The Philippines is a beautiful country, with amazing scuba-diving, waterfalls, islands and beaches. From the coves and lagoons of El Nido, to the countless waterfalls and rope swings of Siquijor, and the underwater encounters with whale and thresher sharks that you cannot find anywhere else, it’s a truly unique tourist destination. It’s not the easiest country to travel, mainly because it consists of thousands of islands and requires lots of ferries and airplanes to get from place to place. Give yourself lots of time to travel around, more than you think, and your trip will go much more smoothly.
- Tax – Already included in the price.
- Currency – Philippine peso (40 PHP to 1 CAD). ATMs are plentiful, but will often charge 250 pesos per transaction, 200 if you’re lucky!
- Tipping – Not necessary, although leaving 20-40 pesos is not frowned upon.
- Beer is usually 50 pesos in restaurants (70-80 pesos in El Nido) and 40 pesos in convenience stores.
- Water is 30 pesos for 1L, most restaurants will let you refill your water bottle for free if you ask!
- Meals are often 120-250 pesos. At local restaurants, it’s worth it to ask how big a dish is, sometimes we would order a meal each but they were actually both meant to share, so we got way too much food.
- Language – Filipino and English, although there are tons of dialects spoken throughout the Philippines, and the English isn’t always great. Here are some helpful words to know while travelling:
- Hello – Ma-gan-dang ar-ow
- Thank you – Sala-mat
- Local Food – We didn’t love the local Filipino food, but we found a few local dishes that we enjoyed.
- Adobo – This is a local way of preparing meat with a soy/vinegar sauce. Usually you’ll find chicken or pork adobo in a local restaurant.
- Pancit Bihon/Canton – This is a stir fried noodle dish, often with meat (usually pork) and veggies. Bihon is thin translucent noodles, canton is thicker egg noodles.
- Halo Halo – this is a famous Filipino dessert, and we found it quite gross. Honestly, we’re not sure if it’s just some kind of joke they play on tourists. We tried it once and it was just a bunch of random stuff thrown together. It included cheese, corn, milk, peach, ice, jello cubes, and squash in a bowl, it was bizarre. We have heard of places that make a good Halo Halo, but it seems this isn’t a local specialty that’s good anywhere.
- El Nido – This is the place where all of those classic turquoise water and dramatic cliff photos of the Philippines come from. It’s located on the northern tip of the island of Palawan. El Nido’s isolated location, and the fact that it’s a tourist hotspot makes it an expensive place to stay relative to the rest of the country. However, the beautiful beaches, stunning lagoons and fun nightlife make it worth it. If you’re heading to the Philippines, El Nido should definitely be at the top of your list.
- Bohol and Panglao – These sister islands offer a great mix of activities and beaches. Panglao, the smaller of the two, boasts a great stretch of beaches along its southern coast. Bohol is known for its unique Chocolate Hills and tarsiers. The fact that you can easily drive between the two islands makes the area a great place to spend a few days.
- Siquijor – We ended up staying on this supposedly mystic island for about a week, over New Years. It’s not on everybody’s “Must See” list of the Philippines, but it’s definitely on ours. We spent the week checking out all of the islands waterfalls and beaches, while catching the absolutely beautiful sunset each evening. We were also able to dive at Apo Island nearby, which was amazing. If it’s not on your list yet, it should be now!
Worth a Visit
- Malapascua – A tiny island off the northern tip of Cebu, this spot is known mainly for its Thresher Shark diving. A shoal near this island is the only place in the world where these unique sharks with super long tails are reliably found year round. If you’re not a diver, the island still has lots to offer. There are no cars, only a few motorbikes, and the paths on this island wind like a maze around restaurants and hostels. As long as you’re on the shoreline you’ll be able to find a beautiful beach, and you won’t have to go far to find a San Miguel beer to enjoy the sunset with.
- Donsol – This is another small town with tourism based around an underwater creature. This creature just happens to be the largest fish in the world, the whale shark! Donsol is the environmentally conscious place to check out these majestic beasts, but make sure you’re going down in high season from February to June. Unlike Oslob, the sharks aren’t fed here and kept year round for tourism. These sharks are passing through during their regular migration, so there is never a guarantee of seeing them, but at least you can try your best to do so ethically!
- Sabang – A lot of people go to Puerto Princesa and take a tour to see the Underground River in Sabang, but we recommend heading to Sabang and getting your own boat there to save some pesos. The Underground River is one of the seven new natural wonders of the world, and lives up to its billing. You’ll travel from Sabang to the entrance to the river, then about a kilometre down the cave in a boat paddled by a guide. The size of the cave was honestly jaw-dropping.
Just Pass Through
- Legazpi – This is a busy working town, the only main tourist attraction nearby is the Mayon Volcano. Otherwise the town doesn’t have much to offer. You will probably have to travel through here to get to Donsol.
- Oslob – This place is known as a place to see whale sharks, with guaranteed sightings. However, we’ve heard the experience is awful, and we know that it’s not responsible treatment of the sharks. The tour agencies keep the whale sharks there year round by feeding them, removing them from their natural migration patterns, and out of the breeding pool. We visited Oslob to check out the nearby waterfalls instead, but weren’t overly impressed. Considering there are waterfalls literally everywhere in Philippines, you can find better ones in better environments. Some of these waterfalls can be visited from a town called Moalboal. We did not go here ourselves, but it might be a better choice for you! If you’re looking for whale sharks, check out Donsol instead, where they are much more ecologically responsible.
- Puerto Princesa – We stayed here overnight before our flight out of Palawan. A lot of people will take a tour from here to Sabang to see the underground river, but if you want to save some money, travel to Sabang instead. We did stay at a lovely hostel here, check out Amor’s Place if you end up staying the night.
- Cebu City – Manila is known as the traffic clogged city, but most of the locals we talked to said Cebu City might be worse. We literally only passed through this city via the airport, but when we had to take a bus from the airport to the bus station it took us 1 hour and 45 minutes to travel 12 kilometres. Make sure to give yourself lots of time to get around this jammed city.
- Manila – Another city we only encountered because of its airport. This airport is an absolute mess, more so than your average SEA airport. It has 4 terminals, which are only accessible by taking a bus that only shows up every two hours, and then sits in traffic forever travelling between them. If you need to transfer between terminals quickly to catch a flight, you’ll have to take an expensive cab, and also good luck. We recommend flying into Cebu City if you can.