Seasonal Planning for Philippines Travel
As a tropical country, the Philippines has two main seasons: the wet (also called the rainy season) and the dry. The temperatures don't vary significantly between seasons, but rainfall and humidity do. Because the Philippines is a large archipelago spread over 1,150 miles (1,850 km) from north to south, there's quite a lot of climate variation between places within these two main seasons. Mountainous areas have a different microclimate from the coast, and conditions can often be dissimilar between the west and east of the country, for example.
Many travelers prefer to visit the Philippines during the dry season (December to May) when the skies and the seas are clear and calm. Now is the best time for outdoor activities and water sports, too. However, prices and crowds are also higher this season, especially at the most popular beach resorts such as Palawan, Boracay, El Nido, and Cebu.
There are benefits to visiting the Philippines in the wet season, too. Prices will be lower and the crowds thinner, and you might find a great discount on accommodation. Some resorts close for the season, though, and some parts of the country are difficult to access because of heavy rains that can disrupt flights and ferry crossings and make remote roads impassable. Wet-season travel to the Philippines might require a bit more planning, but you can still enjoy a range of cultural and natural attractions.
|Seasons||Pros||Cons||Best for||Where to Visit|
|Clear skies, warm weather; good visibility for diving/snorkeling; resorts open, ferries and flights operating||Bigger crowds at popular destinations; higher prices in resort areas; sweltering temperatures in April and May||Beach time, mountain hiking, water sports, festivals||El Nido, Coron, Palawan, Camiguin Island, rice terraces at Batad and Bangaan|
|Wet (Jun-Nov)||Lush landscapes; fewer visitors; lower prices; city sightseeing; rarely all-day rain; some areas don't get much rain||Rainy weather; poor conditions for water sports; some ferries and flights disrupted by weather, some roads impassable; some resorts closed||Cultural attractions, beach time between showers, lower-budget trips, festivals, white-water rafting, surfing||Southern Visayas (Cebu and around), Mindanao, Manila, Siargao Island|
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Dry Season in the Philippines (December to May)
The dry season is the peak time for travel to the Philippines, especially from December to March, with April and May hotter than earlier in the season. Expect temperatures between 75°F and 93°F (23°C and 34°C) in most places throughout the season and relatively low humidity. Crowds and prices generally increase between December and May, hitting a high in the run-up to Christmas, January, and Easter. As popular beach resort areas can get crowded, book well in advance and expect to pay up to four times more than in the low season. Outside these super-peak times, it's still a good idea to make bookings in advance.
The dry season is perfect for spending time at the beach and in the water. With thousands of islands, you're never far away from beachside accommodation or island-hopping possibilities. Some of the most popular resort towns can get very busy, but it's also not hard to get away from the crowds if you'd prefer a quieter trip. Stunning Palawan, Boracay, El Nido, and parts of Cebu, among other beach destinations, are very popular, but it's easy to find a less hectic spot. Check out the Hundred Islands National Park off the northwestern coast of Luzon or the small island of Siquijor.
The Philippines offers world-class diving, best accomplished in the dry season when underwater visibility is good. Coron Island is an excellent base for diving adventures, as World War II-era Japanese shipwrecks aren't far away. Experienced divers might like to venture to the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park on a liveaboard boat. The Philippines also offers swimming opportunities with whale sharks. You can snorkel with them at Donsol in northern Luzon, where you're practically guaranteed an encounter.
The dry season is also the best time to go hiking. The Philippines has mountain ranges and volcanoes, so consider whether you want to spend a few days trekking through mountain villages and farmland or climb one-off peaks for great views. The Banaue and Bangaan Rice Terraces, Batad, Sagada, and the Sumaguing Caves in northern Luzon are popular hiking destinations and are easier to reach by road in the dry season. For a different mountain hiking experience, head to Bohol Island, beloved for its beaches and hiking destinations. Climb jagged Osmeña Peak on a short day hike or the unusual Chocolate Hills.
Events in the Dry Season
Feast of the Black Nazarene, Manila. A Catholic festival on January 9 where a life-size statue of Christ carrying his cross is paraded from 16th-century Quiapo Church around the streets. Visitors to the church at other times of the year can see the evocative statue on display.
Ati-Atihan, Kalibo, Panay Island. Sometimes referred to as the biggest festival in the Philippines (and that's saying something), this festival in the second week of January celebrates the relationship between the Indigenous people and settlers with amazing colorful costumes and street dancing.
Sinulog, Cebu City. Cebu City's largest festival is held on the third Sunday in January and celebrates Santo Niño (the child Christ) with a street parade, music and dancing, and feasting.
Lunar New Year, (especially) Manila. The Lunar (often called Chinese) New Year is celebrated in late January or early February. Even many Filipinos who aren't of Chinese descent celebrate this festival with dragon dances and street parties. Manila's Chinatown is said to be the oldest Chinatown in the world and is an excellent place to head for Lunar New Year celebrations.
Allaw Ta Apo Sandawa, Kidapawan City, Mindanao. In April, highland tribes from the region west of Davao gather to honor the sacred Mount Apo, the tallest mountain in the Philippines.
Mayon Festival, Legazpi. Running throughout May, this festival pays tribute to the local volcano, Mount Mayon.
Wet Season in the Philippines (June to November)
The humidity builds as the wet season approaches, with the rains beginning in the north and sweeping down through the country, although some regions remain quite sheltered and relatively dry. Even in areas with daily rainfall, it usually isn't too heavy or lasts very long. The humidity can be high when the sun is out, and you can expect temperatures between 77°F and 91°F (25°C and 32°C). However, typhoons bring another level of danger with exceptionally heavy rain and intense winds. These can occur at any time but most likely between June and September. Keep an eye on weather reports, and be prepared to change your plans at short notice.
For a relatively dry beach destination in June, head to Palawan, the Southern Visayas, or Mindanao, which are less likely to experience typhoons and have less rainfall. As Palawan is a top-rated destination, going in the offseason is a great way to enjoy a budget-friendly trip. The Southern Visayas—Cebu, Bohol, Pescador, Apo, and Negros—are also relatively sheltered. Cebu City is a convenient jumping-off point for island-hopping adventures in the wet season, and short ferry rides between the islands make it easy to change your plans at short notice if you have to.
Keen surfers will also find that the wet season offers the best waves. The experienced should head to Siargao Island for the biggest swells, where the best surf break in the Philippines, Cloud 9, is here. Alternately, though the Philippines is most famous as an outdoors' destination, you can trade in your board and enjoy city sightseeing in Manila, the capital. Escape the rain and head indoors to the National Museum of Fine Arts, the Casa Manila Museum, or the National Museum of the Philippines, then wander 16th-century Intramuros and Chinatown when the weather's clear.
Events in the Wet Season
Baragatan Festival, Puerto Princesa. This monthlong festival celebrates Palawan's unique culture with a float parade, dancing, music, and a beauty pageant.
Pintados-Kasadyaan, Tacloban. This monthlong celebration in the city of Tacloban is semireligious and honors the ancient body-painting traditions of local warriors. As with most Filipino festivals, expect street parades, dancing, music, and colorful costumes.
Lanzones Festival, Lambajao, Camiguin Island. This sweet festival celebrates the tropical lanzone fruit in the third week of October.
MassKara, Bacolod. In the third week of October, this big party gives Bacolod its nickname: the City of Smiles. Locals and visitors alike wear smiling masks and party in the streets.