Getting there & away
Book well in advance if you plan to arrive in the Philippines during December - expat Filipinos flood the islands to visit their families during Christmas and New Year. If you're flying into Cebu, the lead-up to Lunar New Year in late January or early February can also get congested, as the city's sizeable Chinese population prepares to celebrate.
EPA Shipping Line (083-380 3591) has ferries that sail between General Santos in Mindanao and the deep-water port of Bitung, 55km from Manado, Indonesia (P1800, 36 hours, twice weekly). The office is inside the port compound at Makar, near General Santos. This is a cargo boat that takes passengers; officially, foreigners should be able to make this trip, but you may want to check with the tourism office in General Santos first. You will need to get your visa requirements in order with the Indonesian consulate in Davao before you leave.
There is also a boat that sails between Bitung and Davao's Sasa Pier (via General Santos) every Friday, but trip details change often so it's best to check with Davao's city tourism office.
SRN Fastcraft (992 3765) has two Weesam Express boats a week between Zamboanga and Sandakan (P5400, eight hours).
Most people enter the Philippines at Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). This is a dismal introduction to the country: lines are often long at immigration, and the entire facility is in need of a facelift. That said, once you clear the lines immigration is usually straightforward. You may be asked to show an ongoing ticket, and most nationalities are issued a 21-day visa on the spot.
Flights, tours and train tickets can be booked online at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel_services.
Since most people fly to the Philippines and most flights land in Manila, Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA; 02-877 1109; 126.96.36.199/miaa) in Parañaque, is likely to be your first taste of the Philippines. Too bad, but don't despair - most of the country is a lot better run than decrepit old NAIA. Doubtless as an incentive for people to fly with Philippine Airlines (PAL), the national carrier, its passengers get exclusive use of the nicer Centennial Terminal (NAIA II).
Cebu City's Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA; 032-340 2486; www.mactan-cebuairport.com.ph) is the country's second-busiest airport and is much better. Depending on your itinerary, Cebu's airport may also be a more practical entry or exit point. The biggest advantage of flying into Cebu is that it saves you having to deal with the chaos of Manila (and its unscrupulous taxi drivers). Cebu has international connections to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific, Kuala Lumpur (via Kota Kinabalu) with Malaysian Airlines, Singapore with SilkAir, and Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul with Philippine Airlines. Since all these cities are well served with international connections, it's easy for the determined traveller to arrive in Cebu rather than Manila.
Previously confined to cargo, the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA, formerly Clark) in Angeles City now handles international flights by AirAsia (to and from Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), Tiger Airways (to and from Singapore), and CR Airways (to and from Hong Kong).
China Airlines (CI; 02-521 9331; www.china-airlines.com/en; hub Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport, Taoyuan)
EVA Air (BR; 02-864 3800; www.evaair.com/html/b2c/english; hub Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport, Taoyuan)
Lufthansa Airlines (LH; 02-580 6400; www.lufthansa.com; hub Frankfurt Main Airport, Frankfurt)
Qantas (QF; 02-812 0607; www.qantas.com; hub Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport, Sydney)
Royal Brunei (BI; 02-897 3309; www.bruneiair.com; hub Brunei International Airport, Brunei)
The best place to look for cheap fares is in the travel sections of weekend newspapers, such as the Age in Melbourne and the Sydney Morning Herald. Two well-known agencies for cheap fares are STA Travel (1300 733 035 Australia-wide; www.statravel.com.au), which has offices in all major cities, and Flight Centre (133 133 Australia-wide; www.flightcentre.com.au), which has dozens of offices throughout Australia.
Lufthansa offers direct flights from Frankfurt to Manila (stopping in Bangkok). Otherwise, it's necessary to take a connecting flight via an Asian or Middle Eastern capital on Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines or Qatar Airways.
There are direct flights from Amsterdam to Manila on KLM, and connecting flights on Cathay Pacific (via Hong Kong), Swiss Air (via Zurich), Singapore Airlines (via Singapore) and Malaysia Airlines (via Kuala Lumpur), among others.
Anyway (0892 893 892; www.anyway.fr)
Lastminute (0892 705 000; www.lastminute.fr)
Nouvelles Frontières (0825 000 747; www.nouvelles-frontieres.fr)
OTU Voyages (www.otu.fr) This agency specialises in student and youth travellers.
Voyageurs du Monde (01 40 15 11 15; www.vdm.com)
Just Travel (089 747 3330; www.justtravel.de)
Lastminute (01805 284 366; www.lastminute.de)
STA Travel (01805 456 422; www.statravel.de) For travellers under the age of 26.
CTS Viaggi (06 462 0431; www.cts.it)
Airfair (020 620 5121; www.airfair.nl)
Barcelo Viajes (902 116 226; www.barceloviajes.com)
Currently there are no direct flights between New Zealand and the Philippines; the usual route is to fly to Sydney and pick up a direct flight from there. Alternatively, it's possible to fly direct from New Zealand to an Asian city like Singapore or Hong Kong and fly to the Philippines from there.
The cheapest flights to Manila are usually with Qatar Airways. Other carriers flying between the UK and the Philippines include Air France, or Asian airlines such as Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific. Malaysia Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines also offer flights into Cebu for slightly higher prices.
Recommended travel agencies include the following:
Flight Centre (0870 890 8099; www.flightcentre.co.uk)
Flightbookers (0870 010 7000; www.ebookers.com)
North-South Travel (01245 608 291; www.north southtravel.co.uk) North-South Travel donate part of their profit to projects in the developing world.
Quest Travel (0870 442 3542; www.questtravel.com)
STA Travel (0870 160 0599; www.statravel.co.uk) For travellers under the age of 26.
Travel Bag (0870 890 1456; www.travelbag.co.uk)
PAL offers the only direct flights to the Philippines from mainland USA, with flights from both Los Angeles and San Francisco. Other airlines that serve the Philippines from the USA include Northwest (via Tokyo), Japan Airlines (via Tokyo), All Nippon Airways (via Tokyo), Korean Airlines (via Seoul) and China Airlines (via Taipei).
The following are recommended for online bookings.
Cheap Tickets (www.cheaptickets.com)