The Philippines has excellent scuba diving, gorgeous beaches, and with over 7000 islands, one could explore endlessly. It's a nation full of different cultures, religions and can be a fun party destination as well. Play your cards right, and it can be a pretty cheap and easy place to visit, especially as part of a couple or with friends.
Though still quite cheap, as a solo traveler, I found that dorms were far less prevalent in the Philippines as they had been in other parts of Southeast Asia. Then again, I headed off the beaten path more.
I was a bit thrown by the poverty I saw in the Philippines. It was the worst of any other country that I had been to yet. Couple that with the earthquake and hurricane that had recently hit, and the nation was reeling. Regardless, to see the country coming together and rebuilding was encouraging. The popular island of Boracay was more or less unaffected, and remains one of the more touristy places in Southeast Asia that I actually love - and there are few! I headed off the beaten path more than most, and if you want an adventure, these posts will take you there.
Where in The Philippines?
Get to Know The Philippines
- 'Hello' and 'Thank You' in Tagalog: "Kumusta" and "salamat sa iyo". Though English works in the Philippines, contrary to popular belief, English is not all that widely spoken outside of Manila
- Currency: Philippine Peso (click here for current conversion rates)
- Visa: 30 day visa-on-arrival available for most nationalities. You will most likely be asked for proof of departure before being permitted entry to the country
- Safety Rating: Ranked 138 on the Global Peace Index with a score of 2.56 (USA is ranked 114 with a score of 2.23). While most tourists are not victims of violent crime or political conflicts, theft is common, particularly in the cities
- Solo Travel Friendliness: Warnings about the country’s unstable political state and tourist kidnappings are pretty scary, but in general I found the Philippines to be a friendly place for solo travelers. Some locals were curious why was I traveling all by myself, but I never felt unsafe or threatened in the Philippines. Use your common sense and stay away from the no-go zones in Mindanao, and always keep an eye on your belongings. The basic stuff goes a long way
- Climate: Hot and humid year-round. Rainy season lasts from June to October
- Best SIM cards: Globe offers the best data plans
- Modesty Considerations: While fashion runs the spectrum in major cities like Manila, the Philippines are still relatively conservative – avoid flashing of bare skin especially when you are not on the beach
- Random useful tip: Try to avoid the Philippines during Christmas as travel around the country becomes difficult and expensive.
Budget Solo Travelers ($7 - $15): Dorms are not as common in the Philippines as in the rest of Southeast Asia. Here, budget accommodation often means a small room with little more than a bed, 4 walls, and a small fan. However, do not be discouraged! Sometimes, all it takes is a beautiful sunset right in front of your bungalow to make up for it, and the Philippines definitely have a lot of that to offer. Book dorms ahead of time if possible, as cheaper beds with good ratings are often booked out very quickly. Finding other solo travelers to share a room with is also a good way to cut the costs.
Mid Budget Solo Travelers ($15 - $30): A private room at hostels starts at $15, which usually comes with free Wi-Fi and breakfast. Airbnb is on the rise in most major cities and tourist destinations, with a private fan room starting at $10 - $40. On the islands, expect to pay $20 - $30 for a bungalow with a private bathroom.
Local Food Spots ($1 - $5): This is where Philippines gets more affordable. Local food is generally cheap and delicious, with BBQ chicken with rice costing about $1. Small restaurants on the streets offer adobo and lechon for about $2 - $3. Beer is very cheap, with a big bottle costing only $1.
Restaurants & Seafood ($5 and up): American fast food culture is prominent in the Philippines. There are also small restaurants that serve rice and noodles with huge variety of dishes. Mid-range restaurants serve local and western cuisine. Seafood is fresh and inexpensive – a large grilled fish from a beachfront restaurant runs around $10.
Getting There: The main international airports are Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Manila), Mactan-Cebu International Airport (Cebu), and Francisco Bangoy International Airport (Davao).
Getting Around Town: Jeepneys are repurposed, wildly painted American Jeeps that roam around all major cities in the Philippines serving as the main public transportation. There are no fixed schedules or bus stops. The routes are painted on the windows and they are simply hailed and stopped by passengers. Make sure to get on one to experience the Philippine transportation icon and hang out with the locals. Another fun way to get around town is on a tricycle, which is usually available in the rural areas. Uber has also recently arrived in Philippines.
Inter-city Traveling: Long distance bus routes cover pretty much the entire country, making inter-city traveling efficient and relatively easy. 12goAsia is an excellent online booking website if you would like to book your trips ahead, though it is entirely possible to just show up and hop on a bus at the bus station. From island to island, ferry, or Bangka is the way to go, and domestic flights are also available if you prefer flying from a city to another.
Things to Do
Dive in Coron: Palawan is, in my opinion, the best diving spot in the Philippines. Hop on a liveaboard dive trip that consists of 3-4 dives per day and experience living on the boat like a sailor (or pirate)! Diving through the Coron Wrecks and Apo Reef was an amazing experience. Here’s a review and video to give you an idea of what’s in store for you.
Island Hopping: Hop from Coron to El Nido (you will see plenty of signs for ferries on Coron), and from El Nido, take an hour’s bike ride into the stunning Twin Beach – Nacpan and Calitang. There are also many other beaches in El Nido worth checking out so make sure to allocate sufficient time for it. Continue your way to Puerto Galera, a relaxing island with great diving opportunities. Sail through Bacuit Archipalego, Philippines’s version of Halong Bay. Next, take a short flight out to Borocay – it may have turned into a big tourist trap, but it is still beautiful and worth spending a few nights in. The island is notorious for its all-night party scene, so let loose and have fun!
Relax at Camiguin: I spent Christmas Day on this friendly island in 2013, and it was one of my favorite X’mas celebrations ever. I loved it for its relaxing atmosphere and diving. Spend a few days here and hang out with the locals, or simply enjoy the solitude that’s hard to come by these days in Southeast Asia.
Explore Manila: The capital of the Philippines has the country’s inequality on full display, with huge mansions and small houses barely held up by wooden planks next to each other. This alone could make a slow stroll in the city an interesting affair. Visit the National Museum of the Filipino to get a better understanding of the country’s history, and check out the Fort Santiago for a quick escape from the city.
Skydive Greater Cebu: Swimming with the whale sharks and the majestic Tumalog Falls are great, but just when you thought you’ve seen it all in Cebu, there’s one more cool thing you can do – skydiving! Just north of Cebu unfolds Bantayan Island, home to some of the best beaches in the Philippines and the only place in The Philippines where you can sky dive.
Trek to the Asik-Asik Falls: This waterfall was only discovered in 2010. Imagine powerful water streaming down a mountain cliff that is fully covered in green – I have never been there myself but the pictures look absolutely stunning. This is not your average waterfall, for sure. Getting there involves descending and ascending on stairs that wind around the mountain side, but I am sure the view alone would be worth the effort.
Get to the Top of Chocolate Hill: There are mixed reviews about the mysterious Chocolate Hills of Bohol. Some love and others are underwhelmed by them. Explanations for the formation range from a self-destructed volcano to legends about how the Chocolate hill is essentially a giant buffalo’s poop. If you are confident on two wheels, getting there from the 2-hour ride from Bohol could be just as fun and challenging as actually being there.