The Complete Guide to the Philippines

All You Need to Know Before Go

This is your complete Philippines travel guide. And being a local (born and raised) in the country I love, I dedicated a ton of time and effort to showcase what the Philippines has to offer. All the things you need to know before booking you flights to and around the country. What to expect if it's your first time in the Philippines. And the best route for people who have limited time to spare in the country. Below are well thought lists of things to experience the real Pilipinas. 

Do you dream of an endless summer with coconut trees, long stretches of pristine white beaches and crystal clear waters? Are you on holiday and are searching for insta worthy tourist spots in the Philippines, good food and fun people?  Perhaps maybe you’re the kind that puts on your backpack and chases epic adventures, unique experience, not knowing where to go and for how long you will stay? If you’ve been bitten by the travel bug and been itching to travel longer, sustainably and extensively around the Philippines, then this blog is made for you by the same people of your tribe.

Me and Josh throw in all our personal recommendations from our own backpacking journey. We are your best guides that scour every inch of this island paradise.You will find the best things to do, where to stay and eat in each region for you to get the ultimate experience around this beautiful country. So let's go, “Pinas muna tayo”, let’s travel the Philippines first.

This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer.

Mabuhay! Welcome to the Philippines

For our foreign friends, this is the best time to  travel the Philippines while most of our islands are not yet urbanized. Indulge yourselves with pure, raw natural wonders all over the country. For local Filipinos, I can’t be more proud of our world class beaches and dive sites, epic adventures, natural wonders, and amazing culture waiting to be marbled upon.

Are you ready? Gear up and pack your bags and we’ll take you by the hand to the paradise that is still quiet and open for adventures without the usual tourist traps unlike its neighboring southeast asian countries. In fact, if I say Southeast Asia to foreign travellers who’ve never stepped foot in the region, there’s a high chance that they’ve never heard of the Philippines. It is one of the underrated countries in Southeast Asia and often skipped since it is not connected by land to the rest of the Asian countries. You see, we might not be a part of the regular banana pancake trail (Vietnam-Cambodia-Laos-Thailand). But we have 7,641+ reasons why you should come visit. Below are the things that you need to know to begin your journey.

Beyond the Philippines' breathtaking beaches, you can discover a wide range of exhilarating adventures, relaxing getaways, and diverse cultures that can sate the wanderlust you must be feeling right now.

Important Info About the Philippines

Language

Our official language is Tagalog but most people are fluent in English anywhere in the Philippines. This makes traveling or doing business around the Philippines much easier and because we are an archipelago, we have 8 major languages and 187 total local dialects (as per wikipedia).

The people

We are called Pinoy or Filipino (not Philippino)

Religion

The Philippines is the only Christian nation in Asia. There are at least 83% Catholic, up to 10% Muslims mostly found in the southern part of the country (Mindanao).

Culture

The Philippines culture is a mix between Eastern and Western cultures. You would say that we are more influenced by Americans in the way we speak English and our number one sport is basketball rather than soccer. Also Spanish by some of our local words and how we love our siestas and meriendas. Life is simple and is slow paced especially in the provinces or islands and people are happier.

Character

Hospitality is what you will immediately see among Filipinos. We are very friendly and are extremely welcoming people. You could show up at our doorstep without money and we would offer the best meal and room in our house. It is no secret that we are the top most nurse producing country in the world and many customer service jobs around the world are being outsourced to the Philippines.

What sets us apart and draws the foreign visitors to the Philippines is not only the turquoise water and stunning sightseeing escapades but the Filipino people. We are the most well known hospitable hosts of Southeast Asia. And our disposition is what captivates and charms the visitor into the country.

Visa Info

Mostly all nationalities get a 30-day visa upon arrival to the Philippines. They should have a valid 6 months passport and an outbound ticket within that month. You can also get more than 30 days. When you are already in the Philippines then you can extend it to another 30 days. Or if you still haven't entered the country yet, you can apply in a PH embassy for a standard visa, extendable up to 60 days.

Want to know if you need a visa to the Philippines?

Philippines Travel Insurance

Travelling around the Philippines is actually pretty safe, but we need to expect and be ready for the unexpected. It’s a MUST to get insurance before hitting the road. Though it is not a requirement to have one like in applying for a Schengen visa. Trust us, nothing beats not worrying about a thing when the odds are not in your favour. We recommend these two below interchangeably. World Nomads has great adventure activity coverage while Safety Wing is renewable every month and really affordable.

Click on it to compare our favorite travel insurance and see if it suits your needs.

Driving in the Philippines

We are driving on the right side of the road. And you need a driver's license if you plan to drive around the Philippines.

If you are a foreign national and will be in the Philippines for less than 90 days, your regular drivers license from your country is acceptable as long as it’s valid. Afterwhich, you will not only need to obtain the appropriate long-term Philippine visa but you are required to get an international driving permit. I happened to chance upon this online international drivers permit when I (Heyz) and Josh planned on driving around Morocco. If you still don't have one, I recommend that you get it now. They’re fast and legit, you can get a soft copy (as fast as 2 hours) or hard copy (express shipped worldwide). It can also be used to drive to other countries.

Need an International Drivers License?
Need an International Drivers License?

Power Plug/Outlet

Plug type A, with two flat parallel pins. 220 V

Wifi and Sim Cards in the Philippines

A local sim card is free when you arrive at a Philippine international airport. Globe and Smart are the major service providers. Mobile phone coverage is good, other than in mountainous areas and remote locations. There is 4G coverage in many urban areas. Roaming agreements exist with international mobile phone companies, but it is cheap and easy to get local sim cards and use VOIP services. Credit top-ups ( known as 'load') are readily available everywhere. Internet Cafes are common across the country and start at as cheap as P15/hr. WIfi's is easy to find and available in many hotels, malls and coffee shops. Telecom companies offer LTE and 4G access via smartphones or pocket wifi's (dongles).

Money Talk

Currency

Philippine Peso

ATM’s

In terms of paying, cash is still the king especially in small islands and it is strongly advisable to withdraw some cash before going on a remote island trip. In major cities, you can also use online wallets (PayMaya or Gcash) but you need a local sim card to register. For foreign bank accounts the ATM fee is between 200 and 300 pesos

How to much to budget in the Philippines per day

Budget traveler: If you watch your spending closely, $20 - $30 per day is enough Mid-range traveler: If you want to stay in nicer accommodation and spend for a few comforts, plan to budget $35 - $50 per day.

Tipping culture in the Philippines

Tips are not necessary. In restaurants, waiters/waitresses usually don’t expect tips so they are not offended when you do not give them any. However, some establishments add a ‘service charge’ to your bill. But if you really like the service, you can give 10%.

When travelling, on the other hand, if you are a foreigner and a local offers to help you with your luggage, they expect you to give them a tip of around 50-100 pesos or depending on how many and heavy your bag is.

Tourism in the Philippines

The tourists are drowned to the country's rich biodiversity. Awesome pristine beaches, islands, diving spots, mountains and rainforests are truly world class. The cost of living is very cheap and Filipinos understand and can speak better English compared to other Southeast Asian countries. Tourists who’ve been to the Philippines fall in love with the Filipino hospitality and optimism. One of the reasons why Koreans, Japanese and Chinese, amongst the few, come to the Philippines is to study English because it's cheap and we have good exchange student programs plus to be beautiful places to wander around while studying is a winner. Here are the top visitors of the country.
List of the top 12 visitors of the Philippines on the year 2019 from 12 countries

Is the Philippines Safe to Travel?

to be written by Josh

Philippines Travel Map

Interactive map, just hover over the island where you are eyeing to go to and check out below which province, region or group of islands it falls under.
The Philippines is divided into three major island groups:

Luzon (the largest, northernmost island, which includes the main metro, Manila);

Visayas (a group of islands in the middle of the country including the major islands Panay, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte, Samar, and Masbate); and

Mindanao (the second-largest island in the Philippines, found at the southern end of the archipelago)

The Philippines is made up of 81 provinces, which fall under 17 administrative and one autonomous region divisions.

81 Provinces of the Philippines

Luzon

It is composed of 16 cities below

  • Caloocan
  • Malabon
  • Navotas
  • Valenzuela
  • Quezon City
  • Marikina
  • Pasig
  • Taguig
  • Makati
  • Manila
  • Mandaluyong
  • San Juan
  • Pasay
  • Parañaque
  • Las Piñas
  • Muntinlupa
  • Abra 
  • Apayao
  • Benguet
  • Ifugao
  • Kalinga
  • Mountain
  • Province
  • Ilocos Norte
  • Ilocos Sur
  • La Union
  • Pangasinan
  • Batanes
  • Cagayan
  • Isabela
  • Nueva Vizcaya
  • Quirino
  • Aurora
  • Bataan
  • Bulacan
  • Nueva Ecija
  • Pampanga
  • Tarlac
  • Zambales
  • Batangas
  • Cavite
  • Laguna
  • Quezon
  • Rizal
  • Marinduque
  • Occidental Mindoro
  • Oriental Mindoro
  • Palawan
  • Romblon
  • Albay
  • Camarines Norte
  • Camarines Sur
  • Catanduanes
  • Masbate
  • Sorsogon

Visayas

  • Aklan
  • Antique
  • Capiz
  • Guimaras
  • Iloilo
  • Negros Occidental
  • Bohol
  • Cebu
  • Negros Oriental
  • Siquijor
  • Biliran
  • Eastern Samar
  • Leyte
  • Northern Samar
  • Samar
  • Southern Leyte

Mindanao

  • Zamboanga del Norte
  • Zamboanga del Sur
  • Zamboanga Sibugay
  • Bukidnon
  • Camiguin
  • Lanao del Norte
  • Misamis Occidental
  • Misamis Oriental
  • Davao de Oro
  • Davao del Norte
  • Davao del Sur
  • Davao Occidental
  • Davao Oriental
  • Cotabato
  • Sarangani
  • South Cotabato
  • Sultan Kudarat
  • Agusan del Norte
  • Agusan del Sur
  • Dinagat Islands
  • Surigao del Norte
  • Surigao del Sur
  • Basilan
  • Lanao del Sur
  • Maguindanao
  • Sulu
  • Tawi-Tawi

Best Time to Go to the Philippines

Weather in the Philippines

Between December through April is the high season for tourism in the Philippines (these are the ideal months to travel but usually the most expensive time to visit). We have 2 seasons, rainy season and dry. But below pretty much sums up what to expect on the whole year's weather.


  • It is a tropical country, and the hotter, drier months are March through June (summer break from school and peak season especially in the tourist spot).
  • July through October brings the potential for typhoons (off-peak season)
  • The “cooler” season runs from November through February (holiday season in the Philippines). The further south you go, the more humid the weather gets, and rain showers are likely regardless of the season

Peak season for tourists is usually from March to May during the summer time. This is usually the most expensive time to visit.

Times to avoid traveling in Philippines is during typhoon season. The Philippines is within the typhoon belt so the country experiences around nineteen typhoons every year. It is best to avoid traveling in the Philippines from July to October when torrential rains and thunderstorms are commonly experienced.

Best Major Festivals to Witness in the Philippines (Fiesta Tourism)

The Philippines have more than 42,000 known major and minor festivals celebrated annually. One of the reasons is because of the strong influence of Catholicism and some fall down to cultural or both. Experience the vibrant culture of Filipinos around the country by joining in the celebrations of history, artistry, creativity, and passion of the people . Most locals and foreigners are planning their vacations in certain places in the country around this time to join the festivities and merry making. Here's our top choices and the most popular ones

People wearing colorful costumes while parading on the street, Festival, street dancing, people watching, street decorations

Sinulog - Cebu

The Sto Niño or Sinulog Festival is an annual religious and cultural festival, and is the center of the Santo Niño Catholic celebrations in the Philippines. This is the most well-known Philippine festival.

People wearing colorful costumes while parading on the street, Festival

Dinagyang - Iloilo

It is a religious and cultural festival held right after the Sinulog in Cebu and the Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo, Aklan.

People wearing colorful costumes while parading on the street, Festival. street dancing

Masskara - Bacolod City

It is coined from the words “mass” meaning “many” and “kara” meaning “face”. It is a giant masquerade party like in Rio carnival, celebrated in the country's “City of Smiles”.

People wearing colorful costumes while parading on the street

Ati-atihan - Kalibo, Aklan

An annual religious festival that involves colorful parades of costumes and dancing. It is one of the Philippines' largest festivals and lasts for an entire week in January.

People wearing colorful costumes while parading on the street, Festival

Panagbenga - Baguio City

It is a month-long annual flower occasion from the Kankanaey origin, meaning "season of blooming". It was created as a tribute to the city's flowers and as a way to rise up from the devastation of the 1990 Luzon earthquake.

People wearing colorful costumes while parading on the street, Festival. street dancing

Kadayawan - Davao

Its name is coined from the friendly greeting "Madayaw". This is a Dabawenyo word meaning good, valuable, superior or beautiful.

People wearing colorful costumes while parading on the street, Festival

Moriones - Marinduque

It's an annual lenten rites of the men and women in costumes and masks replicating the garb of biblical Roman soldiers as interpreted by local folks, "Moriones".

Pahiyas Logo, Squash,Decorations

Pahiyas - Lucban

Pahiyas also means "decor". The festival is when fronts of houses are are decorated with brightly colored rice wafer, called kiping, a type of rice dough made from a traditional reciipe. This is to give thanks to San Isidro Labrador for a good harvest.

Hot Air Balloons, Blue Sky, People gathered to watch

Philippine International Hot Air Balloon - Clark, Pampanga

One of the unique festival celebrations because it is not based on the Catholic Calendar. It’s a 3-day festivity that includes activities like helicopter flying, skydiving, formation flying, paragliding, aerobatic displays, and of course the main highlights are the hot air balloons.

Giant Lanterns, People taking pictures and watching

Giant Lantern Festival - San Fernando, Pampanga

Known as the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines thus the famous giant Christmas making lanterns festival held on every weekend before Christmas Eve. It showcases the gigantic and brightest lanterns made from locally sourced materials.

Festival Dates for 2020

What to Pack for the Philippines

As the Philippines is a warm tropical country, make sure you pack accordingly.

If you decide to head up North to the rice terraces, the weather can get cooler so a light-weight waterproof jacket is highly recommended and can be very useful in cold buses too. If you plan to spend most of your time in the Philippine islands, make sure you bring sun protection. If you plan on taking on some camping or hiking trips, a good pair of trekking sandals should be enough.

Below are the general things to pack for your Philippines travel. For a full list of what to bring, check out our Philippines Packing List which has all our top recommendations on what to bring.
Know WHAT, WHEN and HOW to Pack, Click below

What to Eat When in the Philippines

Best Foods to Try in the Philippines

A lot of foreign travelers are quick to criticise Pinoy food and are disappointed when comparing it to the food in other Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. However, we think there are some excellent dishes to try.

If there were a national dish, undoubtedly it would be chicken or pork adobo (stewed in vinegar and garlic). Other Filipino fave dishes you’ll find on a regular includes sinigang (any meat or seafood boiled in a tamarind-flavoured soup), crispy pata (deep-fried pork knuckles) kare-kare (vegetables and oxtail cooked in peanut sauce), and pancit (stir-fried noodles).

Lechón (suckling pig roasted using a bamboo stick) is the star at any Filipino celebrations. You will find inihaw (grilled fish or meat) everywhere. Common appetisers include lumpia (spring rolls) and kinilaw (Filipino-style ceviche).

Then ever-present in a Filipino breakfast, rice (preferably garlic rice) topped with eggs, tapa (salty beef strips), bangus (milkfish), tocino (honey-cured pork),or longganisa (sausages) on the side.

For dessert, halo-halo is the winner, a glass packed of shaved ice drenched in evaporated milk mixed with fruits, boiled sweetened white beans, typically topped with purple yam, ice cream, leche flan (like crème caramel).

What do Filipinos Eat? Click the button below!

Beer

Filipinos love to drink beer and rum. The all time favourites are San Miguel, Redhorse, Tanduay (drink age is 18 y/o)

Adventures Around the Philippines

Out of 7641 islands of the Philippines, from the beautiful tourist spots, to the vast mountain ranges, to the UNESCO world heritage sites, to long empty coastlines, and remote islands that are yet to be discovered by tourists. It not only offers tropical islands but also rice terraces, hiking, surfing, and diving.

Places in the Philippines are the playground for different kinds of adventures.  I know it must be very overwhelming to plan your perfect Philippine holiday.  We’ll make everything simpler for you. Discover the best of the country in this mini Philippines Travel Bucket Lists.

Philippine Best Activities Based on Location

The places listed below are our best bets.  These places offers you different kinds of experiences that makes you feel alive and appreciate world (in this case, the Philippines) wonders.  

6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

The places made it to UNESCO’s lists of world wonders. This goes to show how Philippines beauty is world-class.

Philippines Best Ordoors

Feeling adventurous like us? Checkout this outdoor bucket-lists.  I have a confession to make, me and Josh are not the athlete type of people. We just so love nature and we are very curious to try new things out of our comfortzone.

Top Mountain Treks Bucket List

World-class Diving Spots

Adventurous Things to do in the Philippines

Philippines Adventure Guide? Click below!

Philippines Accommodation

The choices of accommodations in the Philippines is sufficient. From homestays in basic nipa-huts to modern boutique hotels in busy cities, to luxury hotels, resorts, and villas in islands, there’s a vareity of options perfect for every type of traveller.

The basic ones can only have the things that you only needed like shower (cold water), bed (thin foam to none), lightweight walls without either fan or air-con and sometimes are windowless. The top end includes metropolitan Shangri-Las to high-end private island resorts where sometimes guests arrive by helicopter or float plane or private boats. And the rest of accommodation options falls somewhere under mid range.

Accomodation Price Range

  • LOW - Prices are lesser than 1,250.00 PHP ( < $25.00 USD )
  • MID-RANGE -Prices are Between 1,250.00 PHP ~ 3,500.00 PHP ( $25.00 USD ~ $70.00 USD )
  • HIGH - Prices are greater than 3,500.00 PHP ( > $70.00 USD )

  • Read mor of our Philippine accommodation guide as we talk about what to expect on the type of accommodation you’ll book, the prices, how to get discounts, what booking applications we use, some few booking tips and we also shared our personal recommendations of the best places to stay around the Philippines.

    Booking accommodations? Click below!

    Getting Around the Philippines

    Travelling in the Philippines is not for fast travelers. It takes more time because there are islands divided by water, roads are often in a poor condition and expect that most of the flights are delayed so don’t make a very tight schedule on your flight connections. Experiencing the entire archipelago in 3 weeks is not doable. However, you can find a good 3 week itinerary that takes you along some of the Philippines’ highlights.

    • Plane
    • Boat / Ship (small outrigger for island hopping trips and big ships for crossing between Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao)
    • Rail (South Luzon to Legazpi via Calamba and Naga)
    • Bus
    • Jeep
    • Tricycle
    • Pedicab
    • Motorcycle rent
    • Calesa (horse-drawn carriages) you can find these around Intramuros Manila and Vigan

    Manila Airport

    What You Need to Know

    Transportation to and from the Manila airports

    • Airport Taxi
    • Grab Cars/Taxi
    • Bus

    FAQ's About Philippine Travel

    Communicate with people, get your information from the locals and be safe but just be street smart at night etc. The great thing about the Philippines is there are lots of backpackers there so you will easily meet lots of people through hostels, island hopping tours and other activities.

    •  MANILA: Most people have a love-hate relationship with this city and spend one or two nights here. Skip if you can and head directly to the provinces.
    • The small fishing village Coron is all about hopping from one stunning island to the other.

    The Philippines has the most delicious mangos. It is in Guimaras!

      • Taking plastic bottles on the El Nido island hopping tours is not allowed.  
      • Due to a new environmental policy all combination and party boat tours are banned. 
      • Smoking on the El Nido island hopping tours is prohibited. 
      • Since the new regulations in 2019, there is a limited amount of people per day that may enter Bacuit Bay. 
      • TIP: 
        • We recommend you to book at least two days ahead to be sure you have a spot. 
        • Don’t go for the lowest price. The lowest priced tours will mix you with another group, so they get a full boat. The quality of these tours can’t be guaranteed. 
        • Make sure drinking water is included because you are not allowed to take plastic bottles.  
        • Check if the tour includes the environmental tax. (200PHP) – Feb 2019
        • Check if snorkeling gear & kayak is included.
        • Try checking the company’s reviews on TripAdvisor.

    Final Thoughts

    Island-Hopping Paradise

    With more than 7100+ islands to choose from, the Philippines is justifiably a beach island paradise. There’s an island to suit everyone style, from world-class  white powder beach of Boracay, volcanic stones of Anawangin, nature-scapes concealing hidden lagoons, to massive islands good for long drives such as Luzon and Mindanao.

    Beach bums and divers should head straight to the Visayas, where island-hopping are abundant and the picture-perfect beach takes many forms.

    More adventurous travellers can get adrenaline rush on most activities in Cebu, or pitch a tent on the highest peak in Davao, perhaps wander for days in a long stretch of coastline in Palawan just don’t get stung by little monster jellyfish’ while you swim in the crystal blue waters.

    The Outdoors

    Chance upon this paradise in a long deserted stretch of white sand beaches. Hugging a cove of turquoise blue water. 

    The Philippines is undoubtedly well-known for its beaches, but adventure junkies don’t need to feel left out.

    While surfers are just catching on to the fickle waves that form on both coasts, divers have long been captivated by the country’s underwater glamour.

    Northern Palawan is perfect for sea kayakers, you can also find SUP’s becoming popular in some areas of the country.

    Boracay and Pagudpud (North Luzon) are world-class kiteboarding destinations.

    Trekking can be done just about anywhere, while canyoneering and mountain-biking are gaining popularity. And the Philippines is also, unofficially, the zipline capital of the world. 

    Hop along, your adventures awaits.

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    IMPORTANT NOTE: The rates, contact details and other information indicated in this post are accurate from the time of writing but may change without itchyfeetadventures’ notice.  It is strongly advised to check the up-to-date prices by clicking on the buttons that leads you to the vendors website for booking. The itchyfeetadventures.com website and its writers shall not be held liable for the price change and it’s only purpose is to provide estimation of the current prices upon writing.

    Hazel Apuhin
    Hazel Apuhin

    If you can't find me in front of my laptop, I am out chasing for sunsets or having a little trek to the viewpoints. It is just nice to disconnect from online and reconnect to the nature. Nature never ceases to awe me. I started to work online (since 2015) to be able to travel farther and longer. And so I did.

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    How about you?

    • If you’re new to travelling the Philippines, did you find this post helpful? What other things would you like to know more about accommodation in the Philippines? If there is anything that we've missed, please let us know.

    • If you’re an experienced traveller or a digital nomad like us, do you have any tips and tricks to share on how to score an amazing accommodation for a lesser price? Maybe you have an experience you'd love to share to our itchyfeet tribe? We would love to hear them!

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