The Philippines has over 7000 islands and is often overlooked compared to other Southeast Asian destinations. However, those who visit will discover breathtaking white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, beautiful emerald-colored volcanoes and lakes, and impressive rice fields and mountains.
The Philippines is renowned for its abundant biodiversity, a major tourist attraction. Popular tourist destinations in the country include Boracay, Palawan, and Siargao. However, the tourism industry in the Philippines has been held back by political and social issues, which has prevented it from keeping up with some of its Southeast Asian counterparts.
To plan a memorable trip to the Philippines, it’s crucial to find travel tips for the Philippines and must-visit destinations. The country has a lot to offer in terms of natural beauty, culture, and hospitality. Travelers can maximize their experience by taking advantage of the various attractions available. If you plan to visit the country, you will need an in-depth guide to exploring the Philippines, including travel tips and top destinations.
The Philippines: A Traveler’s Paradise
When it comes to the Philippines, travelers will find everything from historical sites and cultural attractions to beaches and mountains. The country is known for its diverse landscape and unique culture, which makes it a perfect destination for adventurers. In addition, the Filipino people are some of the friendliest in the world, providing a warm welcome to visitors.
Natural Wonders and Rich Culture
The Philippines is a country in Southeast Asia known for its diverse culture and breathtaking geological formations. Each island in this archipelago has unique natural wonders that are worth exploring.
The Philippines is a country full of exciting experiences waiting to be discovered. Its landscape boasts towering volcanoes, stunning beaches, and intriguing underwater formations. The country’s rich culture and history also result from centuries-old traditions and 350 years of Spanish influence. Visitors will find plenty to explore, including beaches, festivals, historic churches, and coral reefs.
This archipelago offers a wide range of options for vacation, including seaside holidays, rainforest expeditions, city living, and mountain stays, ensuring that there is something to suit everyone’s preferences.
The Philippine tourism industry has surpassed its goal of 1.7 million international visitors for 2022 and has welcomed 2.65 million tourists as of December 31, 2022. This has brought in PhP 208.96 billion or $3.68 billion in tourism revenue, which is 2465.75 percent higher than the revenue generated during the same period in the previous year. The industry has recorded nearly one million more visitors than its target for the year.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) monitored travel to the Philippines from February to December 31, 2022, when the country reopened its borders to all passengers. During this time, the DOT expected Filipinos living abroad and foreign tourists to visit the Philippines for the holiday season, including Christmas and New Year celebrations.
Most Number of Tourists in the Philippines
Last year, there were 2.65 million international visitor arrivals, with 628,445 of them being returning Filipinos. The remaining 2.02 million visitors were foreigners from the top tourist markets. The United States had the most tourists visiting the country at 505,089, followed by South Korea at 428,014 and Australia at 137,974. Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, Singapore, India, Malaysia, and China followed the top tourist markets.
Target for 2023
The Department of Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco shared that the Philippines aims to double its tourism revenues and attract at least 4.8 million foreign visitors in 2023. This is part of the agency’s efforts to speed up the recovery of tourism in the country. Frasco also mentioned that the DOT plans to generate a revenue of $5.8 billion. According to the latest data, the Philippines has already exceeded its target of 1.7 million arrivals for 2022, with over 2.46 million tourists and PHP149 billion in receipts.
Frasco is optimistic that Manila could surpass its pre-pandemic tourism figures before 2025, thanks to the administration’s focus on tourism and various measures implemented to ease travel. However, Frasco described DOT’s initial forecast as “alarming,” which indicated that Manila would not reach more than 8 million tourists until after 2025. DOT has planned to undertake several initiatives in the coming months, including constructing rest areas and improving connectivity for inbound tourists.
Essential Travel Tips for Exploring the Philippines
The Philippines is a great destination for travelers seeking adventure. To make the most of your trip, here are some useful travel tips for the Philippines to keep in mind.
To enter the Philippines, you must obtain a Philippine Visa. After reviewing your visa application, this is a stamp placed on your travel document by a consular officer at a Philippine Embassy or Consulate. It indicates that you can travel to the Philippines and request entry from immigration officials at the ports of entry.
It should be noted that having a visa does not guarantee automatic entry to the Philippines. The decision to admit foreign nationals is at the discretion of the immigration authorities at the point of entry. The Philippine immigration authorities may deny certain foreign nationals entry into Philippine airports and seaports.
If you plan to visit the Philippines for leisure, please check if your country is eligible for visa-free entry. The length of your stay will depend on your nationality and any agreements between the Philippines and your country. Please ensure that your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your intended stay and that you have a confirmed return ticket.
Due to the spread-out nature of the Philippines being an archipelago, transportation costs can be high for most places. However, if you have ample time and are comfortable with slow travel, you can stay within your budget. Below is an estimated breakdown of travel costs around the country. It’s important to note that getting from one place to another can be challenging due to the archipelago, so flying between islands may be necessary if you have limited time.
- Air Travel – For those who want to hop between islands in the Philippines, air travel is very convenient. Many airlines connect Manila with most of the country’s important destinations. However, when traveling from one region to another, you often need to return to a major hub. The prices of domestic airfares the four budget airlines offer are fairly similar.
- Sea Travel – In the past, wooden outrigger boats, known as ferries and bangkas, were the primary mode of transportation in the Philippines. While still significant, especially in the Visayas, where nearly all coastal communities have a ferry service, many long-distance routes have become unnecessary due to the emergence of affordable air travel. Flights are not only faster and similarly priced to cabins on lengthy ferry journeys but are also generally considered safer.
- Land Travel – Bus – Although bus travel in the Philippines may not be the most comfortable and fast mode of transportation, it offers a unique opportunity to observe the rural way of life and interact with people from diverse backgrounds. Moreover, buses are easily accessible from major cities to remote areas, and you can have access to food and refreshments at various stops along the way, even during long journeys when there are scheduled breaks every few hours for passengers to stretch and purchase food.
- Land Travel – Jeepney – Jeepneys are a significant mode of transportation in Philippine cities such as Manila, Cebu City, Davao, and Baguio. They provide frequent services between key locations in each city. In the provinces, jeepneys connect remote barrios to nearby towns and cities, but their schedules may vary depending on demand, weather, and the driver’s preferences. There are no fixed timetables for jeepneys.
- Land Travel – FX Taxis – FX taxis are air-conditioned Toyota minivans with signs showing their destinations. They were introduced in Manila in the late 1990s and now operate in other cities and on popular inter-city routes. However, routes are often not fixed, so some local knowledge is required to know where to catch the correct vehicle. The vans can be a bit cramped, and the driver will start driving once the van has ten passengers, three more than it’s designed for.
- Land Travel – Tricycles – Tricycles are a popular form of shared transport in the provinces as they are affordable. However, they are not allowed on certain roads in Manila and Cebu City. In other areas, they can travel at high speeds and are not restricted to where they can go. Each trike can carry up to four passengers, but it is not uncommon to see more passengers squeezed in. The only limitation is the ability of the vehicle to carry extra weight.
Philippine Customs and Etiquette
The Philippines is a friendly country, and the locals are very welcoming. It is important to remember that Filipinos place great importance on hospitality, so it is essential to be polite and respectful when visiting.
Here are some basic customs and etiquette to remember while visiting the Philippines.
- Respect to Elders – In the Philippines, it is common for young people to show respect for their elders by taking their hands to their foreheads or addressing older family members as “Ate” or “Kuya.” As a tourist, you are not required to follow these customs, but it is important to acknowledge and respect the deep value of respecting elders when interacting with locals. Pagmamano is a Filipino cultural gesture wherein you say “mano po” and lightly place the back of an elder’s hand against your forehead. This is commonly practiced towards grandfathers, grandmothers, and elder aunts and uncles.
- Gift-Giving Tradition – When invited to a Filipino household, it is customary to bring “pasalubong” or gifts. The gift does not necessarily have to be expensive, but if there is no special occasion, it is acceptable to bring flowers, fruits, or chocolates. However, if you are invited to a wedding, baptism, birthday, or Christmas party, bring a gift that the recipient can use. If you are staying with friends or local families during your travels, it is crucial to be mindful of this. As a tourist, it would be a nice gesture to bring a small gift or souvenir, such as a snack from your hometown, to show your appreciation to your hosts.
- Filipino Legends and Superstitions – Filipino society has many legends and superstitions transmitted across communities and families, which makes it extremely intriguing. A family gathers typically to reminisce about their ancestral stories and folklore as they enjoy cookies and calamansi juice. They also talked about the superstitious beliefs unique to each island, including scary tales about the aswang and misbehaving children. These legends reflect Filipinos’ strong connection to nature and cultural identity.
- Filipino Dining Etiquette – It is uncommon to use table knives as spoons, and forks are the preferred utensils in Filipino culture. If you are unfamiliar with using them, don’t worry because Filipinos usually accommodate foreign guests and aim to make them feel comfortable. Most of the time, food is eaten using the spoon, with the fork in the left hand and the spoon in the right hand. Use the fork to push the food onto the spoon and then enjoy eating. Filipinos sometimes eat with their bare hands in a casual setting, known as “kamayan style.”
Eat a Lot – If you’re invited to a dinner party at a Filipino home, it’s crucial to eat generously. Turning down food might offend the host, so expect to be served continuously. Just leave a small amount of food on your plate to indicate that you’re finished eating. Otherwise, the host may refill your plate repeatedly.
Packing for a Trip to the Philippines
The Philippines experiences two seasons: wet and dry. The amount of rainfall varies depending on the region you are visiting. The temperature remains hot throughout the year. During the wet season, however, there may be heavy rainstorms that typically only last an hour before the sun reappears. Due to this, you should check the season when you pack for your trip.
Compared to other countries in Southeast Asia, the dress code in the Philippines is relatively relaxed. However, wearing appropriate attire like regular clothes when going to towns, stores, and restaurants is recommended instead of beachwear like bikinis, which are more suitable only for the beach.
Here are some things to pack when visiting the Philippines:
- Light, breathable clothing such as shorts and T-shirts
- Hat and sunglasses
- Sunscreen or sunblock
- Mosquito repellent
- Rain jacket or umbrella
- Comfortable shoes for walking around exploring towns
- Cash in small denominations (pesos)
With these essential travel tips for the Philippines, you are now ready to explore the country and its unique places.
Always stay safe, respect the locals and their customs, and have fun! Enjoy your stay in this beautiful country!
Staying Connected While in the Philippines
The Philippines also has one of Asia’s most affordable communication infrastructures, making it easy to stay connected with friends and family back home during your travels. SIM cards are readily available at various locations in the Philippines, such as airports, malls, grocery stores, and street vendors. You only need cash to buy one, and unlike in other countries, an ID is not usually required. The typical cost of a SIM card is $1 to $2. You can ask the seller to activate your data plan for you.
Staying Safe in the Philippines
Safety is generally not a major concern when traveling to the main tourist destinations in the Philippines. However, petty theft can occur, so you must be aware of your surroundings and monitor your belongings. If you have any safety concerns, you can post in Facebook groups to get advice from other travelers.
Manila: Gateway to the Philippines
Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, is commonly used as a starting point for travelers exploring the country’s stunning beaches, islands, and natural wonders. Nevertheless, Manila has plenty of tourist attractions to offer on its own! The city is full of surprises and exciting experiences to discover.
If you’re visiting Manila for the first time, don’t worry, it may seem overwhelming, but it’s manageable with a well-planned itinerary. You can even rent a car to explore at your own pace; ensure you have the requirements. There are many tourist spots, foodie destinations, and activities to enjoy in Manila and neighboring cities, so keep reading to discover the best places to visit.
If you love history, you must try touring Intramuros, Manila’s oldest district and historic core, also known as the “Walled City.” It is a walled area within the modern city that used to be the seat of the government and political power during the Spanish colonial era in the Philippines. There are plenty of things to do in Intramuros, making it an iconic Manila landmark.
To see the complete architectural remnants of the Spanish Era in Manila, visit Intramuros. It is the only district where you can find them. You can easily spend a day sightseeing here as the historical attraction is well-preserved. Walk along the paved roads to see historical monuments and sculptures. You can also join a bambike tour, ride a kalesa, or experience a horse-drawn carriage ride.
Here are some places you can visit while in Intramuros:
- Fort Santiago
- Baluarte de San Diego
- Manila Cathedral
- Casa Manila
- San Agustin Church
- Bahay Tsinoy
- Plaza de Roma
Rizal Park is a significant landmark located in Intramuros, Manila. It is a tribute to the Philippine national hero, Jose Rizal, a doctor and novelist. He was executed on December 30, 1896, at this location for promoting local rebellion against the Spanish government. Rizal Park has various attractions such as monuments, squares, gardens, stadiums, observatories, theaters, shops, food kiosks, playgrounds, and fountains.
Rizal Park is divided into three sections. The first one is Agrifina Circle, located beside Taft Avenue and covers an area of 16 hectares. The Department of Tourism and the National Museum of Anthropology are situated there. The next section is in the northeastern part, followed by a 22-hectare park stretching to Roxas Boulevard. Lastly, the central section ends at the southwestern part with Burnham Green. To fully experience Rizal Park, you can take a tour with Intramuros.
Manila Bay is a harbor and port located on the western coast of Manila City, which enables convenient import and export of goods to surrounding nations. The bay stretches approximately 190 KM along the coast, while its baywalk spans 2 KM along Roxas Boulevard. The Baywalk is famous for its breathtaking sunset view with an unobstructed view of the horizon. Visitors can enjoy a walk and sunset viewing and dine at various restaurants, cafes, and bars, offering a stunning view of the bay.
Binondo Food Tour
Binondo is a vibrant and historic site in Manila founded in 1594 and is known as the world’s first Chinatown. It has narrow and bustling alleys filled with unique foodie spots, making it a popular destination for tours to Binondo restaurants. You can discover affordable hole-in-the-wall eateries, traditional bakeries, and budget-friendly street vendors. To fully enjoy its beauty, it is recommended to take a guided tour of Binondo.
Exploring food tours on your first day in the Philippines is an excellent way to discover and learn more about their local cuisine. It’s a quick and efficient way to familiarize yourself with all the food options available in the country.
Breathtaking Beaches and Islands
The Philippines has over 7000 islands, each offering a pristine golden stretch of sand and teal waters dotted with iconic bangka boats. Whether you’re seeking a secluded spot, a surfing cove, or a lively beach with cocktails, here are some of the best beaches in the country.
If you’re looking for a quick and simple day trip out of El Nido in Palawan, take a tricycle or motorbike heading north to a magnificent white sand beach called Nacpan. Although there has been development in the area, with the emergence of new guesthouses, boutique hotels, and upscale tented camps, the atmosphere is still calm and relaxed – at least for the time being.
White Beach is the main attraction in Boracay due to its beautiful, powdery sand. The beach is divided into three sections based on where small boats, called bangkas, used to arrive from Caticlan. Station 3 is located in the south and is known as Angol, where most budget accommodations and some remnants of the old Boracay can be found.
The main attraction of San Vicente is Long Beach, which is made up of three separate beaches: Long Beach 1, Long Beach 2, and Long Beach 3. These beaches offer approximately 14 kilometers of pristine golden sand on Palawan’s west coast. Long Beach 2 is the best due to its 50-meter width, stunning pink sunsets, and uninterrupted 7-kilometer stretch.
This surf spot is a popular destination known for its legendary right-hand wave. It’s called Siargao, and despite being more crowded recently, it is still considered the most famous surf break in the country.
Paliton Beach, with stunning white sand and clear water, can be found on the western side of Siquijor Island, northeast of San Juan. To reach the beach, take the turnoff at the little church in Paliton village and follow the sealed track for approximately 1km. From the beach, there are amazing views of Apo Island. Moreover, for the best diving in Siquijor, tourists can check out the wall from Paliton Beach southeast to Tubod Beach.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Apart from its beaches and islands, the Philippines is also home to some UNESCO-listed world heritage sites. These are some of the country’s most significant cultural, historical, and archaeological locations that have been carefully preserved and kept safe for future generations.
Banaue Rice Terraces
The Banaue Rice Terraces, located in the mountains of Ifugao, Philippines, are a National Cultural Treasure and are highly regarded by Filipinos as the 8th Natural Wonder of the World. It is believed that the terraces were manually built and have been present for over 2,000 years, specifically in the mountainous regions of Ifugao and northern Luzon Island. The terraces were created to address the challenge of planting rice on steep and sloping land.
Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park
The Tubbataha Reef Marine Park spans 96,828 hectares and encompasses the North and South Atolls and the Jessie Beazley Reef. It is a one-of-a-kind atoll reef that boasts a remarkable concentration of marine species. The North Islet is particularly noteworthy as it is a breeding ground for birds and marine turtles. This location is a pristine example of a coral reef and showcases a stunning 100-meter vertical wall, vast lagoons, and two coral islands.
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park
The Puerto Princesa Underground River, or Subterranean River National Park, is a site that showcases an underground river that spans over 8.2 kilometers. The river flows through a limestone cave with stunning stalactite and stalagmite formations, resembling famous statues worldwide. The cave also hosts fruit bat populations on its ceiling. While cruising through the river, visitors can enjoy the area’s breathtaking beauty. One of the most remarkable features of the river is that it opens up directly into the sea. It is considered one of the most exquisite caves in the Philippines.
Hidden Gems and Off-the-Beaten-Path Destinations
The Philippines is filled with hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path destinations that offer an exciting escape from the hustle and bustle of big cities. Tourists often overlook these locations, so exploring lesser-known spots for unique experiences is a great opportunity.
Sagada is a town in the Mountain Province, Philippines, with attractions such as caves, waterfalls, limestone mountains, and hill-tribe culture. Its hanging coffins are also famous. Spanish colonizers did not heavily influence the town, resulting in a preserved indigenous culture. A Spanish mission was only established in 1882. Sagada’s location in the remote Central Cordillera Mountains contributed to its untouched state during the Spanish period.
Batanes, an island province, is famous for its picturesque ancient stone houses, serene white sandy beaches, rough terrains of mountains, and abundant verdant hills. The place was previously hard for tourists to reach because of its remoteness from the Philippine capital, Manila. However, as it became more renowned as a top destination to visit, traveling to Batanes has become more convenient.
Mouthwatering Filipino Cuisine
The Philippines’ culture is a blend of various influences from different cultures that have existed for centuries. This unique mix is evident in the country’s arts and culinary traditions. Filipino cuisine features a variety of flavors, textures, and colors.
Popular Filipino Dishes
There are several Filipino dishes enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. Here are some of the most famous and delicious ones:
- Adobo – a popular dish consisting of chicken or pork stewed or braised in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, bay leaf, black pepper, and sometimes coconut milk.
- Kare-Kare – an oxtail and vegetable stew cooked with peanut butter.
- Sinigang – a sour soup usually made with pork, fish, shrimp, or beef.
- Lumpia – spring rolls filled with vegetables and meat, served fresh or deep-fried.
- Sisig – sizzling pig’s head meat combined with onions, chili peppers, and other spices.
- Bicol Express – a spicy dish made of pork in coconut milk with chili peppers and shrimp paste.
- Halo-halo – a popular dessert made of shaved ice, evaporated milk, and various sweet beans, fruits, jelly, ice cream, flan, and other ingredients.
Here are some popular Filipino street food snacks:
- Kwek-kwek – deep-fried quail eggs coated with orange batter.
- Taho – a sweet, warm snack made of soft tofu and caramelized syrup.
- Banana Cue – skewered ripe bananas that are deep-fried in brown sugar.
- I saw – grilled chicken intestines served on skewers.
- Fish balls – deep-fried fish balls served with a sweet and sour sauce.
The Philippines is renowned for its unique and flavorful cuisine, which makes it an ideal destination for foodies. Several fantastic food festivals and tours in the country offer visitors the opportunity to sample some of the country’s best dishes.
- Longganisa Festival – The city of Vigan, known for its rich heritage, holds its fiesta on January 25. As part of the celebration, they also have a festival dedicated to the Vigan longganisa, a type of local sausage. This sausage is distinct because of its spicy meat, abundant garlic, and the addition of sugarcane vinegar.
- Lechon Festival – Lechon, a popular Filipino dish, takes the spotlight on buffet tables. Balayan, Batangas celebrates a festival in honor of this roasted pig delicacy, coinciding with the feast of St. John the Baptist every June 24. During the festival, pigs are roasted on a spit until their skin becomes crispy. The process usually takes approximately 5 hours to bring the lechon to the Church, where a mass is held in honor of St. John. The celebration continues with a parade where onlookers get splashed with water and end with a delicious feast featuring the mouthwatering lechon. Quezon City has its lechon festival in La Loma every May, and Cebu also celebrates a similar festival in August.
- Balut Festival – The balut, a fertilized duck egg, is a well-known Filipino delicacy that tourists and balikbayans often try. You can find some of the best balut in Pateros, where the Balut sa Puti festival takes place to celebrate it. The festival features cooking contests between top barangay chefs, a balut eating contest, and student performances.
- Lanzones Festival – Camuigin marked the 40th anniversary of the Lanzones Festival recently. The festival honors the abundant harvest of lanzones, one of the main crops on the island. The festival typically features a street party where locals dress in traditional Higaonon attire with lanzones motifs. The event includes dancers accompanied by the Diwata, believed to impart the fruit with its sweetness.
Cultural Immersion and Festivals
The Philippines is not just about its stunning beaches and beautiful islands – it also has a vibrant culture shaped by Spanish, American, and Asian influences. Various festivals throughout the year celebrate different aspects of Filipino culture, which offer visitors the chance to experience traditional customs and explore local artisans’ creations.
The Ati-Atihan Festival is a significant celebration in the Philippines because it was the first festival that inspired many others. It takes place in Aklan and is recognized as the most prominent Mardi Gras event in the country and one of the oldest. The festival lasts a week, typically peaking on the third Sunday of January. Throughout the day, people dress up in colorful indigenous costumes and paint their faces, parading on the streets.
The Pahiyas Festival is a distinctive harvest festival held in Lucban during May. The locals decorate their houses with lively and colorful decorations such as fruits, vegetables, kiping (rice wafers), and handicrafts. Visitors can even pick fresh produce for free and bring their baskets.
The Sinulog Festival is held every third Sunday of January in Cebu, the country’s oldest city. The event honors Santo Niño or the Child Jesus, and pays homage to its patron saint – Señor Sto. Niño de Cebú. It features colorful parades utilizing vibrant costumes and energetic music from drums and trumpets with amazing choreography.
Sustainable and Responsible Travel in the Philippines
Sustainable tourism involves balancing the impact of tourism on the environment, economy, and society with the needs of tourists, host communities, and the industry.
What is the importance of sustainable tourism? Failing to conserve the natural resources in our tourist destinations may result in their decline and ruin, preventing future generations from experiencing their splendor. This could also put the jobs and livelihoods of tourism industry employees at risk.
Eco-Friendly Activities and Responsible Tourism Initiatives in the Philippines
Ecotourism is a form of traveling that focuses on visiting well-preserved natural areas to understand further and support the environment and the local communities that care for and benefit from it.
- Carbon Offset Tour in Iloilo City – The Iloilo City Carbon Offset Tour allows you to visit the top tourist destinations in Iloilo, including the historic street known as Calle Real while balancing out the carbon emissions of your trip. Iloilo City is a picturesque coastal city with a fascinating heritage, making carbon offset tours an ideal way to discover the region.
- Masungi Georeserve Hike in Rizal – The Masungi Georeserve is a geopark near Manila in the province of Rizal. It is well-known for its hiking spots because of the many mountains in the area. The georeserve is a top eco-park in the Philippines and is comprised of limestone peaks and dense rainforests that are home to about 400 animal species. One of the unique animals found exclusively in the georeserve is the Hypselostoma latispira masungiensis, a subspecies of a micro snail.
- Firefly Watching Tour in Bohol – Bohol has several mangrove forests, making it an excellent location to explore the flora and fauna in these wetland habitats. One of the most well-known creatures that rely on mangroves is fireflies. To see them in detail, one could join a firefly-watching tour. These tours involve a slow evening cruise along immaculate rivers with mangroves lining the sides.
The Philippines is a country with an abundance of natural wonders and cultural experiences that are waiting to be discovered. There’s something for everyone, from the stunning terraces in Ifugao to the vibrant festivals such as Ati-Atihan and Sinulog. And if you’re looking for an eco-friendly way to explore the area, look no further than carbon offset tours or firefly-watching tours in Bohol. With its unique blend of culture and cuisine and responsible tourism initiatives like these, it’s easy to see why this incredible destination should be at the top of your travel bucket list!