Living in El Nido, a tourist town in the Philippines, I had the opportunity to observe how tourism can ravage a town’s culture and how tourists contribute to the mess. I was constantly stuck between the joy of watching a town’s growth and development while grappling with the not so subtle damage that that development has on the locals. Knowing that there wasn’t much I could do to influence the direction the town was going because of tourism; there were small things that I could do to bring awareness to the tourists who plan on traveling to the Philippines. Therefore, here is a list of things you need to know before going to the Philippines.
Religion and Culture
The Philippines is a catholic country and there is no separation of church and state. They derive a lot of their cultural values from their catholic beliefs. It is therefore a conservative country in many ways. Yes, that is changing with time and western influence, but to the core; it is still very conservative. Although tourism is the major contributor to the country’s economy and they’ve had to be adaptive to tourism trends, I think it’s important to be respectful of the culture.
Yes, the Philippines is a safe country. You won’t constantly need to be on guard, worried about getting robbed. However, there have been instances where it is not safe, especially for female travelers. Please exercise caution when you are traveling. Getting drunk on a secluded island with your tour guides you’ve just met is not a good idea. I witnessed a lot of instances where a little less galability would have gone a long way. Sexual assault is not a country issue, it’s a world issue.
Many of the tourist attraction destinations in the Philippines are still small towns that have been introduced to tourism in recent years. The locals are fascinated with foreign women, especially caucasian women. It’s not a race thing, it just is what it is. Even “educated” Filipinos place value in their children having “foreigner” romantic partners. What I’m saying is this, be aware that there are predators in every society even in the Philippines.
You can do so much for so little in the Philippines. Whether backpacking or vacationing, the Philippines has an affordable experience for you. It’s more about how much you are willing to spend but you don’t have to stress about not affording. Your meals can be as low as 80php ($3) per meal. It’s the same if you’re a drinker, the local alcohol is dangerously cheap…I mean that! A 1liter bottle of Tanduay rum is 90php! Your poor liver. Transportation is also not expensive, you can get around, especially on land, at a really good price. The flights are season dependent, obviously.
The Philippines is a tropical country so believe me when I say when it’s hot, it’s hot AF. The months of March and April are the worst! If the sun doesn’t like your skin, be sure to bring as much skin care as you can. The products you use might not be available or they might be crazy expensive.
That said, if you come during the rainy season, which is around June through end of September, prepare for torrentail downfalls. It doesn’t rain, it POURS! Bring your best raincoat and you will find yourself grabbing a cheap pair of rainboots. Be sure to donate them when you leave :-).
You will receive a very warm welcome in the Philippines from Filipinos. The smiles are genuine and when you are invited for a drink or dinner, please do go. This is the best way to experience Filipino warmth and culture. That’s if you are interested in knowing more than which tours to do but get to know the spirit of the people of the country you’re visiting. My highlights about living in the Philippines have been these moments, sharing a drink on the pavement with strangers, watching a group of men pull over to fix my broken bike and asking for nothing in return, knowing that my neighbor has prepared the best she can when she invites me over for dinner.
Don’t hesitate to organise a friend group to play with the kids at the school next to your hostel. Offer what you can, it really goes a long way. You don’t have to offer money, I actually discourage that but you can go to the store and buy books, coloring pencils, it’s so helpful.
Enjoy your time in the Philippines!