Things You Should Know Before Visiting The Philippines

Sunset over Bacuit Bay from Corong Corong's beach

I recently went on an incredible trip to the Philippines. It’s not a country which is well known to South Africans, so here are a few quick facts, some things to take into consideration and some advice from someone who’s been.

10 Quick Random Facts to Help You Understand the Country:


  1. The first non-Asian country to colonise the islands was Spain who ruled for 377 years until 1898
  2. From 1898 to 1946 the country was an American colony
  3. The most commonly spoken local language is Tagalog which is a mixture of European, Asian and Native American languages
  4. Of the 170 languages spoken, English is the most widely used of the European languages
  5. The currency is the Peso, R1, at the time of writing this is worth 3.70 Pesos
  6. There are over 7000 islands in the country
  7. The major religion is Roman Catholicism, which accounts for 80% of the population
  8. It is home to an island in a lake in an island in a lake in an island
  9. Christmas celebrations can, in some parts of the Philippines, start in September and end in January
  10. The plug sockets accept US-format plugs (5-15, type B)


Cabanas on a beach in El Nido, Philippines

The Weather

If you’ve heard anything about the Philippines, it’s been about the weather. It’s usually not good news either. The Philippines is generally a warm, wet country with the average maximums around 26-27°C, though most of the beach destinations hover around the 28-30°C mark year-round. It gets a staggering average of 19 typhoons annually, though these can be avoided by visiting islands in the South West which rarely get the full-brunt of these storms. These islands include: Palawan, Culion and Busuanga (Coron).

The country has 3 seasons: Tag-Init, a hot, dry season from March to May; Tag-Ulan, the rainy season from June to November; and Tag-Lamig, the cool and dry season from December to February. By cool, though, they usually mean temperatures between 26°C and 28°C, so definitely not cool by South African standards! Travelling between December and April is usually when you’ll get the least rain.

Garden in a hotel in the Philippines

Which Islands Should You Choose?

Boracay is the most famous, it’s small, but it’s a bit more like Phuket than the rest of the islands in the country; it’s where you’ll find the best night life and party atmosphere. Bohol is a great one for seeing unusual places like the Chocolate Hills and doing unusual things like swimming with whalesharks. The largest island, Luzon is where you can visit the incredible and ancient rice terraces of Banaue. It’s also where you’ll find Manila, the country’s massive capital and for the geography nerds, it’s where you can see the island in a lake in an island in a lake in an island (the Taal Lake & Volcano at Tagaytay, 1 hour from Manila).

But the best place for me personally is Palawan. The island is really long and the northern half is where most things worth seeing are. El Nido is the centre of all the activity in the North – hotels, backpackers, dive centres, day trips and so on, it’s busy enough, but really still a sleepy village at heart. If even that is too much for you, try Port Barton which is beautiful and the only visitors tend to be a few sea turtles. Also worth mentioning is the island of Coron, accessible from Busuanga, it’s jaw-droppingly beautiful with incredible cliffs and lagoons, though there’s not as much to see as in El Nido.

The People

As mentioned above, there is a rich mix of people and histories in the country, that being said it’s probably one of the least ‘Asian’ of the surrounding countries, thanks to over 400 years of Western colonisation. The people are deeply religious (mostly Catholic), though extremely tolerant in comparison to many adherents of the religious movements found in the rest of the world. The people are generally hard working, relaxed and friendly, perhaps not as smiley as the Thais but definitely more friendly than here in SA. Their culture embodies what is known as “bahala na“, a general sense of whatever will be will be. Obviously this means there’s a general sense of contentment with life.

There is a bad side to the people though, but this is not a general thing. Tourists must be warned against visiting the islands in the far South East though, this is a staunchly and often militantly Islamic area. It is generally not safe for non-locals and is best avoided. These islands are Mindanao and the Sulu Islands like Basilan, Jolo and Tawi-Tawi.

Kids on a beach in El Nido, Philippines


There are no specific health requirements for visiting the Philippines; this means a yellow fever certificate is not needed for travellers returning from a trip here. Malaria can be found in certain more tropical regions though most people survive just fine without prophylaxis; a good bug spray should take care of this just fine.

The water is generally not drinkable from taps though, especially in rural areas. Drink bottled water wherever possible. I brought a whole bunch of stomach meds with me which came in very handy: probiotics, anti-cramp meds, anti-diarrhoea and pain killers. A box of plasters won’t go awry either. Bring sunscreen, though, like Thailand, the sun is unlikely to burn you like the nuclear furnace we have here in our local skies does!


Don’t bother packing too much in the way of warm clothes. We went in the cold season and I wore boardshorts and vests the entire time. I could probably have survived the entire trip on two pairs of swim shorts an a few vests, in retrospect.

Closed shoes, other than hiking shoes probably aren’t necessary, everyone wears flip-flops and you can pick up a pair there for less than R40 easily if need be. I brought aqua booties which were a great help on sharp coral reefs and rocks, I’d definitely recommend buying some in SA, though they cost about the same from the dive shops in the Philippines.

Philippines Collage 1


Food is cheap in the Philippines though prices do go up the further away from civilisation you go. In places like El Nido you can expect to spend around R60 for a plate of food at a restaurant. Further South around Puerto Princesa where there’s a proper port and airport, you’ll spend around R40 for the same thing. What’s expensive is coffee (around R20 a cup) and cocktails which can be closer to R30-R40 a pop. Opt for juice, beer or a fresh coconut and you’ll be spending a lot less.

Diving is relatively affordable too, a 1 day, 3 dive open water ticket including equipment, dive-master and lunch costs around R800. A discover scuba course is closer to R1000. Snorkel equipment rents for around R40 a day. Doing your open water PADI dive course will cost around R5400 – a similar price to here in SA.

Decent accommodation in urban areas can be cheap, from around R200 per person sharing per night. Hotel and resort-style accommodation further afield can see prices going up a little, particularly in places like El Nido, but if you’re after luxury resorts with rim-flow swimming pools etc, you can easily expect to pay around R2000 per person sharing per night.

Got any questions about visiting the Philippines? Ask in comments below! Got any tips of your own? Add them in comments below!

Our Readers Comments

  1. Hi! I am so excited after reading your piece on the Philippines. 2 Friends and myself are planning a 10 day pre-graduation trip there at the end of November/early December. Obviously we unrealistically wanted to do everything in every corner of the islands but have now decided to opt for the more beach holiday, but preferably were we can go hiking as well. Do you think we would be able to do Coron and Palawan in that time or should we stick to one of them rather? Also which airline did you use to get to the different islands (and perhaps even a rough estimate in prices)
    Thanks again for that article! December must hurry up 🙂

    • Hi Kim,

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      Sounds like you have an amazing trip planned and going to be so much fun 🙂

      There are boat transfers between the two islands however they are weather dependent. If the weather is to bad it might not go for days. They are close enough and a lot of travelers do both on one trip. It is recommended that you don’t book and pay for both before. Rather book for the one island and when you there see how the weather is before booking for the next accommodation.

      I am not sure on boat prices, for this you would need to maybe check out when you are there.

    • Hi Kim, regarding the airlines, there are a number you can choose from: Cebu Pacific Air, Air Asia, Philippines Airlines or AirPhil Express. Between Manila and Puerto Princesa most of the above airlines fly. Almost all flights go via Cebu City or Manila to anywhere in the Philippines, so most of the time you’ll need to return there in order to go somewhere else. So it’s not like in SA where you can fly Cape Town to PE direct without going via Joburg, so that’s just something to bear in mind when searching for flights. Prices can be around R500 each way including taxes within the Philippines, sometimes even less than that.

  2. Hi Nick-I was hoping you could help as the requirements are not very clear for this. We are flying to the USA (Chicago) as a family on 5th August 2015-from JHB to Heathrow and then connecting flight to Toronoto, Canada and then onto Chicago. As I understand it we do not need transit visa’s for Heathrow, but with regards to needing transit visa’s for Canada I am not sure? Are you able to assist. Many thanks

  3. Sorry that’s Toronto, Canada 🙂

    • Hi Sarah,

      Thanks for contacting us.

      I’ve done a bit of research on the website and found the following link:
      You welcome to check to see if a transit visa is required or not. In saying this, I would suggest contacting a company specializing in visa’s and they should be able to give the most up to date information.

      Have a fabulous trip

  4. Hi Nick

    Whats the duration of the flights to the Philippines? The cost per ticket? Total cost per person for 10 days on a nice island and 4* hotel?


    • Hi Jacques,

      Thanks for contacting us.

      The flight duration to Manila various, depending on the which airline you travel on

      JNB to MNL via HKG is 15 hours 20 minutes (Operated by Cathay Pacific)

      JNB to MNL via Singapore is 18 hours 40 minutes (Operated by South African Airways)

      JNB to MNL via Dubai is 26 hours 30 minutes (Operated by Emirates)

      Should you request a quote, you welcome to contact our Travelbar team on: and one of our Travel Experts will revert back with a quote within 2 working days.

      Kindly note, when e-mailing them your request please give all details including exact dates of travel,
      as well as where you need to travel to and from, so they can quote you accordingly.

      Alternatively you are welcome to contact them on 021 468 4300 (Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm) or Saturday 9am – 1pm and speak to a Travel Expert. (Our lines are closed for quotes on public holidays)

  5. I spent 24 days in The Philippines in January 2015 as part of a 3 month South East Asia trip.

    It’s was my favourite destination, beating Vietnam by an inch.

    Visited Manila, Bohol (Loboc and Panglao Island), Cebu City, Palawan (Puerto Princesa and El Nido,east and west coasts) and then finished off with a week in Boracay.

    I really liked Manila, fun things to do for South Africans is to go on an American fast food binge session as you can get all the American favourites like Wendy’s, Krispy Crème, Shakey’s…..etc., visit Intramueros, catch a sunset on the Boardwalk, try getting somewhere on a jeepney (and getting even more lost) and stay at the MNL Hostel and drink beer bought from the 7Eleven up the street out of pinchers on the street corner with fellow travellers (Red Horse is the king of beers although Colt 45 was a personal favourite).

    Bohol is a great Island, I spent 2 nights in Loboc and was unaware that two weeks prior to my arrival there was a massive flood that basically levelled the place. Loboc gets hit by everything it seems, the local Catholic church is proof of this. Drank Tanduay rum with locals that were celebrating a funeral (Tanduay is really good and it’s cheap at about R25 a bottle) and used it as a base to explore chocolate hills. Chocolate Hills is really close to a place called Carmen (had the worst burger of my life there), it’s a dusty little town with nothing to offer so steer far away, Chocolate hills is well worth visiting though.

    Spent 3 night in Panglao Island in a place called Bohol Coco Farm, awesome place with organic food and great people. It’s close to Dumaluan Beach which is better than Alona beach, although at night Alona beach does offer more entertainment. Go see the Tarsiers and pray for good weather so that you can get some good beach time.

    Spent 1 night in Cebu City and was not impressed by the place…….good dried mangoes though (at least one positive) actually everywhere in the Philippines one gets these amazing Mango smoothies which also happens to mix amazingly well with Tanduay Rum.

    I then spent about 8 nights in Palawan, 3 nights in Puerto Princesa and 5 nights in El Nido. Puerto Princesa is just ok, it serves it’s purpose for getting to El Nido and then as a stopover after taking the bus from El Nido, I did have amazing Pork Sisig there (Fried Pork cheek).

    El Nido is great, so many beaches to the South but the real jewel is Nacpan beach in the North, there’s an island across from Nacpan beach that apparently belongs to Manny Pacquiao. Nacpan really is a stunning beach (close to perfection).

    I also spent 2 night on the east coast of El Nido in a little town called Sibaltan, really nice, very peaceful if you just want to lounge around with deserted beaches and play with stray dogs and the people are really friendly there, most Filipino’s are generally really friendly though and it’s easy to strike up a conversation as they can at least speak English (which is not the case in Laos at all).

    My final week was spent in Boracay and the place did not disappoint. It’s nothing like Phuket in my books, basically two sides to the Island Bulabog Beach (excellent kite surfing, great place to learn) and then the famous White Beach. For a place with a high concentration of tourists I still felt that the beaches where clean and the entertainment was second to none. I met amazing people at the MNL hostel close to Bulabog beach (another week and my liver would have been done) and in terms of a social scene Boracay cannot be beaten. Excellent place for a sunset is Spider house!!

    The Philippines is an amazing destination and I barely scratched the surface!!

    Can’t wait to go Back!!!!!

  6. Hi Marcelle,

    Thanks for the very interesting piece on the Philippines. Which one of the islands is the best for snorkelling? We are keen snorkelers and have visited many islands for this reason, excluding the Philippines. Many thx, Marlene.

    • Hi Marlene,

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      I’ve done a search and found the following info: top 7 spots to snorkel in the Philippines: 100 islands, Apo island, Siquijor, Balicasag island, Nalusuan island, Siete Pecadoes, Coral Garden

      These 7 seem to be top of the list of most popular places.

  7. I visited Philippines in 1996. I had no bad experiences, but I do know that there is a lot of crime, for tourists its mainly bag snatching. This can really dampen a holiday. I just feel I must say. Keep your passport and money safe. Its a wondeful place with lots of lovely, really beautiful places to visit and yes the people are amazingly friendly and are fun loving.
    I am hope that by now things have improved regarding the crime. People just should be aware of it, as no one above mentioned this.

  8. Hi
    I just want to thank you for sharing such an information with us. I would love to visit the world someday.. I hope that this will happen soon. Me and my two kids would love to visit countries like UK, USA, Dubai, Zimbabwe and phillipines but I am scared due to some stories such as human trafficking and keeping people in hostage, but that will not hinder my interest to visit the world . Thank you

  9. Wow, this is quite a well-researched article on the Philippines! Good job! 🙂 Glad you liked my country! Just wanted to give “local” advice as of June 2015 🙂
    Where to stay in Manila – Stay in Makati! 🙂 if you’re on a budget, there’s a new hostel called Z hostel which has become a hip and cheap place to stay. About a three to five minute walk around the hostel are the best places to eat in Manila.. (El Chupacabra for Mexican food, Senor Pollo for roasted chicken with chimichurri, and a whole lot of pubs (to watch football))!

    For nightlife, I like it chill but cool so check out Black Market in Pasong Tamo and on Sundays, B Side in Malugay is fun if you like irie sounds.

    Have fun but remain aware! Manila is becoming more fun but of course it doesnt hurt to be careful 🙂

    • Hi Karla,

      Wow, thanks for the great comment and awesome feedback!

      Always good to get inside info from the locals or someone who has been there.

      And so true, always good to have fun but doesn’t hurt to be careful! Nice one 🙂

  10. Hey Guys,

    So nick convinced me on facebook to give the Philippines a go, So my girlfriend and i have booked our flights and are ready to Go in December !

    We are flying to hong kong , stop over and explore the city, Apparently you dont need a visa to leave hong kong Airport??? then to manila for a stop over before catching a flight to Puerto Princesa, Staying the night then taking the bus to el nido for 5 nights, We want to hike a kayak to go camp on a random island for the night and braai like bear grills 🙂

    After that we are heading back down to Puerto Princesa and catching a connecting flight via Manila and then landing in Boracay on the 30th, So that we have a day before we loose our ish on New Years, And we will be staying at the amazing Spider House for 5 nights!

    Its gonna be too Dope !

    We will let you know how it went 🙂

    • Hi Kyle,

      Thanks for the update.

      Great itinerary! Sounds like its going to be an epic holiday with amazing memories.

      Please post a pic or two on our Facebook wall. We love seeing where our fans have traveled to.

      I checked out Spider House. Sure that is going to be one of the many highlights. I love the bamboo furnishings and that the resort is surrounded by all the turquoise water. Beautiful.

      Have to say, great country to start ones New Year in 🙂

      With regards to your visa query, South African passport holders traveling to Hong Kong are visa exempted for a stay up to 30 days.

      Happy Travels Kyle!

      Looking forward to the feedback 🙂

  11. I am african Nigeria,I really want to study in philipine and also get to see the world.what is it like living and studying there.I hope to be there this august.

  12. Hi,

    I am going to be going to Manila in January. Do you have any advice for me? I’m female and will be going by myself.

    • Hi Shelby,

      Manila worth a visit to see what the capital is like and get a bit of Spanish history. But as a single female you just have to be extra careful and avoid venturing to far out on your own. A few days in Manila should be sufficient. It’s a mega city with a mixture very posh and very poor areas right next to each other.

      Makati is also an area to visit. Also try go further out the countryside where you get the true character of the country.

  13. My hubby and I are travelling to Cebu island for the whales and we will do Palawan for the beautiful beaches. Is November still rainy season?? In those areas what else can we see and do?

    • Hi Zami,

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      There are a few great things to see and do while in Cebu. Like the Minglanilla public market which is a couple of kilometres from Cebu City, it is a traditional local market where all goods are being sold, from fresh seafood, fish, to meat, vegetables and fruit. Another interesting sight to visit is: Fort San Pedro – its construction began on 8th May 1565. First made of wood, then of stone. Was built to defend the locals against the Spanish expedition who wanted to colonize the area. IT park could be interesting. A place with a lot of call centers and restaurants. E.g. Mexican restaurant Moon cafe, then Casa Verde or cafe East west for famous Mango crepe. To get great ice cream, head off to La Marea and ask for ”brownie a la mode”.

      There are so many places to visit, it really depends on what you are looking to do and what you interested in. Search the internet there is so many amazing things you can find and will know what is awaiting for you when you arrive in the Philippines.

  14. philippines is a very beautiful country..most of all very hospitable..

    • Hi Tess,

      Very true. People are very hospitable there and so much beauty to be found in the Philippines.

  15. Excellent article. Very informative. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Hey great article!

    I have a question i desperately need answer to! Me and a bunch of foreign friends plan to go visit in late July and i was wondering what is the best island to visit for a week that has the best chance of good weather? I’ve heard that Camiguin Island good but does it fall into the islands supposedly dangerous to foreigners?

    Cheers, i hope You can reply soon!

  17. Thanks for this info! Please can you tell me anything about the island Siargao in the phillipines.. What kind of budget one requires a day for local accomodation ( the safest places or areas to stay not hotels)…and local food. Will be going on a strict budget🙈😀 also what kind of meds one would take incase of getting ill ect..

    • Hi Charmaine,

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      You welcome to contact one of our Travel Experts at: for a quote. They specialize in this area and would be able to provide you with a quote as well as the best places to stay.

  18. Sorry forgot to mention it will be in May

  19. Great article. PH is not that familiar in SA so I hopped on a plane & headed straight for one great adventure trip to PH. PH is a diamond in the rough..I’m there atleast once a month & decided to buy a place in Manila (currently based in Hong Kong). Wishing all happy travels & as their saying goes ” It’s more FUN in the Philippines” stick to that & make the most of your stay. Mabuhay💃🏻🎉

  20. Great article. My wife and I just moved to Cebu after buying a hotel and found a lot of your info helpful when making the move to the Philippines. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Thanks for this info. For my 60th birthday my husband would like to take me to the Phillipines. Is it a good idea and I would like to go to Manilla. Do you have any suggestions. This is in August 2016.

    Thanks Rona

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