Travel Alert: Due to the uncertain political situation in Mindinao, including the Zamboanga Peninsula and the Sulu Archipelago, travel to these areas is not advised. Check Safe Travel for current government warnings.
The second-largest archipelago in the world, with over 7000 tropical islands, the Philippines is one of the great treasures of Southeast Asia. Often overlooked by travellers because of its location on the ‘wrong’ side of the South China Sea, the Philippines rewards those who go the extra distance to reach it. And because it’s off the beaten path, the Philippines is a great place to escape the hordes who descend on other parts of Southeast Asia. First and foremost, the Philippines is a place of natural wonders – a string of coral-fringed islands strewn across a vast expanse of the western Pacific. Below sea level, the Philippines boasts some of the world’s best diving and snorkelling, including wreck diving around Coron and swimming with the whale sharks off Donsol. Above sea level, it has a fantastic landscape with wonders enough to stagger even the most jaded traveller: the Chocolate Hills of Bohol, Banaue & the Rice Terraces and fascinating reminders of the islands’ history in places such as Samar & Leyte and Vigan. And if you’re after palm-fringed, white-sand beaches, try laidback Sipalay or flat-out party town Boracay.
Of course, any traveller who has been here will tell you that it’s the people and their culture that makes the Philippines unique. Long poised at the centre of Southeast Asian trade, colonised by a succession of world powers, the Philippines is a vivid tapestry that reflects its varied cultural inheritance. And despite the poverty that afflicts much of the nation, the Filipinos themselves are among the most ebullient and easygoing people anywhere. The Philippines truly qualifies as one of the last great frontiers in Southeast Asian travel. Cross whichever ocean you need to and see for yourself.
In some regions the seasons are flipped. Much of the eastern seaboard – including Eastern Mindanao, Southern Leyte, Eastern Samar and Southeast Luzon – is rainy from December to March and fairly dry when the rest of the country is sopping.
The central Visayas – including Bohol, Negros and Cebu – are sheltered from the monsoon rains and thus have less pronounced seasons. These areas are liable to have rain at any time of the year, but it’s usually not too serious unless there’s a typhoon stirring up trouble on the eastern seaboard.
Typhoons, known as bagyo, are common from June to November. Striking mainly in Luzon and the Visayas, they do millions of dollars worth of damage annually. Typhoons also tend to enhance the habagat, resulting in several days of heavy rains across vast swaths of the country. Even typhoons that pass several hundred kilometres offshore can have this unfortunate, potentially vacation-ruining effect.
The hottest month in lowland regions is May, when temperatures hover as high as 38°C. The coolest, least humid months are January and February, which can be downright pleasant.
With a flexible itinerary you can use the website of PAGASA (www.pagasa.dost.gov.ph) to avoid meteorological trouble spots.