Gearing up for Philippine Festivals
Festivals or fiestas in the Philippines can be very exciting because there are lots of things to do and to see. Most fiestas are celebrated to commemorate religious occasions while the rest are celebrations for bountiful harvest seasons or for rich cultural traditions.
That being said, fiestas in the Philippines are real melting pots of people. From smiling Filipinos to amazed Europeans, hot-headed tourists to carefree backpackers, fiestas mean having to deal with all types of people in a very unusual situation. Fiestas mainly scream fun and action. But they also mean stress and exhaustion… for the unprepared traveller!
So how do we prepare for a year dedicated to attending fiestas in the Philippines?
What to expect
Fiestas in the Philippines come in all kinds. There are fiestas for the Christian faith like the Ati-atihan and the Sinulog, harvest festivals like Pahiyas, fiestas for good fortune like the Obando Fertility Rites and many more. But what’s common about them is a huge crowd. Remember, these fiestas are not simply for tourists; they are part of the tradition of the locals. Apart from the residents, many Filipinos and foreigners will join the fray. Here are some things to consider when joining crowded fiestas:
- Your health. Crowded venues may not be suitable for those who have difficulty in breathing or have a heart condition and are easily fatigued.
- The weather. Heat from the tropical weather can tire you easily.
- Kids. Pushing and shoving in crowded areas is not suitable for kids and they may get lost easily.
- Safety and security of personal items. Theft and lost or stolen items are not uncommon in fiestas.
- To walk. Some organisers cordon off areas to prevent motor accidents. This means travellers must be ready to stand and walk for the duration of the fiesta.
- Booking problems. Many will stay for the duration of the fiesta, so lodgings and transportation will be stretched thin especially as the fiesta day draws near.
- Communication may be a problem. Jams in the communication network should be expected because of the concentration of people in a single area. The best thing to do is to move as a group or to strictly stay with the planned schedule.
Get your meds. Don’t just bring your personal essentials like heart maintenance meds, insulin shots or asthma inhalers if you have these illnesses. Bring too medicines for common medical conditions like a headache, upset stomach or suffering from flu or diarrhea. A first aid kit to treat small cuts or minor injuries will come in handy in emergencies. Drugstores are thankfully numerous in big cities, although finding some brands of medicines in smaller towns may be difficult. Stock up when in major cities before heading to more rural areas.
Research. Before heading out to the fiesta venue, do a short research on what to expect on the specific fiesta. Will there be a parade? Will there be splashing of water? It will be handy to know when you need to bring a change of clothes or what types of clothes to wear in the first place. This is also a good time to search a few important local numbers like the emergency hotline and direct lines to the embassy.
Bring water. Clean potable water usually comes in bottles in the Philippines. It is not advisable to drink from the tap, especially in more rural areas. Bring a container of water that is just enough for you and a good bag in which to store it.
Travel light. If it’s not essential, leave it in the hotel. Travelling light means having to worry less about your things and concentrating more on the experience.
Secure your valuables. This doesn’t just mean getting bags with working locks or zippers or placing your wallets in the most secure areas of your luggage. It means knowing how to handle your money secretly so as not to reveal to people around you where you’re carrying your cash or how much you have at hand. Thieves thrive most in crowded places.
Keep your cameras and gadgets secure with straps or pouches that are visible to you at all times. Finally, if the fiesta involves splashing of water, secure your gadgets and other important belongings in waterproof containers to prevent damage.
Book early. As the saying goes, the early bird catches the worm. Book rooms and tickets to and from the fiesta venue. Choose the most comfortable mode of transportation you can afford. When it comes to bus tickets, the higher the price the better the service as some buses stop on the road to pick up more passengers regardless of the number of seats. There are airports close to most of the main cities where the festivals are, so check the closest airport and book your flight in advance.
Travel documents. Photo copy your passport, or other important travel documents and leave the originals in the safety deposit box of your hotel and take the copies with you. Leave your credit cards as well if you know you are not using them for the day. Losing these would mean an enormous inconvenience and change of plans in your holiday agenda.
Survey the crowd. Be aware of your surroundings and do not mix in crowds or groups that look suspicious or threatening. Police visibility will be higher than normal during fiestas, but it pays to move with the right crowd to prevent mishaps.
To bring or to not bring the kids? This is a personal question you must answer. But remember, crowds are certainly not a good place for younger kids and they may end up not enjoying the fiesta at all.
What to wear
What you wear can definitely affect the overall experience of the fiesta. Since festivals happen year-long, a full guide on what to wear for all types of weather can be found here. All you have to do is to take note in which season the fiesta falls, then you can better prepare your attire.
A great part of the fiestas in the country happen in January to March, so here’s our quick summary of the best type of clothing to wear for these months:
Before choosing very revealing articles of clothing, however, check first if it’s appropriate for the fiesta. Most people do not mind if you wear tubes and short shorts outdoors, but you might turn more heads than is appropriate in venues like churches in rural areas.
Each fiesta has its own verve and feel that no one can anticipate and prepare for. As the saying goes, experience is the best teacher: though we come prepared for the best and the worse, there will always be little surprises that will make us take a step back. But these will also help make the experience more vivid in our memory.
What other tips can you add about preparing for fiestas? What Philippines fiestas are your favourites? Can you recount some mishaps and what you did to solve them? What valuable advice can you give to first-time fiesta-goers in the Philippines? Share your thoughts by commenting below!