Friday, February 18, 2011

Lauren's 5: Phillipines Travel Tips

(Enjoying Boracay's White Beach)

Here’s what I learned in the Philippines in the form of practical travel tips!  If you go, this could make your visit to Manila or Boracay a little less stressful and a little more affordable.  As the title suggests, I've narrowed this to my 5 top tips.

1)      Take a Taxi:  Starting at the NAIA airport, the best way to get to your hotel is to take a taxi.  Prepaid coupon taxis are available.  You go to a tiny office near the arrivals area of the terminal and pay a set rate in exchange for a coupon.  The advantage is there’s no wait.  You hand your coupon to a waiting taxi driver and you’re on your way.  The disadvantage is the fare is more than double the rate of a regular metered taxi.  If there’s no line, go for the metered taxi.  Getting around Manila I would continue to use taxis.  There isn’t a great public transportation infrastructure in Manila or one that’s easy to use.  Plus, Manila taxis are cheap.  But, you must insist the driver use the meter.  Negotiated rates will always be higher.

2)      Get to the Airport Early:  I’m really talking about international flights out of Ninoy Aquino International Airport.  The process is unlike any other I’ve experienced and that meant 90 minutes in lines before getting to my gate.  Security lines start outside – you must go through security just to get into the airport.  Then you must get in line to pay a terminal fee (it’s 1500 php each, so keep that money handy before exchanging currency).  Then you wait at customs, and again at security.  For domestic flights out of NAIA, I would also suggest arriving early.

3)      Small Bills:  When you exchange money, ask for small bills (500 php and lower).  You will find trouble making change with larger denominations.  Taxi drivers may tell you ‘Sorry no change’ as they hope for a very big tip.  And, speaking of tips, 50 and 20php bills are always handy.

4)      Boracay on a Budget:  Boracay is a hot destination, so it may not be as budget friendly as the rest of the Philippines.  However, if you want to save money, stay at a hotel off the beach.  A two minute walk to the white sands could save you 50% or more on hotel costs.  We opted for La Bella Casa at Station 1, and I would highly recommend it.  The rooms were lovely, breakfast was included and cooked to order, and the staff was incredibly helpful.

5)      Boracay is for the Beach:  The soft, cool white sands stretch as far as the eye can see and the blue-green waters of Boracay will refresh you.  This is a great beach scene with great nightlife.  However, it’s not the best locale for snorkeling or diving.  Unfortunately, off the beaches of Boracay you can see for yourself what a coral graveyard looks like.  We did, and it isn’t pretty.  The Philippines are known for outstanding diving.  If that’s your draw, pick a different island.  You have 7,000 to choose from!

(Hanging off our bangka boat -- snorkeling didn't meet expectations)

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