Getting Around the Philippines

Transportation in the Philippines, like in most neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, is quite an interesting facet of every visit. Sure, there are plenty enough cabs to take you around but where’s the fun in that? Taking the local modes of transport would not only give you a better perspective of the place you are visiting, it would also make your experience all the more authentic.

So here’s the lowdown on some of the most common land transportation methods you can find all over the Philippines. A word of warning, some of these can be quite dangerous and it is entirely up to you to decide which ones you would like to try at least once.

Land Travel

Jeepney

Colorful Jeepney in Manila PhilippinesThe jeepney is one of the most popular and long-standing symbols of the Philippines. It is the “King of the Road” in most large cities and can easily be recognized by their colorful designs and sturdy build. Riding a jeepney is the most common way of getting around the Philippines; in metros, they have designated routes to make commuting easier. The Philippine jeepney is actually a hybrid made from military jeeps left by the Americans after the Second World War.

For a more authentic Filipino experience, ride a jeepney at least once while in Manila, Cebu or Davao. Fare costs P8 for the first four kilometers with increments of a peso for every succeeding kilometer. You’d certainly enjoy sitting on that long bench, shimmying and moving your bottom to give space to a new passenger, and passing your fare and your co-passengers’ fare to either the driver or the conductor. When in the provinces, a jeepney serves for long haul travels and often cater to “top loads”—passengers gingerly balancing themselves while sitting on the roof of the vehicle. While the view can be great, we don’t recommend top-loading.

Safety tips: There have been many incidents of pickpocketing in jeepneys so be mindful of your things while riding in one. Avoid placing cellphones and wallets in your pockets and wearing attention-catching jewelry as these can make you easy targets for muggers and snatchers.

Tricycle

Tricycles at Puerto Pricesa airportTricycles are often called the local version of a taxi in the Philippines. Aside from the usual sedans and SUVs turned into public utility vehicles, tricycles can take you pretty much anywhere you want to go in a city or town. Tricycles are basically motorbikes with a side car attached. It can accommodate a maximum of eight people including the driver. Other models can seat more if the car is designed like that of a jeepney.

This mode of means of getting around the Philippines is more common the small cities and towns, a very good example of which is Boracay Island. In Manila, they might be called “kuliglig”. Fare is about P7 and if rented, the cost is usually negotiable. Drivers are often very friendly and may serve as very lively guides if you rent their vehicles for the day to take you around.

Padyak

Padyak

Courtesy of Padyaks.com

This Philippine mode of transport is much like the tricycle only it is not motorized. Instead, a sidecar is attached to a bicycle and there is a large umbrella to give shade to both driver and passengers. In Visayan-speaking parts of the country, it is called a tri-sikad, based on the kicking action (sikad) the driver makes to keep the vehicle running.

Padyak is more common in the shanties and small streets in the Philippines so you will most likely not have to ride one but if you do get the chance, the fare is around P7. If you’re a large man, it would normally take more effort to move the padyak so a tip would be nice.

Habal-habal/Skylab

Habal-habal with 4 men and a pig in Davao region Philippines

CC-by digypho on Flickr

This one’s a peculiar way of getting around provincial areas and small towns in the Philippines. If you are a foreigner visiting the Philippines for the first time, you will probably cringe and be horrified at the sight of the habal-habal. Who wouldn’t? We’re pretty sure a large motorcycle with a piece of wood plank attached to its seat bearing four or more people is quite a weird thing to see. Wait until it moves and you see the driver precariously balance all the passengers!

A habal-habal/skylab is quite popular in Siargao so you should not be surprised to see six people on one motorcycle zip by, one of them even carrying a surfboard! Though quite dangerous, we would still recommend trying this one out just for the thrill of the ride.

Single Motorcycles

Motorcycles at traffic light in Davao Philippines.

CC-by digypho on Flickr

Motorcycles may be rented or hired while in the Philippines. There are quite a good number of businesses renting out this very convenient mode of transportation. One advantage of using a motorcycle is it’s easy to weave through traffic. On the downside, accidents can happen.

It would be a good idea to rent a motorcycle when touring a relatively small town and you want more control over your itinerary. Just make sure you have your international driver’s license. On the other hand, motorcycles with drivers come in handy when there are no jeepneys or trikes available and you want to get to your destination as quickly as possible.

Buses

Buses are also a common sight in most large cities in the Philippines. In Metro Manila, buses compete with jeepneys in taking commuters from the residential areas to the commercial districts. There are also bus lines that travel from cities to the provinces on a regular 24-hour basis.

Buses are a very convenient means of getting around the Philippines, especially for long distance travels over land. If you’d like to reach Baguio City from Manila, it would be a good idea to ride a bus instead of renting a car. It’s cheaper and you’ll get great views of the beautiful countryside. Some bus lines also ply the Strong Republic Nautical Highway and can travel from Luzon to Mindanao.

Taxis and Rental Vehicles

Taxis are widely available in major cities in the Philippines. They can take you almost anywhere within the city and its neighboring towns. There are taxis stationed at most airports, ready to take passengers to their hotels or hosts. Airport taxis have the tendency to rip off foreign passengers, often giving outrageous rates for an otherwise short trip. To avoid this, we strongly suggest taking a regular taxi out of the airport or at the departure area. Flag down rate is at P40 (a little less than a dollar) with increments of P3.50 for every succeeding kilometer. Always make sure that the driver is using the meter when riding a taxi, especially in Metro Manila.

Car rentals are also available in key Philippine cities. Some companies have booths stationed at the airport. Car rentals may come with professional chauffeurs or can be self-driven, depending on the contract with the company. Rates often vary depending on the model and make. Sedans, SUVs and vans are mostly available and can be taken to long distances within an island, i.e. Manila to Batangas/Laguna or Davao City to Bukidnon/Surigao.

Sea Travel

Ferries

With more than a thousand islands, one can only expect to ride a ferry when exploring the Philippines. There are different types of ferries in the Philippines, most of them plying the sea route from Luzon to Mindanao. Ferries are quite reliable when traveling short distances, for example from Batangas to Mindoro, Davao to Samal Island, or Cagayan de Oro to Camiguin Island. There are also large passenger ships that cater to long haul travels like those from Negros Navigation, Superferry and Sulpicio Lines. Ferries are often crowded during holiday season like Holy Week, All Saint’s Day (Undas), Christmas, New Year and during major festivals in the provinces.

If you’re traveling throughout the Philippines in your own (or rented) vehicle, ferries also come in handy. RORO (Roll-on, Roll-off) ferries that ply the Strong Republic Nautical Highway cater to large vehicles including passenger buses that travel from Pasay in Manila to as far as Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao.

Should you decide to take a ferry to your next Philippine destination, be sure you have enough time in your hands. A trip from Manila to Cebu normally takes 22 hours. While this can be a waste of time for some, it can also be a fun experience for some as some shipping lines provide topnotch facilities on board.

Safety tip: We advise not taking ferries or any other type of sea transport during the typhoon season (June-October). While shipping lines take all the necessary precautions before going out to sea, they may still be some untoward incidents.

Fastcrafts

This type of sea transportation is very common in the Visayas group of islands. If you want to cut sea travel time from Cebu to Bohol in half, you can take a fastcraft. A fastcraft is a passenger catamaran fitted with interiors very similar to that of planes. What makes this mode of transport extra special is the air conditioning that’s used in excess. Fastcrafts live up to their name; they are very fast, efficient and safe.

When booking tickets for fastcrafts, be on the lookout for discounts and promotions. Some lines offer promos like “libreng balik” or free return trips if you book early or schedule your trip back with a certain number of days. However, these offers may be seasonal.

Bangka/Pumpboats

If you have been to any of the popular beach destinations in the Philippines, you have most likely been on a Bangka, also called a pumpboat. Bangkas are outrigger boats often run by a motor and aided by sails. This type of watercraft is often used to take visitors island hopping. In Boracay Island, these are called “paraw”.

Bangkas are common modes of transportation between neighboring islands. They are generally safe and most provide life jackets that passengers must wear before going out to sea. Some resorts in popular islands have their own boats that take care of their guests’ transportation needs the moment they arrive.

Air Travel

Commercial Airlines

The Philippines has a good number of domestic airlines that take you to different parts of the country. Some of them even travel to several destinations in Southeast Asia. The flag carrier, Philippine Airlines, travels to different parts of the world including the United States, Australia and, just recently, nations of the European Union. The popular airline Cebu Pacific Air has recently opened flights to Dubai in the Middle East.

Domestic flights in the Philippines are generally affordable. Base fares average at P2000 (around USD $47) and this can go as low as P1 during periodic seat sales offered by almost all airlines. The most popular sales are offered by Cebu Pacific Air and PAL Express (formerly Air Philippines Express). Other popular domestic airlines include Zest Airways, Tiger Airways, and Air Asia Philippines.

Expectedly, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila is the busiest gateway in the Philippines. The facilities in this airport are currently being renovated to provide better services to guests. Other busy airports in the Philippines are Mactan International Airport (Cebu), Francisco Bangoy International Airport (Davao) and Clark International Airport (Angeles City).

Charter Airlines

For destinations that may not be easily accessible by commercial airlines, charter flights come in very handy. While expensive, charter flights can get you there safely and quickly. PAL Express has recently opened commercial flights to Batanes from Manila but there are still a number of companies that offer charter flights to this coveted destination in northern Philippines.

Charter flights are also offered by some high-end resorts in the Philippines. Crafts used may be small planes or helicopters (for short range flights).

Philippines Travel Resources

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