The Philippines—a country with over 7,000 islands spread throughout 10,000 miles—can be diverse in its weather offering. Generally speaking, this country enjoys a tropical climate year round. November through April marks the most comfortable time of year to travel to this region, as humidity is at its lowest and cooler days and sunny skies prevail.
With both southwest and northeast monsoons affecting the islands of the Philippines year round, it's no surprise that weather is deeply ingrained in Filipino culture. Ask a local about the weather and you'll learn the names of typical monsoons: amihan refers to the cool northeast monsoon that brings cloudless skies and nippy mornings during the dry season, and habagat is the southwest monsoon that brings rain and typhoons (a weather phenomenon traveling tourists should be aware of) during the rainy season.
Typhoon Season in the Philippines
The southwest monsoon blows in from the equatorial Pacific, bringing excessive rainfall and gusty winds to the Philippines from June to November. During this season, deadly typhoons (the Eastern Hemisphere's equivalent of hurricanes) can make landfall. Historically, bad storms, complete with storm surges and landslides, have caused mass destruction, killing thousands and costing billions in reconstruction.
In recent years, the rise of “super typhoons” have made Filipino weather a topic of significant concern. Located at the easternmost habitable part of the Pacific typhoon belt, the Philippines bears the brunt of incoming storms. If you're traveling in the height of typhoon season, pack accordingly and take precautions by staying in a home or hotel suitable to withstand severe storms.
Popular Cities in the Philippines
Visiting Manila—the Philippine’s bayside capital city with a population of 1.78 million—any time of the year can be downright hot and humid, though May is the city's hottest month. But if you go during the dry season, cool mornings and tolerable daytime temperatures should make city-going bearable. Avoid this region during the habagat-driven rainy season, as many parts of the city are susceptible to flooding. And while it may sound tempting to wade into the shin-deep murky waters (especially when it's sweltering hot), this is highly inadvisable. Flood waters rustle up some pretty nasty sewer waste and the brown water can hide openings deep enough to swallow the unwary. Manila enjoys a temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) year round, with summer days topping out over 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius).
Further south, the city of Cebu lies within the Visayas, a group of core islands in the central Philippines. With a little more than half the population of Manila, Cebu's innermost locale actually protects it from the prevailing typhoons that pummel the eastern part of the country, making travel here (even during the rainy season) relatively safe. Visit Cebu during the period between November through May for tolerable temperatures that make exploring the city's sixteenth-century Spanish-colonial sites enjoyable. And expect the reprieve of a daily midday shower, once summer rolls around. Cebu's endless summertime-like temperatures are similar to Manila's, hovering around 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) year-round.
Similar to other major cities in the Philippines, the temperature and climate vary little throughout the year in Davao City. You can still expect hot and humid conditions in this city that's bigger than Cebu but smaller than Manila, with May highs reaching 91 degrees Fahrenheit (33 degrees Celsius) and temperatures rarely dropping below 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius) at night. Go in March, December, or February when the chance of rainfall is at its lowest. And, enjoy a relatively low humidity level of 73.4 percent in March, good for perusing the city's colorful indigenous sculptures.
Baguio City sits in the middle of the northernmost island of Luzon and enjoys a climate that differs slightly from its coastal counterparts. Deemed "The Summer Capital of the Philippines," this highland climate is known for its mild temperatures. Average year-round highs hover around 76 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius), yet the city still experiences both the rainy and dry season. This mountain town is chock full of both universities and resorts, making it a good place to visit. At Burnham Park—the most famous historical park in the Philippines—you can enjoy the greenery, a lake, and a bike ride or stroll.
Rainy Season in the Philippines
Pre-Hispanic mythology regarded habagat as the "God of the Winds," and his fury lives on in the local name for the southwest monsoon season. The rainy season is also considered the Philippines' off-season, as rains dampen beaches and some roads may become impassable. Humidity soars during June through October, as rains are common 20-plus days a month. Floods, mudslides, and typhoons are all regular occurrences, as well. Temperatures usually range from 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius) to upwards of 91 degrees Fahrenheit (33 degrees Celsius), with humidity levels around 90 percent. In August alone, the country receives nearly 19 inches of rainfall. And while the rains bring welcome water for farmers toiling in rice fields, they can sometimes cause havoc in riverside settlements and denuded hills where the extreme soil moisture causes intermittent landslides.
What to pack: Bring a lightweight Gore-Tex raincoat and an umbrella if you're visiting the Philippines during the rainy season. Also, pack travel clothing made from moisture-wicking synthetic fabrics that dry quickly. Light, waterproof running shoes or hikers make sturdy footwear for navigating the cities or hiking in the highlands. And throw in some sandals for a day at the beach, should the weather break.
Dry Season in the Philippines
The Philippines' high season (also considered "fiesta season") occurs when amihan—an avian figure from Filipino pre-Hispanic mythology—moves in, bringing cool northeastern monsoon conditions between October and April. This weather pattern originates in the chilly plains of Siberia and Northern China, blowing down into Southeast Asia at the beginning in September. Resisted by the southwest monsoon at first, amihan finally breaks through and brings cool breezes and clear skies to the Philippines.
The typical tourist season, which lasts from December to April in the Philippines, coincides with the best weather the country sees all year. Cool air, occasional rains, relatively low humidity, and unthreatening sunshine make the Philippines a real joy to explore. Still, the sunshine during the Philippines' summer months between March and May carries high levels of ultraviolet rays contributing to heatstroke, sunburn, and skin-related disorders.
What to pack: Wear cotton linen all season long, but bring a few layers for cooler evenings or highland visits. A bathing suit, sunscreen, and a hat will be necessary for beach going. And surfers may want to fly in their own surfboards, rather than arrange for a rental, depending on the zone they'll be surfing.
Haze in the Philippines
Visitors to Cebu in October 2015 had an unpleasant surprise: The haze that usually hovers over Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia blew into the Philippines thanks to the unusual confluence of a recent typhoon and the habagat winds. This haze usually affects Southeast Asia between June and November but spares the Philippines. And since there's no guarantee that the scenario won't repeat itself in the years to come, locals turn to the National Environment Agency for haze updates and tips each fall just to make sure.