My 5 days visit to the Philippines took me to Cebu and to Boracay. Although I spent a couple of days in Cebu what I noticed was that the big highlights of the city are outside of it: Bohol, Mactan, Oslob to dive with the whale sharks, etc. I kind of missed that for taking a look at the city, which for my traveling style, is not the most interesting place, but definitely I’ll go back to take a look at the surroundings. This is not a full guide to the Philippines, as it is missing Manila (Which I avoided on purpose), Angeles city (aka Sin city), and El Nido in Palawan, which is an amazing place still in my bucket list. Also, take a look at my Flickr Gallery
Getting to the Philippines
Many Airlines fly to The Philippines, some of the budget ones are Air Asia, Cebu Pacific, and Philippine Airlines. When I went there, I was traveling from Hong Kong to Cebu, direct flight in Philippine airlines and it was not very expensive. Long Haul international flights will arrive in Manila, some others international flights can land in Cebu or even in Kalibo.
Visa to The Philippines
The Philippines does not require a tourist visa for many countries, including Australia, USA, EU, and some other South American countries (including Colombia). On arrival, you just need to make sure that the passport has at least 6 months validity.
In the cities there are plenty of taxis, usually, they are metered, but when you take it, make sure the meter is on. During the time I spent in Cebu, I never had an issue, the fare was fair and straight. From the airport the easiest way for a silly tourist like me is to grab a taxi in the taxi rank, it will charge around 250 PHP.
Taxis usually charge ~60 to 100 PHP for short rides, but if you feel adventurous, take a bus, they are ~7PHP (~0.20 US). I took one and it was easy to go around, they mention in the front the bus their main destination, same as the old buses in Colombia :D. There are some set stops like the bus ranks in the shopping centers. Apart from that, it will stop almost anywhere you tell them to. When I was sitting I was looking which button to press, or if the people said some word in Cebuano equivalent to stop. What I found out is that all you need to do is use a coin, and hit with it one of the handle bars, that way the driver knows where to stop. I told some local person I took the bus and she looked in shock. She said the buses can be dangerous and some people get robbed with a knife while seated, more if they look like tourists. Oh well, I had fun anyway.
The philippine peso is the only currency in the country and it can be exchanged in banks, money changers, and hotels. Hotels will not give a great rate but are reliable, and the money changers with the best rate are not necessarily the best. If it looks like a garage business, avoid changing your hard earned money there.
Changing money can be hard sometimes, money changers get extremely picky with the bills, with USD they won’t exchange old bills (2001 editions) and they won’t accept any minor script or scratch, I had to keep a couple of them because no one dared to change them.
The other choice is to use ATM’s, most of them allowed a maximum cashout of 5000 PHP (~108 USD) , but I found that Citi and HSBC can allow up to 25000 PHP (~540 USD). Although your cash will go a long way in the Philippines, don’t get big amounts of cash at the end of your trip, it will be hard to exchange somewhere else, so get rid of it!
Philipines is a country with strong divisions , divisions of income, living, and wealth. Due to this there is a high crime rate, and of course, tourists can be targeted for minor robberies. In the big cities, it is better to be a smart traveler, avoid flashing your belongings and/or cash, be sure to know where to go and what areas to avoid, and unless you are in a resort or a tourist area (such as Boracay) keep your fancy camera in the bag.
In mentioning all these precautions, it is key to mention that Filipinos are very welcoming and helpful with tourists, sometimes I was even warned by locals about places I should avoid, or got help to find accommodation (like in Boracay when I needed to find a new place). So take care, but don’t avoid locals, besides, English is widely spoken :D.
Currency: Philippines Peso (PNP)
Official Language: Filipino and English