Things I Wish I’d Known Before Going To The Philippines

Before going to the Philippines, I’d read so many blogs about what an amazing country this is. I thought I’d done some pretty decent research, but in the end, the Philippines still surprised me. Unfortunately, not always in a good way….

While it was undoubtedly beautiful in many ways, there were definitely a few things I wish I’d known before going to the Philippines, which no amount of reading seemed to be able to prepare me for.

With that in mind, I wanted to share some of my insights with you, so that you can head to the Philippines slightly more prepared than I was! 

Have you been to the Philippines? Is there anything else that surprised you?

I’d love for you to tell me about it in the comments below.

Know Before You Travel To The Philippines

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  • The Philippines is way more touristy than I had expected! Before we went, I genuinely thought the Philippines was still a bit more of an “off the beaten track” destination. This is definitely not the case
    • Some areas are more overrun by tourists than others but we found it near impossible to go anywhere without seeing crowds of other foreigners around
  • Filipino people speak excellent English. I was surprised to learn that the Philippines has the largest English speaking population after the US and England! This means it’s super easy to get around, ask for help and read signs
The Philippines is more touristy than I expected
It will be harder than you think to find a deserted beach in the Philippines


Money Stuff…

  • The Philippines is a cash society. In our month there, we were never able to pay with card anywhere
    • Except for online bookings for accommodation, but even then, that wasn’t always the case
  • It is near impossible to get money out from an ATM without charges
    • In our experience, every ATM (other than HSBC apparently, although we never found an HSBC ATM so I can’t confirm this) charges 250 pesos for withdrawals
    • Usually, there is also a 10,000 peso withdrawal limit meaning you’re not able to get out a larger sum to try and balance out the access charge…
    • The exception is BPI, which allowed us to withdraw 15,000 pesos. Though still with the 250 peso fee
    • It may be worth considering exchanging money before going to the Philippines instead

  • The Philippines seemed quite a bit more expensive in general than other SE Asian countries we have visited so far
    • Maybe it is partially due to the time of year (meaning we were in the Philippines during high season so accommodation prices may have been at a premium), but the food and transport was pricier than what we’ve experienced in Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia or Thailand
  • Despite the higher prices, accommodation options were generally rather basic and comparatively poor value for money (compared to other SE Asian countries we’ve visited)
    • Beds are usually thin foam mattresses on slat beds. They are not the most comfortable! 
Accommodation in the Philippines is not the most comfortable
Mattresses are thin and accommodation in general a bit basic – this was one of the better rooms we had


Attractions & Fees…

  • Most beaches, waterfalls and other natural attractions charge an entry fee. These vary from around 20-100 pesos per person
    • Usually, you’ll also have to pay extra for parking, so bear that in mind if you’re renting a scooter
    • That’s not to say it’s not worth it – the waterfalls in particular were simply spectacular! Our time around Moalboal was one of my favourites during our time in the Philippines
    • Also, you’ll get to see some incredible sunsets in the Philippines!!! I mean, those colours! Wow…
You'll get some spectacular sunsets in the Philippines
You’ll get some spectacular sunsets in the Philippines
  • There seems to be a lot of other “ad hoc” charges too. Port taxes, Terminal fees, Ecological fees, Environmental taxes… Every little adds up meaning your trip to the Philippines might not be as cheap as you were first anticipating
    • If you go island hopping, be aware that these fees and taxes are often not included in your tour fee. This could mean anything from an additional 50 pesos in total (in Port Barton), to an additional 50-200 pesos per site (in Coron)
Know before you go: there are a lot of ad-hoc fees in the Philippines
Island hopping may be more expensive than advertised due to eco taxes and charges



  • On Cebu, there is a great bus system all the way around the island
    • You pay for your bus ticket on the bus, not in advance. A bus conductor will come around selling tickets once the bus is underway
  • There are air-con and non-air-con busses. The ticket price is slightly cheaper for the non-air-con bus
    • The non-air-con busses all seem to have a 3-2 seating configuration meaning the seats are narrow and if it is busy, it will get HOT! But, we didn’t find it as terrible as we were expecting. All the windows are left open creating a more or less constant breeze (unless you’re sitting in traffic!)
    • The air-con busses aren’t always in great condition, meaning we had a pretty sweaty ride on an “air-con” bus too… But, if it’s working as expected, it will be somewhat more comfortable both in terms of space and temperature. Air-con busses will have the typical 2-2 seating configuration
A non-aircon bus in Cebu, the Philippines
A non-aircon bus in Cebu can be affordable but cozy
  • On Palawan, there didn’t really seem to be public buses
    • Transport between cities was generally provided via shared minivans
  • For shorter distances, tricycles are the way to go. Make sure you haggle on price though, as drivers tend to quote much higher prices for tourists than locals
    • You’ll often get offered a ride but in our experience, no one was ever pushy or annoying. A simple “no, thank you” will suffice and they’ll move on

The Environment…

  • The sea water is not as clear as we were expecting. It always seems a bit cloudy, although some places are better than others. So, if you’re planning on heading to the Philippines for snorkelling or scuba diving, just bear this in mind.
    • It’s not awful or anything, and there is some amazing coral! But in our experience, the water in Thailand and Indonesia is clearer
The water can be cloudy at times although there is still great snorkelling
The water can be cloudy at times although there is still great snorkelling
  • The Philippines seem to be well ahead of its SE Asian neighbours in terms of reducing single-use plastic, which was fantastic to see!
    • Few places sell bottled water. Instead, there are water refill stations all over the place, which charge from as little as 1 peso! (Although in Palawan the going rate seemed to be 10 pesos per litre)
  • Do not flush toilet paper down the toilet! Use the bum gun and throw any toilet paper or tissues in the bin
    • On the plus side, there seem to be no squat toilets in the Philippines! Although toilet seats were frequently missing…
    • And, like most SE Asian public toilets – make sure you have some tissues or toilet paper with you as this usually isn’t provided
  • Local men and boys don’t seem to need toilets though – urinating on the side of the road is commonplace! 
Despite these signs, urinating in public is common
Despite these signs, urinating in public is common


Food & Drinks…

  • Filipinos love their baked goods. There are bakeries absolutely everywhere! Which makes a nice change if you’ve been travelling around SE Asia and living off rice for a while 😉
    • Although, I will say the rolls aren’t too exciting… It’s mostly just sweetened bread
  • Food in general is often fatty and frequently fried. They seem to love their pork fat!
    • Unfortunately, vegetable sides are few and far between, meaning we didn’t feel particularly healthy eating in the Philippines

  • Service in restaurants is slow. Like, really slow…
    • Be prepared to wait at least half an hour, if not an hour, for your food to arrive. That is, once you finally get to place your order in the first place
    • The best thing to do is stick your hand up in the air to get the attention of the wait staff
  • Flavoured Beer! Maybe I’m in the minority here but I’d never heard of this before. But, in the Philippines, you can get San Miguel Apple and Lemon flavoured beer! For me, as a non-beer drinker (I just don’t like the taste), this was a great refreshing drink! 
Joannda enjoying a San Miguel's flavoured Apple beer
Loving the Apple flavoured beer!

That’s it! These are the main things I wish I’d known before visiting the Philippines!

Let me know if there’s anything you’d add to this list in the comments below.


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3 thoughts on “Things I Wish I’d Known Before Going To The Philippines”

  1. It’s so interesting to read a perspective of how the Philippines is now. I can’t believe it’s been 7 years since I lived there. It was definitely a little more intrepid back then (unless you went to El Nido or Boracay, which were marketed to breaking point). I’d be interested to go back and compare for myself.

    • I would be so interested to hear your perspective of how it has changed if you do ever go back to the Philippines!

  2. Really good information to know ahead of time. Things like this aren’t always common knowledge and I can see why travelers would want to know these things ahead of time, otherwise, you may be surprised or disappointed on arrival.


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