The Ultimate Guide to the Philippines

A paradise beyond compare! Undoubtedly, a visit to the Philippines will catch any traveler in bewilderment. The picturesque beauty of traditional and contemporary culture, a concoction of prosaic and amazing traits, as well as the unique fusion of the oriental and occidental makes the Philippines a paradise in the southeast. The enormous sights all over the archipelago are distinct. The islands are like pearls of utmost brilliance, irresistible food, and incredible experience of the traditions and its people.

Fish sanctuary in Guimaras surrounded by beautiful islets.
Fish sanctuary in Guimaras surrounded by beautiful islets. Photo by Ian Delgado

Hospitality is the greatest trait that makes Filipino people eminent in this part of the world. Their captivating smiles resemble an enviably positive outlook in life. Filipinos are passionate, romantic and are vulnerable to the insanities of love. However, they are tough resilient to the peak and troughs of life. The locals are extraordinarily helpful. Fervor and benevolence are naturally deep-rooted in their bloodline. Having a strong inclination to culture and tradition Filipinos celebrate Fiestas (feasts) vibrantly all year round through festivals.

Philippines is known as Pearl of the Orient within the Southeast Asian region. A democratic country composed of more than 7,100 islands having three major areas Luzon to the north Visayas in the center, Mindanao down south. Manila is its capital. Its culture, have affinities with the West especially Spain and America due to three centuries of colonial rule. The rich culture and tradition of the country reflects the diverse indigenous culture from its many islands. It has a rich history coming from Spanish, European, American and Japanese influence. Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion, being the only Catholic country in Southeast Asia. Filipino is the official language while English is widely spoken all over the country.

Discover the brilliance of the pearl of the orient, relish the dramatic scenery, savor the panoramic sights and experience the warmth of the Filipinos. There are 7100 reasons that makes the Philippines a charming and an ideal destination. Biyahe na!

Geography & Demographics

Manila the capital city is a vivacious heart of fantastic shopping and the most incredible nightlife than the rest of the neighboring countries. Baywalk in Roxas Boulevard and Eastwood Libis, are sights worth seeing. Bookworms and the introverts mingle with celebrities and flashy gays creating a genial outdoor shindig like no other. Music, dance and live performances make it even more exciting toting up the warmth and thrill of the evening.

For beach aficionados, Philippines is a fun getaway, the pristine white sand beaches of Boracay, the invigorating scene at El Nido, as well as the first rate scuba diving paradise of Palawan and surfing in Siargao, and the world-class Amanpulo are some few of the rest of the 7000 zany islands you ought to see, explore and discover. Aquamarine life is of no comparison, a dwelling to a variety of fishes, like the manta ray, and the rarest marine mammal. An abode to some exotic animals, like tarsier the smallest primates in the world, the world's smallest hoofed mammal - Philippine mouse deer, and the Philippine Eagle.

Philippines is a tropical country. March to May is hot and dry season, June to October is rainy while November to February are the coolest months of the year. Temperature ranges from 78oF(25oC) to 90oF(32oC). In the recent years, the country experienced El nino and La nina phenomena, where prolonged rainy season and drought have had happened. 

People and Culture

Filipinos are the inhabitants of the Republic of the Philippines. Colloquially Filipinos refer themselves as Pinoy (male Filipino) or Pinay (female Filipino). Filipinos are known for their hospitality, patience and talent as well as having a rich culture and tradition due to foreign influences of Spanish and Americans.

Language

Filipino is the national language of the Philippines. Tagalog is interchangeably used with the term Filipino referring to the official language. Most of the Filipinos know how to speak English making it a second language. Filipino as a national language is a varietal speech due to absorbed words from other native languages from the islands. English is widely used in the Philippines, the medium of instruction in schools is English. Signboards, advertisements, corporate and government communication, newspapers, magazines, television shows, and radio stations practically all use English more than Tagalog.

There are a lot of ways to learn the Filipino language. There are countless English-Tagalog Dictionaries that you can buy as well as computer software programs. You can also try speaking or talking with a Filipino to learn the local dialect, as most Filipinos are delighted to help foreigners learn their language. For Spanish speakers, it will not be that difficult to learn Filipino dialects, as many dialects are heavily influenced by the Spanish culture due to over three centuries of colonial rule. 

Etiquette

Hiya or shame is one of the utmost traits of the Filipinos that dictates behavior. Thus, etiquette is something that any traveler must bear in mind.

For parties, arriving 15-20 minutes late is commonly known as "Filipino time". But for business being on time is a priority. Follow dress codes, and groom yourself, you will be judged on how you dress at events. Give a pleasant greeting to the host and the hostess and always give compliments, as they will boost the hostess' pride.

In dining, wait to be asked several times before helping yourself to food or moving to the dining room. Wait until the host tells you where to take your seat. Spoon and fork are the basic utensils used in dining. Take the fork to your left hand to guide food to the spoon in your right hand. You can leave some food in your plate or finish everything it does not really matter in the Filipino custom.

In gratitude of an invitation to a home or after returning from a trip, Filipinos appreciate guests bringing a fruit basket or any type of food, which is called pasalubong. Filipinos value traditional gentleman’s gestures. Most Filipino men will give up their seats to a woman or help a woman carry heavy things without being asked. It is also customary for men to assist women in climbing up a ladder, coming down a staircase, or other similar tasks and activities.

For wake and funerals, never wear loud colors especially red. Wear black or white as a sign of sympathy to the bereaved family. Never say goodbye to the family of the deceased as it is seen as bad luck and almost a curse that they will be the next to die.

Filipinos give so much note on formal introductions. Older folks are usually introduced to younger people first. Males are introduced to females first. Introduce a group to an individual first as the individual is not expected to remember all the names at first introduction. Failing to make introduction is a big NO-NO!

Gestures

To recognize an elder's presence, a younger person may take the elder's hand (usually someone at least 15 years older), bring it to forehead and then release it. This gesture is locally known as pagmamano.This is a common gesture of respect to parents, relatives, and older folks.

Respect can also be shown through verbal form. It is common to hear young people use the expression “po” and “opo” to agree with or answer to their elders. The expression can also be used in phrases to show utmost respect or cordialness in service transactions.

In attending religious activities, wearing tight fit or sexy clothing is a big NO. Whenever Catholic Filipinos pass through churches along the road, they will customarily do the sign of the cross.

Speaking vulgar words in front of peers or elders is seen as socially unacceptable. Language choice and topic of conversation is very important to keep in mind in different settings and among different age groups.

Currency Information

The official currency of the Philippines is the Philippine peso or locally known as Piso ng Pilipinas (in Filipino language). Major credit cards and debit cards are accepted, especially in the major cities of the Philippines. ATM machines are available 24 hours Monday to Sunday. ATM machines are typically available in malls and downtown areas. It is encouraged to always bring Philippine pesos whenever you are traveling in the Philippines, just in case it isn’t possible to exchange your foreign currency or withdraw additional funds.

Food

A Filipino ordinarily eats three main meals, Breakfast (Almusal), Lunch (Tanghalian), and Dinner (Hapunan), and also an Afternoon snack (Merienda). Rice is a main staple for all meals, and it is said that Filipino men cannot afford to eat any meal without rice.

The Filipino cuisine has a distinct and exquisite taste that has evolved over generations with Spanish, American, Mexican, European, and Chinese influences. Aside from foreign influences, local Filipino delicacies are in and of themselves quite unique. Emphasizing the tastes of spices such as garlic, onion, pepper, and ginger in most dishes. Five unique, common Filipino delicacies are listed below:

Balut - a fertilized duck egg allowed to develop until the embryo reach a pre-determined size to be boiled. The price range from 7 to 10 pesos.

Biko - a native sweet rice Filipino delicacy creamed with coconut, sugar and butter.

Isaw - These are grilled chicken intestines. Its considered a street food.

Leche flan - An all-time favorite dessert. Caramel custard made with eggs and milk.

Puto - Multi-colored and white sweet steamed rice muffins. Usually served with cheese slices on top.

Religion

The Philippines is the only catholic country in the Southeast Asia. Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion in the country, with over 90 percent of the country considering themselves Catholic. In the southern region of the Philippines, in Mindanao, individuals are predominantly Muslim and practice the beliefs of Islam.

Holidays and Festivals

Since the Philippines is predominantly inhabited by Catholics, locals typcally observe holidays such as Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Black Saturday. Apart from traditional Catholic holidays, Muslim Filipinos also observe holiday traditions on the last day of Ramadan (locally known as Wakas ng Ramadan). Throughout the nation, Filipinos celebrate their religion with true affinity to the Spanish influence, celebrating fiestas year round with festivals for various patron saints. 

Pastimes & Things to Do

Music

The Philippines popular music is a combination of quite a number of influences that the country has had over time. Filipinos are mostly in love with music, culture, and the arts in general. You will hear people singing while taking a bath, while cooking, while doing household chores, and even more so during free time. Filipino families usually spend their leisure time singing karaoke, otherwise known as videoke.

The country has a wide array of music genres that pop up on the radio, from classical to modern, name it and the Filipinos definitely sing it. This love for music has paved the way for Filipinos to be known around the globe. Great artists Leah Salonga, Billy Joe Crawford, Bruno Mars, and American Idol finalist Jasmine Trias are all Filipinos who have made it in the International Music scene.

Dance

Dance in the Philippines is significantly inspired by its rich tradition and culture. Tinikling is tagged as the Philippine National dance. The dance originated from one of the island of the Philippines named Leyte describing the fast and graceful movements of Tikling birds ordinarily existent in the island. The dance consists of at least one team of two people hitting two parallel bamboo poles on the floor, raising them slightly, then clapping the poles against each other near the ground with a rhythm. Meanwhile, at least one dancer leaps over and around the clashing poles.

Other than that you will be surprised of how creative, unique and beautiful Philippine Dances are. Though most of the Folk Dances are influenced by Europeans, Filipinos still take pride in their cultural roots by emphasizing ethnic or traditional dances whenever possible. The various festivals celebrated throughout the Islands foster a good venue to present and emphasize Philippine culture and tradition through Dance.

Sports

The most common sports played in the Philippines, which have gained much popularity in the past 100 years, are basketball and boxing. On almost every corner in the Philippines and in every barangay you will find a basketball court. It has become a favorite pastime of Filipino men. Boxing has also gained much attention from Filipinos, due to famous Filipino boxers like "Flash Elorde and Manny "Pacman" Paquiao. Other than that, badminton and volleyball are also commonly loved among young people in the Philippines, and occasionally golf and tennis as well.

The Philippines also has its own set of traditional games, such as "Laro ng Lahi" and an interesting game called "Palosebo," where participants race to get a flaglet from a tall bamboo post with oil spread all over it. There are a lot of fun games played during fiestas or other celebrations as well.

Nightlife

Night life in the Philippines is definitely a bash! No matter what region or city you go to , there is always a great place to hang out, have fun, sing, and dance all night long. Filipinos are fun-loving people, so it may be an ordinary weeknight or a weekend when Filipinos seek a way to relax, unwind, and party.

Transportation

The Philippines has a surprisingly adequate transportation system considering its geographical make up, which makes any island or inter-island as well as international tour possible.

Almost all provinces have airports to cater to inter-island or local flights at a reasonable cost. Also, there are quite a number of Bus lines or bus companies that transports travelers and tourists to the various regions of the country quite easily. Land travel can range from four hours (nearest destination) to 24 hours depending on the destination and starting point. The Philippines has an extensive public transport service as well as national highway systems, which connect all the major islands of the Philippines.

Railway

Travel in major cities can also be done through the country's land railway system like the Metrotren, Light Railway Transit (LRT), Metro Railway Transit (MRT) a good alternative for jeepneys and also to avoid congested traffic on roads in big cities.

Taxis

Taxi is the best transportation for touring around a city, especially Manila. With a flag-down rate of Php 40 to 70 pesos, taxis can take you to any point in Manila and in nearby cities.

Sea Travel

The Philippines is composed of 7,100 islands split mostly of expanse of water, thus, sea travel is prevalent. There are a lot of Seafarers in the country. It range from the most common bangka or baluto, small ferry boats, cargo ships, regular ship lines and major cruise lines that give any traveler the convenience of an inter-island tour. Mostly, sea travel lasts for 24 or 48 hours depending on the extent to which the traveler would traverse. The Barko, otherwise known as a ferry boat, is an essential cog in the transportation infrastructure of the Philippines.

Jeepney

Jeepneys are the most basic form of transportation in all major cities and provinces all over the Philippines. At present it is considered as an emblem of national esteem because Jeepneys can be found ONLY IN THE PHILIPPINES. They are a unique Philippine invention built from ingenuity and scrap metal. The Americans left the islands following WWII, they left behind military hardware including a large inventory of jeeps. The local population customized the jeeps, extending the bed to accommodate passengers, covering the bed to keep the customers dry during typhoon season, and adding some color and flare that are typical of the Philippine culture.

Today's jeepneys are a hybrid: part Latin American bus, part practical transportation. Jeepney owners compete for the flashiest vehicle, ornamenting their jeepney with multiple stainless steel hood ornaments, fluorescent detailing, and art work that may include: women, Catholic Saints, and pop culture (Michael Jordan being a popular jeepney logo). Jeepney owners have recently incorporated concert capable sound systems and light shows that make their cabs look more like mobile concerts.

The jeepney is a very efficient mode of transportation. Each jeepney has a designated route which it circles continuously throughout the day. The route is designated either in a sign board in the front window or in a marquee in the front of the jeepney. Standing along the road and hailing a jeepney with a raised hand is enough to stop the vehicle and catch a ride.

Short routes cost as little as eight pesos, while longer routes are more expensive, sometimes up to 50 pesos. Clicking a coin on the jeepney is a signal for the jeepney driver to stop ever so briefly so that you can jump out. When the two outside seating benches have filled in a jeepney, makeshift stools will accommodate passengers in the aisle, when the aisle is full passengers will sit with the driver in the cab, and when these seating resources are exhausted, passengers will take a seat on the top of the jeepney (though illegal) or hang from the tail bumper. The jeepney ride is a positively Filipino experience!

Tricycle

Tricycles are an efficient mode of transportation in the Philippines. The motorcycles are customized with a sidecar which is capable of accommodating up to four passengers. The motorcycle seat is often extended with a cushioned board to take additional passengers. Women typically ride side saddle on this seat. Depending on the your locale and the speeds of the Motorcycle cab this can be a dangerous endeavor, but also very convenient. Unlike the jeepney, the motorcycle cab will take you directly to your destination and drop you off at the door.

Pedicab

The Pedicab is a three wheeled bicycle with a covered rear seat for customers. Like a bicycle rickshaw, this form of transportation is powered by human pedal power. Pedicabs are particularly welcomed on a hot day when the jeepney drops you blocks from your destination. Along with the jeepney and the motorcycle cab, the open air of the the pedicab provides pleasant relief from the heat for passengers. As the least expensive form of transportation in the islands, pedicab fares range from 10 peso to 30 pesos. Pedicab driving may be one of the most difficult occupations in the world, drivers are often ill due to exposure to the elements and alternating weather patterns and purely exhausting work.

Health and Safety

Health and safety is the foremost concern of any traveler. Regardless of the country you'll go to, it is a must that this be at the top of your checklist.

Medical Facilities

Commonly in the metropolitan cities of the Philippines, modern medical facilities are adequate to meet health care needs, however, in cases where you will study or go to a rural or provincial area, it must be expected that it is not as good as what you think it would be. Being in the third world country, it hardly receives enough medical supplies, assistance and facilities from the government. Yet, there are private hospitals in most of the provinces where you can avail of better medical services, you just have to pay a higher rate.

Ironically, in some parts of the archipelago, some Filipinos believe in local, natural healing methods. Certain older individuals tend to prescribe leaves and herbs as an alternative to pharmaceutical medicines. Also, other people subscribe to faith healers, whom they believe to have a gift from a supreme being capable of healing their illness as opposed to the practice of medical doctors.

Vaccinations

Travelers should check the CDC Website for updates on required vaccinations for travel in the Philippines. Generally if visitors are up to date on tetanus shots, come prepared with general antibiotics for things like traveler’s diarrhea, wear bug spray, and avoid drinking tap water, they can maintain good health quite easily.

Crime

The Philippines has its fair share of felonies. Purse snatching, pick-pockets, and fare fraud usually happen at the market, shopping malls, crowded places, and unfortunately even in church. Also, encounters with corrupt policemen as well as insistent beggars are regular episodes in the Philippines daily. Travelers anywhere in the country must take precautions.

Women travelers are strongly advised not to take fun or long walks at night alone. Do not let yourself be caught into an uncomfortable setting. You must be extremely careful in going to places, traveling, and even riding in vehicles alone at night. 

Passport and Visa

Except for stateless persons and those countries with which the Philippines has no diplomatic relations, all travelers either for business or tourism purposes with valid passports may enter the country without visas and may stay for 30 days provided they have tickets for onward journey.

Visit GoAbroad.com's Philippines Embassy Directory to find an embassy or consulate in your home country where you can learn more information.

Traveling Advice for Specific Populations

LGBT and Travel

Philippines is very open to homosexuality, despite its majority Catholic population. LGBT individuals will have no problems finding accommodations, stores, and restaurants that welcome them in with open arms and non-discriminating glances. There are organizations established to maintain the protection of gay and lesbians in the Philippines, proving that Filipinos have embraced this alternative way of life in an open-minded way.

Minorities and Travel

Any traveler must avoid traveling to the southern part of the Philippines Mindanao for safety and security. The reason is that, some ethnic groups or minorities are having anti-government activities that might be too risky for any traveler. On the other hand, there is no such law in the Philippines banning anyone to visit the country even for minority groups.

Traveling with Disabilities

The Philippines government made certain provisions for public facilities, and commercial buildings to extend for the handicapped clients, customers and even tourists. Travelers with disabilities are given special travel packages by hotels and travel agencies. Certain Airlines in the Philippines provide wheelchairs and other services for such kind of travelers. The only difficult part for travelers with disability will be transportation due to limited transportation services that can accommodate people on wheelchair.

Travel Programs in the Philippines

To learn about teaching in the Philippines or to view teaching positions check out GoAbroad.com's Teach Abroad Directory for the Philippines. Or check out the TEFL Certification Directory, to learn about earning your TEFL Certificate in the Philippines.

If you are interested in studying in the Philippines, search GoAbroad.com's Directory for Study Abroad in the Philippines.

To find out what type of volunteer opportunities are available in the Philippines, check out GoAbroad.com's Volunteer Directory for the Philippines.

To learn about available internships in the Philippines and what it is like to intern in the Philippines check our GoAbroad.com’s Internship Directory.

If you are interested in getting a Job in the Philippines check out GoAbroad.com’s Directory of Jobs in the Philippines.

Ready for Adventure? Check out GoAbroad’s Directory of Adventure Travel Programs in the Philippines.

Check out GoAbroad’s Language Study Directory for the Philippines to expand your language skills.

Are you a High School Student? Check out GoAbroad’s High School Specific Program Opportunities.