With more than 7,107 islands, travellers looking for Robinson Crusoe style adventures should look no further than the Philippines. The country is home to some of the worlds most postcard worthy islands, and although it is in the backpacker hub of South East Asia, being separated from the mainland means it is still relatively untouched by tourism. As a part of the coral triangle, it his home to some of the most diverse coral reefs in the world, and the relative isolation of many of these reefs, combined with a serious government effort to protect them, means that you will be lucky to find more pristine dive sites anywhere else in the world. It is also a hotspot of terrestrial bio-diversity, with countless national parks and many UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
It has something to offer anyone who is interested in adventure. From enormous cave systems, towering mountains and volcanos, to pristine white sandy beaches with some of the best surfing in Asia, the Philippines is a must visit destination for all adventurous people.
The currency of the Philippines is the Peso (PhP) and one Peso is divided into 100 Centavos. Coins range from one Centavos to five PhP, and notes are commonly found in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, and 1000.
Currency exchanges are commonly found in all major cities at exchange offices or banks, and most large hotels are also willing to exchange USD or EUR, however you may get ripped off by their exchange rates. It is also worth noting that ATMs are very unreliable, so it is a good idea to have travellers checks as a backup should you not be able to access your bank account during your visit.
The official languages of the Philippines is Filipino – which is a standardised version of Tagalog - and English. Both languages are used in government, education, media, and business, so you will find English is widely spoken around the country. The Philippine constitution also promotes the use and education of Spanish and Arabic too.
As an archipelago nation, there are a wide variety of local languages spoken around the country, with as many as 182 living languages being spoken around the country. Of these, 19 are recognised as auxiliary official languages and they are often used in localised media.
The Philippines is officially a secular state, although religion plays an important part in the lives of many Filipinos. As it is a secular country, the constitution guarantees separation of the church and state, and the government is required to respect all religious beliefs equally.
The most followed religion is Christianity, with at around 81% of the country belonging to the Roman Catholic Church, and a further 11% being Protestant or other Christian factions. The second largest religion is Islam, which makes up roughly 6% of the population. The majority of Filipino Muslims are found in the south of the country. A further 2% of the population practise traditional Philippine religions, and most followers of these religions are from either indigenous tribes or those who have reverted from Christianity or Islam.
Interestingly, around 10% of the religion claim to be non-religious. The percentage overlap is perhaps due to some non-religious people selecting a religion in the national census.
Luckily for avid travellers worldwide, the Philippines is one of the easiest countries in the world to enter without having to pre-purchase a proper visa.
Citizens of more than 150 countries (the UK included) are welcome to obtain a 30 day visa on arrival – that is as long as your passport is valid for at least six months. To qualify for this free on arrival visa, you must show a return ticket or proof of your journey once you leave the country.
UK visa requirements and other travel advice can be found on the UK foreign office travel advice website.
Best Things to do in the Philippines (Non-Diving)
Chocolate Hills are probably one of the Philippines most recognisable landmarks as they are frequently used for promotional material by media publications world wide and the countries tourism board.
The are on the island of Bohol, and they are as interesting as they are intriguing. They look similar to mole hills, only they are between 30 and 120 metres tall. The region is home to 1,268 individual hills, and we still know very little about how they were formed. Theories range from oceanic volcano activity to limestone weathering. There are also many legends telling the tale of their formation, with one in particular claiming they are the result of a giant carabao eating spoiled crops, and left enormous piles of faeces when he got sick.
They are featured on the provincial flag of Bohol, and they have been declared a national monument by the government. They have also been proposed to be included on the UNESCO world heritage list.
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park
If you are interested in geology, caves and wildlife, then you should defiantly include a visit to
this UNESCO World Herritage Site. You will find this incredible national park about 80 kilometres north of the Puerto Princesa, on the island of Palawan.
The park is a karst limestone mountain landscape, and it is most notable for a 24 km long cave that contains an 8.2km section of the Cabayugan River which then flows directly into the sea. The cave is also home to the 2.5 million square metre Italian’s Chamber, which is one of the largest cave rooms in the world.
It gained UNESCO world heritage status because it is one of the worlds best of mountain-to-sea ecosystem examples, and the park is home to an enormous amount of wildlife – with over 165 bird species and more than 30 mammal species living within the parks boundaries. The surrounding forests are also considered to be one of the most important forests in Asia.
Climb Mount Apo
Standing at a staggering 2954 metres, Mount Apo is the tallest mountain that the Philippines has to offer. You will need a permit and a guide to reach the summit, however these are both cheap and extremely good value for money.
You will need to schedule at least three days for the trek, depending on the weather and your fitness level. The mountain offers breathtaking views of the surrounding region, and birdwatchers might be interested to know that there are at least 270 bird species living around the mountain – many of them endemic.
Hundred Islands National Park
The Philippines is made up of more than 7,000 islands, so seeing them all is a near impossible task unless you have an extremely long time available for your Philippine holiday.
If you want to hop around as many islands as possible in as little time as possible, you should probably go to the Hundred Islands National Park in Alamino. Despite being named ‘Hundred Islands’, there are actually 124 islands in total during low tide, and 123 during high tide.
You can rent outrigger boats from nearby villages and simply hop from one island to the next whenever you feel like moving on. Some of the islands have hills with beautiful viewpoints, while others have caves that can be explored. Overnight camping is possible on most of the islands, and Governor’s Island even has houses for rent. The islands have some beautiful fringing reefs, so make sure you pack your mask, snorkel, and fins for the trip.
Scuba Diving in the Philippines
During the second world war, the northern tip the Philippines most westerly island – Palawan – was an important port for Japanese supply ships. On the 24th September 1944, a squadron of US bombers seemed to appear out of nowhere, and devastated the Japanese fleet.
Fast forward to today, and Coron Bay offers some of the best wreck diving in the world! Most of the wrecks are large, relatively intact, and full of artefacts. The waters in the region are rich in plankton, so visibility can be quite poor, but these wrecks have attracted enormous amounts of life – with corals encrusting every available inch of metal, and countless invertebrates hiding in the wrecks countless crevices.
Another interesting site on Coron Island is Barracuda Lake. It is a 40 metre deep freshwater and saltwater lake that is most famous for its thermoclines and helioclines. The first four metres is freshwater, and once you pass the heliocline you will be in saltwater, and once you pass 14 metres, you will cross a thermocline where to temperature shoots up to an uncomfortably hot 38 degrees! There is not much in the way of marine life here, and to get here you will need to make a 30 minute climb in your equipment, however there are some shrimp and gobies in the less hot parts, and it is worth diving just because it is so unique.
Malapascua is a tiny, postcard worthy island that takes less than an hour to walk around, and the reefs surrounding it are only places in the world where you can regularly spot majestic thresher sharks.
The most popular dive site is named Monad Reef – a submerged seamount roughly eight kilometres from Malapascua. This flat topped reef is a cleaning station that attracts the (usually) deep water thresher sharks to rid themselves of parasites, and being a cleaning station, other large pelagic species such as manta rays make regular appearances too.
The site is not a particularly beautiful one. Strong currents sweeping over the sunken island means there is very little coral on the top of the sea mount, so don’t expect an abundance of reef fish. You can however expect a vast array of macro life such as seahorses, mantis shrimp, crabs, and nudibranchs.
The thresher sharks only usually visit the site at dawn, so to be in with a chance of spotting them you will need to set your alarm for a very early start!
Between the islands of Mindoro and Coron is Apo Reef Natural Park. It covers an area of more than 274 square kilometres, making it the worlds second largest continuous coral reef system. It has been a protected Marine Park since 1980, and is listed on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
As the reef system is quite isolated, it is best explored via liveabaord, however as most dive operators require at least 100 logged dives before departure, you can only visit this almost pristine if you are an experienced diver.
As the Philippines is part of the coral triangle, on this reef you can expect almost unrivalled levels of marine biodiversity. Regular attractions include hammerhead sharks, schooling pelagic fish, reef sharks, and manta rays.
Divers looking for some diverse diving options during their holiday should look n further than Anilao.
The one million square hectare Verde Island Passage is perhaps the most bio-diverse region of the Philippines. Here you can choose whether do dive sea mounts with washing machine style currents that attract enormous numbers of fish, coral encrusted shipwrecks, dazzling protected coral gardens, or some of the best muck diving in the world.
If you want to see a lot during your dive holiday but don’t have so much time, Anilao should be your go-to destination.
When to Visit the Philippines
The Philippines can be a year round dive destination, however there are three distinguishable seasons that can affect the diving conditions.
December through to March is typically the north east monsoon, and during this time you can expect consistently strong winds, which in turn makes it difficult to access some dive sties that are far from land.
April until the beginning of July is considered the best time to dive. During these months there is little rain, and often no wind whatsoever. The rainy season kicks off from the end of July, and continues until the beginning of November. It is still possible to dive throughout these months, however it is very important to note that during these months tropical typhoons regularly hit the country. These storms are the Pacific equivalent of the Caribbean hurricanes, and they are often extremely devastating. Should a typhoon hit while you are visiting, you will be hotel bound for days – if you do not get evacuated – and diving operations will not continue until it is deemed safe to do so.
A few things to Beware of..
Much like the Caribbean, the Philippines is a hotspot for tropical storms, only here they are called typhoons (or bagyo, in local languages) instead of hurricanes.
The country gets hit by approximately 20 tropical storms a year, and of these, 10 will be typhoons, and 5 will super typhoons. Statistically, the Philippines is the most exposed country in the world to tropical storms, and as it still a developing country, massive loss of life due to storms is relatively common.
While a typhoon can hit year round, they are at their strongest and most frequent between July and October, with August being the peak season. On the other side, May is considered to safest time to visit as this month has historically the least number of storms.
You can still visit during these months, however you should pay very close attention to storm warnings, and never try to leave your shelter during even a minor tropical storm. Storms are most frequent and extreme in the north of the country, however the whole country can be affected by them.
Like many other south east Asian countries, the Philippines has very harsh sentences for possession drugs – carrying as little as 4 grams of cannabis could land you a 12 year jail sentence.
What is different to other countries with strict drug policy such as Indonesia or Malaysia, is the way drug law is enforced. The government has been waging a bloody war on drugs for a few years now, and key government officials have requested citizens to become vigilantes and try to imprison, or even kill any suspected drug dealers on sight.
There have been a number of suspected cases of people planting drugs on people, and using as an excuse to kill them to settle a feud. As a tourist, you will generally be safe from these kinds of dealings, however it is better to stay as far away from the trade as possible. After all, you never know who is watching.
You may have heard government advice around the world warning you to avoid the Philippines due to the growing threat of Islamic terrorism. What you are rarely told, however, is that this activity only really takes places on the island of Mindanao in the south.
For years now, parts of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago have had ongoing terrorist activity, with constant clashes between the military and insurgent groups. The entire city of Marawi was under siege by ISIL for five months in 2017, and although the city has now been freed and the government has declared the city to have been liberated from extremists, there is still a high chance that there are more waiting in the shadows, biding their time before the next attack.
Mindanao is also where the pirates came from who took a number of tourists hostage from Sipadan in Malaysia back in 2000. Since 2015 there has been an increase of kidnappings in the region, with a number of foreigners being targeted. Most governments worldwide have issued warning against all but essential travel to Mindanao, and those who must travel there are advised to do so only in groups, and to never travel anywhere at night – especially in rural areas.
59 Dive Centres in Philippines
No reviews yet.
No reviews yet.
No reviews yet.
No reviews yet.
No reviews yet.
No reviews yet.
No reviews yet.
No reviews yet.
No reviews yet.
No reviews yet.