Boasting more than 7 thousand islands, long stretches of beach covered in powder-like sand and palm trees that emerge from the earth in a seemingly effortless manner, the Philippines should quite rightfully be considered as the definition of tropical paradise. Add to this its people who seem to have a constant smile on their faces, colorful jeepneys and tricycles that are so defining for the street image, a vast diversity in maritime as well as terrestrial flora and fauna and the relative absence of mass tourism, et voilà: you have yourself a country that should be at the very top of your travel list. However, before you go, here are a few things you need to know about traveling in the Philippines.
1). The beauty of the beaches and underwater is otherworldly. Imagine the most beautiful beach you have ever been to, multiply that by ten and add to the clarity of the water and brightness of the sand colour, and you have yourself a mental image of what most beaches in the Philippines are like.
2) The WiFi connection is often bad, especially on the islands. For a lot of travelers who plan their trip as they go, this may be the cause of quite some inconvenience. Buying a local sim card upon arrival (this can be done at most domestic airports) is therefore a wise decision, but even then don’t expect coverage to be as great as you’re used to.
3) Whoever has named Thailand the country of the smile, has clearly never been to the Philippines. Filipinos seem to have a constant smile on their face, and are very welcoming towards tourists. The most endearing are the children, though. They greet, wave, smile and approach travelers with a genuine interest and child-like innocence. It’s heart-warming.
4) The food. Hmmm. There are exceptions, but in general I did not think that the food was of the same high quality that I am used to from traveling to other countries in Asia. The fresh products are abundantly available, but the way of preparing the food (especially fresh fish) has quite often been a bit of a disappointment. There are examples of local dishes, but my experience was that due to century-long colonisation , the country has not developed a strong identity in terms of traditional cuisine. If you do your research, you will definitely be able find some restaurant gems, but for the foodies amongst us, reality may not always exceed to even meer the expectations. That being said, there are definitely a few places which are more than worth you while. Check out the articles about islands and places I have visited for restaurant and food tips.
5) What the country misses in terms of food, it makes up with the (alcoholic) drinks. Not only are alcoholic beverages abundantly available (the local rums are a must!), they are very cheap and very, very strong. In most bars, the ratio rum – coke is 40 – 60, so be careful with the numbers of Cuba Libres you order – especially during happy hours, when prices for two rum colas can drop to as little as 45 pesos. Those who do not drink alcohol can quench their thirst with fruit shakes, fresh coconuts, and the local and very yummy calamansi juice.
6) One of the most important things while traveling is not expecting everything to be organised the same way as in your home country. Service, is one of these things. Keep in mind that eating out and ordering food can take significantly more time in the Philippines as the entire process, from ordering your meal to finally receiving your check, is not always very efficient. I have seen people lose their patience over long waiting times, incomplete or wrong orders, and guess what: it is a waste of energy. Sit back, allow more time for the process and try not to get frustrated.
7) The best way to explore any island or city you visit, is definitely by scooter. Filipinos are very respectful towards foreigners in traffic, and accidents which are the result of reckless or drunk driving are more often caused by tourists than locals, in my experience. Scooters are relatively expensive for locals and so it can take years for families to acquire one. When they do, they are generally very careful to drive safely and to keep the scooter in good condition. That being said, pay close attention to where you rent your scooter. Not all agencies are licensed, and offer the same service and quality of vehicles. Ask for a test drive, check the brakes, lights and other functions, and only rent the vehicle if it meets all safety standards. Driver licences are often not necessary, but please keep in mind that if you do have an accident and you are not in possession of an (international) licence, your insurance company might not cover the costs of the damage.
8) Traveling in the Philippines is relatively easy, and there are many options to get around. Tricycles, jeepneys, vans, ferry’s, taxi’s, (domestic) flights and the typical banca boats are the means of transportation which you are likely to use during your travels. Domestic flights are relatively cheap, especially if you book in advance, and they are of course by far the fastest option to travel within the country. Travelling by land or water may take significantly longer than one would expect, so if you are pressed for time, taking a domestic flight would be your best bet.
9) Do not drink water from the tap. Travelers with sensitive stomachs may even consider brushing their teeth with bottled water. Water conditions differ from island to island. In el Nido, for example, the water has a strong smell of metal and may even come out brown, whereas other areas provide water of better quality. A lot of the travelers that I met were struggling with stomach-related issues, so whether you end up with food poisoning or diarrhoea, make sure to stock up on medication to keep you hydrated and to ensure a speedy recovery. No worries, in most cases it’s a matter of adjusting. After the first 10 days, you’ll be fine.
10) The beauty of the country is unparalleled. The beaches, countless waterfalls, caves, lakes, parks, forests, meticulously kept rice fields and endless patches of green will leave you speechless. I cannot count the number of times I whispered the word ‘ wow’ to myself when driving around on a scooter, or when discovering a new beach, even more beautiful than the previous one I had seen. Mass tourism is still relatively absent in the Philippines, but the tide is turning. Many islands are in the process of building international airports, and real estate development (especially by foreign investors) is growing at an alarming rate. I felt like the Philippines are now what Thailand was about 15 years ago. So before mass tourism hits, make sure to book your ticket and experience the beauty of this country and its many islands while still relatively unspoilt.