The Philippines is a large archipelago in South East Asia, consisting of thousands of stunning islands within the coral triangle. This is one of the things to know before visiting the Republic of the Philippines, as it can be a surprise just how big the Country is.
The waters are just as blue as you see on Instagram, and the palm tree lined white beaches are a draw for many visitors from around the world.
Voted the world’s leading dive destination in December 2019 by World Travel Awards beating the Maldives to this coveted #1 spot, there is no better time to visit Cebu and the Philippines.
Cebu is a tourist hot spot due to its year-round sunshine, abundance of waterfalls, stunning snorkelling, the chance to dive with 8 million sardines, and relaxed pace of life.
Moalboal Eco Lodge want to help you prepare for your trip, so we share things you should know before visiting the Philippines. If you follow this advice, you will manage your expectations and have the most amazing time!
1. Filipinos speak excellent English
The Philippines has two official languages: Filipino/Tagalog and English with over 92% of the country speaking English as their second language.
Tagalog is the main Filipino language in the Philippines, here in Moalboal it’s Bisaya, but everyone speaks and understands English. If you want to be polite and friendly with the locals, saying just a few works will make them smile.
Salamat = thank you
Palihug = please
Dai = a young female used in a sentence as “excuse me dai” or “salamat dai”
Dong = a young male used in the same way as dai
2. Locals are extremely friendly and polite
Filipinos are very friendly people, smiling and waving for no other reason than to be nice. Children give high 5’s, shopkeepers ask how long you are staying, and men on motorbikes say “hello” as they pass you. Almost everyone you encounter will address you as “ma’am” or “sir”.
If you want the best experience from your trip to the Philippines, interact with the locals. If they ask “where are you going” or “where have you been”, this is their way of being friendly so respond. Sometimes they aren’t really interested in the answer, it’s just a chance to speak with someone new and maybe practice their English.
Filipinos try to avoid confrontation, so if something doesn’t go to plan, be less assertive and talk with a smile.
3. There are over 7,600 islands
The Philippines is the second largest archipelago on the planet (Indonesia being the first) with 7,641 islands covering 36,289 kilometres (22,549 miles).
Don’t try to visit too many islands in one trip as there is a lot to see and do, and travelling between islands can take time. You can easily spend two weeks in and around the islands of Cebu including five or six days in Cebu, where there is the famous sardine run and canyoneering at Kawasan Falls. Options for nearby islands are ethical whale shark watching in Leyte, scuba diving with thresher sharks in Malapascua, dolphin watching in Negros, or laze on the most stunning white beaches in Siquijor.
Want to know how you can spend 5 days in Moalboal?
Check out these 28 Things to do in Moalboal, Cebu
4. Travel days can be longer than you think
With no trains/metro/underground systems, the only way to travel around islands is by taxi/motorbike/bus. Often this means a lot of traffic in the main cities, and travel time to your destination takes longer than you initially plan.
For example, Moalboal is 98km from Cebu City so you may think travel time is around 2 hours, the reality is the journey will take at least 2.5 – 3 hours by taxi (depending on time of day), and around 3-4 hours (if not more) by bus. For travel options, check out our Travel Information page.
This isn’t including boat travel between islands. When planning your trip to Cebu and the Philippines, make sure you factor in plenty of travel time.
5. “The Beach” was inspired by the Philippines
Leonardo Di Caprio’s 2001 hit movie The Beach may have been filmed in Thailand, but it was actually inspired by El Nido, Palawan in the Philippines. Although El Nido is undoubtedly stunning, be prepared that it may not be as quiet as you hoped.
El Nido and Palawan are one of the most visited places in the Philippines, so expect LOTS of tourists, especially around Chinese New Year.
6. The snorkelling and Scuba Diving are world class
If you love to snorkel or scuba dive, the Philippines are located in the Coral Triangle. Marine experts and scientists have said the Philippines are at the heart of the world’s marine biodiversity.
In and around Cebu, you can walk off the beach to snorkel (or dive) with 8 million sardines, go island hopping to see turtles, scuba dive with thresher sharks in Malapascua, and search for cool critters at amazing macro and muck diving sites in Dauin, Negros. Not to mention the plethora of colourful reef fish that live here (yes you can find Nemo!).
7. No, the whale sharks at Oslob are not an ethical attraction
Whale Shark tourism in Oslob is not ethical. They are fed to keep them hanging around purely for tourists, and this has changed their natural behaviour which is very bad for a species classified as endangered.
By feeding them, sharks are associating boats and humans with food which makes them easier to catch when they enter unprotected waters on their migratory route across the ocean.
Interaction with these gentle giants is largely unregulated with local guidelines broken over 97% of the time, and no money from the tourism is spent on conservation.
If you speak to any marine conservationist, environmental advocate, ocean lover or responsible diver they will all tell you that snorkelling in Oslob, Cebu should not be done.
Studies by the non-profit group LAMAVE have shown Whale shark tourism has led to the decline of the local coral reef ecosystem, the sharks are showing scars within one week of arriving in Oslob, they are not as large and healthy as they should be.
For an ethical encounter, visit either Southern Leyte which is the island next to Cebu, or Donsol near Luzon.
8. Restaurants provide free filtered water
The Philippines is the third biggest contributor to plastic waste into our oceans, so before you add to this by ordering a bottle of water, ask for service water! Restaurants provide filtered service water FOR FREE if you ask for it
If you want to help with the single use plastic problem in the Philippines, carry a refillable water bottle and canvas carry bag with you, and always say “no plastic”. At Moalboal Eco Lodge, in our private rooms we supply free refillable aluminium bottles and a canvas bag to all guests to help them reduce their plastic usage.
9. There are only two seasons
Being a tropical Country near the equator, there are only two seasons; dry, hot and humid or wet, hot and humid. It’s the reason why the Philippines is so lush and green.
So when is the best time to visit the Philippines? The answer depends on where you wish to travel, but for Cebu and the Visayas, October to May is dry season with predominantly bright blue skies (although rain does still occur, we are in the tropics after all).
Typically the dry season is between November to May, the wet season June to October, but do bear in mind how many thousands of kilometres this archipelago covers! It may be pouring buckets in Manila, but bright and sunny in Cebu.
10. The Philippines has a Typhoon season - what you can expect during a typhoon/hurricane.
A typhoon, hurricane, cyclone are the same words for the same thing - a large, tropical storm which causes extreme weather, and winds that are at least 119km or 74 miles an hour.
Typhoons usually occur during the wet season and can begin as a tropical depression, turn into a tropical storm and later a typhoon. It draws energy from the sea surface maintaining its strength as long as it remains over warm water, hence the change in storm category.
Even though typhoons are common during the wet season, it doesn’t mean it will be raining all the time, or that roofs are continuously flying off buildings as you see in the movies, however it's best to check the weather report for the island/area you plan to visit. Here in Moalboal, Cebu, we are sheltered by islands to the east and west so experience less harsh weather than some other parts of the Country.
If a typhoon is thousands of kilometres away, you may still experience the edge of one, meaning strong winds accompanied with rain. The level of rain and wind will depend on how close the typhoon is. Typhoons can last a few days then it’s back to bright blue skies and sunshine, however as mentioned, be sure to check the weather report before your visit, or before you book a day trip during this time.
Generally, Northeast monsoons are November to April; and Southwest monsoons May to October, but weather doesn’t always adhere to rules.
11. The Wi-Fi and internet are pretty good
Some places in the Philippines do not have the best wi-fi, particularly in El Nido and Coron, however here in Cebu and Moalboal, you shouldn’t encounter any problems. As the Philippines is the social media capital of the world with the average person spending around 4 hours per day on the internet, decent access is a priority!
Most restaurants have wi-fi, and here at Moalboal Eco Lodge we have fast internet. As a fulltime travel writer for Feet Do Travel, I need uninterrupted access, and before we opened Moalboal Eco Lodge, I rarely had problems with wi-fi. There are a number of establishments where to sit, order lunch or a coffee and work online.
To give yourself more flexibility for arranging tours, tricycles, notifying your accommodation that you are still on the bus from Cebu City and will be checking in later than planned, I would recommend purchasing a local SIM card at the airport.
There are two network providers; Globe is the most popular and there is also Smart, both are cheap and reliable. Topping up to make calls or internet data is called load, so look out for anywhere that says “load na dito”.
12. There are 21 National Holidays – Filipinos love to celebrate
The Philippines have a whopping 21 National Holidays per year, so some places may be closed when you visit, or tourist attractions may be extra busy. Before you travel, look at this list of National Holidays so you are prepared.
There are many festivals throughout the year all over the Philippines. Being devout Catholics, there are obviously festivals at Christmas and Easter, but Filipinos will find any excuse to let their hair down. If you plan to visit Cebu mid-January, be aware that Sinulog is the biggest festival of the year held in the 3rd week which will result in road closures, accommodation being booked up, and thousands of people lining the streets.
Here are a few examples of the reasons behind National Holidays.
National Hero’s Day – last Monday of August. This day remembers people considered to have helped the Philippines advance as a nation, and this date was chosen to mark the beginning of the Philippine revolution against the Spanish colonisers in 1896.
All Saints’ Day & All Soul’s Day (referred to as Undas) – 1 + 2 November, a Roman Catholic holiday in which Filipinos visit the graves of their departed loved ones. To prepare for Undas, families will visit the graves of their ancestors before the holiday to clean up the area and perform maintenance. During the holiday, people will decorate the graves with flowers and candles. The cemeteries will come alive during this period.
Bonifacio Day - 30 November, celebrating the birthday of Andrés Bonifacio, one of the Philippine’s greatest heroes, he is considered the Father of the Philippine Revolution against Spanish colonisation.
13. Proud to be Pinoy
You may hear and see the word “Pinoy” when travelling around the Philippines. Pinoy is an informal, colloquial way of describing the Filipino people and its culture. As Australian’s would say they are “Aussies”, Filipino’s say they are Pinoy.
14. The Comfort Room isn’t what you think!
If you see a sign for a Comfort Room (or CR), this is actually the toilet, so don’t enter thinking you will receive a massage or foot rub because you will be severely disappointed!
15. Embrace the bum gun
As like most places in Asia, toilet paper isn’t necessarily in every toilet. Some establishments have a hose attached to the toilet for you to use (a bum gun as it’s sometimes called), or a bucket of water with a dipper.
If this makes you feel uncomfortable, I would suggest you carry toilet paper with you to use, however please remember to always place the paper in the bin otherwise you will block the system. They do not have the pipes/septic system to cope with paper, so don’t be the cause of someone having to unblock the toilet after you have visited.
16. The Philippines was once a Spanish colony
For 300 years the Philippines were part of the Spanish Empire, so you will see many Spanish influences in buildings, food, and Catholicism is the main religion.
The Philippines Independence day is celebrated on 12 June, the day they declared their independence from Spain in the year 1898.
Fun fact: It was on Cebu in 1565 that the Spanish made their first settlement, to convert the people to Roman Catholicism. More than 86 % of today’s population are still Catholic, and they are the only Christian nation in Asia.
If you want to know which dishes have been influenced by Spain, read our post must-try Filipino Food
17. American influences everywhere
After gaining independence from Spain, the Americans ruled for around 40 years.
Between 4 February 1899 and 2 July 1902 there was Philippine-American war, with the US emerging victorious. The war and US occupation lead to the introduction of English as the primary language of government, education, business, industry and among upper-class families and educated individuals.
The United States granted the Philippines independence after World War II on 4 July 1946.
18. Jeepneys are a fun way to travel around
Jeepneys are left over from the American War days and are army jeeps which carry between 12 – 20 people. Passengers are crammed in knee-to-knee, some hanging onto the bars at the back, and prices are exceptionally cheap (sometimes 10 pesos for a journey).
The best thing about Jeepneys? Each one is decorated differently; some brightly coloured, some with religious paintings but each one is unique. Looking out for Jeepneys is my equivalent to a street art hunt and I’m obsessed with them!
Make sure you have your camera ready so you don’t miss a special Jeepney!
19. San Miguel is brewed in the Philippines
Beer drinkers may think San Miguel is a Spanish beer but it’s actually from the Philippines! San Miguel Pilsen (Pilsen for short) is served in small brown bottles, or you can opt for San Miguel Light (SML for short) which is light in calories, not alcohol content! If you prefer a flavoured beer there is Lemon or Apple San Miguel.
Also from the San Miguel brewery, for a hangover that kicks like a mule, try the super-strong Red Horse which has an ABV of 6.9%.
We sell all of the above at Moalboal Eco Lodge if you want to enjoy a crisp, cold beer whilst watching the sunset behind palm trees.
20. Filipinos are crazy about Karaoke
The sound of popular tunes being murdered can be heard everywhere (especially if I pick up the microphone). It’s part of their culture and Filipinos have no shame in screeching into it, practice makes perfect right??
Karaoke is everywhere and can be very loud and noisy; in local markets, in restaurants, at the beach and in people’s homes. If you want to be a part of this proud Pinoy culture, don’t be shy – join in!
Fun Fact: Filipino Roberto del Rosario first patented the Karaoke Sing Along System in 1975.
21. Christmas is an entire season not just one day
Christmas in the Philippines lasts nearly five months. It begins around 1 September when you will see Christmas trees in the supermarket along with hearing Christmas songs, and ends after Sinulog, the 3rd week in January. Someone once wished me a “happy Christmas” in February.
Some Barangays/towns hold Christmas Tree or Nativity Scene competitions. They are decorated using any materials they can find and Imagination can run wild; painted coconut trees, old CD’s, plastic bottles – anything and everything is used.
22. Roosters are everywhere
Wherever you are in the Philippines, the sound of roosters can be heard all day and night. Most locals keep roosters for cockfighting, which is a lucrative source of income. When the minimum wage is only P350, income needs to be substituted in some way.
As an animal lover, I never have or will attend a cockfight, but I know people who have, and I know locals who keep them for fights.
You will see cocks tied up on the side of the road, or standing next to wooden A-Frames. Groups of men stand around holding their cocks and stroking them, as they are highly valuable. Bets can start at around P3,000 and the winner can take home as much as P15,000, plus the losers’ dead cock.
23. There are a lot of street dogs, most are very friendly
Stray dogs are everywhere, some are healthy looking, others not so much. Many dogs have mange which is a skin condition similar to scabies, and you will see many skinny dogs foraging for food, it’s a very sad sight. Surprisingly nearly all street dogs are very friendly, often approaching you for attention (and probably food!). This photo is of our rescue street dog Jaffy; she had lost all her hair as a puppy due to mange so we nursed her back to health and she stole our hearts.
If you love animals and are approached by a friendly dog wagging it's tail, take a moment to stroke them because they may not get a lot of love.
24. Basketball is a hero’s sport
Basketball is the national sport and is played everywhere. From a small muddy fields to a big sports’ complex, Filipinos will happily shoot hoops whenever they can.
25. Crime is lower than you think!
Is it safe to visit the Philippines? Yes.
Is the Philippines safe for solo travellers? Yes
Overall, the Philippines is a safe place to visit, especially here in Moalboal and Cebu. As with anywhere you travel in the world (and within your own Country!), some common sense rules need to be applied to avoid pick-pocketing and petty crimes.
Since the controversial President Rodrigo Duterte was elected in June 2016, the nationwide crime rate has dropped by 22.6%. Duterte’s “war on drugs” has been widely popular with Filipinos, and when speaking to locals in Moalboal, they feel there are less drug-related crimes such as theft and assaults. As a result of this campaign, because there is less crime, locals and tourists feel safer and happier.
To help with petty crime, you will see security guards everywhere. In the pharmacy, the bank, shopping malls, even the local supermarket has security guards so don’t be surprised when they ask to see your bag for inspection.
Note: Even though crime is lowering, there are parts of the Philippines such as Mindanao that are unsafe for tourists, however this isn’t a tourist destination. Remember, no matter where in the world you travel, there are always dangers and annoyances you need to be aware of. For your peace of mind, always check travel warnings for the country you plan to visit.
Geographical Divisions: Luzon (north), Visayas (middle), Mindanao (south)
Surrounding Seas: South China Sea (west), Philippine Sea (east), Celebes Sea (southwest)
Currency: Philippine Peso written as ₱ or PHP
Capital: Manila, Luzon
For more help before you visit the Philippines, visit our Travel Information page.
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