Philippines Travel Guide for First-Time Visitors (from a Filipino Traveler)

Planning to visit the Philippines? Here’s my Philippines Travel Guide as a fellow traveler (and Filipina) who’s been to the Philippines more than 18 times in the past decade.

Learn the essentials and basic Philippines travel information to know before you go.

Philippines Travel Guide: Quick Facts

A pink map of Philippines with Manila and Quezon City in bigger text, for Philippines Travel Guide planning

▢ Philippines is a culturally-rich country in Southeast Asia with more than 7,600 islands.

▢ It’s split into three main regions: Luzon (north), Visayas (central,) and Mindanao (south).

▢ People of the Philippines are called Filipinos and the national languages are Tagalog and English.

▢ However, the country boasts a diversity of ethnic groups and languages like Kapampángan, Ilocano, Cebuano, Bisaya, Hiligaynon, Waray-Waray, and Bicolano.

▢ The currency used is called Pesos (PHP). $1 USD = 54 PHP.

Book before your Philippines trip:

📲 Local sim card or eSIM card from Airalo

🚊 Ride from the airport: prebook a ride | airport shuttle bus

🎫 Browse through dozens of available Philippines tours

Why You Should Visit

A white-sand beach in Philippines surrounded by two large mountains covered in green and a bamboo house on the sand

▢ Philippines has some of the most welcoming and festive people. Filipinos are proud of their culture and like to see that tourists enjoy their time visiting.

▢ You’ll find some of the best beaches and natural sites for sports tourism and outdoor adventures, including diving, island-hopping, hiking, surfing, whitewater rafting, and caving.

▢ Visit impressive pre- and post-colonial remnants like ancient forts, cathedrals, rice terraces, caves and other historical landmarks, including six UNESCO World Heritage sites.

▢ Philippines is relatively an inexpensive country to travel. It’s perfect for travelers on a budget, while still being affordable for a luxury trip.

Some Cultural Differences

A white and brown historic building with Philippines flag in front at Museum of Philippine Social History Angeles Pampanga

▢ It’s common to be asked questions about one’s life like occupation, age, and marital status.

▢ In restaurants, including fast food restaurants, you don’t put away your own trays and dishes. From my experience, tipping is expected of tourists.

▢ Internet speed in the Philippines is quite slow. Mobile internet speeds on average are 30 mbps and 75 mbps broadband speeds.

📲 I usually use Airalo for esims in the Philippines. You can use my code ROSEAN3468 for $3 USD off your first purchase

▢ If it’s obvious you’re not a tourist or non-Filipino, you may receive a lot of stares and “hello’s,” usually just out of curiosity and friendliness, especially from children.

▢ Like in many countries in Asia, there’s not really a culture of personal space, especially in crowded markets and on public transportation.

Best Times to Visit by Season

A single road in Philippines surrounded by tall palm trees and green grass

Expect heat and humidity throughout the year for most of the Philippines. There are two main seasons: dry and wet seasons.

The hottest months of April and May reach high 90s F / 30s C. 

While still warm, December to March sees cooler weather.

The rainy season starts in June and lasts until November.

Summer: April to May Rainy Season: June to November Dry Months: December to March

✈️ Tip: Use Skyscanner to see which months and days are cheapest to fly out

Basic Tagalog Travel Phrases

A pink mural in Manila Philippines with Leni Robredo's campaign support slogan "Saya na sa Gobyernong Tapat"

▢ English is the second language taught in schools, behind the national language of Tagalog. Still, knowing some basic phrases will be helpful and locals will appreciate it.

▢ While I’ll be using Tagalog terms for this Philippines Travel Guide, I recommend learning some of the local phrases in the provinces you’re visiting, especially if staying longer-term.

▢ “Po” is added to sentences as a sign of respect for elders or strangers.

▢ Restaurant menus in English are common. If needed, you can use the Google Translate app to scan and translate text to English, or use the app’s translator to communicate with staff.

▢ Locals are usually very open to help tourists with directions. I suggest asking staff in convenience stores or younger adults.

  • Hello: Kamusta (kuh-mooss-sta)
  • Yes: Oo (oh-oh)
  • No: Hindi (hin-dee)
  • I don’t speak Tagalog: Hindi ako magsalita ng Tagalog (hin-dee uh-koh mug-sah-lee-tah ning Tuh-gah-lhog)
  • Thank you: Salamat (sah-lah-mut)
  • No thanks / it’s alright: Ok lang (okay lah-ng)
  • How much is it?: Magkano? (mug-kah-noh)
  • Where is the ___?: Saan ang ___? (sah-ahn ung)

Most Popular Cities to Visit

Large green mound-looking hills at Bohol Philippines Chocolate Hills

The Philippines is rich in cultural and landscape diversity. Choosing where to go will depend on your preferences, but here are some of the most popular cities for this Philippines Travel Guide.


You’ll most likely be flying into the capital of Manila. Metro Manila itself has 16 urban cities. Take a taxi to Manila to see ancient churches, museums, and historic monuments.

Makati and Taguig are more commercially developed cities for shopping, dining, and entertainment.

Check out the famous Mall of Asia in the city of Pasay. It’s the largest mall in the Philippines, complete with an Olympic-sized ice-skating rink.

Here’s my video of top places to visit in Manila and blog post for 2 days in Manila.

Top 8 things to do for first-timers in Manila + Makati, Philippines 2024 🇵🇭

El Nido, Palawan

Located in the southwest of the Philippines, Palawan is one of the most well-known island destinations.

Take a trip to El Nido for white-sand beaches, eco-tourist activities, pristine waters, and inspiring landscapes of lagoons, coral reefs, and limestone cliffs.


Another top beach destination is Boracay, an island in central Philippines.

While touristy, Boracay claims a more vibrant nightlife and accessible beaches as the island is much smaller and easier to get around.


Bohol is an island in south-central Philippines. Besides the laid-back, crystal-clear beaches, tourists go to Bohol to see the iconic Chocolate Hills: large mounds shaped like Hershey’s kisses.

Plus, for the opportunity to spot the Philippine tarsier, the second smallest primate in the world. While in Bohol, take a quick ferry to Cebu for a mix of city-life and island-hopping.

🎥 Watch my Cebu travel vlog.

Notable Festivals & Holidays

A large white church in Cebu Philippines with colorful streamers running from the top

▢ While the country recognizes many public and religious holidays, businesses and tourist sites will likely remain open.

Giant Lantern Festival: this annual festival takes place in the Christmas capital of the Philippines: the city of San Fernando in the northern province of Pampanga.

Local artists create large parols, or lanterns, in a competition at the Robinsons Starmills Mall. The parols are on display for two weeks every December.

Masskara Festival: On the fourth Sunday of each October, Bacolod, or the “City of Smiles” holds the Masskara Festival, a celebration created to encourage strength in the face of hardships.

Locals celebrate all month long, and at its peak Sunday, festival streets are filled with performances, folk music, vibrant traditional costumes, and colorful masks.

▢ Provinces and municipalities hold their own unique fiestas throughout the year to celebrate their town’s saints. Ask around if there is one happening during your visit.

There’s usually street performances, local carnivals, and neighborhood block parties.

Getting Around / Transportation

A busy road in Manila Philippines with jeepneys and cars in traffic and sidewalks filled with locals

▢ The easiest mode of transportation for tourists and first-time visitors will be taxis. Download the Grab app for reliable and affordable rides. It’s like Uber and serves as a food delivery app as well.

You can also hail white taxis, but upon entering, remind the driver to turn on the meter. Try to avoid peak traffic hours in the morning and after 4pm. Traffic in Manila is infamous, so head to the airport early.

🚙 For half-day or full-day trips, book a private driver

▢ To travel between cities in Metro Manila, you can take the train. There are two systems, the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) and the Light Rail Transport (LRT).

Pay by buying a ticket at the station, or purchase a contactless card called BEEP. Avoid the weekday rush hours.

For travel between provinces, you can take charter buses. There’s several companies and one-way tickets are usually around $2 to $10 USD. They have comfortable seats and air conditioning.

▢ If you’d like to experience local mode of transits, hop on the iconic jeepney: left-over military vehicles colorfully decorated and transformed into a type of bus, but with two padded benches facing one another.

They’re harder to navigate so it’s best to ask for directions or help from the driver and seat neighbors, but in general, the jeepney’s final destination will be written on the jeepney, and you can stop anywhere in between by saying “para po” (please stop).

You usually pay fare to the driver (yes, while they’re driving) and costs start at 20 US cents.

For shorter distances, you can take a tricycle, a sidecar attached to a motorcycle. While fun, expect a bumpy ride and wind in your face.

To ride, tell the driver where you want to go and ask how much it will cost. As a foreigner, you’ll probably get quoted higher prices than locals, but at relatively inexpensive prices starting at $1 USD.

What to Pack for Philippines

Three graphic icons of plug, teal backpack, and a phone charging

▢ Philippines uses 220V voltage and 60Hz, plug types A, B, and C. You can use the same plug type as the United States, however, note you may need a voltage converter for appliances that usually run on 120V. I use a Universal International Adapter.

Power Bank, for best practice, especially if you’ll be out all day.

Reusable handkerchief for the hot weather, and napkins in case toilet paper is not provided in public restrooms.

Umbrella, especially during the rainy months starting in June. Rainfall can be unpredictable.

Reusable tote bag to avoid accepting the default plastic bag.

Average Travel Costs

A pile of Philippines pesos currency

Money tip: while some restaurants and stores accept credit cards, cash is the default payment for many places and I’ve often come across card payment errors. It’s best to have cash on hand.

Make sure to hold your cash in a secure place and in front of you if using a bag. You can exchange at the airport, withdraw from an ATM, prepare Philippine pesos at your home country, or look for a currency exchange service.

▢ If you have a local sim, you can download the app Gcash. Similar to Venmo in the US, Gcash is widely-accepted throughout the Philippines in stores, as well as for online purchases. Note it sometimes takes a while to be approved, so only apply if you’re staying longer.

▢ Basic fare for subway and buses: 30 to 60 US cents

▢ 10-day local sim card: $7 USD

▢ Hostel: $15 USD per night

▢ Mid-range hotel: $30 USD per night

▢ Higher-end hotel: $80 USD per night

▢ Taxi ride from NAIA Airport to Makati: $6 USD

▢ Inner-city taxi ride: $3 USD

▢ Food costs will vary. An average restaurant meal may be $6 USD per person

I hope this Philippines Travel Guide was helpful, especially if it’s your first time visiting the Philippines!

Enjoy your trip!

Philippines Travel Quick Links:

📲 Local sim card or eSIM card from Airalo

🚊 Ride from the airport: prebook a ride | airport shuttle bus

🎫 Browse through dozens of available Philippines tours

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