The Insider’s Guide: 5 Ways to Get to Know the Real Philippines

You can vacation like a tourist. Or, you can vacation like a traveler. What’s the difference between the two? The former sees a destination through the eyes of an outsider, while a traveler experiences the world like a local.

If you’re planning a trip to the Philippines and want to be in the second category, we’ve got you covered. Read on to learn five ways to soak in all the splendor of the Philippines while enjoying a truly authentic and immersive experience.

1. Feast on Filipino Foods

One of the best ways to get to know a country is to savor the local fare. And you’re in luck in the Philippines. Not only is the country’s cuisine delicious, it’s also affordable.

A few of our favorite Filipino dishes include tocino, AKA “Filipino bacon;” kinilaw, raw fish in a vinegar-marinade; sinigang, a sour stew and the ultimate Filipino “comfort food;” adobe, often cited as the national dish of the Philippines; and lechon, seasoned, slow-roasted suckling pig.

The perfect sweet treat to end any meal? The shaved ice and evaporated milk concoction, halo halo. 

2. Be flexible—but not punctual

There’s nothing wrong with having a plan, but tying yourself down to an unalterable itinerary can prevent you from the joy of unexpected and unanticipated discoveries that won’t be found in any guidebook.

On a related note, if you’re lucky enough to be invited to visit a local’s home in the Philippines, don’t ever be on time;. While showing up late for a social engagement may be polite in some countries, it’s considered rude to be punctual in the Philippines. To be greeted with enthusiasm as opposed to dismay, plan on arriving a respectable 15 minutes late.

3. Let it go—and karaoke

Karaoke is pretty much a way of life in the Philippines. Regardless of whether you think you’re the next American Idol or you’ve never sung a note outside the privacy of your car or shower, you must take the mic for a spin if you truly want to live like the locals.

And remember—no one will judge you if you sound like a yodeling cat. By the same token, however, you should be respectful of the talent (or lack thereof) of the other singers.

4.  Go island hopping

The Philippines is home to a breathtaking 7,000 islands—each with its own distinctive vibe and flavor. One way to experience a variety of what the Philippines has to offer? Go island hopping.

Here are a few ideas for where to go and what to see while you’re there. Exploring Cebu’s stunning Inambakan Falls and epic Sardine Run, swimming with the sharks on remote Malapascua, discovering Palawan’s hidden lagoons and breathtaking beaches, splashing with the giant sea turtles on Dumaguette, scootering around pristine Coron, and taking in the showstopping sunset on Cambari.

5. Go off-the-beaten-path

Attractions like Puka Beach (and the shops there), Metro Manila, and any establishments or tours billing themselves as “the largest” or “the best” are likely to be packed with tourists. The locals, however, avoid these places like the plague. Another red flag that an establishment caters to tourists? Signs and menus that are written in English and other foreign languages.

Instead of relying on the same guidebooks every other tourist is using to plan each element of your trip, ask a local—such as the hotel concierge, a taxi driver, or your Airbnb host.

On that note, one last way to live like the locals? Live with the locals. Staying in someone’s home through a vacation rental or other home sharing arrangement will give you a much more authentic perspective of life in the Philippines—as well as access to someone who may be able to offer insights on the best neighborhood places in the to eat, shop, and discover.