Don’t go to the Philippines – you’ll die!

When asking about visiting the Philippines, I kept receiving the same ominous warning each time.  “Don’t go to the Philippines – you’ll die!”  Based on that advice, and considering that it’s not really near anywhere I was going,  I was planning on avoiding the entire country. But is it true? Is the entire Philippines country dangerous?  I kept hearing about the crime, that tourists actually get kidnapped (OMG!), and between that and how far it was from everywhere else I was planning to go, I initially wasn’t even considering going.

Boracay sunset, Philippines
Sunset in Boracay, Philippines, in March 2011

Spoiler Alert – I lived, and I’m glad I went! The Philippines ended up being one of my favorite countries I visited. They weren’t even on my initial Asia trip plan, but there was so much I wanted to see and do that I stay there an entire month! That’s longer than anywhere else on my trip.  I give a special thanks to Amanda (from Canada) – when I was diving in SipadanBorneo, she raved about her experiences there. Then I met Jesper and Louise (from Denmark), and they loved it there too, specifically Bohol.  And on and on. So are the Philippines really dangerous?  Here’s what you need to know:

Are the Philippines really dangerous?  The South is actually dangerous and to be avoided. Don’t even pass through. It’s misleading to declare an entire country as too dangerous to visit. I’ll elaborate on those parts in a moment, but you need to know that some parts are great! Where?

The Visayas and Palawan are where you want to go — that’s the middle of the country, and I also heard rave reviews for Palawan in the west as well. The tourist capital is Boracay – I’ll have plenty more to say about it when I get up to it, but it was one of my favorite places for so many reasons. And unlike Thailand’s tourist capital (Phuket), Boracay is still awesome! I also went to Malapascua to SCUBA dive and see Thresher Sharks, to Donsol to go snorkeling with Whale Sharks, to Cebu by chance (not recommended), and to Bohol. I wish I had time to head up north to see the rice patties – it’s supposed be beautiful.

Tourist Kidnappings in the South??  Ahhhh!  Everything is relative, but I’d completely avoid Mindanao in the south to avoid the craziness where tourists actually get kidnapped and held for ransom. If you have enough time and don’t want to overlook some treasures of the south, please do your homework. The US and UK have very stern warnings against visiting due to terrorism. There’s lots to know and it sounds like it ‘s to be avoided. More info at the bottom of this page.

There’s quite a bit of crime in Manila, but anything like a kidnapping isn’t grabbing people at random. I hear there’s quite a bit of research on specific businessmen with big bank accounts to hold for ransom. They’re not looking for backbackers in Manila. I ended up avoiding altogether, but mostly because of the rich alternatives to explore.

Crime in Manila — Manila also has quite a bit of crime – pick-pocketing, ATM scamming, etc.  If you go, as with anywhere, particularly in cities, it’s important to be street-smart and aware of your surroundings, so you can appreciate the capital of the country. Here’s the US State Department’s writeup on the Philippines. Fun fact: Manila is one of the fastest growing places for customer service jobs for US companies – labor is cheap like in India, but without the strong accents.

Philippines Orientation – Manila is in the north, the area labeled Luzon. Most of the islands you want to visit are in the middle, in the Visayas, and the south is the dangerous “stay away!” areas. You want that middle area.

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Where are the Philippines located?  Far from everywhere I was visiting in SE Asia. Direct east of Vietnam, south of Taiwan, southeast of China, northeast of Borneo. Here’s a map:

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Ok, so Manila is filled with crime, and the south is legitimately scary and dangerous. That leaves a whole lot of awesomeness in the middle to explore. I’ll tell some fun stories about my favorite parts over the next few weeks on

More on the crime in the Sulu Islands, where you’ll want to avoid, from Britain’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office:

  • We advise against all travel to south-west Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago because of ongoing terrorist and insurgent activity. We advise against all but essential travel to the remainder of Mindanao for the same reason. There are also ongoing clashes between the military and insurgent groups in the Sulu archipelago including Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Jolo. See Safety and Security -Terrorism and Safety and Security –  Local Travel.
  • There is a high threat from terrorism throughout the Philippines. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers. Such places could include, but are not limited to, airports, shopping malls, places of worship etc.
  • On 25 January an explosion on a passenger bus in the Makati district of Manila killed five people and injured 13. There are no reports of foreign nationals being involved. See Safety and Security – Terrorism and Safety and Security – Crime.
  • There is a threat from kidnapping in the Philippines, particularly in the southern Philippines. Kidnapping could occur anywhere, including on coastal and island resorts and dive boats and sites in the Sulu Sea. On 12 July two US citizens and a Philippine national were kidnapped from a resort on the island of Tictabon near the southern port city of Zamboanga. On 5 December 2011, an Australian citizen was kidnapped in Zamboanga Sibugay.

Normally I’d use the US State Dept but their info wasn’t nearly as clear.

Wikipedia on the Philippines

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