Things I wish I'd known about The Philippines before I went!

by - November 30, 2018

First main piece of advice:

Go to the Philippines, and go soon. There is a crazy amount of construction going on, and so I think it’ll be unrecognisable in some parts in 5-10 years as it gets more touristic (like Bali now). 

Second most important thing: 

The Philippines is massive. We had to reduce our 3 week itinerary from 10 islands (ambitious) to 5. Getting around can take ages (especially if you choose the cheap and cheerful ways) and so we had a few “travelling days” so factor that in, especially if you have a flight out of the Philippines booked (and thus a deadline). Internal flights are sometimes very cheap (£20-30) and some are ludicrously expensive (~£100), and there is no obvious reason (like journey time) for the disparity in price. I got 4 internal flights (Manila-Siargao, Siargao-Cebu, Cebu-Busuanga, Puerto Princesa-Manila). I’m crying about my carbon footprint too, but flying is the easiest, sometimes cheapest, and sometimes only way to get around. In total I think I paid around £200 for all 4, and I think Cebu-Busuanga was the priciest. Also note for that flight you are only allowed 10kg of luggage (*eye roll*) so be prepared to load up your hand luggage or pay for extra weight (in my opinion one of the biggest scams out there). 

General things worth knowing about:


Most charge P200-250 for a transaction on top of whatever your bank charges, so try to use them as little as possible. The majority of ATMs only let you take out P10,000 at a time, so I recommend BPI (Bank of the Philippine Islands) which lets you take out more, and so try to use them to avoid paying the transaction fee multiple times. There is one at Manila airport and Cebu airport, one in El Nido, Coron and Puerto Princesa, and probably all over - just google your location before you arrive and check, and if not take the cash you need. When you arrive in the Philippines it might be worth getting out as much cash and you think you need. There are not ATMs everywhere, especially those that allow more than P10,000 so do plan ahead. Barely anywhere accepts card so you do need cash. 

Showers and toilets: 

You won’t always get hot water; it’s just one of those things. I would say 60% of the time, I had hot water and the showers were all reasonably powerful, but some were cold and weak but you just have to live with it. 
Toilets... they’re not great. Again, not much you can do but deal with it and move on. You can never flush toilet paper and some of them have manual flushing (bucket, cup, water.. you know the drill). So this is just a heads up: don’t expect great bathrooms.


If you can, bring our own snorkel, or buy one at your first stop. They are cheap to hire on a day to day basis (P100-150), but added up, it’s cheaper to just buy one at the beginning of your trip. I took one but it broke and I resented the hire fee every time...


I know I am undoubtedly about to tell you something you already know but just in case.. Haggle the price. Don’t get mugged off. Prices are rarely fixed and so you can always negotiate. Having said that, in General Luna all tricycle journeys are set to P20 which is insanely cheap, so there is no need to haggle and it will literally, get you no where. But everywhere else, negotiate. Ask your accommodation what you should be paying for a journey, and then don’t settle for more (and say your hostel told you that price). And of course, agree the price before you get in and stick to it at the end even if they ask for more! To make life easier, make sure you agree to a price that you have the exact change for!

Filipino time: 

Time is just different there. Every pick up I arranged came early. Guides would say things like “our next destination is about 15 minutes away” and 2 minutes later we were there. I was there 3 weeks and I still don’t understand their concept of time. Just go with their flow. 

Manila airport: 

Not the horrible scary chaotic place the internet makes it out to be. If you do fly into Manila and have a transit night there, definitely download and use GRAB (basically Asian Uber). It’s the easiest and cheapest way to get around Manila and all you have to do is stand and wait outside the airport and can ignore the chaos around you (of metered taxis and people being collected - normal airport stuff). Side note: I recommend Tambayan hostel if you just want a good nights sleep in Manila. 
If you do fly out of Manila at the end of your trip after flying into Manila from somewhere else in the Philippines to then get an international flight (home or onward travel) then you will almost definitely arrive into a different terminal to the one you are going to fly out of. Again, internet scared the life out of me with this saying it would be the worst experience of my life and I needed 4 hours to do it and it would cost me money (I had officially run out of cash at this point so was contemplating exchanging my left over US dollars from Cambodia); but I did it! And I have lived to tell the tale, so hopefully I can help you not feel the fear I felt. 

I flew into terminal 3 (from Puerto Princesa) and then flew out of terminal 1 (to Malaysia and then onto London). The Internet was wrong (shock) and it was pretty simple. 
Collect your bags, follow the signs for terminal transfer, and wait for them to call the bus for your terminal (terminal 1 in my case). Get on the bus. It’s free (unlike what I had read). Then boom, go into the departures area and check in like every other airport. Obviously, allow time for this (but you don't need much more time than you would allow yourself to get through check in and security anyway). Do be prepared however for queues at security.
Is worth knowing however, Cebu is an international airport - if you have no plans to spend time on Luzon, and it’s not a huge price difference, fly in and out of Cebu because it might reduce the time and price of your internal travel. 

Language Barrier: 

Nothing is ever easy. Things that are simple are made infinitely more complicated by the language barrier. A lot of Filipino people speak excellent English but (arguably oddly) in my experience a lot of the people who worked in hospitality spoke very little or no English. I’m not complaining, as a typically useless English-speaking-only Brit, I have no leg to stand on, but be warned that it does make things harder than you might expect. 

If you haven't worked it out yet, I did all this with my lovely wonderful amazing big little sister!


The Philippines is awesome. I am on my flight home as I draft this and am already planning my next trip (Bohol and Donsol are top of my list so any recommendations would be greatly appreciated). I think you could spend months here and not see it all, and you won’t get bored. Everywhere has its own charm, so do as much as you can without rushing anywhere. 
Just to reiterate: I do believe the sooner you go, the better. 
And one last thing.. despite what you might believe from my relentless commitment to instagram (@kate_sheridan07 - shameless self-promo), there is so much more to the Philippines than white sand beaches and bikinis. The snorkelling is some of the best I’ve ever experienced, the landscape is breathtaking, and the respect of the environment is inspiring. The Filipino people and government showcase a wonderful example or understanding the simple principle conservationists have such a hard time trying to explain: the natural world is worth more alive and protected, than it is dead and exploited. They understand that tourism will bring in more money than over-fishing, that plastic waste and other unnecessary pollution will damage the corals and the oceans, and so protecting them is in the interest of tourism, thus greatly benefitting their economy. Everywhere you go comes with a (cheap) environmental fee - the sceptic in me does wonder where this money actually ends up, but the optimist in me believes the government is really trying to protect the natural beauty of the Philippines. The closure of Boracay is a testament to this. I was so impressed by their commitment to reduce plastic consumption, conserve water, and protect the natural environment. 

I hope these blogs posts have been useful! 

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