I’ve now been to the Philippines three times and I’ve travelled around a bit. While I haven’t been everywhere and certainly don’t know everything, I have picked up a few handy tips for traveling in the Philippines during these three trips. I’ll share what I’ve learned in this post in case you are thinking of taking a trip to the Philippines to meet a Filipina you’ve connected with online, or you would just like to visit, have a look around and maybe meet some of the locals; especially the girls.
As of this writing the exchange rates for US dollar and Australian dollar are as follows:
- US $1 = 45 pesos
- AUD $1 = 33 pesos
You can use foreign ATM cards in teller machines at the following banks:
- Metro Bank
Most other ATMs have refused to take my card. I haven’t tried them all, so there may be others that work. If you want to exchange money, you can do so at the airport, but generally you will get a better rate from the money changers you find in the shopping malls.
Ask The Locals
The best thing to do in the Philippines (or probably any country you visit) is to ask for tips from the locals when planning your travels. Each area you visit the local people from that area will know where it’s safe for foreigners to go and where it’s not. That’s especially important in a country such as the Philippines as there are rebels and militant groups lurking in the jungles in parts of the nation.
Local people will also know where the good locations are. Perhaps you’ll hear of a hidden rock pool and majestic waterfall that isn’t advertised in the tourist brochures. Those in the know are the people who live in the area, and you will probably even get offers to personally guide you to the location.
Often Filipinos will want something in return for their favour, maybe a meal or a small tip. Most of these people are quite poor and, while they do genuinely like to help, they do appreciate a little help in return for a favour.
Need To Know Anything – Ask A Security Guard
There are security guards everywhere in the Philippines, anywhere there is a metropolis. These men and women are like walking, talking sign posts. There’s not much they don’t seem to know if you’re trying to find something. Never be shy to approach them. Most speak pretty good English and the majority are quite friendly and happy to help.
They’re not hard to find, either. Just about every single store will have a security guard posted as a sentry either in the store itself, or just outside the doors. It’s gotta be one of the most common jobs in this nation. Most will be wearing brilliant white, long sleeve shirts, depending on the company. Others are dressed all in navy blue. Banks and bigger stores will have three or four guards, and all the shopping malls have metal detectors and security guards on every entry and exit point.
Travel With A Filipino/Filipina
If you can, travel around with one of the locals. It makes everything so much easier in many ways. Of course, you both need to feel comfortable with your travel companion as well as feel you can trust them. Better still would be to meet a Filipina that you like and go traveling with her. She will expect you to pay her way, but if you’ve met a good one it will be well worth the experience.
There are a number of obvious examples of having one of the locals with you everywhere you go.
- You are far less likely to get scammed.
- They speak the local language.
- You’ll be safer traveling with a Filipino/Filipina.
- They know their way around.
- They can offer you tips about the culture so there are no misunderstandings.
- It’ll be more fun (if you’re traveling on your own).
- You’ll get more respect and credibility with local people.
There is definitely a tipping culture in this nation. Not for everything, but certainly for common services like in a restaurant, when the hotel porter takes your bags to the room. That sort of thing. At airports and ferry terminals you’ll get hustled by dudes all trying to get the gig of carrying your luggage. While they’re helpful, many of these guys can be a bit scammy, wanting to way over-charge you for their services.
A standard tip for many things would be around 20 pesos. For the guys organising your luggage on a ferry (as they do a bit more), maybe about 100-150 pesos. Some try to charge as much as 300 or 500, but tell them you’ll only give them 150. If you want to let someone help you with your gear at the airport, 20-50 pesos as a tip is plenty.
As a foreigner you will definitely encounter this, and this can be one area where traveling with a local can help you. For one, locals are better at determining which people asking for money are legitimate and which ones are just basically hustling for cash. In some areas of the country begging is against the law, and in many other areas it certainly isn’t encouraged.
So, should you give money to someone who approaches you?
This can be a tough one. While you may feel the desire to help out someone in need, even in just a small way, unless you’re Bill Gates you couldn’t possibly afford to give something to every single person who asks.
You won’t get approached by beggars everywhere, but they do tend to hang around outside shopping malls, and especially outside anywhere there is a MacDonald’s restaurant. I think the mentality is that if you can afford to eat at MacDonald’s, then you must be rich. Usually it’s children collecting money on behalf of their parents, as the parents figure people are more likely to give to children than to an adult. If you stand still for any length of time in the centre of town (more than a few seconds), chances are you will get approached for a handout. Some children can be very persistent, grabbing at your clothing as you’re walking down the street.
My advice: If you want to give, be selective. And don’t give to one person when there is a big group around or you’ll get swamped by people with their hand out.
Do Your Research
Before you travel, do your research beforehand so you have some prior knowledge of the area you will be traveling to. This will not only give you a little more confidence when you arrive, but you’ll also feel like you will know what to expect, rather than suffering major culture shock. Don’t just read about the place, either, view loads of photos. Nothing better than visuals to get the lie of the land, so to speak.
If you live in the Western world and have never been to a country in Southeast Asia, then you will experience a huge cultural difference and quality of life. It is completely different from what you’re used to. Trust me on that.
But I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. The differences make it both interesting and exciting. All I’m saying is, be prepared for it to be totally foreign to you.
Although the weather can vary depending on where you are in the country, and whether you are on sea level or up in the mountain tops somewhere, the Philippines is located in the tropics, so it’s hot and humid all year round. The humidity especially rarely lets up, so just be ready for that. Air conditioning will soon become your best friend. Some areas are not so bad, but most places you find yourself in this country, it’s going to be muggy in a big way.
Drink loads of water – bottled water, not tap water. Never drink the tap water anywhere you go, even if hotel staff or whatever say it’s safe. Just don’t risk it. Bottled water is cheap, so just buy it no matter what.
There are no real seasons in the Philippines. No distinct summer and certainly no winter. The temperature and humidity remain pretty constant all year long. The only two seasons they experience are dry season and wet season. When these seasons start and end seems to vary depending on what you read, but generally the dry season runs from December through to May, and the wet season (monsoon season) from June to October. September to October is the main typhoon period. I’ve been in the country for both the dry and wet seasons, but in different areas for each. During the dry season I barely saw a drop of rain for 3 month, whereas during the wet season there was usually some rain virtually every day, even if it was just a brief storm. While the ambient temperature might be a degree or two cooler during the wet season, the humidity is definitely at it’s peak.
In major cities such as Manila and Cebu there is loads of transport of just about every kind. Taxis in Cebu are cheap, way cheaper than Manila, and safer. You can hire cars in these cities just like you would back home.
When you get out into the provinces, even in large metropolitan areas, often you won’t be able to hire your own car. Sometimes you can hire a car with a driver who takes you everywhere, but these guys are pricey. Travel options within town aren’t usually a problem as most areas are traversed by either multicabs (little vans where they cram heaps of passengers inside), or by my personal favourite means of city transportation, the tricycle- a motorcycle with a carriage constructed around it. The standard basic fare for either a tricycle ride or transport in a multicab is about 8-10 pesos, so very cheap.
If you want to get out of town and have a look around, that’s when transportation can get a bit tricky. You may be able to take a tricycle or multicab out of town, but often you won’t be able to. This is when you can be forced to hire a private driver, or perhaps hire some motorcycles if you feel adventurous. You could buy an old car to use temporarily while you’re there, but second hand cars are expensive in the Philippines. There isn’t an over-supply of old cars for sale, so they are in demand.
So it can be tricky getting around in some places, and many of the roads aren’t the best, but if you’re determined you’ll find a way. There are usually regular buses going along most major routes, but not so much if you’re trying to get to a spot in an out-of-the-way area.
What To Pack
Light clothing for the most part, as like I said, the weather is almost always very warm and humid. Bring some smart casual clothes for nights out, and perhaps something semi formal if you are hitting the high spots in Makati City.
Chances are you will do quite a bit of walking in the Philippines if you are going to travel about the country. Bring some sturdy walking shoes or hiking boots. A lot of the terrain, even in the city streets, is quite rugged to walk on and hard on footwear. Many people just wear slippers here because of the heat (flip flops, thongs). Cooler and easy to wear, but not so great if you are going to wander the countryside.
Definitely bring swimwear, too. In a nation of over 7000 islands you are bound to get in the water at some point.
If you read, see or hear warnings not to venture into a certain region of the country, then heed those warnings. Some places are not safe even for Filipinos, let along foreigners. I’ve found most of the country to be pretty safe, but there are certain regions in Mindanao that you should avoid. Always be cautious wherever you travel, but don’t spoil your trip by feeling paranoid. In general Filipinos are a very calm and friendly race of people and it’s quite easy to make friends with the locals.
A good idea is to study locations on sites like:
There is a lot I could talk about with regards to where to go, what to do and see, but I’ll save that for future posts. In this article I just wanted to offer some general tips on what to do when you come to the Philippines, how to get around, what to expect and how to stay safe.
As I’m sure there are a lot more tips that could be added here, I invite anyone who has any experience traveling in the Philippines to leave their thoughts and ideas in the comments below.