♦Currency: Piso (PHP)
♦Zone: +8 GMT
♦Phone Code: +63
♦Best time to visit: Dec-Feb
♦Must eat: Adobo (Braised Pork)
♦Must drink: Tropical Juices
♦Don't miss: A Jeepney ride!
♦Number of times visited: 3
Getting there and transportation: As the Philippines are a combination of islands located in the Pacific Ocean it makes perfect sense to choose to travel there by plane. Manila, it's capital,and Cebu are the main gateways to get into the country.
Travelling to the Philippines from overseas is much easier now, the airport has been modernised and its main airline, Philippine Airlines, is now allowed to fly back to Europe after an absence of many years due to security concerns. However now it's ratings have gone up and it's among the safest airlines with friendly crew and modern planes.
You can also fly to the capital with many international airlines, predominantly Asian airlines and from the Gulf,but also many European and American carries.
Domestically once you are there, it's still very popular to travel by air. Airlines such as Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific or Air Asia offer very good connections.
There is no train network or busses that can take you around the islands. Transport infrastructure is getting better as the years go by and driving within the islands is the best alternative. Car hire is very cheap as well as petrol.
The Jeepney: In the Philippines you will quickly discover this is the favourite mode of transport.It's famous old fashioned look, similar to that of a jeep but with an extended passenger area enough to sit 20 people is a big step back in time for many travellers willing to try it.
Weather and Temperature: Year round The Philippines and it's capital, Manila, enjoys a very hot and humid temperature. The best times to visit are from December to February, during the cooler months, temperatures averaging 27C. Going July to September you will encounter more rain and often strong winds as the area is subject to Typhoons. March to June are the hottest months and temperatures go over 30C with a high humidity factor.
Food and Drink: The Filipino Cuisine, has an interesting mixture between Asian and European dishes, specially the Spanish, as The Philippines was conquered by them. Now the food has evolved,and not only traditional dishes but also can find plenty of influence from different countries such as China, Japan, Korea and the United States.
Some traditional specialities in Manila and the Philippines are: Adobo (Braised pork or chicken in a tangy sauce made from soy, vinegar and garlic) Lechon: (Roasted whole pig, prepared for fiestas and family celebrations), Kare-kare:(An oxtail stew in peanut sauce, Pansit canton:(Chinese-influenced dish of noodles stir fried with meat and vegetables), Sinangag (Garlic-fried rice, a popular local breakfast) Tapa (Delicious dried marinated beefsteak, often fried and served with fried rice and a fried egg, Balut: A par-boiled, fertilised duck’s egg containing a baby chick, served as a beer snack across the archipelago.
Longanisa (Spanish-style sausage, flavoured with local spices; each province has its own recipe).
The most famous drink is the popular locally brewed beer "San Miguel". Its available nationwide. Also spirits like rum are quite common to drink in the Philippines.
Non-alcoholic drinks include the excellent tropical juices found in cafes and restaurants. Even local stalls on the streets can surprise you with local fruits cocktails, milkshakes and juices made with Pineapple, Mango. Vanilla, Banana, Red Berries, Lemon, amongst many more flavours.
Transportation: Manila's public transportation system is far behind from many big Asian cities by comparison to Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala-Lumpur or Taipei. However the city is building up its metro system and now has 3 major lines.
Travelling from the airport is still not possible by metro. However the most resonable transport is to take the Premium Bus Service, recently introduced in 2016, from any terminal to Central Manila. There are 5 lines, but the most popular is the Robinsons line which leaves you in Malate, the last stop being the Robinson's Mall, which is a great location for Hotels, entertainment area and close to the metro station of Pedro Gil. The cost of a one way ticket is 200Php. Trip duration is up to one hour depending on traffic conditions. The bus has an irregular schedule so it's worth checking online for the times at UBE Express.
Another option, not that more expensive and travel faster is by taxi. If you use applications such as Uber or Grab, you can get private taxies costing about 250 Php to your hotel door. Normal taxis will cost round 250 to 400 Php on normal traffic conditions, though be aware they might charge more with luggage. When travelling by taxi from the airport, be sure they switch on the meter. They often charge foreign passengers much higher prices than locals.
Attention!: There are many companies offering private transport service to your hotel as soon as you come out of the arrivals hall. For a set price. (700-1000 Php) they are quite expensive considering the options mentioned above.
Travelling in the city is good by metro or LRT (Light Metro) if you are in walking distance to the stops. The Metro does get very crowded at peak times and very long queues are to be expected. Trains are equipped with air-conditioning but again they get very full at busy times. The feeling of being "packed like sardines" will cross your mind for sure!
If you are able to get the Jeepney, this is a very popular mode of transport and cheap, though not many tourists are able to find the ways to their destination. However in the tourist areas, Malate and Intramuros it's enough to go walking or you can get into a Tuk-Tuk style bike ( one or two passengers with a bike or scooter).
Around Manila there are also busses which connect the different districts, yet again these busses are not easy to tell where they travel to unless travelling with a local, or asking around. It's advised to travel with locals rather than on the busses alone in case of pick-pockets.
Also a fun way to travel in the congested city is by bike, many drivers will often offer you a seat on their bike or scooter. Be sure to negotiate the price before starting the trip and make sure they provide you with a helmet.
Districts: Manila is a huge city, it's divided in many districts. Each of them being very different from the rest and appealing to visit for different reasons.
Intramuros is essentially the old city, the foundations of the city lay here. Manila started as a small town sorrounded by a fortress. Many of Manila's monuments,museums, arquitectural buildings from the conquering era are built inside the fortress walls. As the city expanded you will see many famous buildings even outside the old walls. It's a beautiful area to walk around, also for being safe and quiet as there is a limitation of the traffic which comes inside the city walls.
The following sites and historical buildings are worth seeing:
Fort Santiago, Manila Cathedral, Rizal Monument, San Agustin Church, Plaza de Armas, Casa Manila and Rizal Park (also knows as Luneta park).
Tip: Visit Rizal Park as the sun sets from 8 to 10pm, to watch the fountains come into life offering a light and sound show. Popular Filipino songs are played as well as the latest chart hits!
Accommodation: Hotels are very cheap, and for a budget conscious traveller staying in Manila is worth paying a little more for that extra comfort and convenience. Most recommended locations to stay are Intramuros and Malate which are in the heart of the tourism and entertainment areas.
Hotels range from basic 1 star to top chains, but be sure to check the reviews of the hotel as often it seems that Hotels in Manila are not renovated enough and are in a bad condition. Having Wifi in the room can be difficult if you choose very basic hotels (even they say they offer Wifi).
Noise can also be a problem staying in Manila, try to stay away from main streets, ground floors or facing any local hen farms.
Regarding safety, Hotels and accommodations in Manila often have a security guard day and night, but its not advised leaving personal belongings around in the room. (keep them locked up in your case or in a safe).
Suggestions: Staying in Manila a few days would be enough to see the basic sites of the old city and explore around Intramuros. However its very recommended you take a few tours out of the city. Tours are possible from your hotel often or from local street travel agencies. (cheaper than buying online).
If you are travelling solo, tours are much more expensive unfortunately, so try to join with more people and prices will drop considerably.
The best tours and places to check out are:
Tagatay and Taal Volcano: About 2 hours away from Manila, spectacular views, crossing a lake by bamboo boat, a Donkey ride amongst other activities.
Corregidor Island: A historical island, where two battles between the Japanese and US took place.
Tip: Be aware than many extra costs are not included in the basic tour package. Be sure to know what is you are getting inside the tours and take enough cash to pay for extra activities.
Recommended duration: Visiting Manila can be ideal for only 3 nights if you plan to only visit the city centre and the old city. But if you prefer to explore a little more and get to know the other districts of the city plus enjoy a couple of tours out of Manila then its recommended you stay 4 to 5 night.
Transportation: When arriving to Cebu, baggage collection is straight forward and you exit to the taxi stands where you can get to your Hotel. Pre-booking a taxi with your Hotel might be a good idea to avoid having local drivers trying to encourage you to hire them. Prices are on average 500-800 Php for a drive into the town on a set price car. However taxi meters should be cheaper about 300-500 Php.
Once at the city, there is little public transportation available expect form the local Jeepneys.
Accommodation: In Cebu city centre you will find the cheapest hotels or Hostels. Hotels are reasonably priced and you can get individual rooms for under $20. If you stay in the resorts, Hotel Chains or close to the beach then the prices increase dramatically to $100 per night!
What to see and do? The highlights of the city are the Basilica del Santo Niño, Fort San Pedro, Cebu Taoist Temple and the Cathedral Museum of Cebu.
Away from the cultural side, if you travel west of the island to Mactan, its where all the tourist Hotel resorts are located and the best beaches.
Day Tours: Ask at the Hotel to organise a day trip in Cebu. There are multiple tours available, including the City of Cebu, the resorts or aquatic sports.
However if you want to plan your own itinerary you can also hire a driver with a car and they can drive you around, stopping at all popular places.
Recommended Duration: Cebu is a paradise Island and your main reason to come here would be to relax. Visiting and touring around is sufficient for a day or two. Staying anything from 2 to 4 nights is enough.