The Philippines has accommodation to suit everyone, from international five-star hotels and swanky beach resorts to simple rooms – sometimes no more than a bamboo hut on a beach – and budget hotels that vary wildly in price and comfort.
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It’s generally not necessary to book in advance unless you are visiting at peak times – Easter, Christmas, New Year, or during a major local festival. As always you’ll find the cheapest rates online, but if you do want to book by phone, note that some hotels in out-of-the-way areas won’t have a landline telephone on site, in which case they may have a mobile number and/or a booking office in a city (often Manila).
Hotels and beach resorts
The terms hotel and beach resort cover a multitude of options in the Philippines. A hotel can mean anything from the most luxurious five-star establishment to dingy budget pensions or guesthouses with bars on the windows. Beach resorts in turn range from sybaritic affairs on private atolls, with butlers and health spas, to dirt-cheap, rickety one-room cottages on a deserted island. “Resort hotels” are a mid-range or top-range hybrid of the two, sometimes with their own area of private beach.
Many hotels and beach resorts accept credit cards, although there are exceptions, such as in rural areas where electricity supply is not dependable and also in the cheapest budget accommodation, where you must pay cash.
It can be worth checking that the air conditioner, where available, isn’t noisy. Rooms on lower floors overlooking main roads are best avoided as they can be hellishly noisy; always go for something high up or at the back (or both).
Budget hotels offer little more than a bed, four walls and a fan or small air-conditioning unit, although if you’re by the beach, with a pleasant sea breeze blowing and the windows open, air conditioning isn’t really necessary. If you do get a private bathroom it will only have cold water, and the “shower” is sometimes little more than a tap sticking out of the wall producing a mere trickle of water. Breakfast is unlikely to be included in the rate, though there may be a canteen or coffee shop on the premises where you can buy food. At the higher end of the budget range, rooms are usually simple but can be reasonably spacious, perhaps – if they are on or near a beach – with a small balcony.
There are plenty of mid-range hotels, mostly in towns and cities. The rooms typically have air conditioning and a private bathroom with hot water, but they may not boast a TV or other frills. Beach cottages in this bracket are usually quite spacious and will often have a decent-sized veranda too. Most mid-range accommodation will feature a small coffee shop or restaurant with a choice of Filipino and Western breakfasts that may be included in the rate; if it’s not expect to pay around P100–150.
In Manila and Cebu as well as the most popular beach destinations such as Boracay you can splash out on five-star comfort at hotels and beach resorts owned and operated by international chains. The cottages at the most expensive resorts are more like chic apartments, often with a separate living area. Many of these establishments include a buffet breakfast in the rate, and sports facilities and outdoor activities are on offer, though you’ll have to pay extra to partake.
Campsites, hostels and homestays
Campsites are almost unknown in the Philippines. A small number of resorts allow you to pitch tents in their grounds for a negligible charge, but otherwise the only camping you’re likely to do is if you go trekking or climbing and need to camp overnight in the wilderness – in which case note that rental outlets for equipment are few and far between, so you might need to bring your own gear from home.
There are very few youth hostels in the country, most of them in university cities where they may be booked up by students throughout term time. A Hostelling International (HI) card can in theory give you a tiny saving of around P25 a night at the handful of YMCAs and YWCAs in the big cities. The problem is that few staff have any idea what an HI card is.
There’s no official homestay programme in the Philippines, but in rural areas where there may be no formal accommodation, you’ll often find people willing to put you up in their home for a small charge, usually no more than P200 a night, including some food. If you enjoy the stay, it’s best to offer some sort of tip when you leave, or a gift of soft drinks and sweets for the children. You can ask around at town halls if you’re interested.