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 majority of countries citizens, including the UK are allowed into the Philippines for up to 21 days without a visa. It is easy to apply for a 59 day visa from an embassy or consulate before you arrive in the country with visas that are valid for up to three months once they are issued. Alternatively you can get an extension once you are in the country to take your 21 days up to 59, although be aware that there are extra charges if you want the process done in 24 hours.
The following list of vaccinations are recommended for visits to the Philippines by the Centre of Disease Control.
All travellers are strongly recommended to be up to date on their routine vaccinations including MMR, diptheria – pertusis – tetanus and varicella (chicken pox).
Hepatitis A and Typhoid are also strongly recommended.
Hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis and rabies are recommended for at risk groups. Rabies in particular given the prevalence of the disease in this part of the world. There is no risk of yellow fever, but the government still requires proof of vaccination if you are entering the Philippines from an at risk area. Discuss this with your physician, specialist nurse or travel clinic to see which vaccinations are suitable for you.
Malaria is present in the rural parts of the Philippines, but there is low to no risk in cities and more developed areas. Prophylaxis is recommended if you plan to spend a significant amount of time in rural areas. Mosquito bite prevention is strongly recommended regardless as dengue fever is present throughout South East Asia.
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.
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 trekkng 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.