This means that they are educating the locals more and more on the negative impacts of littering, plastics, and more. Most of the islands we went to were on the right track of clean beaches, bamboo straws, and free water to lessen the use of plastic water bottles.
Suggested daily budget- $30 per day. (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little but staying to local dishes, and using local transportation. We as a couple were to able to split costs which is super helpful when traveling. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
Use the refillable water stations. The Philippines was more aware of the effects of global warming then we have seen other island countries. You can find water refill stations in nearly every hostel, homestay, hotel, and sometimes restaurants. This will save you from buying water bottles every day and its better for the planet. Go nature!
Eat at the local eateries. This is our tip for every country as you will immerse yourself more in the culture while eating like a local. The food is usually so affordable and way more tasty than a lot of the Western places anyway.
DIY day trips. It is likely you are going to come across many excursions or day trips you want to take during your time. From seeing waterfalls to swimming in a tornado of sardines, you will find it A LOT cheaper to do these tours yourself (without a guide).
Skip your return flight. Okay so maybe this option isn't for everyone. However, it is a tip we wish we thought of before we booked expensive tickets to Indonesia and might help backpackers. When at the airport you will need proof of an "end date" aka a flight leaving the country. Use Skyscanner's "flexible" options and find the cheapest country to fly anywhere within your visa allowance. You can find flights to neighboring countries for as low as $20 roundtrip. This will essentially allow you to leave the country for 24 hours and then return giving you another 30 days.
Guide to Traveling the Philippines
The Philippines has over 7,000 islands and we maybe got to about 17 of those. It takes alot of patience, planning, and commuting to get from island to island sometimes. If you are only going to the Philippines for a short time, we recommend picking one or two islands and exploring them fully. If you try to spend only a day or two in each place so you can "cover more ground" in multiple islands but you will miss out on so much on what's true to each of the islands.
Our route: We started in Manila and from there went to Bohol- Siquijor- Dumaguette- Oslob- Moalboal- Cebu City- Camiguin- Suriagao- Siargao- Cebu City.
Currency: Philippino Peso (~50 Pesos for 1 USD)
Religion and Culture: Filipinos are proud to be the only Christian nation in all of Asia. Roman Catholicism is the predominate religion here making up 86% of the population. Originally at the beginning of recorded time each island competed with its own King or Queen. In 1521, the Spanish claimed the islands and began colonizing in 1565. There is a lot of Spanish culture imbedded and mixed with the Filipino culture. This leaves the country feeling significantly different then its surrounding Asian countries.
Language: There are up to 187 different dialects in the Filipino language. There are also many Spanish influences within the language sharing many words in Spanish.
Dressware: The dress ware in the Philippines is very casual actually. We found it to be more Western influenced then some of the other Asian countries. Being the islander country that it is you will find people wearing shorts and t-shirts. Especially in surf capitals like Siargao where the dress ware is surf vibes.
Seasonality: For the most part the Philippines is quite warm year round. You will find temperatures most likely between 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit. The weather and rainfall can differ alot depending on what region of the Philippines you are in. We were there during rainy season, which is usually what deters tourism away. We actually found the weather to be so nice in the region we were in! It rained maybe 2 times a week and only lasted an hour or so at a time. You also get low season during rainy season which means way less tourists and cheaper deals on bikes, excursions, etc.
Top Places: Wow, this is so hard to narrow it down. We enjoyed every island for different reasons. Only going by the islands we went to (see our route above) this is our favorites:
Siargao. This was also one of our favorite places we've ever been to worldwide! With a heavy surf culture, this small town has a relaxed islander vibe with an active sports scene. Go sooner than later as its predicted "to be the next Bali" in just a few years.
Camiguin. This island doesn't get talked about enough in our opinion. It is absolutely stunning! You can take a boat out to the sandbar and have the best views of the island and volcanoes!
Cebu. Okay, this is cheating because Cebu is actually a large island. However, there are so many nature driven things to see here from waterfalls, sardines, dolphins, turtles and more!
El Nido. So we didn't end up making our way over here because we chose to stay longer in Siargao, but we highly recommend making your way over to Palawan and Coron. Here are the most touristy spots but for good reason. The coral reef is still beautiful and alive and great for diving. There's waterfalls and crystal blue water.
About the food: The Filipino food is simply delicious with a mix of Asian and Spanish influences. It is definitely a meat eating country with majority of foods containing meat. Pork or "Lechon" is seen everywhere among the streets and you'll often see chicken and beef BBQ joints all over the town. Don't leave without trying Pork of Chicken Adobo! For those of you that are veggies, the local eateries have a ton of vegetable options too so no worries!
The Uncomfortable Side: Transportation was a lot more strenuous than we anticipated. Long ferry rides (12+ hours), missed buses, and backtracking is common here. Plan ahead!
To us the Philippines was one of the more relaxed countries when it came to LGBTQ+. The country has an overall vibe of "one love" being that it has a big islander culture. In bigger cities such as Cebu City and Manila, you should be more aware and careful as with any country.
The Purple Diaries
The smaller island towns were super welcoming and charming when it comes to LGBT community. Many locals would ask about our relationship out right which would catch us off guard because other countries wouldn't suspect a lesbian couple. This country was probably the most outspoken and vocal about LGBTQ+ relationships. It's nice to discuss our similarities sometimes. Once we confirmed, we were complimented and shown a lot of love. We met many locals and tourists that are also apart of the gay/lesbian/trans community and it made us feel overall very welcome! It's very common to see family acceptance here of LGBTQ+ communities, which only made this country better in our book.