Going on a road trip across the Philippine islands sounds like an exciting yet daunting idea. The varied terrains of this tropical destination make for an amazing adventure but the geographic makeup of the islands can also pose a challenge.
There are quite a few overland tours available to take you across the main islands of Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao. If you don’t want to be confined by a scheduled tour, hopping on a bus can be an adventure. But if you’d like to have control over your destination and stopovers, renting a car is the best way to go.
Where to find cars for rent in the Philippines? There are car rental shops in most major cities in the country, particularly those with international airports. You may rent a car easily in Manila, Cebu, Davao, and other big cities.
Car Rental Companies
There are both local and international car rental companies in the Philippines. Available units range from compact sedans to SUVs and full-size vans. Here are some of the companies and where they are located:
- Angeles, Pampanga
- Baguio City
- Cagayan de Oro
- Calamba, Laguna
- Cebu City
- Davao City
- General Santos City
- Lapu-Lapu City
- Metro Manila
- Muntinlupa City
- Pasay City
- Tagaytay City
National Car Rental
- Mandaluyong City
- Pasay City (Manila International Airport)
- Lapu-lapu City (Mactan International Airport)
- Clark, Pampanga
- Pasig City
- Nuvali, Laguna
- Makati City
- Taguig City
- Mandaluyong City
- Quezon City
- Cebu City
- Davao City
- Cagayan de Oro City
- General Santos City
Mabuhay Car Rentals
- Mandaluyong City
- Pasay (Manila International Airport)
Other Rental Companies
- Dollar Car Rental
- Viajero Rent a Car
- Voyg Transport Services
- Car Rental Manila
Most cars for rent in the Philippines come with a driver but you can opt to drive the car yourself. If you opt for the latter, you need to pay a refundable cash bond for security purposes. Just like all rentals, you can pick up a car in one location and leave it at the next one.
Driving in the Philippines
Foreign visitors are allowed to drive in the Philippines for up to 90 days as long as he has a valid driver’s license issued by his home country. The driver’s license has to be in English. If it is in a foreign language, an official translation from the issuing country’s embassy in the Philippines must be obtained.
If you plan on driving around the Philippines for more than 90 days, you need to secure a non-professional Philippines driver’s license from the Land Transportation Office. There is an office in most major cities in the Philippines. The process can be quite long and tedious. A student permit must first be secured; a month after, you may apply for the non-professional license.
Applying for a License
An LTO-accredited driving school may provide assistance in obtaining a student permit but you must go to LTO in person for the non-professional license. Here are the requirements:
- Duly accomplished driver’s license application form
- Medical certificate issued by an LTO-accredited physician
- Passport plus photocopy of data page (entry must be at least a month prior, visa must be valid for a year)
- Photocopy of foreign driver’s license
Licenses are issued on the day you apply. Queues can be very long so make sure to arrive early or go to an LTO office in a smaller city to avoid crowds. Someone may offer to assist you with the processing for a fee. They are called fixers and government offices in the Philippines frown upon them. It is best that you go through the process (written exam and practical driving test) yourself to avoid any issues.
Philippine Nautical Highway System
The Philippines is made up of over 7000 islands but you can explore the country by driving around. This is made possible by the Philippine Nautical Highway System, a 600-mile network of highways, ports, and vehicular ferry routes connecting the main islands of Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao. So you can easily go from Batangas to Boracay or from Cebu to Cagayan de Oro through the nautical highway.
The nautical highway is also called Roll-on Roll-off Terminal System or simply RoRo System. There are numerous RoRo ports that make up the western, central, and eastern routes. Take the western route if you’re going to Boracay and leave your vehicle in Caticlan. You can reach Central Mindanao through the central route, passing through Cebu then Butuan City. The eastern route, which faces the Pacific Ocean passes through Leyte and then Surigao; from there you can drive to pretty much anywhere in Mindanao.
The important thing is to know which ports to take off from. As soon as you know which ports allow access to your destination/s, Google Maps can easily lead you there. Make sure to book tickets ahead whenever possible. Busy ports like Batangas, Iloilo, and Cagayan de Oro may have long queues which can put a hamper on your schedule if you have one. Fees to board ferries are quite affordable but it can go higher depending on the type of vehicle you are driving. When selecting cars for rent in the Philippines, make sure you can split the costs easily amongst all passengers of the vehicle.
Traffic in the Philippines
Traffic in the Philippines can be quite horrible especially in Metro Manila during rush hour. In fact, it has been ranked the 2nd worst in the world next to Moscow in 2020. Considering that most cars for rent in the Philippines are hired by time, you should take hours spent in traffic into account.
Traffic conditions improve considerably as you go into the suburbs and eventually into the rural areas. Most highways in the country have at least four lanes made of concrete. Recent developments by the current government have made sure that roads are in excellent condition and safe for all types of vehicles. Take note of local truck ban hours if you would like to avoid sharing the road with humongous trucks. You can usually get this information at a local transport office.
When sitting in traffic in the Philippines, expect to have beggars come up to your window. Some vendors may also offer their wares and services while you wait for the green light. While most of these people mean well, I strongly recommend not opening your window at all. Even I, a local, do not entertain these just to be safe.
Road Safety Tips
It is generally safe to drive around the Philippines. Roads have greatly improved and law enforcement through army outposts are visible in most parts. Still, it’s always prudent to practice safety precautions. Here are some tips I would like to share.Plan your road trip during the summer months. Road trips during the rainy season can be very dangerous especially on traveling on mountain roads where there are greater risks of landslides. Rain can quite literally dampen your fun on the road.
Before you Go
- Plan your road trip during the summer months. Road trips during the rainy season can be very dangerous especially on traveling on mountain roads where there are greater risks of landslides. Rain can quite literally dampen your fun on the road.
- Download maps of your destination/s before hitting the road. Internet connection is available in most places in the Philippines but LTE/5G signals can be finicky in rural areas. Having your maps available offline will make sure you don’t make a wrong turn.
- Cars for rent in the Philippines are insured so make sure to get the necessary paperwork from the rental company. Make sure you have the registration, lease, and insurance paperwork handy. Also ask for important contact information for roadside assistance, the insurance company, local transport offices, and the rental company’s closest branch.
While on the Road
- When crossing islands on a ferry, do not leave your vehicle unattended. Security personnel will make sure your vehicle is positioned properly but it is best that you keep an eye on it just in case. Some ferries only use rudimentary devices like slabs of wood to secure your vehicle in place. Also, some ill-intentioned passengers might break in to your car.
- Avoid driving through the countryside at night. Most highways are well-lit but provincial roads may lack sufficient lighting for safety. Also, members of insurgent groups (especially in Mindanao) sometimes lay in the middle of the road to stop vehicles and demand for money or worse, take hostages. It is best that you travel in the safety of daylight.
- Fuel up only in reputable gas stations in cities and towns and bring an extra gallon or two if you’re expecting to be on the road for long without passing through an urban area. There are some road-side stores that sell fuel but these can be diluted. Better safe than sorry! Gas stations like Shell, Caltex, Petron and Phoenix also have convenience stores and clean comfort rooms. Air for tires and water for engines are also available in these stations. Don’t be surprised to have personnel pump the gas for you. Most, if not all, gas stations in the Philippines are not self-service.
Taking a road trip is one of the most rewarding things to do in the Philippines. It is quite an adventure punctuated by breathtaking coastal and mountain views. Driving through provinces can also be a great immersion in local cultures. With so many cars for rent in the Philippines, you can literally get up, secure your surfboard on top of your vehicle and go from Manila to Siargao and enjoy the cities in between. Fasten your seatbelts and have a safe trip!