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Prevention is better than cure – and this is true for every country we visit, the Philippines included. Get some useful health and safety tips below – many based on our personal experiences.
Paradisiac beach on Panglao Island, Philippines
As with any overseas travel, a comprehensive travel and medical insurance is highly recommended. To speed up the research process and save time you can use websites which compare different Travel Insurances– to learn more check out our blog post here.
TIP – If you are planning to do scuba diving or any adrenaline activity such as skydive or rock climbing, make sure you are covered for the activities you plan to undertake.
Get travel insurance before travelling abroad, especially for adrenalin activities or scuba diving - Philippines
VACCINATIONS & MEDICATIONS
There are no specific vaccinations required to visit the Philippines.
In our experience these are not necessary if you travel for less than a week in the country and stay in touristy destinations (without eating street food and taking all precautions to avoid contaminated food and water). However, if you’re travelling for a longer time in South East Asia, you might want to check out the recommended vaccines by the World Health Organization below or on their website (WHO):
Adult diphtheria and tetanus
Typhoid Measles, mumps and rubella
Polio Varicella (if you have never had chickenpox)
Rabies (if you will be in close contact with animals such as dogs and monkeys during your trip)
Japanese B Encephalitis (for trips longer than one month)
Meningitis (for trips longer than one month)
Tuberculosis (check with your doctor for more recommendation on this one)
Yellow Fever (required only if you have visited a country in the yellow-fever zone within the six days prior to entering Southeast Asia)
TIP – Your doctor will be able to give you more specific recommendations on vaccinations to take on the basis of your health and travel history and vaccines already taken.
Some vaccines need at least 2 weeks to activate so consult your doctor at least one month before taking your trip.
Make sure to register all your vaccinations in the so-called yellow book to show during your trip in case of emergency.
DID YOU KNOW? – According to IAMAT Malaria in the Philippines is only present in rural areas under 600 m (1,969 ft) of altitude in the following provinces: Luzon, Mindanao, Mindoro, Basilan, Palawan, and Sulu Archipelago (Tawi Tawi). Therefore, consult your doctor and be prepared if you`ll be travelling in these areas.
There are many stray dogs in the Philippines - get the rabies shot if if you will be in close contact with animals such as dogs and monkeys
Medications & Hospitals
As a general rule we tend to bring medications from our home country or buy them in well stocked and reliable pharmacies around the world.
We found Philippine pharmacies to stock lots of everyday use medications, however, in some cases they may lack some more specific medications which you might want to stock up before your trip.
Unfortunately, we had occasions to visit both Philippine doctors and pharmacies more than once for minor health issues in Coron village in Palawan and the doctors were just enough reassuring to convince us of their prescriptions, however, for major issues consult the most specialized hospital in the country, even if it means to go to Manila.
We paid a fee at the hospital for the doctor’s visit (PHP300 p.p.). Medications at the pharmacy were inexpensive, but required the doctor’s prescription.
TIP – Remember to pack medications in their original, labelled containers and have with you a letter from your doctor for any medication prescription. Check out other useful tips on how to prepare for your trip here
Heat & Air Con
Drink, drink, drink! And avoid exposure to sunlight during the hottest hours of the day (generally between 11am to 2/3pm). Again, unfortunately, the Philippines’ sun gave me few days with high fever in bed, losing the opportunity of a thresher shark dive!
The first cause is usually dehydration or excessive activity in the heat so make sure to drink lots of liquids (at least 3 litres per day). Excessive exposure to sunlight can also be a major cause so be extra careful, especially during island hopping or kayaking days.
The transition from hot to cold air conditioned places can also cause sore throats which can turn into coughing and even worst lung infections if not taken care of. Remember to bring a sweater or some layers with you during bus rides or flights.
Sun can be very strong in the Philippines - drink lots of water and avoid exposure during the hottest hours of the day
Montezuma disease (how I like to call Traveller’s Diarrhoea) is one of the most common symptom you might have after eating or drinking contaminated food / water.
The best way to fight it is keep drinking to avoid dehydration – you can try out a mix of 1 lt of water with 1 teaspoon of salt and 8 teaspoons of sugar to reabsorb the liquids and salts lost with diarrhea (a better alternative to rehydration salts).
If the diarrohea persist for more than two consecutive days, you might want to consider taking antibiotics such as Ciprofloxacin or Norfloxacin. Avoid any medications which stops diarrohea (such as Loperamide) as it will cause constipation without solving your problem. Do use it only in case of emergency, such as long bus rides.
Always check the quality of the food at restaurants or street stalls to avoid contaminated food,, Philippines
Generally speaking, the Philippines are a safe country to visit if you stick to touristic itineraries and take some normal precautions against possible unexpected problems you may encounter such as pickpockets, typhoons, scams and so on.
Crime & Terrorism
Obviously you need to get as much information as you can about places to visit or to avoid during your trip planning – for example, the Southern regions of Palawan are not recommended for travelling; Mindanao Island is now governed by martial law because of terrorist attacks, so this region is to be avoided (this refers back to November 2018 so please check more recent news); many areas of Manila suffer from petty crime, in particular the area around Intramuros, therefore book your hotel carefully and choose a safe neighbourhood such as Makati.
Be careful when walking in crowded places such as markets, Philippines
Typhoons & more
Typhoons are unfortunately a sad reality for the Philippines as entire regions and transportation routes get paralyzed during these nature wonders and in some cases typhoons may also claim many lives and destroy roads through floods and landslides. So how to avoid them?
First, we recommend to choose your travelling period carefully. The dry season between October and March is generally safer to visit to country, however please bear in mind the Philippines are multiple islands exposed to open ocean so typhoons can still happen during the dry season - usually they are not as frequent and intense as in the wet season (April to September).
Second, always check the weather forecast before heading to your next destination or to the country itself – there is a good government website (www1.pagasa.dost.gov.ph) where you can check the weather forecasts for each region, however, even these forecasts are sometimes not very accurate. In any case, the alerts for tropical depressions or typhoons, which are generally given with large advice, are very useful to get an idea of their trajectories. If you know of any typhoon coming your way, you might want to reconsider your original itinerary – better to be flexible with your trip then getting constant rain and wind for days,
Third, the Philippines are of volcanic origins and some volcanos are still active or may awake from one moment to the other (like Mayon Mountain few years ago). You can get more information on the website www.phivolcs.dost.gov.ph, although these events are not easily detected in advance and can cause disruptions such as temporary airport shut-downs or other transportation issues.
Beautiful sunset after a storm in Coron town, Philippines
WATER & FOOD
As in most South East Asian countries, drinking water straight from the tap in the Philippines is not recommended, especially for tourists who are less used to bacteria found in the water here; moreover, water contaminationis still a big problem in the country. Even most Filipinos drink filtered water from blue plastic tanks or water fountains.
If unsure, drink only bottled water. Please be considerate of the environment and refill your bottle at special water refill stations for around PHP15 to 20 (keep adding 1 peso coin until the bottle is full, it might take a while).
CHECK OUT THESE OTHER TIPS TO TRAVEL MORE SUSTAINABLY HERE
Treat water with iodine or chlorine tablets or bring it to boiling if you aren’t sure it`s safe or you can not find bottled water - wait 30 minutes after treating before drinking.
A water filter is also a good idea in case of emergencies or during hiking – we use this filter (Life Straw) as it`s compact and light.
Avoid ice cubes in your drinks as much as you can as they are usually made with untreated tap water.
Drink lots (around 3 liters of water per day) especially when exposed to the scorching Filipino sunny days –dehydration and, even worst, sunstroke is around the corner.
Water refill station in the Philippines - cheap and cheerful
As a general rule don’t eat raw food, especially meat and fish. As for veggies and fruits, if you can peel it and wash it, then you can eat it, otherwise cook it as a precaution.
Eating out in touristic restaurants is generally safe, however, always make sure the cleanliness standards are good, otherwise nothing forces you to eat if you feel it’s not safe.
FANCY A VEGAN OR VEGETARIAN MEAL? CHECK OUT OUR FAVOURITE RESTAURANTS IN THE PHILIPPINES HERE
Street food is also to be avoided if you believe the food quality is not acceptable, even if the low price is quite tempting. We ate in a couple of street stalls and had experienced mild diarrhea, however, even some lunches and dinners out did give us some stomach ache from time to time.
We have also experienced eating with local families in some homestays and have not experienced any particular issue, however, again safety always comes first and if you have the tiniest doubt about what you`re eating, do not force yourself to please your guests but kindly refuse and go out for dining.
One of the meal during our volunteering in the Philippines in a homestay
DOGS, MOSQUITOES & BITING ANIMALS
Stray dogs are extremely commonin the Philippines like in most South East Asian countries. Although it can be difficult not to pet some of them, it is safer to refrain from touching and feeding them. The major risk of being bitten by them is getting infected with rabies. If a dog does bite you, then clean and disinfect the wound immediately and seek medical assistance. If you have contracted rabies, you would need vaccine shots within 24 hours from the accident. If rabies is left uncured, it can lead even to death.
This is Basura, one of the stray dogs on Popototan Island where we volunteered, Philippines
Mosquitoes are pretty annoying in certain areas of the Philippines, however, the country is malaria free except from very few areas in the southern Palawan island. In any case it is better to avoid being bitten as they can carry other diseases or simply bites can be very itchy – we used an all natural DEET-free spray and it worked well with us. Apart from being safer for your skin, it’s also eco-friendly.
Really the only other insect which has bitten us was a black big swap– if you walk too close to their nest (which is usually 2 to 3 metres up a tree), they will definitely come out and try to sting you and luckily enough Fabio is not allergic because it got stung 6 or 7 times while we were working or walking in the forest. So bring antistaminic if in doubt.
The Philippines do have their share of snakes which are generally not poisonous – they will generally visit rivers and streams or little ponds. Just check the area before swimming close to waterfalls, no matter how attractive, especially if you are few people – we saw little snakes swimming by more than once.
We have seen many bayawak, which translate to monitor lizards in Tagalog language. These reptiles are quite fascinating and they will avoid you if you get close and do not attack people. However, keep your distance if you see one as with any other wildlife – although bayawak bite is poisonous, what can really kill you is infection from their bite.
We have also been told the Philippines forests also host some monkeys but we have never seen one, only cute squirrels. Either there are very few or they are very good at hide and seek.
Bayway (monitor lizard) in the Philippines