Situated in South East Asia, the spectacular Philippines is an archipelago made up of over 7 500 islands. The long flight from Johannesburg is well worth it as a tropical paradise awaits. Steeped in a wealth of natural beauty, the Philippines will surely impress all who lay eyes on its abundant palm trees, white sands, crystal blue waters, majestic mountains and abundant biodiversity. The Philippines is matchless in beauty and is gaining momentum as a global tourist hotspot.
Here are some things you should know when considering travelling to this colourful and exotic country.
Best time to travel: To soak up some sun and avoid the typhoon season and rains, it’s suggested that you visit during the dry summer months of December to May.
Language: For those who find travel daunting due to communication barriers, fear not, English is widely spoken, making it relatively easy to find your way around.
Currency: The Philippine peso (PHP) is their main currency, however dollars, euros and major credit and debit cards are widely accepted. The exchange rate for converting South African Rand to Philippine pesos is about 1 ZAR/3,04677 PHP. (Correct at the time of publishing).
What makes travelling great is the people you experience along the way. Filippino people are generally warm, welcoming and open to conversation. Most of them were happy to help us with directions and suggestions on what to do.
The Philippines is safe and friendly, however as in any country, as a tourist you need to be cautious and not wander into any secluded places alone, especially at night.
Cost of living
The cost of living is relatively low making this a holiday destination that will not break the bank and where you can comfortably say “keep the change”.
Things to do
From the bustling capital of Manila, we took an hour-long flight to Mactan, in the Cebu province, where we were based for four days.
In Cebu, you can do the following:
Take a day trip to Bohol Island
From Cebu Port, take a ferry ride to Tagbilaran to enjoy a day trip on Bohol Island. The operating ferry companies are fairly organised and efficient and operate between 6am and 6pm. The price is 500 pesos per person one way plus a 25-peso terminal fee.
Costs involved in the day trip are about 2 500 pesos for a mini bus van with a tour guide. Remember that the locals love to negotiate, so haggle for a reasonable tour price.
There are a number of attractions worth visiting on Bohol, including:
Chocolate Hills Witness magnificent limestone pod-like formations offering breathtaking panoramas.
Hanging Bridge is a 40-metre bamboo bridge crossing the deep emerald-coloured Sipatan River, is a fun and wonky tourist attraction. You might feel a little apprehensive at the unsteadiness of the bridge, but rest assured, it’s steady and completely safe.
Billar Man Made Forest showcases mahogany trees planted on winding roads as part of a reforestation programme over 50 years ago. If you’re looking for a piece of tranquil lush greenery, this is where you’ll find it.
Blood Compact Monument depicts an ancient ritual between the Spanish and Philippines. It is said that parties to an agreement would pour some of their blood into a cup filled with liquor, and drink to seal a friendship or treaty.
The Tarsiers Conservatory is worth a visit to spot the rather peculiar nervous yet adorable animals in their natural habitat.
The Butterfly Sanctuary is also worth a visit to see the multiple species of colourful butterflies that live in this part of the world.
Loboc River Cruise (including a delicious locally-inspired lunch). There are also plenty of beaches and adventure sports such as zip-lining available for adventure enthusiasts.
Cebu to Oslob – Whale Shark Watching
From Cebu, you can hire a taxi to Oslob, a trip of about an hour and a half trip. The whale shark watching/interaction is daily between 6am and 12pm. On arrival, you get a safety briefing and an assurance of 100%-guaranteed sighting of the whale sharks. Swimming with these harmless gentle giants is safe and an unforgettable experience. It costs 1 000 pesos for a 30-minutes swim with the whale sharks and 500 for watching. To capture your interaction, you can hire an underwater camera for only 500 pesos.
Tumalog Falls is a kilometre away from the whale shark venue and offers gentle falls and a pool you can wade in.
We took a flight from Cebu Airport to Boracay, which offers a relaxed atmosphere but is more energetic than Cebu. The popular open-air D Mall is where all the fun happens. Located a stone’s throw from the beach, D Mall is a long stretch known for its cheap shopping, multi-cuisine restaurants, pharmacies, massage parlours, tattoo shops, bars and clubs. At night the street comes alive with live bands, street performers, fire dancers and night revellers looking for island fun.
For only 2 500 pesos you can hire a boat for the day, which includes snorkeling, cliff jumping, underwater caves, lunch and zip-lining. Be sure to bargain with vendors.
Foods to try
Part of travelling is the cultural immersion and experiencing local cuisine. Filipino cuisine is a beautiful fusion of Asian, Malay and Spanish influences. The dishes vary from sweet to salty and sour. Pork and seafood are central to this interesting cuisine. Try chicken adobo, pancit noodles, beef or chicken sisig. The boldness of Filipino cuisine is bound to take you on a culinary journey your tastebuds won’t regret.
Taxis, tricycles and Jeepneys are the island’s most popular means of transportation and are very cheap, which is great for the traveller on a budget. Tricycles are basically makeshift motorbikes with a side-car attached to fit three to four people. These are all easily available.
Where to stay:
Cebu Crimson Beach and Resort Mactan is a beautiful family-style resort in lush gardens with excellent amenities providing free wifi and the knowledgeable and helpful staff.
Fairways & Bluewater Newcoast Boracay is a huge resort offering many activities and is great value for money.
When travelling by air in the Republic of the Philippines make sure you are at the airport at least three hours before your flight. Domestic flights are often cancelled, delayed or moved earlier at short notice, so ensure you’re there early for any schedule changes.