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Tips on travelling to Philippines from Karel Kosman

Karel took his online job along with him on his travels nine years ago, exploring mainly Europe and Asia, and never looked back! His mission to explore the world was interrupted by his love affair with the Philippines and its people, which began the moment he stepped off the plane, and he is now seriously considering settling in the country for good.

For a look at the eco-resort Karel is establishing in Palawan check out Patoyo Kitesurfing Eco Resort

What is your favourite thing about the Philippines?

The warm hospitality of the people, the perfect tropical climate, and the 7,107 islands of beach paradise.

Where would you send a first-time visitor in the Philippines?

The Linapacan region. There are at least a thousand undeveloped paradise beach islands in this area, lying between El Nido and Coron, which are both popular tourist destinations. Linapacan lies in the Palawan area, generally considered the best part of the Philippines. It is safe, the people are honest, the climate is temperate (usually escaping all the typhoons), and it is rich in natural beauty.

Traditionally, the locals have a reverence for nature and strive to protect its rich abundance of coral reefs and mangrove forests. Puerto Princesa, the region's capital, is close to the Underground River Tour, which is one of the new Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The island has its own crocodile sanctuary too.

What are your favourite activities in the Philippines?

Snorkelling, exploring the endless multitudes of paradise islands, scuba diving, and kitesurfing.

Is there good infrastructure for tourists?

During the summer season water availability can often be a problem, but I have grown to enjoy bathing by pulling up a bucket on string from a local water well. Many small villages have limited electricity running on diesel between 6pm and 10pm, but one of two mobile operators (Smart or Globe) are usually sufficient at providing internet coverage. The upside of the lack of modern amenities is you get to experience rural life and natural living, which has a magic of its own.

What is the best means of transport when exploring the Philippines?

Boat operators or ferries between the islands, bus or van on land, and planes for longer distances. Jeepneys are the rage in the more urban areas, and cool motor tricycles function as taxis in more rural areas.

How safe is the Philippines for tourists?

Many warn of the Muslim areas in the south, including the southern part of Palawan. In this region tourists have previously been kidnapped in exchange for a ransom. The rest of Palawan is generally safe, and the rest of the Philippines is reasonably safe. Locals warn of crime in Manila, but I myself have never had a problem during my short stays there. If you are not arrogant and make sure not to flaunt your money and valuables, the locals treat you with respect.

What are your favourite local meals?

I try to eat mostly vegetarian food but find that Filipinos are voracious meat eaters. Apparently they export all their vegetables to Vietnam because they themselves cannot afford it. I am a very good cook and must admit that the local food almost never impresses me, unless it is simple fish, freshly caught and thrown on the grill. Hard to go wrong with that! My favourite dish is grilled fish with a special sauce combining soya, coconut water, garlic and squeezed lemon/lime. Simple but delicious.

Are there any parts of the country you would tell travellers to avoid?

Mainly the southern, Muslim populated areas. Best be careful there and do some research beforehand.

What are the best souvenirs to buy in the Philippines?

I have seen many nice handcrafts, my favourite of which is a hat custom made for your head out of coconut leaves, woven on the spot.

How long would you recommend people spend in the Philippines on holiday?

Because of the many islands, it can take some time to get to the real gems, after flying in from Manila. Once you find your paradise, best to give yourself at least a week to settle in and truly enjoy it. I think visiting the most popular areas, like El Nido and Borocay, is a mistake because it requires a lot of expensive flying and moving about. It is best to choose one region and explore it with ease. Therefore, I would suggest at least two weeks, one to get there and back, and one to enjoy the paradise. There are many places to visit along the way, but usually one day is enough for each, unless you like partying with other tourists. Many of the more popular tourist destinations have a vibrant, live music scene.

How expensive is the Philippines as a travel destination?

The most expensive part of a holiday in the Philippines is getting there, which often requires several flights, but once you get to your destination of choice a good nose can often find you satisfactory accommodation for really decent prices. Beers are abundant and cheap, as is everything in general, especially in the more rural areas. In the more popular tourist destinations it may be difficult to find cheap accommodation, but outside of the main resorts the Philippines is a great budget destination.

When is the best time to visit the Philippines?

If you are into temperate climate and sun, then January to June is a pretty good bet. If you are into kiteboarding and such, different parts of the country have different times best for wind. In general though, it usually only rains briefly every day during the wet season (May to October), after which the rest of the day is sunny, but sometimes it can rain steadily for several weeks so visiting during monsoon season is a risk.  

For a look at the eco-resort Karel is establishing in Palawan check out Patoyo Kitesurfing Eco Resort