With its 7,000 islands, the Philippines provides more than enough coastline for any traveling beach bum. World class diving, unique surfing opportunities, and astounding natural beauty make it easy for visitors to understand why the area was once called “the Pearl of the Pacific.”
Perhaps the most notable appeal of the Philippines to adventurous travelers is the fact that it’s relatively untouched in our connected world culture. The natural isolation of the archipelago means that there are still towns of welcoming and un-jaded islanders. It means that there’s still plenty to explore! However, we all know that with the advantage of isolation come hesitations over accessibility, foreign resources, and of course… safety! The truth is that the Philippines face a lot of safety hazards right now that will deter most travelers. It’s important to know the risks before you go.
So, What Are the Safety Worries?
Terrorism and Insurgence
The U.S. Department of State has issued a warning on travel to the Sulu Archipelago and the Sulu Sea. The Philippines have actually issued a state of emergency in the region of Mindanao, due to “lawless violence.” This is largely attributed to the stronghold that insurgent terrorist organizations have in the region, which is found in the southwestern reach of the Philippines, between the western islands and the island of Borneo. These terrorist groups target foreign nationals, mainly kidnapping and holding them for ransom from their countries of origin. Now, while this may sound scary, the violence doesn’t by any means affect the entire country, just a concentrated region. Traveling through the area is advised against, but the island in the Philippines most famous for its tourism, Palawan, is still a safe place to come and go, even though it’s located in the northern Sulu Sea. Thousands of foreign visitors range freely through the Philippines each month without any trouble whatsoever.
The Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013 and brought the world’s attention to the damage that can be done by a single tropical storm. It took a while for the islands affected to recover from the hit to their infrastructure and economy. That’s why travelers are advised to keep an eye on the weather warnings of the region, and plan around typhoon season. About 20 typhoons hit the islands every year, but most of them occur between June and December. If you opt for the most popular tourist season (January and February) you’re unlikely to hit dangerous weather.
One of the biggest concerns in the Philippines right now is the war on drugs. Although in the U.S. the war of the same name is the cause for a lot of alarm, it’s taken to a whole new level in the Philippines. Encouraged by the current government, vigilante crews are taking the law into their own hands and executing anyone accused of being either a user or a dealer… without due process of law. This human rights violation is drawing attention throughout the world.
Travelers are advised to keep their noses clean regarding illicit substances in the Philippines. Vigilante crews aren’t targeting foreign nationals the way that terrorist organizations are, but they are still something that it’s best to steer clear of. You can expect heightened security delays, and suspicion towards travelers. This drug war is causing major conflict, with some news organizations estimating that it’s taking the lives of as many as 40 people per day.
Proper Planning Can Keep You Safe
I know these warnings are pretty severe and scary. And it’s true that it will deter a lot of travelers. For those adventurers who are undaunted, the Philippines are still islands full of rich wonders to be discovered. 8% of the GDP depends on tourism, and the people are highly motivated to make the country more appealing to visitors. You’ll find the same classic beauty and culture of southeast Asia without the same hikes in prices and saturation of tourists that dominate countries like Thailand.
- The stunning Banaue rice terraces have been named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Friendly and welcoming islanders and a culture of joy and optimism.
- Fewer language barriers, due to a long history of first Spanish colonialism, and then American occupation, which means that Westerners will find a lot of familiar resources.
- World-class diving just about everywhere you look, with opportunities to explore thriving coral reefs and even romantic shipwrecks.
- Conde Nast’s “Most Beautiful Beach” found on the island of Palawan.
- Cheap prices for travelers, as long as they’re savvy enough to barter down the first offer.
- Astounding wildlife, from the hammerhead shark to the shy tarsier, the smallest monkey in the world.