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Philippines Travel Tips: Things to Know Before Visiting

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If you’re planning a trip to the Philippines, it’s essential to arm yourself with valuable Philippines travel tips and advice to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience. Knowing the essential things to know before visiting the Philippines will help you make the most of your adventure in this beautiful and diverse Southeast Asian destination. From cultural norms to safety precautions and must-see attractions, this guide will provide you with the insights you need for a memorable journey through the archipelago.

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1. Money Tips for Travelers in the Philippines

When traveling in the Philippines, familiarize yourself with the local currency, the Philippine peso (PHP). Exchange your money at the airport or local money changers, keeping in mind that the exchange rate is approximately $1 for 50 PHP. You can also withdraw cash from ATMs, but check if your card is compatible with local machines. It’s advisable to carry smaller bills (20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000 pesos) since many vendors may not have change for larger bills, and for smaller purchases like jeepney fares or street food, use coins ranging from 1 to 10 pesos in value.

Philippines Money Currency peso
Philippine Currency - Peso

2. Weather Tips: When to Visit the Philippines

The Philippines experiences two main seasons: a dry period from November to May and a wet season from June to October, but these dates can vary by region and year. While the dry season, from November to May, offers sunny days and pleasant temperatures, it’s also the peak tourist season with higher costs and more crowds. This is the ideal time for outdoor activities and festive events.

In contrast, the wet season, running from June to October, brings typhoons and heavy rains, potentially disrupting travel plans. However, it offers lower prices, fewer tourists, lush landscapes, and dramatic weather in certain less-affected destinations like Palawan, Siargao, Batanes, and Sagada. Before traveling during the wet season, be sure to check weather forecasts to stay safe and prepared.

3. Engaging with locals in English is seamless

English serves as a universal language for travelers in the Philippines, as it is one of the country’s official languages. Effective communication in English is readily achievable, particularly in urban areas and tourist hotspots. Engaging with locals in English is seamless, enabling you to seek directions, order meals, shop for keepsakes, and enjoy conversations with the welcoming Filipino population, eager to share their culture. Furthermore, a plethora of English-language entertainment options, including movies, music, books, and online media, enhance the overall travel experience. Nonetheless, it’s important to appreciate the country’s rich linguistic diversity, with over 170 languages and dialects spoken, including Filipino, Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon, Bicolano, Waray, and Kapampangan, among others, reflecting the various ethnic groups and regions.

Philippines Locals
Philippines Locals

4. Exploring the Philippines' Spectacular Underwater World

The Philippines, celebrated for its natural splendor, beckons underwater enthusiasts with its rich marine life and vibrant coral reefs. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned diver, this country offers a diverse array of diving and snorkeling adventures. From Palawan’s UNESCO-listed Tubbataha Reef and historic Coron Bay to Cebu’s thresher sharks and mesmerizing sardine run, there’s no shortage of underwater wonders. Bohol’s Balicasag Island and Anda provide vibrant coral reefs, while Boracay’s Yapak, Crocodile Island, and Angol Point offer diverse experiences. Siargao, famed for surfing, also boasts captivating dive sites like Blue Cathedral, Guyam Island, and Casulian Island, ensuring an unforgettable subaquatic journey in this tropical paradise.

5. Island hopping is a must-do activity in the Philippines

The Philippines, with its vast archipelago of over 7,000 islands, offers a tropical paradise perfect for island hopping. Each island has its own unique charm, making it a must-do activity for travelers. Whether you’re exploring the limestone cliffs and hidden beaches of El Nido in Palawan, diving amidst shipwrecks and pristine lakes in Coron, or relaxing on the powdery white sands of Bantayan in Cebu, the Philippines has an island for every traveler’s taste. Don’t miss the surfer’s paradise of Siargao or the idyllic beaches of Panglao in Bohol, each offering a distinct experience in this island-hopping adventure.

El Nido Shimizu Island
An Aerial view of Shimizu Island in El Nido

6. Exploring the Cultural Tapestry of the Philippines

The Philippines boasts a rich and diverse culture, reflecting its history and the influences of various nations. Centuries of colonization by Spain, the United States, and Japan have left indelible marks on the country’s architecture, art, music, festivals, and cuisine. Intramuros, the historic walled city in Manila, stands as a testament to Spanish colonial rule, housing churches, museums, monuments, and forts from that era. Meanwhile, Vigan in Ilocos Sur is renowned for its well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture and cobblestone streets, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Corregidor Island, once a pivotal military base during World War II, is now a historical memorial park with ruins, tunnels, museums, and monuments commemorating the war. The Philippines’ vibrant culture is celebrated through festivals like Sinulog in Cebu, Ati-Atihan in Aklan, and MassKara in Bacolod, each offering unique expressions of history, religion, and the Filipino spirit.

7. Important Considerations and Safety Tips

The Philippines, known for its diverse cultures and natural beauty, attracts travelers seeking warm hospitality and rich history. It is generally a safe and friendly country for travelers. However, visitors must be aware of security concerns, particularly in regions facing threats from terrorist groups, insurgencies, and criminal gangs. These include central and western Mindanao, the Zamboanga Peninsula, the Sulu Archipelago, and the southern Sulu Sea area, as warned by various governments.

Additionally, the country has a history of civil unrest, political violence, and street crime, especially in urban areas. Travelers should exercise caution, avoid political gatherings, stay informed through media updates, and follow local authorities’ instructions. Furthermore, being prepared for natural disasters, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons, and flooding, is crucial. Awareness of scams, like drugging tourists or ATM skimming, is also essential for personal safety.

See also Safety Tips When Traveling to the Philippines

8. Prepare for the Challenges of Visiting the Philippines

The Philippines offers rich culture and natural beauty but comes with a set of challenges. Manila’s severe traffic congestion, frequent power outages, slow internet, and sanitation issues may disrupt your stay. Pollution, including air quality and plastic waste, is also a concern. To mitigate these challenges, plan travel during off-peak hours, prepare for power interruptions, choose a reliable internet provider, practice good hygiene, reduce plastic use, and support environmental initiatives. By taking these steps, you can make the most of your visit while promoting positive change in the Philippines.

Philippines Manila Traffic
Traffic Congestion in Manila

9. Prepare for a Tropical Trip: Packing Tips for the Philippines

When heading to the Philippines, a tropical paradise with a hot and humid climate, it’s essential to pack wisely. Opt for lightweight and breathable clothing like cotton shirts, shorts, skirts, dresses, and comfortable sandals to stay comfortable in the heat. Don’t forget to shield yourself from the sun’s rays and insects by packing sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, and insect repellent. With an average temperature of 26°C (79°F) and a high UV index year-round, regular sunscreen application and protective clothing are crucial.

Additionally, safeguard the environment by bringing bug spray and reef-safe sunscreen from home. Reef-safe sunscreen, free of harmful coral-damaging chemicals, helps protect the fragile underwater ecosystems found in the Philippines, so it’s a responsible choice for swimming, snorkeling, or diving. By packing thoughtfully, you’ll be well-prepared for a fantastic tropical adventure while preserving the beauty of the ocean.

10. Understanding Departure Fees in the Philippines

Before leaving the Philippines, travelers should understand the departure fee, also known as the Philippine travel tax or terminal fee. This government-imposed charge supports airport development and tourism projects and varies based on destination, airline, and ticket class, ranging from 550 to 1,620 Philippine pesos (PHP), or about 11 to 32 US dollars (USD) per person. Payment is usually in cash at the airport, but airlines may include it in the ticket price or offer online or in-office payment options. To avoid surprises, travelers should check their airline’s fee payment procedure before departure.

11. Unveiling the Philippines' Natural Marvels and Unique Wildlife

Discover the Philippines’ breathtaking natural wonders and one-of-a-kind wildlife. Dive into the UNESCO-listed Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, where crystal-clear waters teem with manta rays, whale sharks, and barracuda. Ascend the ancient Rice Terraces, often called the “stairways to heaven,” showcasing both beauty and cultural heritage. Explore Mount Hamiguitan World Heritage Park’s interactive museum and encounter the majestic Philippine Eagle. Find serenity on Kalanggaman Island’s pristine shores and vibrant coral reefs. Encounter the world’s smallest primate, the Philippine Tarsier, in lush forests across multiple islands. Lastly, witness the immense Whale Shark, or Butanding, the world’s largest fish, in the Philippines’ azure waters.

Philippines Wildlife Tarsier
Philippines Wildlife - Tarsier

12. Tipping in the Philippines

Tipping isn’t widespread in the Philippines, yet it’s a kind gesture that’s highly appreciated by local service providers, especially in the tourism sector where wages can be low. While tipping isn’t mandatory, consider leaving a 5% to 10% tip or rounding up to the nearest hundred pesos for exceptional service. Small bills or coins like 20 or 50 pesos are convenient for tipping. You can apply these practices to taxi drivers, hotel staff, tour guides, restaurant servers, and salon/spa staff. By doing so, you not only show your appreciation but also support those who rely on tips to supplement their income.

13. Unlocking the Flavors of Filipino Cuisine

Filipino food is a delectable fusion of influences from Malay, Chinese, Spanish, American, and Indian cuisines, creating a diverse and flavorful culinary experience. Committed to freshness, Filipino dishes showcase an abundance of locally-sourced vegetables, fruits, seafood, and meats, enhanced with aromatic herbs and spices like garlic, ginger, lemongrass, and chili. Notable dishes include adobo, sinigang, pancit, lumpia, lechon, and kare-kare.

The Philippines’ rich biodiversity and favorable climate yield a bounty of tropical fruits, including mangoes, coconuts, bananas, pineapples, and papayas, often savored fresh or as dessert ingredients. For the adventurous, exotic fruits like mangosteen, jackfruit, durian, rambutan, lanzones, and dragon fruit await exploration, offering unique flavors and textures to delight the palate.

Philippines Food Adobo
Philippines Food - Adobo

14. Ensuring Safe Drinking Water in the Philippines

In the Philippines, tap water quality varies across its islands, with some areas offering clean, safe water, while others have less reliable sources containing chemicals and sediments. Manila stands as a confirmed exception, where treated water meets safety standards, managed by private companies using advanced technologies. In regions beyond Manila, tap water safety varies, making it advisable for travelers to rely on bottled water, water filters, or boil tap water for at least three minutes to ensure safe consumption.

15. Embracing the Filipino Tradition of Pasalubong

Pasalubong, a Filipino tradition meaning “a gift for someone returning from a trip,” is a heartfelt way to express gratitude and appreciation to those who eagerly await your return. Whether you’re staying with friends or local families during your trip to the Philippines, participating in this custom is a sign of respect and courtesy. The gesture doesn’t need to be lavish; it’s the thoughtfulness that counts. You can bring regional delicacies, unique snacks, or small souvenirs representing your hometown, like magnets, keychains, or handmade crafts, to make your hosts feel valued and cherished.

Philippines Pasalubong Dried Mangoes
Philippines Pasalubong - Dried Mangoes

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