The Philippines are one of South East Asia’s most dazzling locations, a vast archipelago sprinkled across the pacific ocean like a long string of glistening jewels and precious gems.
Yet there is far more to the Philippines than beautiful coastline, lush tropical jungles and white sand beaches paradise itself would be jealous of, scratch beneath the surface and you will discover a rich, diverse culture that makes this one of the most exuberant and unique parts of South East Asia.
The Philippines are one of the worlds largest Catholic nations and has the largest Christian population in Asia thanks to centuries of Spanish rule and later a heavy American influence. This Spanish colonialism goes far beyond religion however, and infuses much of the countries culture on everything from food and language to architecture. There are however a large mixture of other religions and cultures as well, creating a melting pot in the larger cities.
Because of this heavy Spanish and American influence, it is an extremely familiar country for Western backpackers to travel through and many travellers will not come across much in the way of culture shock or language barriers..
The very Asian concept of ‘saving face’ is still very evident in the Philippines, although it is generally known as the confusing umbrella term of hiya. A sense of polite propriety is still extremely important in Filipino society.
The citizens of most countries including the UK, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Europe are allowed into the Philippines for up to 30 days without a visa. This can be extended at the airport or at any consulate once you arrive, for a fee.
All travellers are strongly recommended to be up to date on their routine vaccinations including MMR, diptheria – pertusis – tetanus and varicella (chicken pox).
Typhoid and a Tetanus booster (if you need one) are also strongly recommended.
Hepatitis A and B, Japanese encephalitis, Rabies and yellow fever are recommended for at risk groups. Discuss this with your physician, specialist nurse or travel clinic to see which vaccinations are suitable for you.
Proof of a Yellow Fever Vaccination will be required if you are travelling from a country where the disease is present.
The majority of the Philippines is low to no risk of malaria and so antimalarials are not advised for the majority of travellers. There are pockets of the Philippines where there is a slightly raised risk such as Palawan and the west coast past Samboanga, but antimalarials won’t necessarily be advised unless travellers are in an at risk group. You will need to talk through your plans with a qualified professional.
Anti mosquito measures are advised at all times due to other mosquito borne diseases such as dengue and zika.
Hospitals and clinics are of a good standard in the major towns and cities, but are harder to find in more off the beaten track areas. If you do plan to spend more time in rural areas then plan accordingly if you may need medical attention.
Crime and Safety.
Despite its reputation the Philippines is actually quite safe with some reasonable common sense precautions. As always just be mindful of your belongings and surroundings, don’t accept drinks off strangers and generally stick to the common sense precautions you would do at home and you will be absolutely fine. It is wise to keep up to date with the current political situation and FCO advice so you can exercise a bit of judgment when it comes to deciding where to go.
Costs and money.
The unit of currency in the Phillipines in the peso, which has 100 centavos in it. ATMs are common in all but the remotest areas of the country and it is easy to access your money via a debit card. Credit cards are also widely accepted but it is wiser to keep these for emergencies.
Parts of the Philippines are more expensive than other parts of South East Asia such as Thailand or Indonesia, especially in the very heavily touristy areas, but are still very cheap by western standards. A budget traveller can easily get by on £15 a day sleeping in hostels and sticking to inexpensive street food, £20 – £30 a day can get you a good level of comfort with private rooms, occasional nice restaurant meals and plenty of activities, but luxury travellers can easily spend hundreds of pounds a day too. At the higher end, hotels are often quoted in USD rather than peso’s.
When to go.
Like much of South East Asia, the Philippines has a hot, humid tropical climate. It also has a wet season from roughly May to October and a dry season from roughly November to April. Either are an excellent time to visit, with the wet season having advantages the dry season doesn’t and vice versa.
You know all those postcards with pictures of white sand, perfect paradisiacal beaches? Well here it is! This beach is heavily touristy, but for good reason.
This hidden gem is well worth the trip to get here. It is a ruggedly stunning coastline filled with vibrant mountain lakes, hidden coves and completely deserted beaches that can be found with just a little exploration.
Don’t let this city’s reputation put you off, if you can deal with the traffic chaos it is a bustling, thriving, heaving modern metropolis, with modern glass and chrome malls and skyscrapers looming over poorer remnants of its past. Manilla’s soul oozes through every nook and cranny, and you can almost feel the heartbeat of the city in every modern speakeasy bar and up and coming restaurants and gallery, reminding you of its deep and rich history and culture. Don’t just use the city as a convenient jumping off point, take the time and explore it too.
A provincial city known for its rich food and culture, Legazpi is a perfect jumping off point for the burgeoning adventure travel industry that is springing up around the infamous Mount Mayon, a very active volcano that is both a blessing and a curse for those who live around it.
Snorkelling and diving.
Snorkelling and diving really need no explanation do they? They are one of the major reasons for visiting many of the islands in the Philippines and for good reason, the water here is crystal clear and warm, and the surroundings simply magical.
Treat yourself to some luxury.
The Philippines has a wide array of luxury spas where you can treat yourself to some real lavish, extravagant indulgence at a very reasonable rate compared to Western prices. Go and get yourself a massage or a foot rub, or a lot of them, you can afford it here!
Do a bit of volcano trekking.
The stunning scenery of the volcanic Mount Mayon or Mount Pinatubo among others makes for a beautiful hike. You will have to be fit as they are challenging treks, but are well worth the climb.
Get your adventure on!
If volcano trekking isn’t enough for you, head to Albay which is fast becoming the adventure tourism capital of the Philippines. You can hire an ATV to take you to the lava wall of Mount Mayon, indulge in some watersports and enjoy a spot of ziplining too.