Thursday, August 11, 2022

How To Travel Around Philippines

AsiaPhilippinesHow To Travel Around Philippines

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By plane

Flight delays
Flight delays can occur due to technical problems at major airports in the Philippines (such as Ninoy Aquino International Airport). When bad weather or smog builds up during the day, flights also become congested and this can cause a 2-3 hour delay to your domestic flight.

If you have a separate ticketed flight on an onward journey or are planning to depart the next day, consider flying earlier rather than later so you have enough time to relax, change planes or book your hotel for the night.

As the Philippines is an archipelago, the easiest way to move between islands is by air. Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Air Asia. have major domestic flights connecting many major cities. There are also several smaller airlines that fly to resorts (such as Amanpulo in Palawan), as well as more remote destinations. While most cities are served by jet aircraft, some destinations are served by propeller planes.

The route networks of most local airlines are heavily concentrated on Manila and Cebu: flights between domestic points usually mean flying through one of the two cities (sometimes both), although direct flights between other major cities are slowly being introduced. Reaching Sulu and Tawi-Tawi by plane is a special case: travellers must fly via Zamboanga City.

The vast majority of domestic flights in the Philippines are operated by low-cost carriers and are consequently economy only: PAL is the only airline to offer business class on domestic flights. However, this does not mean that airfares are affordable: Seat sales on domestic flights are common throughout the year, and all major airlines regularly offer special fares on their websites. However, airfares increase significantly during peak travel periods (especially Christmas, Holy Week and the last two weeks of October), and in places served by only one airline (such as Calbayog, Camiguin or Siargao), airfares also increase during major provincial or city festivals. During the peak tourist season, flights are often fully booked, so it is advisable to book well in advance.

Passengers departing on domestic flights must pay a terminal fee before entering the area prior to departure, although the fee will be built into the ticket price from 1 August 2012 for flights departing from Manila and Cebu (tickets issued before this date do not include the terminal fee and the fee must be paid at the airport). Fees vary, with most major cities charging ₱200 and smaller cities charging between ₱30 and ₱100. Fees are payable in Philippine pesos only.

By train

The Philippine National Railways (PNR) currently operates two night intercity services: the Bicol Express between Manila and Naga, Camarines Sur, which resumed on 29 June 2011 after a five-year hiatus, and the Mayon Limited between Manila and Ligao in Albay. More services are expected in the future as the rehabilitation of the PNR network progresses. The speed of the trains is comparable to (or slower than) buses due to delays, but more comfortable as donated Japanese coaches are used.

The Bicol Express and Mayon Limited are not non-stop services: From Tutuban, Manila’s main station, the train calls at several points in Metro Manila, Laguna, Quezon and Camarines Sur before arriving at Naga (and Albay before arriving at Ligao for the Mayon Limited). It is possible to travel between any two points served by the lines, and fares are distance-based. Children under three feet can travel for free.

The Bicol Express currently operates in four classes:

  • The Executive Sleeper Class has air-conditioned single cabins. Each cabin has a bed, extendable armrests so that part of the bed can be used as a chair, and a small table. Washrooms are available inside the coach.
  • The family sleeper class has air-conditioned four-bed cabins: two beds on each side, with one stacked over the other. Access to the top bunk is via a folding ladder between the two sides of the cabin, and the cabins are separated from the aisle by a curtain. The PNR advertises this class for use by families travelling together, although it is possible to book a single bed.
  • The air-conditioned Economy Class (or Deluxe Class) has air-conditioned reclining seats, two on each side of the cabin. In some coaches it is possible to turn the chairs so that passengers can face each other.
  • Economy Class (or normal class) is the cheapest class of service and has upholstered benches on each side that can seat up to three people. Ventilation is provided by ceiling fans mounted above the ceiling.

On the Mayon Limited, only the air-conditioned economy class with berths (“deluxe”) and the regular economy class are offered. Unlike the Bicol Express, however, the Mayon Limited operates two different trains: The “deluxe” service operates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while the “economy” service operates on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

Passengers on PNR intercity flights are entitled to a baggage allowance of 20 kg.

It is possible to pre-book seats on intercity trains by calling the PNR at +63 2 319-0044. It is recommended to book seats in advance during the peak travel season (especially Holy Week and September, during the Peñafrancia Festival in Naga), as trains can be full then. However, the PNR sends a second night train on certain days during the high season, consisting of economy trains only, if traffic demand justifies it. Timetables and fares for all services, including supplementary services, are announced on the PNR website and also on its official Facebook page.

The PNR also operates the Commuter Express in Metro Manila, a once-daily commuter service between Manila and Biñan, Laguna (which is also part of the Commuter Express but uses different trains), and the Bicol Commuter between Naga and towns in Camarines Sur and Albay.

By car

The Philippines’ road network is centred on Manila. Outside Luzon, the road networks of larger islands converge in the largest city or cities (e.g. Cebu City for Cebu Province, Iloilo City for Panay and Puerto Princesa for Palawan), while smaller islands (such as Marinduque, Catanduanes and Camiguin) usually have one road that circles the entire island. The Philippines has one highway that is part of the Asian highway network: the Pan-Philippine Highway (AH26), also known as the Maharlika Highway. The highway starts in Laoag and ends in Zamboanga City, crossing Luzon, Samar, Leyte and Mindanao. However, it is also the only highway in the Asian Highway Network that is not connected to any other highway: it is not possible to drive to the Philippines by car.

Roads in the Philippines vary greatly in quality, from the paved, multi-lane motorways on Luzon to the narrow dirt roads in remote mountainous areas that can make travelling by car difficult. Most major roads are two-lane and usually paved with asphalt or concrete, although multi-lane roads are common near major cities. Road atlases and maps are available in bookshops throughout the country and are very helpful when driving, especially if you are travelling alone.

Major international car rental companies such as Hertz [www] and Budget [www] have offices in Metro Manila, especially at the airport. Avis [www] and Europcar [www] are among the largest international car rental companies and have offices in several cities in the Philippines. There are also local car rental companies, such as Nissan Rent-a-Car [www]. Regardless of the company, prices are reasonable in any case.

Car rental companies usually allow either self-drive or chauffeur-driven rentals: However, some types of vehicles (e.g. vans) can only be rented with a chauffeur. In addition, some (mostly local) car rental companies only allow driving within the island where the place of rental is located: For example, it is possible to drive a rental car from Manila to Legazpi (both on Luzon), but not from Manila (Luzon) to Tacloban (Leyte), as this would require using roll-on/roll-off (RO/RO) ferries. If you intend to travel out of Luzon and into the offshore islands, Visayas or Mindanao (and/or vice versa), make sure that the rental company’s conditions allow this.

Road networks

In addition to the existing network of national and local roads, the Philippines has two other road networks: an motorway network and the Strong Republic Nautical Highways (SRNH) system.

Luzon has an motorway network dominated by the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and South Luzon Expressway (SLEX). These are toll motorways with well-paved roads that are privately maintained, and the furthest toll booths cost no more than a few dollars from Metro Manila. Other motorways include the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (a 94-kilometre four-lane highway connecting Subic Bay and Tarlac) and the Bataan Provincial Expressway. The motorways are connected to the network of national highways and provincial roads that link the major cities and provinces.

The Strong Republic Nautical Highway system is a three-route network of national and provincial roads, bridges and roll-on/roll-off (RO/RO) ferries that facilitates the connection of the Philippines’ major islands by road, thus reducing the cost of driving (and ultimately transporting goods between islands). The SRNH system starts in Luzon, runs north-south through the Visayas and finally ends in Mindanao. The SRNH is useful for travelling to tourist destinations outside Manila: For example, it is possible to travel to both Puerto Galera and Boracay from Manila via the Western Nautical Highway. The SRNH routes are signposted and a map of the network and RO/RO schedules are available from the Department of Tourism [www].


Foreign driving licences are valid in the Philippines for up to 90 days after arrival, after which a Philippine driving licence is required. It may also be a good idea to carry your passport showing that your last entry into the Philippines was less than 91 days ago.

Vehicular traffic in the Philippines is on the right and most road signs are in English. Most signs follow the design guidelines used in the USA.

Filipinos are famous for their driving habits (or lack thereof). Especially in the big cities (especially Metro Manila), traffic often comes to a standstill and honking is a common occurrence. When there is no traffic, speeding, swerving and reckless overtaking are regular occurrences, especially on lonely rural roads. Car traffic competes with bus and jeepney traffic, which crowd the pavements to get more passengers, especially in areas without designated bus stops: The fact that bus and jeepney drivers’ salaries are based on passenger volume does not help the traffic situation in many cities. Motorbikes often weave through traffic, increasing the risk of accidents. However, traffic lights, which were often ignored in the past, are now more strictly observed. Seat belts are only mandatory for people in the front seat.

Due to heavy traffic, Metro Manila and Baguio have laws that restrict certain vehicles based on the day of the week and the ending number of your vehicle’s number plate: this is officially called the Uniform Vehicular Volume Reduction Program (UVVRP), but is also known simply as “number coding” or, earlier, “colour coding” (although it has nothing to do with the colour of your vehicle). The UVVRP works as follows:

DayPlate number
Monday1, 2
Tuesday3, 4
Wednesday5, 6
Thursday7, 8
Friday9, 0
Weekends and holidaysNo coding

Cities that enforce the UVVRP prohibit cars from driving between 7am and 7pm on a given day of the week on most national (primary) and secondary roads, although implementation varies: In Metro Manila (except Makati and Pasay), there is a “window” between 10am and 3pm when the regulation is not enforced, while in Baguio, the UVVRP is only enforced in the city centre and the regulation does not apply to the rest of the city. Generally, however, the UVVRP does not apply to side streets (mostly in residential areas) and these streets remain open to coded cars all day. Be sure to check with a local contact or the car rental agency/hotel concierge to see if these rules apply to your vehicle, especially since driving foreigners can become targets for less scrupulous traffic enforcers.

By taxi

Taxi fares
Most taxi drivers nowadays charge fares that are not based on the taxi meter, especially during peak hours. If you come across this, say “no” and tell them that the drivers have no right to give you a double fare that is not based on the taxi meters.

If this happens, get out of the taxi, threaten the driver that you will call the police hotline; PhilippineNational Police (PNP) +63 2 722-0650 and start dialing your mobile phone to make him think you are calling the police or either call the MMDA [www](Metro Manila Development Authority) hotline; 136 if you are inside Manila, you can also text the police to 2920 and your message must read as follows: PNP(space)(message), for your complaints.

In 2009, some taxis installed meters that issue receipts, ask for a receipt if they have one.

Taxis are generally available within the major cities, but are not usually used to travel through the different provinces and regions. However, some FX (shared taxis) usually run on provincial routes. You can also call reputable taxi companies that can arrange pick-ups and transfers as well as airport trips.

If you hail a taxi in the cities, make sure the meter is on and pay the metered fare. A tip of 10 pesos is acceptable. Also, make sure you have small banknotes, as drivers often claim not to have change in order to receive a larger tip! Please have coins ready. Also, don’t be surprised if drivers try to bypass the taxi meter during rush hour. (Updated April 2011) Most taxis have a flag-down fare of ₱40 with each 300 metres costing ₱3.50, while Yellow Cab taxis are more expensive with a flag-down fare of ₱70 with each 300 metres costing ₱4.00.

You can book a taxi via GPS-enabled mobile apps such as “Grab Taxi” and “Easy Taxi” for a small fee. This is better than calling a taxi as you can see the number of taxis available and their location via GPS. Once you have a confirmed taxi booking, the name, photo, number plate number and phone number will appear on your mobile device and you can communicate with the driver to let him know exactly where you are. This is initially available in Metro Manila and Cebu.

By bus

Apart from flying, buses are usually the way to go when it comes to travelling across the Philippines, at least from within the major islands. It is the cheapest way to get around, with fares as low as ₱300-₱500. Provincial bus companies offer trips from Manila to provinces in the north and south. Major provincial bus companies such as ALPS The Bus, Inc. [www], Victory Liner[www], Philtranco[www] operate in the country.

With the boat

Although seafarers from the Philippines are employed worldwide and have a good reputation as skilled and dedicated crew, it is a sad fact that shipowners in the Philippines put profit before life, and the Philippines has the sad honour of having had some of the world’s worst shipping disasters in peacetime. (On 20 December 1987, the passenger ferry Doña Paz collided with the oil tanker Vector in Tablas Strait, near Marinduque. The tanker had more than 8,800 barrels of petrol on board and the resulting conflagration quickly spread to the Doña Paz, forcing passengers to jump into the burning water. There were later reports that the lifejackets on board the Doña Paz were locked away to prevent theft. This one incident left an estimated 4,341 dead, including all but 24 passengers on the Doña Paz and all but two of the Vector’s 13-member crew).

NOTE: If a boat appears to be overloaded, do not board. Always check the latest weather reports before travelling by ferry, as some captains are prepared to sail even if a typhoon is approaching. Bringing your own life jacket is strongly recommended (but does not replace common sense). Travelling by boat should not be considered safer than travelling by air.

Metro Manila

Get around Manila with the Pasig Ferry Service. The water buses are available at stations around the historic Pasig River. Fares range from ₱25, ₱35 and ₱45. For students and youth, fares are ₱20, regardless of distance.

Inter-island travel

Besides buses and sometimes budget airlines, boats are the cheapest means of transport to travel around the country, with fares as low as ₱1,000 if it’s a trip that lasts a day or two, and ₱200 if it’s just a one-hour journey. 2Go Travel and a number of other companies offer ferries between the islands. There is a convenient Friday night ferry trip to Coron, Palawan. This allows divers to spend the weekend in Coron and take the ferry back to Manila on Sunday evening, arriving around noon. You can also stay overnight on a cruise ship exploring the Coron area. The 7,107 Island Cruise Ship takes passengers around Coron and to some of its private islands.

Ferry trips to other islands can take over 24 hours depending on the distance. Other major ferry companies are: 2Go Travel Trans Asia Shipping Lines.

Oceanjet is a reliable company offering fast ferries across the Visayas at affordable prices. Timetable information is hard to come by – newspapers often contain pages of adverts for specific days but, believe it or not, most people rely on word of mouth.

Be aware that while travelling by ferry is cheap and relatively carefree compared to air travel, shipping can be unreliable. Ferries can sometimes be delayed by 24 to 48 hours because not all cargo and passengers are on board yet, or because of weather. If you have a deadline to meet (e.g. an international flight), you should fly instead of travelling by ferry.


7107 Islands Cruise offers a cruise from Boracay to Puerto Galera to Boracay, prices range from ₱2,000 – ₱10,000, children under 3 years travel free when accompanied by 2 adults, children from 5 to 12 years receive 50% discount when also accompanied by 2 adults, while senior citizens receive 20% discount. The cruise will travel around the Philippines to islands such as Boracay and Coron Island.

Hans Christian Andersen Cruise takes you on an unforgettable journey through the Philippines. They aim for unforgettable experiences, empty beaches, local fishing villages, fantastic diving and snorkelling – the perfect way to explore the Philippines’ picturesque archipelagos. They offer a relaxed, unpretentious holiday atmosphere and you won’t have to worry about dress codes.

Sun Cruises offers tour packages to Corregidor Island in Manila Bay. Prices range from ₱2,000 for a day tour with a buffet lunch to ₱3,000 for an overnight stay on the island. The tour guides are very informative and the island is steeped in history, especially about the battles that raged there during World War 2. They also offer cruises around Manila Bay.

With jeepney

Jeepneys are common throughout the country and are by far the cheapest way to get around most major cities. They usually follow fixed routes, have fixed fares depending on the distance (often around ₱8 for up to 4 km and an additional ₱1 per km) and stop when you wave to them. There are usually signs on the side of the vehicle indicating the route.

Originally, jeepneys were based on jeeps left behind by the Americans after World War II; the Filipinos lengthened the body and added benches on the sides to seat up to 20 people (10 per side). Today, most new jeepneys are based on second-hand vehicles imported from Japan, but some of the post-war jeepneys are still in service.

Within Manila and other major cities, you will find several jeepneys per route for added convenience. In the provinces, jeepneys also connect the cities. For longer distances, however, buses are more convenient.

Jeepneys are often quite crowded and sometimes there are pickpockets, but every visitor should try them at least once as they are definitely part of a “Philippines experience”. For a budget traveller, they will probably be one of the most used transport options.

With the tricycle

Traysikels are three-wheeled, motorbike and sidecar carriages, usually with seating for four people in the sidecar. In many of the smaller towns, these are the main means of transport within the town, and jeepneys are only used for longer journeys.

These may not be to the taste of most foreigners as they are narrow and quite open to traffic. They are usually used for short distances and are shared vehicles; expect to ride with other people going roughly the same way, making a diversion or two when the driver turns to deliver a passenger to their destination. Fares range from ₱3 upwards, depending on the distance of your destination. In some places the fare is regulated by law, for example in Dumaguete it is ₱8 within the city. However, you often have to negotiate the fare and some drivers try to take advantage of foreigners,

In many areas, “pedicab” refers to a pedal-powered vehicle, either a bicycle sidecar team or a bicycle rickshaw with two seats in the back and the driver pedalling in the front. In other areas, the term “pedicab” is also used for motorised sidecar vehicles.

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