Philippines Travel Guide
The Philippines is not a country that attracts a large number of senior citizen visitors, aside from those of Filipino descent. Media reports of extrajudicial killings of drug suspects, kidnappings and beheadings of foreign tourists by Islamic extremists, and Manila’s infamous air pollution and traffic jams are enough to frighten away even the most adventurous tourist.
However, whilst the country may not be the best choice for a first-time visitor to Asia, it does have a lot to offer for the more experienced traveller, and the safety concerns are really not as bad as portrayed by some media.
Most governments issue travel warnings about the Philippines, recommending that visitors stay away from the southern region of Mindanao, and take precautions against petty crime in the capital city of Manila. That’s good advice, but there are plenty of destinations in the Philippines outside of Mindanao and Manila that are as safe as most other places in Asia.
In fact, the provincial regions of the Visayas (the island provinces in the central Philippines) have some of the best beaches in Asia, and Luzon (the main island in the north on which Manila is located) has a vast mountain region where visitors can escape the summer heat.
This large island to the south of Cebu, where the main international airport for the Visayas is located, is considered by many to be the top destination for seniors in the Philippines. That’s because of the slower pace of life on Bohol, the fact that there are many attractions to see that are as good as those in other parts of the Philippines, and it’s easy to get to from either Cebu or Manila.
The iconic Chocolate Hills are located here, named because of their brown colour during the dry season. But for most of the year they are green, and are close to two other of Bohol’s most popular attractions – the Loboc River Cruise and the Tarsier Sanctuary.
Alona Beach on Panglao Island, which is located on the southwest side of the main island, is often called the ‘poor man’s Boracay’, but early in 2018 became a substitute destination when Boracay was closed for rehabilitation. Alona Beach is not as developed as Boracay, but that may change with the opening of Bohol’s new international airport on Panglao Island in August 2018.
There are many very reasonably priced resorts dotted around the coast of Bohol, many in rural villages, and hiring a car with a driver for touring the island is not expensive here.
Running a very close second to Bohol as the best destination for seniors in the Philippines, many may argue that Palawan should be at the top of the list because of its incredibly beautiful karst island scenery around Coron and El Nido. But it’s a little more costly to reach than Bohol, and not all of the activities available there are suitable for seniors.
Flights to Coron are on turbo-props, which make the airfares more expensive than on the jet flights to Taglibaran (the capital of Bohol), and to get to El Nido it is necessary to take a jet flight to Palawan’s capital, Puerto Princessa, and then a 5-6 hours van ride to El Nido.
The island hopping day trips that are available from Coron and El Nido are the main reason for visiting Palawan, but are only suitable for seniors who are comfortable climbing in and out of boats, and can cope with some easy rock climbing to reach viewpoints and swimming holes.
Palawan’s Underground River is also worth a visit, and involves only one transfer into and out of a boat, but may not be considered worthwhile flying all the way to Palawan if it’s not possible to participate in other activities.
Known as the summer capital of the Philippines, Baguio is located 250 km north of Manila at an elevation of about 5,000 ft. It’s noticeably cooler than the lowland cities, which is why it attracts so many visitors during the summer months.
However, the city itself is quite congested, and air pollution is a problem around the city centre, which is located in a valley, but the nearby Camp John Hay (an ex-USAF R&R station) still retains its quiet hill station atmosphere and is a popular destination for Filipino seniors and families alike.
To the north of Baguio are the provinces of Benguet and Mountain Province. These provinces are where the Philippines’ famous rice terraces are located, as well as the hanging burial grounds of Sagada.
Travelling in this part of the Philippines can be quite difficult during the rainy season, with the possibility of mountain roads being blocked by landslides or falling rocks, so trips to Benguet and Mountain Province should be planned for the drier months between November and May.
Most visitors to Philippines who visit Tagaytay, do so on a day trip from Manila, but for seniors it may be worth doing the reverse – making Tagaytay their base and visiting Manila on a day trip from there.
Tagaytay City is a popular weekend destination for Manila residents as it sits on a ridge at an elevation of about 2,000 ft overlooking the Taal Volcano, the crater of which is on an island within the larger Taal Lake. The climate is milder at Tagaytay although not as cool as Baguio.
There is a wide range of accommodation options around Tagaytay and it provides a good base from which to visit beaches, rainforest resorts and other attractions within Cavite province, and in the neighbouring provinces of Laguna and Batangas.
From Tagaytay it is easy to visit Manila on a day trip should the traveller wish to visit the old walled city of Intramuros, or one of Asia’s largest shopping malls. The highway between Tagaytay and Manila is a good one, but is best travelled mid-week because traffic is always heavy at weekends.
The Philippines is made up of 7,107 islands, so it’s hard to single any of the smaller ones out for special mention. However, Camiguin Island -- a volcanic island with Hawaii-type scenery -- is one that nature lovers can’t stop raving about.
It’s actually part of Mindanao, and currently under martial law, but is considered safe by expatriates living in the Philippines because it is well away from the conflict zones and there have never been any untoward incidents on Camiguin.
Camiguin doesn’t have much nightlife and even less in the way of shopping, but it has beautiful scenery, rainforests, waterfalls and swimming holes. It’s therefore a great destination for nature hikes or as a place to unwind and relax.
As an added bonus, there are some excellent restaurants on Camiguin, many of which offer free pickup from local hotels and resorts.
Best months to visit the Philippines
The Philippines has three seasons: A hot dry season from about mid-February to mid-May which the locals call ‘summer’; a rainy season from mid-May to around mid-November when temperatures are a little cooler; and then three months of cooler weather when there may be a little rain but mostly sunny.
Those three months include the busy Christmas/New Year travel period, and represent the peak travel months for both local and overseas visitors. The week prior to Easter, known as ‘holy week’ in the Philippines, is also a busy travel period for locals, so is best avoided by visitors from overseas. Accommodation prices rise in that week and is often hard to find unless booked many months in advance.
During the hot season temperatures will reach 34°C most days in lowland cities and drop to only 26°C at night. During the rainy season temperatures will rarely exceed 30-31°C during the day and will drop to around 25-26°C at night. During the cool season daytime temperatures can be quite variable but will average around 29°C and can drop as low as 20°C on some nights, but the average minimum for those months is still around 24°C.
In mountainous regions, temperatures are usually lower by about 2-3°C for each 1,000 ft. of elevation.
Currency and exchange rates
The Philippine peso (or piso by its Filipino name) is a weak currency having depreciated from two pesos to the US dollar in the 1950s to around 53 pesos to the US dollar today. However, most of that depreciation occurred through devaluations prior to the year 2000, and since then has depreciated only by three pesos. Therefore the weakness of the currency should not be of any concern to travellers only visiting the country for a few weeks, or even a few months.
As the peso is a weak currency, exchange rates in countries outside of the Philippines is usually very poor. Therefore bring only the minimum required for the first day’s expenses or exchange currency at the airport on arrival. Most Asian currencies can be exchanged in the Philippines, as well as US and Australian dollars, euros and British pounds. The money changing business in the Philippines is very competitive and the spread between buy and sell rates is quite small for hard currencies. The money changers in shopping malls and tourist districts invariably offer better rates than banks and airport money changers, but the rate differences are not large.
Never exchange money on the street in the Philippines. It will always be a scam of some sort.
In 2017 and 2018 the Central Bank of the Philippines introduced new silver-coloured 5 pesos and 10 pesos coins. Many seniors find it hard to differentiate between these and the 1 peso coin because they are the same colour and only slightly larger than each other. The old 5 pesos coin is bronze in colour and the old 10 pesos coin is silver with a bronze inset. Both old and new coins are still in circulation, so visiting seniors need to take care when paying with coins and receiving change.
Header image: © David Astley