The Philippines is such a wonderful country to visit. With its stunning coral reefs and some of the best diving spots in the world it is a place people flock to for some fun in the sun. But travelling as a backpacker in this beautiful country can have its challenges. Unless you’ve opted to spend your time beaching around on the white sands of Palawan then you might want to read ahead about some things to know before tackling the land of the 7000 islands.
1. You need a pre-booked flight out of the country
As a backpacker pre-planning your exit strategy in a country isn’t really something we’re used to, but unfortunately the Philippines won’t let you in unless you have a pre-purchased flight out. Unlike other countries who ask for proof of onward travel but rarely enforce the rule (i.e. Thailand), the Philippines are much stricter and if you’re flying from elsewhere in Asia you will definitely be asked to show your onward ticket before your can board the plane. On the plus side most nationalities are offered a free 30-day visa so you can make the most of your time there without paying any extra visa fees.
2. Wi-Fi is generally terrible
Unlike most developed nations in south east Asia the Wi-Fi in the Philippines is, for lack of a better word, terrible. If your hostel offers free Wi-Fi there’s a good chance that it is intermittent, really slow or not working at all. There is the option to purchase a pre-paid SIM card when you arrive but don’t expect 4G data speed, signals are often broken and leading company Globe will often lower your speed if you exceed daily data levels.
3. Transportation can be inefficient
When you arrive at a bus or ferry terminal in the Philippines chances are you’ll be met with a lengthy queue that resembles more of a messy crowd rather than a single line. While transport runs regularly through most regions of the Philippines it is often crowded and fully booked. Ferries and buses can seldom be booked online, so your best chance of getting a seat is either arriving early to purchase tickets or going to the terminal one day early to get your tickets for the following days travel. One good option for backpackers is booking flights between destinations. If you book early enough there are some very cheap flights between the Philippines main islands, however prices increase closer to departure dates.
4. Poverty is widespread throughout the country
The Philippines is in a difficult state of economic disparity. While the country is recording economic growth in some areas, 1 in 4 of its people are living below the poverty line, and this challenging issue is not occurring out of plain sight. In cities like Cebu and Manila you witness first-hand the effects of poverty. Slum communities stand less then a kilometre away from developed shopping malls and many tourist attractions will draw in beggars, most of them children. While it may be painful to witness children begging in the streets it is important to know that giving to beggars does not solve the problem of poverty, and in some ways can make it worse. Find out more about being a ChildSafe traveller here.
5. Vegetarians will be challenged with food options
The food in the Philippines is a very interesting mix of cuisine, lying somewhere between the greasiest of fast food (Jollibee) and a national dish comprising of meat marinated and cooked in a vinegar sauce (Adobo). Street stalls will offer fried chicken, pork skewers and rolled up barbequed sausages, using off cuts of meats; most restaurants are meat based, pork being the predominant thing on the menu. Unless you’re dining at an upper class restaurant finding a salad or a vegetarian dish can be quite difficult, and if you do find a vegetarian dish be prepared for an abundance of root vegetable including Casava, Onion and Beans.
Being a tropical country however, you will find a lot of fruits to snack on, especially Banana, Mango and sweet-tasting Pineapples.
6. Pollution is a problem
Yes it’s south east Asia and yes they have a problem with pollution, but something about seeing pollution in the oceans makes you feel a lot worse. As backpackers we tend to be more environmentally aware and considerable of the environment around us and sadly this beautiful sea-locked country is facing challenges with pollution, earning its spot as the 3rd worst ocean polluter in the world. Why do we need to know this? Because as travellers we have a role to play in minimising our impact on this already polluted island. Be aware of your footprint, try to minimise the plastic you use and try to educate others on the importance of caring for their environment.
7. The country is a lot bigger than it seems
Thinking 4 weeks will be enough to backpack the whole of the Philippines? Think again. Of course if your plan is to lay on the beaches on El Nido and Boracay most of the time then it’s plenty, but if you plan to really get off the beaten track, visit local communities, secluded islands and all that jazz then I suggest planning for a second month. It might not seem like it but the Philippines is a big country that consists of over 7000 islands. Each of the main islands alone could take up at least two weeks of your time, plus the additional time it takes to get from place to place. Choose an area you would like to see and really focus on allowing enough time to get off the beaten track, you can always return again to conquer the rest.
Once you’ve prepared yourself for the challenges ahead you should know that conquering this island will reward you with so many unforgettable experiences and a craving to return. Despite their challenges, the people of this country are some of the friendliest in the world and you will be met with smiles wherever you go.
Have you backpacked the Philippines? How did you find it? Leave us a comment in the section below.