It’s not all coconuts, smiles, and sunsets in the Philippines. There are some extremely violent and high-risk areas you should avoid by all means while visiting the country. From kidnapping hotspots to military areas, here is everything you need to know about the most dangerous places in the Philippines.
There are certain absolute no-go areas in the Philippines that are controlled by militant and terrorist groups. The Filipino government and army are much one of the same, using harsh laws and punishment in an attempt to keep law and order across this Southeast Asian nation. Believe it or not, this beautiful country has one of the highest terrorism risks in the world.
But don’t let us completely put you off. Generally, the Filipino people are super friendly and welcoming to visitors, eager to share their stories. Popular tourist destinations, like Siargao and El Nido, are safe but you should always keep your wits about you. Pickpocketing and theft are two main concerns for tourists, not the mention the dangerous animals in the Philippines you could encounter.
Marawi City, Mindanao – Sulu Archipelago
Marawi is a hilly, lakeside city in the Mindanao region on the Sulu Archipelago of the Philippines region and is one of the biggest danger zones to avoid. Back in 2017, there was a 5-month long armed conflict dubbed the Siege of Marawi. This was between the Philippine government security forces and militants affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The Siege of Marawi was a consequence of the Philippines’ long struggle against terrorism, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. There were over 1,000 deaths and even more injuries throughout the entire span of the conflict, including innocent civilians. The Sulu Archipelago and Marawi City are still under a do not travel notice from the US State Department due to crime, terrorism, and civil unrest.
Much of the city’s commercial district is now rubble, leaving few places for locals to live and tourists to visit. Marawi is one of several places where travelers risk getting injured or killed. So if you value your safety, avoid this destination.
Quezon City is the largest city in the Philippines with a population of about 2.7 million people. With this vast crowd comes high crime rates. It is still, however, a popular destination for tourists and visitors. As long as you avoid remote areas of the city and walking alone at night, you should stay relatively safe.
When using taxis, always go for a verified firm, as opposed to private cars, and negotiate the amount before jumping in. Public transport is a hotspot for pickpocketing, so keep watch of your bags and pockets when using buses. Never be tempted to carry large amounts of money on yourself.
Street gangs and terrorist organizations are a major social issue for busy cities across the Philippines, including Quezon City. Women are also recommended to travel with caution through this city. There is a high chance of assault and sexual harassment, especially at night.
The Jolo Province is one of the most dangerous places in the Philippines. This small island in the Sulu Sea is the base for Abu Sayyaf, an infamous group of Muslim rebels that are known to kidnap tourists for ransom, often targeting American citizens. Local officials on the island are corrupt and often turn a blind eye to this group’s kidnappings for a cut of the ransom money.
As an island, the rebel group utilizes speedboats to whisk their victims away, avoiding immediate confrontation from any non-corrupt officials. On April 23rd, 2000, the Abu Sayyaf group raided the nearby Malaysian resort island of Sipadan and kidnapped 21 tourists from Germany, France, Finland, and South Africa. They then brought them back to the Jolo island and proceeding to demand $25 million in ransom money.
The most recent major incident in the Jolo Province was on 24th August 2020. Around midday, a bomb exploded in front of the Paradise Food Plaza in Barangay Walled City, killing at least five innocents and four soldiers. A second bomb was then exploded outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, leading to further fatalities.
Basilan is the largest of the islands in the Sulu Archipelago, just east of Jolo. This island is believed to be another Abu Sayyaf rebel group hideout, with what the Filipino government call lairs dotted throughout. There has been enough social unrest on the island in recent years that the President has maintained a military presence across Basilan.
In 2001, five hostages died in one of the countries worst hostage crises, the Dos Palmas kidnappings. Over 20 Filipino soldiers were also killed in the 12 months of trying to apprehend the rebels and rescue the twenty hostages.
There is a constant clash between rebels and military presence in Basilan. This island may look like a beautiful destination for foreigners to visit, however, it really is not a safe destination. Any foreigner who does head to Basilan, like reporters and travel writers, often has a team of private security to accompany them.
Crime levels across Cotabato City are generally at a moderate to high alert level. These risks have been slowly rising throughout recent years with the following crimes at the center of the issues:
- Mugging and robbery
- Car theft
- Drug crime
It’s common for shootouts and firearm use to be heard across Cotabato City as gangs have clashed with law enforcement. Explosions are also a common occurrence in the northern regions of the city.
This being said, there is still a tourism scene in Cotabato City with many expats happily living in the southern parts of the city. If you do choose to visit this destination, always be careful at night and use a taxi to get around.
Manila is the capital city of the Philippines and is part of Metro Manila, the National Capital Region of the Philippines. Generally, Manila is relatively safe with tourists passing through in the masses as they travel further afield into the rest of the Philippines. However, just like many other cities across the world, things can go wrong.
Foreigners often get caught up in bar fights and kidnapping is still a risk in the city. Tourists are often targeted for petty crimes and theft. Make sure you are alert during the night, especially if you’re walking alone through the bar strip or are on the MRT public transport service.
Scams are a common occurrence and annoyance in Manila, often involving drugging unsuspecting tourists before robbing them. Always be cautious of strangers offering drinks. Money changers are one of the main places for a tourist scam, shortchanging financial exchanges. Always check and recount the money before leaving the money changer.
Last but not least, Cebu – another main city in the Philippines that is generally safe for foreigners. However, similarly to Manila, there are parts of the city that you should exercise more caution and be aware of your surroundings. Drug-related crimes and corruption/bribery are the two highest risks in the city.
If you are staying in Cebu, there are three main areas that you should avoid:
- Colon area
- Close to the wharfs
All three of these areas can be unsafe at night and are not the most pleasant places to stay in Cebu.
Is the Philippines dangerous for tourists?
Some areas and provinces of the Philippines are extremely dangerous for tourists and should be avoided at all costs. Kidnapping for ransom is a common activity for many extremist rebel groups, along with drug trafficking and terrorist activity. There is a large divide between the rich and poor which does not help the crime rate in the Philippines.
However, there are many safe destinations for tourists to visit in the Philippines. Many of the larger resorts have private security teams working 24/7 to ensure the safety of foreign visitors.
Which place in the Philippines is the safest?
Despite the threats of crime in some places, there are several safe cities in the Philippines – the safest being Davao City. Due to the strict local government, Davao has the lowest crime rate in the country. Other safe places include Valenzuela City, Makati, Baguio, and parts of Cebu.
When traveling through the Philippines, it’s vital you are aware of your surroundings and are smart. Be cautious of people and avoid walking alone at night.
What is the most dangerous place in the Philippines?
Quezon City and islands within the Sulu Archipelago are names as the most dangerous places in the Philippines. These regions have a high crime rate for drug trafficking, gun crime, gang warfare, kidnapping, and theft. As with every city, there are dangerous areas within Manila and Cebu, the Philippines main cities, so travelling smart is always required in this southeast Asian destination.