Things to do in the Philippines

10 things to do in the Philippines

Nina Akimkina

Manila, the capital of the Philippines, is considered the most densely populated city in the world because of its small size. Manila has many skyscrapers and modern malls along with a gorgeous waterfront promenade where you can have a great night out. The city also has many landmarks that go back in time to the colonial conquests. One is Fort Santiago, built by Spanish conquistadors under Miguel López de Legazpi. Picnics and theater shows are often held in the fort’s vast grounds. The fort is located in the historic district called Intramuros, where the Cathedral, or the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, is also located.

2. Relax at White Beach

The island of Boracay is one of the most popular destinations for tourists from all over the world. Boracay is directly associated with the places on earth that have become the cliché of the “Bounty Island”. There are many activities, rich flora and fauna, white and fine as flour sand on the beaches, the clearest water in the sea, and the coastline is fringed with tall coconut palms. The island can rent villas, stay in luxury hotels, as well as find inexpensive budget accommodation – which is why a lot of young people from around the world flock here.

The island of Boracay is considered the capital of night and evening life. White Beach, the longest beach on the island, is 4 kilometers along the east coast. The coastline is known for its perfect cleanliness and well-developed infrastructure. No smoking or drinking is allowed on the beach, but the many restaurants, bars, disco clubs, located around the perimeter of the beach – as much as you like. The nightlife is boiling here until dawn. On the opposite, western coast of the island, there are constant winds, so the beach “Bulabog” attracts fans of wind and kitesurfing from all over the world. For a modest fee, you can learn these sports at one of the many schools on the beach.

3. Conquer a Volcano

Volcano Mayon is one of the few active volcanoes on earth. Anyone coming to the Philippines, must visit this place. The volcano bears the name of the mountain of the same name about 2500 meters high, located just 15 km from the small town of Legazpi. The mountain has a regular cone-shaped shape, covered with dense tropical vegetation. There is always steam coming from the mouth of the volcano, a reminder of the activity. Those who wish can make an ascent.

4. Swim the underground river

The underground river Puerto Princesa is located on the island of Palawan, about 50 km north of the city of the same name. Puerto Princesa is one of the longest underground rivers in the world, it stretches 8 km through the caves. Rafting on the river is organized, their distance is limited to only one kilometer, as longer distances are not quite safe. This is largely due to the limited amount of oxygen and pressure in the cave. The existing route is enough to enjoy the beauty of the underground river, making memorable videos and photos.

5. Get acquainted with the architecture of Cebu Island

The island of Cebu is a popular destination with tourists from all over the world: great beaches, many historical sites, and great places for diving and snorkeling. Most of the island’s resorts are located a short distance from the center or on the small satellite islands of Badian and Mactan.

Tourists are waiting for a fascinating journey through the places of the Spanish conquistadors. Thus, on the island there is an old Spanish fort San Pedro, construction of which began in the 16th century and was completed only two centuries later. The bastion was built in the shape of a triangular, with one of the walls facing the land and two facing the sea. Today San Pedro is the oldest fort in the country and its architectural design makes it an attractive attraction for tourists. The basilica of Santo Niño is also interesting. This temple was built by the Spaniards in the 16th century on the site where the image of the infant Jesus, previously brought by the discoverer of these lands, the navigator Magellan, was found. In the basilica there is a museum and in the middle of the chapel there is the cross of Magellan that he left at the beginning of the 16th century to commemorate the arrival of the first Europeans in these lands.

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6. Learn how rice is grown.

The Banaue rice terraces are located on the island of Luzon north of Manila. At the end of the last century they were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The views of the terraces are mesmerizing, with numerous steps covered with dense vegetation reaching up into the sky. The total length of the terraces is about 22 thousand square meters. Many centuries ago a unique irrigation system was created here which is still in operation today. Thanks to it water can be raised to a higher altitude, and quickly drain the plantations.

7. Take a picture of the longhorns

The Philippines is one of the few places that are home to a very rare species of monkeys, the tarsiers. The island of Bohol has two reservation centers for these rare and cute animals: in the towns of Corella and Loboc. Tarsiers are small animals, very kind and friendly to humans, with huge round eyes and soft fur.

8. Swim with whale sharks

Whale sharks live near the southwest coast of Cebu Island, in a place called Oslob. These huge ocean dwellers reach up to 20 meters in length and are completely safe for humans because they feed exclusively on plankton. To swim with the sharks you will need a mask, snorkel and flippers, as well as a small fee to rent a boat with a paddler. The sharks swim in close proximity to the divers, so it’s easy to take unique photos and videos. There are many popular snorkeling spots in the Philippines with rich flora and fauna as well as many sunken ships. Sites suitable for diving and snorkeling include Subic Bay, Coron Bay, Tubbataha Reef, and dozens of others.

9. Admire the Chocolate Hills.

This natural wonder is located on the island of Bohol on an area of about 50 thousand square meters. In total, there are about 1,700 hills covered with small grassy vegetation. The grass burns in the sun and turns brown, giving the hills a chocolate hue. From afar, the hills look like anthills located close to each other, so the view is unique. The hills range in height from 30 to 100 meters.

10. Find Kawasan Falls

In the jungle of Cebu Island is one of the main must-see places in the Philippines, the Kawasan Falls. The crystal-clear turquoise waters of three cascading waterfalls and rich tropical vegetation leave no one indifferent. To get to the waterfalls, you have to walk a narrow path through the jungle and a thicket of impenetrable vines with two-meter tall ferns. In addition, you must overcome three bridges hanging over deep chasms, so on the way to the paradise adventurers will also find some elements of extreme.

50 facts to know before you go to the Philippines

I spent 1 month in the Philippines, touring different parts of the country. At the end of the article you will find my film about the Philippines, made after the trip, but for now, important facts to know before you go to the Philippines:

1) the Philippines – a fairly poor country, little-known to Russian tourists, with a stunning nature. Such sea beauty in such quantity, you will not see in Vietnam or Thailand. But not only beaches and islands impress in the Philippines, there are high mountains, caves, rice terraces, colonial architecture and volcanoes.

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2) What currency should I bring to the Philippines?

The country’s currency is the Philippine peso. In 2018, roughly rounded up, you could equate 1 peso to 1 Russian ruble. The peso symbol: ₱ is very easy to confuse with the ruble: ₽. Forgive me Agoda support – I fumbled you for the difference in price in the app and card charges by mixing up the currency symbols ♀️

Dollars, euros and even more rubles nobody needs, to pay them do not take – you will change in exchange offices. Take a dollar card and withdraw pesos from it, or a ruble card if you do not have a dollar card. ATMs give out up to 10000 pesos at a time and take a commission for withdrawal – sucks . For insurance (if you get your cash stolen) you can get a credit card, the best ones are from Alfa and Tinkov

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3) The new president of the Philippines is ruthless against drug dealers: the police suddenly launched massive raids and killed all the drug dealers (who allegedly resisted), tacitly allowed to fight by any means necessary. 600,000 drug traffickers surrendered to law enforcement to avoid being killed in the government’s anti-drug campaign.

>>Cheap tickets to the Philippines – catch it here

4) English is ubiquitous. The whole population speaks English (often better than you) because it is their second mother tongue.

5) Filipinos are friendly and helpful. Always smile in an American way. They do not often see tourists of European appearance outside the major cities, and will greet you at every step!

6) Beaches and islands are everywhere taken over by private land. Many places you will not be allowed, in others the money (and not small), not only for the landing on the shore, but also just for an anchor near the reef of the sea. There is a fee for visiting the national parks, for example 200 pesos in El Nido on all tours, the ticket is valid for a week and you can see everything.

7) If you travel in the Philippines, you have to do a lot of driving/flying/sailing – the logistics between the islands and on the islands themselves are very tiring and there is not always a logic to traveling around.

8) Aviation in the country is fine. There are major low-cost airlines, the most famous are AirAsia, Cebu Pacific. Traditional airlines: Philippine Airlines. And regional airlines, such as Air Juan, whose tickets are not found in search engines. There are airports in major cities and tourist centers.

Tickets are available to everyone. the average price for a flight in the country 2000 pesso. On sales you can get and for 500 pesso. For some holidays and destinations, prices can go up to 10,000 pessos. The price difference between traditional and low-cost airlines is not significant, especially when you consider luggage and other costs, sometimes low-cost airlines have higher prices!

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9) There are two airports in Manila. Manila Airport in the city and Clark Airport 70 km away from the city.

10) A bus network covers all localities in all islands. Buses are moderately comfortable and air-conditioned. Traffic is very slow: there are traffic jams in the city, serpentine roads in the mountains and islands, there are a couple of toll roads and they do not last long. Some tickets can be bought online.

11) Ferry service is well developed. From the huge 2GO liners to fast boats between the nearby islands. You can buy tickets here.

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You have to arrive at the port in advance, online tickets should be printed out or you have to stand in line at the ticket office – you can’t show the ticket from your phone. You must pay the port charge (20 to 80 pesos) and go through security check like at the airport.

12) You can say that there are no trains – there are 897 km of railroads in the country.

13) Manila is a pretty grim city with slums and perpetual traffic jams. There are guards with shotguns in every hotel, store and even in McDonald’s. There is nothing to do in Manila. If you decide to stay take a hotel right next to the Greenbelt Mall, it’s the only decent place to stay. Or near the Mall of Asia, but on a square island – across the street are the slums!

14) In the cities operates Grab – to order a cab through this service is better. The locals move around on jeepneys – the analogue of the Thai sunteu and tricycles (motorcycles with sidecar), which can be rented at any corner or passing by. Cabs are super cheap, and given the level of danger, you don’t have to walk or use public transportation.

15) Motorbikes can be rented at tourist locations. You can rent cars from international offices. But it is not recommended: in Manila there is no parking, constant traffic jams and complicated system where you can not drive 2 days a week. The roads are congested, the speed is low – all sorts of jalopies drive strictly in the middle of the road, often overtaking them on the side of the road. In the mountains a difficult serpentine. You will not get to the islands. Only for experienced drivers with a lot of driving experience in Asia!

16) Check the airport fees – a fee is charged when you fly abroad. It seems to be included in the ticket in Manila, but in Puerto Princesa and Cebu only pay cash in local currency, in Cebu it is 850 pessos (no cards)

17) The police are indifferent to tourists. In El Nido I saw a tourist bicycle patrol on fatbikes, in the mountain province I saw one checkpoint with the military, the car was not inspected, they asked where we were going.

18) What to see in the Philippines:

Cebu – whale sharks in Osloba and canyoning around Kawasan Falls.

Neighboring Bohol – chocolate hills and a tarsier reserve, and a very cool island in general.

Koron is the best beaches and sea excursions. Take a private boat.

El Nido – sea excursions, take 2 to choose from 4.

Northern Luzon – for lovers of mountains, caves. Pines and rice paddies, serpentines and dizzying views.

19) In the Philippines you can see real volcanoes, don’t deny yourself the pleasure. Most tourists go to Taal, but I recommend Pinatubo.

20) Stock up on cash in advance. The exchange rate on the islands is unprofitable. You can withdraw money now at BPI bank – there are both in Corona and El Nido. But the ATM is one. Other banks did not work with Russian cards.

21) The weather is completely different in different places – read wikipedia about the climate. The mountains up to 3000 meters – it can be cool there. At Corona I was dying of stuffiness, but to the south at 200 km in El Nido I felt great. You should be careful of typhoon season, because islands in the ocean are not protected in any way and will experience the full force of the elements, unlike in mainland Asia.

22) It is always hot in the Philippines. Except for the mountains. However, one warm thing you will definitely need. Planes, buses, movie theaters, and shopping malls are terribly icy. Always take a warm thing to such places.

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23) Cell phone service covered the main tourist spots, even working 4G. I used Globe. The rates are expensive 1000 pessos for 8 gigabytes per month. Refill the account probably only offline on the site no refill (or rather it does not work with Russian cards or simply does not work), the application does not exist, I had to use foreign services and that only through Paypal. The personal account is very rudimentary and with difficulty you can see only the balance of megabytes.

24) There are almost no divorces in the country. You will see that the price for the tour in Intramuros in Manila is half an hour and an hour, but you can ride the whole day, delaying to the maximum, while most of the time you should probably see the sights inside, and the money is dripping. We understood the scheme immediately and after the first 30 minutes we paid ourselves and told to finish. Watch the time.

Back in Puerto Princesa the nasty tricycle drivers were scamming us for dough – picking us up right off the bus. After haggling, the price was knocked down, but it still turned out to be 3 times the price of such a ride.

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25) In one shop on the island, I gave a 1000 peso bill, thinking it was 100 and long convinced the merchant that he was wrong, giving me 950 pesos in change. To the merchant’s credit he didn’t cheat, but I realized that I was confusing my new money and I really did give him 1000. There are more honest people even in the tour sector.

26) The main religion is Catholicism. People are very religious. They love Christmas and have been putting up Christmas trees since October.

27) In the Philippines, they are very environmentally conscious. Many stores don’t give plastic bags, but they sell cheap eco-bags. The laundromat made me buy a cloth bag because they don’t wrap things in plastic. Plastic tubes are almost always banned – they give either a reusable metal one or a wooden one made of bamboo! In El Nido, plastic bottles are banned on marine excursions.

28) Income from tourism is insignificant. Only a few small areas like El Nido or Boracay can be called tourist areas. In Coron, however, local life is predominant.

29) The food in the Philippines is not very good. The local cuisine, to put it mildly, is not to your liking. The main dish is Adoba. Such an abundance of fruit as in Thailand, it is difficult even in cities with huge supermarkets. There is nothing at all on the islands. Cheap nuts.

30) Alcohol is available, prices are usual.

31) You can find decent restaurants and international chains in Manila and Cebu. There is a local fast food chain, Jollibee, all over the country. Stores 7-11 are present in the cities, but the range there is poor, after the divine Thai want to cry.

32) Local outlets are not compatible with the European plug. On the question of the adapter in the hotel shook his hands. To find the adapter failed in the 6-th on the 7-11.

33) Urgent issue – the toilet. There are no public toilets. Only at railway stations, airports and major tourist sites. In shopping malls, there are toilets with enhanced comfort – cost 10 pesso, many times cleaner.

34) Beach recreation – rather not. Some special beaches I did not see, why if Thailand is closer and easier, and the infrastructure is better there. All the beauty on the wild islands, but you have to sail there by boat.

There are, of course, and private islands and expensive hotels, but the price tag is inflated – the Maldives is closer and cheaper.

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35) Hotels across the country are terrible. Expensive, uncomfortable, even for a high fee. Very strange impression after other Asian countries. It does not matter a big city, a village in the mountains or a beach on the islands – there are always questions to the hotel and its price.

But almost always in the hotel there are 2 large beds or 1 large and 1 small. A local feature is large families so these are standard rooms, and there are rooms with 3 and 4 beds.

36) The room will not be cleaned. Again, no matter how much you paid for it. In the best case does not come at all, at worst come and wave a broom lazily only dispersing dust (for sofas and under beds layers lying centuries-old). Towels will be replaced upon request, bed linen is never changed. We stayed up to 5 nights in one room, spent a total of a month in the country in 5 regions and dozens of hotels.

37) Can I go to the Philippines with children?

You can, but better in Thailand. The Philippines is a tough country and even we adults found it very difficult. We were always very tired, even as adults.

38) There are no dangerous diseases. You do not need vaccinations. Any poisonous snakes – you will not see them, they are afraid of you more.

39) In the sea be careful with sea urchins – they are everywhere and the meeting with them is not very pleasant. Do not step on corals, it is better to buy or rent special slippers.

40) Snorkeling is excellent! You can buy your own mask of the new model with a wide view and a tube in the middle of the top. The underwater world will delight you.

41) For travelers with drones. No one cares – you can take pictures everywhere, they belong quietly. Moreover, on the islands except you and the boat crew often there is no one. The scenery is amazing, buy extra batteries and flash drives – better place to shoot.

42) The same goes for regular photographers. Take the biggest camera and the heaviest lenses – you will find plenty of subjects to photograph. If you don’t have your own, rent a Go Pro for underwater photography.

If you swim with sharks, take photos, you won’t regret it. They will send you the photos right to your phone.

43) Some Mindanao provinces are dangerous – terrorists are active there and sometimes kidnap foreign tourists for ransom. Do not go there.

44) Do not wander the slums, even during the day. There is little of interest and the danger is very real.

45) Most flights to the Philippines arrive via Hong Kong. Be sure to make a stop and see the best city in the world.

46) There are no package tours to the Philippines, at least the major tour operators – all travelers are independent.

47) The Philippines was a Spanish and then an American colony. The influence of the states is well traced to this day.

48) Divers will definitely love the Philippines. Many shipwrecks from World War 2, awesome coral reefs, and a well-developed network of dive centers.

49) Boracay is one of the best beaches in the world. In 2018 the island was completely closed to tourists. After the opening, there were reviews about unreasonably high prices. It is widely believed that it is not worth eating in Boracay – there are many beautiful other places in the Philippines.

However, other tourists argue that the place is absolutely unique and there is no analogues, go for sure.

50) The Philippines is the best country for experienced travelers, a sea of discovery and as yet untouched nature await you.

My film in 4K about traveling in the Philippines, with stories about places worth visiting:

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