Philippines Travel Guide

Home to more than 7,640 islands, a trip to the Philippines is an entirely different experience compared to elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Alongside both habited and uninhabited islands, you’ll find tales of pirates and smugglers, historical tribes, jungle terrain, active volcanoes, chocolate hills and, of course, parties.

It’s true what they say; it really is more fun in the Philippines.

With cheap beer, a variety of excellent hostels and hotels, beautiful beaches, and adrenaline-pumping activities, there’s no wonder that backpackers and beauty seekers continue to rave about this incredible country.

We had the pleasure of spending an entire month in the Philippines. However, you’ll quickly learn that’s only just enough time to scratch the surface.

If you have the opportunity to spend longer than a month in the Philippines (lucky you!), then you’ll likely have the time to invest a day (or two) into internal travel.

This additional travel time should allow you to push past the tourist hot spots to head further afield into less discovered regions.

When To Visit The Philippines

In our opinion, the best time to visit the Philippines is between October and April.

These months are the dry season, and as such, you should be able to benefit from clear skies and calm waters.

It’s great to explore the Philippines during the dry season, not just because it gives you a chance to get that all-important suntan but because it means uninterrupted travel plans as you’ll frequently travel by ferry between the countries magnificent islands.

We opted to visit the Philippines during January, which may be in the dry season but is also during Chinese New Year and the local Sinulog festival.

Chinese tourists flock to the Philippines during Chinese New Year, resulting in more crowds, less availability and increased accommodation costs.

The high season increases tenfold in the city of Cebu as January marks the month of the week-long festival, which climatises with an incredible city parade on Sunday.

We have an entire guide to the best time to visit Cebu, the second-largest city in the Philippines which factors in the impact of Sinulog alongside other major events throughout the year.

If you’re looking to escape the crowds, then consider broadening your months of exploration to either May or November.

During these months, you may experience more mixed weather. However, major tourist hotspots and beaches are also significantly less crowded.

How Long To Spend In The Philippines

We chose to spend one month in the Philippines. However, we could have just as easily spent six months here and still not had the opportunity to see everything this country has to offer.

After all, with 7,640 islands making up this magnificent country, it would take you almost 21 years to spend just one day on each.

If you want to get out to the coast and off the beaten path during your trip to the Philippines (which we highly recommend), then you’ll want to factor in travel days.

That’s because travelling between many cities and towns in the Philippines can take an entire day (or two) and include multiple forms of transport.

For example, our trip from the coastal town of Oslob to the famous island of Bohol included a ferry, a bus, a taxi and a tuk-tuk and took almost 12 hours to complete.

In our opinion, a two week trip to the Philippines is enough time to spend at least one night in the two major cities, Manila and Cebu. While also spending two to three nights at three or four beach destinations.

Meanwhile, a four-week trip to the Philippines is enough time to spend a couple of nights in Manila and Cebu, the two major Philippino cities.

However, it’s also enough time to spend three to four nights at three or four different beach locations.

A four week trip to the Philippines should even leave you with some time between locations to recharge, travel slow, or explore off the beaten path regions of the country.

Getting To The Philippines

The vast majority of international travellers will fly into one of two airports in the Philippines; Manila or Cebu.

Manila is the capital of the Philippines and, as a result, has the largest international airport in the country, Ninoy Aquino International.

If you’re travelling from within South East Asia or domestically within the Philippines, you should be able to get an AirAsia flight here for under $150.

We flew to Ninoy Aquino International Airport from the UK via Doha on Qatar Airways. However, other major airlines with routes here include;

  • Air China
  • Emirates
  • KLM
  • Qantas
  • Philippine Airlines
  • United Airlines

The second-largest city in the Philippines, Cebu is home to the second-largest international airport in the country, Cebu International Airport (also known as Mactan-Cebu International Airport).

While this airport is home to fewer airlines than Ninoy Aquino International, it’s still a hub for many, which means those travelling from Asia and Oceania can often fly here directly with no additional layovers.

Where To Visit In The Philippines

Below is a complete list of all the places we recommend visiting in the Philippines. Keep in mind that it could take you one day or more to travel between these destinations.

As such, putting them in an order that best suits your travel needs, budget, and the amount of time you have in the country will be vital in ensuring that you have the opportunity to visit everywhere you want to go.

Manila

Manila is the capital city of the Philippines and a concrete jungle, a stark contrast from the Philippines you’ll experience in Cebu and out on the coast.

If you’re flying in to Manila or can make the city a stop on your onward journey, then I’d highly suggest spending at least one full day exploring what the city has to offer.

During your time here, be sure to check out one of the largest malls in the world, SM Mall of Asia, which is home to more than 600 stores, a cinema, a bowling alley and even an ice rink.

However, if you’re looking for culture over shopping sprees, then you’ll want to visit both Rizal Park and Intramuros.

Rizal Park is one of the largest urban parks in Asia, covering over 58 hectares. Meanwhile, Intramuros is the 0.67kms historic walled area within the city.

Inside the large stone gate to enter Intramuros, you’ll find Spanish-era landmarks like Fort Santiago as well as a shrine to national hero José Rizal.

Cebu

Cebu is the second-largest city in the Philippines and one that you’ll no doubt at least pass through as you make your way south through the country.

However, rather than making Cebu simply a connection point between two locations, I’d highly suggest spending at least one or two nights in the city exploring what it has to offer.

We spent five nights in the city of Cebu, which was longer than planned and predominantly due to Sinulog, an annual cultural and religious festival held on the third Sunday of January.

While the Sinulog festival is only one day, the city of Cebu gears up for the event one to two weeks prior.

As a result, we found that hotels and hostels were harder to come by and significantly more expensive. At the same time, domestic flights and travel were slow, and popular tourist attractions crowded.

Given the fact we had a four-week timeline for the Philippines, this was something we were able to adapt our plans to, and I’m so glad we could experience not only everything Cebu city has to offer but also this incredible festival.

Moalboal

Located 85km South-West of Cebu city, Moalboal is a fantastic jumping-off point to Bohol, Oslob, Dumaguete or Siquijor.

We spent almost a week in Moalboal, and during that time, we chose to base ourselves near the famous Panagsama Beach.

Panagsama Beach is the region’s tourist hotspot and made it easy for us to book some great activities in the area, spend from dawn until dusk relaxing on the sand, or simply chill out in a cool cafe.

Bohol

Bohol is an island in the Philippines, perhaps most noted for its incredible Chocolate Hills landscape.

Tourists can travel here by plane or ferry from the nearby city of Cebu or from down on the coast near Oslob.

We spent four days in Bohol, relaxing on some of the most incredible beaches, exploring the Tarsier Sanctuary and, of course, visiting the Chocolate Hills.

Oslob

Oslob is situated at the southern tip of Cebu and is a popular tourist spot for those looking to swim with whale sharks.

While you can take a day trip to Oslob from Moalboal, we opted to spend a couple of days down here exploring Tumalog Falls and the incredible Sumilon Island sandbar.

Unlike Moalboal or even the city of Cebu itself, Oslob is relatively quiet with fewer accommodation options, a slower nightlife scene and less tourists.

Things To See & Do In The Philippines

Having spent over one month in the Philippines, here are some of the things we recommend seeing and doing during your trip;

Dau Falls, Samboan

There are hundreds of waterfalls in the Philippines, each as breathtaking as the last.

However, there’s something extraordinary about Dau Falls, which is located approximately 60km from the nearby region of Moalboal.

That’s because not only is Dau Falls beautiful, but it’s also somewhat undiscovered by tourists who opt to visit the more popular Kawasan Falls instead.

As a result, we had the entire waterfall to ourselves during our two-hour visit. In fact, the only time saw another set of tourists as we were leaving.

Sardine Run, Moalboal

The most famous attraction in Moalboal is a free one, and that is the incredible Sardine Run which is located just off the shore of Panagsama Beach.

If you’ve not brought a snorkel don’t worry, as several dive shops located just 100m from the beach offer these along with other diving equipment (and diving lessons).

Sirao Flower Garden, Cebu

Sirao Flower Garden is located just 40 minutes from Cebu City and began as a small flower farm owned by a couple who started planting flowers to be harvested and sold on All Souls day.

Once the couple noticed the flowers were attracting visitors, they decided to stop cutting them down and add photogenic decorations, turning the farm into a tourist attraction instead.

Today Sirao Flower Garden attracts hundreds of visitors daily looking for a unique experience or that perfect Instagram shot.

Fort San Pedro, Cebu

Just 800m from Cebu pier, you’ll find Fort San Pedro, the oldest fort in the Philippines.

Often referred to as Fuerte de San Pedro, this military defence structure was built-in 1565 by the Spanish under the command of Miguel López de Legazpi, the first governor of the Captaincy General of the Philippines at the time.

As well as being the oldest fort in the Philippines, Fort San Pedro is also the smallest, so if you’re nearby and have an hour to spare then, then this is the perfect place to learn more about the country’s history.

Taoist Temple, Cebu

Taoist Temple was built in the 1970s by the substantial Chinese community, with the entrance designed as a replica of the Great Wall Of China.

The temple is free to visit and located just ten minutes from the city’s centre, making it easy to access on a moped, habal-habal or by taxi.

How To Get Around In The Philippines

Given the number of islands and disconnected transport routes in the Philippines, you’ll often find journeys involve multiple forms of transport and take a significant amount of time.

With that in mind, here are the transport methods you can expect to encounter on your journey around the Philippines, along with some notable things to consider when planning your trip;

Plane

Cebu Pacific, Philippine Air and AirAsia are the three most popular airlines offering domestic travel within the Philippines.

However, in most cases, you’ll often find it’s both quicker and more affordable to take a combination of ferries and buses instead.

To check prices, routes and availability, we suggest using 12Go. This website is tailored to providing transport options within Asia and was a lifeline to us when planning our trip.

Ferry

As the Philippines comprises an estimated 7,640 islands, you’ll regularly find yourself travelling by ferry between regions.

During our month-long trip to the Philippines, we travelled by ferry more than a handful of times, with journeys regularly between two and six hours.

Ferry timetables tend to be very fluid in the Philippines, which often means that even if the weather is good, the journey can be delayed by a couple of hours.

However, to get a general idea of the cost and frequency, we once again recommend using the 12Go website.

Taxi

Taxies are more commonly found in the cities such as Cebu and Manila and are replaced with habal-habals in the more remote regions such as Bohol and Oslob.

We didn’t take a taxi regularly during our trip to the Philippines, often only taking one to get to/from the airport after a long travel day.

It’s worth noting that the taxis at Manila Airport specifically are different compared to the rest of the city and the Philippines as a whole. As such, take notes from our own experiences to avoid this tourist pitfall.

Habal-Habal

Habal-Habal’s are the Philippino motorcycle taxis that have been adapted to fit passengers and luggage.

You’ll find that a habal-habal can generally carry between two to four passengers (in addition to the driver) with a small bag for luggage.

Habal-habal journeys are cheaper than taxis. However, given that they are not on a meter, be sure to avoid the “tourist tax” by haggling the journey price in advance (at your discretion).

Bus

You’ll find that buses run relatively frequently on major tourist routes within the Philippines and can be a great way to get around one of the many islands here.

We learned a lot about the possible bus routes to / from our destinations from fellow travellers and hostel staff. However, when gaps in knowledge needed to be filled, we went to the 12Go website.

That’s because we found that the 12Go website has the most accurate transport data (including dates, times, prices and different routes available) for the South East Asia region.

However, like the ferries, the timetable and travel times of the buses are very fluid, which can often result in buses turning up early or late (by anything from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours).

Typical Costs In The Philippines

Backpackers visiting the Philippines can expect to spend between 1,500PHP ($30 / £20) and 3,000PHP ($60 / £40) daily.

This budget includes staying in a shared dorm room inside a highly rated hostel. Meanwhile, when it comes to food and drink, you’ll be opting for budget food from grocery stores and local markets.

Backpackers in the Philippines may have to consider opting for slower and less direct modes of transport in favour of the budget while also travelling in basic tourist class over more luxurious class options that may otherwise be available.

With an increased daily budget of between 3,500PHP to 4,000PHP, you’ll be able to stay in private budget rooms, dine in restaurants most days and travel in the middle class on the most direct routes where applicable.

This additional budget will also allow you to spend more on activities during your trip and go out on organised tours to popular locations.

Meanwhile, with a daily budget of between 12,000PHP ($240 / £175) and 20,000PHP ($390 / £300), you’ll be able to experience the luxurious side of the Philippines.

This budget will include five-star hotels, private tours and activities, first-class travel as well as the ability to dine at restaurants as and when you wish.

AccommodationFoodActivitiesTransportTotal
Budget700PHP500PHP500PHP300PHP2,000PHP
Mid2,000PHP700PHP700PHP600PHP4,000PHP
Luxury7,000PHP5,000PHP5,000PHP1,000PHP18,000PHP

Accommodation

We found that HostelWorld consistently had the most extensive range and best prices, which allowed us to book beds in highly rated hostels at the cost of between 500PHP ($10 / £7) and 1,000PHP ($20 / £14) per night.

However, we also used Booking.com to book budget and relatively luxurious accommodation during our trip. The majority of Booking.com listings offer free cancellations up to 24 hours before check-in, which allow you to be flexible with your plans.

Common budget hotel brands to look out for in the Philippines include; OYO and RedDoorz. We stayed in both of these during our trip and found them both to be fantastic value for money.

Food

Meals in local restaurants will cost roughly 300PHP ($6 / £4) with prices increasing to 1,000PHP ($20 / £14) in higher-end restaurants and mainstream locations popular with tourists.

Meanwhile, budget-friendly street food of meat skewers and rice dishes alongside a supermarket drink generally cost around 100PHP ($2 / £1.50).

Therefore a mixture of local restaurants, supermarkets and street food generally leaves backpackers spending around 500 PHP daily on food, with that price increasing to 700 PHP for mid-range travellers.

Activities

The exact cost of activities in the Philippines will vary depending on the activity type & length.

For example, we went out to the Sardine Run in Moalboal for free but opted to rent a mask and a snorkel for 150PHP.

However, we also went on a day trip while in Moalboal to the Chocolate Hills, Tarsier Sanctuary, and other popular tourist hotspots.

We booked this day trip online with Klook rather than with a local tourist company, and as a result, I expect we paid a premium at 2,000 PHP each.

However, booking online in this way did allow us to see the reviews from past tourists to ensure this was the trip we wanted to go on during our short time on the island.

Transport

Unless you’re booking significantly in advance, then it’s likely often going to be cheaper to take the ferry instead of flying to different islands within the Philippines.

However, this will likely be a compromise on time and comfort, with the ferries often taking significantly longer and being substantially more uncomfortable even when compared to budget airlines.

Once you’ve arrived at your destination, you may look to take a taxi or habal-habal between locations. In which case, habal-habals are often cheaper but can be uncomfortable (especially on journeys longer than 10 minutes).

At the same time, taxi’s usually come with air conditioning (and more legroom) as standard however, they can also cost a hefty premium.

We opted for a mixture of the two during our trip, often going for taxi’s when we were travelling with luggage or on journeys more than 8 minutes, and habal-habal’s for quick rides from the local shopping mall to our accommodation on an evening.

Money Saving Tips For The Philippines

The Philippines is still one of the most affordable countries to travel to in the world. However, if you’re looking to stretch your budget even further, here are some of the ways you can save money during your trip.

Book Domestic Flights & Accommodation In Advance

While booking your domestic flights and accommodation in advance can take some of the spontaneity away from your trip, it can also save you a lot of time, money and hassle.

Sadly, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to change your domestic flights once booked.

However, many accommodation sites allow you to book a stay, reserving that lower price, and cancel within 24 hours of arrival should it no longer be required.

These cancellation policies make booking accommodation in advance the best of both worlds. It allows you to save money with increased availability and gives you some flexibility as to your trip.

Opt For Free Attractions

While some of the best and most memorable activities in the Philippines will cost money, there’s still plenty you can do here for free.

For example, we easily spent two days swimming around the Sardine Run in Moalboal, a completely free activity (aside from the optional 150PHP mask rental).

While there are plenty of resources online to help you find these free activities, we’ve generally found that you’ll get the best hints and tips from other travellers and hostel staff, so it’s definitely worth asking around.

Stay In Hostels Over Hotels

Five-star hotels in the Philippines are some of the cheapest in the world. However, if you’re looking to maximise your budget, consider staying in a shared hostel dorm room instead of a private hotel room.

If you’ve not stayed in a hostel previously, then there’s no better place to try it than in the Philippines. That’s because the country is home to some of the best and most unique hostels, complete with relaxing vibes and an incredible atmosphere.

If you’re visiting the Philippines for a long time and don’t fancy consistently sharing a room, then you opt to rotate between private rooms and dorm rooms throughout your trip to help you save money while also having a fantastic experience.

Take The Slow Road

Getting anywhere fast in the Philippines is often impossible. However, that’s sometimes the beauty of it.

Not only will opting for budget transport methods such as ferries and buses help you save a lot of money during your trip, but it’ll also likely lead to some of the most unique and incredible off the beaten path experiences.

Sample The Local Food

Filipino food is delicious. It also happens to be incredibly affordable compared to western alternatives such as Starbucks or McDonalds.

A great way to save money during your trip is to eat where the locals eat, whether that be visiting a Jollibee fast-food restaurant, some groceries from a local market or a snack from 7/11.

One of our favourite places to eat during our trip to the Philippines was Sugbo Mercado. Not only was this place super affordable, but the atmosphere was incredible, and the food was delicious.

How To Stay Safe In The Philippines

Everyone we met during our trip to the Philippines was incredibly friendly. However, as with all countries, some people and some areas can be unsafe for travellers.

With that in mind, here are some precautions we opted to take during our trip;

Check Your Local Goverement Guidelines

Your local government website will have the most up-to-date information for residents travelling to the Philippines.

As such, we have found that it’s always best to look at the website before booking your trip.

If you’re booking a trip significantly in advance of the travel date, then you may also want to recheck the website before travelling to ensure that you’re aware of any changing circumstances.

Here’s the UK’s travel advice for residents visiting the Philippines. Keep in mind that if you’re a resident in another country, your provided information may differ.

Get (Good) Travel Insurance

I put good in brackets here because we had travel insurance when we went to the Philippines, but it turns out it wasn’t enough.

That’s because twelve hours after landing in Manila, there was a volcano eruption that cancelled our onward flights and required us to find accommodation in a smog-ridden city.

Tens of thousand Philippine pesos and a few extra nights in Manila later this circumstance did sort itself out.

However, that wasn’t the end.

That’s because we finished the trip, having our temperature taken at checkpoints, and wore masks for an entirely different reason, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sadly our out of pocket expenses were not reimbursed by our travel insurance since they didn’t cover us for selected natural disasters and pandemics.

Our lesson from this was well and truly learned, as there were definitely times it felt as though our circumstances could have been significantly worse. Especially given how the entire pandemic turned out over the proceeding 18 months to 2 years.

Today, we don’t travel without highly comprehensive travel insurance. Having scoured the internet for the best options and in the end, we chose World Nomads.

Avoid Unfiltered Water

Tap water in the Philippines is not safe for drinking without filtering.

As such, you’ll want to be sure to buy either pre-filtered, bottled water or opt for the more environmentally friendly option of a filtered water bottle which can filter the water inside the bottle prior to drinking.

Buy A Sim Card

One of the biggest mistakes we made during our trip to the Philippines was not purchasing a sim card sooner.

The process is simple and straightforward and keeps you connected to friends and family back home while also allowing you to order Grab taxis, review accommodation on the go & minimise your chances of getting lost.

Given the low cost of buying and using a sim card in the Philippines, it’s something I’d recommend purchasing as soon as you arrive in the country.

Gear & Packing List For The Philippines

Below we’ve put together an essential packing list. However, you will likely want to adapt this to fit your needs depending on your personal preferences, the season and planned activities.

Clothing

  • Underware
  • Socks
  • T-shirts (long sleeve and short sleeve)
  • Light jacket
  • Swimming outfit
  • Rain jacket
  • Jeans
  • Shorts
  • Comfortable, yet smart trainers
  • Flip-flops or sandals
  • Leggings, cargo pants or chinos (something long legged that dries quickly)

Washing

  • Shampoo
  • Body wash
  • Deodrant
  • Dry shampoo
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Dental floss
  • Razor
  • Nail clippers
  • Tweezers
  • Towel
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Hairbrush
  • Hair clips / bobbles
  • Make up

Medical

  • Pain killers
  • Plasters / band aids
  • Copies of prescriptions
  • Ear plugs
  • Hand santiser
  • Antibacterial wipes

Miscellaneous

  • Headphones
  • Phone charger
  • Copies of passport and ID
  • A padlock (for the hostel lockers)
  • Chilly’s water bottle
  • Universal plug / charger
  • Backpack / duffel
  • Camera

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