Solo Travel Philippines – Everything you need to know

slow travel in Philippines

The Philippines….just WOW! It wasn’t always on my radar until a bloggers conference was announced there by TBEX in 2016. Following a fabulous three days of networking and seminars in Manila, I headed on a press trip to Bacolod and Iloilo. Then, I was free to explore solo! Solo travel in the Philippines was actually much easier than I expected, and a lot easier than other demanding countries in Asia (such as China and India). I would highly recommend it.

The Philippines is actually a lot closer to UK culture than many other Asian cities. I don’t know if you are aware, but the Philippines is actually the only predominantly Christian country in Asia, with 86% of its habitants being Roman Catholic. It also has a very Western approach to both music and food! Looking for some classic rock? You can definitely find it in Manila!

Another perk is that there is no need for a visa to enter the Philippines if you hold a British passport, provided that you are here as a tourist and in the country for no more than 30 days.

In short, the Philippines is a pretty good introduction to Asia for any solo traveller.

However, my top tip for Solo travellers heading to the Philippines is this….get out of Manila as soon as possible! Here’s why…

My top tip for Solo Travel Philippines – Get out of Manila!

Manila, the Filippino capital has some amazing sites to see – in particular Intramuros, the old Spanish quarter and historical area of Manila. In contrast to that, Makati is pretty modern with high tech shopping malls, entertainment hubs and luxury hotels. You will visit Manila for sure, because most international flights go there, so it is likely that you will fly in to Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Make sure that you download the GRAB taxi app for taxis in Manila and other cities in the Philippines – it is the Asian version of Uber.

Arriving in Manila
Cityscape of Manila, Philippines

But let me tell you…beyond this there are a fair few dark sides to Manila, including rip off taxi drivers, horrendous traffic, excessive rubbish and prostitution. Don’t take photos in the red light district, and avoid the outskirts of Manila where there are slums and rubbish dumps. The Skytrain is a great form of transport, but it’s hot and crowded. Traffic is horrendous in Manila. These issues all add up to Manila not being a great introduction to the Philippines.

It once took me three hours to make what should have been a half an hour journey in Manila when I needed to have a medical appointment – not good! I also once nearly passed out on a very hot and packed Skytrain.

Although there were some amazing experiences I had in Manila (including going round the city in a Karaoke Jeepney!), my top tip for solo travel in the Philippines – see Manila in two or three days and then get out!

Is Philippines safe to travel alone?

As a general rule, the Philippines is as safe to travel solo as anywhere really, but there are definitely areas to enjoy and areas to avoid. Keep your valuables close to you – an under clothes money belt is a good idea for solo travel in the Philippines.

Solo travel Philippines money belt

In Manila, stay in either Makati (modern Manila) or Intramuros (Spanish Old Town). Quezon City used to have a very bad reputation but is becoming hip and happening! You do not want to be in any of the slum areas such as Tondo or Smokey Mountain as a tourist. These areas have immense poverty and the desperation leads to crime, particularly muggings. Also avoid any dark corners after the sun goes down. I would generally stay indoors in Manila after dark.

There are also certain areas in the Philippines that you want to avoid due to weather and the political situation. The Philippines is prone to tropical cyclones. Storms most frequently affect the islands of Eastern Visayas, Bicol region, and I’ve known tourists in these areas to get stranded and flooded once or twice! The little boats that go between the islands are definitely to be avoided during stormy weather.

Mindanao (the second largest island in the Philippines after Luzon) is also an island best avoided. It is a complicated destination with frequent political unrest. The UK foreign office and US government often advise against travelling to Mindanao due to risk of terrorism, kidnapping and in the worst circumstances, death. Take the advise of your government to ensure that you have the most up to date information before you travel. UK government travel advice on Philippines is found here.

It goes without saying, but should be reiterated – do not take or carry or sell drugs in the Philippines. You are literally dicing with your life if you do this as they still have the death penalty. You will be presumed to be a drug trafficker if you have more than a third of an ounce of any illegal drug.

Amy in Philippines
Here I am island hopping in the Philippines!

Safety tips for travelling alone in the Philippines

  • Keep your money in a money belt underneath your clothing.
  • Take a mixture of Filipino Pesos and USD – the current exchange rate is around 70PHP to the pound or 55PHP to the dollar.
  • Buy a SIM card the day after you arrive – you don’t want to be stranded without phone or internet. You can buy a SMART tourist SIM here.
  • Use the GRAB app for taxis in Manila and other cities – it works from the airport to Makati.
  • Pre-book your accommodation at least 3-5 days in advance so that you are not without somewhere to stay.
  • Take insect repellant – I got quite severely bitten by mozzies on some of the islands.
  • Get out of Manila as quickly as possible – preferably after 2-3 days.
  • Avoid drugs! You don’t want to end up in prison or even worse with a death sentence.
  • When in doubt or feeling vulnerable, head to the mall! Malls are great especially in Makati. You will have toilets, WIFI and safe places to go if you are being followed.
  • Avoid Tondo and Smokey Mountain in Manila as a tourist.
  • Avoid Mindanao (often a place of political unrest and risk of kidnapping).
  • Take some ‘Pasalubongs‘ (Tagalog for something for when you welcome me). This Filipino tradition of travellers bringing gifts from their destination to people back home is very much alive. It is a really nice idea to have a few gifts from your country to give to people who help you along your travels. English tea leaves, cookies or biscuits and keyrings make nice little gifts that will be appreciated.
  • When you use boats, check that they have life jackets and safety regulations in place.
solo travel Philippines guide

Best Filippino island for solo female travel – Palawan

In my opinion, the best Filippino island for solo female travel is Palawan, which was once voted the best island destination for travel in the world. When I got off the plane in Puerto Princesa International Airport, I felt all the stress of Manila instantly lift! I was greeted by dancers and jolly music (oooooh, oooooh, Puerta Princesa!) and smiling tuk-tuk drivers in tuk-tuks that looks distinctively like space ships who were not out to rip me off!

I stayed at the amazingly chilled out Shebang hostel where I met some other solo travellers to socialise with, and was introduced to an amazingly cheap Adobo (a gorgeous meat dish served in sauce with rice – don’t miss it!)

On Palawan, I had some amazing travel experiences. It was the first time in my life that I saw bats in their natural habitat in the Palawan underground river.

underground river Palawan tips
Heading into the underground river, Palawan

I also enjoyed island Honda Bay island hopping on Star Fish Island, Luli Island and Cowrie island. I actually held a star fish bigger than my hand! (Don’t worry he went straight back into the water after a few seconds).

Reasons to travel to Philippines as a solo traveller

  • Very close to English culture and English is widely spoken.
  • Friendly local people who will help you and love to make friends with you!
  • Good access to reasonably priced private healthcare in the main cities.
  • Great food – don’t miss Adobo, Suman (snack wrapped in banana leaf) and fresh fish.
  • Beautiful pristine beaches and relaxing islands, with amazing snorkelling opportunities.
  • Spanish colonial history (particularly in Intramuros Manila).
  • Over 7000 islands waiting to be explored!
  • Good party atmosphere and great nightlife.
  • Lots of other solo travellers, digital nomads and expats to meet and socialise with.
  • Great value – your money will go far with an average daily budget of $50-75 a day often being enough for food, drinks, accommodation and travel.
Philippines Jeepney solo female travel
Embracing my new found love for the Filipino Jeepney!

Hostel ideas for the Philippines

  • Manila – Z Hostel Makati
  • Puerta Princesa – Shebang Hostel
  • Siargao – Lampara Siargo Boutique hostel
  • Cebu – Nacho Hostel
  • Coron – Hop Hostel
  • El Nido – SPIN Designer

The Philippines is reasonably priced and good value

You may be surprised to hear that the Philippines is even cheaper to travel than Thailand (and when I went to Thailand I couldn’t spend $1000 in a month and I actually came back with money!). So hold your breath….I was regularly paying just $5-6 for a dorm room and $20 a night for a private room! Wowee! Street food was excellent value and it was possible to get an Adobo for just a few dollars. In fact, on a shoestring budget if you cut out alcohol and private tours, it would even be possible to travel in the Philippines for just $30 or £25 a day! This makes the Philippines really attractive to students and solo travellers on a budget.

The easiest way to get used to the exchange rate if you can work in dollars is to remember 100 pesos is roughly $2. You will often be dealing with a few hundred Pesos per transaction, which seems a lot, but you quickly get used to it.

Solo Travel Philippines – Top Destinations

I’ve mention Manila and Palawan already, but there are some other fantastic destinations that I would recommend especially for solo female travel in the Philippines….

  • Coron – Amazing for snorkelling and well known for lagoons and mangroves.
  • Bohol – Famous for its coral reefs and the ‘chocolate hills’. Home to the very cute Tarsier (small big eyed mammal that you can trek to see).
  • Cebu – A popular location amongst expats and digital nomads, with several famous Spanish colonial landmarks.
  • Iloilo – Known for its its old churches (great for me as templeseeker!) and for textiles (raw silk and pineapple fibre fabrics).
  • Bacolod – Famous for sweet and wonderful desserts and known as the City of Smiles because of its MassKara Festival (don’t miss this!)
  • Boracay – This popular party island was recently closed to allow the ecosystem to rejuvinate – double check if it is clean and if tourism there is back on and practice eco-tourism.
Beautiful masks Maskara festival Bacolod
Beautiful masks at the Maskara festival in Bacolod (City of Smiles)

Creating your ideal Solo Travel Itinerary for the Philippines

If you only have 10 days then focus on 3 days in Manila and 6 days on Palawan. Take an internal flight from Manila to Puerta Princesa, flights are really cheap (I think I paid just £70 for this flight although that was a few years ago so prices may have gone up since). This is a good amount of time to enjoy Manila, Puerta Princesa, El Nido and maybe Coron.

If you have two weeks you can slow the above itinerary down and include more time in Coron (island hopping, explore the town, and visit Calauit Safari). Or you can speed it up and add another internal flight to include a third destination such as Cebu.

If you have longer, say 3 weeks in the Philippines, then I would be tempted to add on either Bohol and Boracay or Bacolod and Iloilo with some island hopping from those destinations too. Overall I would advise that you don’t attempt to do more than 2 island destinations per week on your trip, because internal flights more frequently than twice a week would be too exhausting.

Iloilo and Bacolod
Island hopping from Iloilo

What to Pack for Philippines

Hand Luggage…

  • Passport and printed travel documents (I use an A5 plastic wallet to keep all mine together).
  • Filippino Pesos and crisp USD, plus a credit or debit card.
  • Mobile phone (unlocked), charger and battery pack.
  • Laptop and charger – I use a Macbook Air when travelling as it is so lightweight.
  • Sunglasses – if you wear glasses normal then try to get reactive lenses so you don’t need to keep changing.
  • Lonely Planet Philippines – This is the best paperback guide out there, and I love to have something physical to read at night or during WIFI outages.
  • One top and spare set of undies (in case main luggage goes missing in the flight!)

what to pack for philippines

Main checked Luggage…

  • Medication – regular medication, Dioralyte sachets (for dehydration), paracetomol, Antihistamines (for bites or allergies), plasters, antiseptic cream and triangular bandage and any antibiotics you may need.
  • Sun cream and after sun (I like Ambre Solair factor 30 with Shea butter as its great value).
  • Toiletries – Solid shampoo and conditioner work well, soap or shower gel, travel toothpaste and toothbrush, brush or comb, face wash.
  • Minimal make up – it’s way too hot for foundation and thick make up will not be necessary in such a tropical climate (it will slide right off your face!) – take a tinted moisturiser rather than a foundation. If you must bring make up, pair it down to a tinted lip gloss, blusher and one eyeshadow.
  • Bug spray with DEET or alternative – remember to top this up after swimming as well!

what to pack for Philippines Jungle formula

  • Comfortable trousers – cotton or linen floaty pants work well.
  • A pair of comfortable shorts (cycling shorts) and a pair of leggings.
  • Bikini and swimming costume (swim shorts for men) and sarong.
  • Light reversible wrap around skirt for women – this will do you a couple of outfits!

wrap skirt for Philippines

  • Several T shirts and long sleeved cotton tops (not too low cut or strappy).
  • A comfortable beach dress and a long maxi dress with cardigan (nice for cooler evenings).
  • Hiking socks and hiking boots (I used these Karrimor weatherlite walking boots for ladies)
  • A lightweight waterproof jacket or rain shell incase it rains while hiking – this Bergaus one is ideal.
  • Head torch – for hiking and walking around at night as some places are poorly lit.
  • Soft fold up bag for beach days or to keep dirty washing separate.

what to pack for Philippines walking boots

  • A pair of sandals and pair of flip flops for the beach.
  • Aqua shoes – these are great to have for snorkelling, but you don’t need to take your own snorkel kit which will be too bulky to travel with (and you can rent one there).
  • Lonely Planet Philippines – This is the best paperback guide out there, and I love to have something physical to read at night or during WIFI outages.
  • A few ‘Pasalubong’ – gifts for friends who may help you along your journey.

Always get travel insurance

Remember to always get travel insurance – expect the unexpected. Motorbike injuries, serious insect bites and even tropical diseases can occur in a country like the Philippines. There is also a risk of severe weather disrupting your trip plans. If you have pre-existing conditions, you will need to declare them so that you remain covered. But you don’t want to be financially down due to route diversions or slammed with a massive unexpected hospital bill in the Philippines.

Overall Verdict – Should I travel to the Philippines alone?

Yes! Go for it!

The Philippines is one of my favourite countries in Asia for solo travel. Just be aware of your time limits and don’t over-plan. Get insured, pack wisely and book that flight!

If you are interested in further reading then you might also like these articles on solo travel in the Philippines….