Not many people realize this, but the Philippines is one of the best countries for nature lovers and adventure seekers. There’s a good reason why it is often referred to as the last frontier – especially when it comes to aquatic attractions, with some of the most well preserved marine sanctuaries and coral reefs. Combined with thick jungles, white sand beaches and a laidback island vibe, this place is the closest to heaven on earth.
The fact this place is still relatively unnoticed by western tourists helps preserve its status as a place of raw virgin nature. That said, things are changing rapidly as more and more tourist flock to more popular and beautiful locations. Now, the country is really at a good balanced state between off the track adventure and well-developed tourism infrastructure. This makes it a perfect spot for families who want to experience something unusual and exciting but are still concerned about basic comfort and amenities.
Now is the best time to visit the Philippines, before overdevelopment ruins every good part of it. This has already happened to Boracay, one of the most popular islands, which has been closed down to tourists for at least 6 months in order to rehabilitate it. Unless this means a change in overall government policy, other islands are likely to soon follow the same fate. Still, the value you and your family can get from visiting the country is insurmountable, as long as you plan it well enough. Read below to find the key points to be aware of while planning your trip to the Philippines.
Choosing the most family-friendly islands
The hardest part of planning this trip would be to choose exactly where you should go to. There are more than 7000 islands and so many of them are simply amazing. That said, you have to read carefully and sift through the endless amount of hype, so you’ll have a chance of finding the islands which are right for you and your loved ones. Many locations, albeit stunning, don’t have steady electricity or running water, and are therefore far from ideal for a family-type vacation.
The Philippines is essentially divided into 4 major areas: Luzon, Visayas, Palawan and Mindanao. With the exception of the latter which is not safe, all others can provide an interesting and equally pleasurable experience. The trick is to plan carefully and do your research so you can understand exactly what each area has to offer.
Generally speaking, Luzon is mostly about culture with Manila being the focal point from which you take various tours in and outside the city. If you are up for a bit of a rough trip, take the bus to Banaue and see the rice terraces as well. Visayas is more of a laidback island area, with many well-developed islands that are perfect for families such as Cebu and Bohol. Lastly, Palawan is the best place to capture that lost paradise vibe, as it is the quintessential tropical beach location.
With regards to tours and attractions, the list is too long to count. Diving, snorkeling and island-hopping tours can be done everywhere, but each location also has a bunch of unique attraction to try. Try and limit your itinerary and don’t make it too busy, especially with transfers from one island to another, since these things tend to be disorganized and can easily go wrong. If you really want to maximize your trip and only have a short time to stay, book your ground and sea transportation tickets online. This will help you avoid the usual pitfalls of a busy itinerary.
What to expect from resorts?
When browsing the various booking sites in search of places to stay at, take ratings with a grain of salt. Generally speaking, you should reduce 1 star from the rating you see in order to adapt it to western standards. Same goes for the average ratings provided by guests – you need to actually examine who were the guests who gave those ratings and where did they come from. Many hotels are only popular among local tourists and Filipinos have much lower standards and expectations, so this is something you should always keep in mind.
The best hotels for families are without a doubt found in the islands of Cebu and Bohol. Over there, you can find plenty of resorts that specialize in catering to the needs of all family members. There are quite a few all-inclusive hotels there, some actually offering the highest standards imaginable. Nanny service, activities for kids and a free snack corner are all great features that can help keep everybody happy.
If you decide to go to places which are even a bit remote, the best thing to do is first contact the hotel directly. You have to ask about the facilities and infrastructure they offer – the last thing you want is to arrive with your kids and find out there’s no basic services at the hotel you booked. Another thing to keep in mind is the distance from the center. Don’t just rely on google maps, because sometimes even 50km can take 2 hours to drive through due to bad road conditions or traffic along the way.
Stay safe and have fun
Contrary to popular belief, the Philippines is actually an extremely safe country. As long as you stay outside of Mindanao and certain parts of the big cities you should be absolutely fine. Locals loves kids and you can expect people coming up to you and playing with your children. Don’t be alarmed, this is part of the fun of going to this country – it’s very easy to mix with the locals and it really enhances your holiday experience.
When going on tours make sure you always follow the guide’s instructions. Safety awareness isn’t the best in this country, so it’s better if you use your own judgement when deciding which attractions are suitable for all family members. Whatever you do, try and avoid booking tours with the local vendors as much as possible. Booking with a foreign tour operator or directly through your hotel might be more expensive but the difference in quality is overwhelming. It’s not worth it to risk your family for such a small amount of money.
Ultimately, there’s nothing stopping you from having the best vacation of your life. The fact this place is so undeveloped means everyone can plan and build the best trip for his own needs – there’s a lot of room for improvising and doing everything on your own terms. Just remember to stay patient when there are delays and maintain a positive attitude – and you will have the vacation of a lifetime, full of memories all family members can later share.