The Philippines is an archipelago located in the Southeast Asian corner of the world. With over 7,000 islands comprising this nation, it’s no wonder that it can offer tourists a multitude of magnificent attractions. Spectacular scenes of nature, luxurious beaches, outstanding man-made architecture, heart-warming welcome from the locals, delectable cuisines, and beautiful historic sites await you in the Philippines. Here’s everything you need to know prior to planning a trip to the Philippines.
Getting There and Around Philippines
If you’re a citizen of the United States, you won’t need to apply for a Philippine tourist visa for a stay of up to 21 days. However, if you’re planning to stay longer than the maximum 3 weeks, then you should apply for one. A lot of travel agencies can help make the process hassle-free for you, but if you prefer to do it on your own, submitting a visa application shouldn’t be that difficult. If you’re aiming to book connecting flights overseas, be sure to check the need for a separate transit visa for the other countries you’ll be passing through. Lastly, make sure your passport is valid for at least 3 months following your target departure date from the Philippines.
Now that the required travel documents are out of the way, you can begin hunting for deals on inexpensive flights to the Philippines. Most international flights land in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Manila, which is the busiest airport in the country. You can also search for flights that will land in Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) in the Lapu Lapu Island of Cebu. This is a much better option since you’ll be able to avoid a lot of chaos that practically describes the NAIA. Another international airport where you might choose to arrive is Davao’s International Airport. Of course, the choice of your point of entry and exit will also depend largely on your itinerary.
Once in the country, you can choose any of the various transportation modes to get around. The major towns have a lot of taxicabs which can whisk you off to your desired city destination. This can be quite expensive, and careful negotiation is recommended as some drivers may charge exorbitant fees for getting you to the far-flung areas. If you want to get a taste of what it really feels like to travel as the Filipinos do, then give the jeepneys a try. These local public utility vehicles have designated routes, much like the buses you have at home. In the rural areas and provinces, you might also be surprised at the sight of tricycles, which are motorcycles with attached sidecars. Riding in one is an experience you’ll never be able to forget. Additionally, if you want to travel from island to island, you won’t be able to avoid riding the assortment of boats and ferries. Not all inter-island trips are possible by air so prepare to travel by water.
Best Time to Visit the Philippines
If you aren’t really bothered by pesky rain showers and humid climate, you can travel to the Philippines any time, with perhaps Holy Week/Easter as the exception. This is the time of the year when majority of the hotels are booked, even when you try to arrange your accommodations well in advance. The rates can also be astronomical.
You should also know that June to early December makeup the typhoon months; your vacation might be spoiled by mean weather that could last for days. Since you can’t look into a crystal ball and accurately predict the arrival of such storms, it’s best to adopt the locals’ motto towards the climate – whatever happens, happens.
Generally, the best weather occurs from January to May. Predictably, this is also when hordes of tourists choose to visit the country and throngs of locals are on the move. Thankfully, aside from the really famous beach resorts, it isn’t really that challenging to avoid the crowds. The less touristy season is comprised by the months of June to September, which is when the rains usually fall. Rates can be at their lowest during this period of time.
Things to Do and Places to Visit
The Philippines is a 7,641-island playground and has 3 major groupings of islands – Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. It has absolutely everything you’ll ever aim to do and see during your stay. Here is a run-down of the places you will want to go to and the activities you can engage in.
As the largest island in the country, Luzon has scores of attractions to lure any tourist. The country’s capital, Manila, is situated on this island. The city is a melting pot of centuries-old structures and stylish up-and-coming architecture. Everywhere you look, you’ll see this interesting combination assert itself in the numerous modern high-rise buildings along with the sprinkling of age-old edifices. Manila is also where you’ll be able to visit the Luneta Park, which is also called Rizal Park in memory of the country’s national hero. Whether it’s museum hopping, serious shopping, club dancing, or church visiting you want to do, Manila can surely accommodate you.
Luzon is also home to the world’s most perfectly shaped volcano – the Mayon Volcano. Despite its being active, thousands flock to Bicol just to view this magnificent creation of nature. You don’t have to worry about being buried under ash and rock, though. The local authorities make it their personal mission to monitor its volcanic activities. While you’re in the region, it might also be good to check out nearby Sorsogon’s Whale Shark Watching and Camarines Sur’s other thrilling watersports.
Speaking of volcanoes, you should also add the Taal Volcano (and Lake) to your list of things to visit. There are various tours that offer boat rides and hikes to see it up close. Besides, the ever cool climate in Tagaytay, which overlooks the volcano, will provide you much relief from the summer heat.
Another world-famous attraction is the Banaue Rice Terraces in the mountains of Ifugao. Tourists will die to hike to this 2000-year-old rice terraces, declared by the Philippine government as a National Cultural Treasure. With the jaw-dropping beauty of the terraces constructed mostly by hand, the country’s citizens surely have a reason to boast.
Laguna’s Pagsanjan Falls is one of the Philippines’ most well-known waterfalls. To arrive at the falls, you will need to go on a river trip and ride a canoe, which is known locally as Shooting the Rapids. During the course of the boat ride, one’s breath will be taken away by not only the fantastic falls, but also the surrounding lush foliage.
Other Luzon attractions include the Vigan Heritage Village in Ilocos Sur, placed in the UNESCO world heritage list since 1999, the Underground River in Palawan, also listed in UNESCO world heritage site, and Hundred Islands in Pangasinan.
At the top of the list of attractions in the Visayas is the Queen City of the South – Cebu. The Lapu Lapu Shrine, built to honor the heroic efforts of the chieftain to fight off Spanish invasion, is a good place to start. It is located in Mactan Island, where the airport is. You shouldn’t also miss Magellan’s Cross, which is a cross planted by Spanish and Portuguese explorers when they arrived in Cebu. Next to the chapel which houses the cross is the Basilica of Santo Niño, an amazing Catholic church built out of stone in the 16th century. The Basilica’s museum is also a must-see as it showcases a wide array of religious artifacts, antique furniture, and even the various cloaks of Santo Niño (the child image of Jesus Christ) donated by individuals over the years.
You can also visit the country’s oldest street, Colon Street, in the downtown area of Cebu city. Along this long street, you’ll find an admirable range of establishments – old movie houses, quaint food shops, Chinese stores, and several other businesses. Be sure to keep watch over your belongings if you’re planning to go on foot. There can be some seedy characters in the area. Other sights and activities include scuba diving in Moalboal, visiting Olango’s wildlife sanctuaries, enjoying a panoramic view of the city from the Taoist Temple, and of course, spending your money for souvenirs at any of the city’s gift shops and malls.
Bohol, another Visayas destination, is also a great place to tour around. A trip to Bohol won’t be complete without seeing its legendary Chocolate Hills, which, as its name implies, turn chocolate brown during the summer time. There are two locations where you can view the magnificence of these hills – from Sagbayan and from Carmen. On the way to Carmen, you can also stop and observe the Tarsiers, an endangered species. Even though they can be irresistible, try to restrain yourself from touching them; it’s prohibited. For an entirely great lunch break, head to Loboc River and join the lunch river cruise. As you feast on delectable food while singers serenade you, the floating restaurant makes its way through the river and stops at Busay Falls before turning back. Other sites to visit are the Bohol Bee Farm, Baclayon Church, Blood Compact Site, and the Hinagdanan Cave.
As Mindanao’s largest city, Davao deserves more than just a mention. Davao’s Philippine Eagle Nature Center in Calinan will treat you to a viewing of the rare Philippine eagle and various other flora and fauna. You will also find the walingwaling, a type of orchid, in this region. Because of Davao’s fair weather conditions throughout the year, you’ll find plenty of orchid farms showcasing the exquisitely lovely blooms. Mountaineers will also cherish the idea of climbing the Grandfather of Philippine Volcanoes – Mt. Apo. Being the Philippines’ highest peak, you’ll have to allot about 4 days for the reasonably manageable trek. Along the way, you’ll get to see (or even talk to) the natives, admire the wondrous countryside, and if you’re lucky, spot the rare monkey-eating eagle.
If you’re into whitewater rafting, visiting Cagayan de Oro is just what you need. There are various courses to take, depending on your level of skill expertise. Whether you’re just a beginner who will be trying the adventure for the first time or a seasoned rafting enthusiast, CDO has something to match you. Thrill seekers should also sample the city’s zipline, canyoneering, and river trekking adventures. For a more relaxed holiday, try the Tsada Kagay-an Half Day City Tour, visit the Malasag Eco-Tourism Village and Gardens, and shop ‘til you drop at the night market.
Famous Philippine Beaches
Philippine beaches are among the finest in the world, and that’s not even an exaggeration. Still not convinced? Then read on.
The beaches of Boracay are, perhaps, the most famous of them all. Grill any tourist who has been to the Philippines. More than likely, you’ll discover that he or she has heard of (or been to) this island in the western region of the Visayas. With lusciously fine white sand, crystal-clear waters, hospitable locals, and an endless assortment of water sports and activities, Boracay sure earns its reputation as the top beach to visit. Add to that a hopping night life, a string of luxury hotels, and a choice of inexpensive resorts, and what you have is a divine beach called Boracay.
On an entirely different level, the El Nido beaches in Palawan are perfect for the tourist looking for some peace and tranquility. El Nido’s to-die-for landscapes, pristinely preserved white sands, and considerable number of enjoyable water activities can give Boracay beaches some significant competition. Of course, the choice rests entirely up to you.
If you happen to be looking for the surfer’s paradise, you’ll find it in the island of Siargao. It has the most amazing surfing conditions you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the country. The waves can reach up to an astonishing height of 12 feet. Plus, the unspoiled beaches are another thing to look forward to. Other beaches worth mentioning include Dakak Beach in Zamboanga, Panglao Island in Bohol, and Mactan’s beaches in Cebu.
Foods to Try
Epicures won’t be disappointed by Philippine cuisine, as it boasts a vast variety to choose from. You’ll want to try Cebu’s famous lechon, the Spanish-inspired, succulent roasted pork. Zubuchon’s lechon is highly rated by Anthony Bourdain, a renowned American chef and TV celebrity. Cheap street food can be found in the entire country, so dig into your pockets for loose change, and buy some. Kwek kwek (fried flour-covered quail eggs), tempura (the inexpensive and street-style reinvention of the Japanese dish), and squid balls are a few examples of items sold in the streets. They’re served on sticks and can be dipped into two types of sauces, spicy or sweet.
You’ll also want to sample kare-kare (oxtail stew that can taste a bit like peanut butter), the Spanish/Mexican-influenced adobo (pork/chicken cooked with soy sauce, onion, and vinegar), and dinuguan (pork blood stew). For those who have some predilection for the exotic, try the balut, a fertilized duck egg with the almost-mature embryo inside. Dip it in some salt or vinegar, and you’re good to go!
With all the experiences it has to offer, the Philippines is one destination you won’t regret visiting. In fact, you’d probably be coming back for more!