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Banaue Rice Terraces | © Andrew and Annemarie/Flickr
Banaue Rice Terraces | © Andrew and Annemarie/Flickr
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12 Things to Know Before Visiting the Philippines

Picture of Katrina Escalona
Updated: 20 June 2017
As many travelers flock to the Philippines, as to its Southeast Asian neighbors, for a taste of the “exotic”. As enticing as this is, it also entails some unfamiliarities that may catch foreigners off guard. Read on and be prepared for your next exotic getaway with these 12 tips and tricks for travels to The Pearl of the Orient Seas.

Brace yourself for the heat and humidity

This is usually the first thing that greets visitors upon stepping out the airport. It’s hot – very hot; and it’s humid – very humid. Note that this is very different from dry heat. Humidity makes the air thicker, making it seem harder to breathe if you’re not used to it, and the temperature feels hotter than it is. Sweat also takes longer to evaporate which only adds to the heat instead of cooling you down. So keep this in mind and dress accordingly. In this weather, light and loose clothes will be your best friend.

Woman with Umbrella
Woman with Umbrella | © Jerry Martin/Pixabay

Know which season your trip falls on

Being a tropical country, the Philippines only has two seasons: wet and dry. Technically, the dry season stretches from around November to May, and the rainy season, from June to October. However, the weather has been changing in recent years, so the beginning and end of either season shifts slightly from year to year. It is also important to know that the country regularly experiences typhoons. So stay current on Philippine weather reports on the weeks approaching your trip. That said, another factor to consider is that the Philippines is an archipelago made up of over 7,000 islands, and the weather from island to island may vary greatly. So while a part of the country might be enduring thunderstorms, it could be bright and sunny in another.

Coron, Palawan
Coron, Palawan | © Dahon/Flickr

Be App-quipped

Transport apps can be absolute lifesavers for anyone spending time in grand Metro Manila. The bustling area of Metropolitan Manila can be downright chaotic especially to visitors who aren’t used to confusing public transport and extremely heavy traffic. Three helpful apps many locals have on their phones are Uber, GrabCar, and Waze. The first two are car-booking apps which generally cost a bit more than regular taxi cabs, but are considered safer, while Waze is a navigation app that directs motorists to the best possible route to their destination, taking current road traffic into account.

Ask about local public transport

While app-booked cars are highly efficient in Metro Manila, smaller provinces usually have their own public transport system. Some cities are small enough for locals to get around by tricycle, jeepney, or multicab (all adapted English words referring to Filipino public transport vehicles) at very economical prices. So upon arriving at a new place, ask around for the best mode of transport in that area and know the approximate cost of a trip to avoid being overcharged.

Jeepney and Tricycle
Jeepney and Tricycle | © Mekong/Flickr

Keep pocket change

This will be useful for those traveling to smaller provinces or islands where public transport is cheap and goods are bought at sari-sari stores (small convenience stores where items are sold per piece instead of in packs). It’s highly unlikely for a tricycle driver to have change for a thousand peso bill or even 500, so make sure you always have at least a 50 on hand.

Peso Change
Peso Change | © Florante Valdez

Tip your servers

The Philippines is a country that provides cheap service so tipping is common practice. At restaurants, it’s customary to leave 10-15% of your final bill, unless service charge is included, in which case, less is fine. The 10% rule also works for salons and spas. It’s also common to round up a cab fare, giving a hundred peso bill for a 90-peso trip, for example (for app-booked cars such as Uber and Grabcar, however, the exact amount is usually given). When in doubt, simply tip according to service satisfaction. While waiters, masseuses, or tour guides won’t take offence in not receiving a tip, remember, those in this line of work in the Philippines generally earn minimum wage, so a little definitely goes a long way.

Know where you want to go

Being an archipelago, the most efficient mode of cross-province travel is by air. But even in a cheaper country like the Philippines, flights, especially those to the most popular tourist destinations, can still put a dent in a traveler’s budget. So keep an eye out for airline promos (the cheapest local airlines are AirAsia and Cebu Pacific) and try to book tickets as early as possible. So it will help to know in advance which places you want to visit, to be able to get your hands on those early-bird-priced tickets. This is especially important for trips that fall on the country’s peak seasons like the Christmas and Easter holidays.

Interact with the Locals

Filipinos are a happy and hospitable people. They welcome visitors with open arms and they like seeing travellers enjoy their country. So don’t be afraid to ask or speak to a local. They delight in being able to help. This is also the best way to see each city from more than a bird’s eye view. Show interest in where the locals go and in what they enjoy, and truly immerse yourself in the Filipino experience.

Kids Playing in River
Kids Playing in River | © Shiraishitatsuya727/Pixabay

Be pleasant

In addition to being a happy and hospitable bunch, the Filipinos can be a rather conservative and timid people, especially those from smaller provinces. They will seem shy on initial interactions and they avoid confrontation as much as possible. So when communicating with locals, be more amiable and less assertive.

Filipino Time

Filipinos are notorious for arriving late to any social gathering. In their defense, they hold that they aren’t late; they’re simply running on “Filipino time”. This rather accurate, long-running joke implies that when a Filipino schedules an event for, say, 9 o’clock, the understanding is that it will actually begin, at the very earliest, 15 minutes past the hour. So consider this when making plans with a Filipino because chances are, he’s not going to make it there “on time”.

Food, food, food

Filipinos love their food. It’s no exaggeration that Filipinos normally eat five meals a day – three big ones (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and two small ones (merienda or light snacks in between big meals). So come with a big appetite. Food is an important part of the Filipino life, so an openness to trying new and different things – from boiled developing chick embryos to a sizzling plate of chopped up pig’s face – will be vital if you’re determined to have the complete Filipino experience. Don’t be surprised if instead of a “hello”, a Filipino greets you with a “have you eaten yet?”

Each province is different

The many islands in the Philippines are divided into over 80 different provinces and it would be the biggest mistake to assume that all these islands were basically the same. Due to geography, Filipinos are historically regionalistic. It wasn’t until the 19th century that people began nationalistic movements for a more united Philippines. But still today, the distinctness among provinces manifests in aspects like spoken dialects and food. So when traveling to the Philippines, make an effort to experience as many of its facets as doable, because it’s a hugely diverse country that begs to be discovered.

Bonus Tip: Savor a Philippine Mango

This may not save a life but it sure will make one a whole lot better. Filipinos are very proud of their bright yellow, sweet and juicy national fruit – and for good reason. Devour a Philippine Mango any chance you get because you can’t get them like this anywhere else.

Philippine Mango
Philippine Mango | © April Kim/Pixabay