Travel refreshes the soul. And when we find ourselves unable to get away, we often look back at memories through photos and souvenirs. Photos work great but more often than not, we’d like to take a little part of the place we visited when we get back to our normal lives.
What are the best souvenirs to buy from the Philippines? Each city or province has its own product or icon and it gets kind of hard to pick those that will really count.
So to help you avoid hoarding and exceeding your baggage limits, I made a list of souvenirs from the Philippines that you can take home and hopefully someday lure you back to the islands.
The Best Souvenirs from the Philippines
1 Philippine Pearls
The Philippine seas are rich with natural resources including pearls. These gems from the sea are naturally farmed in places in Mindanao and Palawan. Pearls make a lovely gift for your wife, mom, girlfriend, or any female loved one back home. You can buy them raw or polished and made into beautiful jewelry.
South Sea Pearls are considered the most beautiful pearls in the world because of their luster. Both gold and white south sea pearls are available in different grades in the Philippines. You can find them peddled by an indigenous diver by the beach or buy them at a jewelry store.
While there is novelty in buying from a “diver”, they’re not always the best quality and might not legitimate pearls at all. I recommend buying from a brick and mortar shop where they issue certificates to prove the authenticity of your purchase.
Banig are handwoven mats made of dried seagrass leaves are popular souvenirs from southeast Asia. Weavers dye the dried grass in vibrant colors and weave them into pretty patterns. Filipinos use the banig for sleeping, sitting, and, in some cases, tapestry to adorn walls. The banig has also become material for purses, slippers, bags, and even laptop sleeves.
The locals of Basey, Samar make banig for a living. After Haiyan (Yolanda) hit the Visayas in 2013, social enterprise Woven PH stepped in to assist the weavers in designing and promoting banig-based products in the market. The industry has since grown and helped the typhoon-stricken locals get back on their feet.
You can find banig mats in specialty shops and in some public markets. More novel banig creations can be found in department stores. You may check Woven PH’s website for their beautiful creations.
3 Toy Jeepney
If there’s an icon that will definitely remind you of the Philippines, it would be the kings of the Manila streets. Jeepneys serve as transportation of the masses and a visit to the country is never quite complete without a ride in one. The jeepneys are actually refurbished military jeeps from World War II. Today, these vehicles are painted in bold colors and decorated with flaglets, stickers, and metal fixtures.
Jeepneys are the main mode of transportation in most cities in the Philippines. In the provinces, these are used to transport goods from farms to markets. People sit on the roof of the jeepney because the main cab is filled with produce.
Remember how cramped it can get and how you had to pass your seatmate’s fare to the driver by getting a toy jeepney. It would be a wonderful topic of conversation when friends come for a visit.
4 Wood products
Filipinos are very crafty and skilled with their hands. The abundance of hardwood trees provide great material for local sculptors and their crafts. You can buy all sorts of wood products in the Philippines. Remember the giant cutlery displayed in your Filipino friend’s mom’s kitchen? That’s just one of the many unique souvenirs you can but from the Philippines.
If you go to Baguio City, the barrel man is a hilarious keepsake you can buy. Just don’t give it to someone younger than 18. Sungka, a local board game, uses shells and a hardwood boat-like board called sungkaan. You can buy the sungkaan as a souvenir; it makes for a nice centerpiece on your dining table.
You can also find wooden keychains and fridge magnets in souvenir shops/stalls. These can be personalized with names or even a message if space allows it. These trinkets can be in all sorts of forms — fish, bahay kubo, coconut trees, stars, even miniature shoes!
5 Local Liquor
Filipinos love their alcohol! In fact, you can find random groups of men huddled outside a sari-sari store, passing a glass of rum or beer around. Some may even offer you a bottle as you pass by. San Miguel Beer and Tanduay Rum are local favorites. You can find these in most convenience stores and supermarkets.
You can also bring home the more unique lambanog or coconut wine. This has very high alcohol content (80-90 proof) so consume in moderation. Lambanog is distilled in Quezon province and can be bought from local culture/souvenir shops like Kultura in SM stores.
Before bringing any liquor home from the Philippines, check with the airline how much they will allow in your check in baggage. If you cannot fly the products, you can always buy some from the local Filipino store in your city.
6 Capiz Shell products
Capiz shells are versatile materials that can be made into different decorative items. Its luster and translucence make it ideal for items involving lights like lamps, wind chimes and lanterns. The popular Christmas decor parol is usually made of dyed capiz shells and LED lights that dance in patterns.
You can buy capiz shell products in sidewalk souvenir shops and department stores. Gilded capiz plates, ashtrays and photo frames make great souvenirs.
7 Graphic T-shirts
Some may think I ❤️ (Name of County) shirts are overrated and they are! Still, a graphic tee with a jeepney, seashell, festival mask or reef fish printed with I ❤️ Philippines will always be a great souvenir. These can even be personalized to have your nickname so it reads (Name) ❤️ Philippines.
You can find these graphic t-shirts at almost all tourist spots and shopping malls in the country. They come in different colors and sizes and all sorts of quirky prints.
I personally love shopping for shirts and other stuff at Islands Souvenirs. They are in most cities and in Lazada. Kultura in SM Stores is a good place to shop, too.
8 Musical Instruments
Filipinos are a musical people what better way to remember the friends you made than bringing home some music? You can always buy a track or two of Original Filipino Music but playing an instrument is just more fun. A well-made guitar from the Philippines should impress your friend in a band. A kubing from Mindanao will bring a unique twang to your music-making.
Cebu is famous for their guitars. My paternal side of the family is from Lapu-lapu City where the guitars are made. They also make other string instruments like the mandolin, banjo and ukelele. You can buy quality guitars anywhere in Cebu but you can never go wrong with Alegre.
Wake up to memories of the Philippines with a cup of Filipino brew. Philippine coffee is surprisingly strong. Kape Barako, for example, is associated with extreme masculinity. Batangas grows this variety of liberica specie.
If you have seen the movie The Bucket List, you would be familiar with Kopi Luwak. It is the most expensive and exquisite coffee in the world. Civet cats in coffee farms feed on ripe coffee cherries but do not digest the beans. The growers collect the droppings, separate and sanitize the beans, and then roast them. The cats’ digestive juices add to the distinct aroma of the coffee.
Kape Barako and Kopi Luwak are great coming home gifts (pasalubong) for your coffee-loving friends, office mate or maybe even your boss.
10 Tattoo by Apo Whang-od
This one’s not for everyone and definitely not for the faint of heart. Most people come to the Mountain Province for two things: the amazing views and a chance to get a tribal tattoo by the legend Apo Whang-od. The 90+-year-old lady is the last of the mambabatok — tribal tattoo artists who use thorns and charcoal inks for their art.
The mambabatok repeatedly taps on the bamboo stick attached to the thorn to draw the tattoo. It is a painful process so pop a pain reliever prior. Have tetanus shots, too.
A tattoo by Apo Whang-od will definitely be a constant reminder of your trip to the Philippines. Don’t forget to make an appointment and bring stuff as an “offering” to Apo and her family.
Other Great Souvenirs
There are other great souvenirs you can find all over the Philippines. Here are some of them:
- pinya cloth from Laguna
- T’nalak from Lake Sebu
- dried mangoes from Cebu
- jams from Baguio
- Renegade Folk footwear
- festival masks
- malong or sarong
- local currency*
*Do not bring over P50,000 outside of the country.
- Don’t stick to souvenir shops, try the local market’s dry section; you’ll most likely find cheaper and more authentic souvenirs from there.
- Haggle. There’s always a better deal especially if you’re buying in bulk.
- Check several shops first before buying. Stores close to the entrance charge higher prices for the same item than those located in less accessible areas.
- Bring cash. Most local shops do not accept credit cards.
- If you can’t bring souvenirs home, you can always buy online.
As you go around the Philippines, find something that strikes your fancy and take it home with you. Items you take home will make you remember your adventure more fondly than just staring at photos