Philippines travel guide
The other Southeast Asia, the Philippines is where Asia and Europe collide, over a sprawl of sand-circled tropical islands. Here, Catholic traditions meld with animist rituals and Islamic customs, creating a surreal melting pot that is unlike anywhere else in Southeast Asia.
You can thank the Spanish for the European influence, tangible in everything from the names of towns and barrios (neighbourhoods) to restaurant menus, where roast pork and paella are as common as noodles and seafood. Later, the Americans imposed their own vision and values – you can thank the US for the fastfood chains, the love of pop music, and the rainbow-coloured jeepneys that serve as local buses, evolved from military jeeps left behind from WWII.
With 7,107 islands, it’s hardly surprising that many of the Philippines’ most stunning attractions can be found in or around the sea. Boracay and other islands are ringed by some of the world’s most immaculate beaches and the waters offshore are a diver’s paradise, with pristine reefs, astounding tropical fish, migrating whale sharks and wrecks from WWII.
There’s much more, though. Away from the beaches are jungles, mountains, volcanoes and hidden caverns ripe for exploration. The volcanic nature of the islands is highly obvious – natural hot springs bubble up across the Philippines and the pyramid peaks of live volcanoes such as Mount Mayon call out to trekkers who don’t mind living dangerously.
It can’t been denied that the Philippines has a seedy side – the sex industry grew up to service American GIs during the Vietnam War – but it’s easy to avoid this gloomy scene and find more wholesome nightlife, where live bands perform note-perfect covers of any song you could name and even the smallest, palm-thatched village has a karaoke bar.
This isn’t a country that stages dozens of phony cultural shows for tourists, and the islands’ vividly colourful festivals (of which there are many) are predominantly aimed at locals. So it’s down to individual visitors to strike up conversations and discover a country where East meets West and traditional culture meets the modern world in a crash of colour and confetti.
300,000 sq km (115,831 sq miles).
103,339,458 (UN estimate 2017).
348 per sq km.
President Rodrigo Duterte since 2016.
President Rodrigo Duterte since 2016.
220 volts AC (110 volts in Baguio), 60Hz. 110 volts is available in most hotels. Plugs with two flat pins (with or without grounding pin) or two round pins are used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
There’s a high level of violent crime, including gun crime. Although British nationals are not normally targeted, they have been caught up in some incidents.
Criminal gangs sometimes use terrorist tactics like kidnapping. Explosions attributed to criminal organisations have caused fatalities.
There is a high incidence of street crime and robbery. You should take sensible precautions. Arrange to be met at the airport or use a hotel transfer service. Only use taxis from a reputable company. Some taxi drivers and their accomplices have robbed and harmed passengers. Avoid displaying cash or jewellery. Beware of strangers offering drinks or confectionery. They may be spiked.
Be particularly vigilant when travelling on public transport. Armed hold-ups have occurred on ‘jeepneys’ and buses. In some cases these have resulted in fatalities.
Seek advice from local contacts and always leave travel plans with friends, colleagues or relatives. Safety standards on taxis, buses and boats can be low.
You should take particular care during the rainy season when flash floods and landslides can occur.
Due to essential radar maintenance there will be a reduction in the number of flights to and from Ninoy Aquino Airport in Manila between 6 to 11 March 2017. You should check with your airline before you travel.
A list of incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety Network.
The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
With effect from June 2015, all Philippine airlines are allowed to operate in European airspace.
There is a high level of piracy and armed robbery against ships in and around Philippine waters.
Commercial shipping companies have been advised to adopt a heightened vigilance when navigating the Sulu and Celebes Seas. Most maritime incidents occur in the Sulu Sea in the area between Mindanao, the Sulu archipelago, Palawan and Sabah (Malaysia).
Avoid travel on ferries and passenger boats if possible. They are often overloaded, lack necessary lifesaving equipment, are not adequately maintained and have incomplete passenger manifests. Storms can develop quickly.
There are frequent accidents involving ferries and other forms of sea transport, resulting in loss of life. Two large ferries sank in 2013 causing a substantial number of casualties and injuries. An incident in July 2015 in the Visayas led to over 60 deaths.
Maritime rescue services in the Philippines may be limited.
Keep up to date with local and international developments, and avoid demonstrations or large gatherings of people. The Philippines Bureau of Immigration have specifically warned foreign nationals against participating in public protests and political rallies. Foreign nationals who participate in these activities may be detained and deported for violating Philippine immigration laws.