So you arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and now you have no idea how to get to your hotel safely and cheaply. You’ve probably heard about the taxi cabs asking $20 for just a 2-kilometer ride. 

Also, you’ve most likely seen some news articles about our President throwing people off the helicopter for drug-related crimes. We understand why that would scare you, especially when there’s that risk of ending up with the wrong circle of locals who might set you up for those crimes.

Don’t get me wrong, it really is more fun in the Philippines. That is if you have enough knowledge about the worst things to expect in this country that unfortunately happen more than we all like to imagine.

We’ve rounded up the most common red flags to watch out for each of the busiest tourist spots in the Philippines. Read on so you can plan your trip wisely.

When Visiting Metro Manila

Metro Manila is an amazing place despite the odd situation of skyscrapers around the slums. It’s a sight that immediately gives you the general impression of what this city is–a badly urban-planned region. 

First, you have to understand that Manila is the capital city of the country and is part of Metro Manila. Metro Manila is composed of 16 cities including popular tourist areas like Makati, Taguig (Bonifacio Global City), Pasay, Mandaluyong, and Pasig. 

With over 12,877,253 people living in the metropolitan according to the 2015 Census, you can imagine how crowded the cities are. That’s why petty theft regularly happens here and foreigners are the usual victims. So beware even when just crossing the street with several other people walking close to you.

Metro Manila is known as home to all kinds of crazy and weird annoyances. They could be fun but not when you’re asked to pay for a girl you thought you actually hit it off with in a bar. Read on for a real insider’s Manila safety tips, the most real you’d ever get.

Hailing a Cab

Rule number 1 is to never take a cab that quotes their price. Taxis have meters for a reason, and that is to fairly charge you for a ride. 

If you’re a foreigner, metered cabs might even trick you into paying more by pretending they don’t know the way to where you’re going or by taking long routes. So just install the Grab app where you can book a car ride for a fixed price or share a ride with someone so you can save even more.

You can also download the Angkas app where you can book a biker to take you to your destination safely but way faster. This passenger transport service is one of the best hacks to beat the unbelievable traffic in Metro Manila.

Just note that if you’re a male passenger, you can’t avail of the service if you’re going or passing by Mandaluyong City. According to their City Ordinance No. 595 or “Anti-Motorcycle Riding-In-Tandem”, most crimes committed by motorcycle-riding criminals are recorded to be done by two males in one bike. 

Therefore, the city doesn’t allow two males in a single motorcycle. It’s rare to book an Angkas driver who’s a female, so stick to Grab if you’re traveling through Mandaluyong.

Booking a Hotel

As long as you book your hotel or Airbnb ahead of your arrival in Metro Manila, you should be fine. Hotels in the city have strict security policies, so your safety is prioritized. 

However, you might come across cheap hotels on some online sites that don’t provide the same security. Double-check if the hotel is located in a decent area. It’s best to book one that is close to malls or commercial establishments.

Do not get hotels that are in the middle of residential areas as they have loose security there. You might also be a victim of petty theft when walking around that kind of neighborhood. 

The same advice should be taken when booking an Airbnb. Stick to high-rise condominiums as condos in Metro Manila have hotel-like security as well. 

If the place looks shabby, then the security is most likely at the same level. A foreign couple visiting the metro once posted a story of how their door had a hole that the person from the outside could peek from.

They were shocked by how the whole time, it was very possible that the caretaker could be watching them sleep. The girl cited how afraid she was that the caretaker might have even watched her undress. 

They booked the place through Airbnb in the hopes of saving (the place looked old), and the management turned out to be sketchy. They were even asked for additional charges for things that didn’t make any sense.

The lesson is to allot some money for a decent hotel or Airbnb when coming to Metro Manila. It’s not wise to be thrifty when it comes to your safety.

Money Changing

Do not just go to any money changer you can see on the streets of Metro Manila as they are more likely to rip you off. It is best to exchange your money inside the airport or to just use your debit card and withdraw PHP using an ATM.

Those options have better exchange rates and are more secure. Only use ATMs that are located in malls, banks, hotels, and the airport. That is to avoid being scammed by rigged systems that read your card details.

Walking around the Streets

It’s nice to walk around a new city and explore what it has to offer, especially at night when the urban spirit is just waking up. That’s not always the case for Metro Manila. 

You can do that in the progressive Bonifacio Global City but not so much in other cities. In the night, there are the motorcycle-riding criminals Mandaluyong is wary about, juvenile thieves, and drunk perverts lurking around the streets. 

To be honest, there are plenty of other species of sketchy people you can avoid by not walking the streets of the metro at night. First of all, Metro Manila doesn’t have the friendliest roads for walking. 

The sidewalks are too narrow or are used by motorcycles trying beating the traffic. Then there are several homeless people around Metro Manila who sometimes follow you around. 

They will only leave you alone if you give them something. What’s heartbreaking is many of these beggars are teens who are only asking for money to fund their rugby-sniffing addiction.

If you didn’t know yet, there’s an alarming case of rugby-sniffing on the streets of Metro Manila. There are these “Rugby Boys” or “Solvent Boys” (and even girls) roaming around the cities, potentially harming people around as the substance triggers violent behavior. 

Trust me, even us locals are terrified of walking around the metro at night. 

Socializing with the Locals

You’ll meet different kinds of people in Metro Manila just as much as you would in any other city. The only thing to be careful of is being scammed by locals who start by acting super friendly. 

To avoid scams, always refuse to accept informal “tour packages” offered by locals on the streets. When you’re hanging out in a bar or club to meet new people, never entertain those who ask you to buy them a drink.

You’ll encounter a bunch of these fake tour packages in Manila where historic sites like Intramuros are. It’s practical to book tour packages online from reliable sites instead.

When you’re out in bars or clubs, there are some locals who might ask you to buy the drinks for the group. Although there’s no serious harm in that most of the time, you don’t want to be around people who think you could give them free stuff just because you’re foreign.

Also, it’s an early sign of an overall dodgy relationship where they might ask you for more favors or blackmail you. We’ve had several of those cases in the city where kind tourists are blackmailed by opportunistic locals, threatening that they’d set them up for a drug-related crime if they don’t give them money. 

Choose your peers wisely when you’re in Metro Manila. Always be alert of the indicators of a potential scam.

Being Tricked into Buying Prostitutes

Yes, this happens. So be careful when you’re hanging out at night in Makati where there is the notorious P Burgos Street. This street is known as the most famous red light stretch of the entire Metro Manila. 

Malate, Manila is also a red light district but P Burgos is more active and dangerous. Old white men would even approach any local woman walking around the area. 

I’ve faced such creepy situations a few times whenever I’d go to a nice diner unfortunately located on that street. It could get out of hand like that, and the same goes for foreigners. 

If you’re not looking to buy pleasure for the night, be alert when hanging out at the bars on this street. Many of these establishments discreetly ask prostitutes to talk to you as if they’re just regular locals taking an interest in you.

When Visiting Cebu

Just when you thought Cebu is a toned-down version of Manila, it isn’t. It’s even wilder if you’re a male foreigner. Known as the Queen City of the South, Cebu can be a royal mess for tourists who are not equipped with accurate security tips. So we listed the things to watch out when visiting Cebu.

Public Transportation

Being ignorant of public transportation in Cebu is worse as it is not the capital city anymore. Locals here are more likely to be motivated to trick you into paying overpriced fares. 

It’s also a slightly more provincial area, so the authorities are not as vigilant as in Metro Manila. It helps to act or look like you know where you’re going. To perform that act flawlessly, here are the things you should do:

  • Insist that the taxi driver turns on the meter.
  • If you are planning to have the cab driver take you around the city, agree on a price before getting in.
  • Many tourists advise that you take taxis with older drivers as they are more trustworthy and fair compared to the younger ones.
  • If you’re taking the bus or multicabs (the city’s jeepneys) to get around town, never wear expensive jewelry, carry so much cash, or use your cellphone too much.

Internet Banking Scam

Only use your personal devices when doing internet banking. Cebu is dealing with this internet banking scam where there are bank information-copying programs installed in public computers, even in high-end hotels.

Choosing Tour Packages

The best way to see the attractions and islands of Cebu is by booking a tour package online ahead of the trip. There are plenty of travel sites where you can book both accommodations and tours.  Booking your tours ahead of time prevents you from carrying so much cash or finding great and real deals at the last minute. 

Handling the Beggars

Like Metro Manila, there’s excessive begging on the streets of Cebu as well. If you’re a foreigner, you are definitely going to be ambushed by a herd of beggars around.

Just politely say “no” so they’ll leave you in peace. If you want to help them by giving them something, offer food instead of money. Handing these beggars some money will only make them think more that all foreigners are human ATM machines who will just give away free cash.

When Visiting Palawan 

Palawan has been on the list of World’s Best Islands of Travel + Leisure magazine several times. The island has consistently landed the top rankings in 2013, 2016, and 2017. In 2019, it ranked 2nd. 

You can check out this El Nido Palawan guide for proof that this island is indeed a piece of heaven on earth. The basic island life still has its dangers, though. After all, it’s closer to the uncontrollable wrath of nature.

Arranging Your Airport Transfers

The best way to get to your hotels when staying in Palawan is by taking a van. These van transfers are booked online so you can guarantee that they’ll pick you up on time upon your arrival.

This is also safer than getting a ride at the airport. This will prevent you from dealing with costly fares and the risk of being scammed. 

Managing Your Cash

Just like in Cebu, you should book everything online as much as possible. You don’t want to be carrying so much money when you’re island hopping or hanging out at the beach. 

It’s highly advised that you take a small body bag or fanny pack with you so you can have your valuable belongings attached to you at all times. If you have already withdrawn cash for your entire stay (we understand due to the lack and distance of ATM machines), just leave what you don’t need for the day in the hotel safe. 

Picking Island Hopping Tours

You can definitely choose from a vast selection of tours online. Check the guide I linked above to see the different affordable tour packages you can avail ahead of your arrival on the island. 

Make sure that the organizations hosting the tours are verified. This way, you can get the assurance that you’ll enjoy the excursion and still make it alive after. 

Avoiding a Few Sea Creatures

There is nothing more refreshing than swimming in the clear waters of Palawan. Just avoid the following sea creatures:

  • Lionfish
  • Stonefish
  • Box jellyfish

These things have a very painful sting that could also cause serious harm to humans. It helps to research about these sea creatures before visiting Palawan. You can also confirm your obtained information with the locals once you get there.

Mosquito-Borne Diseases

It’s a tropical haven, so you bet there are a bunch of mosquito-related diseases around the island.  Dengue and malaria are the most popular mosquito-borne diseases in the country. 

Make sure that you’ve got all your vaccines updated and a mosquito repellant packed in your bag when you visit. You don’t want to deal with the serious blood transfusion required in most cases of dengue. 

Don’t Just Pet Any Puppy Running Around

Palawan has an extreme case of rabies. That’s why your vaccines must be up to date before you head to the island. 

There are plenty of dogs and cats running around the beach. You don’t want to accidentally get an infectious disease just because a cute stray dog licked your open wound or bit you playfully.

When Visiting Siargao

The surfing capital of the Philippines is gaining a lot of global attention for its back-to-basics lifestyle. The place is composed of multicultural people who are challenging the conventional norms of living.

That’s also exactly why you should be cautious in exploring this majestic island. With the unsteady electricity, bad cellular and internet signal, and lack of important community establishments in the region, a lot can really go wrong. 

Surfing for Beginners

Elaine Abonal, founder of Surfista Travels surf camp in Siargao describes the island’s top surfing break Cloud Nine as a “dramatic and powerful reef break, which crashes onto shallow razor-sharp coral… Skin and sometimes bone are often ripped to shreds by the ocean bed.”

So if you’re just a newbie, it’s best to learn in La Union or Baler first where the waves have a sandy bottom. You should really consider this advice as the area doesn’t have its own hospital, which I’ll discuss the severity of later.

Withdrawing Money from ATMs

There are only three ATMs available on the island, and they’re all located at the Siargao’s Dapa Port. Almost no establishments in the area accept credit cards here, too. 

It’s a legitimate basic cashless society, so you have to make sure you have enough cash for the whole duration of your stay. You should also have them in small bills or else it’ll be so inconvenient for you.

Getting Medical Assistance for Accidents

Even with the height of tourism and worldwide recognition for the country’s surfing capital, Siargao still doesn’t have its own island. All it has is a private clinic and rural health unit with very limited capacity and services.

For major medical emergencies like serious surfing injuries, you’ll still have to be ferried over to the Mindanao mainland for proper care and treatment. Remember to have your travel insurance ready when heading to this island.

Last Tips

Always remember to research as much as you can about the areas you’re visiting in the Philippines before heading there. Sufficient knowledge is what’s ultimately going to prevent you from being scammed or getting into any sort of danger. 

Then always be polite to the locals. If you’re nice to the people around you, then they’ll treat you with the same respect. Just don’t be too nice to the point that you’re not mindful of who you hang out with.