A land of pirates and smugglers, of ancient tribes and mysterious jungles, epic parties and isolated islands, you simply cannot go wrong with backpacking in The Philippines. Cheap beer, beautiful beaches, adrenaline pumping activities and some of the most friendly, genuine, people in all of Asia; the Philippines truly captured my heart.
There are many reasons to love the Philippines. It has some of the best beaches in Asia, and with 7,107 islands it’s an island-hopping paradise. Superb snorkeling, scuba diving, and surfing spots are scattered all across the archipelago. Beyond the beaches and reefs, you’ll find lush jungles, stunning volcanoes, and tropical pine forests in Northern Luzon that are perfect for hiking and caving adventures.
The Philippines is definitely the hottest country to visit in 2017. So if you are looking for a South East Asia getaway but don’t want to be another one of those drunk lads in Thailand, the Philippines is the place to go. And I recommend going before the rest of the world finds out about this hidden gem. So I have prepared this Philippines backpacker travel guide to help you see the best that this awesome country has to offer.
When to go to the Philippines
The Philippines has a hot and humid tropical climate with a wet season (southwest monsoon) from May to October and a dry season (northeast monsoon) from November to April. The best time to visit the Philippines is during the dry season. January and February are the coolest months and good for travelling, while March, April and May are very hot: expect sunshine all day and temperatures to peak at a boiling 36°C.
As well as higher humidity, the wet season also brings typhoons, with flights sometimes cancelled and roads impassable. The first typhoon can hit as early as May, although typically it is June or July before the rains really start, with July and August the wettest months. The southern Visayas and Palawan are less prone to this danger, and Mindanao sees less rain during the wet season. During the wet season it isn’t always torrential rain and days can be hot and sunny, with short, intense downpours at dusk.
We were here in May 2017 and we only has 3 days where it rained in the afternoon. Nothing that stopped us from doing what we wanted to do. It was bloody hot though in Manila and Palawan.
Where to go in the Philippines
Manila for its buzzing busy love/hate metropolis – One to two days will be plenty.
El Nido – Northern Palawan for its incredible island hopping through the Baciut Archipelago
Sagada for its caves, trekking, hanging coffins and cool weather
Batad & Banaue for the UNESCO Word Heritage Rice Terraces
Bohol for its chocolate mountains and Tarsier Monkeys
Oslob for swimming with the whale sharks
Borocay for its touristy but incredible white sand beaches
Siargao for some of the best surfing around
OK. Last of the sunset spam for a while. ☀☀But the Philippines seriously have some killer sunsets. This 📷 was taken in El Nido in Palawan. Seriously my favorite place we visited. The island hopping was insane. Now I have a craving for more island hopping. So please tell me in the comments below where you favourite islands are! I loved El Nido and Koh Rong off Cambodia. 🇵🇭🙌💯💜🌍 . . . . . #theglobewanderer #beautifuldestinations #welivetoexplore #discoverearth #travelabroad #travelbook #traveldairies #travel #travelblogger #travelmate #travellife #thattravellife #femmetraveler #femmetravels #femaletravel #backpackergirl #backpacker #backpackerinfo #backpackersworld #backpacklife #explore #explorer #wanderlust #wanderlusttribe #wanderlusters #philippines #elnido #palawan #sunsets #islandlifestyle
Arriving in to the Philippines
30 day tourist visa’s are granted upon entry and can easily be extended in major cities. You can also ask, and pay, for a longer via upon arrival to Manila or Cebu International airports but I have been told that these can take around 2 hours to process before you can leave the airport.
Getting around the Philippines
Welcome to the Jeepney. Colourful, practical, though not super comfortable. Completely unique to the Philippines, these old jeeps were left behind by the Americans after the war and have been re-purposed and turned into rainbows. Jeepney’s work like local buses but you pay your fare when you get off. In the major cities these things are packed. In the providences you’ll often see people sitting on the roof or hanging off the sides or the back.
I have to admit these would be great for locals and short journeys. Not so great for backpackers as the drivers don’t like to wait for you to get your luggage sorted and your self in before they start to drive off. Also the seats often make your bum go numb within 5 minutes and the roof is very low. People don’t often end up where they planned on going on their first jeepney right but they are a cool experience and you should definitely try it.
Buses are a great way to travel around the larger islands. We took night buses from Manila to Northern Luzon and back again. They were as good as a 12 hour bus ride could be with breaks, chilling air-con (seriously, take a warm jacket) and WiFi on board.
So how do you get around the rest of the country you ask? Well you simply have to fly. The Philippines is made up of over 7000 islands so road travel just isn’t practical. Boats are another option though very slow. There are a number of domestic airlines that services the Philippines and if you keep your eyes peeled you can get some really cheap flights. Due to the need to fly, your Philippines Itinerary will require a bit more planning than your other South East Asia trips.
|Hostel dorm bed average: $15||One day motorbike hire: $40|
|Basic private double room average: $60||Long distance bus service: $14|
|Local beer :$2.50||Entrance to a site cost: $4 for foreigners on average|
|Meal at a cheap restaurant :$2-3||Bottle of local Rhum : $1.25|
* prices in Australian Dollars.
Where to stay in the Philippines
Outpost Hostel – We stayed here for 4 nights. There is still some works going on but when it is done this is going to be a great backpackers hostel. It is located right on the beach and has a great social feel with common areas, bar, kitchen and activities. We loved their island hopping tours. I accidentally checked us out a day early from here. Luckily it was during the island tour and they were able to call the mainland and ensure we had our bed for us again when we got back. Thanks Teddy!!
The Birdhouse El Nido – There is not enough words to describe how cool this place was. But I must warn you. If you don’t like stairs, don’t stay here. This place is located high in the tree tops over looking the beautiful Marimegmeg beach – home to what could arguably be the best sunsets in the world. This glamping hotel was incredible. Great staff that looked after us when we weren’t feeling 100% and they make the best vegetable curry I have every eaten. They also organised a private island hopping trip for us which was great. Thanks Mark and the team for a great couple of days.
Z Hostel – Noisy but cheap and easy hostel. They have one of the most popular rooftop backpacker bars in Manila and a 24hr Cafe. We stayed 1 night here in a private room. Great help with buying bus tickets and organizing cars for us. They use a strange cardless cash system here where you load credit onto a wristband – you do get it back if you don’t use it all when you leave. Clean and tidy rooms and fast WiFi.
Discovery Primea – This is if you are having one of those ‘Treat yo self’ moments. We had 2 nights here before we flew home. And boy did we certainly treat ourselves. Infinity pool and bar, great views, a number of bars and restaurants, day spa, 5 star service – they even have a pillow menu. This one isn’t too good for the wallet but if you can afford it it’s worth it.
Batad Transient House – You have to hike into Batad to get to this place. But that’s why you go to Banaue right? This place is a small homestay located in the middle of the incredible UNESCO World Heritage rice terraces. Friendly, family run place and they make a delicious fried rice and banana pancake. Very simple, but everythingin this part of the world is. Best views to wake up to over the rice terraces.
In Banaue town we didn’t rate the place we stayed but can recommend Sanafe Lodge. We had dinner here and the food was great. It was the nicest looking place we saw. People we met stayed here and really liked it.
Sagada Guesthouse – This place is really easy to find from the jeepney & bus stop. It was decent accommodation but private rooms are way over priced. We were also recommended Sagada Homestay – which is really a guesthouse not a home stay – which is just up the hill from Sagada Guesthouse. You don’t eat at the Guesthouses here. Try some of the great food at Yoghurt house, Lemon pie house, Strawberry cafe and the Brew House.
We didn’t travel to the below places but our backpacker friends recommend the below accommodation options in other parts of the Philippines.
- Borocay Island – Mad Monkey Hostel
- Cebu – Noordzee Hostel
- Sirago Island – Paglaom Hostel
- Puerto Princessa – Sheebang Hostel
The food is nothing to write home about in the Philippines. They are true to the nose to tail method – which basically means that when it comes to meat they eat the entire animal. Not exactly my favourite way to eat. Most travelers I spoke to described Filipino food as very basic and bland. They don’t use a lot of herbs and spices in their food. In the major cities fast food is growing rapidly. Malls all have food courts where you can get any number of take away foods. I couldn’t count the number of Jollibee restaurants I saw in Manila. Vegetarians and Vegans will find it more difficult to find food than in some other Asian countries. We ate a lot more western food in the Philippines than we would in any other country but we did find some great places to eat.
El Nido we discovered a great Italian place, albeit a little more expensive, called Mezzanine. It’s a restaurant and bar along the beach in the main part of town with a great deck to look out over the bay. We also loved a little Mexican place called Pinches which served delicious Mexican food and margaritas. Pinches is right on the beach and you can eat with the sand in your toes.
In Manila we discovered another great Mexican place in Makati thanks to our Lonely Planet book. El Chapacabra is a hole in the wall sort of place that served great Mexican food. We also ate at Greenbelt and spent a luxurious last night dining a Sala one of the best restaurants in Manila – This one is heavy on the wallet though.
Helpful Tip: Don’t forget translation cards if you have any food allergies.
- Theft – One of the most common issues that people find in the Philippines is that petty crime such as pick pocketing and theft of valuable items. Common sense can go along way in keeping you and your belongings safe. Keep any valuables hidden in a bag which you keep close to yourself at all times, and particularly avoid carrying a camera around your neck in populated areas. One method of theft is from the back of a motorbike, so makes sure you keep a hand on any bags, as these can easily be grabbed from a moving bike.
- Water – It’s best to drink and brush your teeth with bottled water in the Philippines to avoid stomach bugs. Most hotels and hostels provide this and water can be bought easily and cheaply.
- Culture – The Philippines is a conservative country. For woman is it best to keep shoulders and knees covered to avoid any unwanted attention. Save the bikini’s and short shorts for the beaches.
- Scams & Begging – Though not as prevalent in the Philippines as some other countries, there are still scammers and beggars. Begging is not common, but does occur mainly in tourist areas. Most beggars will leave you alone if you say no, though you may need to be quite firm. Keep an eye out and trust your gut when it comes to protecting yourself against scams from Taxi drivers, tour operators and money exchange services.
Where to next
Feeling adventurous, add your Philippines trip to the start or end of our Epic 6 week South East Asian Adventure!
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