The backpacking lifestyle one step up

What to do in Philippines

A land of opportunities

Finding out what to do in Philippines can be a problem. Not a bad one. Just a problem because it is so hard to choose. Where to go as a backpacker in Philippines with all this country has to offer is really depending on what you are looking for. My own experience when I first arrived to the country was that I have been keep coming back and it took 3 holidays here before I had seen all that I had planned on my first holiday. The reason being the country having so many “un-planned” adventures to offer that you will experience a lot more in one place than you originally planned for. Also where you want to go on a first holiday probably depends on what you are looking for. Below I will recommend where to go based on interests like beaches, party, diving, surfing, nature, culture, big cities & city life, authentic experiences or 5 star experiences.

Philippine Beaches

The amount of beautiful beaches in the Philippines is unlimited. Basically you can find nice beaches almost anywhere just from renting a motor bike or taking a rented Trike with driver around. If you like beaches I recommend you visit places like:

  • Boracay White Beach
  • Bohol, Panglao & Anda
  • Guimeras island in front of Iloilo on Panay
  • Siquijor combined with a visit to Dumaguete city

Boracay and Panglao being busy areas with a disco nightlife also while Anda, Guimaras and Siquijor delivering a more authentic touch to your backpacker experience. All places will fully be able to deliver what you need as a Luxury Backpacker.

Party places in Philippines

If you come to Philippines to party this is not going to be difficult. The Filipinos love to dance and sing and almost everywhere you will be able to find a place to drink and have a sing along with some locals. The best places to go however would be:

  • Manila – Makati area, Resorts World, Mall of Asia area – be careful where you go.
  • Cebu City – Ayala mall, Mango street, Lapu-lapu
  • Boracay – try Coco Mangas, Club Paraw, Guilly’s Island, Summer Place
  • Bohol, Panglao – Alone Beach. Has many small bars and a small disco as well.
  • Iloilo – Small ville but mainly only weekends since not many tourists go there

Diving in Philippines

Backpacking in Philippines means that you can almost find a dive shop in any spot you go to. So basically diving is possible everywhere. However there are a few spots that particularly attract divers.

  • Puerto Galera on Mindoro. Particularly the Sabang Beach area has many resorts and hotels with in house diving shops.
  • Busuanga Island with Coron as main town offers good diving opportunities.
  • Malapascua Island a small boat ride away from Cebu Island has paradise like waters to dive in.
  • Apo Island just off the coast near Dumaguete is said to have some of the best diving in Phlippines
  • Alona Beach on Panglao Island near Bohol also has a lot of dive shops concentrated on the beach with hotels and resorts attached.
  • Donsol attracts a lot of divers coming to see the Manta Bowl.  The bowl is an amazing experience watching from below Manta Rays, Whale Sharks, and potentially maybe also Hammerhead Sharks & Thresher Sharks being cleaned by wrasse and remora.
  • Moal Boal has more or less only diving but lots of divers gather to this place to take out from Cebu. Located in close proximity to Cebu City it is an easy choice to go to.

Surfing in Philippines

During to the location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean Philippines some big waves will also hit the coast lines once a while. Some of the best places to go hunting waves for surfing are Baler in the Aurora province and San Fernando (LA UNION).  During the typhoon season usually it is the eastern coast line you will find the best waves. Baler is located to the east. For the dry season going to the western coast line will potentially bring you a bigger probability of success with the waves. On the west coast especially San Fernando (LA Union) is known to be good and beginners friendly from December to March.

Majestics surf break is another opportunity. It is located on Catanduanes just of the Bicol Coast. However this one is not beginner’s friendly and also the waves are only perfect when a typhoon is lurking off shore. The best period for this is the period between August and October.  Between October and March there will be powerful onshore winds that will make the waves to difficult to handle except for the top of the notch really good surfers.

Nature in Philippines

The nature you will see when you go backpacking in Philippines as incredibly beautiful. Some of the most powerful forces of nature has happened and still is happening in Philippines. You can witness some of these as well as other beautiful natural environments when you travel around Philippines. Beaches and diving already has been covered so I will concentrate this section primarily on the inland nature.

The section written here of the natura in Philippines have taken a lot more space than originally intended. For this reason I have chosen to put each section in separate articles.  I have linked to them below.  This unplanned coincidence also reflects the reality of Philippines. The Philippines is a perfect place to enjoy if you want to get really close to nature. It does not matter if its inland nature, beaches or diving. The Philippines primary asset is its magnificent nature.

  •  Banaue & Sagada (The Cordillera) – rice terraces & caves
  • Bohol Island & Panglao (Alone Beach): Chocolate Hills – Loboc River – Logarita Spring
  • Palawan and Busuanga: The underground river – El Nido – Coron
  • Mount Pinatubo
  • Mount Mayon
  • Tagatay
  • Twin Lakes National Park

Filipino Culture in Philippines

Where should you go to explore culture in Philippines? Obviously an answer could be found in museums in Manila. Take a look at the ancient Spanish History at Intramuros and Fort Santiago. Visit the National Museum of the Filipino People & The Cultural Center of The Philippines. San Agustin Church & Museum as well as Manila Cathedral should also be visited. After these visits you know a lot about Philippine culture.

All the above said I will now continue my version of what is also Philippine culture. Since the Philippines have been influenced heavily by all kind of nations the culture of Philippines has also been shaped by these nations. Some of the nations throughout history having influenced Philippines are the Chinese, Malays, Spanish, Japanese and Americans. Many others have influenced directly and indirectly also because so many Filipinos work abroad. The biggest source of income for the Philippines is generated by its nationals working abroad. However those 5 nations mentioned are the ones who politically and trade wise have had the greatest influence.

Filipino Culture to me has to be found in the people today. Not the past which you can find in museums but in the present reality from walking on the street in Manila or sleeping in a native house in the middle of the rice fields during a home stay in Bohol. Sitting together with the locals on a beach sipping the local rum mixed with cola. So the answer to where you should go to explore the culture of Philippines is practically everywhere. Just get out and meet people. Talk to them and listen to what they have to say. The Filipinos are open minded and will gladly talk to you. This is also why I recommend taking public transportation instead of private whenever you can.

In another post I will discuss further what the Filipinos are like and what Philippine culture is like.

Big Cities & City Life in Philippines

The Philippines is a country of roughly 100 million people. This means there should be a lot of big cities and as a matter fact there also is. I would just state that only two cities qualify for being recommended to go to if you look for big cities and city life because only two cities leave this impression. Manila and Cebu City are the only cities I think offering what most travellers would expect from a big city.

If you in a big city look for things like the below mentioned I do not think you have so many choices.

  • Shopping Malls
  • Lots of traffic
  • Many people
  • Places to party including nightclubs and discotheques
  • Big 5 star hotels
  • Significant sized tourist areas

All those things you will in my opinion really only find in Cebu and Metro Manila.

The malls in Manila and Cebu are in reality the quiet places where you can easily calm down and relax. One of the reasons is that all malls have security guards in the door when you enter. The best shopping malls in Manila are Greenbelt, Glorietta, Mall of Asia, Shangrila Mall in Ortigas and Rockwell. Of these the Greenbelt mall in Makati is my personal favourite. Greenbelt Mall in Makati has a very nice outdoor area with small streams and palm trees where it is easy to calm down from the chaotic city and relax.

The best shopping mall in Cebu City is in my opinion the Ayala Mall. This mall is a must see when visiting Cebu City. Ayala Mall Cebu has an extraordinary relaxing and charming terrace area with a small park and any kind of restaurants you might like.

Authentic adventures vs. 5 star experiences

Let it be said fair and square. For the moment if you look for 5 star state of the art hotels and totally family (with kids) friendly hotels and places Philippines is for the moment not the optimal solution. This is especially true if you request many choices. Family friendly places you will most likely only find in Manila, Cebu City, Lapu-lapu on Mactan Island and some of the 5 star high-end resorts on Boracay. For instance the Shangri-la resorts on Boracay or in Manila.

Shangri-la resort in Boracay Philippines

If you stay in the Shangrila resort on Boracay you will truly have a 5 star experience to Boracay. I have not stayed in the Shangri la resort in Boracay but I have seen that they have their own private luxury boat to take their guests to the resort from the mainland when everyone else is taking primitive Banka boat to get to the Boracay jetty-port. Also I have seen the resort from the outside with its private beach and isolated luxury bungalows away from the main building. The staff on the transportation boat is wearing formal attire and look like they take care of some of the richest people in the world. If you really want to spend what it takes to stay in a luxury resort in Boracay I would with no doubt say take the Shangri la resort. Also the Shangrila resort in Boracay is a lot better than what you will find in Mactan Island or Lapu-lapu because the beach and paradise atmosphere wins against Mactan Island. I met a German tourist in Bohol who told me has was disappointed with Mactan Island and Lapu-lapu so he would not recommend that place.

Authentic Philippines

What Philippines maybe lack in easy access infrastructure and high quality resorts you will find compensation for in the laid back authentic experience you will find in so many places out in the Province. Even the most popular holiday destinations like Boracay and Bohol (Panglao) do not seem busy compared to Thailand or any European beach destination in Spain, Greece, Italy or Turkey. For this reason you can still sit in Alona Beach on Pangloa and have a sunset cocktail while you listen to soft music and the sound of the sea in front of you. No “boom boom” loud music or hordes of people talking loud while getting drunk.

If you go away from places like Boracay and Bohol and head towards the mountain provinces or almost any-other beach area you will experience a beach life together with the locals where tourism and daily needs are integrated. For instance I found this in Bantayan Island. When I walked a bit away from the small resort I stayed in with only 7 bungalows I quickly arrived at Native houses and saw Filipino children playing directly on the beach. In a corner sat a group of Filipino men and had fun drinking the local rum Tanduay mixed with cola. They called me over and invited me to join them. Quickly I was given a glas of Tanduay rum coke to finish. They have a different cultural tradition than in my own country (Denmark) since one glass is shared among the whole group and then each take turn in drinking a glass made as a small shot. When I was with them they were very open and interested. They asked me a lot of questions and showed genuine interest in me. At that moment I felt very welcome in their group.

Tourism has not grown into a size that is comparable to Thailand yet in Philippines. This means you in most places do not have a “tourist area” and an area for Filipinos. Travellers and locals in Philippines are all mixed up. This means it is a lot easier to get an authentic experience than in other places where tourism has become so main stream. This is maybe the primary explanation to why you have this authentic experience when backpacking in Philippines. The Philippines is currently the country in Asia with the highest GDP growth and tourism is also growing rapidly so potentially this authentism will disappear throughout some years but I think for the next many years to come some areas will become more main stream while new areas will pop up becoming the places delivering the authentic experience.

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