The following Philippine Travel Advisory for January 2011 is based upon direct experience of traveling by public transport between Manila and Cebu, Davao City, Mati (Davao Oriental), Samal Island (Davao del Norte), Subic Bay and Batangas / Puerto Galera, within December 2010 and January 2011.
The northeast monsoon has set in over much of the country. Due to the unusually warmer, moist West Pacific airs the central part of the Philippines is being affected by more rain showers, some of them prolonged. Central and North Luzon, Mindoro and northern Palawan are generally clear and seasonally cooler – visibility of more than 20 miles is evident across Manila Bay and throughout most of North and central Luzon.
As the northeast monsoon stabilizes over the coming few weeks the clearer, cooler air is expected to progress South to cover the entirety of the Philippine archipelago.
Stay on the beaches and you will come to no harm from the weather so long as you apply sunblock.
Philippine Room Rates
The High Season is now upon us and room rates are almost at their peak (they will peak around Easter). There are still some bargains to be had if you don't want five-star accommodation & service, although the five-star Mandarin Hotel, in Makati City, has been reported to be offering US$100 rooms within the past two weeks. Best advice is to shop around and don't take the first price offered.
Philippine Air Fares
Cheap air fares at bargain prices are still available on most routes from most airlines especially if you book on the Internet. Up to 50% off regular air fares is not uncommon, especially if you can travel early morning or late evening. Airphil Express and Zest Air are still consistently the cheapest, followed by Cebu Pacific and SEAir; Philippine Airlines are generally the most expensive – they give free drinks and snacks to compensate.
For a guide to which airlines travel which routes look at the excellent how to fly to
page on this website.
Getting Around The Philippines
The big news out of Manila is that the Star Tollway now links directly to the South Superhighway and removes a seven kilometer stretch that frequently took longer than 30 minutes to negotiate. This is most significant if you are traveling south to Batangas Port to get to Romblon, Puerto Galera, Bulalacao and Boracay overland.
Road tolls have increased by as much as 30% on all major highways out of the city and although this has not yet translated into higher bus fares, it will affect you if you hire a car or drive yourself. Watch out for more toll increases during the coming months, especially going South.
The most-honest taxi drivers – honoring the flag fall / meter, without question and giving exact change - were found in Davao City; the least-honest (generally not specifically) were found around Metro Manila.
The most picturesque air-conditioned bus ride was from Davao City to Mati (Davao Oriental) - the last hour to Mati offers simply spectacular scenery.
Philippines Safety & Security
As always keep a hand on your personal belongings at all times while traveling, use safety deposit boxes if provided by your hotel and don't accept offers that appear to good to be true.
On this last subject you should be wary of people offering foreign exchange quotes that are one or more points better than at the bank. For example: as I walk along the streets of the Malate area of Manila City I have been approached many times by touts offering US$ rates at (say) 45 to 1 when the best bank rate is (on the same day) 43.5 to 1. These touts will take you to a legitimate money changer who will confirm the excellent rate and then cheat you in the counting of the money, and if you notice the discrepancy in the counting they will most likely get angry with you and throw your money back at you. If in Malate do use the SHEENA MONEY CHANGER along Mabini Street (between the City State and Hyatt hotels) for efficient and trouble free money exchange at a fair market rate – they don't use touts and they have no record of cheating in the counting. If you want to use a bank to be doubly sure then the BDO bank consistently offers the best rate of any bank.
Finally, if you must stay in Manila instead of frequenting the Philippines' most beautiful beaches, mountains and water ways then, unless you are planning to hang-out in Makati's Greenbelt or visit the your country's Ambassador for tea, dress down and leave the jewelry at home.
My Philippine Travel Advisory Best Advice: get out of Manila and enjoy the hospitality of the Philippines by visiting the less traveled destinations. And if you like tuna then go to Davao City where the tuna is fresh from the sea and inexpensive; it's yummy raw (kinilaw or sashimi style) or grilled.
I offer this advice to compensate for the lack of detail offered by various international governments in their own Philippine Travel Advisories - they are guided by political correctness and I am driven by the reality that I experience on the ground, in the air and across the waters. I offer no warranty but then neither do they.