In this post I explain everything there is to know about the Philippines. What to do, how to get there, when it is better to go there, the cost of living, if it is safe or not to visit this country and much more. If you are looking for a bit of information on the internet it seems that lately the Philippines are quite popular after Lonely Planet magazine included it among the top destinations. Since I'm just back from a trip of about three weeks in the Philippines I want to share some advice based on my experience. After being there I can safely say that it was worth visiting the Philippines, because it is simply a paradise.
Philippines is one of the most beautiful countries in the world that has so much to offer especially if you are a lover of nature, sea and adventure. More than 1000 islands scattered here and there, one more beautiful than the other. A month is not enough to travel all the islands of the Philippines, perhaps because moving in the local transport is not so fast. For us it was very intense, because we have come this far not only to visit the country, but also to dive in one of the seas, they say, among the most beautiful in the world!
We land in Manila. Despite the high-rise district of Makati, Manila is a historic city that came under the Spanish colonization. One of the pearls of the Pacific, is still visible. The heart of Manila is the historical district Intramuros. Once a wonderful Spanish fortress, today after the heavy bombardments of World War II, there are few examples of colonial architecture. Among these the best is Fort Santiago, an imposing bastion built by the Spaniards in 1583, restored after the war, and which today is occupied by magnificent public gardens overlooking the harbor and the Pasig River.
After two exciting days, we take a bus from Manila to Batangas and from Buendía and Bato in a local boat to Sabang.
Our second stage was Boracay, where we stayed in a family home, which is the cheapest, where there are also hostels. In Station 1 there are 5-star hotel right on the beach and the Station 2 is a middle ground both in quality and prices. The beach is Caribbean, white, and if you want more just go to Puka Beach, which is considered the most romantic and charming white beach in the world.
Also called Puka, because of the flat shells that are called so in English, Yapak Beach is considered by CNN Travel as one of the 100 most beautiful beaches in the world. Boracay is easily accessible from Manila with a comfortable domestic flight to Caticlan, a small airport on the neighboring island of Panay.
Seven kilometers of white sandy beach, a forest of palm trees that delimits, blue and tropical sea, a few restaurants, no resort and a group of paraw, typical of Philippine fishing boat, which docks to bring occasionally fresh fish, Yapak Beach is beautiful and still partly wild and is one of the irresistible attractions of the beautiful island of Boracay.
Suitable for any type of tourist, from the sporty to the fun loving, the island of Boracay is perfect for those who want to relax on the beautiful beach of Yapak.
After a few days of relaxation we are ready for the transhumance long 18 hours of sailing and various local transport. We reserve of Apo Island for the following morning amidst countless fish, an incredible marine life, beautifully colored corals, sea snails, never seen before, turtles, puffer fish and many small Nemo.
Next stop is the island of Cebu. It starts with a motor tricycle from Dumaguete to Sibilan, then Bato by bus to Oslob and Liloan on the east coast of the island of Cebu, to swim with whale sharks. We pass on the other coast of Cebu to go to Moalboal and dive with thousands of sardines that dance around us.
Undoubtedly the Philippines is famous for its seabed, much loved by those who practice snorkeling and diving. Bohol, obviously is is not the only destination for water sports. Malapascua is a micro small island north of Cebu, filled with American, Asian and European and many Russian tourists because Malapascua has a crystal clear sea and this is one of the few places in the world where you can go diving with Thresher Sharks.
The small island of Malapascua is the scuba diving paradise as its coral reef is one of the most colorful of the Philippines and in its depths there is a permanent population of rare thresher sharks, one of the most fascinating creatures of the ocean.
But the real gem of the Philippine Sea is the Tubbataha reef, a huge coral formation located 100 km South of Puerto Princesa on Palawan. Tubbataha boasts the incredible distinction of being the only World Heritage Unesco site completely under water and it is a perfectly preserved reef, a marine ecosystem to explore and immerse yourself!
No less beautiful is the island of Siargao. Siargao is located in the far east of the Philippine archipelago, facing the Pacific Ocean and not far from the island of Mindanao, one of the largest and most important of the country. Siargao can be reached by boat from the island of Cebu, the most popular tourist destination of the Philippines, and once you arrive you cannot help but fall in love with its white beaches, its mangrove forests and the atmosphere from the tropical paradise that you will breathe.
Siargao is known to the world mainly for one thing: for years its coast on the Pacific side is home to a ' major surf competition, the Cloud 9 Siargao Surfing Cup. The highest waves in the area in fact have made the island one of the world capitals the "table". The Siargao perfect waves are really the best for those who is an expert of the craft and for those you are approaching the world of surfing!
Santa Fe is the next stop with a show of local villages full of tin huts on endless white beaches. It was not a planned stop, but like all unorganized things occurred unexpectedly.
The next morning, we wake up early, and head to Iloilo, changing two ferries and a bus, to take the ship to Puerto Princesa on Palawan. After a few hours sailing we had already made friends with everyone and we started to play cards with them, smiled and laughed to see us win or lose.
The island of Palawan, described by Condé Nast as the most beautiful island in the world was definitely our favorite. We made two stops in El Nido and Coron. El Nido and the Bacuit Archipelago is a series of small islands and rock formations in the Northwestern side of the island of Palawan that plunge into the crystal clear waters, reefs covered by sinuous forests that open into small and narrow bays. El Nido is a delightful village, but the bus that takes you there makes you lose years of life because they drive like crazy, but the site is worth the risk. A must is the boat ride between the various micro Islands.
It is definitely one of the most famous and sought-after tourist destinations in the Philippines. El Nido is a picturesque village squeezed between the sea and the rocky hills of the hinterland, connected to Manila by a domestic flight that leaves three times a day. Among small hotels and restaurants in the center are an endless number of companies that rent boats and speed boats that allow you to take a cruise to Bacuit archipelago and admire the beautiful beaches of the area.
The greatest wonder of El Nido and the island of Palawan is definitely the 7 Commandos Beach. A white beach framed by a row of coconut palms, reachable only by boat, a splendor that becomes the stunning sunset, when the sun sinks behind the profile of the neighboring islands by creating an incredible show of lights and shadows.
The last fabulous and amazing island is Coron, a haven of Japanese wrecks of the 2nd World War, perfect for doing a lot of diving.
What can you do in the Philippines?
With over 7100 islands, divided into three main areas of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, there is something for everyone from mountains, city, sea, wildlife, etc. They are also much less known destinations and exploited than other countries of Southeast Asia, so there is less tourists than in neighboring countries and many deserted beaches. Finally, the prices are much lower. What more could you want?
One of the biggest attractions of the Iligan area is the Tinago Falls which is 73 meters in height. The city of Iligan is nicknamed as the city of majestic waterfalls. The fall is in a ravine and requires efforts to reach it. The water is cold and a beautiful pool is there at the foot of the fall as well as a small cave can be visited.
Getting around in Philippines
Before understanding what to see in the Philippines, it is good to take into account one thing. Since they are composed of islands, it is not always easy to move from one place to another. I would say that the movements are the main problem if you want to visit this country. To move from one island to another, there are three options by plane, ferry or bus. If you're planning a trip put on account of losing an entire day every time you need to change the island using the aircraft. If you move in the ferry sometimes even more, especially if the islands are far away.
To move by sea, you can choose one of several companies ferries that cross sections of varying length. The most fun to take the ferry is to see how many roosters there are in the terminal. People carry them everywhere because in the Philippines they are used for fighting. Sometimes we seem to be in a chicken coop for the many roosters that we hear singing.
Finally, if you decide to move via bus, there are long distance buses that also serve meals on board. But honestly I have not tried them so I cannot say if it is worth to take them or not. When they have to move from one island to another they are boarded on the ferry and the cost is included in the ticket price.
To move in the city there are five main options like tricycle, jeepney, bus, scooter or car. The advantage of the first three is the cost.
The tricycle are of the covered sidecar species that can carry from 2 to 4 persons. They are very common in rural areas and in smaller towns such as Puerto Princesa. They are prohibited in the main streets of the larger cities such as Cebu. They are cheap enough and is fun especially if you've never experienced anything like it in other Asian countries such as Thailand.
The taxis are present only in larger cities. If you decide to move in tricycle do not forget to negotiate the price before boarding. Very often the drivers also demand twice the normal rate.
Not everyone knows that in Manila there is a free shuttle service within the airport for anyone who has to change terminals. So you do not need to take a taxi, and the positive thing is that the shuttle does not come out from the airport so you do not lose time in absurd traffic in Manila.
The jeepneys are the cheapest means of transport and popular in the Philippines. They are renowned for being colorful and often very crowded. Originally they were made by adapting the jeep of World War II. There are no stops, as opposed to the classic bus, but jeepneys move from one part of the city stopping every time someone has to go down or go up. Then to travel short distances may take a long time.
The buses are mainly divided into two types, aircon (air conditioning) and no aircon (no air conditioning). The price is usually very similar, so I recommend to take the aircon bus. The non-aircon buses can be very crowded.
Usually the streets are not paved but are made of reinforced concrete. Very often however they are little more than dirt roads so very dusty and full of holes, but it's all part of the adventure.
Is Philippines a safe country?
This is a question that surely you will have at heart if you have to decide what to do in the Philippines, but it is often difficult to give a precise answer. Personally I can say that depends. It depends on where you are and how you behave. From my experience I can say that in the city it is always better to make sure not to leave anything unattended and always keep an eye on wallets. But in practice it is not very different from what I'd do in any Indian city. Its best to avoid walking at night to outlying areas in the cities.
In rural areas I have not had any problems, though I often went around with cameras and photographic backpack. The greatest danger were kids running towards me to see the photos. Filipinos generally are very nice people and they are not going to create problems. The most dangerous area in the true sense of the word, is the south of Mindanao, in the southern part of the Philippines. There are rebels seeking independence and clashes with the police are frequent. But apart from Mindanao, the rest of the country is relatively safe. As always, the rule is to use common sense and avoid unnecessarily to put yourself in dangerous situations.
As for the health keep in mind a few rules that apply a bit all over the South-East Asia. Use a bit of judgment in eating street food. Personally I am a lover of this type of food but it is not always a good idea to taste everything that you see.
Bring along a good tripod to photograph the magnificent landscapes of the Philippines
The cost of living in the Philippines
Transport, especially in remote areas are quite expensive. Unfortunately there is no alternative. Take or leave. Accommodation prices instead for the moment are not very high. Considering I was there in January, so the high season, it's not bad.
When to visit Philippines?
The best time to visit Philippines are the first months of the year, from January to April. After that it is really too hot and also begins the rainy season. From June to October but lately also in November and December typhoons are frequent, a bit throughout the Philippines, except Palawan where it is very rare. Obviously in the beginning of the year prices rise while in the middle months of the year can also be halved. I suggest you avoid the Christmas and Chinese New Year.
As for the nights we are able to spend very little sleeping in very decent and clean hotels, so trust me even the low-level hotels almost always provide a good standard.
Equip yourself for the rain as much as possible because the rains are frequent and abundant.
Given the numerous possibilities of doing snorkeling and equipment provided by the organizers of the tour, it would be optimal to have your own mask and shoes for the rocks.
The ATMs are present only in larger cities, while the possibility of currency exchange is possible almost anywhere.