The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Philippines

The Philippines has long been at the top of the list for backpackers looking for adventure, beauty, and budget-friendly travels.

With so many things to see and do, plus the opportunity to travel cheaply, there’s no reason why a savvy backpacker wouldn’t want to make their way to the Southeast Asian nation.

Should you backpack in the Philippines?

The Philippines is a long-time favorite among backpackers because of the opportunity to explore and see natural and historic wonders while living and eating for cheap.

If you do your research before arriving and have a plan in place, this country is one of the best places to backpack across.

Before you head off on an adventure of a lifetime, learn all that you can about the Philippines and the best ways to experience it as a backpacker.

This guide covers it all including cuisine and culture, how to pack effectively, where to visit, what you can do there, and the health and safety info that every traveler needs to know about.

Should You Backpack in the Philippines?

Should You Backpack in the Philippines?

The Philippines has long been one of the best destinations for backpackers because of how much the country has to offer, and how little you’ll spend while you’re there.

Backpackers trying to travel on a budget will find it particularly appealing due to their affordable living costs, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to plan your trip carefully.

Backpacking the Philippines is great for nature lovers as the country has everything from deep forests to pristine beaches.

Their local cuisine is fresh and tasty, you’ll have plenty of opportunities for hiking and swimming, and the people are warm and welcoming.

All of these things combined make the Southeast Asian country one of the best places to backpack across, as long as you’re armed with the right knowledge.

The Must-See Spots

The Must-See Spots

To narrow down the must-see sights of the Philippines to just a few is no easy feat, but we’ve come up with a small selection that is popular with tourists.

Be sure to add these to your list when planning a backpacking trip so that you don’t miss out:

  • El Nido: A swimmer’s dream, El Nido has lagoons, beaches, and islands with no shortage of water based activities to enjoy.
  • Manila: The capital of the Philippines and a must for anyone who wants to see the bustling city at night-time.
  • Boracay: Considered the party island of the Philippines, you’ll need to spend a night here to see what earned it the reputation.
  • Puerto Princesa: This city is home to the Underground River and limestone caves that you can explore.
  • Samar: Another place with loads of natural rock formations and caves that you’ll never want to leave.  
  • Siquijor: A beautiful coralline island with turquoise waters that are said to be home to ancient witchcraft practices.

What to Do While Backpacking in the Philippines

What to Do While Backpacking in the Philippines

Backpacking the Philippines means never spending a day bored, as the South East Asian country has so much to offer.

These are just a few things you can spend your time doing while there, with many others to discover.

  • Eating and drinking: The local cuisine of the Philippines is one of its major drawcards, with Asian cuisine including lots of fresh meat and vegetables with delicious spices and flavors. The beers are cheap and there are lots of street vendors available that offer an affordable and tasty meal.
  • Hiking: The Philippines has lots of opportunities for hiking, with dormant volcanoes, green hills, and oceanside tracks to follow. If you do plan on hiking, ensure you’ve packed for this and have all of the right gear with you to ensure it’s done safely.
  • Swimming: The options for swimming in the Philippines are vast, including pristine beaches, freshwater lakes, waterfalls, lagoons, and even underground caves. Bring along at least two swimsuits and keep one on you at all times so you can take a dip to cool off at a moment’s notice.
  • Guided tours: If staying at a hostel, they can help you organize to attend some guided tours. The Philippines has many natural wonders and historic sights to see. This isn’t necessary for all of the places you plan on seeing but will be for some, and you’ll need to put aside some extra cash for these experiences.
  • Souvenir shopping: There are lots of open-air markets and stalls in the Philippines where you can find yourself some souvenirs to take home. They’re cheap and beautiful and won’t take up much room in your backpack.

Filipino Culture and Customs

Travelers from around the world are delighted when they arrive in the Philippines and find how warm and hospitable the Filipino people are.

Here are a few things you should understand about the country and its people before you arrive:

  • Although many Filipinos speak English, you shouldn’t assume all of them do. The main language in the Philippines is Tagalog and it’s respectful to learn some of the basic words like “please” and “thank you” so that you can converse with them.
  • Religion is important in the Philippines and most families will attend church at least once a week. Be careful not to disrespect their religious beliefs and be mindful of how you talk about religion.
  • The Filipino people are friendly and warm, and most of them love to take part in long, flowing conversations.
  • Some of the more rural parts of the Philippines follow superstitious traditions, and they may believe predominantly in alternative medicine. Not every area will have access to western style medicine or treatments.
  • Filipinos sometimes greet each other with a “beso” which is where their cheeks touch with another person. This greeting might be reserved for those considered upper class.
  • Eating at a restaurant with Filipino locals will usually involve sharing food and eating “family style”. Be prepared to share your food and have a sample of what others are eating if you’re dining with locals.
  • “Hiya” is a Filipino term relating to the shyness or shame that one feels in a social setting, and this feeling will guide many of their decisions when in public. Their people tend to act collectively and think about how their actions will reflect on their family, which dictates a lot of what they do.

Food and Cuisine in the Philippines

The cuisine of the Philippines is one of its biggest attractions, and anyone traveling there will be spoilt for choice with all of the flavors and sensations they offer.

Unlike other Asian countries, the food here is considered more of a melting pot, and they use influences from cuisines like India, Spain, China, and Malaysia to come up with their taste.

A traditional Philippines dish could be sweet and sour, or salty and spicy, but they also ensure to use fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs in whatever they cook.

Their meats are marinated, spiced, stewed, fried, grilled, and cooked in just about any way you can imagine, so you’ll never get bored from one meal to the next.

Packing for Your Trip

With a warmer climate, you can get away with traveling lighter than you might to a European city in the middle of winter.

For a rough guide on what to take when backpacking in the Philippines, these are some of the items worth adding to your bag.

  • Clothing: Light, comfortable clothing including swimsuits, shorts, summer dresses, light rain jacket tank tops, walking shoes, sunglasses, hat, and casual sandals.
  • Important documents: Require documentation like passport and debit or credit card.
  • Toiletries: Everyday toiletries including soap, shampoo, conditioner, microfiber towel, and a shower bag to keep it all together.
  • Electronics and communication: Smartphone with charger, universal adapter, and a local SIM card you can purchase while there.

How to Stay Safe While You’re There

The Philippines is generally considered a safe place to visit for tourists, but you must stick to the popular spots and not go off on your own path.

The most important thing to remember is avoiding the far south of the nation, including the Zamboanga Peninsula, Sulu Archipelago, and Mindanao, with threats like terrorist activity and increased crime.

Aside from the areas that are safe for travel, many of the activities that tourists do there come with risks.

Hiking, surfing, diving, climbing, and sightseeing all have the potential to be dangerous if you’re not careful.

Never do anything you’re not comfortable with your skill level in, avoid illegal activities, and if your gut is telling you that something’s not right, exit the situation.

Theft and crime are a concern no matter what country you’re backpacking in, so make sure you’re protected.

Use a backpacking bag that straps to you, avoid traveling with large sums of cash, have a buddy with you at all times, and keep your belongings close by.

The Average Backpacker’s Costs and Budget

Thrifty backpackers love to travel to the Philippines because of its affordability, and if you only have a little bit of money, you can make it stretch far.

Those traveling cheaply will be able to rent a room in a hostel for around $9 a night, and depending on the season you travel in this could be slightly more or less.

A standard day in the Philippines might consist of some eating, exploring, and shopping for souvenirs.

You’ll want meals, transport, and shopping covered, which you should be able to do for around $12 a day if you’re careful.

Splurging and going out for a few local beers is relatively affordable as well, but try not to do it every day if you’re saving cash.

Once you’ve arrived in the country, you can fly between the Philippines’ cities affordably as well.

Their domestic airlines operate with economy options for internal destinations, so it’s easy to fly wherever you need to, as long as you plan carefully and book in advance to save a rise in prices that occurs during the high season.

The Gem of South East Asia

The Philippines are a backpacker’s dream come true, offering ample places to explore and affordable prices for everyday living costs.

If you’re thinking of the next place to visit once worldwide travel becomes the norm again, consider adding the gem of South East Asia to the top of your list.

Related Questions

Backpacking is a unique way to travel the world, but it requires a lot of thoughtful planning and some savvy know-how to get it right.

If you’re new to the concept of backpacking and still want to find out more, read on for some FAQs to point you in the right direction.

How Many Miles a Day Should I Backpack?

A standard rule for backpacking is to travel between one and three miles a day, but many factors can affect this.

The elevation gain in the area, the current weather, your physical condition, and what type of sightseeing or visiting you plan on doing that day will all impact how far you travel.

How Long Should You Backpack Europe For?

With lots of places to see, most people find that dedicating between two to four full days is required for large cities and one to two full days for smaller ones.

Plan your trip around the places that you want to visit and find the best order to see them in before you head off on your journey.

What Size Pack Do I Need for Backpacking?

Backpacks are generally categorized by their volumes and this is written in liters.

A small backpack up to 10 liters is best for day trips, a medium backpack around 30 to 50 liters is good for weekend trips, and large backpacks over 50 liters in capacity are suitable for backpacking over longer periods.