This page is my personal notes for what I’ve found regarding the Philippines. As I find more things, I will post them. You will find the best time to go to the Philippines, foods to try and a host of other tips.
Best Time to Visit the Philippines
Short-answer, the best time to visit the Philippines is in December through February. March through May are completely good typically but get successively hotter, so if you are at the beach or in the mountains, it is just fine (although hot). June through November are part of the wet season.
Also note that Easter can be very packed in tourist locations like Palawan with jacked up prices.
In talking with locals, they say that the weather has become very unpredictable and that the wet and dry season are not as defined as they used to be. When I was there in May, it rained almost every afternoon but was completely fine for travel.
When is the best time to go and see the rice terraces? This is quite a difficult question and one that publications like the Lonely Planet mislead readers on due to the intricacies at play. Each rice terrace (as a whole) runs on their own schedule. Further, each actual division in the terraces may be at different stages especially where each is owned by different farmers. Some plant a type of rice that sprouts once a year while others plant a crop that sprouts twice a year. Some plant it earlier and some plant it later.
In Batad, generally they are going to plant a one-time crop in December or January. It will sprout approximately a month later and get longer and more green. By about May or June, it will start to yellow and then get harvested over the next several months. By October or November, they are cleaning the terraces and readying them for the next year.
If you want to see the Batad rice terraces full of water (e.g. reflections) then December, January perhaps is your time. If you want to see bold green terraces, then you might want to go in April. If you want multi-colour, then June perhaps. I didn’t ask about each terrace schedule but generally Mayoyao and Bananue were behind Batad when I visited.
Why Should You Visit the Philippines?
The Philippines is a good place for beaches first and foremost as well as good scenery while hiking in the mountains, etc.
Before we begin, it is important to understand where you want to go before booking your tickets. Because the Philippines is such an expansive island nation, it might be wise to figure out if you are best served flying into Manila, Cebu or another airport. Then you need to figure out how you are going to get to your final destination and add that into the mix.
If you want to visit the beaches in the south, you might want to fly into Cebu. If you are checking out the rice terraces or mountains in the north, then you want to fly into Manila. There are many small airports scattered about the country and you can check to see if you can fly direct to where you are going or if it is better to buy a flight into a main airport and then a separate flight to where you are going.
This is a random assortment of places that you might be interested in if you are visiting the Philippines. The obvious tourist draws might or might not be included—this is really more of a random listing that is or was of interest to me:
Is Manila Worth Visiting?
Most people completely skip Manila and in reality this approach isn’t really that bad. The city is gritty and has a lot of childhood poverty. There wasn’t anything that blew me away but it seems with the right tweaks, it might be quite decent.
The shopping malls are busy but nothing too mind-blowing if you are coming from the US or another place with malls (chain stores, air-conditioning, etc.).
If you are a photographer who likes street texture, then you should visit Manila. I found Chinatown and some other parts to be quite rich photographically and there are not many tourists running around.
During rainy season especially, many tropical diseases have been known to rear up as Manila has issues with cleanliness.
Many of the main draws for Manila are overblown and only worthwhile if you have nothing better to do.
Beaches in the Philippines
You really have a slew of choices as it relates to beaches. First off, you have Boracay which is probably the most popular option. Expect high development and tourism, commercialism and nightlife. However, the reason for it being so well known is that the beaches were excellent.
Second, there are great beaches in Palawan. A little more laid back versus Boracay, one major jumping off point is Puerto Princessa from which you can go to underground rivers, reefs and other natural attractions. To the north is Port Barton which is a laid back beach hangout. At the top of mainland Palawan is El Nido which is renowned for its beaches.
Further north (and not terribly far from Manila) are more islands, one of which is a great place to base yourself at—Coron Island. Great scenery, beaches and coral reefs including Japanese warships which were sunk in WW2 can all be checked out from Coron. Further, you can island hop to a whole litany of different islands.
On that point, because there are islands everywhere in the Philippines, you also have the ability of hiring a fisherman to drop you off at a secluded, isolated island where you can camp out and hang out with just you and your friends, or just get dropped off for the day.
A last possibility to talk about is Bohol. It has scenery called the Chocolate Hills and also has nice beaches. It has become a popular destination.
Mountains, Hiking, Rice Terraces
This was my area of focus when I went to the Philippines. Take the bus from Manila to Banaue. From Banaue you can take transportation (Jeepneys, Trikes, Motorbike, etc) to Batad (amazing), Sagada (overblown) or other nearby towns. You can view rice terraces in Banaue, outside of Bontoc (Maligcong), Batad, and points east of Batad (between Batad and Mayoyao you will pass several). At some point, I’ll make a post about the Rice Terraces in the Philippines.
Where is the Philippines located?
The Philippines is located in southeast Asia, but unlike Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and others, it is not as much on the backpacker/tourist circuit. It is an island nation located east of Vietnam and north of Indonesia. Figure on at least a 19.5 hour flight with connection from NYC to the Philippines, 14.5 hours out of Los Angeles non-stop, 15+ hours on a one-stop from Frankfurt, eight hours from Sydney on a non-stop and 3.5 hours from Bangkok. The Philippines is serviced by many major airlines. Beware of flying from NYC to MNL via the middle-east as it turns it into a 30+ hour trip. Airlines such as Etihad also pack in 10 seats across on their 777 which makes it a bit cramped.
Is the Philippines Expensive?
No, it is a very affordable location. A ten-hour bus ride might run you $10. A guesthouse may run you as little as $3/night, with many in sub-$5 range. Food will run $1.50 on up. Generally, Manila is slightly more expensive.
Tipping in the Philippines
Not required. Some restaurants and bars include a service charge. If you want to tip and there is no service charge added on, either round the bill up or leave 10%. For things like hotel bags, you can figure a small peso note, like 20PHP/bag is sufficient. No need to tip in taxi but you can round up if you’d like.
Do I need a Visa before visiting the Philippines?
US Citizens and most EU Citizens do not require obtaining a visa before arrival. Generally you can stay 30 days and extend your visa for two months up to two years. Israel and Brazil get two months off the jump. More information at the Philippines Immigrations Site.
Do I need vaccines to visit the Philippines? Medical concerns?
If you have been in a Yellow Fever susceptible country, then you need to show proof of that vaccine. Otherwise, none are required however you might want to look into malaria prevention if in low-lying areas including Palawan and Hepatitis A & B and Typhoid if going wild with ill-prepared foods. You could also come into contact with Rabies and Dengue Fever. If you bit by a frothing dog, that is not good. As for Dengue, just be alert for any outbreaks. Many of these things are worse during rainy season when mosquitoes are loving life.
Is the water safe to drink in the Philippines?
Generally you drink bottled or treated water. I have drank from the tap and experienced mild digestion issues when doing so.
Transportation into and around the Philippines
Flying into the Philippines
You will most likely fly into Manila (MNL) or Cebu (CEB). In the far south is Davao (DVO). On the rise is Puerto Princesa International Airport (PPS), which makes a visit to Palawan very convenient and the increasingly used Clark International (CRK) which is out of the way but used by a couple carriers.
Tigerair flies direct to Singapore. Cebu flies all over the Philippines as well as non-stops around Asia such as Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, etc. AirAsia flies to Malaysia, Hong Kong, Korea, China and intra-Philippines.
Transportation from Manila Airport to City
The Manila Airport really is not far from the city as the crow flies. However, Manila can have (or usually has is probably what I should be saying) awful, horrendous traffic. There is, of course, always the cheap way and more convenient way into the city.
The cheap way is to hail a bus outside the airport. The bus will say EDSA on the list of places it goes. You board the bus and the money taker comes along as you sit in traffic. The cost at the moment is 12PHP, or about $0.25. When you get to the Taft/EDSA station, you can transfer to the light rail lines that either go north (LRT-1) or northeast (MRT-3). One word of extreme warning is that it is absolutely insane at rush hour. If you have a bunch of baggage, do not even attempt this. Even without much of any baggage this is a crazy experience.
First, enter the station. There will be a huge hoard/mob of people just trying to get back the ticket gate. Blow this this huge line and look for the line that goes to the ticket windows. Eventually buy a ticket for your destination which will be very cheap (~20PHP). Then you have to jump into the giant mob and try to make your way past the ticket gate. The problem is that there are throngs of people trying to get on the trains as they come and this backs up all the way upstairs and down a long hallway. As a train shows up, the mob moves forward.
If you are female, you can skip the bigger line for the female only cars on the train. Eventually you get to the platform, the train rolls up, the occupants get out and then the officers remove a rope. At this instant, people bolt for the door and the train is jammed with people. It is hot, it smells and your stuff will get crushed. At the coming stops, people force their way on and off, smashing everyone into pancakes. If you can snag a seat at some point, you are in great shape. When it comes your time to get off the train, you need to really push your way forward, preferably before the stop.
So congratulations as you’ve made it from the airport to the city for less than $1USD (if you are still alive).
The convenient method is taking a taxi which, to the main center shouldn’t be more than 200PHP ($5USD). It was suggested that white taxi’s are best.
Part of the reason it takes so long in traffic is due to the contruction of the light rail line extending to the airport. Thus, at some point, you’ll be able to get on the LRT-1 from the airport.
Getting Around the Philippines
Between cities it will be via plane (Cebu, AirAsia, etc.), bus (depends on route as there are a number of bus companies servicing different areas but I had good experience on G.V. Florida Transport (d/b/a Dangwa) and Victory Liner. Generally people complain about Ohayami Trans). Buses are cheap. Also a possibility are ferries to many different places.
Once you get to a city, there are several different means of transportation to get exactly where you need to go: Jeepneys, Trikes, Vans and Motorbike.
Jeepneys are like extended Jeeps that hold more than 10 people on the inside and have seating on the roof. They will announce what destination they are going to and wait until enough people are aboard before leaving.
Trikes are much like tuk-tuks found in other southeastern Asian countries. Trikes are a motorcycle with a makeshift sidecar built on. Thus, you can get a private drive to where you need to go. Whereas Jeepneys and vans can cover larger distance, Trikes are usually for around town or nearby.
As for vans, they operate much like Jeepneys or you can hire one just for yourself. Usually the price for a shared van is the same as for a Jeepney.
Motorbike is a good option if you aren’t carrying a lot of luggage and want to go without waiting for a group to form at a Jeepney, etc.
Other Countries to Visit from the Philippines via Land
None – all travel to another country must be done by sea or air.
What to Buy & Try in the Philippines
Foods to Try when visiting the Philippines
The Philippines does have some good food and is unfairly (but understandably) slogged as having terrible cuisine because bland, bad cuisine is much easier to find than the good stuff. Further, the Filipinos love fast food and so they get excited to show you to a Jollibee’s (a Filipino McDonald-type joint).
I don’t really recommend the Philippines as a great country to visit if you are really excited by food but there is very good food to be found. The way I see it, take American processed foods and marry it with sloppy Spanish cooking and you get something in the ballpark (unless you find the gems).
For dishes to try (or ones you will come across) while visiting the Philippines:
You will find Adobo everywhere. Usually it is pork adobo but also common is chicken adobo. This is chunks of meat usually served with rice.
Check out lechon which is roasted pig, popular in Puerto Rico and hailing from Spain. Another good one is lechon manok which is roasted chicken. These can be quite great in the Philippines.
Sinigang is a Filipino stew/soup made of stewed meat and vegetables in a tamarind-based broth. There are some variations that use green mango or other sour-leaning fruits.
Lumpia are essentially spring rolls.
Often you will see pig heads sitting on butcher counters. These come in handy when making Sizzling Sisig which is made of pig head and pig liver.
Products to Buy in the Philippines
There is some nice handicrafts such as woodcarving that I came across in the Philippines. I also came across a fair number of doormats, shower mats and so forth, woven and colourful. If you are transiting over to Baguio (which is a mountain city north of Manila) you can check out the silver jewelry.
Some will say there is a thriving shoe/bag industry in Marikina. However, cheap Chinese imports have pretty much laid waste to that.
The Filipino Language, Tagalog, English, etc.
Generally I always advise learning some key words and phrases of the country you are going to visit. Not only does it help with relationships, it also shows the locals that you respect where you are. However, in the Philippines, it is quite complicated as each area has its own language. The official language across the country is Tagalog but that isn’t necessarily the main language in each area. Because English is very widespread (due to US occupation a while back), it seems English is a solid language to use here.
Quick Travel Facts About the Philippines
What Power Plugs are Used in the Philippines:
The American Plug (Type A) is the major player in the Philippines. Frequency is 60Hz and Voltage is 220 volts. Be careful using things like US hairdryers without a converter when connecting to plugs in the Philippines as the voltage is 220 and not 120. Most electronics (battery chargers, mobile phones, etc.) will work fine (they will usually state this) but other devices (hair-dryers, shavers, etc) may be ruined by plugging in. Thus, check first by calling the manufacturer, reading the literature or checking the item for markings before assuming like a dope.
What currency is used in the Philippines?
The Philippine Peso (PHP). See conversion.To do a quick & dirty conversion on the fly between PHP and USD (given the rates as of this writing of 45PHP = $1USD): Take the PHP amount, move the decimal to the left two spaces and double. Thus, 1000 PHP becomes 10.00 * 2 = ~ $20USD.
Other tips about the Philippines
There has been terrorist activity related to insurgents in the Philippines. Most travel advisories blacklist the Muslim regions of Mindanao in the Philippines far south. Check the Canadian travel advisory site for more information (I find the US Advisories to be overly alarmist)
Overnight buses can be very cold so bring a blanket, like the blanket provided on airlines. That should be good enough.