The Philippines is a beautiful country with a lot to offer, even for the most seasoned of travelers. It may not be as popular as its neighbour, Thailand, but when it comes to off-the-beaten-path experiences, the Philippines is on a whole different level.
The country has more than 7,600 islands to explore, of which only 2,000 are inhabited. It has one of the longest coastlines in the world with numerous idyllic white sandy beaches, diverse marine life and endless supply of seafood. The country’s rugged terrain is home to waterfalls, lush jungles, deep-emerald green lakes and mysterious caves.
But before you jet off to the Philippines, there are a few things you need to know, especially if you are a first-timer.
1. Beware of airport taxi scams
Airport taxis are now regulated in Manila, so it is no longer as much of a problem. However, scams are still prevalent. Before you get into a taxi, make sure that the meter is on and working properly. Avoid unscrupulous coupon taxis if you can, because they charge way too much compared to regular metered taxis.
White and yellow airport taxis are metered, so if the driver starts to negotiate prices, tell them to use the meter instead. If they refuse, move on to the next taxi. If the taxi seems to have a problem in the middle of the road and the driver asks you to go out and help, do not as it could be a scam. If you do need to get out, make sure that you bring all your valuables with you.
2. Transportation in the Philippines can be organised chaos
The Philippines is an archipelago, so traveling from one place to another can be quite time-consuming. Make sure to consider this when booking your flights or when you are catching public transport. Long delays can easily mess with your itinerary, and for that reason it might be better to pay a bit extra and book everything through a local agent – that way, you are covered if something goes wrong.
3. Always bring your own water with you
If you are in the city, there is no need to bring your own water because there are many stores to buy it from. But if you are somewhere more remote, bringing your own supply of water could be a lifesaver.
Unlike most countries in Europe, where you can find water-refilling stations at every stop, you will not find any in the Philippines except for the odd natural spring. So, make sure that before you leave your hotel, you have at least one litre of water in your bag.
4. Cash is a necessity
There are numerous money exchange shops in cities, especially inside the malls, so compare prices first before exchanging your currency to Philippine pesos.
Wherever you go in the Philippines, it is always important to bring cash with you. Not all restaurants and hotels accept credit card payments and you’ll need cash for buying stuff in the supermarket and for going on tours. Moreover, many popular destinations, such as Coron in Palawan for example, don’t have easy access to ATMs.
5. Pack face towels, deodorant, sunscreen, insect repellent and breathable clothes
The Philippines is a tropical country, which means that it has a hot and humid climate. You will sweat excessively and can get easily sunburnt if you are not prepared. Wear comfortable and breathable shirts and apply sun cream at regular intervals throughout the day.
Do not forget to put on insect repellent, too, especially in the evenings when you’re going on a night out. Towels can come in handy, whether for shade, or wiping your brow, and it also helps to have deodorant on you throughout the day to use when you need it.
6. Be respectful
Filipinos are happy people and they are extremely friendly. Do not be surprised if you get an invitation to eat or have a glass of beer in some of the places you visit. If you can’t be bothered, politely decline, give a smile and move on. Do not frown, and definitely don’t ignore the invitation as though you didn’t hear it.
7. Don’t aggressively haggle with small vendors
If you visit a market, you need to haggle and be firm about doing so. But never haggle with small vendors, especially the ones on the side streets. These people are likely to have come to the market all the way from the mountains to sell their goods. Their prices are usually low to begin with and their products will often be organic.
8. Offline maps and GPS are vital
The roads in the country are not all paved, especially the ones in the rural areas. Signposting in rural areas is also extremely rare, so getting lost is a distinct reality. Make sure to download a maps app to your phone and download maps of the places you visit before you get there. This will help you to navigate, prevent getting lost and save you some time.
9. Bring snacks wherever you go
Kids in the Philippines are inquisitive and very curious, especially when you are a foreigner. Do not be surprised if they always call you “Joe” even though you are not American. They can be a bit annoying especially when they ask for money (this is sadly true in touristy areas). But never give money to the kids; instead, give them some cookies or sweets to put a smile on their face.
10. Enjoy and stay safe
The Philippines is a safe country, but you should take necessary precautions. Do not put a target on your back by flaunting expensive gadgets and jewellery, and if you need help, don’t hesitate to ask. Read travel advisories before you leave, and avoid the areas that are high risk. And, most importantly, have an amazing time!