Visitors might be surprised what they find across the thousands of islands that make up the Philippines. The world renowned beaches are there of course, but a wild interior welcomes thrill seekers while major cities showcase the modern, cutting edge side of the country. We’ll cover where to travel in the Philippines, when to go, how to get around, and how much it’s likely to cost you.
When should I go?
While you can visit anytime of the year, there are a few things to keep in mind. December to April is often the driest time of the year, but also the most expensive and crowded. June to September is the opposite, with lower rates but also typhoon level rainstorms at times. May and November can be a compromise between the two, though you should still expect relatively high prices in November especially.
How do I get around?
Getting around the Philippines can be a bit of a pain due to the constant island hopping – but this is arguably an experience in and of itself. Boats (of all sorts) link many of the main islands while vans and buses (which vary wildly in quality) are options for getting around on the islands themselves. The unique jeepneys are the most popular form of public transportation and can be used to get around cities and between them.
Where to travel in the Philippines
As it often is with capitals, Manila stands proudly as the heart of the Philippines. Over the years it has grown into a true metropolis that is all at once modern and traditional. Skyscrapers rise above markets while cafes, restaurants, and bars are cropping up all the time. Manila is also developing a well-deserved reputation as a creative hub of the region – with a healthy appreciation of the arts. It can be a bit confusing and crowded at times – but that only adds to the breathless energy and excitement of Manila. We should mention that while not technically the country’s largest city, nearby Quezon City (which is the largest) is a part of the greater capital region – making both an easy trip to do at the same time.
A province consisting of one main island and over 150 smaller ones, it can be a bit overwhelming at first if you plan on visiting Cebu. While similar in many ways to Manila, the city itself (known simply as Cebu City) serves as an exciting albeit slightly more manageable metropolis to explore. Beyond that, the many islands are home to some stunning vistas, great beaches, and top-notch diving. Bantayan, Malapascua, and Mactan Islands stand out from the others as perhaps the marquee destinations in Cebu – though there are lesser-known locales to visit if you look hard enough.
For those with a vested interest in colonial history and architecture, the city (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) of Vigan is exactly what you’d want. Here the history of Spanish rule over the Philippines comes to life with buildings and cobblestone streets that look straight out of the jewels of Latin America. While the centre of the city has the air of a museum, the rest of Vigan is simply a living, breathing, working Filipino city.
Arguably the must-see destination in the Philippines, Palawan is yet another island province that is mostly a long narrow sliver of land with all the expansive coastline you’d expect. Coral reefs, great diving, shipwrecks, karst cliffs, and more beaches than you could ever hope to visit – it’s easy to see why tourists often spend an inordinate amount of time here. The interior mountains in the south offer adventurous visitors an active break from the more tourist friendly coastal towns – ensuring that Palawan is guaranteed to appeal to all-comers.
This small island is right up there with Palawan as one of the premier getaways in the country. First and foremost, you’ll find yourself in the world famous White Beach – which is unsurprisingly a beautiful white sand beach that can’t be missed. Tourists will find many amenities and services that cater to them on most of the island, including numerous hotels, food choices, and entertainment options. The crowded areas may not provide the most authentic look into Filipino culture due to the sheer amount of tourists, but that won’t matter when you feel the splash of the warm water. If you do want to get away from the crowds, more remote regions are also available to visit – though you should expect to live a little rougher here.
The island of Panay is sometimes unfairly looked at as simply a gateway to better things (such as Boracay), but that diminishes what the island itself has to offer. All of the provinces found here all have unique traditions and history – which offers a much more interesting look into the culture of the land than, say, a modern resort. Mountains, festivals, religious statues – all the features of the land (both natural and manmade) give visitors a glimpse into what island life is really like in this part of the world. That’s not to say it’s all rustic. Panay is well developed and is easily accessible thanks to a modern transportation network.
If you do manage to get sick of the miles of beaches (as if), head to the island province of Bohol. The rugged interior is like nothing you’ve ever seen – with the famous Chocolate Hills the most unique and popular landmark. Beyond that, adorable tarsiers and other wildlife call Bohol home while the interior jungle is great for thrill seekers who like to live on the wild side. All told, Bohol blends rugged and stunning landscapes with a laundry list of fun and exciting activities for the young and active crowd.
While an agricultural town may not jump off the page as a go-to destination for foreign visitors, Banaue manages to defy expectations. The magnificent rice terraces that have been in place for two millennia are still used today, creating an awe inspiring and unique landscape that is made all the more impressive by the fact that it’s still at the heart of a thriving industry. While the tourist industry here distracts a bit from the working nature of the fields, there are less crowded parts where you can really get a taste for what is an age-old occupation in the Philippines.
How much does it cost?
Round trip flights between Pearson and Manila generally start at just over $1000 Canadian. That being said, prices can rise by the hundreds depending on when you book. As always, there are deals on offer so keep an eye out in order to keep the cost as low as possible.
Once you arrive in the Philippines, you can expect to spend about $81 a day with a budget of $45 for accommodation and $13 for food. Spend your money carefully and you could cut daily expenses down to $30 while really letting loose will cost you about $234 a day.
Health and Safety
While there is no nationwide advisory for the Philippines according to the Canadian government, a high degree of caution is recommended throughout due to the persistent threat of terrorism. In addition, travel to the region of Mindanao is not recommended (with the exception of Davao City) due to a higher threat of attacks and kidnappings. These groups target public areas throughout the country, so be sure to use caution, stay up to date on local news reports, and follow the advice of the authorities.
Violent crime is also a problem throughout the country, with firearms commonly used. As always, petty crime is a danger particularly in busy urban and tourist areas. Road conditions aren’t always great and night driving outside of cities is not recommended. Finally, if you plan on diving in the Philippines (which is one of the most popular reasons to visit), you should make sure the company you go with is reputable and the equipment is up to snuff.
These are just a few examples of where to travel in the Philippines, there’s tons more to see and do. If you think somewhere else should be on the list, let us know in the comments.
Check out our Country of the Week for more general information about Filipino history and culture.
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