How I Travel Cheaply Around Europe

 

A lot of people believe that since I keep on coming back to Europe, not to mention my numerous trips around Asia and the Philippines, then I have plenty, if not unlimited, financial resource to keep this lifestyle. I have corrected this misconception many times and will still answer it now. That is simply untrue. Like everyone else, I save, research, and travel wisely. My trips are always in a budget but without compromising my comfort and safety.

As of this writing, I have traveled to 22 countries. 23 if you count my numerous domestic trips in the Philippines. I know what you are thinking. How I could travel this much as a student? How could I maintain this lifestyle? In today’s post, I will share with you Where Monica Goes’ Hacks on how to Travel Cheaply Around Europe.

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1. Apply for just one visa

As a third-world passport holder, there are many countries in the world that are not easily accessible to me without a valid visa. More often than not, these visa applications require fees, which could still cut me back a couple of dollars from my travel budget. Since I love going to Europe, a Schengen visa is the way to go. Currently, there are 26 member countries and 2 candidates for accession. Just imagine paying for just one powerful visa! UK and Ireland are beautiful destinations, but if they are not yet your priorities then applying for separate visas for these two are unnecessary. For Filipinos, here is a detailed step-by-step guide on how to apply for a Schengen tourist visa.

2. Maintain old friendships and create new ones

You may be wondering why this is included in this short list. In my experience, I have a lot of Filipino and foreign friends scattered around the globe. Despite the distance, we still keep in touch and promise that we will meet again someday. Well, some of my old friends are in Europe and you know what it means – free accommodation! Of course, it goes without saying that you should not keep or make friendships solely for this reason. READ: Change the Way You See Friendship.

3. Stay in a hostel, not a hotel

If you do not have friends in Europe yet or they are unavailable, save your travel funds and stay in a hostel. I understand you might have misgivings moving away from hotel accommodations you are used to, but trust my word that staying in a hostel has more rewarding experience. Pay for a €10 dorm bed in a hostel and spend the rest of your money with activities and food. READ: Top Must-try Food in Germany. Traveling cheap and in a budget does not have to be uncomfortable, you know. Hostels in Europe, from my experience, are cool and safe even for single and female travelers. Why pay for an expensive hotel room when most of the day will be spent outdoors? Travel cheaply, sleep cheaply!

Of course, you can also try Couchsurfing and learn the culture from within – instant friends, personal guides and FREE accommodation!

4. Travel with a group

Well, they say the more the merrier! That may be true, but traveling with someone or in a group can also make trips cheaper. Not only do I have someone to share accommodation, food and other expenses with, but my transportation cost can also be lessened. How? In Europe, there are a lot of cities and countries that reduce fare price for group traveling. In Munich for instance, a 24-hour unlimited public transportation for a single person costs €6,40 while a group ticket for up to five adults only costs €12,20. So invite your friends to join you to travel cheaply on your next European trip!

5. Use public transportation

I think it goes without saying that when you are in a foreign land, you should not use taxis unless it is very necessary. If you can help it, walk or cycle around Europe. On one hand, strolling around the continent is free, just wear your most comfortable shoes. On the other, many cities offer one-hour free bicycle use. Rental is also cheap. But if you are covering great distance or simply tired from walking, I highly recommend using reliable public transportation.

One of the things that make me love Europe so much is its fast, safe and reliable public transportation. Of course, fares seem expensive compared to what we have in the Philippines and other developing countries, but I will share you how I was able to travel cheaply around Europe with these important travel hacks.

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I. Train Rides

Back home, I usually don’t take trains. For me, they are slow, always late, overcrowded, and unsafe. In Europe, I love them and they are my #1 choice of transportation. They are fast, efficient, and on-time. They have clean coaches, comfortable seats, and large space. You can even take your bicycles, baby trolleys, and dogs with you! But they are not cheap. After my first-ever trip to Europe, I learned ways how to get train tickets cheaply and did not commit the same mistakes again in my succeeding visits. Here’s how.

ÖBB Sparschiene

Österreichische Bundesbahnen or the Austrian Federal Railways offers Sparschiene (saving rail) or discounted tickets. Instead of paying €90 euros for a one-way trip from Vienna to Frankfurt, I can wait for Sparschiene offers in the company’s website and grab affordable tickets available at €29 or €39. More than 50% off, right?

TIP: Use ÖBB’s main website or mobile app to get Sparschiene tickets. Better book in advance as there is only a limited number of inexpensive offers available per trip. Don’t forget to print your ticket!

Bahn Card (Train Card)

As mentioned, traveling with train is really the fastest way to get from one place to another. However, train rides in Europe are not cheap. In some places, it could be even diamond-expensive! Yeah, I sometimes exaggerate, but you get my drift. For instance, my 3-day pass in Switzerland cost me €195. For frequent train users, I suggest getting a bahn card or train card. Many European countries have this service but in different names. For instance, I have the Austrian Vorteilscard as well as German’s Deutsche Bahn Card. My Austrian card enables me to travel with trains around Austria (and sometimes in other countries) with 50% discounted price while my German card gives me 25% off only.

TIP: I highly recommend purchasing a bahn card if you will stay longer in one country or would really travel around with trains.

II. Car rides

If you want to travel and meet new people along the way, you should try carpooling in Europe. Back home, they have a different notion of carpooling and I hope it will change soon. In Europe, people can travel with strangers if they are going to the same direction. Blabla Car is famous for this. It is a ride sharing website which allows everyone to travel with others and share the cost. For instance, from Göttingen to Berlin costs only €19 per person compared to a train ride with DB of €30.

TIP: Ensure your contact information is correct when you book your ride with Blabla Car. Also, contact your driver and make sure that you understand and agree for the pick-up point.

For a FREE ride, you may also try hitchhiking your way around the Continent. Not sure if it applies all over Europe, but Germany has friendly drivers who can take you in.

III. Bus rides

Recently, this has been my favorite way to travel around Europe. A lot of my foreign and European friends prefer to use trains because they are fast and well connected, so it is only this year that I started taking bus rides. I wish I had done so earlier.

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Flixbus

Aside from hitchhiking, this is the favorite way of my fellow exchange students to travel around – Flixbus. It is a German’s start-up bus company, which now offers 900 destinations in 20 countries. It is very affordable compared to Sparschiene and Bahn card discounts. It takes longer though, sometimes twice the time for a train ride. Well, you get what you pay for. On a positive side, Flixbus offers comfortable rides, free luggage allowance, toilet, snack bar, power outlet, and the most important of all – free WiFi!

How cheap: From Frankfurt to Amsterdam, I got a one-way ticket for €11,11. I booked it during a promo since the regular rate is €25, but it is still cheaper than a train ticket of €120 with Deutsche Bahn. Amsterdam to Brussels regularly costs €9, while Frankfurt to Vienna is only €33.

TIP: Download the app to have hassle-free and paperless travels.

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Hellö

Flixbus seems to have a new rival starting this year – Hellö. This is a very new Austrian bus company under ÖBB. I was lucky to learn about it few days after it started operating this July. It features comfortable and spacious seats, free luggage allowance, mobile apps, power outlets, toilet and a snack bar. Like Flixbus, it offers free WiFI but unlike the former, Hellö has uninterrupted Internet connection after crossing country borders.

Currently, it has a starting promo of having €15 for almost all of its routes! Promo ends in September and until seats last. Some of its routes include Vienna to Frankfurt, Vienna to Venice, Innsbruck to Zurich, etc. It is crazy cheap! Hellö offers €15 for Vienna-Frankfurt while €33 for Flixbus. I wished Hellö were already operating before I went to Venice!

TIP: Try this out until the promo lasts.

PLUS POINT: Student Semester ticket

As I have mentioned in my previous post (READ: Welcome to Philipps Universität Marburg, Germany), the only thing I paid in my German education is the semester ticket. This costs €250 for international students. Is it expensive? You may think so at first. But if you consider not paying any tuition fee in Germany (I paid my full tuition fee in my university back home though), this is really a steal. Also, once I tell you the benefits of this ticket, you would want to offer your Euros in exchange for this.

Basically, a semester ticket allows students from my university to travel around the area of Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund – RMV for free. Yes, we students can take buses, trams, subways, metros, and even IC/EC trains of DB Fernverkehr within the semester and is valid for full seven months entirely free.

For instance, Frankfurt is only one hour away from my university in Marburg, but a one-way ticket for the slowest train possible is around €20. Because we are traveling for free, we can go to Frankfurt at least once a week and do sightseeing and shopping there.

TIP: If you are studying in Philipps Universität Marburg as well, always travel with your semester ticket! Try your best to travel to all cities and locations in the ticket as well.

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These are my major travel hacks on how I am able to roam around Europe with a student budget. Remember, it does not have to be a luxurious trip just so there is something to boast back home or follow where everyone is going. There are numerous ways on how to make a European trip affordable and comfortable without cutting all your savings. I hope these tips help. Come back here for more travel tips, guides, and itineraries in Europe and beyond. You can also subscribe to Where Monica Goes via email to get the latest updates straight to your email.

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How to Get a German National Student Visa for Filipinos in 10 Days

 

Have you ever dreamed of pursuing your studies outside of the Philippines, in Europe in general? To be specific, have you fancied yourself studying in Germany, watching your favorite football team in the bundesliga matches, munching your delicious currywurst, downing a Maß of dunkel beer while biting your huge schweinshaxe, getting drunk in Oktoberfest, and salivating over those beautiful Benz, Audi, BMW, VW and Porsche cars?

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Are you dreaming of visiting the inspiration of Disney Castle?

If you keep on nodding while reading this and have other fantasies to add, then you indeed are dreaming and very excited to study in Germany. Read: Top Reasons Why You Must Study Abroad.

Especially now that most German public educational institutions are tuition-free, there are more and more international students flocking Deutschland in search of a better educational system and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

But first things first: if you are a Filipino passport holder, you must apply for a visa to be able to study and stay in Germany for the duration of your studies. In this post, I would help you know how you can perhaps possibly also get your German student visa within ten working days.

Who wants to study in Germany? Say, Ja!

I get several emails and private messages with inquiries on how I successfully managed to get a student visa in Germany. Many of them are afraid to apply in that country as Germany is known for being a stickler for rules. To help others know the process as well as not to repeat myself over and over again to my friends, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to apply for national student visa in Germany for Filipino passport holders and hopefully get it within 10 WORKING DAYS, like how I did it.

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Generally, Filipinos are required to get a visa before entering Germany. Last year, I have written about the process on how to successfully secure a Schengen Visa for Filipino Tourists. However, if you plan to stay longer than 90 days, the rule of thumb is for you to apply for a national visa.

What is a National Visa?

A national visa is a long-term visa issued by Germany to those who are planning to stay longer than the 90-day tourist Schengen visa offers. Unlike the Schengen Visa, the national visa has different and more sets of requirements. Also, national visas can only be issued after the approval of responsible Aliens’ Office in Germany. Therefore, processing time of several weeks to months must be expected and visa application should be done at an early date.

The embassy generally issues national visa for specific purposes: study, marriage, family reunion, employment, au pair, etc. Maximum validity is 90 days with multiple entries. Shortly after arrival in Germany, visa holders should visit the responsible Alien’s Office and apply to get a residence permit.

Who can apply for German national student visa?

To apply for a German national student visa, you must be a prospective student, student applicant, or long-term language course student in Germany.

What are the requirements?
  • Valid passport
  • Two copies of your application forms completely filled
  • Three identical and current passport photos. Check the embassy’s photo requirement.
  • Two declarations signed. Get this form in the website.
  • Certificate of admission (for students) or proof of standard matriculation (for student applicants)
  • CV in tabular form including your education background without a gap. My CV was in EuroPass format. Just Google it and you will be safe.
  • Motivation letter and study plan essay. Just write clearly, briefly, and honestly. Remember what you have written as this may be asked in the interview.
  • Proof of finance of at least €659/month or €7908 per year.
  • Depositing the required sum in a special savings account in Germany (Sperrkonto) with Deutsche Bank
  • Letter of award of an official scholarship
  • Formal obligation of a person who will take over the cost (original with two copies)
  • Confirmation of and registration with the language school if taking a German preparatory course
When to apply

The important thing is to apply as early as possible. Based on what I have read online, many people follow the three months rule. I have never done this, as my national student visa and even Schengen visa (for tourist) applications were never sent more than three weeks before my flight. But that’s just me. Haha! Still, it is better to apply early so if the embassy requires further documents from you, you can still have time to prepare and send them.

However, it is necessary to note here that you must have your school application settled beforehand. If possible, you must already have a Letter of Acceptance, or better, Letter of Matriculation or Enrolment as these documents will greater support your claim to get a visa. The embassy will confirm your application to your selected university and when you have these documents, your chance of getting your passport back with a visa stamp increases.

Where to apply?

Since you are applying for a student visa to study in Germany, then you must apply at the German embassy. In Manila, it is located at:

German Embassy Manila:  25/F Tower 2, RCBC Plaza  6819 Ayala Ave (cor Sen. Gil Puyat Ave)  Makati City  Metro Manila, Philippines

Office Hours:

Monday to Thursday from 7:30 to 15:30 hours | Fridays from 7:30 to 13:30 hours.

Visiting Hours:

Our general visiting hours are Monday to Friday from 10.00 to 11.30 hours. Please note that an appointment is necessary for passport applications and civil status matters.

Contact the visa section:

Phone: (0063 2) 702 3001 | Fax no.:(0063 2) 702 3045 | E-Mail: visa@mani.diplo.de

How much does it cost?

The application fee costs €60 but must be payable in Philippines Pesos at the current exchange rate. There is no refund if the application is rejected.

However, in my experience last February, I was first asked to ready my payment but after answering questions whether I have been to Germany before or if I had Schengen visas prior to the application, the staff suddenly told me that I no longer need to pay. I forgot to ask her why so up to this day, I still do not know.

STEP-BY-STEP APPLICATION GUIDE TO GERMAN NATIONAL STUDENT VISA APPLICATION FOR FILIPINOS

Here, I am now giving you a step-by-step guide on how to prepare and apply for your German national student visa based on the German embassy website’s instructions and my experience.

Prior to Application

  • Get the list of all required documents mentioned above and prepare them. Also fill-up the student visa application form found here: http://www.manila.diplo.de/contentblob/3618550/Daten/6193697/MB_student_jan13.pdf
  • If you are a self-supported student (does not have a scholarship), you must open a Sperrkonto at the Deutsche Bank. Download the form in its website and answer as many items relevant to you.

A note of advice here: you can only apply for your account in the main Deutsche Bank located in Hamburg and for you to do this, you need to present your application form in the embassy and have it signed. Then, have your entire bank application mailed to Germany. I used FedEx in Zuellig Building, Makati for this. When you are finally advised that your account is active, you should start depositing the required amount for you – a semester, year, or two year’s worth of required money. You can also deposit an amount higher than what is required. When you finally reach the minimum amount required, Deustche Bank will inform the embassy that you fulfilled the necessary application requirement, and therefore your visa application will proceed. The amount deposited in your account can only be withdrawn in Germany and only at maximum of €659 per month or a specific amount you may have mentioned if you have deposited higher than what is required.

When you already prepared the required documents or can already estimate when the rest of your papers will arrive, book for an appointment in the embassy for your visa application. It is better to regularly check the appointment database as slots can be easily filled.

Application of National Student Visa at the German Embassy

  • Bring all your documents – application forms, photos, supporting documents and exact cash. Do not forget a printed copy of your appointment schedule. Ensure that you have every forms filled completely and double check the information you have provided.
  • Arrive on time
  • Have yourself checked by the security team then hand in your mobile phones, tablets, and other gadgets in a locker provided for you by one of the guards.
  • Get your queue number. An embassy staff will ask for your application purpose and will then give you a color-coded card number.
  • Proceed to the waiting area and wait for your number to be called.
  • When it is your turn, give your application forms and required documents.
  • Please answer all the interview questions given to you clearly and honestly! If you do not understand, do not hesitate to ask. Your interview will be done right there and then at the waiting area in front of the consular staff.
  • Follow instructions when you are directed to the digital fingerprint machine.
  • Submit your request to open a Deustsche Bank account to a separate counter mentioned by your interviewer.
  • When all of your application documents have been submitted, your interviewer will return your passport and say that you will be contacted when your application for national student visa has been pre-approved.
  • If you need the national student visa in a specific time, inform your interviewer about it so he/she can note it down.
  • When you finally get an e-mail notification from the embassy (or maybe a phone call), go to the embassy and hand in your passport. If there are additional or supporting documents requested from you, give these to the staff as well.
  • You will be given a slip of paper with a schedule on when your passport will be released. Go to that specific date and time. Never be late.
  • When you finally received your passport, and hopefully with a national visa stamp, the consular staff will read the details in your visa to check if everything is correct.
  • Double check this, especially the spelling of your name and travel dates.
  • The consular staff may or may not give you instructions on what to do after arrival in Germany, i.e., visit the Alien Office to register your address and get your residence permit.

Too many things to prepare and keep in mind, right? Here are also 10 Tips on Preparing for Your Student Exchange Program. I know it is a lot to take in now and it can be overwhelming, but just imagine yourself being here.

If you keep on nodding while reading this and have other fantasies to add, then you indeed are dreaming and very excited to study in Germany.

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TIMELINE ON MY GERMAN NATIONAL STUDENT VISA APPLICATION

Long term visas, including those for students, can only be issued after the approval of responsible Aliens’ Office in Germany. Therefore, processing time of several weeks must be expected and visa application should be done at an early date.

I. PREPARATION

13 January – Request for documents from home and German universities, Philippine banks, and health insurance provider. Download and filled up the application forms. Took passport photos, etc.

14 January – first attempt to set an appointment schedule. All slots full. Earliest at mid-February. Contacted my German university and informed them about my situation

15 January – German university directly requested the German embassy Manila for a special appointment slot for me

18 January – reserved for the earliest slot given to me

II. APPLICATION TIME

26 January– Appointment schedule -> application and interview (window 5)

1 February – Received a phone call from the German Embassy. My visa has already been pre-approved after only 4 working days! Consular staff informed me to submit my passport, travel date information, and travel insurance.

4 February – Submitted required documents. Consular staff told me to return after two working days to get my passport and visa.

8 February – Chinese New Year holiday

10 February – Went to the embassy and got my passport with a German national student visa stamp. Yay!

TOTAL DAYS OF PREPARATION – 9 working days

TOTAL DAYS OF VISA PROCESS IN THE EMBASSY – six working days for the process, ten working days including time to submit supporting documents

TOTAL DAYS USED – 15 working days

Notes: I only counted embassy working days (Mon-Fri) and excluded counting 8 February as it is a national holiday.

HOW I GOT MY GERMAN NATIONAL STUDENT VISA IN 10 DAYS

First, let me begin by saying that what I had is a special case and perhaps won’t happen again the next time I apply for a national visa. The result was probably mainly due to the circumstances I had that time which the embassy recognized and therefore tried its duty to serve me as fast as they can. Normally, friends and people I met along the way told me that national student visa application normally takes more than one month of just embassy processing, so not including the preparation process. As seen in my timeline above, my entire visa processing took only 10 working days while with preparation is only 15 working days.

So how did I successfully manage to get it so fast? Here are my tips – none of them is illegal, by the way! J

  • Gather as much information as you can about the embassy, its office and visa hours, address, etc. You do not want to waste precious days and hours going there when you are not even allowed to.
  • Read, read, and read. Anticipate what you will need in the application. Always go to the embassy website for its updated requirements for the national student visa.
  • Always duplicate or triplicate printing and copying of your documents. Some items in the requirements must be in twos or threes, so always ensure that you have enough copies done. My rule is to always have the required number of copies, one copy for myself, and at least one extra copy for emergencies.
  • Try to book an appointment as early as you can.
  • While waiting for your appointment, try to finish collecting all the required documents and forms.
  • If you are running out of time, i.e., your semester will start soon, ask your German university coordinator if he/she can contact the embassy and inform your situation while asking the possibility to expedite your visa application process.
  • Write in your application form how soon you need the visa or when you must fly to Germany.
  • During the interview, inform your interviewer about your circumstances. Mention your situation so the consular staff can at least note the urgency of your application

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There you go. I hope this post help current applicants and aspiring students to apply for German national student visa. Everything that I wrote here is based from my experience and information from the embassy. Things may changed without notice, so I highly recommend that you still check the German embassy’s website for updated requirements. Again, this is simply a guide to help out fellow Filipinos who would like to pursue their education in Germany. Let me know if this helps. Good luck and pursue your dream to study in Germany!

Ultimate Guide to Cebu, Philippines

Locally referred as the Queen City of the South, Cebu Island in the Philippines boasts a healthy and thriving tourism. With a unique mixture of the new and the old, Cebu attracts millions of travelers every year to visit the country’s oldest city as well as experience what the second biggest regional economy has to offer. As such, Cebu charms local and foreign tourists alike with its several historical sights, colorful religious festivals, white sand beaches, pristine waters, world famous diving sites, variety of delicious food, shopping districts, and active nightlife.

For a short introduction, here are some basic facts about Cebu:

BASIC FACTS

Population: Around 2.7 million as of 2010

Drives: Right

Religion: Roman Catholic

Size: 5000 square kilometers

Language: Cebuano/Bisaya (local language), Filipino, English

Currency: Philippine Peso

Peak Season: Christmas, New Year, Lunar New Year, Easter

Low Season: May to October

HOW TO GET TO CEBU:

FLY

One-hour plane ride from Manila, Cebu can be reached with Cebu Pacific Air, AirAsia and Philippine Airlines. The international airport in Cebu can also receive guests flying from Hong Kong and Singapore.

BOAT

As one of the busiest ports in the country, Cebu is well-connected to the majority of shipping lines in the Philippines, making sailing to the island affordable to those who have a luxury of time to travel.

GETTING AROUND CEBU:

Jeepneys are the king of transportation for nearby destinations, but to explore other regions in Cebu, bus and boat rides are necessary. The north and south bus terminals, as well as ports, are easily accessible from Cebu City. Cabs are also available and Grab Taxis are increasing in numbers.

COST OF LIVING IN CEBU:

Cebu, like in almost all places in Philippines, is an affordable province to travel. Small hotels, new hostels and guesthouses are for budget  travelers and backpackers while there are Shangri-la, Mövenpick, Marco Polo, etc. for those with more money to spend. Food will never be an issue as a wide array of restaurants serving local and international cuisines can be easily found. Affordable eateries and bakeshops are also everywhere. When in doubt, a trip to local markets where fresh produce, dairy, and meat are on their cheapest can solve anything.

WHERE TO STAY IN CEBU

Sky is the limit for luxury travelers and there are international hotel chains, which can suit their accommodation needs. For budget travelers and backpackers, on the other hand, there are a lot of hostels, guesthouses, and affordable hotels and apartments. Moalboal, for instance, is a backpacker haven where hostels can go as cheap as €4.50 per night. You can also pitch a tent for free or rent a three-person tent for €5 along Panagsama beach.

WHERE TO GO IN CEBU

Where Monica Goes recommends these areas and islands in Cebu where the author has frequented. Later, separate travel guides and tips will be created to include itinerary, accommodation, and budget breakdown.

Cebu City

If you want to unique and traditional dining experience, taste delicious delicacies, and rich nightlife, Cebu city is for you. There are also a number of bars where live bands play and you can witness Cebuanos’ flare for music.

Mactan Island

Joined with Cebu city through a bridge, but not to be confused with the latter. This is where the local and international airport is. It is also a host of expensive and luxury hotels which are perfect for idyllic vacations.

Moalboal

2.5 hour bus drive south of Cebu city, this island is internationally known as the diving Mecca in Southeast Asia. Clear, emerald waters rich with marine life will definitely amaze travelers. Pescador Island, White Beach and Panagsama Beach are highly recommended especially for most budget travelers.

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Kawasan Falls, Badian. Image Source

Badian

Also two hours from town proper, Badian is always flocked with tourists who want to see the majestic beauty of Kawasan Falls and do adrenaline-pumping canyoneering.

Bantayan Island

The only area featured here which is located in the north, Bantayan island boasts a natural beauty that is incomparable to its neighbors. It has tranquil sea and white sand beach, which will make the four-hour trip to this paradise worth it. 

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Whaleshark encounter, Oslob. 

Oslob

On the southern tip of Cebu, this area has been known worldwide as home to the largest mammal on the planet – the whalesharks. In here, travelers can have interaction and swim with the gentle giants.

WHAT TO DO IN CEBU

  • Visit Magellan’s Cross and other historic churches

In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan conquered Cebu and planted a wooden cross to symbolize the conversion of Cebuanos from paganism to Christianity. The rich religious history of the Philippines arguably started in Cebu and thus made it a tourist destination especially for devoted locals who want to pray at the holy site.

  • Attend Sinulog Festival

Cebu is famous in the entire Philippines for its loud and colorful Sinulog festival. Once every third Sunday of January, local and foreign tourists flock the Queen City of the South to witness the celebration of Christianity dedicated to Santo Nino, the child Jesus.

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  • Island hopping

Cebu is a group of islands by itself and it would never be a bad idea to explore each of these islands.

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  • Snorkeling and diving

Cebu’s islands are rich with underwater life that it would be a shame not to go in and take a dip. A famous diving spot, Moalboal will simply take the breath of anyone with its coral reefs teeming with marine biodiversity. What’s best is that snorkeling and diving lessons for absolute beginners are very budget-traveler friendly! Interact with the whalesharks in Oslob as well or swim with thousands of sardines in Pescador island.

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Sardine run, Moalboal, Cebu
  • Canyoneering

Badian is popular for this thrilling and exhilarating activity. Try to be in a bigger group to save money and gain more friends.

Cebu is Where Monica Goes’ favorite island in the Philippines and she tries to visit it at least once a year. Even as a frequent traveler, she still discovers many places to explore. From idyllic beaches, wonderful marine biodiversity, rich heritage, and friendly locals, the coastal pleasure one can experience in Cebu will surely make any tourist to keep coming back. The author can attest to that.

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Have you been to Cebu? Which is your favorite destination? Share your experiences with me!

Country Spotlight: The Philippines

The Republic of the Philippines gains the honor of being the first country to get the spotlight on Where Monica Goes. From its more than seven thousand idyllic islands, clear turquoise waters, world-class diving sites, diverse wildlife, rich culture, friendly and hospitable locals, to delicious food, the Pearl of the Orient Seas can offer so much that one cannot help but to fall in love with it. As a Filipina myself, I can proudly say that I love my country and will always encourage others to come and visit this jewel in Asia. After reading this post, please let me know if I have convinced you to travel to the Philippines!

With a total land area of 300 000 square kilometers, the archipelago lies in Southeast Asia with Taiwan directly in the north, Vietnam in the west, Brunei and Indonesia in the south, and the Pacific Ocean in the east. It is situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire and has many active volcanoes, which contribute to seismic and volcanic activities as well as abundance of mineral deposits – gold (estimated to be second largest in the world after South Africa) copper, nickel and zinc. As for its wildlife, the Philippines is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna within its numerous rainforests and marine habitat.

The Philippine culture is a beautiful combination of Eastern and Western influences. Values, beliefs, languages and other aspects are similar to its Asian neighbors, but also exhibit traces of Spanish and American conquests. Being an archipelago with thousands of islands, the country is home to 186 individual languages. The official languages are Filipino and English. Travelers have easy communication with any local as more than 90% of the population can speak and understand the lingua franca of the world. For religion, it is predominantly Christian with 82.9% of the population Catholics while Islam is the second largest with 5%.

BASIC FACTS ABOUT PHILIPPINES

Capital: Manila
Population: 100+ million
Official languages: Filipino and English
Government: Presidential Republic
Currency: Philippine Peso
Climate: Tropical
Average temperature: 26 degrees Celsius
Time zone: UTC+8
Driving: Right
Electricity: 220V/60hz

GETTING AROUND THE PHILIPPINES

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Photo from Justin James Wright: http://www.jjwrightfineart.com/philippine-street-life-in-color/

Jeepney – king of the road; runs within Manila and provinces

Metro – LRT1, LRT2, and MRT3 run within the capital

Bus – ordinary and air-conditioned run within and outside Manila

Van – locally known as FX Taxi; more comfortable than bus but cheaper than taxi

Tricycle – local auto rickshaws that are common public transportation

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Photo from Justin James Wright: http://www.jjwrightfineart.com/philippine-street-life-in-color/

Plane – with more than 7100 islands scattered in the archipelago, flying is the fastest way to get from one point to another

Boat – locally known as Bangka; best mode of transportation when island hopping

Taxi – both ordinary and cab hailing companies such as Grab and Uber cars.

Kalesa – horse drawn carriage introduced during Spanish occupation; common around Manila and Vigan

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Image Source

BEST TIME TO VISIT

The Philippines have three seasons – hot dry (March to May), rainy (June to November) and cool dry (December to February). The coolest month is January while May is the hottest. To avoid strong typhoons from July to August, traveling can be between October to May.

High season is December to April (coolest and hottest months when locals usually take holiday trips) and low season is June to September (typhoon season).

WHERE TO VISIT

To give you a glimpse of the Philippines, here are some wonderful places that I have visited around my country. These will also be featured separately here in Where Monica Goes soon, each with detailed itinerary and travel tips and guides.

I. MANILA

The Capital. Culturally and historically rich. Bustling, skyscraper-smothered city where you can eat, drink, and shop almost 24/7.

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Manila skyline. Image Source

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II. PALAWAN

The paradise of the Philippines. Home of the most beautiful island in the world according to Condé Nast Traveler’s Reader Choice Awards.

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Coron, Palawan
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El Nido, Palawan
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Kayangan lake, Palawan

III. Cebu

Queen City of the South. One-hour plane ride from Manila. Home of the whale sharks, white sand beaches, turquoise waterfalls, spectacular diving sites, among others.

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Whaleshark encounter, Oslob, Cebu. 
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Sardine run, Moalboal, Cebu. Image Source
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Kawasan Falls, Badian, Cebu. Image Source

IV. Bohol

One-hour plane ride from Manila. A short ferry-ride from Cebu. Home of the majestic Chocolate Hills, world’s smallest, bug-eyed primate called Tarsier, pristine sandy beaches, world class diving sites.

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Chocolate Hills, Bohol. Image Source
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Tarsier. Image Source
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Diving in Panglao, Bohol. Photo courtesy of Agoda.com

V. Banaue

Hidden gem in the north. Home of the 2000-year-old rice terraces carved into the mountains.

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Banaue Rice Terraces. Image Source
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Image Source

VI. Bicol

The very active, perfect cone-shaped volcano. Beautiful, surfing-friendly beaches.

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Mayon Volcano. Image Source
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Caramoan islands. Image Source

VII. Boracay

Flagship tourist destination. World-famous white, powdery sand beach. Romantic sunset.

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Boracay island. Image Source 
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Boracay sunset. Image Source 

Aside from the seven mentioned above, there are still seven thousand islands left worth mentioning and exploring. The Philippines really has varied beautiful places and activities to offer that one should simply take and enjoy.

If you are planning for your next trip, will you consider the Philippines as your next destination? If you have already traveled here, which is your most favorite part of the country? What is your most memorable experience? Let Where Monica Goes know!