Backpacking Philippines Travel Guide (Updated for 2018)

JUMP TO : The Philippines Travel Itineraries | Places to Visit | Where to Stay | Travel Tips | Cost of Travel

With seven thousand islands to explore, backpacking the Philippines is a different experience from travelling around the rest of South East Asia. The Philippines is a vast country stretching across the North Pacific Ocean; a land of pirates and smugglers, ancient tribes and mysterious jungles, active volcanoes and chocolate hills, epic parties, and uninhabited islands. You simply cannot go wrong with backpacking in The Philippines.

Cheap beer, beautiful beaches, adrenaline pumping activities and some of the most friendly, genuine, people in all of Asia; the Philippines truly captured my heart. I made some incredible friends in the Philippines and I have to say, it is one of the easiest countries in the world to travel around as the locals are so friendly.

backpacking the philippines

I was in The Philippines for just a month on my first trip and six weeks on my second trip. I plan to return for at least three months as part of my next adventure and I managed to see some truly stunning sites despite only being there for a short period of time.

So Amigos here is an awesome guide to Backpacking the Philippines. Enjoy!

 

Where to Go in The Philippines

With thousands of islands to choose from, you can spend your lifetime in the Philippines and never see it all. If you can stay for more than a month, you should be able to visit at least most of the major tourist hotspots. That said, it will require some careful planning and might prove to be quite intensive.

No matter where you go, you should be able to find some beautiful beach and epic diving. Palawan and Cebu are the most famous spots in the Philippines, but you don’t have to look much farther to get off the beaten path!

Editor’s Note: Getting around in The Philippines just got a whole lot easier! 12Go lets you book trains, buses and ferries and charges way less than on-the-ground tour agencies. I use 12Go myself whilst backpacking around Southeast Asia. It’s way cheaper than booking through a tour company on the ground and way better than turning up at a bus station in the hope that there will still be seats left! Check it out here!
Discover this amazing island nation known for its beaches, lagoons, and adventure! Backpacking the Philippines is easy with this in-depth backpacking travel guide, updated for 2018! We've put together detailed itineraries and off the beaten path adventures, travel tips, costs, diving, and more!

Interested? PIN NOW, read later!

 

Best Travel Itineraries for Backpacking The Philippines

We have designed three epic itineraries that have the potential to be combined if you have enough time (and a chance to extend your visa). The third itinerary can be completed on a one month visa, or split into two if you have less time!

The Philippines is a super popular destination for newlyweds so if you and your beloved are heading here to celebrate your recent nuptials, be sure to check out Honeymoon backpackers ultimate guide to enjoying your honeymoon in The Philippines.

 

Backpacking the Philippines 10 Day Itinerary #1: Sagada

Backpacking The Philippines Itinerary #1

 

10 Days in The Philippines: Sagada and the Main Island

While most people head south for Palawan, consider this adventurous 10-day itinerary instead (or add it on to the next itinerary). From Manila, take a six-hour bus journey to the legendary Mt Pulag and the truly stunning sea of clouds. Not quite a mountain, the trek to the summit is typically done over two days and is very, very easy.

Continue on to Sagada (about a 4-hour bus journey) afterward for some non-stop adventure. Go hiking and camping in the hills, try your hand at rock climbing, visit Bokong Falls or the eerie hanging coffins – a local tradition.

For even more of an adrenaline rush, make sure to go caving and spelunking in the surrounding caves. The most popular is the Cave Connection tour, which takes you from Lumiang Cave through Sumaguing Cave.

 

The Philippines 3 Week Itinerary #2: Palawan

Backpacking The Philippines Itinerary #2

 

3 Weeks in the Philippines: Palawan

This is the best Philippines itinerary for diving fanatics or those wanting to experience the sheer natural beauty the Philippines has to offer. If you have 4 weeks, you can slow down and stay in places for longer.

Fly to Puerto Princesa, and leave pretty quickly to get over to Port Barton. This area has several islands with good beaches and snorkeling.

Next head to El Nido, known for its island hopping. If you have the money, you can arrange an expensive boat ride to Tubbataha Reef Marine Park, known for its pelagic marine life.

Take a ferry to Coron, which is famous for its WWII wreck diving. If you are a diver, take a day or two to explore the nearby Apo Reef as well. You can also check out other islands off the beaten path, like Culion Island and Busuanga Island. From what I’ve heard it’s nothing but huts, beautiful beaches and diving.

Ferry again to Puerto Galera. I have heard this area decent local dive scene and is easy to reach from Manila. You can end your trip with a visit to Boracay if you have some time. It’s a bit out of the way, but easy to reach from Puerto Galera. This is one of the most famous beaches in the Philippines due to its incredible sand.

Note: Boracay is currently closed to tourists for 6+ months at the time of writing (April 2018). Do not plan a trip to Boracay until it is open again!

 

The Philippines 4 Week Itinerary #3: Diving, Whale Sharks, and Surf

Backpacking Philippines Itinerary #3

 

4 Weeks in The Philippines: Scuba, Swim, and Whale Sharks

This itinerary gets a bit off the grid, so you want at least 4 weeks to enjoy it.

Catch a flight to Cebu from Manila. Chances are you came here to see the incredible Kawasan Falls. Badian is located 98km southeast of Cebu & is well known for its thrilling canyoneering experience. You can catch a habal habal from Dalaguete to Kawasan Falls/Badian, for 200p per person.

Next, let’s get off the grid a bit and head to Siquijor Island, which used to be known for its witch-like healing practices. Siquijor has amazing snorkeling and diving too. There are tranquil waterfalls, caves & forests to explore on the island. This is a great island to lay back and chill with a beer.

Afterward, head to Siargao Island, best known for its surfing and wild, sandy beaches, soothing lagoons, coral reefs & limestone formations.

Ferry across to Bohol (and Panglao Island), another diving hot spot. You can also hike in the famous chocolate hills here, and motorbike around the area with ease. This is also one of the only places in the world to see tha Tarsier, you know those tiny, giant-eyed primates no larger than a child’s fist? 

Catch a quick flight or a long overnight ferry to Legazpi, home of the most perfect cone-shaped volcano in the world, Mt Mayon.  This town is also used as a gateway to dive with the Whale Sharks in Donsol. You can hike to the summit of Mt Mayon, but it’s quite a difficult climb. If hiking isn’t your thing, hire an ATV & fang around the base of the volcano looking for wicked view points like at Sumlang Lake.

It’s super cheap to free dive with the whale sharks in Donsol, and it’s a magical experience! Diving in Donsol is also quite popular, particularly in the Manta Bowl where you can see both manta rays & whale sharks. To get here from Legazpi is super easy: just go to the bus station & catch the Donsol Bus. It takes about 2 hours & costs only 75p.

 

Places to Visit in The Philippines

Backpacking Manila

Chances are, your Philippines backpacking route will begin in Manila. A bustling metropolis of fancy shopping malls, trendy bars, beautiful people and fancy restaurants. The wealthy and the poorest live next door to each other and it can be pretty shocking for first-time travellers.

I only spent a few days exploring Manila once landing, and a few more when I had to pass through on my way to another island. There’s plenty to do in Manila, but ultimately get out as soon as possible and spend your time exploring the rural and island areas of The Philippines. I stayed in a couple of hostels in Manila, as I passed through three times, the best was without a doubt Z Hostel.

backpacking the philippines

Manila; concrete jungle meets forest?

If you do choose to spend some time exploring the bustling Manila, check out Fort Santiago. Around seventy five pesos to get in, the Fort guards the entrance to the Pasig River with an oasis of gardens, plazas and fountains leading to its arched gate and lily pond. Explore the fort inside and even head down to the creepy cell blocks or relax in the museum. It’s essentially a shrine to The Philippines national hero, José Rizal. You can easily kill a day here without getting bored, and I highly recommend checking this out.

Grab (similar to Uber) is now readily available in several countries in the region including the Philippines! Grab is hand’s down the best way to get around Manila, the price is locked in on the app so you can’t get ripped off and it will always work out cheaper than traveling by taxi or rickshaw. Follow this link for free Grab credit. 

Want more history about The Philippines and the people? Check out the National Museum of the Filipino in Manila. It costs around a hundred and fifty pesos to get into this museum and it’s worth it. Since 1998, the National Museum has been restoring and safeguarding important cultural values, sites and reservations throughout the Philippines. Super interesting and chilled, and perfect for those history nerds like me!

If you want to party and meet lots of locals, Manila is a good place to start. It’s also the perfect hub to fly anywhere you want domestically in the Philippines!

Book Your Manila Hostel Here!

backpacking philippines

Fort Santiago in Manila is a great place to escape the city!

 

Backpacking Mt Pulag

A six hour bus journey from Manila is the legendary Mt Pulag and the truly stunning sea of clouds. Not quite a mountain, the trek to the summit is typically done over two days and is very, very easy. Marked by clear trails and signs, you’d have to be really trying to get lost. Mount Pulag attracts hikers from all over the world.

The third highest peak in the Philippines standing at 2,922 metres above sea level, you know it’s going to offer some epic views at the top. You are technically ‘not allowed’ to hike this mountain without a guide. I booked my Mt Pulag trip through Travel Cafe, the cheapest and best tour guides out there. You’ll likely need to base yourself in nearby Baguio for at least one night or you’re going to be knackered!

Backpacking The Philippines

Above the clouds in a bin-bag and a stolen blanket… I was fucking freezing

It’s not just the beautiful sea of clouds that attracts people to Mount Pulag‘s summit… Have you ever seen the Milky Way Galaxy at dawn? I hadn’t until waking up (super) early, hiking to the summit and being greeted with the most incredible sky I’d ever seen. No wonder they say to do this hike over two days… Hiking under the Milky Way Galaxy and eating breakfast as the sun pushes through the sea of clouds was one of the best things I experienced backpacking the Philippines.

backpacking the philippines

Mt Pulag offers a spectacular view, even at night…

 

Backpacking Sagada

Sagada is a four hour bus ride from Baguio or overnight from Manila. Welcome to the adventure capital of the Philippines! This is hands down one of my favourite places I explored in all of The Philippines. I crashed in Olahbinan – an amazing place with warm vibes and an epic view from the balcony, it’s opposite Kimchi Bar; which happens to be the best place to hang in the evenings for a beer or three…

backpacking the philippines

The incredible crystal cave!

Sagada has everything, from relaxed day hikes into the hills, advanced treks into the mountains, and for the adventurous, caving.

The Crystal Cave is an explorer’s paradise. Spend the day squeezing through tight black holes, climbing raging waterfalls, abseiling further into the darkness before being led into another chamber filled with mammoth crystal formations. Expect to pay around 2,500 Pesos to hire a guide to take you through not only Crystal Cave but also the cave link connection. If you are new to caving, I suggest starting the cave link connection, parts of the Crystal Cave are tough.

backpacking the philippines

Onwards and upwards!

Want creepy and cool? Check out the Echo Valley and the Hanging Coffins. Paganism before the 20th Century was the prominent religion in The Philippines, and Filipinos believed the dead had to be close to the gods to help reach their final resting place. So, instead of being buried in the ground, coffins were secured to the sides of mountains. You can hire a guide for 200 pesos to take you in or do the loop in reverse and you won’t have to pay to enter… if you get lost though you are pretty fucked so be sure you know where you’re going. Today, locals are sometimes still buried in the foetal position in these hanging coffins but it’s very expensive – a sacrifice of twenty cows and forty chicken are required – so the practice is dying out.

backpacking the philippines

It is said that the higher your coffin, the closer you are to the Gods.

One of my favourite things to do in Sagada is to simply take to the hills and hike for an afternoon. The trails are so quiet I could venture for a day and see no one, having the countryside all to myself! Stunning views, great weather and deserted trails were the only reasons I needed to venture out to the wilderness.

I spent a lot of time in Sagada and I recommend it to everyone backpacking The Philippines who wants to escape the tourist trap. Those looking for adventure should head here. Check out my Sagada guide for more things to do here….

backpacking the philippines

Venture into the countryside of chocolate hills… sadly not edible!

 

Backpacking to find Whang Od

Whang Od is a person rather than a place; this lady is the last Kalinga tattoo artist to hold the title of Mamababatok. Tattoo lovers (like me) can’t resist the opportunity to get a tribal tattoo from a living legend. Hop on a few Jeepneys (ride on top, the views are awesome) from Sagada and head towards the Kalinga Jungle.

Trekking deep into the Jungle you’ll come across the tribal village where Whang Od lives with her family and friends. Please treat this wonderful lady and her accommodating neighbours with the respect that they deserve. Don’t expect to turn up, pay and get inked. Tattooing is serious business here and she will only tattoo some people!  Read up on all the details of how to visit Whang Od here.

backpacking the Philippines

This lady is a living legend and gives epic Tatts!

 

Backpacking Puerto Princesa

From the Kalinga Jungle, I travelled to Manila to catch a cheap flight to Puerto Princesa; the gateway for Palawan and the underground river. I spent a few days here visiting the underground river. The awesome Sheebang Hostel was a great place to meet some more backpackers! It was beautiful, there’s no denying that. Floating underground, blue water and waterfalls were just incredible, but the amount of people that flock here didn’t make me want to hang around for long….

Puerto Princesa itself is a bit of a concrete jungle. While backpacking in Palawan I used it as a base to get to the national park and islands nearby. Unless you are a massive foodie (good restaurant culture here) move on quickly…

backpacking the philippines

 

Backpacking Port Barton

Does the idea of white beaches, crystal clear water, small seaside towns, fresh fish feasts and camping on the beach sound like heaven to you? Well, that is just what Port Barton is. Seriously, it’s one of my favourite Philippines backpacker spots. It is a little bit of a mission to get here from Puerto Princessa; I screwed it up and ended up paying through the nose to catch a boat after being dropped in the middle of nowhere by an unfriendly bus driver.

You can catch a bus all the way to Port Barton from either Puerto Princesa or El Nido. Just beware the journey rather bumpy; however, they’re currently building a proper road which should be finished shortly. Your other option is to catch a ferry here from Sabang, where the Puerto Princesa Underground River is located.

Port Barton itself is well worth the effort though; a sleepy fishing village just a stone’s throw away from uninhabited islands where you can snorkel and even stay overnight.

Gaga, a local fisherman, can hire out tents and will arrange for you to crash on an island for a night, complete with a cooked fish dinner, for as little as $30 a person. You can reach him on (0949) 467 2204 – Tell him I sent you and he will reward you with one of his legendary smiles. What’s better than this, seriously?

If you’re not keen to camp, there are lots of cheap places to crash in Port Barton, but I recommend blowing your backpacker budget one night and heading out to White Beach. A small resort, totally deserted with gorgeous beaches, crackling bonfires and swaying palm trees; making for a magical evening! It’s possible to walk here from the main beach, it only takes around two hours. Sunshine House, on the main beach, has good food, fast internet and cheap rooms.

backpacking the philippines

Rural areas in The Philippines have the best sunsets

 

Backpacking El Nido

El Nido is one of the most popular spots for those backpacking the Philippines to visit. The beaches are known for their epic parties, white sand, and blue waters; everybody ends up at El Nido one way or another…

Head out on one of the epic island hopping cruises, show off your backflip skills jumping from the boat into crystal clear waters below. Snorkel the reefs or if you dare, swim through the underwater caves found in the lagoon. The underwater caves are hard to find, so ask the local lads to show you; it’s in the lagoon and although dangerous is a lot of fun.

Backpacking the Philippines

Climbing is pretty epic here!

Fed up of Water sports? El Nido is one of the best places in The Philippines to climb. The cliffs overhanging the ocean offer so incredible views from the top which even the beginner climbers can enjoy. Check out Taraw Peak, one of the coolest climbs in El Nido.

If you can afford the expensive boat ride, diver fanatics should make their way to Tubbataha Reef Marine Park, known for its reef and pelagic marine life. .

I recommend staying in Our Melting Pot Hostel, which you will HAVE to book in advance in high season as it’s super popular. El Nido is super easy to get to, you can get direct transport here from Puerto Princesa & Port Barton or a ferry from Coron.

backpacking el nido philippines

 

Backpacking Coron

Named one of top dive spots in the world, Coron is popular for its World War II wreck diving. In September 1944, a fleet of Japanese ships hiding in the harbour were sunk in a daring raid by the US navy. The result is around ten well preserved underwater shipwrecks surrounded with coral reef: a divers paradise! For those not keen on exploring these wicked wrecks, Coron is a great place to kick back with a beer or two for the day.

You get to Coron from El Nido by ferry, which takes around eight hours or fly directly here from Manila or Puerto Princesa. Flights are cheap if you book in advance, otherwise get your haggling game on! I got the price down to a thousand pesos, way cheaper than advertised! Stay in Cool Enough B&B, and explore Coron by motorbike; there are heaps of things to do in Coron but diving was what attracted me here!

backpacking the philippines

 

Backpacking Legazpi

Legazpi is home of the most perfect cone shaped volcano in the world, Mt Mayon, & used as a gateway to dive with the Whale Sharks in Donsol. You can hike to the summit of Mt Mayon, but it’s quite a difficult climb. Some companies offer an extremely expensive 2 day expedition;  however, it does seem possible to climb it yourself too. If hiking isn’t your thing, hire an ATV & fang around the base of the volcano looking for wicked view points like at Sumlang Lake.

The most popular viewpoint of Mt Mayon is Lingnon Hill, but it’s pretty touristy. To get here on public transport, catch a loop 2 Jeepney from the main road in town. It drops you near the top of the hill & will only set you back 10p.

The Cagsawa Ruins are pretty cool to check our while you’re here. They’re the remains of a small 18th century church village after the huge eruption of Mt Mayon. I stayed at Mayon Backpackers Hostel which has a cool view from the rooftop & even has a kitchen to cook your own food. Pretty much all the flights here go via Manila, check out Cebu Pacific for cheap sale deals.

 

Backpacking Donsol

Donsol is famous for swimming with the Whale Sharks as they pass through the bay during their migration. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can dive with them in their natural environment, unlike in Cebu where they’re hand fed & never migrate. Whale sharks are drawn to Donsol Bay from November to May, due to the high concentration of krill & plankton.

It’s super cheap to free dive with the whale sharks and only sets you back $25 USD, including boat hire, environmental fee & snorkeling hire. It was a magical experience swimming alongside the majestic whale shark which can grow as long as 18m!

Diving in Donsol is also quite popular. particularily in the Manta Bowl where you can see both manta rays & whale sharks. However, it is a decent boat ride to get there & can be pricey if you’re diving solo. Your best bet is rallying together a few divers & sharing the cost of the boat rental.

To get here from Legazpi is super easy: just go to the bus station & catch the Donsol Bus. It takes about 2 hours & costs only 75p. The cheapest way to get to Cebu from Donsol is by local ferry from the Pilar Port. This will take you to Masbate, where you change to a night ferry onwards to Cebu City. All up the ferry ride should cost just under 100p. If you prefer to fly you have to head back to Legazpi & fly via Manila as there are no direct flights to Cebu.

 

Backpacking Cebu

Cebu city is much like Manila, but it’s smaller & the traffic isn’t as bad. I’m not the biggest fan of big cities, so I didn’t enjoy the city itself so much. The best part about Cebu is the south part, and you’ll probably need around 5 days to a week to travel & see everything. You can fly directly to Cebu from either Manila or Coron; however, your best & cheapest bet is to catch a ferry from Donsol.

I’d definitely stop into Dalaguete, also known as “little Baguio” and is renowned for its cool climate, vegetable crops & has a beautiful viewpoint at Osmena Peak. Head to the Cebu South bus terminal & catch a 2 hour bus to Dalaguete; it should cost about 100p.

If you’re a conscious traveller & wish to balance travelling & the need for the environment, don’t bother stopping in Oslob. Yes, it’s famous for swimming with Whale Sharks, but no, it’s not good for the animals or their environment. If you want to dive with Whale Sharks do it in Donsol or Bohol, read here why.

If you’re in Cebu chances are you came to see the incredible Kawasan Falls. Badian is located 98km southeast of Cebu & is well known for its thrilling canyoneering experience. Most backpackers do either a day trip, or canyoning tour finishing up in Kawasan Falls. You can catch a habal habal from Dalaguete to Kawasan Falls/Badian, for 200p per person, entry to the fall is only 30b.

Moalboal is south of Badian & has some of the most incredible dive spots & coral reefs. It’s a chilled laid back beach town 2.5 hours south of Cebu city. You can catch a bus directly from Badian or from the south bus terminal in Cebu city for 200p.

Book Your Cebu Hostel Here!

How inviting does the water look at Kawasan Falls?

 

Backpacking Siquijor Island

Siquijor Island is absolutely beautiful & used to be known for its witch like healing practices, though today most healing is done with a relaxing beer on the beach & dip in the ocean. Siquijor has amazing snorkelling & is great for diving too. There are tranquil waterfalls, caves & forests to explore around the island. Just beware of the sea urchins, especially during low tide, if you get one in your foot they hurt for days!

To get here from either Cebu or Moalboal catch a bus to the Lilo-An Port in Santander then take a ferry across to Siquijor. Siquijor is a really laid back chilled island, I absolutely loved the vibes here.

 

Backpacking Siargao

Siargao known as the surfing capital of the Philippines is located about 800km southeast of Manila, also known as Cloud 9. But you don’t have to be a surfer to enjoy the incredible white sand beaches, soothing lagoons, coral reefs & limestone formations. The town has a chilled, laid back island feel, with beautiful scenery & natural attractions all around the island.

Most backpackers stay in General Luna area, as it’s a lively part of the island. I’d recommend finding a quiet spot around the island to camp for free. Otherwise, there’s a few surf camping grounds & plenty of hostels around the area. To get here & away, you can either fly directly to the island or fly to Surigao city & take a ferry across to Siargio island.

Check Siargao Island Hostels Now!

Every surfers dream! Take your pick, left or right?

 

Backpacking Boracay Island

Boracay Island is something that you see on a post card: beautiful powdered white sand beaches & crystal clear blue water as far as the eye can see. The sunset on white beach is absolutely breathtaking & the nightlife here is awesome!

Boracay is pretty commercialised & can be rather expensive, but you can defiantly find cheap backpacking options if you know where to look. The cheapest drinks on the island are at Kurt & Mags on the beach in station 3, cocktails are 45p & beers are 35p! Check out this post for inspiration on where to stay in Boracay. 

Make sure you get to Ariels point! It’s all you can drink & eat while you spend the day cliff diving, kayaking, snorkelling & partying. My favourite place on the island is Spider house. Spend the day paddle boarding, jumping into the water & watching the sunset over the horizon.

To get to Boracay you will either fly into Kalibo or Caticlan airport & get the ferry over to Boracay Island. You can snag cheap flight for around $40 USD & the ferry from Caticlan Pier is 200p.

 

Backpacking Batanes

Batanes is pure paradise and so much more accessible to backpackers these days. The increas in daily flights heading to Batanes have led to promo fares popping up with most budget airlines. If you get your flight on sale, it’ll set you back around P500 from Manila, so it’s not that expensive to get here anymore.

You can explore the North & South of the island by tricycle for P200 an hour, or hire a bicycle or motorbike. Make sure you visit Sabtang Island; you’ll probably have to get a tour so shop around & find the best deal. Its super beautiful in Batanes: the beaches have white sand, the viewpoints are incredible, and blue turquoise water is inviting.

There aren’t any hostels in Batanes, but you should be able to find some local houses.

Photo credit: Honeymoon Backpackers

 

Backpacker Accommodation In The Philippines

Couchsurfing: Filipino locals are well known for their hospitality and warmth towards travellers. So it’s not surprising Couchsurfing is popular and well used, that is, if you aren’t invited to stay with the locals anyway. Couchsurfing the Philippines not only saved me some pennies, but I got to experience The Philippines like a local with some wicked new friends. I highly recommend Couchsurfing to anyone backpacking the Philippines!

Hostels: Cheap hostels or ‘Guesthouses’ are definitely the way to go whilst travelling in the Philippines. There are plenty popping up all over the islands, so you’ll be spoilt for choice. You can get a pretty decent dorm set up for around $7 per night!

Mid-Range Hotels: Backpacking the Philippines can be a little luxurious even in the lower range hotels! These beautiful hotels may have basic private rooms, but for $30 a night you can get a private beachfront room. A pretty epic escape from hostel life!

Splurge Hotels: If you’re a backpacker lucky enough to have money burning a hole in your pocket, then you’re in for a treat! The Philippines have some insanely fancy pants resort hotels all over the mainland and islands. Starting from around $100 a night you can get some incredible rooms!

Airbnb:If you are backpacking the Philippines in peak season use Airbnb as an alternative. Often just as cheap, and the added bonus is you may get a whole apartment! If not, you’ll make some awesome local friends!

Book Your Philippines Hostel Here!

 

Where to Stay in Philippines

LocationAccommodationWhy Stay Here?!
ManilaZ HostelThis was my favourite hostel in Manila. It's got a rooftop bar with DJ & boasts incredible views of the surrounding city.
Boracay IslandMad Monkey HostelSuper fun party resort style hostel! Massive pool & only a short walk to the beach. I love the Mad Monkey hostels throughout SE Asia
El NidoOur Melting PotOMP is a great little hostel with awesome social vibes. It's in a good location just back from the beach.
CebuNoordzee HostelLoved the infinity pool & incredible views! Great location central to sites like Kawasan Falls & whale sharks in Oslob.
SiargaoPaglaom HostelAwesome chilled hostel with homey vibes. It's the ideal place for surfers & yogi's plus it's close to the beach!
Puerto PrincessaSheebang HostelThis hostel is wicked, really good social vibes & delicious food. They can organise airport transfers, buses & book your Underground River tour way cheaper than online.

 

travelling to the philippines

El nido, Palawan

 

Top Things to Do in The Philippines

 

1. Go Snorkelling or Diving

The Philippines is one of the best places in the world to dive under the sea! There are hundreds of sites ranging from reef to wreck diving, the open ocean and night dives too! Plus, Philippines budget won’t be blown; it is one of the cheapest places in the world to get underwater for the day! Check out our Diving section at the end of the guide for more specific dive sites!

 

2. Go Island Hopping

Considering this is a country made up of thousands of islands, it couldn’t really be a Philippines trip without hopping a couple islands! Most hostels will offer some island hopping trips. You can choose from a chilled trip or take on one of the Philippines infamous booze cruise island hopping trips! One of the best things to do in this amazing country is to simply go with the flow and head off on an island-hopping adventure.

 

3. Swim with Whale Sharks

You can snorkel with whale sharks in Donsol! I highly recommend supporting the industry here versus Cebu (where they handfeed the sharks and disrupt the ecosystem and their migration patterns).

 

One of the best ways to get to grips with a new culture is through the food! Cookly partners with local cooking schools and restaurants in countries all around the world and is an awesome way to go on your very own culinary adventure. Book a Filipino cooking class here.

 

4. Eat the Local Delicacies

Philippine local delicacies are so good, so cheap, and so weird! The Philippines has the most ‘interesting’ selection of street food I’ve ever seen. It’s the cheapest way to eat, the most delicious and surprising… watch out for hard boiled eggs called Balut.

 

5. Go Caving in Sagada

There are so many awesome spots to go caving, but I definitely recommend checking out the Crystal Caves in Sagada.

 

6. Summit a Volcano

The Philippines geographical location within the Ring of Fire means there are plenty of volcanoes to climb or admire from afar. With 25 active volcanoes to summit, your choices are varied. Climb Mt. Mayon, an active and picture perfect volcano.

 

7. Swim among the Picture Perfect Lagoons of Palawan

While this area is touristy, there’s a reason why. The clear blue and green lagoons will have you wondering how places likes this exist on Earth.

Lagoons of Coron, Palawan

Lagoons of Coron, Palawan

 

8. Get off the Beaten Path on the Batanes Islands

If you’re trying to escape the crowds and immerse in local culture, head to the Batanes Islands, where women wear haystack-like-head gear, and people live in traditional stone-and-cogon-grass houses. You can participate in a local homestay. Make sure to climb and hike in the nearby hills and volcanoes!

 

9. Explore the Chocolate Hills of Bohol

This island is famous for green rivers, jungle, and yes chocolatey hills!

 

10. Surf some Waves!

There are plenty of islands to catch some waves! You can head to the Lozon region and stay on Bicol (near Donsol) for some nice waves. Quezon is a good place to learn how to surf. Check out this surf guide for more inspiration!

The Best Travel Backpack?!

Pssssst! Not picked the perfect travel backpack yet? The Broke Backpacker team has tried out over thirty backpacks this year! Our favourite carry on backpack is the Nomatic Travel Backpack – Best of all, TBB readers get a massive 20% off! Just use the code: brokebackpacker20

Check out this post to read our full review!

 

The Philippines Travel Tips

 

Books to Read Before Backpacking The Philippines

The Backpacker Bible – Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building a life of long-term travel with an online income.  Shameless bit of self promo here but this book is basically my dissertation on backpacking, nine years of tips and tricks and your purchase helps keep the site going. If you’ve found the content on this site useful, the book is the next level up and you will learn a ton – if you don’t, I’ll give you your money back. Check it out here.

Playing with Water: Passion and Solitude on a Philippine Island: Ever wondered what life on a deserted island would be like? Well, James experiments with this, spending months on uninhabited islands in the Philippines, going back to the basics of survival and diving into the ‘real Philippines’. 

History of the Philippines: From Indios Bravos to FilipinosFor the history nerds, this is an awesome background of The Philippines, the culture and what went into making it the incredible country it is today. Seriously, well worth a read!

The Latinos of Asia: How Filipino Americans Break the Rules of Race: An interesting book exploring how social status will change people’s perception of your race, the background into Filipino Culture and how Spanish Colonialism has influenced The Philippines. A real in-depth read but seriously worth it. 

Philippine Folk TalesWant to hear real life stories before getting there and meeting the people behind them? Check this book out! Filled with stories and tales from local indigenous Filipinos and their lives. I love reading people’s tales of a country, it makes me feel connected to the country before I even get there. It’s fantastic. 

Lonely Planet Philippines: For those who love to organise the trip while they go, the lonely planet has everything and anything you need to do this. I am not normally one for guidebooks, I often find them a pain to lug around. But they do come in handy when you need a helping hand.

Lonely Planet Filipino (Tagalog) Phrasebook & DictionaryIf you are one of the minorities who prefer books to apps, then this is a must do. So helpful to know some Filipino – or at least having a way to find the phrase fast – when navigating the rural countryside where there is little English…

Philippines: Islands of EnchantmentJust hands down a beautiful ‘coffee table’ book. Wanting some more inspiration before heading on your trip to the Philippines, you’ll just need to flip through this!

backpacking Palawan and the Philippines

 

Philippines Travel Phrases

Most Filipinos speak English quite well in the cities and touristy areas; however, it’s nice to know a few Tagalog phrases and connect with the people!

Hello – Hi!

Goodbye – Paálam

How Are You? – Kumusta ka?

My Name Is… – Ang pangalan ko ay…

How much is this? – Magkano to?

Where’s the toilet? – Nasaan ang banyo?

Stop! – Para!

Do you speak English? – Sabihin ang sa English?

I don’t understand! – Hindi ko naiintindihan

Thank You – Salamat

 

How to Stay Safe in the Philippines

Generally travelling in the Philippines is very safe in the touristy areas, but there are some places you want to avoid.

The whole of the far south is a no-go zone: The areas of Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago and the Zamboanga Peninsula are all considered extremely dangerous due to terrorist activity.

Also, with so many adventures to be had in the Philippines, don’t forget to be safe while diving, surfing, trekking, and climbing!

For more general information, check out Backpacker Safety 101 for tips and tricks to stay safe whilst backpacking. Pick yourself up a backpacker security belt to keep your cash safe on the road. Check out this post for plenty of ideas on ingenious ways to hide your money when travelling.

I strongly recommend travelling with a headlamp whilst in the Philippines (or anywhere really – every backpacker should have a good headtorch!) – check out my post for a breakdown of the best value headlamps to take backpacking.

 

Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll in The Philippines

Partying in the Philippines is boats, booze, bikinis, crystal clear water, and some wicked beats. The best parties are normally found outside of the main cities, off land and basically whilst island hopping. It’s an essential Philippines bucket list activity and honestly, there’s a party to suit all of us. If you want crazy dance beats, sexy dancers and unlimited alcohol or just a chilled vibe on the beach with a smoke, you got it.

On that note; the situation with Drugs in the Philippines has changed big time in the last twelve months. Jail sentences,  steep fines, and even death penalties, are not uncommon punishments, and foreigners are not exempt.

Police and other authorities have released strong statements regarding the trafficking and use of drugs in the Philippines. Recently, the police have waged a war on drugs resulting in the deaths of hundreds. Be careful. Just testing positive to a drug reading could land you in jail for 6 months. You’re better off just staying away from drugs altogether in the Philippines. If you are going to dabble in illicit substances, at least read Blazed Backpackers 101 for tips on how to stay safe.

Sex tourism in the Philippines is big and obvious. Prostitution is illegal but it’s definitely around, especially at Go-Go bars. I went to a wrestling match AND these young girls were everywhere. Some of them looked well under the age of 18 and were hanging off 50-year-old men.

Tinder very much works in The Philippines and the locals are… erm, very friendly. Picking up chicks in The Philippines is relatively easy and Filipinas do love to have a good time. Always show respect to local girls when traveling, it’s all to easy to break hearts when you’re dishonest with your intentions.

Alcohol is widely drank and readily available. The Philippines has horrifically strong Red Horse beer and some tasty rums on offer.

backpacking the philippines

One of the many booze cruises…

 

Insurance for Backpacking The Philippines

Whenever you hit the road and go travelling, you need insurance. I have been backpacking for years and have had to claim from time to time; if I didn’t have insurance I would have been utterly screwed on all occasions. It’s just not worth the risk to go without.

I recommend World Nomads Travel Insurance – they hands down have the best support and if you do need to claim they will help you get sorted quickly.

 

Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.

 

What to Pack for Philippines

The Philippines is less conservative than its neighbouring countries of Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan when it comes to clothing. As tourism grows and island hopping and beach parties continue, the dress code is turning more towards the western style we are used to. However, venturing into the less tourist and rural areas it is best to dress more conservatively.

Avoid wearing all black; it’s considered a mourning colour, but black in the heat of the sun wouldn’t be my first choice anyway… If you are going to visit churches and temples make sure your shoulders, cleavage and knees are covered.

When backpacking The Philippines gals, I recommend carrying a Pashmina with you. If you need to cover up to visit that random temple or just need a break from the sun, they are highly recommended by the women-folk.

On every adventure, there are five things I never go traveling without:

AR Security Belt

1. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.

 

2.Travel Water Bottle: Always travel with a water bottle – it’ll save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. AR bottle are tough, lightweight and maintain the temperature of your beverage – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are. For every AR bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an initiative to reduce plastic in our oceans!

 

AR microfibre towel

3. Microfibre TowelIt’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.

 

Headlamp4. HeadtorchI would never travel without a headtorch. Even if you only end up using it once, a decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must. Currently, I’m using the Petzl LED headlamp with red light (which insects can’t see).

 

Hammock for backpackers5. HammockTaking a tent backpacking is not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy (chicks dig hammocks) and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere. Right now, I’m rocking an Active Roots parachute hammock – it’s light, colorful and tough.

 

For plenty more inspiration on what to pack, check out my full backpacking packing list.

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The Best time to Travel The Philippines

The Philippines, like most Asian countries, has popular seasons and of course, the wet season. Thankfully Backpacking the Philippines is great all year round – even in the rain! Most travellers will flock to the Philippines around January and February when the weather is more reliable and cooler, perfect for travelling around!

Want more specifics? Let me break down the rest of the year for you amigos planning to go backpacking in The Philippines…

Dry Season (November – April): This is when the weather is at its warmest and the rains are less likely to hit. Expect comfortable warm temperatures of around 30 degrees reaching the mid thirties on the Islands. The hottest months and most humid are March to May, temperatures will reach up to 36 degrees.

Wet Season (May – October): ‘Wet Season’ normally put people off; however, this is a great time to backpack The Philippines. The rains aren’t constant, normally an hour or so of downpours before the sun drys everything up again. Expect temperatures of around 25 degrees.

Typhoon Season (June – August): Not the greatest time to backpack the Philippines. Rains are much heavier at this time and typhoons are common. Many flights and ferries will be cancelled or face delays. Avoid some of the more rural islands at this time of year.

 

Apps to Download Before Backpacking Philippines

Be warned: free wifi in the Philippines is hard to find and will probably be painfully slow. Don’t use your precious moments downloading apps while backpacking Philippines, prepare before you go!

Maps.Me – Prone to getting lost or taking that ‘shortcut’ that adds another few hours onto a simple walk? This app is definitely for you. My favourite offline maps app, download your map and route before you venture out to keep you on track while backpacking the Philippines.

XE Currency – I used this a lot when backpacking the Philippines. It is a great help while calculating expenses.

HIDE.ME –  I always have a VPN ready to go on both my phone and laptop, I personally use Hide Me which is one of the fastest and most reliable options out there. This particular VPN allows for up to five connections which is handy for keeping all your devices connected without having to purchase multiple VPN packages.

backpacking the philippines

 

The Philippines Travel Guide to Getting Around

Flying into the Philippines was incredible. Thousands of Islands surrounded by a beautiful blue ocean looked like the paradise that was promised after all the hype! Most backpackers travelling in The Philippines start off in Manila, the main flight hub. It’s likely your flight will land here or at least connect through to one of the many islands.

Flights to The Philippines are becoming more frequent. The cheapest airline to fly with is Philippine Airlines; however, they don’t come with the greatest reputation. I guess you get what you pay for, right?

I often find great international deals to The Philippines with China Southern (via Guangzhou) and Emirates (via Dubai). If you’re flying within Asia, rejoice broke backpackers, it’s so freaking cheap! You can get flights with the likes of Air Asia and Philippines Airlines for as little as fifty dollars!

 

 

Entry Requirements for The Philippines

Arriving into the Philippines, the majority of nationalities will get a visa allowing one month of travel in The Philippines on arrival. If you know you are going to stay longer than a month, definitely organise your visa before you arrive.

IMPORTANT NOTE: You usually cannot enter the Philippines, or even board a flight to The Philippines, unless you have an outbound flight already booked and can show proof. If you don’t know how long you plan to stay, this can be a major pain in the ass… A good way round this is to use this site to get hold of the documentation you need without actually having to pay for a full flight.

backpacking the philippines

So many hidden spots to explore!

 

How to Travel in The Philippines

Backpacking the Philippines is easy, even for those with the worst sense of direction! A spider web of bus links, friendly and helpful locals, and all modes of travel offered at super cheap prices mean that getting around the Philippines couldn’t be easier! As long as you don’t expect air con, you are happy with loud music or movies playing, and a lack of glass windows, your budget Philippines adventure will be a breeze.

Bus: Most backpackers opt to travel The Philippines through its intensive network of long bus distance links. Seriously, the country has a spider web of bus routes, making it so easy to get from A to B. Prices vary around P435 – P500 and tend to run every half an hour or so.

You can just hop on a bus without a ticket but if you’d rather book in advance, I’d recommend checking out 12Go. Rather than just rocking up at the bus stop in the hope they will have space to fit you on, you can book tickets in advance! Using 12go you can book cheap tickets for long and short journeys all over Asia! Seriously, this saves so much precious time and confusion!

backpacking the philippines

Jeepneys are seriously… awesome!

Ferry: Ferries, or Bangkas, are still one of the cheapest ways to get off the mainland and onto some of the incredible islands. These little wooden outrigger boats, Bangkas, are often uncomfortable and packed full of people. But they are great for boozy island hopping trips! Bangkas are the cheapest option to sail to the islands. If you want to do it more comfort there are larger ferries.

Prices for the ferries will range from P750 – P1150 (add an extra thousand for private cabins) and tickets can be bought at the pier right up to departure. Just keep an eye on the weather, take it from me; being on one of these tiny boats, packed with people and seasickness is not worth it – and pack suncream!

You can also book ferries on 12Go. 

Powered by 12Go Asia system

Flying: This is definitely the quickest way to travel around but it isn’t the cheapest. There are a number of domestic, cheap airlines available including the national airline, Philippine Airlines though. If you’re one of the lucky fare hunters, you can pick up seats for one P1! But on average, regular fares will be around P499 – P999 depending on the flight route. The only downside of air travel? You will often have to backtrack to the main hubs of either Cebu or Manila.

Jeepney: The ultimate Philippine icon, these are not rare in the cities of Manila, Cebu City, Davao and Baguio and essentially are repurposed American Jeeps from WWII given a dash of paint. You will definitely end up travelling on one of these while backpacking The Philippines and likely you’ll find yourself involved in jolly conversations with the rest of the passengers about your nationality, destination and marital status…

There are no fixed schedules, you simply hail Jeepneys down from the side of the road and learn their route from what is scribbled on the window that day. It’s best to only use Jeepneys if you have an idea of where you’re going, or manage to make friends with one of the locals. Not only will this keep you from getting lost, also less likely to get ripped off.

Expect to pay around P7 for short journeys or if going between towns, up to P50. Definitely, try out top-loading (sitting on top of the jeepney) where possible. In Sagada and other rural parts of The Philippines, you can even chill out on the top of a jeepney with a cheeky smoke.

Backpacking Philippines

Toploading on a jeepney in Kalinga

FX taxis: Air-conditioned Toyota minivans with signs in the window to indicate their destination. Routes are often not set, so have some local knowledge or a friend to know where to catch the right vehicle. Agree on a price before getting in, expect to pay around P2 per km which is an awesome rate! The vans are pretty claustrophobic – I can guarantee you won’t get moving until there are about ten people on board, three more than the vehicle is designed for…

Grab: (similar to Uber) is now readily available in several countries in the region including Thailand! Grab is hand’s down the best way to get around cities, the price is locked in on the app so you can’t get ripped off and it will always work out cheaper than traveling by taxi or rickshaw. Follow this link for free Grab credit. 

Tricycles: The cheapest form of shared transport when backpacking The Philippines are tricycles (habel-habel). These are basically small motorbikes with a sidecar attached for passengers. Honestly, these are most fun (and scary) way to travel around the Philippines. They are everywhere in the rural areas racing around as fast as their little engines will allow. You’ll have to get your haggle game on and agree on a price before you hop in, even though you’ll likely share the cost with the friendly locals. Expect to pay around P7 for a short trip and P25 for a longer one…

 

Hitchhiking in the Philippines

Getting around The Philippines is relatively easy, and with many different modes of transport for all budget levels it seems silly to even consider hitchhiking…. Wrong amigo!

Hitchhiking the Philippines is easy if you are hoping to travel a small distance and it’s is a great way to meet cool people on the road. Not only will locals pull over to curiously help you on your way, but Jeepneys will often stop as well. Just make sure to let them know you’re hitchhiking with no money before you hop in, or you could find yourself in an awkward situation.

Travelling a longer distance? Hitchhiking becomes a little harder. Most locals with their own vehicles are only travelling short distances and those that are travelling longer distances will often look for a bit of cash to help with fuel. If you are planning to hitchhike the Philippines I recommend hitchhiking short distances. If you’re travelling longer, hop in a Jeepney.

backpacking philippines

Toploading again somewhere in Baguio

 

Onwards Travel from The Philippines

Since the Philippines is comprised of islands, the main way to travel onwards is by flight (unless you’re a sailor of course!). There are pretty cheap flights from Manila (and sometimes Cebu) to many South East Asia countries, like Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia!

 

The Philippines Backpacking Costs

The Philippines is a broke backpackers paradise. You can backpack the Philippines for as little as $20 a day. Seriously it’s cheap! Obviously, if you splurge for fancy beachfront resorts and classy island hopping tours your Philippines budget may stretch a little. Stick to hostels, street food and the local beer and you will be laughing…

That said, if you’re constantly island hopping your budget is going to have to stretch. Places like El Nido and Coron are going to be more expensive. Travelling on shoulder season will save you money too!

Average room cost: $5.00 – $7.00

Average Meal Cost: $1 – $6.00

Long Distance Coach: $3.00 – $10.00

Entrance to a site cost: Most are free or donation only.

Local Beer: $0.50 – $2.00

backpacking the philippines

I’ll just chill here with a local beer please…

 

Money in the Philippines

Asia is great for making us broke backpackers feel loaded! The Philippines certainly doesn’t disappoint. $25 = 1,248 Philippine Peso, pretty awesome huh? Especially since the local beer is only forty pesos!

backpacking philippines

Money,money,money!

You can exchange money in your home country before you begin backpacking the Philippines. However, there is a limit of around 10,000 pesos (around $200) in cash you can bring into the country at one time. I’d recommend exchanging your money once in The Philippines. You’ll get a better exchange rate and you won’t have to worry about restrictions.

ATMs in The Philippines are found in most places, but it isn’t uncommon for ATMs to run out of money, especially on weekends and holidays. You will be charged for using most ATMs (around 200 pesos per transaction), so try to be smart about the amount you withdraw.

Heading off the beaten track? Take enough cash with you for the journey. Many of the rural villages and towns don’t have a bank, ATMs or card services. If you need to transfer money internationally, use Transferwise, it’s the fastest and cheapest way to move money around when travelling.

 

AR Security Belt

You should always have some emergency cash hidden on you and I’ve written an entire post on the best places to hide your money. If you want to carry a fair bit of cash safely on your body, your best bet is to get hold of a backpacker belt with a hidden security pocket.

GET IT HERE

 

 

Top Tips for Broke Backpackers in The Philippines

Haggle: Want to save money whilst backpacking the Philippines, well get your haggle game on or expect to be ripped off. Haggling is fun and totally normal in the Philippines, so try it! Every penny helps!

Eat the Street Delicacies: Not only is it delicious, weird and wonderful but it’s damn cheap. Avoid the overpriced tourist restaurants and go where the locals go. If you’re heading off trekking or on a real tight budget, it might be worth packing a backpacking stove. 

Sleep on the Couch: Couchsurfing is taking off in The Philippines and for good reason. It’s freaking awesome! You’ll meet a good bunch of locals who, more often than not, are happy to play tour guide and show you some secret spots! It’s also well worth packing a tent – check out this post for a breakdown of the best tents to take backpacking.

Ride the Jeepneys: One of the cheapest ways to get around the Philippines, especially in the cities. It is also the most fun if you’re on top. Avoid the tourist buses, save your cash and climb aboard!

Pack your bible: Learn how to travel the world on $10 a day whilst you get your shit sorted, discover the secrets to longterm travel and build an online income. Check it out here.

Camp: Take advantage of the warm weather, give camping a go & hang your hammock for the night, cost free!

Pack a travel water bottle  and save money every day! 

 

Volunteering in The Philippines

Long term travel is awesome. Giving back is awesome too. For backpackers looking to travel long-term on a budget in The Philippines whilst making a real impact on local communities, look no further than World Packers. World Packers is an excellent platform connecting travelers with meaningful volunteer positions throughout the world.

In exchange for a few hours of work each day, your room and board are covered.

Backpackers can spend long periods of time volunteering in an awesome place without spending any money. Meaningful life and travel experiences are rooted in stepping out of your comfort zone and into the world of a purposeful project. World Packers opens the doors for work opportunities in hostels, homestays, NGOs and eco-projects around the world. Broke Backpacker readers get a special discount of $20 – just use this discount code BROKEBACKPACKERand membership is discounted from $49 a year to $29.

 

Travel The Philippines for Free

Are you a native English speaker looking to earn cash whilst traveling the world? Teaching English online is a great way to earn a consistent income—from anywhere in the world with a good internet connection. Depending on your qualifications (or your motivation to obtain qualifications like a TEFL certificate) you can teach English remotely from your laptop, save some cash for your next adventure, and make a positive impact on the world by improving another person’s language skills! It’s a win-win! Check out this detailed article for everything you need to know to start teaching English online.

In addition to giving you the qualifications to teach English online, TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.

Broke Backpacker readers get a 35% discount on TEFL courses with MyTEFL (simply enter the code BACKPKR), to find out more, please read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.

Whether you are keen to teach English online or looking to take your teaching game a step further by finding a job teaching English in a foreign country, getting your TEFL certificate is absolutely a step in the right direction.

 

Internet in the Philippines

Free wi-fi isn’t as common and when you do find free w-fi expect it to be pretty slow. Many of the remote islands will not have any service, so enjoy this time to unwind and unplug!

backpacking the philippines

The diving in the Philippines is phenomenal!

 

Must Try Experiences in The Philippines

People in The Philippines

The Filipino people are some of the warmest, friendliest, and generous people I’ve met on my travels. They are always keen to find out where you’re from and going, offering to show you the way and helping you haggle the best price; all with a smile on their faces. It’s not a surprise to be invited out for a beer, back for some local delicacies, or even a place to stay! Embrace it: you’ll meet some incredible friends, be taken to some wicked hidden spots and shown how to party local style!

backpacking the philippines

The Filipino people are awesome, the kids are hilarious! 

 

Food in The Philippines

The Philippines has an awesome selection of Street food; from the damn delicious to the slightly weird, there is something for everyone. The food in the Philippines is influenced from Spanish, Chinese and Malay recipes so expect a good mix of East meets West.

So what to try when wandering the streets and spoiled for choice? Let me tell you my favourite delicacies I tried while backpacking the Philippines…

Chicken Adobo: Basically beautifully marinated Chicken or Pork in Soya Sauce and Vinegar. Seriously, delicious and so simple. Perfect on its own or with some noodles.

Kare Kare: Kare Kare is famous throughout the whole country because it is SO delicious. If you’re missing the curries from Asia grab this dish! Basically, oxtail and ox tripes stew with lots of vegetables, flavoured with ground roasted peanuts or peanut butter, onions and garlic…. Mmmm.

Kinilaw: Sushi lovers, rejoice! I was skeptical trying raw food from the street, but wow! The raw fish salad is served in an acidic juice, usually kalamansi and vinegar, which “cooks” the meat.

Paksiw Na Lechon: Lechon means ‘suckling pig’ in Spanish and is literally a whole pig roasted over charcoal for many hours for special occasions… This is considered the national dish of the Philippines so basically, a must try when backpacking the Philippines.

Tapsilog:  Missing your English cooked brekkies? This is the next best thing. Cured beef, fried rice and a fried egg, great to have after a boozy island hopping trip!

Fresh Lumpia: Ever wondered what a spring roll crossed with a burrito would taste like? Well wonder no more! Filled with meat, lettuce, carrots, peanuts and even some coconut in there. Have it fresh or try the deep fried version – even more awesome.

Chicharon: Deep fried pork skin or as I call them; The Doritos of The Philippines. Bags of these are opened and shared around when kicking back and relaxing, served with dips you now just need a good smoke or movie…

backpacking the philippines

For Filipino cooking classes, check out this site for awesome deals.

Festivals in the Philippines

Ati-Atihan Festival: 3rd weekend of January in Kalibo, Aklan, this is one of the oldest religious celebrations in the country. Ati-Atihan is characterized by a parade filled with face-paint, indigenous costumes and dance

MassKara Festival: Basically Masskara Festival is a giant masquerade party with Latin-inspired drumbeats, and intricate costumes, as well as sports events, concerts and a beauty pageant. Of course, participating in this event is also an opportunity for you to sample the most luscious delicacies that the city has to offer.

Moriones Festival: Marinduque’s week-long Holy Week celebration combines Catholic pageantry with folk mysticism. During the festival, the centurion’s story will be reenacted in a theatrical play that’s staged by the locals.

Giant Lantern Festival: San Fernando’s Giant Lantern Festival is a Christmas contest with giant bright lanterns. San Fernando has been fondly nicknamed as the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines.”

 

Diving in the Philippines

There are endless options for diving in the Philippines, but many of the best dive sites have already been mentioned in this guide, and are included on all of the Philippines itineraries!

In the Palawan Region you have Coron Island, which has some of the best wreck dives in the world. Barracuda Lake in Coron Island is a great fresh-water site with alien like underwater landscapes and legends of a monster-sized barracuda. Near Coron you can reach Apo Island by boat, a well-protected marine sanctuary and one of the best dive sites in the world.

Tubbataha Reef National Park in the Sulu Sea, Palawan is a national park with over 600 fish species, 360 coral species, 11 shark species, and 13 dolphin and whale species.

Puerto Galera in Mindoro – not too far from Palawan – has over 40 dive sites for all levels. Sabang is where the hardcore diving community and Long Beach is the easy-going beach culture.

Monad Shoal in Malapascua, Cebu is famous for the elegant, oddly-shaped thresher sharks that breach the waters off the island.

You can snorkel with whale sharks in Donsul, and also dive “the Manta Bowl,” famous for the majestic manta rays.

 

Scuba Diving The Philippines on a Liveaboard Trip

With so much epic diving to be had in the Philippines, why not take your love of diving up a notch?

Consider joining a Liveaboard trip in the Philippines!

Explore dive sites you never new existed, day after day. Eat delicious food, scuba dive, and spend you nights chilling out with other die-hard divers!

If diving inspires you, then I am sure you will love joining a Liveaboard trip!

scuba diving in the Philippines

There is epic diving to be had on a Liveaboard trip in the Philippines!

 

Surfing in the Philippines

There are quite a few islands that offer excellent surf, whether you are an expert or just learning. Check out this surf guide for more inspiration!

 

Trekking in the Philippines

There are endless trekking options in the Philippines: remote hill hikes and active volcanoes, gentle strolls, an multi-day backpacking trips. Some popular trekks include Cordillera and its rice terraces + Mt. Pulag. Not too far from here you can reach Sagada and hike in the hills.

Bohol and the Chocolate Hills are a great place to trek as well.

The Philippines is home to 25 active volcanoes that can be climbed to the summit. The best time to climb volcanoes is between March and June. Mt Mayon is one of the most popular and rewarding volcanoe climbs. Mt Pinatubo has a serene crater lake in the middle. Mt Apo has the highest peak at 2,954m. Mt Isarog will take you through jungles and waterfalls. Mt Guiting-Guiting is a streneous 10 hour trek to the top, and Mt Kanlaon is the largest active volcano.

Kibungan Circuit is a three-mountain circuit in the town of Kibungan in Benguet. The circuit, which takes anywhere from two to three days to complete, spans across the mountains of Tagpaya, Oten, and Tagpew.Rock Climbing in the Philippines

trekking in the philippines

Crater Lake in the Philippines.

 

Rock Climbing in the Philippines

There are numerous places to rock climb in the Philippines and for all levels. Some of the most popular places to climb include:

Cantabaco and Poog on Cebu, the region of Sagada, sport climbing in Wawa in Montalban, Rizal, and a rural village on the foothills of the Sierra Madre near Manila. Luzon and the Visayas have plenty of options too. Check out Mountain Project for more information on rock climbing in the Philippines!

 

Brief History on the Philippines

The Philippines was originally inhabited by hunter-gatherers. The Spanish explorer, Magellan, claimed the islands for Spain in the 1520s.

Spanish conquistadors created a feudal system in the Philippines, and Spaniards owned vast estates worked by Filipinos. They also converted the Filipinos to Catholicism. You’ll see much of this influence in the Philippines today.

In 1898 came war between the USA and Spain. The USA colonized the Philippines, though after WWII the Philippines became an independent country. Many 20th century Presidents are known for running dictatorships, but poverty and education levels have been improving in the 21st century.

Be aware, however, that the Philippines current President, Duterte, is yet another dictator known for his tough war on drugs, where thousands of people are dying.

River and Palm Trees in the Philippines

River and Palm Trees in the Philippines

 

Being a Responsible Backpacker in The Philippines

Writing your name in black marker on temples, chugging beer while shirtless, swearing loudly and visiting unethical animal attractions? You Sir, are a twat. Luckily, most backpackers don’t fall into this category but, when you’re out and about and have had a few too many drinks, it can be easy to embarrass yourself.

Wear a helmet when you hop on a motorbike in Asia. Despite being an experienced driver, I’ve had a total of three crashes in South East Asia over the last ten years. On the one occasion, I wasn’t wearing a helmet, I split my head open and had to go to the hospital. It was an expensive mistake. The local people are sick of scraping foreigners off the road and, trust me, you don’t look cool for not wearing a helmet.

Humans are humans; treat people you meet along the way with the same respect you would show your friends and family back home. You are not superior to anyone including the girls/guys walking the streets.

Go to Asia and have the time of your life, do the things you’ve dreamed of but be respectful along the way. Travelling the world makes you an ambassador for your country, which is awesome. We can make a positive impact on people when we travel and get rid of any ugly stereotypes that may be associated with your country…

Reduce your plastic footprint: Perhaps the best thing you can do for our planet is to make sure you do NOT add to the plastic problem all over the world. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, the plastic ends up in landfill or in the ocean. Instead, pack a tough and cool travel water bottle. For every Active Roots water bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an awesome initiative aimed at educating people on the risk of single use plastic and helping to clean up our oceans. Help save the planet, pick up a water bottle here. 

Check out our post on how to be a responsible backpacker.

So there you have it amigos, everything you need to know to hit the road and begin backpacking The Philippines, so get out there already.

Got more to add to the guide? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Want to learn how to travel the world on $10 a day? Check out the Broke Backpacker’s Bible…

Yay for transparency! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation, buy a book or sort your insurance, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only link to stuff I’ve actually used and never endorse crap. Your support helps me keep the site going.”


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Discover this amazing island nation known for its beaches, lagoons, and adventure! Backpacking the Philippines is easy with this in-depth backpacking travel guide, updated for 2018! We've put together detailed itineraries and off the beaten path adventures, travel tips, costs, diving, and more!

26 Comments

  • I’m back to check out another post of yours about the Philippines! And wow! This is very accurate, you really did great in taking note of the expenses and things to do. I myself haven’t really been good in budgeting when it comes to travelling, and I think you do better than me. lol. Thanks again for sharing! Hope to bump into you when you come back in our country!

  • Romer says:

    Hey Will,

    When are you coming back to Philippines?
    Leave a message on my IG “imromer” if you will visit again and I will show you the other side of the Philippines… The province Ilo-Ilo in Visayas region.
    Try to check in google “Gigantes Island” it was a heck of a place 🙂

  • Carmen B says:

    Awesome post!
    We backpacked in the Philippines and fell in love 🙂
    Our favorites were hiking in the Ifugao rice terraces and wreck diving in Coron.
    Check out our blog for more inspiration and tips:
    http://bonatravels.com/2015/01/09/country-summary-philippines/

  • Aarav says:

    I have spent some amazing time in Philippines last summers. The nature is beautiful, there are lots of interesting activities like kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, yacht trips etc. Luckily I found a cheap flight to Philippines which saved a lot of cost.

  • I’m anticipating falling deeply in love with the Philippines when I go next year. Luckily I have no time restraint. I’ve got Borocay, Palawan and Cebu on my hit list. I think this would be an incredible country to teach in. Thank you for the advice.

  • RyanTibay says:

    Hi Will,

    Interesting article about the Philippines, on thing though and a fair warning for backpackers eyeing to teach English in the Philippines, it might not be a good idea really. Unlike, other neighboring asian country, the medium of instruction in the Philippines is English and integrated English curriculum for both public and private schools across the country. That being said, the general population do know english and can communicate fairly in english. 🙂

  • Jonas says:

    Great post Will!
    My girlfriend and I have travelled a few times in Thailand, and are really into Koh Tao and north side of koh Phangan (and even Haad Rin off season). We are considering broadening our horizon to either Bali-Flores or Philippines. We are looking for a good combination of possiblity for isolation but also easy going beach bars and time on the town. From reading it seems Bali is over touristed and Philippines very isolated and remote. How do you reckon either of these would satisfy our desires?

    • Will Hatton says:

      Bali is indeed fairly touristey but if you get a motorbike and head out away from the crowds, you can explore. The Philippines is amazing and has something for everyone – totally possible to do some REAL exploring here but there are definitely many places, e.g. El Nido, Coron and (the dreaded) Boracay that are tourist-traps.

  • Lalith says:

    some ideas on 25 day itinerary, spending more time in rural areas . if you could suggest ?.

  • carl rawnsley says:

    hi Will just read your article really interesting I normally travel around Thailand Cambodia and Vietnam planning a trip next year for 3 months can you give some advise on getting off the beaten track in the phillipines I tend to stay away from the touristy places going to fly from ho chi minh to manila thanks

  • Jenna Howe says:

    I really want to backpack Philipines mid July. It’s the only time I have available. I read that its not recommended that time, This will be my first time ever doing something like this. I travel though. Please I need as much help as possible. Or any other suggestions

  • Danjoe says:

    Wow, awesome article about the Philippines. I was browsing for a Siargao Travel Guide and I ended up in your page , written by a foreigner. It is indeed Very informative. Enjoyed reading your article.

    By the way, if you’re travelling again in our couontry, I recommend beach in Pagudpod, Ilocos Norte as well as Vigan (try eating Bagnet), Marcos Museum etc.

  • stephanie says:

    This is such a great guide!
    I hope to visit the Philippines someday soon.
    x

  • Allison Wolf says:

    I love that you visited the Philippines! 🙂 I was there this past September and was surprised there weren’t more tourists.

    Budget wise, I spend about $32/day after purchasing a few domestic flights to get between islands. For a break down of the rest, check out my post here:

    https://www.wolvesandwaterfalls.com/travel-blog/2017/3/7/cost-of-backpacking-the-philippines

  • Teya says:

    Hey Will! Thanks for your awesome post about backpacking in the Philippines! I am a solo female traveller and am considering travelling in November, I’m a little nervous and want to know if you think its easy to make friends to travel with in hostels? I’m also not sure if I should just leave my options open and organise an itinerary once I’m there, or if I should pre-plan a trip before I go? Your advice would be awesome! Teya

    • Will Hatton says:

      I definitely think you will be able to make looooads of friends; stay in dorms and you are bound to meet a good crowd 🙂 I suggest having a lose plan but being flexible, don’t miss Sagada!

  • Chloe says:

    I love scuba diving not only for the adventure, but also for the worderful and unique thing you get to see below the water surface. In the past years I’ve taken a lot of interesting and amazing pictures which I like to store in the https://dive.site logbook, along with all my diving logs.

  • Jamie Cordon says:

    Most detailed and colorful guide about my beloved country the Philippines.You covered literally everything there is when travelling in the country. Best post ever Will! I’m so jealous of your travels around the country. You enjoyed all the best the Philippines can offer. I hope that i could explore my country as much as you did.

  • Sharon says:

    Backpacking The Philippines 2018

    What a great travel guide. Such great info, guidance, and good tips. Will be checking this out after I print it, as I will be traveling soon.

    Cheers Sharon…

  • Llene says:

    What camera did you used? Beautiful pictures and thank you for covering the Philippines <3!!!!!

  • Cebu Tours says:

    Great blog and awesome too! Most detailed and colorful guide about my beloved country the Philippines. You covered literally everything there is when travelling in the country. Thanks for posting this!

  • Hi Will! I could not agree more about the information you put in this article about backpacking here in PH. I’m planning to have more adventures too here in The Philippines.

  • Vera TS says:

    Love your post!
    So much useful info, currently trying to plan my trip for november! really want to hike Mt. Pulag and go to Sagada, Then head down to PP, Port Baron, El Nido and Coron. Is it possible to go from sagada to Palawan without going back down to Manila? Is there any aiports around sagada?
    And do you think this kind of itinerary is doable in three weeks without ruching it to much?
    Thank you so much for giving out this post, it’s gold!

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