Traveling in the Philippines can be pretty cheap if you plan your trip properly, which mainly means map out your route before you go and book your flights! If you’re like me who has a hard time planning anything in advance, you’ll have to fork out a lot for plane tickets for flights that leave a couple of days later. I will share some things to consider when planning a trip to the Philippines after my daily expense breakdown.
Note: I am using the currency exchange rate from Philippine Pesos to US Dollars from February 2015 – 1PHP = 0.02269 USD; the exchange rate might change slightly over time.
My daily expenses in the Philippines came to US$56.55, which include said pricey flights, but not my flights in and out of the country. If I leave out my costs for flights within the country, my daily expenses come down to US$43.45. It’s not necessarily cheap, especially for South East Asia, but it is still less than $50 a day. I am confident that you can travel the Philippines comfortably on $50 a day, including flights, if you book them in advance and get better prices on them than I did, and on $40 a day if you don’t plan on doing any pricey activities such as diving, boat trips or renting motorbikes – but you’d be missing out if you didn’t include at least some of these things.
For a better idea of what to expect with regards to cost of accommodation, tours, public transportation and food, read on for my budget breakdown.
The cost for accommodation differs quite a lot, depending on where you go. In Boracay the cheapest private room I could find (in high season) was PHP1,250/ US$28.32, a dorm room in Boracay was PHP600/ US$13.60. Dorms in a central location in Manila are also around PHP600, slightly cheaper in older hostels or hostels that aren’t located as conveniently as the hostels in Makati, for example. For a budget hotel, check out the Tune Hotel in Makati (Tune Hotels work similar to budget airlines: the earlier you book, the cheaper the room rate). Less touristy islands like Siquijor had private rooms for as little as PHP500 /US$11.33, and the cheapest dorm I came across in the Philippines was PHP250 /US$5.66. The cheapest private room I found in El Nido was PHP600 /US$13.60, dorms in a centrally located hostel were also around PHP600.
Average per night: PHP500 /US$11.33
My flights were all around US$100 but you can easily get better deals than I did if you book in advance – much better deals, for as little as US$15 during flight sales, or around $30 if you book in advance. I share more tips on finding the cheapest flights below.
The other main transportation you’ll take will be ferries, which range from PHP25 /US$0.57 or PHP62 /US$1.40 for short rides to PHP395 /US$9 for longer rides (3-4 hours). On top of that, you’ll always pay a terminal fee (see below). The most expensive ferry fee I paid was PHP965 /US$22, which included the ferry ticket, a surcharge for my luggage and the terminal fee.
Other modes of transport you’ll encounter are buses, which range from very basic city buses to more comfortable long-distance coaches. A 4-hour bus ride on Cebu Island cost me PHP175 /US$3.95, a night bus from Manila is PHP470-530 / US$10.66-11.90. The 2-hr bus ride I took on Bohol was PHP30 /US$0.68.Motorbike rentals start at PHP250 /US$5.66 per day.
A taxi from Manila airport into town was PHP200 /US$4.50, a shared tricycle from the ferry port in Boracay to White Beach was PHP20 /US$0.45 – just to give you an idea of what to expect.
Average: PHP1,780 /US$40 for a flight, PHP210 /US$4.70 for a ferry ride.
Island tours and sunset cruises on Boracay were PHP800 /US$18, a walking tour in Manila PHP1,200 /US$27, a snorkeling tour Apo Island PHP1,000 /US$22.50, island hopping tours in El Nido were between PHP1,200-1,400 / US$27-31.50; Sabang underground river PHP1,500 /US$33.72; a motorcycle island tour in Siquijor PHP700 /US$15.75.
Average: PHP1,000 /US$22.50
A meal in Boracay cost me around PHP300 /US$6.75, up to PHP500/ US$11.25 for a nicer meal. Prices in Manila were about the same. Food from a street food stall is between PHP25-50 /US$0.56-1.12. In other places, I usually paid around PHP200 /US$4.50 for a cheaper vegetarian meal, dishes with fish or meat were usually around PHP300 /US$6.75. I usually paid PHP190 /US$4.30 for breakfast, but in touristy areas (El Nido or Boracay) up to PHP350 /US$8 and a fancy breakfast in Manila set me back at PHP650 /US$14.72. A big bottle of water averaged PHP30-50 /US$0.68-1.13, a decent cup of coffee was between PHP100-125 /US$2.30-2.83; a fresh fruit shake cost around PHP110 /US$250.
Average: PHP200 /US$4.50 for a vegetarian meal & PHP300/US$6.75 for a non-vegetarian meal.
Let’s start with alcoholic drinks: Beer is usually between PHP40-60 /US$0.89-1.35, in some pricier places PHP80 /US$1.79. Cocktails were on average around PHP200 /US$4.50, but can be pricier in some bars in Manila and Boracay. I never paid entrance fee for nightclubs since I only went to clubs and bars that didn’t have a cover fee.
Average night out: PHP250 – 500 /US$5.66-$11.33, depending on your drink of choice.
Things to consider when planning a trip to the Philippines
Have a return ticket!
Most countries require proof of a return ticket out of the country, but I’ve seen this rarely checked, especially in South East Asia. In the Philippines, however, I had to show my ticket and prove that I’d be leaving again. Luckily I bought a ticket from Manila to Bangkok the night before I boarded my flight to the Philippines, otherwise I wouldn’t have been allowed on the plane.
Plan in advance
My main recommendation is to plan your trip as detailed as possible – especially the flights you’ll be taking. Since you’re only issued a 28-day tourist visa in the Philippines anyway, you should know your dates for at least some of your flights already.
Factor in terminal fees
When you take a ferry or a plane, you usually have to pay a terminal fee in the Philippines. These vary considerably – from PHP100 (US$2.27) to PHP200 (US$4.54) at airports to as little as PHP14 (US$0.32) at ferry ports. While they are not outrageously high, it is still an expense you need to factor in. Sometimes they are included in the ferry ticket, other times they are not. When leaving the Philippines, I paid the highest terminal fee: PHP550 (US$12) at Manila Airport.
I found that in the Philippines, it could make a huge difference which airline you took. Unfortunately, Cebu Pacific, the least reliable airline, often had the cheapest tickets (none of my flights was ever cancelled, but I was usually delayed – other travelers were less lucky), but sometimes PAL Express or AirAsia had better ticket prices. It pays off to compare prices on each individual website instead of using flight comparison websites because they usually don’t include all of the budget airlines and/or don’t factor in extra charges for luggage.
Avoid high season if possible
This one might be obvious, but especially destinations like Boracay or Palawan, which are very popular with Filipino travelers and visitors from other Asian countries, fill up like crazy during local Holidays such as Holy Week or Christmas, and prices for accommodation sky rocket.
Planning around the seasonal weather is a good idea anyway, because you don’t want to cruise around the islands near El Nido when it’s raining or overcast, or get rained out during your beach vacation in Malapascua.
How I keep track of my expenses
Have you been to the Philippines and got any tips to share on how to travel in the Philippines on a budget, or were you able to spend less than I did during your trip? Please share your experiences in the comments below!