I recently visited the Philippines for a two week trip around a number of the islands. The Philippines had been high on my bucket list for a few years and I had extremely high expectations for the country.
Whilst I really enjoyed my time in the Philippines, I definitely think there are several things that you need to know and consider when you plan your trip to the country. In this article, I share 12 useful tips, information and things to know before you go to the Philippines.
1) WIFI And Internet
If you read up about WiFi in the Philippines you will hear that it’s limited and almost unusable. As my business is mostly run online I was nervous about my trip and not being able to access a reliable internet connection.
So I made sure everything that must be done was scheduled in advance, blog posts, social media posts, emails all up to date and set an out of office on my email. But I found that actually this wasn’t necessary.
WiFi in the hotels we stayed at in Donsol, Cebu and Puerto Princesa were all good enough. Once we got to El Nido and Coron it was a lot more challenging to find decent wifi but not it existed which was a positive!
Use a Local SIM Card
My advice, however, would be to buy a local SIM card on arrival at the airport in the Philippines. My husband always researches the best companies in advance of any trip to find the ones that have the widest coverage.
There are two good providers in the Philippines, Globe and Smart. We each got 8GB of data for 700 Philippines Pesos (~$14) on Globe and also bought one extra Smart SIM as a back up so we could try out both companies in case one didn’t work in one area.
At the data stands you will also see they offer portable WiFi hubs. A friend bought one of these and told me it did not work at all so although we didn’t try it ourselves I would advise against it and go for the SIM card instead. You can turn your phone into a wifi hotspot which should give you coverage most places.
All together this was about US $45 ($15/each for 8GB), which if your business or work is online is completely worth it. We had coverage everywhere we visited, I was even answering emails whilst on a boat seeing whale sharks! (Yes – I need to switch off more). The cell coverage was great everywhere, except again for El Nido and Coron where it worked but was very slow.
2) Book In Advance
I read lots of blog posts and advice when we planned our trip and loads of people said to wait until you are in the Philippines to book hotels and travel, that way you can decide your itinerary as you go and if you like a particular island can stay longer.
However, unless you are backpacking and have plenty of time on your hands this is bad advice – at least in my experience. We booked hotels and flights about two weeks in advance and found we were extremely limited on hotel choices in many places, especially El Nido and Coron where we had almost no choice at all within our budget.
We also found domestic flight prices had increased and in some cases, we were not able to even get a flight on the day we wanted and had to completely alter our original rough itinerary. Plus we almost could not get back to Manila for our outbound international flight and got the last two seats on a flight that was not even originally our choice.
So I advise you to plan ahead if you want choice, it may remove some of the flexibility in your itinerary but you will at least get the hotels and flights that you actually want!
3) There Are A Lot Of Tourists
Last year I visited Japan and was overwhelmed by the number of people at every place of interest, honestly it really spoiled my experience and impression of Japan. Unfortunately in some parts of the Philippines, I felt the same.
There are a lot of people and it can really make some activities quite unpleasant. If you don’t like the crowds and would rather have fewer people around, I suggest heading to some lesser-visited islands, such as Siargao and Siquijor.
Or venturing totally off the beaten path, talking to locals and finding lesser-known places. There are over 7,000 islands in the Philippines so there are a lot of places to choose from and I am sure plenty of them are less crowded.
Kawasan Falls was particularly crowded. We made the mistake of visiting Kawasan during a national holiday which was one of the most crowded days of the years for tourists and locals alike. Make sure to check the local holidays and try to visit as early as possible to avoid the crowds!
4) Travel Days Can Be Long
When you start putting together your Philippines itinerary you will quickly discover that navigating between each of the places you want to visit is not that easy. With most points of interest being on different islands, you will have to take several domestic flights and boats to get around.
We started with a lot more on our itinerary and then removed some places to minimise how many islands we would visit and how many of the days of our trip would be taken up as travel days. We still had to take 4 internal flights (plus our international flights in and out of Manila), one 6 hour car ride and one 4 hour boat.
Our itinerary was:
- 3 nights in Donsol
- 3 nights in Cebu
- 3 nights in Puerto Princesa
- 3 nights El Nido
- 3 nights Coron.
If you want to do something similar you will have to add in at least 5 days that are taken up as travel days as getting between each location took a long time.
5) 2 Weeks Is Not Enough
As mentioned above getting around is not necessarily difficult, but it is time-consuming. We decided to come for two weeks and that is simply not enough to see all the main hotspots in the Philippines or to see any of the lesser-known places. I think a month would allow you to really see a good amount, but with so many islands there is no way you will see everything unless you move here!
So if you only have two weeks, except you won’t see everything that you want to, but you will see a good amount to really experience the Philippines. I suggest you prioritise your top picks, which for many is El Nido and Coron and add a few other stops in too.
6) Flights Are Often Delayed Or Cancelled
The weather in the Philippines can mean that flights are often delayed, cancelled or like one of ours – aborted. Every single flight we took was delayed by at least one hour so you need to factor this into your schedule and itinerary, especially when planning a connection to your international flights.
One of our flights from Manila to Legazpi (Donsol) actually had an aborted landing just as we were 2 minutes from touchdown on the runway and turned back to return to Manila due to intense bad weather. So we lost a day in Donsol due to the re-route and rescheduling of our flight.
As an extra tip, I always travel with travel insurance from World Nomads and I am often surprised how many people don’t! Having travel insurance meant we didn’t need to spend the night in the airport and could instead check into the Marriott next to Manila Airport which was completely covered by our travel insurance and try the journey again the following day.
Travel insurance is a MUST for a destination like the Philippines!
7) The Bluest Water You’ve Ever Seen
You have seen images all over the internet of the stunning beaches, rivers and waterfalls all with intense blues and turquoises. Often these images are the result of clever photoshop editing, but in the Philippines that is not the case – the water is just as blue you see in the photos.
In El Nido and Coron you will find some of the clearest water you have ever seen and at places like Kawasan Falls the most beautiful turquoise water that is a result of the limestone deposits present in the water.
8) Is Diving With Whale Sharks Ethical In The Philippines?
You may have seen many people diving and swimming with whale sharks in the Philippines and this is one of its most popular tourist attractions. Sadly, many of the images that you see are from Oslob, Cebu where the interaction with the whale sharks is a long way off being classed as ethical and responsible.
In fact, the whale shark diving at Oslob is closer to an amusement park experience, with hundreds of tourists in a queue and a feeding boat going down the line of tourists so they can get their pictures. Not ethical to say the least!
Donsol Is An Ethical Alternative
If like me, you prefer to have a more natural experience when you travel and try your best to travel in a responsible way you will hopefully have done your research and crossed off Oslob from your itinerary. But if you still want to see whale sharks in the wild in the Philippines you could go to Donsol instead.
Donsol is easy to reach from Manila, just a one hour flight to Legazby and then a 1-hour car ride. Here the community has worked with WWF to create a sustainable eco-tourism plan that lets swimmers see the whale sharks that congregate in this area but without compromising the treatment of the whale sharks.
In Donsol, the sharks are not fed or baited in any way and you really will go in search of them out in the ocean!
9) The Diving & Snorkelling Is Incredible
The Philippines is popular with diving enthusiasts and at most places, you will stop, you will find a few dive shops ready to take you to explore the underwater world.
In Donsol, as well as seeing whale sharks by snorkelling you can head out to Manta Bowl where you can find many whale sharks, manta rays and other sharks all in one amazing dive spot. And over in Coron, there are plenty of shipwrecks to dive at plus some of the best snorkelling I have ever done!
10) It Is Home To One Of The New 7 Wonders Of Nature!
The Underground River in Puerto Princesa was declared one of the new 7 Wonders Of Nature in 2011. It shares this honour with other wonders including the Amazon Rainforest, Halong Bay, Iguazu Falls, Komodo, Jeju Island and Table Mountain.
If you are checking all 7 wonders off your bucketlist you will not be disappointed with this one! I highly recommend visiting the Underground River during your time in the Philippines, it was one of my favourite activities during my trip.
11) It Is Safe To Visit The Philippines?
One question many people will ask is whether the Philippines is safe to visit. International media portrays Manila as a dangerous city, with a huge number of shootings.
One of our guides literally said to us ‘the Philippines is safe for tourists, you can walk up and down this street at night, you can dress provocatively and you will not be robbed or raped – that’s because no one will dare do that. If they do, that’s it – they will be dead!’.
Whilst this kind of comment is frightening in itself and by no means am I going to wade in on whether the current laws in place are the right ones implemented by the current president Rodrigo Duterte, it does mean the Philippines does feel safe for tourists. I never once felt threatened or unsafe in the county and only felt welcomed and warmth from everyone I met there.
For the most recent information, I recommend to check the current Philippines Travel Advisory page.
12) Set Your Expectations
As I said in my opening to this article my expectations were probably far too high for the Philippines and having spent a lot of time in tropical countries recently I probably needed a change of pace and travel style. But I do still feel that you need to set your expectations for the Philippines.
Whilst it is an absolutely beautiful and magical country, it does require a lot of moving around to see a good amount of it. And of course, like many destinations, it is very busy with a lot of tourists and that can dampen the experience in a place.
Overall the Philippines is a wonderful destination to visit and should be on your lifetime bucket list! I like to think that we all like countries in different ways and the only way to discover if a country is for you is to visit it yourself!
We hope that this article has inspired you to visit the Philippines. If you have any questions about the destination please leave these in the comments below.
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