Laze away on a blinding white sand beach in Boracay
or scuba dive untouched reefs off of Palawan, a long
sliver of land that is home to the countries birds nest
soup collectors in El Nido. Climb the Mayon
volcano, named the world's most perfectly shaped cone,
or surf some of the best waves in the world on the isolated
islands of the East Coast.
As the only Catholic country in Asia, Christian religious
holidays can be an interesting time to visit as fiestas bring
the country to a standstill and firecrackers, dancing and
drinking remind one of the country's Spanish past.
Filipinos love to lip sync to catchy eighties tunes that time
forgot, so grab a karaoke microphone, brush up on your knowledge
of 'We Are the World' lyrics, head to the Philippines and
prepare to be impressed with the world's friendliest and most
The monetary unit of the country is the Phillipine Peso.
During the Asian Economic crisis of 1997 the currency fluctuated
wildly and has since stabilised at a much lower value to major
western currencies. The economy in recent years has been named
the fastest growing in the region, though the instability
of it's political scene and recent bombings, and kidnappings
of tourists in the south has dampened this growth.
The Philippines is not the cheapest destinations in South
East Asia, and the costs per day of budget travel (including
food and accommodation, but excluding transport) should be
a bit less than $25 per person. Budget hotels in cities go
for around $10 per night, with midrange hotels up to $50,
and all the way up at the top are the 5 star chains at over
$120 per night. Meals in local restaurants can be as cheap
as $2 per person, excluding alcohol.
Bargaining is accepted and tipping is appreciated as most
workers receive pretty dismal monthly salaries; rounding up
taxi fares and tipping in local restaurants is advisable,
especially for good service.
You will find cash machines outside of Manila, and you can
get cash advances on major credit cards from them. You can
also bring US dollars cash or travellers checks; US dollar
bills with large denominations will get a higher exchange
rate than 5's and 10's and make sure they are not damaged
or worn out. Travellers Checks attract commission rates so
it's advisable to bring US dollars especially in far flung
1 US Dollar = c.50 Philippine pesos
1 British Pound = c.80 Philippine pesos
1 Euro = c.55 Philippine pesos
For up to date currency information, check the Currency
The Philippines population hovers just under the 80 million
mark, and has one of the fastest growth rates in the world.
The filipinos are a mixture of Malay and Chinese ethnicity,
with a bit of Spanish and European origin thrown in from colonial
About 10 percent of the population are tribal peoples scattered
across the outlying areas of the northern and southern islands.
There are 60 of these groups that have for the most part retained
their language and cultural heritage. At least one tribe on
Palawan, the Tau't Batu, went undiscovered until the
late 20th century.
About 90 percent of the country is Christian, a legacy of
the colonial missionaries 500 years ago. It is one of the
most devout catholic countries and the Pope has visited more
Muslims make up the largest of the minority ethnic groups
and are concentrated mainly on Mindanao Island. Numerous
bomb attacks have occurred here and it may be a wise idea
to give the whole southern area a miss due to the increasing
With so many islands, travelling around the Philippines invariably
involves long ferry trips. With a huge number of boats
plying the inter-island routes, not all of which are safe,
it pays to be careful when taking these ferries. Overnight
services are particularly dangerous, and sinkings are extremely
common, often involving many casualties.
Buses operate on practically all islands and are a
colourful way to get to the sights, particularly on Luzon,
the largest and most populated island. Jeepneys, converted
US Army jeeps, are cheap and luridly decorated with poems,
photos and lights. Surface transport is quite safe compared
with other South East Asian countries, though pick pocketing
can sometimes be a problem.
Domestic flights are cheap and shave off long overland
travel times. Philippine Airlines and Air
Philippines cover much of the countries main towns
and cities. Sample fares to a popular destination like Cebu
is around $121 US dollars return. If you are travelling to
a few islands, and your time is short, buy an airpass to save
money (instead of buying individual tickets)
Chinese, Spanish and Malay recipes form the base of Filipino
dishes. Stewed meats are commonly served with rice, combined
with boiled vegetables and seafood. Soups are also popular
and meats like beef and liver are common ingredients. BBQ'd
pig (Lechon) is popular for weddings and parties and
is roasted on large spits; it can be expensive with a whole
animal going for around $200 US dollars.
Lots of snack foods can be found at push carts and street
stalls like Baloo, the fertilized duck eggs that are
meant to improve virility; and Halo-Halo, a popular
desert that combines crushed ice with chopped fruit and is
topped with sweetened condensed milk.
The main language of the Philippines is Tagalog, though
English is so widely spoken here that it serves as a second
language (and the official language for law and legal matters).
Travellers will never have a hard time communicating. Tribal
languages are spoken all over the remote areas of the country
and a large number of dialects exist. When visiting these
places it pays to pick up some Tagalog in case English isn't
Heat and humidity dominate the country's weather although
it is slightly drier between December and June. The Philippines
lie in the monsoon zone, and experiences it's rainy season
between July and December. This is also typhoon season, and
the island archipelago frequently is pounded by large storms
at this time, that leave flooding. Extensive damage and destruction
to the infrastructure; it pays to listen to the weather reports,
as sea and land transport can be snarled up for days. The
best weather is after the rains have passed, and expect daytime
highs in the low 30's C. By May the heat is oppressive, especially
in Manila where temperatures can climb to the low 40's C.
The Philippines is mainly a Catholic country and its wise
to dress moderately conservative, particularly in the rural
areas. It is a hot country so light, cotton clothing is recommended.
Bring rain gear if you venture here in the rainy period, and
some shoes that dry out easily.
The far south is primarily Muslim, and dressing conservatively
is a must while travelling here; long sleeved shirts and trousers
for men while women shouldn't wear shorts or tank tops, especially
when visiting the beach.
The Philippines requires some vigilance when it comes to health;
Malaria, Hepatitis, and Cholera are risks; take care with
ice, fresh fruits (always peel them) and cooked food should
be served very hot. Drink lots of bottled water to avoid dehydration
and avoid tap water or ice.
Meeting with a tropical medicine doctor before departure is
essential to discuss malaria medications and injections, should
they be required.
For less than 21 days, most western nationalities require
no visa at all, and are granted one upon arrival at either
Manila or Cebu, the main international arrivals points. For
longer stays travellers can apply for a visa from a Philippine
embassy or consulate. A three month visas costs $35 and even
longer visas (for six months to one year) can be applied approved,
though they limit each visit to just under 2 months.