Costs & Essential Information – The Philippines

Still slightly off the beaten path, the Philippines is an up and coming tourist destination, new hotels are popping up daily, make sure you add this to your bucket list before mass tourism saturates the blissful islands.

Poverty:

The Philippines is a country of contrasts, 5 star hotels and designer shopping malls stand side by side with inner city slums.

Poverty is rife in the Philippines, unfortunately you can’t help everybody even though it breaks your heart. Try to eat at locally owned restaurants and buy groceries from market sales where possible. Give your money to local b&b owners rather then Mr Hilton.

Also, don’t haggle too hard. Even if you’re on a tight budget, just the fact that you can afford to travel makes you a millionaire in comparison to a lot of the locals, don’t take advantage of their desperation to make a sale. Anyway, lecture over. 🙂

Safety:

We did feel slightly on edge in Manila, although as soon as we were out the city we relaxed and felt completely safe. We didn’t see any indication of the violence reported in the European news and we found ourselves becoming more relaxed by the day. If your still feeling weary about traveling to the Philippines, click HERE for some official UK government advice.

Costs:

It was by far the cheapest country we have visited so far, we stayed in pretty nice hotels, ate like kings, had regular massages, I even got my hair cut. We took taxis and went on day trips. Our average daily spend, including internal flights, accommodation and meals etc was only £45, and we could have done it so much cheaper if we tried.

Getting Around:

There are a few major airlines operating in the Philippines, the only drawback is that a lot of the time you will need to take a connecting flight through Manila to get anywhere.

Ferry transport is very popular in the Philippines, unfortunately I can’t give you much information because we didn’t use any. I found a post online (click HERE) that explains ferry travel in more detail.

Three wheelers are really cheap for short distances, make sure to agree a price before you get in.

Visa:

UK passport holders are allowed to enter for up to 30 days but you must have your outbound flight booked before you try to enter.

Vaccinations:

At the time of writing (February 2018) there are no vaccinations required, anti-malaria medication is recommended for some of the islands but not all, check the NHS travel map HERE.

Money:

The currency in The Philippines is Pesos and there are ATM’s in most places (though you may need to walk 20 minutes or so). Not many cafes or shops will accept card, the Philippines is very much a ‘cash’ country. Exchange rates in February 2018 below:

£1 (GBP) = P71.24

$1 (USD) = P50.20

€1 (EUR) = P63.18

Hope you found this useful.

Click HERE for some itinerary ideas.

Our Itinerary – The Philippines

We had planned to meet Sean’s parents in the Philippines in January, we flew from Taiwan 2 days before the parents arrived to get our bearings.

Our first stop was Makati, we spent a total of 5 nights there before flying to Palawan where we spent 8 nights.

We spent 7 very relaxing nights in Subic Bay then 1 night at an airport hotel in Manila before waving goodbye to Sean’s parents.

Our final week in the Philippines was an action packed week in Bohol, then we had 1 night in Manila before catching our early morning flight.

We decided to skip the tourist island of Boracay, and even though I’m sure it’s very beautiful, we couldn’t justify cutting Bohol short and we only had a 30 day tourist visa. Maybe we’ll come back to do the main tourist route another time.

Click HERE to read our ‘Costs and Essential Information’ post about The Philippines. (Coming Soon)

Makati – The Philippines

Makati is close to Manila, its considered the financial centre of the Philippines and consists of huge sky scrapers and shopping malls.

Things To Do:

A lot of activity in Makati is centred around shopping, there are malls everywhere you look. The biggest one is the Green Belt Mall.

The Ayala Museum was really interesting, they currently have an exhibition about the history of gold on the 4th floor. And the 2nd floor is home to a permanent exhibition detailing the complex history of the Philippines.

Where To Eat:

Lebanese – Hummus Elijah, currently number 1 on trip advisor, gets super busy but it’s worth hanging around and waiting for a table. Good for a cheap lunch.

Budget – Hole in the wall (4th floor of the century city mall), a street food themed food court with lots of choices.

Upmarket – The restaurant inside the Artina Suites was fantastic, and although it was considered upmarket, prices were still reasonable.

Getting There:

Taxi prices varied massively depending on time of day and which company you use. We traveled to and from the airport a couple of times to pick up Sean’s parents, we paid the following:

Yellow Cab: 1st trip 390 pesos, 2nd trip 659 pesos,

White Cab: 1st trip 140 pesos, 2nd trip 145 pesos,

Moral of the story, try to stick to the white cabs where possible.

Where To Stay:

We spent 2 nights in the Artina Suites, booked through hotels.com for £16 per night. Rooms were huge and included a separate kitchen and living area, it was about 10 minutes walk to the centre of Makati.

Then we met the in-laws and moved to the Germacy Residence courtesy of a friend of Sean’s Mum’s. I’m not sure how much this would have cost though I imagine it would have been very expensive, rooms are available through Airbnb.com. The rooftop pool was a huge bonus!

Overall Makati Review:

We had a good time here but I didn’t love the city, this isn’t a place for tourists, if I did the Philippines again I would skip Makati.

Subic Bay – The Philippines

Subic Bay was once an American naval base, its now a peaceful retreat from city life. There isn’t a great feat to do in Subic Bay other than relax and recharge.

Things To Do:

We saw bioluminescent plankton every sing night in Subic Bay, you can read more about Bioluminescent Plankton in our Phu Quoc post HERE.

Get yourself to the beach for sunset, every night was completely different and equally beautiful. The mountains in the distance and the palm trees that line the beach make the perfect photo opportunity.

The areas close ties to the Navy still remain, at times there is a huge ship docked in front of the WW2 memorials, a line of various memorials relating to the tragedy of WW2.

There is a wide array of water sports available on the beach, prices were quite expensive, similar to what you would expect to pay in Europe.

There isn’t much to do indoors when it rains, there is a 24 hour Casino in the sea front and a huge shopping mall about 15 minutes walk from the main tourist area.

Relaxation should be the main aim when visiting Subic Bay, there are lots of spas with varied levels of luxury and prices to reflect.

Where To Eat:

Texas Joe’s – a traditional American diner, this place gets really busy during weekends.

The Reef Hotel – the pirate theme restaurant is tasty and reasonably priced, they also do family meal deals.

Sea Food by the Bay – best on weekends where they have a very impressive buffet for 399 pesos per head.

Mini Shop – I know its a chain but their 70 peso chicken and rice is the perfect quick lunch, and its right by the beach.

Getting There:

Subic Bay is a 3 hour drive from Manila airport, a private vehicle will cost you 5,000 pesos each way. It also has its own small airport, check skyscanner.net for latest schedules.

Where To Stay:

I would certainly recommend staying on the sea front in Subic Bay, it’s the centre of all tourism in the area and there are lots of options, with more being built all the time.

We stayed in the Subic Park Hotel for £32 per night, booked through Hotels.com. It was a little more expensive that we usually go for but we decided to splash out because Sean’s parents were visiting.

The hotel was stunning, most days we were the only people in the pool. Breakfast was included in the room price even though it didn’t mention it when we booked.

Puerto Princesa (Palawan) – The Philippines

Most people use Puerto Princesa as a pass through on the way to El Nido or other parts of Palawan, whether your here for one night or a few days then there is plenty to keep you busy and enough bars and restaurants to keep you well fed and spoiled for choice.

Things To Do:

The underground river, your only on the river for about 45 minutes as you head 1.5km along the river, your given a headset which will talk you through the sites within the cave, the driver/rower will point out landmarks with his torch, the tour costs 1,800 including lunch and transport from the city. It is a full day trip and there can be a lot of waiting around, but it’s absolutely worth it.

Firefly watching, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one, but it was incredible. Trees light up like Christmas trees when you row past. The boat ride is about 30 minutes in a small boat with 2 people plus a guide. Our guide also showed us bioluminescent plankton at the base of the river, but the in laws didn’t see it so I suppose every guide is different. The trip costs 1,200 from the city including dinner and transport. The whole trip takes about 4 hours.

The city centre isn’t massive but there are still a few nice spots worth visiting, the first being the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, it’s absolutely beautiful and inside feels very peaceful. Just opposite is the Plaza Cuartel. We spent a lovely afternoon wandering the streets of Puerto Princesa.

Pristine beach, it’s a bit out the way and not what I’d call ‘pristine’, if your looking for the perfect beach your better off skipping Puerto Princesa. Entrance to the beach costs 40 pesos.

Where To Eat:

We were absolutely spoiled for choice in Puerto Princesa, there were so many places that looked amazing, we couldn’t possibly try them all.

Local – Haim Chicken, which ironically didn’t have any chicken on the menu! Was fantastic, cheap and authentic, we ate there twice.

Local – La Terrasse, a bit of the fancy side, we really loved it here, their local dishes are fantastic and they also offer western dishes.

Western – The Orange Gecko, this was the father in laws favourite meal in the Philippines, the restaurant is owned by a British lady and they have a wide variety on their menu with daily specials.

Bakery – Cafe Ole, a traditional French bakery in the heart of Puerto Princesa, perfect for lunch or a coffee and cake.

Bar – Hangover, they have live music on every night at 9pm and a long cocktail list, it is outdoors so not a great one in the rain.

Getting There:

People tend to spend a few nights in Puerto Princesa before or after a flight because of the proximity to the airport. A taxi into town will cost 150 pesos and a three wheeler even less.

Where To Stay:

For one or two nights there are so many budget options in Puerto Princesa, if you decide to stay longer then I would recommend trying to find somewhere with a pool, the beach is a bit pants.

We stayed at the Balay Inato Pension which was perfect for the price and location, rooms were big and the A/C worked well, breakfast was included. We booked through Hotels.com for £16 per night.

The in-laws wanted something nicer and stayed at the Ipil Suites, rooms were a fairly similar standard but with daily house keeping, a buffet breakfast and of course a swimming pool, you can book through hotels.com for £29 per night.

Bohol – The Philippines

Bohol was our last stop in the Philippines and undoubtedly our favourite, and it’s probably one of my favourite places in the world so far. It’s got everything a traveler could ever wish for, swimming underground, the worlds smallest primates, pristine beaches, rolling hills and warm welcoming locals, what more could you ask for?

Things To Do:

There are so many things to do in Bohol, I’d be here forever, I’ve just listed my absolute favourite and the things that guarantee Bohol a spot in my top places ever list:

1. Tarsiers, these tiny little primates were the main reason for me wanting to visit Bohol, I’d seen a photo on Pinterest and instantly fell in love with these adorable little things.

The fact that they could be extinct by 2020 because of humans makes me so sad. The work that the various conservation centres do, in Bohol is essential for the Tarsiers to survive.

Entrance to the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary costs 60 pesos per person and includes a guided tour.

2. Hinagdanan Cave and underground lake is not widely known about in Pranglao, the cave is only 20 minutes drive from Alona Beach which is why we were surprised that more people hadn’t heard of it.

The water is completely clear and there are even a few fish that call the underground lake, home. Swimming is optional but really it’s the only reason to visit. When we visited we were lucky enough to be the only people in the water, a hand full of people came and left within a few minutes, there were times we were completely alone in the cave. (Except for the life guard.)

Entrance costs 50 Pesos each plus and extra 75 pesos if you want to swim.

3. Chocolate Hills, probably the first thing you think of when you think of Bohol, these iconic hills are completely unique to anything we’ve ever seen.

The hills are almost perfectly round and there is an estimated 2,000 in the area, they are completely naturally occurring even though their shape makes them look man made.

Entrance costs 50 pesos per person which allows you to walk to the top of one hill where they have an observation deck.

4. Alona Beach, we’ve all been to beautiful beaches and declared that “this is the most beautiful beach in the world” without really thinking it through. In this case I really think that Alona Beach is the most beautiful Beach we have ever been lucky enough to visit.

The sand is bright white and the sea is completely clear and the most perfect turquoise I’ve ever seen. It’s not crowded and there is currently almost no litter (however I imagine that will soon change, I spotted one family of tourists ditch their takeaway wrappers which made me mad).

Organised Tours:

If you choose not to hire a motorbike, then organised tours start at 400 pesos and run every day, there are travel agents all the way along the main road to Alona beach, alternatively a taxi for the whole day is 2000 pesos per vehicle.

Where To Stay:

Alona Beach is the central tourist hub in Bohol, it’s actually on the island of Panglao which is connected to Bohol by bridge.

By staying close to Alona Beach you will have plenty of choice when it comes to hotel, restaurant and bar selection. It’s also one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

We found a lovely little Airbnb bungalow for £15 per night, it was about 20 minutes walk from the beach. Click HERE for details.

Where To Eat:

Breakfast – Shaka, we ate here almost every single morning, the breakfast bowls are absolutely amazing, not a budget option at 250 pesos per bowl but totally worth it.

Bakery – OurDeliBread, on the other end of the budget scale, everything in the bakery is 5 pesos or less. The perfect snack or packed lunch for day trips.

Mexican – Sunset Grill, cheap and cheerful, although be warned, your given three options, mild, medium and spicy. The spicy option is mega spicy!

Thai – Isis, right on the seafront and with reasonable prices, couldn’t wish for more.

Budget – Hidden Dream, the combo meal deals are fantastic, couldn’t fault them especially for the price.

Getting There:

Bohol is about 1 hour and 10 minutes from Manila, there are about 3 flights per day.

From Tagbilaran Airport, Alona Beach is about 25 minutes by car, the roads don’t have names on the island of Pranglao so it’s a good idea to ask your hotel or guesthouse to meet you at the airport. Taxi drivers will probably get lost looking for the smaller places.