Wednesday, 20 Mar 2019

The ultimate guide to backpacking The Philippines

The Philippines is a top destination for thrifty backpackers. The country has so much to offer; whether you’re the type that likes to relax on the beach or the type that likes adventure, every backpacker can find something here for them. Stunning coastlines, tasty cuisine, beautiful hikes and citizens who are said to be the friendliest in the world – what’s not to love about The Philippines?

With a little help from this guide you can plan the perfect itinerary for your backpacking trip to the Philippines. Know when to travel, where to visit, where to stay and what to do, depending on your specific budget and interests. Planning an adventure has never been easier!

Jump straight to:

  1. Best time to visit the Philippines
  2. Travelling in the Philippines
  3. Accommodation in the Philippines
  4. Cost of travelling the Philippines
  5. Places to visit in the Philippines
  6. Filipino food
  7. Filipino culture and customs
  8. Is the Philippines safe?
  9. Philippines travel advice

backpacking Philippines - palm trees

? Michael Louie 

Best time to visit the Philippines

Philippines weather

The climate of the Philippines is tropical and the country is best enjoyed when the weather is warm and sunny. There are two main seasons – dry season and wet season. The dry season runs from late November to May, with humidity and temperatures at their highest in April and May. The coldest month of the year is January but most travellers will still find it pleasant.

The wet season runs from June to October, with typhoons and monsoons beginning in August. These storms can be violent at worst and inconvenient at best. If you want to make the most of the island experience, it’s advisable to visit between December and February when temperatures average 30 degrees C (86 degrees F). It’s important to remember that the Philippines is an archipelago made up of thousands of islands, so although the weather may be similar across the entire country not all areas are affected by monsoons during the wet season. Likewise, not all parts of the country will experience such high temperatures during the dry season.

Manila weather

Manila sees consistent temperatures all year, averaging 26 – 30 degrees C (79 – 86 degrees F). Temperatures are highest during May, sometimes reaching 34 degrees C (93 degrees F), and lowest from December to January, averaging 26 degrees C (79 degrees F). Rainfall is highest between June and October, with July and August getting the most on average. Because Manila is a densely populated city, the congestion and pollution can make it feel even hotter during the dry season and even wetter during the wet season, when potholes are turned into messy puddles. Those looking for the best time to visit Manila are advised to travel any time during the dry season, with January being the most comfortable month.

Boracay weather

Boracay is an island around 300km south of Manila. It’s a popular vacation spot and a great place to experience the beautiful South Pacific beaches. Boracay’s average annual temperature is 29 degrees C (84 degrees F), varying slightly depending on the month. Like Manila, the dry season is between November and May and the wet season is between June and October. Boracay isn’t hit as hard by typhoons and monsoons as other areas of the country, but to travel here during the wet season is a risk if you’re hoping for beach time.

Despite some travellers wanting to avoid Manila during the hottest months, they’re the best time to visit Boracay for great beach weather that’s perfect for water activities like snorkelling and scuba diving. May is ideal, with temperatures reaching highs of 32 degrees C (90 degrees F).

Cebu weather

Cebu is another popular beach area in the Central Visayas region, comprising Cebu City and over 100 islands. It’s a great jumping off point for checking out the many beautiful spots in this part of the country. The hottest month in Cebu is May, with temperatures reaching highs of 33 degrees C (91 degrees F), though the annual average is closer to 27 degrees C (81 degrees F). Most tourists flock to Cebu in the beginning of December, but as long as you visit before the rainy season begins in June you should experience warm, sunny days perfect for hitting the beach. Keep in mind that April and May can sometimes have mild showers despite the intense heat.

backpacking Philippines - lake in jungle

? @jessxplore

Philippines climate

There are five different sub-climates in the Philippines – tropical monsoon, humid subtropical, tropical rainforest, tropical savanna and oceanic. Some areas of the country are mountainous which means that the temperatures are lower, and though monsoons and typhoons hit around the same time every year, not all areas are affected.

The Philippines offers ideal weather for beach-goers, provided you go at the right time. Your summer vacation could be the worst time to go because it’s right in the middle of the rainy season. In fact, you may not get any beach time at all. It’s best to visit for a winter break or early spring vacation when you can expect sunshine and very little rain.

 

Travelling in the Philippines

Metro Manila

Manila is an exciting city, and with excitement comes chaos – especially when it comes to traffic! Like many other big cities in Asia, don’t expect to get anywhere in Manila too quickly. Luckily, there are enough transportation options available to help you avoid the traffic and navigate the city with ease.

There is a metro system in Manila but it has just two lines: the MRT and LRT. Both stop at the city’s main areas of interest. The MRT goes to the Makati Business District, the Trinoma Shopping Center and the SM Megamall, while the LRT will take you to Ermita Park, Rizal Park, and the historical area of Intramuros. For other destinations, you may need to break up your route with several minutes’ walking or even a bus ride in between.

Manila has been upgrading its transportation in other ways over the last few years. If you’re arriving at Ninoy Aquino International Airport for example, you can take the “Ultimate Bus Experience” or “UBE” from terminals 1,2 and 3. This bus stops at a few key places downtown. It costs 300 PHP (approximately £4) as a flat rate and runs every 30 minutes between 8 am and 10 pm. Check the Manila Airport website for route information. There are also local buses that run from the airport to the city centre and beyond. Bus route 2 (the Airport Bus) departs from terminal 3 and stops downtown for 100 PHP (approximately £1.50).

Lastly, if you don’t mind the traffic, you can take a taxi, jeepney or tricycle to get where you want to go. Manila is also fairly walkable.

Manila to Palawan

Palawan is a large archipelagic province where you’ll find many of the country’s famous islands and beach spots such as Puerto Princesa, El Nido and Coron. To get to Palawan from Manila there are several options. The easiest and most convenient option is a flight. There are several airports throughout Palawan, but the most frequented are Puerto Princesa International Airport (PPS), El Nido Airport (ENI) and Coron Francisco B. Reyes Airport (USU). Airlines that travel these routes are Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, AirAsia and SkyJet as well as some local operators like Zest Air and PAL Express, which may be hard to find on booking platforms. Keep in mind that with local airlines you’ll be flying on a small charter plane which is not for the faint-hearted but certainly a beautiful experience if you can stomach it.

If you’re up for an adventure, you can also take a ferry from Manila to Puerto Princesa or to Coron in Palawan. It’s a good idea to check the schedules and make a reservation at 2Go Travel. The journey takes 12 hours but you’ll get a nice rest as you roll gently on the waves and admire the crystal clear waters out of the window.

Jeepney

Riding a jeepney can be an exciting experience for any traveller who wants to see what it’s like to go across town like a local. This colourful vehicle looks like a quirky combination between a school bus and a shuttle taxi. Riders board via the back door opening and sit on one of the two benches opposite each other in the back.

While jeepneys are an affordable way to travel around a city with rides starting at 8 PHP (£0.11) for a 10 minute journey, saving money on transportation comes at a cost. Jeepneys will squeeze in as many people as possible and it can be rather uncomfortable being squished up against someone when you’re already feeling hot and sticky (or wet, if it’s the rainy season). If that doesn’t bother you or you want to try riding a jeepney at least once, there are a few things you should know.

Jeepneys tend to be found in busy areas like bus stops and city centres. These are the best places to board, though you can also flag down a jeepney on the side of the road. Usually a jeepney has a set route, so you’ll want to make sure yours is going in the right direction. You might want to know the name of the cross streets of your destination, so you can get dropped off as closely as possible.

If you board at a bus stop or central location, you will usually have to wait until the jeepney fills up until it leaves. Either way, tell the “barker” (this is a worker who is responsible for collecting payment from passengers and communicating with the driver) where you want to go, and/or have Google Maps on your phone to follow along with your route. You can pay when you get on or when you get off, but make sure you get your change.

Jeepneys have set stops but can also drop you off anywhere along the way as long as you let the barker know. So sit back and enjoy the (bumpy) ride!

Tricycle Philippines

A motorised tricycle is another popular form of transportation in the Philippines. There are several different types that you might see. A ‘motorela’ looks like a large, rectangular tuk-tuk, while other tricycles are like a motorbike with a sidecar attached. It’s an affordable way to travel while weaving in and out of traffic.

Like jeepneys, trike drivers may try to shove as many people into the back as possible, so it’s more comfortable if you’re traveling as a couple or with a small group. You can expect to pay anywhere from 10 PHP to 200 PHP a person (£0.15 to almost £3) depending on how long the route is, the demand, what time of day it is and what city you’re in. Tricycles are more common in rural areas but can be seen anywhere.

 

Accommodation in the Philippines

Where to stay in the Philippines

There are many accommodation options in the Philippines, from high end 5-star hotels to budget-friendly hostels. The latter provide flexibility, friendship and fun. They usually have activities going on which are great for solo travellers and those on a budget. Hostels in the Philippines are extremely reasonably priced and give plenty of bang for your buck.

backpacking Philippines - lighthouse backpackers

? @lighthouse_backpackers

Philippines hostels

Like many other destinations in South East Asia, The Philippines has an abundance of hostels. Hostels are great places to meet people and learn about the local area while saving a lot of money.

Some of the tightest travel friendships are formed in shared dorms, but if you need your privacy most hostels have private rooms available. The same goes if you’re only comfortable sharing with the same sex, as plenty offer male and female only dorms. It’s best to book your hostels in advance, especially during the high-season (November through May) as the most popular often sell out!

Where to stay in Cebu for backpackers

Cebu is a hotspot for backpackers who want to experience a taste of everything the Philippines has to offer. From the nightlife of Cebu City to the beaches, waterfalls and wildlife, no matter where you stay in Cebu you’ll be sure to have a great time.

Murals Hostel and Cafe is an excellent spot for digital nomads or anyone who needs a sturdy Wi-Fi connection. There’s also all-day breakfast and coffee to enjoy.

Casa Bonita Inn Oslob is a great choice if you’re coming to Cebu to see the whale sharks, as the hostel is only a 3-minute walk to the whale watching centre where you can book your tour. There is a restaurant on-site and guided tours to nearby sights, like the Kawasan Falls, a hot spring, snorkelling and swimming.

Jiji’s Hostel is a budget-friendly option on Mactan Island in Cebu, located less than five minutes from the airport while still providing easy access to the island’s hotspots.

Lastly, Mad Monkey Cebu City is located in Queen City. Though it’s only 15 minutes away from the best tourist spots in the city, backpackers pick this place for what’s on site including an infinity pool, a Filipino fusion restaurant and a lively party scene.

backpacking philippines - Mad Monkey Cebu City

? Mad Monkey Cebu City

? Browse all Cebu hostels ?

Puerto Princesa backpackers hostels 

Puerto Princesa is another popular destination in Palawan, though it doesn’t have as many hostels as Cebu and El Nido. Don’t let this put you off, as the ones they do have are top notch!

Located in Puerto Princesa City, Tropic Dahlia Hostel is a new hostel with several types of room available, including privates. It offers a relaxing atmosphere, with bean bags and hammocks to hang out on as well coffee and tea to drink and free Wi-Fi. The property offers tours to nearby sights, like the Underground River and a chance to island hop around Honda Bay.

The Villa Travelista Travel Lodge is a cosy place to take a (short) break from the party scene. The hostel is close to many sights, with private rooms to give you the space you might be craving after a lot of time traveling. They also have massages available if you really want to pamper yourself!

Other fantastic options include Butterfly Totem Guesthouse, Love and Peace Deep Jungle River Resort and Green Turtle Backpacker’s Guesthouse to name just a few. Expect these hostels to get booked out quickly with those superb ratings – reserve your stay as early as you can!

backpacking philippines - Love & Peace Deep Jungle River Resort
? Love & Peace Deep Jungle River Resort

? Browse all Puerto Princesa hostels ?

El Nido backpackers accommodation

El Nido has loads of places to rest your head, no matter your budget. At the following hostels you can grab a bed for around £12 a night – bargain!

Kame House Backpackers has free breakfast and Wi-Fi included in the cost, while Outpost Beach Hostel on Sunset Beach is known for a buzzing social scene and cool vibes, especially from their terrace with a 180-degree view of the sea.

Mad Monkey Nacpan Beach is located right on the shore and has events every evening, from beach clean-ups to karaoke and beer pong tournaments. Happiness Hostel has similar happenings, with a friendly low-key atmosphere, a bar, board games, books, and staff that will help you book various activities.

If you’re a digital nomad visiting El Nido for a little work and a little play, Spin Designer Hostel is a solid choice. With high-ceilings and massive open spaces, it’s a good place to get a clear head and some motivation. It also has 24-hour standby power, so no risk of bad connections and lost work.

backpacking philippines - happiness hostel

? Happiness Hostel

? Browse all El Nido hostels ?

?? Check out all of our amazing Philippines hostels! ??

Philippines travel cost

Cost of living in The Philippines

The Philippines is an affordable country to travel, which is one of the reasons it’s a top choice for backpackers year after year. Your money will go a long way here, with hostels starting from £7 a night. Of course, it varies depending on when you visit and prices rise slightly during the high season. If you’re travelling in a pair, often private hostel rooms can work out cheaper than booking two separate beds in a dorm.

Internal flights are also inexpensive and you can easily get a ticket for less than £100 with a domestic airline like Cebu Pacific. Again, prices might be higher during high season, so make sure you book in advance.

Once your flights and accommodation are taken care of, it’s time to start planning how much money to bring with you. Meals at restaurants and souvenir shopping will only set you back a few quid daily. Eating at a decent restaurant only costs about £10 for two people. Transportation costs are less than a pound if you take a jeepney or taxi, with longer distances setting you back just a few pounds. If you want to grab a few beers, one domestic bottle is roughly 50 PHP, or £0.75. If you need a sim card during your travels, one minute of service costs just £0.10.

Your biggest spend in the Philippines will likely be on guided tours. Since these are directed at tourists and because the demand is high, tour companies can charge higher rates than they would for locals. Despite this, tours in the Philippines are still very affordable. Many hostels will also provide discounts when you book directly through them.

backpacking Philippines - Vincent Agustin Tungpalan

? Vincent Agustin Tungpalan

Philippines Currency

The Philippines uses the Philippine Peso, or PHP, as their currency. Some places in the Philippines do accept USD, but you’ll usually be charged a lousy exchange rate. Therefore it’s always best to exchange your money into the local currency either at the airport or at a currency exchange booth in the city. Always compare rates at different places before committing to one.

While many establishments in the Philippines do take a debit or credit card, don’t count on all places accepting it. Many smaller shops, restaurants or hostels may only accept cash.

Keep in mind that once in the country it can be more difficult to exchange from a currency that’s not widely used. So, convert your currency to USD or GBP before exchanging it to PHP. Lastly, the currency exchange can fluctuate frequently, but as of December 2018 £1 is equal to roughly 67 PHP.

Is the Philippines cheap?

When a country is referred to as “expensive” or “cheap”, it’s important to remember that this is relative. It all depends on where you’re coming from, how strong your currency is versus the currency of the Philippines and what kind of traveller you are. Those who like to travel in luxury, staying at five-star hotels, dining at the fanciest restaurants and booking the most expensive tours will spend a lot more than the average backpacker.

But if you stay in hostels, taking advantage of free breakfasts and a kitchen to cook in, you can live very cheaply. Many hostels also offer discounts on tours, and you can buddy up with other people from the hostel to lower costs in just about everything, making the Philippines a very cheap place for backpackers. However, stay aware of the currency exchange and what you’re spending, putting aside some money for necessities and adventures.

Food prices in the Philippines

As a starting point, expect to spend between 150 PHP (£2) for a very inexpensive meal at a local restaurant serving Filipino food, to 375 PHP (approximately £5.50) for a meal at a mid-range restaurant with more than one course or serving international cuisine.

Typically there will be a 12% VAT as well as a local tax and a service charge added to your food bill in the Philippines, especially if you’re eating at a hotel or a sit-down, fancier establishment. Otherwise, if you eat at a roadside place or street market you probably won’t encur these additional charges. This means you could budget £20 a day for food, though some days you’ll spend much less.

backpacking Philippines - food

? Max Joseph Cordova

If you’re spending a long time in the Philippines, consider utilising hostel kitchens and opting to buy groceries instead of eating out as a way to save money. Food shopping in the Philippines is even cheaper than eating in restaurants. Fruits and vegetables in the Philippines are not only delicious and fresh but also very affordable, costing between 50 PHP and 70 PHP for a kilo. A loaf of bread is also less than £1 and a large water bottle is around 30 PHP, or less than £0.50. You can save a lot of money by cooking and you’ll be eating healthy too!

 

Places to visit in the Philippines

Philippines beaches

The Philippines is home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, and the best part is that you can experience them on a backpacker’s budget. Many hostels are even located on the beach, or just steps away. But, if it’s your first time visiting the Philippines and you’re not sure which beaches you should add to your itinerary, here’s a little advice.

Topping the list of the country’s best beach destinations are El Nido, Puerto Princesa, Boracay, Cebu, and Bohol. Within these destinations there are individual beaches you can venture to. For instance, in El Nido, you can find Nacpan Beach, Las Cabanas Beach, and Marimegmeg Beach. In Puerto Princesa there are some great beaches too, like Monkey Beach, Talaudyong Beach, and Napsan Beach. In Boracay, many people like to visit Ilig Iligan Beach and White Beach. Cebu is so incredibly vast with dozens of islands, each with their own stunning shorelines. But, some Cebu beaches to put on your list are Paradise Island, Moalboal and Santiago Bay. If you head over to Bohol, you can find Alona Beach, Panglao Beach and Dumaluan Beach.

Wherever you are, it’s not hard to discover your own little gems just by getting out and exploring the area. Everyone has their favourite beaches, but you’ll likely find your very own. Of course, be safe and remember that lifeguards aren’t always prevalent. Swim or surf with a buddy and don’t go too far out from the shore.

backpacking Philippines -Philippine beaches

? Vincent Agustin Tungpalan

Philippines islands

If you want to see the best and most beautiful islands in the Philippines, head to Palawan or Cebu. Palawan is a large island, home to El Nido and Puerto Princesa as well as many different smaller islands nearby, like Coron. Cebu comprises many islands too, like Mactan, Malapascua, Zaragoza, Olango and Camotes. Cebu is also close to other island provinces like Bohol.

In my opinion, Thailand has nothing on island-hopping in the Philippines. There are more than 7,500 islands in The Philippines – some that are very remote or small – which is a lot to choose from. Some islands are much larger and therefore more accessible to tourists.

For instance, if you fly directly to Boracay then you’re already on the island you need to be on. But in other cases, if the island is smaller or not accessible by flight, you may need to take a ferry. This is the case for travellers to Cebu who want to go to Bohol. Even though it is possible to fly into Tagbilaran Airport, most people choose to take the ferry from Cebu to Bohol because it’s much cheaper. The same goes for travellers to Coron. For the most part, transportation around the Philippines is reliable and you can get where you need to go easily.

If you want to island hop from one small island to the next, the best way is by either going through a tour company or renting a private boat for the day. All you have to do is ask your hostel how you can schedule a trip. Most hostels will even have their own tours on site. Some great places to start are; Coron Island, where you can ride over to the Twin Lagoons, Palawan, where you can visit places like Puka Beach, or El Nido, where you can island hop around Bacuit Bay.

Island hopping prices vary, but in general tours are around £15 per person per day.

backpacking Philippines - Hana La Rock

? Hana La Rock

Cebu Island

If you don’t want to waste any time getting to beautiful beaches, fly directly to Cebu island. Cebu is considered one of the best destinations for beaches, nature and water activities. It’s easy to get to as there’s an international airport in the city, which also welcomes domestic flights from Manila.

If you like waterfalls, be sure to take a day to visit Kawasan Falls, which looks like something straight off a postcard. Head down south to Oslob for a whale shark watching tour. Moalboal, on the west coast of the island, has gorgeous beaches and affordable hostels like Moalboal Backpacker Lodge. Cebu Island is also a popular spot for diving and diving courses. But if that’s not for you then you can opt for snorkeling, swimming or other water activities instead.

backpacking Philippines - cebu island

? @joshbrook_

Cebu Island is also home to Cebu City, the Philippines’ main shipping port. It’s one of the biggest and most modern cities in the Philippines as well as the oldest, and you can find many remnants of the past here. But you don’t need to look far to find trendy shops, bars and restaurants where the locals hang out. If you come to Cebu, it’s worth spending some time in the city before heading out to the beaches and surrounding islands.

? Check out hostels in Cebu ?

El Nido

El Nido is a dream for backpackers. Whether you’re looking for a place to party, a place to relax or an easy jump-off point to touristy spots and beautiful beaches, you’ll find it here. Whatever you choose, you won’t be far from all the beautiful things that draw people to this spot in Palawan. Some great places for El Nido backpackers to visit in town are the Big Lagoon and Small Lagoon, or the various islands like Entalula Island and Matinloc Island. You can also spend the day hanging out at Nacpan Beach, diving, snorkeling, kayaking and sailing. If that’s not what you’re into, you can spend your time in El Nido relaxing back at your hostel and meeting other travellers.

backpacking philippines - El Nido

? Vincent Agustin Tungpalan

? Check out hostels in El Nido ?

Manila

The Philippines’ chaotic capital may not be the top destination on every backpacker’s itinerary, but Manila is absolutely worth a visit on your trip to the Philippines and makes a nice change of scenery from all those perfect beaches. For a while, anyway ?.

Manila is a great place to learn about the country’s history and experience some wild nightlife. You can go on a walk through the colonial area of Intramuros, try delicacies like Balut at the night markets, visit a high-end shopping mall, go for a stroll along Manila Bay, have a picnic in Rizal Park or check out one of the coolest aquariums in the world at Manila Ocean Park. Manila is also the best place to try some delicious Filipino cuisine, whether that’s in a fancy restaurant or at a chain like Max’s or Jollibee. It’s also where many of the country’s museums are, like the Pinto Art Museum and the National Museum of the Philippines.

If you’re going to be spending a lot of time backpacking through the country then don’t miss an opportunity to come to Manila. Best of all, the city is the perfect jumping off point to nearly anywhere else in the country, so spend a few days here before heading off to your next destination.

backpacking Philippines - manila

? Bash Carlos 

? Check out hostels in Manila?

Party islands

The Philippines is a welcoming destination for everyone, no matter your age or interests. Families with young children come here, as do honeymooners, seniors and of course backpackers. Some people come to relax or go island hopping, while others come to party!

The number one party island in the Philippines is Boracay, home to dozens of bars and clubs where backpackers love to hang out. Some lively places to check out are: Summer Palace Night Club, Guilly’s Island, Cocomangas and Nigi Nigi Nu Noos Bar.

Manila and Cebu each have a cool nightlife scene too, but don’t have the major benefit of sitting directly on the beach!

backpacking Philippines - party islands

Boracay ? Ramon Kagie 

Philippines points of interest

You’ve read about the best beaches and islands in the Philippines. You know where to go to party. But what about sightseeing? What places in the Philippines are a must see, even if they aren’t in a big city or on a paradisiacal island?

The Philippines is full of beautiful sights, so it’s hard to know where to begin. But if you only have time to visit a few, I recommend checking out:

  • Puerto Princesa Underground River
  • Tubbataha Reefs National Park
  • The remarkable Chocolate Hills on Bohol
  • Ifugao for ancient places and practices, like the Banaue Rice Terraces and traditional tattoos
  • Samar for cool caves and rock formations
  • San Agustin Church and Intramuros in Manila
  • Magellan’s Cross and Fort San Pedro in Cebu
  • Taal Volcano near Manila which is the world’s smallest active volcano
  • Vigan UNESCO World Heritage Center on Luzon Island
  • Siquijor – a mysterious island home to witchcraft legends

backpacking Philippines - ocean and people
? Vincent Agustin Tungpalan

Cebu backpacking itinerary

Cebu and its surrounding islands are ideal for beachgoers, and the sights of Cebu City are certainly worth seeing.

While you’re in Cebu City, make time to visit Fort San Pedro, a military fort built by the Spanish. It’s located in Plaza Independencia and is a cool place to learn some history, take some photos and admire views of the city. Magellan’s Cross is also here and is an impressive sight to behold.

When you’re done, head over to Mactan for a day at the beach and a delicious lunch at Lantaw Floating Native Restaurant, where you can get fresh seafood in a hut overlooking the water.

Moalboal is a good place for some water activities or hanging out on the beautiful shore, while Oslob is ideal for those looking to catch a glimpse of whale sharks. You can also take a day trip to Kawasan Falls where you can go swimming or canyoneering – not for the faint-hearted!

backpacking Philippines - snorkelling

? Jorge Rosal 

Palawan Backpacking Itinerary

Palawan is a massive island that’s a gateway to many other smaller islands. When people visit Puerto Princesa, El Nido or Coron, they may not even realise they’re on Palawan as these islands are popular enough to be considered destinations in themselves. However, you can arrive at any one of these destinations on Palawan and make your way through the island with various stops along the way.

You could start at the northernmost point of Palawan by flying into Coron. Coron is located on the Calamian islands, which is a great place to start an island hopping tour. It’s also a good place to do some diving, with unique sights like the Irako Shipwreck to discover. It’s also worth visiting the Maquinit Hot Springs, especially if you come to Coron at a time when the weather isn’t so nice. Kayangan Lake and Barracuda Lake are stunning, and perfect destinations for those who aren’t so comfortable swimming in the open ocean. And don’t miss a day trip to Calauit Island National Park, where you can try to catch a glimpse of non-native wildlife on safari.

When you’re done, take a ferry or another plane over to El Nido on the mainland. El Nido is a popular beach destination, but if you want to get away from the shore for a bit you can make a trip to the Big and Small Lagoons (yes, these are their names). If you’re brave enough, visit Secret Beach, which you’ll need to swim through a hole to get to. El Nido is a great place for outdoor activities, whether it’s ziplining, kayaking, diving, snorkelling, renting a motorbike or simply watching the sunset. If you want to party you can sign up for a boozy cruise or head to one of the local bars or clubs.

backpacking Philippines - hana la rock

? Hana La Rock

Finally, make your way down to Puerto Princesa. There are loads of cool spots to add to your itinerary, including the Underground River. While water activities can be done virtually anywhere in the Philippines, Puerto Princesa is really the place that has it all. They offer everything from jet skiing to kite surfing and fly fishing. You can also go ATVing around El Nido, visit the countryside prison at Iwahig Prison or go island hopping around Honda Bay. El Nido is also a great place to have a massage and indulge in local seafood.

Boracay Backpacking Itinerary

You already know that Boracay is The Philippines’ number one party island, but you don’t need to be a hedonist to visit. Boracay also offers beautiful beaches, water sports, island hopping and hiking.

White Beach is the most frequented beach on Boracay and is popular with tourists. The beach is well-known for a reason, but if you want to go somewhere a little more private then head to Yapak Beach, which tends to be less crowded. There are also interesting islands to visit, like Crocodile Island which is actually in the shape of a crocodile. Adrenaline junkies head to Boracay for freediving and cliff-diving, but you should always take precautions when deciding whether to do one of these activities.

Kite surfing tends to be the go-to activity in The Philippines, but for those more inclined to parasailing Boracay is the place for you. You can also do zorbing, enrol in a mermaid school or take a visit to the bat caves.

Boracay is also a nice place to relax without spending too much money. You could go for a spa day or take a cooking course. If you’d still like a taste of the party scene, why not join a pub crawl?

backpacking philippines - boracay rock

? Vincent Agustin Tungpalan

Ferry To Bohol/island hopping

Bohol is a popular island destination in the Philippines. It’s easy to get to and has a lot to offer, meaning backpackers from all over the world have Bohol at the top of their list. Most travellers to Bohol fly into Cebu first, then take a ferry over. There are three companies that offer this service: Oceanjet, 2Go Supercat and Weesam. Be aware that Weesam have a limited daily schedule.

You can buy tickets online at each company’s website, or in person at the ticketing office near the piers. Several ferries go back and forth throughout the day so you should have no problem going on a day trip, though the journey takes 2 hours. Bohol Coco Farm hostel is highly recommended!

The cost of the ferry ride depends on how far in advance you book, the season, the time of day you’ll be traveling and what class you choose. In general you can expect to spend around £10 per round-trip ticket.

You will arrive in Bohol at Tagbilaran port. From there, take a tuk-tuk to one of the island’s beaches like Alona, Panglao or Dumaluan. If you’d rather island hop around Bohol, you can book a tour at one of the many companies in Tagbilaran. You can book them online separately or through your hostel if they are offered.

 

Filipino food

Bicol express

Bicol express is a must-have when you’re visiting the Philippines. It’s a traditional stew that’s made with coconut milk as a base and combines chilis, onion, shrimp paste, garlic and other vegetables (the actual ingredients may vary from place to place). The dish is supposed to be very spicy and quick and easy to make, which explains the ‘express’ part. It originated in Malate, Manila, but can be eaten anywhere. However, if you want to try this dish where it all started, the best place to do so is in the capital city.

Filipino dishes

Filipino food encompasses ingredients from many different regions and ethnic groups around the Philippines and the rest of the world. As the country has always been a main stop on trade routes, the food has influences from India, China, Spain, Malaysia, Indonesia and more. The food may remind you of dishes you might have in Latin America, Malaysia or another Pacific island.

Seafood – particularly fish – is common, as is pork. Lechon, an entire roasted pig, is a dish many foreigners crave and it’s definitely worth trying while you’re backpacking in the Philippines. Stews and noodles are also favourites of the Filipino people. Dishes here feature a lot of seasoning and spice. One unique spice they use is called “Calamansi” which comes from a citrus fruit and is combined with soy sauce to cook certain dishes with.

backpacking Philippines - Filipino food prawns
? Max Joseph Cordoba

If you’re a foodie that’s interested in trying the local cuisine but you’re not quite sure what to order, here’s what you can hunt for:

  • Sinigang: A soup made with a sour broth, cooked with meat, vegetables, shrimp or other combinations.
  • Sisig: Meat from the pig’s face and other parts (such as liver) seasoned on a skillet. Sometimes mixed with vegetables and an egg.
  • Crispy pata: Like lechon, but a smaller variation where the pork is deep-fried.
  • Pancit: Not to be confused with “pancito”, pancit is a much-loved noodle dish cooked with Calamansi.
  • Adobo: A dish that involves cooking meat (often chicken, but not always) in a sauce that’s made with soy sauce, vinegar and garlic.

These are just a few of the delicious meals you’ll find in the Philippines. Of course, the Philippines is a diverse country, and in the cities it’s not hard to find foods from all over the world. Whether you prefer Thai, Korean, Japanese or American food, you’ll find it in Manila or Cebu.

Afritada is another popular Filipino dish that’s not to be confused with frittata! It involves cooking chicken in tomato sauce with carrots and red bell peppers. After simmering in the sauce, it’s usually served over white rice. This is something you would eat in a Filipino home (it’s more common to find adobo in restaurants) but home-style restaurants may have it.

 

Filipino culture and customs

Filipino people

When you come to the Philippines you’re in for a real treat. Filipino people are some of the most hospitable in the world. They’re extremely friendly and always want to make sure everyone feels welcome. Expect lots of smiles and flowing conversation, as most Filipinos speak English.

An English-speaking person may refer to a person from the Philippines as “Filipino” (male) or “Filipina” (female). If you really want to sound like a local, you should get familiar with what Filipinos call themselves in Tagalog, which is “Pinoy” for a male and “Pinay” for a female. When referring to a group, you can say “Pinoys” or “Filipinos”, but be aware of the circumstances in which you’d need to use this language, as it’s never really polite to refer to another person by the country they come from!

Philippines language

Filipino people speak Tagalog, which is the country’s national language alongside English. Many however speak different dialects or languages depending on their roots. In fact, there are more than 150 languages spoken in the Philippines and the further out you travel the more you might begin to identify.

Tagalog has been influenced by Spanish, so if you speak Spanish or know a little bit you may recognise some words. Spanish was at one point the other national language here, and many classical texts are actually written in Spanish. There are still many areas of the Philippines that speak a form of Spanish called Chavacano, mostly in Luzon and Mindanao.

Other languages you may hear a lot in the Philippines are Hokkien, Tamil (from Nepal) and Malay. Remember that the Philippines is very diverse, and throughout history people emigrated from all over the continent. Most Filipinos will also be able to understand English as it’s taught in most schools.

When you travel to another country and you don’t speak the native language, it’s always considered polite to learn how to say some basic words. In Tagalog, the word for “thank you” is “Salamat.”

If you want to greet a Filipino you can say “hello” or “hi” in English and most will understand you. But if you really want to make an effort then you can say “Kumusta” which literally means “How are you?”

backpacking Philippines - beach

? Vincent Agustin Tungpalan

Philippines religion

The main religion in the Philippines is Catholicism, and the country is ultimately considered a Catholic state, with 90% of the country practicing the religion. Most Filipinos would consider themselves religious or at least a little bit spiritual. Because of this, you’ll be able to see many beautiful churches throughout the country.

Philippines history

The Philippines has a long and interesting history, and as a traveller to the country it never hurts to familiarise yourself with some of it. It’s believed that most Filipinos come from Malay descent as Malaysian people came to the Philippines around 3,000 B.C.E. These days though, most Filipinos can trace their roots to a variety of places around the Asian continent.

The country was colonised by the Spanish in the 1600s, who brought with them Catholicism, building schools and churches and converting most of the population to the religion. They also brought over the Spanish language. Although many words in Tagalog are influenced by Spanish, Tagalog became the official language in the 1930s when it was chosen to unify the population.

Under the Spanish the Philippines became a major shipping port, and goods like silk were brought to the country from China and transported as far as the Americas.

The Philippines fell under American occupation when the Spanish lost the war to them at the end of the 1800s. Finally, on July 4th 1946, The Philippines officially declared their independence and appointed their first president, Manuel Roxas. There is a long boulevard in Manila that’s named after him.

 

Is the Philippines safe

Mindanao

Overall The Philippines is a safe country, but travellers should take the same precautions they would anywhere else. Don’t carry around valuables or a lot of cash at once, keep your bag close to your body and don’t attract unnecessary attention to yourself. In general, the Philippines is very friendly towards foreign travellers, and while crimes of opportunity can happen, typically these are non-violent crimes like pick-pocketing.

There are however some areas of the Philippines that travellers are advised against traveling to. One of these areas is Mindanao. Both the U.K. government and the U.S. government strongly recommend that travellers avoid this region, as it is currently under martial law. It has seen violent protests, terrorist attacks and civil unrest. It’s best to avoid coming here at all costs. Travelling to Mindanao isn’t necessary anyway, as all the places you’ll likely want to visit are far from here.

Always be vigilant, pay attention to the news and travel warnings from your government, and if a place seems like it could be dangerous, then don’t take any chances. Avoid large crowds, protests, or getting involved any kind of political activity.

 

Philippines travel advice

Philippines visa

Most travellers to The Philippines do not need a visa to enter, but it depends on which country your passport is from and how long you intend to stay. For example, U.S. citizens are given 30 days visa-free in The Philippines on arrival, as long as they have a return flight and six months validity on their passport. Citizens of the U.K. are also given 30 days visa-free and can apply for an extension for an additional 59 days prior to travel. The 30-day visa-free rule also goes for passport holders from Canada and Australia. Otherwise, you can apply for an extension upon arrival to the Philippines at the Philippine Bureau of Immigration.

Vaccinations for The Philippines

The Center of Disease Control (CDC) recommends that most travellers have Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccinations, and that some travellers have Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis and Yellow Fever vaccinations. A lot depends on where you’re coming from, where you’re going and what kind of activities you plan on doing while in the Philippines. The best thing you can do is to consult your doctor a few months before traveling to find out which vaccinations you should get. You should also talk to your doctor about what precautions to take against rabies and malaria.

backpacking Philippines - rock and rafting

? Vincent Agustin Tungpalan

So what are you waiting for? Get booking those flights to The Philippines now!

 

Keep reading:

? 7 secret islands in the Philippines you won’t believe are real! ?

? 11 best things to do in the Philippines for adventure nerds ?

? The ultimate guide to backpacking Southeast Asia ?

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