Visiting the Philippines
The Philippines is one of Southeast Asia’s great treasures, with over 7000 tropical islands, it is the second-largest archipelago in the world.
Luzon, Visayas & Mindanao are the three main islands, each one is rich in history and has their own unique attraction to offer, making the country able to cater to all types of travelers.
Whether you are looking for a cosmopolitan adventure, a historical experience, a festive break or a laid-back vacation to some secluded island, the Philippines will have something in store for you.
It’s not just the places to see that makes visitors grow fond of
the Philippines, the Filipinos are warm and hospitable too.
Most tourists never leave the place without gaining good Filipino
The country and its people are influenced by a variety of cultures that has been a great part of the country’s history. Spain colonized it for over three hundred years. The Japanese occupied it during WWII. Then after helping to oust the Japanese, the Americans stayed till 1946 and helped the country re-establish its government after the war. All throughout, other cultures in Asia also immersed itself in the country, predominantly the Chinese & the Indians, who at first visited the country for trade reasons but eventually chosen to live and raise their families in the Philippines.
Although they are adaptive to any culture, keep in mind that most Filipinos are patriotic and can get easily offended if tourists make negative comments about the country. But in general Filipinos are a very friendly and welcoming people.
Weather is probably one of the best reasons to visit the Philippines. For those who prefer to pack light, the weather is just perfect!
It’s a tropical country, so its mostly humid throughout the year and the rainy season is not even cold enough to dampen your traveling mood.
The weather is considerably different in each region. The dry season runs from January – April, there might be occasional showers but for March & April mostly the weather would be sticky hot. Which makes it the best time to go island hopping.
March, April & May are the summer months, heavy rainfall or the wet season usually starts in mid or late May and continues till early or mid-October, which means occasional rainfall or a full-on typhoon.
From November – February, the afternoon heat would be bearable compared to the summer months and the winds are cooler in the evenings.
The weather also permits for a more casual dress code. Most establishments allow shorts and slippers. Just pack shoes and dress pants if you plan to do formal dining, visit the Casino or attend formal occasions.
The Philippines’ capital Manila is truly a cultural melting pot. The Filipino’s adaptive nature is so apparent to the Manileños, that Manila is said to be “the most Westernized Capital in Asia”.
Manila is comprised of 12 cities that are all on the main island of Luzon.
Your visit to the Philippines will not be complete without spending some time in Manila. The place is filled with historical sites, diverse architecture, dynamic nightlife and the shopping scene can accommodate for both the frugal and the luxurious shoppers.
Historical Manila - Along the southern bank of the Pasig River, you will find Intramuros. It was built in 1571, when the Spaniards were in control of the Philippines. In Latin Intramuros means "within the walls", and the word perfectly describes the place. At the end of WWII, Intramuros was left in ruins and the only structure that survived is the Philippines' oldest church, San Agustin. Within Intramuros are other historical landmarks, Fort Santiago, Rizal Shrine, the Manila Cathedral - where the local Catholic Archdiocese resides, Plaza de San Luis and Palacio de Gobernador. On the other side of Manila is the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas (UST), this Catholic University is the oldest existing university in Asia. Archbishop Miguel de Benavides founded it on April 28, 1611. It is the only university that has been visited by two popes three times, by Pope Paul VI in 1970 and twice by Pope John Paul II in 1981 and 1995. Situated in the heart of Manila is Rizal Park it is at the northern end of Roxas Boulevard, overlooking Manila Bay. The wide landscape is shaped like a small moon or “lunette”, so the locals fondly call it Luneta. Some of Philippine’s most significant political history happened in Luneta. The execution of the country’s National Hero José Rizal in1896, the Declaration of Philippine Independence from American rule in 1946 and the “People Power” rally for democracy in 1986 - led by former President Corazon Aquino.
Other sights to see:
The National Museum of the Philippines
Ocean Park Manila Bay
Binondo’s China Town - where you can also have the horse-drawn carriage ride commonly referred to as “Calesa” by the locals.
Metropolitan Museum of Manila
and the Ayala Museum
Quick Trip to the Countryside
To take a break from the noisy and polluted urban Manila life, you can go on a short trip to the countryside. Located south of Manila, is a city called Tagaytay. It’s about 2hrs (or 3 hours, depending really on the traffic conditions.) drive from anywhere in Manila. The city is famous for the view of the world’s smallest volcano that oddly enough also sits on a lake. Tagaytay city is perched 600-meters-highabove, so it serves as a giant viewing deck for the Taal Volcano and Taal Lake. Tourist and locals flock the restaurants and picnic grounds of the area to have breakfast or lunch with a breathtaking view.
Tourists can also enjoy tours of the lake. “Bangka” or small boats can be rented and use to cross the lake. Local guides are also available to offer horseback rides to the top of the volcano. The trip up and down the mountain presents a stunning view of the lake and its surroundings.
Located at General Emilio Aguinaldo Highway, Cliff House Tagaytay is one of the best dining spots. Besides offering the beautiful view of the Taal Lake and Volcano, the complex also offers a variety of food establishments to choose from, the place is perfect for romantic moments and scenic photos.
Other places to visit in Tagaytay:
Bag of Beans, ask for Coffee Alamid, which is one of the most expensive coffee in the world. This coffee became famous because it was featured in Oprah.
Sonya’s Garden (B&B and spa)
Calle Ruega Church
and The Pink Sisters
The Malate area is the epitome of old Manila. Some buildings are remnants of the Spanish era. At night, these old structures become alive. To see Malate for what it is, you have to start on Adriatico Street and walk the cluster of blocks lined with restaurants and bars that range from classy to cheap. Along Roxas Blvd you will find Baywalk, this busy strip runs alongside Manila Bay and it’s lined up with mostly open air drinking & dining places that usually offer live band entertainment.
Warnings from the local, although Manila is a tourist friendly area, Malate and Baywalk may not be the place for the faint hearted. Both areas offer all “types” of entertainment and open to all walks of life.
For the not so adventurous, you can enjoy a more tamed evening in Makati City. Its right outside Manila, in fact the district is called Metro Manila. Makati is the Central Business District of Luzon. Not to be outdone by Malate, Makati's nightlife along Ayala Ave, Jupiter Street and Makati Ave is packed with trendy bars and restaurants.
To name a few of the best bars in town, Cathouse, Rogue, Conway’s at Makati Shangri-La, Hard Rock Café, Jools (they have live cabaret shows) & Brewery. There are varieties of good restaurants and bars at the Greenbelt 2 & 3 compound too.
Manila is one of Asia’s best shopping destinations, it can measure up to Hong Kong’s posh shopping districts and the bargain hunts in Bangkok.
Malls are usually open till 9 in the evening or even till 10 during weekends and holidays. Plus, the usual midnight sale happens almost every month and almost every city in Manila and Metro Manila has more than 2 malls.
Along Manila Bay is Asia’s biggest mall, the SM Mall of Asia. It’s so huge that a day might not be enough to visit all the stores. The mall also has an IMAX theatre (ticket cost is about US$7-10.00), a science discovery center and a world-class convention center SMX.
Makati also boasts numerous malls. The biggest are Glorietta and Greenbelt. Greenbelt 4 and 5 is filled with boutiques from the world’s top luxury brands, so for the snazzy shoppers this is the place to go.
Not too far from Makati is Taguig City, where you can find Bonifacio High Street, upscale shops are all lined up in this block and just around the corner facing Serendra stands Fully Booked, which is haven for all book lovers. This 4-storey building is filled with books for all types of readers. Right across Bonifacio High Street is Serendra, this block is filled with charming restaurants and cafés.
Other malls you can visit:
Market! Market! (Taguig City, across Serendra)
SM Megamall (Mandaluyong City)
Trinoma (Quezon City)
Shangri-La Mall (across Edsa Shagri-La Hotel)
Robinson’s Galleria (Ortigas City)
and Robinson’s Place (Malate).
For the Bargain Hunters – Filipinos are smart shoppers and haggling is just in their nature. Here are some the local’s favorite bargain spots. Visiting Tiendesitas is like having a brief tour of the provinces in the country. It’s located at the edge of Ortigas City, this market showcases Filipino handicrafts, souvenirs and furniture. Not too far, is San Juan City, where you can find Greenhills, offering fashionable clothes, bags and even electronic devices at very reasonable prices. If you don’t mind the scorching heat and saving money is your priority, Divisoria Market is where you need to be. You can find almost everything in Divisoria and items here are sold in jaw-dropping prices. Baclaran is also one of the well known bargain center for clothes among Filipinos.
If you don’t mind brushing elbows with crowds, Baclaran & Divisoria is ok. But I suggest you use a beltbag or keep close to your purse. Pickpockets or snatchers are pretty common in these two places.
Hotels in Manila
Most hotels in Manila accept both cash and credit card payments. Peso or dollar transactions are both acceptable. Room rates vary from USD 30.00 to USD 150.00 per night.
Hotels in Manila are highly accessible and conveniently located. They are usually near shopping malls, restaurants, cafes’ or embassies. The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) can be reached within 35 minutes from any point in Manila and Makati.
Most hotels can offer Internet connectivity and if not, wireless Internet pre-paid cards are available in convenient stores.
Tip: It would be wise to request your hotel to arrange for airport transfer. Some airport cab drivers in Manila con tourists by charging triple the metered amount. If your hotel does not offer airport transfer, insist on the driver to turn on the meter before hopping on his cab.
Here are some of the recommended hotels for a budget above US$ 90.00.
Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila (along Roxas Blvd)
Manila Diamond Hotel (Malate area)
Pan Pacific Hotel (Malate area)
Hyatt Hotel (Malate area)
Heritage Hotel (Pasay City)
Trader’s Hotel (Pasay City)
Within Metro Manila
Shangri-La Hotel (Makati City, walking distance from malls, bars and restaurants)
Edsa Shangri-La (Ortigas City, right across a big mall)
Dusit Thani (Makati City, near MRT station)
Peninsula Hotel (Makati City)
Renaissance Hotel (Makati City, right across Greenbelt Malls)
You can easily find budget hotels online. Ordinarily discount hotels are near public transportation lines too, permitting guests to explore Manila using cheap public transportations like jeepneys, pedicabs and LRT or MRT (Manila’s metropolitan rail system).
For the backpackers, Malate and Ermita has hotels less than $50.00 per night and no reservation is required. Just choose the ones with receptions that provide safekeeping for your travel documents.
Here are some of the country’s most popular island destinations
Ilocos is a haven of cultural heritage. The province is divided in two regions, known as Ilocos Sur and ilocos Norte.
Ilocus Sur - Vigan City is the capital of Ilocos Sur, the city or island is separated from the mainland by three rivers, namely, the Abra River, the Mestizo River and the Govantes River. The city is Inscribed in the World Heritage List in November 1999. Vigan City serves as a reminder of the country’s rich history. It's a reflection of an ancient Spanish colonial and a stroll to its preserved cultural blocks is like traveling back in time. Where to go - at the heart of the Mestizo district, is Calle Crisologo. This street is lined on both sides by centuries-old Vigan Houses that are made of cobblestones. Although these old house are now shops where Vigan products are sold, the structure is well preserved. Built by the Augustinians in 1790-1800, St. Paul's Metropolitan Cathedral showcases an "Earthquake Baroque"architecture.
Ilocos Norte - takes pride in the Church of St. Augustine Paoay, built with coral blocks and stucco-plastered bricks, its architecture took almost a century to complete (from 1704 to 1894). Pagudpud Beach, is a long stretch of beach in the northwest tip of Ilocos Norte. The place is picture perfect, apart from its powder-white sand, the contrast between the blue clouds and it's clear blue water is hardly discernible. The shore of Pagudpud is lined with inexpensive resorts. The Saud Resort offer rooms as low as US$40 a night. You can also visit the Bangui View Deck for a panoramic view of the South China Sea and the nearby coastal towns.
Palawan is probably the most attractive cluster of Island in the Philippines. It’s described as a paradise on earth by many. It’s a haven for nature lovers and adventure seekers.
Honda Bay, Palawan island is also known as the "The Last Frontier". Several of the most exclusive resorts in the country are on this island. Although Palawan's 1,770 islands has been one of the least developed holiday destinations in Southeast Asia (with the exception of El Nido), it is fast becoming popular to international divers. Honda Bay is known to have the best dive spots in the Philippines.
In fact the World Heritage Site, Tubbataha Reef Marine Park is found here. Over 1000 species inhabit the reef, many of which are already considered endangered species like, manta rays, lionfish, tortoise, clownfish, and sharks. Tubbataha is also renowned for being a bird sanctuary.
White Beach - Boracay, rated as one of the top ten beaches in the world, this is Boracay’s most popular beach. Local and International tourists have made it a yearly destination. It’s a 4 kilometers stretch of white sand that stays cool throughout the day.
January to May are the best months to visit Boracay, the place is quite crowded though during March to May because it’s the school holidays in the Philippines. October and November is the low season, the weather would be too windy for water activities.
Things to do in Boracay
1. Water activities like, parasailing, jet ski, banana boat, snorkeling and even cliff diving.
2. Visit the local seafood market, D'Talipapa. If you’re a seafood lover, you can buy your favorites here and take it to the stalls of restaurants in the area and they will prepare it just the way you like it, the cover charge is reasonable. Lobster, king size prawns, crab, tuna or red snapper are a few of the regular offerings in this wet market. Tip: try to ask a local to buy the food you want for you it will be even cheaper.
3. Take a sunset helicopter ride and get a bird’s view of the beautiful island.
4. Treat yourself to a Spa day. The hotels that provide the best spa treatments in the island, Mandala Spa, Monaco Suites & New Shangri La. Alternatively, you can also try the Filipino version of massage, which is called “hilot”, you can have this done to you while sprawled along the beach lines.
5. Exploring the island on a native 'Paraw' (outrigger sailing boat) during sunset. These boats are part of the islands charm. You can visit one of the many uninhabited islands and have a romantic picnic or just enjoy the sunset view.
The Boracay nightlife
The nightlife in Boracay is legendary; you should never miss the experience. Here are the best places to go:
Cocomangas in Station One
Club Paraw in Station One
Pier One in Station One
Hey Jude! in Station Two
Summer Place in Station Two
Juice in Plazoleta in Station Two
Dave’s Straw Hat Inn – room cost is around $35 per night.
Boracay Hills Hotel – room cost is around $135 per night. They only have 10 rooms, but they do have a fitness center, a spa, a swimming pool, a restaurant, a bar and a movie theatre.
Artista Beach Villas - they have 9 Mediterranean style villas with wireless broadband Internet aside from the usual mini-bar and the cable TV amenities.
Discover Shores – room cost is about $350 a night. The rooms are luxurious, in fact all rooms have LCD TV.
The Boracay Regency – room cost is around $220 per night. This is one of the big hotels with 150 rooms.
One Crescent Place – room cost is about $85 per night
Tip: Although there are cheaper options around the area, it would be wiser to spend a little more on a hotel that you feel secure with.
This province is home to many of the most famous and attractive tourist destinations in the Philippines. One of which is the Virgin Island off the coast of Panglao, which is famous for its white sand beaches. Chocolate Hills, with it's perfect symmetry, is truly an amazing sight, and its also found in Bohol.
While in Bohol, don't fail to get a boat ride and enjoy the the serene waters of Loboc River, see the rare tarsier, which is the smallest primate in the world, go dolphin/whale watching in Balicasag island and go scuba diving in Pamilacan Island.
Baguio and Banaue
Amidst the Cordillera mountain range, which is 1,500 meters above sea level is Baguio City. The city is considered the country’s “Summer Capital” because of its cool climate.
While in Baguio, you shouldn’t miss to see the spectacular Rice terraces of Banaue, it is referred to as "the eighth wonder of the world". This man made structure is carved out of the hillside by the Ifugaos (local tribe), some 2000 to 3000 years ago. The terraces appear like a gigantic stairway to the sky.
To this day rice and vegetables are still planted by the local tribes on the terraces.
Other things to do in Baguio
Play a round of golf or go horseback riding at Camp John Hay or Baguio Country Club, Climb the steps (200 plus) of the Lourdes Grotto, see the Botanical Garden, the Mansion House and Mines View Park and drive to the town of Sagada.
Olongapo City, was once the home to the biggest U.S. naval base in Asia. Within the city is the Subic Bay leisure zone, which is a 37,000 acre of virgin rainforest with wildlife and rare marine life.
While in Subic, one should not fail to visit the Zoobic Safari and get an up close interaction with wildlife, go to Ocean Adventure and see killer whales and sea lions, go for a cruise to Grande Island and drive to Mt. Pinatubo’s crater.
Here are other island destinations in the Philippines...
Catanduanes Island (ideal for surfers)
Surigao del Sur & del Norte (ideal for surfers)
Joyful and colorful festivals are another reason tourists enjoy their visit to the Philippines. The country has a variety of festivals throughout the year. Filipinos are exuberant people and celebration is a way of life for them.
Festivals are celebrated to show gratitude for good harvest, or to commemorate historical events in history, or celebrate the feast days of saints.
The festivals or fiestas, as they are commonly called, are some of the most anticipated events in the country. Below are 2 of the most popular festivals in the Philippines that attract both local and international tourists.
Sinulog Festival -In Cebu City, they celebrate the Sinulog festival to honor the child Jesus, known as the Santo Niño (Holy Child). It is held every third Sunday of January in Cebu City. During the festival dance rituals that speak of the Cebuano people's pagan origin and their switch to Christianity are performed. Part of the festival is a street parade, wherein participants wear bright-colored costumes and dance to the rhythm of drums, trumpets, and native gongs. The Sinulog celebration traditionally lasts for nine days, on the final day the most awaited Sinulog Grand Parade takes place. Panagbenga Festival (Baguio Flower Festival) - Panagbenga means "a season of blooming" in the local dialect called kankanaey. The celebration is homage to the beautiful flowers the city is blessed with and is quite famous for. Panagbenga happens on the month of February. The celebrations are held for over a month. This festival showcases floral floats and native dances.
Getting around in Manila -Around Manila and Metro Manila, jeepney is the most popular means of transportation This public utility vehicle is well known for its flamboyant decorations and crowded seating, and has become a famous symbol of the Filipino culture. Jeepneys are not air-conditioned. Another way to get around Manila is to use the Light Rail Transit (LRT) or the Metro Rail Transit (MRT). This beats the problematic traffic conditions of Manila. it is air conditioned and the journey is usually comfortable if its not rush hour. You can also get around by taxi. Taxis are very affordable by western standards. The taxi rates start at PHP 30 (USD 0.60) for the first 500 metres and an extra PHP 2.5 (USD 0.10) for every succeeding 300-metres or 2 minutes of stopping.
Island transportation – Jeepneys can only be found in the city proper of provinces. What’s commonly used in the islands is a three-wheeled vehicle called the Tricycle. Ferries are also commonly used to transport people to the islands or beach resorts from the city proper.
• Bring light clothing like, cotton shirts, pants and shorts. Pack your most comfortable footwear, a tube of sun block and a pair of sunglasses with UV protection.
• Tipping is customary when rendered a service. 10% tip based on the total bill is considered reasonable. But for some establishments that add a service charge on the bill, tipping is not really required.
• Taxis drivers, bellboys, hotel housekeeping expects to be tipped. Tipping P20 for short taxi trips is acceptable. For hotel service crews a higher tip is more appropriate. You can also base your tip on the quality of service rendered.
• Philippines is a third world country, so most tourist spots are filled with vendors peddling their goods. You may feel like being forced to buy in some instances. But politely saying no and smiling helps fend them off.