3 things I learn backpacking the Philippines

Traveling the Philippines is be quite the adventure and with that some its’ challenges as well. I have traveled as far south as Tawi Tawi and been as far north as Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte. I have traveled all the way from tip to tip in Palawan and I have been to Eastern Samar. I think I can safely say I have traveled the Philippines, save Batanes.

I have made a few mistakes as a traveler along the way but for the most part, it has been a great time experiencing the sights, the sounds, and the glory of the Republic of the Philippines.

It is not an easy task as every island has a different culture, custom and challenge. However, I feel I have pretty much successful “done the Philippines.”

While this list is not the “authoritative” list to end all list about traveling in the Philippines, I do believe if you follow these three things; you will have an amazing time in the Philippines seeing the beauty that she has to offer.

One thing that I would add before getting started is this is geared toward the traveler, not the tourist. Each of this have different expectations, different goals and different motives. Be a traveler, not a tourist! 

#1- Travel by ferry

Let’s start here. No one comes half away around the world to see a country’s beauty from 30,000 feet. The landscapes and sunsets are best experienced at eye level! The best way to travel is therefore, the ferries.

In fact, there are some places that getting there by a boat is the only way to get there. I have been to Cuyo many times but the way to arrive is from the ferry plying from Iloilo.

The same is true of going to Romblon. You just can’t get there without taking a ferry. It is the still the most used and most valued means of transportation for Filipinos and travelers alike.

It is wise to say that not all ferries are created equal. For example, the 2Go Travel boats are much nicer than the Milagrosa Shipping ferries that go to Puerto Princesa. Some are newer than others and some are faster than others. All of this will play into the cost of using them as well so study your options carefully.

#2- Get off the tourist track

We all know the tourist track in the Philippines. The one that people land in Manila, go to Sagada, come back to Manila on their way to Boracay and finish off the tour of the Philippines in El Nido. This is not a bad plan as you will see some of the best things the the Philippines has to offer in less than two weeks. However, I think you are missing the real Philippines.

You see, I think travelers need to make wrong turns, end up lost in some random village, eat some Lechon, and drink some Tuba. This won’t happen on the typical tourist track.

Get out and see some far flung places like I did in Cuyo, Palawan. You skip the tourist trap known as El Nido and head on to Linapacan Island in Palawan to experience Filipino life as it was under the American period.

One of the blessings of the Philippines is no matter if you find yourself in Tibiao, Antique or in Atok, Benguet; you will find someone who understand English and has basic knowledge to help you get around the town you find yourself in. This is, in my opinion, the biggest reason people come to the Philippines.

One reason that taking some wrong turns is so important while traveling is anyone can go to the plastic tourist traps like Boracay and El Nido. If that is all you want, there is no reason to come to the Philippines. Hawaii is better and more developed.

With this said, I want to give a word of caution about where to get lost and where to take a wrong turn. It is common knowledge that having this experience in parts of Mindanao is not an adventure, it is a recipe to be kidnapped by terrorists and beheaded. As a rule, staying out of Mindanao is best..

#3- Stay away from “local tourists”

I am not talking about the Filipino backpackers. They are mostly really cool guys and girls. I am talking the old man that come to the Philippines to use young women, build their day after which bars has the coldest beer, and are resident experts on all things Philippines.

Most of these old farts have never traveled off the island you meet them on. I know of a few that are “experts” on living in the Philippines and they rarely go anywhere beside prostitution bars and restaurants to get people to buy them free dinners in exchange for their opinions on living here.

As a general rule, they have little or no real travel experience in the country. What little they do possess was being a tourist for the first week; not a traveler who is cross the nation for the long haul. The truth of the matter is these guys are more interested in prostitutes and cheap beers than they are waterfalls and coconuts.

There are a few of these guys that have come here to travel and experience the country but they are few and far between. The are more interested in chasing young girls than chasing the tide at some waterfall. Just the reality of life for them.

What have you learned traveling the Philippines?

As I said, this is not a complete list but the three most important things that I think will help people have an amazing time as a traveler in the Philippines. Is there something you would add to the list?

I hope that if people do these things, they will have a trip to the Philippines that they will remember for many years and they will have experiences to tell their grand kids.

Philippines, it has been a wild ride. Thank you for everything you gave me! 

2 replies
  1. Katherine
    Katherine says:

    There are a lot of places outside the usual Boracay, Palawan etc. We frequently visit various provinces in the Philippines and I still get surprised over new places I get to discover through fellow backpackers, obscure blogs or other locals we befriend. 🙂 We haven’t been to Cuyo or Linapacan yet (tho we’d been to Palawan thrice), hopefully next year we’ll get to see them too.


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