First Visit to the Islands
- The Islands
- The Tropical Climate
- The Island Folks
- Spoken Languages
- Food & Drink
- Money Matters
- Gadgets & Mobile Access
- Important Phone Numbers
Getting There & Around
- Getting to the Philippines
- Getting Around the Philippines
The Philippines is made up of thousands of tropical islands in the Pacific Ocean. Exploring it means hopping among its 7,000 islands, dealing with an extensive variety of local languages, and sampling a diverse flavor of natural and cultural attractions.
While many stories have already been written about some of its popular islands such as Boracay, Palawan, and Bohol, of its remaining thousands of islands, hundreds are still unexplored, unspoilt, unwritten. Because most of these have yet to be documented, the islands generally remain raw, undeveloped, and uncommercialized.
The Philippine waters, meanwhile, host some of the world’s biggest animal migrations, such as that of thousands of humpback whales, whale sharks, sea turtles, and wild birds during winter season every year, paving way to scuba diving and birdwatching explorations.
Besides its many islands, pristine beaches, hidden coves, and clean waterfalls, the Philippine Islands sit on the Pacific Ring of Fire, making the country a volcanic hotspot in Asia. The Philippines has about 300 documented volcanoes, out of which 25 are active. Three among these are the world’s smallest volcano, the Taal Volcano; the world’s most recent, devastating volcanic eruption (1991), that of Mt. Pinatubo; and the world’s most perfectly cone-shaped volcano, the Mayon Volcano.
Many volcanic eruptions in the past have blanketed the islands with mineral-rich soil, bringing about lush forests, multifarious wildlife, and many endemic species unique to the archipelago. Two examples are the world’s largest, rarest, and most powerful bird, the monkey-eating eagle or the Philippine Eagle; and the world’s smallest primate, a monkey that can fit in the palm of your hand, the Philippine Tarsier.
|COUNTRY NAME||Republic of the Philippines|
|OTHER NAMES||Pilipinas (Filipino)
The Philippine Islands (American)
|MAJOR CITIES||Metro Manila, Baguio, Cebu, Davao|
|TOTAL AREA||300,000 sq km, almost as big as Italy|
|COASTLINE||36,289 km, the fourth longest in the world|
|HIGHEST POINT||Mt. Apo, at 2,954 meters, about 1/3 of Mt. Everest|
|TERRAIN||Archipelagic, with 7,107 islands
big islands are mostly mountainous, with narrow to extensive coastal lowlands
While there are hundreds of islands still waiting to be explored in the Philippines, the six hotspots below are just snapshots of the country’s stunning attractions.
Palawan is an eco-tourism gateway to limestone islands, complex cave systems, underwater heritage sites, and wildlife sanctuaries both on land and sea. Four of its notable destinations are El Nido Island, Coron Island, and two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park and the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park.
The volcanic powerhouse of the Philippines, Bicol is gyrating with nine volcanoes and is surrounded by untamed jungles, fine beaches, and dive sightings of dolphins, whale sharks, and Spanish Galleon wrecks. Above all, Bicol is home to Mayon Volcano, the most active volcano in the country, and the most perfectly cone-shaped volcano in the world.
Ever since this secret paradise spread out like wildfire in the 80s, Boracay Island developed drastically and turned into the party capital of the Philippines. Boracay is notorious for its seven-kilometer flat and powdery White Beach, along with 13 other white beaches. While it cringes under the weight of its numerous immigrants, tourists, establishments, and environmental problems, Boracay remains a melting pot of cultures, outdoor activities, and nightlife adventures.
The coldest region in the Philippines, Cordillera is legendary for its 2000-year-old rice terraces, cloud-capped mountains, funeral caves, hanging coffins, explosive waterfalls, and ethnic villages. Two popular sites are the eighth natural wonder of the world, the Banaue Rice Terraces, and the ancient Hanging Coffins in Sagada.
Siargao is a surfing hotspot in the Philippines. It is one among the many ‘survivor’ islands that cater more to campers, backpackers, and surfers, rather than tourists. This is due to the unpredictable transportation schedules, and the lack of facilities and accommodation. While there still are a few establishments that serve well-paying tourists, such an island is often deserted and eerily quiet, but definitely calming to the mind and nourishing to the spirit.
Bohol is distinctive for its natural aberration: the numerous mounds of limestones that comprise the Chocolate Hills. The hills peek out of a dense forest, the breeding ground of the island’s endemic animal and plant species. Bohol is also replete with underwater cave systems, Spanish structures and ruins, white coastal beaches, and wildlife sanctuaries.
More than its natural attractions, however, the Philippines has an unusual culture that fits Latin America or the Caribbean instead of Asia. The Philippines doesn’t have Hindu temples, Zen gardens, spice-burning cuisines, nor yin-yang carvings like its Asian counterparts.
Instead, the Philippines is studded with Spain’s baroque Catholic churches, shrines, crosses, and saint and angel statues. Though one does encounter mosques down the Muslim south, the Philippines is the only predominantly Catholic country in Asia.
As often described in travel guidebooks, the Philippines is a country that spent 400 years in a convent, and 50 years in Hollywood; the Philippines was colonized by Spain for 333 years in the 16th century, followed by the American Occupation for the first half of the 19th century.
Hence, Spanish and American words pepper local conversations. Most Filipinos bear American first names and Spanish last names. The currency is redolent of the Spanish Peso, and is heavily influenced by the American Dollar. Meanwhile, Spanish and American titles abound the country’s streets, plazas, and cities.
While its Spanish influences are deeply embedded in its historic past, the Philippines’ American influences, through the American education system, resulted in its people’s American ideals and excellence in the English language. Consequently, about three-quarters of the Philippine population can speak English.
The Island Folks
Without knowing it, Filipinos reflect the skin of Malays, and the physique, attitudes, and mannerisms of other Hispanic colonies such as Mexico and Peru. The island folks are open, direct, and chatty with travelers, and most share a sarcastic sense of humor.
One of the happiest cultures in the world, Filipinos are prone to laugh their problems off, even in the midst of major calamities, extreme poverty, and pervasive corruption. It is no wonder that in international news of major landslides and flash floods, Filipinos laugh and wave their hands in the background, and then dive into floodwater like a freewheeling animal. In a way, they are funny and surprising and liberating.
While those in the countryside are more gentle, wary, and soft spoken, Filipinos overall have a creative and forgiving spirit, one that is free, adaptable, and throbbing with kindness. Of course, the Philippines is not perfect; with the presence of poverty today, some resort to crime to relieve empty stomachs.
Pinoy (male Filipino)
Pinay (female Filipino)
Tsinoy (Filipino with Chinese descent)
|RACIAL INFLUENCES||Indo-Malay, Chinese, Mexican, Spanish|
|POPULATION||100 million, the 12th most populous country in the world|
The Philippines’ unlikely mishap in history also helped shape its taste in food, music, and festivities. Filipino dishes derive from native cuisines, with traces of the Spanish temper and the American grease. The food is just as diverse and flavorful as its many islands, but is sometimes overwhelmingly tasty or salty when eaten without rice. Most are cheap, besides, especially beer and seafood.
Meanwhile, indigenous music in the Philippines shares the local instruments of Southeast Asian countries. The native music, however, possesses the wild and enchanting call of a dreamy feast from across the sea. It is an enthralling clamor, a celebration of merriment, idleness, and simple pleasures.
Philippine festivals, on the other hand, are grand, extravagant, and vivid with sights, colors, drum beats, dances, and mouthwatering dishes. Three examples are the Dinagyang Festival in Iloilo, the MassKara Festival in Bacolod, and the Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival in the island of Mindoro.
To cap it all, visiting the Philippines requires a different pair of eyes. Since its independence in 1946, the Philippines has been a relatively young nation, embracing its shattered past and recovering from its almost forgotten history. Despite the rampant corruption and poverty today, the Philippines, with its many uncharted travelscapes, shines like the quiet brilliance of a rare pearl.
First Visit to the Islands
The Philippines is located in Southeast Asia, and for many centuries in the past, was an open land to both the worlds of the East and the West. Until the Spanish colonizers arrived in 1521, the strategic location of the islands made it possible for the surrounding nations to visit, barter goods, and share ideas. The Philippine Islands then were instrumental to the first kind of globalization.
Shaped into an inverted Y, the Philippines is made up of 7,107 islands, out of which only less than 900 are inhabited. Like other archipelagic nations, the Philippines is broken down into ethnic island groups, speaking hundreds of different languages, with cultures branching off in slightly different directions.
Because of its geography, the islands have been susceptible to many challenges, including foreign invasion, centralization of governance, transportation system, and cultural and language barriers. Despite these, the Philippines thrives remarkably as a diverse and multicultural nation, hinging onto a shared colonial history (Spanish and American) and a shared colonial language (English).
Thus, exploring the Philippines means plunging into its many disparate cultures, environments, cuisines, lifestyles, and its many different adventures, from sea to summit. It is one dualistic country that is both chaotic and peaceful, poor and rich, unwelcoming and friendly, diverse and unified. It is uniquely the Philippine Islands.
|TIMEZONE||UTC +8 hours|
|SUNRISE||5:30 to 6:00 AM|
|SUNSET||5:30 to 6:00 PM|
|BUSINESS HOURS||Most offices are closed on Sundays|
Weather & Climate
Being close to the equator, the islands are tropical, much like Central America, and have high temperature, high humidity, and abundant rainfall. There are only two seasons in the archipelago: wet and dry. The wet season, frequented by typhoons and monsoon rains, is between June to November. Meanwhile, the dry season is between December to May. The winter chill visits the islands between December to February. Otherwise, the islands are warm the rest of the year.
Best Time to Visit: December to May
The best time to visit the Philippines is between December to May. The sweet spot is from December to March, when the weather is relatively cool and dry. Heat waves course through the islands between April to May, and nearby beaches are packed with loafers to cool themselves off. Remote beaches and islands, though, are sleepy, the waves serene, the sun bright and blinding as a smile.
Cheapest Time to Visit: June to November
An alternative time to visit is between June to November, when airfares and accommodation rates are at their cheapest, and flights and ships are sometimes delayed due to bad weather. An average of 20 typhoons hit the country each year, scaring visitors away during these rainy months. Getting stranded on an island or airport is a common story some travelers take advantage of to meet new strangers.
Worst Time to Visit: Christmas Holidays and Lenten Season
The busiest seasons among the islands are during the Christmas Holidays and the Lenten Season, which are on the last week of December and March respectively. These are the times when Filipino families hit the road and have a one-week vacation. During Lenten Season though, some roads in the countryside bear cultural sightings of Catholic fanaticism, when devotees flagellate themselves or have themselves nailed on a cross. It’s a cultural phenomenon, and is worth the visit.
Wind Activities & Island Hopping Seasons
Because the Philippine Islands are completely surrounded by water, seasons and tides affect sea-based transportation lines, routes, fishing businesses, and, of course, water activities. There are two seasons to bear in mind when you’re off to another island, another beach, or to some wind-based activity like kite-surfing or windsurfing.
During the Amihan Season between November to April, the prevailing winds come from the northeast of the Philippines. Surfing, kite-surfing, and windsurfing dudes thus flock the eastern seaboard like Samar, Baler, and Siargao, where winds are packed with a punch and fling surfers into the air. This is reversed during the Habagat Season between May to October, when the prevailing winds come from the southwest. At this time, wind activities are commonly seen in Boracay, Zambales, and Vigan.
|CLIMATE||Tropical marine, high temperature, high humidity, abundant rainfall|
|HOTTEST TEMPERATURE||42° in Northern Luzon|
|COLDEST TEMPERATURE||0° or less, in Central Luzon (Mt. Pulag) and Central Mindanao (Mt. Apo)|
|SEASONS||Habagat, or northeast monsoon, November to April
Amihan, or southwest monsoon, May to October
|WEATHER||Cool and dry, December to March
Hot and dry, April to May
Hot and wet, June to November
While 78% of Filipinos can understand English, not everyone can speak the language fluently. Due to the Philippines’ colonial background, English has been associated with education, governance, and business. It is the language of instruction in schools, and the unifying language among the islands. English, however, is also considered the language of the elite and the educated, and has the nuance of feeding the social division between the rich and the poor, the literate and the illiterate.
English is one of the two national languages in the Philippines, the other being Filipino. Filipino is based on Tagalog, and sprinkled with words from Spanish and other local languages. Only those in Luzon, the northern islands of the Philippines, are used to speaking Tagalog. In Visayas and Mindanao, the central and southern Philippines respectively, the major language is Cebuano. Other major languages include Ilocano, Ilonggo, Bicol, Waray, Pampango, and Pangasinan. Being an archipelago, the Philippines has about 80 language groups, broken down into more than 500 dialects.
20 Safety Tips
The Philippines has received bad publicity over the years. The media is always hyped on the armed conflict in Mindanao. Manila has always been dubbed as the crime capital of the country. Women are being described as financially needy. Child labor is rampant. While sexually transmitted disease is everywhere.
The truth is, it’s the same for other countries. The only difference is that there aren’t enough stories being written to counter the negative ones. Nevertheless, we’ve listed 20 insider tips to traveling safely in the Philippines. These aren’t the end all and be all to traveling worry-free, but the trick is to keep things simple, safe, and fun.
- While Mindanao has always been a hot topic when it comes to safety, traveling to Mindanao is actually safe, if not for the media hype on kidnappings and armed conflict. The only places to avoid in Mindanao are Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi.
- It’s good to know how to swim when traveling to the Philippines. After all, you’ll be hopping among islands. Otherwise, make sure that the boat you’re boarding on has life vests.
- Dress simply and blend with the crowd so you won’t be the center of attention.
- Buy a local SIM card for your mobile phone and save the hotline number of the Philippine Police: 117.
- In case of emergency, always bring a pepper spray. Otherwise, screaming is your next option.
- Do not bring expensive equipment that will catch the attention of scammers and pickpockets.
- Use a cheap phone.
- Refrain from putting all your cash, identification cards, and credit cards in one place. Have a separate coin purse for your budget for the day.
- Pack light.
- Before leaving your country, get a travel insurance and check what circumstances and activities are not covered by your policy.
- When things go wrong, adapt the Filipino attitude: just laugh. And then report to the authorities later on.
- Take taxis that only run on the meter. If a taxi is making a deal with you, chances are you’re being overcharged.
- Agree on the price before dealing with any paid service. This includes taxis, horse carriages, tricycles, boats, and tour packages.
- While the Philippines is friendly to solo backpackers and women travelers, we recommend you travel at least in pair.
- Caution is recommended when interacting with sleazy women or homosexuals. You may contract sexually transmitted infections or diseases.
- Contact lens solution may only be available in major cities.
- Never accept food or drinks from strangers.
- Always bring a bottle of water with you. Because the islands are tropical, the heat may be unbearable to some tourists. Always rehydrate if you’re not used to the tropical climate.
- Use a sunscreen with at least 30 SPF.
- Most importantly, be nice! Smiling is your ticket to being welcome to the country, especially in the countryside.