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

Is Boracay dangerous?

When considering 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?  Is Boracay dangerous?

I kept hearing about the terrible crime problems, and that tourists actually get kidnapped (OMG!). Between that, and how far it was from everywhere else I was planning to go, I initially wasn’t even considering going.

Is Boracay dangerous? It actually has very little crime. The Philippines are relatively safe in the center of the country. I miss the Philippines!
Is Boracay dangerous? It actually has very little crime. The Philippines are relatively safe in the center of the country. I miss the Philippines!

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? 

Parts are safe, parts are dangerous, but it’s easy to go the areas that are safe. From what I’ve read and heard (details below), the South of the Philippines (the southern third) is actually dangerous and to be avoided. Don’t even pass through. It’s nearly always 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 both safe and wonderful! Where?

Where are the Philippines safe?

The Visayas are likely where you want to go – that’s the center/middle of the Philippines. I loved Boracay and surrounding islands, and I’ve also heard rave reviews for Palawan in the west as well.  Boracay is the beach tourist capital – it’s one of my favorite places for the beaches, the nightlife, and so many reasons. Unlike Thailand’s beach tourist capital (Phuket), Boracay beaches don’t get crowded and are among the best you’ll see. They’re awesome! I also went to Malapascua for SCUBA diving and see Thresher Sharks, to Donsol to go snorkeling with Whale Sharks, to Cebu, and to Bohol to see Phillipine Tarsiers and the Chocolate Hills. I wish I had time to head up north to see the rice patties; I’ve heard it’s beautiful.

Where is the danger in the Philippines?

The most dangerous part of the Philippines is in the south. Comparatively the area near Manila sounds tame. Crime in the south has even included kidnappings. Really?

Tourist Kidnappings in the South??

Ahhhh!  Everything is relative, but lots of caution (or perhaps 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 backpackers in Manila. I ended up avoiding altogether, but mostly because of the rich alternatives to explore.

How dangerous is 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; it’s the area labeled Luzon. Most of the islands you want to visit are in the middle, which are referred as the Visayas (which includes Boracay, Cebu, and nearly every place I visited). The south is the dangerous “stay away!” areas. You want that middle area, the Visayas. Avoid the southern islands.

Map of the Philippines

Where are the Philippines located?  

The Philippines are far from everywhere I was visiting in SE Asia. They’re directly east of Vietnam, south of Taiwan, southeast of China, and northeast of Borneo.

Conclusion:  Boracay is safe

The areas near Boracay in the center of the Philippines are largely safe. The South is dangerous. Manila and the areas in the North has crime but is ok.

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’ve shared some of my favorite adventure stories from the Philippines on

I’ve highlighted some more info on the crime in the southern Philippines’ 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

Cover photo is from here.


8 thoughts on “Don’t go to the Philippines – you’ll die!”

  1. Great piece! It’s true, people always warn you about places but sometimes you just have to go yourself to see if there’s any truth to it 🙂 Your journey around the Philippines sounds similar to ours – Boracay, Oslob, Malapascua, Manila. How amazing is the Thresher Shark diving & Whale Shark snorkelling?! It’s SO beautiful out there, Malapascua was just out of this world.

    Also, good tips on Manila. We spent a day and a half there before we got a flight out and decided to head to the markets…there were men by the road waiting with steel rods and baseball bats, safe to say we told our taxi driver to keep on driving! It definitely has a sketchy vibe to it but as long as you’re safe & wise it’s ok.

    Look forward to keeping up with your blog anyway! Keep travelling 🙂 Alicia.

  2. Alicia, that moment in Manila sounds terrifying! “there were men by the road waiting with steel rods and baseball bats”. The rest of the Visayas were so wonderful, I really want to get back!

  3. I’ve been to manila four times and headed for number 5 in a few weeks. Been to paliwan borocay puerta galera zombales and several different islands of with zero problems at all. The people are all friendly and very occomadating

  4. I have been to the Philippines 6 times now always for a month at a time, I have travelled from north to south including all the places mentioned in this article. Though I would agree to avoid the southern areas just to be safe I can say that in all my times there I have never experienced or witnessed any crime. Infact I would say I felt rather safe as the locals are so friendly they will look out for you. By the way I’m am as white as a white man can be and I’m about 6’3 so I stick out over there, it’s not like I went unnoticed. I love the Philippines and I plan to move there in the coming years. It should also be mentioned that my last visit was since the new president has been in power and my god the difference is amazing. It feels 100 times safer. He is really doing an amazing job there.

    1. Thanks Brad! I adore the Philippines, and am still itching to get back! There’s so many amazing spots to experience.

      On the last part, I’ve heard it appears much safer, but the amount of rumored political assassinations are terrifying! Here’s an example Reuters article –

      Still this isn’t aimed at tourists.

      My dream live aboard dive trip is at El Nido

  5. If you really want a fresh view and find out my thoughts about traveling safely in the Philippines, especially the deep South – please check out my blog: As a Filipina, I love to tell others that traveling to the Philippines is VERY SAFE. And just like in other places, they key is to travel smartly and respectfully. Goodluck on your 50-50-50 travel goal adventure, Todd!

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