The Philippines is fast becoming a tourist hotspot in south-east Asia. This archipelago of 7,107 islands is known as the Smile of Asia, thanks to its friendly locals and its hospitality. While it's not as popular as neighbouring Thailand as far as south-east Asian holiday destinations go, the number of visitors to the Philippines is rising each year. Over four million tourists were welcomed in 2012, and it's not difficult to see why. The tropical climate, beautiful scenery and endless opportunities for world class diving and snorkelling make cheap flights to the Philippines well worth booking.
Famous for its contrast between modern cities, rainforests, mountains and coral reefs, the Philippines is one of the world's mega-diverse countries. It has a rich history and Asian, European and American influences are reflected in the Filipino culture. The picture-postcard beaches, stunning scenery and delicious local cuisine make the Philippines a great holiday destination. English is an official language in the Philippines, so you shouldn't struggle with a language barrier.
The Philippines has a tropical climate which can be split into three distinct seasons; rainy, hot and not-quite-so-hot. Between January and March you'll experience the best weather; there's little rain and temperatures are warm but not sweltering. This is the peak season when prices will be higher, so it's a good idea to book your Philippines flights well in advance. You can save money if you head over in the hot early summer months, or in late summer during the rainy season. If you dislike crowds, it's best to avoid the Easter period; Holy Week is taken very seriously in the Philippines and both hotel rooms and peace and quiet will be hard to come by.
A flight to the Philippines will take around 24 hours as there are no direct Philippines flights from the UK, so it's necessary to make a stopover. This will usually be in Amsterdam, Kuwait or Kuala Lumpur, depending on which airline you're flying with. Kuwait Airways, China Southern, Emirates and KLM all offer flights to the Philippines. You can find cheap Philippines flights departing from all over the UK including many major London airports, but you're likely to get the cheapest deal if you fly from Heathrow.
Most overseas flights go into Ninoy Aquino International Airport, which is located within the metropolitan area of the capital city, Manila. If you're after cheap Philippines flights, Manila is your best bet. You can also find good deals on Cebu flights which go in to Mactan-Cebu International Airport and Davao flights going in to Francisco Bangoy International Airport on the island of Mindanao.
As the Philippines is an archipelago, one of your options for exploring the different islands is flying. If you choose to take domestic flights on your Philippines holiday, you'll be spoilt for choice with the various local airlines offering flights within the Philippines, or elsewhere around south-east Asia if you're travelling between several countries. You can make savings by taking advantage of special discounts that some of these airlines offer periodically. Be sure to take note of when festivals are happening, as this will affect flight prices.
An alternative to flying around the Philippines is travelling by boat, and with so many islands to explore, you're bound to find yourself on the water at some point. The boats come in all shapes and sizes, from luxury passenger catamarans and ferries offering cultural tours, to tiny rowing boats shuttling you between beaches. Buses are regular and inexpensive, with some services operating between islands. Jumping on the iconic jeepney is a great way to explore at a low price. They're quirky, often flamboyantly decorated vehicles which you just hop on as you would a bus. If you're pushed for time and want to get round the sights quickly, you might want to check out car hire in the Philippines. Beware that while the roads are fairly calm in some cities such as Cebu, it's much more manic in Manila and the mountains of Luzon.
The capital city, Manila, is a great place to explore thanks to its wide range of attractions, from ornate colonial-era churches to shopping megamalls and the bustling Chinatown district. The old walled city of Intramuros is known for its beautiful Spanish architecture and the former prison Fort Santiago, while Rizal Park and the natural harbour of Manila Bay are also very popular with visitors. Bacolod is another city with plenty to offer, famous for its sweet delicacies. While on a city break, make sure you visit the markets and exercise your haggling skills. Visiting food stalls, known as carendarias, is the best way to experience traditional local cuisine at rock-bottom prices.
One of the major attractions of a Philippines holiday is the abundance of sprawling white sandy beaches. The island of Boracay is one of the most popular destinations, boasting long stretches of pristine sand and no end of seafront bars and restaurants. Other well-known beach resorts include Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro, and Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte. To check out the stunning coral reefs, you can go diving in the Tubbataha Reefs National Park or in the Visayas, and in south-east Luzon you can go snorkelling with whale sharks.
The typical island in the Philippines features a mountainous interior as well as a sandy coastline flanked by aquamarine waters and coral reefs. If you'd rather be out hiking than sunbathing, the rice terraces around Banaue are great for trekking, and there are plenty of peaks across Luzon, the Visayas, Mindoro and Mindanao. If you're paying Cebu a visit, head up to Tops Lookout on Mount Busay for sweeping panoramic views over the city's monuments such as the Basilica of Santo Nino and the Taoist Temple.