Air Juan Runs small sea planes (usually six-seaters) out of its terminal in Manila, and is easing regional travel by opening direct routes between key provincial tourist towns (such as Busuanga–Caticlan, Puerto Galera–Caticlan and Cebu City–Bantayan).
Air Swift Serves El Nido from Manila, Caticlan and Cebu City; owned by luxury resort operator El Nido Resorts, but these days has plenty of space for nonguests.
Northsky Air Scheduled flights connect Tuguegarao (North Luzon) with Batanes and the remote Sierra Madre towns of Maconacon and Palanan in Isabela Province, North Luzon. Also available for charter.
Sky Pasada Links several cities in North Luzon from its hub in Binalonan, Pangasinan (2½ hours north of Manila), including Vigan, Tuguegarao, Basco (Batanes), Palanan and Maconacon, using 15- to 19-seat turboprop planes. Planes available for charter.
Domestic Booking Tips
- Pay attention to baggage allowances – some routes and airlines are more restrictive than others.
- Pre-pay for your baggage online or you'll pay triple at the check-in counter.
- If you book a month or so in advance, you’ll rarely pay more than P1500 (about US$30) for a one-way ticket on the main carriers (exceptions on touristy routes such as Manila–Caticlan and Manila–Siargao, and during peak domestic-travel periods).
- On most airlines you will not pay a premium for one-way tickets nor save money by purchasing a round-trip ticket.
- Flight routes are skewed towards Manila and (to a lesser extent) Cebu. If you want to fly between any other cities you’ll likely have to purchase two tickets and transfer through one of those hubs. Air Juan's inter-regional flights are improving the situation somewhat.
- Don’t plan too tight a schedule for connecting flights – flight delays are a fact of life in the Philippines.
- Typhoons and other adverse weather often ground planes from July to December – some routes are more susceptible than others.
- A good way to avoid delays is to depart painfully early in the morning, before runway congestion disrupts schedules.
Most domestic terminals levy a P200 or so departure tax, payable before you go through security. In Manila that fee is wrapped into your ticket.
If you’re away from the traffic and exhaust fumes of major cities, cycling can be a great way to get around quieter, less-visited islands.
- You can take bicycles on domestic flights (you may have to partially disassemble the bicycle), but take heed of the baggage allowance on small planes.
- If there’s room, you can stow your bike on a bus or jeepney, usually for a small charge.
- Depending on where you are, mountain bikes can be hired for P300 to P700 per day, with price very much linked to quality.
- In the big cities you will find bicycle shops where you can purchase brand-new bikes of varying quality. Outdoor-gear shops (most malls have at least one) are good places to enquire about local cycling clubs and events.
The islands of the Philippines are linked by an incredible network of ferry routes, and prices are generally affordable. Ferries usually take the form of motorised outriggers (known locally as bangkas), speedy ‘fastcraft’ vessels, roll-on, roll-off ferries (ROROs; car ferries) and, for long-haul journeys, vast multidecked passenger ferries. It's worth highlighting the mega company 2GO Travel (www.travel.2go.com.ph), which serves the majority of major destinations in the Philippines.
Most ferry terminals have a small fee (P20 on average); Manila's is P95.
You can check out the real-time locations of the various larger ferries plying the waters at www.marinetraffic.com. The website www.schedule.ph is not entirely comprehensive but it’s a good place to start for ferry schedules.
Bangkas The jeepneys of the sea, also known as pumpboats. They are small wooden boats with two wooden or bamboo outriggers. Bangka ferries ply regular routes between islands and are also available for hire per day for diving, snorkelling, sightseeing or just getting around. The engines on these boats can be deafeningly loud, so bring earplugs if you’re sensitive to noise. They also aren’t the most stable in rough seas, but on some islands they're preferable to travelling overland. Time schedules should be taken with a grain of salt.
‘Fastcraft’ These are passenger only, and are mainly used on popular short-haul routes; they cut travel times by half but usually cost twice as much as slower RORO ferries. One modern convenience used to excess on these spiffy ships is air-conditioning, which is permanently set to ‘arctic’ – take a sweater or fleece.
ROROs Popular on medium-haul routes, especially along the so-called ‘Nautical Highway’ running from Manila to Davao in southern Mindanao. ROROs are slow but, in good weather, are the most enjoyable form of ocean transport, as (unlike most fastcraft) they allow you to sit outside in the open air and watch the ocean drift by.
Passenger Liners Multidecked long-haul liners, which carry up to 4000 passengers as well as cars. They are pretty reliable but you’ll need to be prepared for changes in itineraries due to adverse weather conditions or maintenance.
- Booking ahead is essential for long-haul liners and can be done at ticket offices or travel agencies in most cities.
- For fastcraft and bangka ferries, tickets can usually be bought at the pier before departure (exception: book El Nido–Coron ferries ahead in the high season).
- Passenger ferries offer several levels of comfort and cost. Bunks on or below deck in 3rd or ‘economy’ class should be fine, as long as the ship isn’t overcrowded. First class nets you a two-person stateroom.
- Before purchasing your ticket, it pays to ask about ‘promo rates’ (discounts). Student and senior-citizen discounts usually only apply to Filipino citizens.
For the most part, ferries are an easy, enjoyable way to hop between islands in the Philippines, but ferry accidents are not unknown.
In May 2008 a Sulpicio Lines ferry went down off Romblon in Typhoon Frank; fewer than 60 passengers survived and more than 800 perished. A large 2GO Ferry vessel collided witha cargo ship off Cebu in August 2013, resulting in more than 115 deaths. And in 2015 more than 60 people were killed when an overloaded bangka ferry bound for Pilar, Camotes Islands, from Ormoc, Leyte, tipped over in relatively calm seas.
Sulpicio Lines was also responsible for the sinking of the Doña Paz in 1987, in which almost 4500 people are believed to have perished. It's still the largest peacetime maritime disaster in history.
Bad weather, lax regulations and maintenance, equipment breakdowns, overcrowding and a general culture of fatalism are to blame for most accidents. It’s best to follow your instincts – if the boat looks crowded, it is, and if the sailing conditions seem wrong, they are. Bangkas during stormy weather are especially scary. It’s always worth checking that life jackets are on board.
- Philippine buses come in all shapes and sizes. Bus depots are dotted throughout towns and the countryside, and most buses will stop if you wave them down.
- Bus 'terminals' also run the gamut. Some are well-secured large garagelike structures with destinations clearly signposted and even ticket booths, whereas others are nothing more than a few run-down outdoor sheds with drivers clamouring for your business.
- More services run in the morning – buses on unsealed roads may only run in the morning, especially in remote areas. Night services, including deluxe 27-seaters, are common between Manila and major provincial hubs in Luzon, and in Mindanao.
- Air-con minivans (along with jeepneys) shadow bus routes in many parts of the Philippines (especially Bicol, Leyte, Cebu, Palawan and Mindanao) and in some cases have replaced buses altogether. However, you may have to play a waiting game until the vehicles are full.
- Minivans are a lot quicker than buses, but also more expensive and cramped.
- As in most countries, it pays to mind your baggage while buses load and unload.
- Reservations aren't usually necessary; however, they're essential on the deluxe night buses heading to/from Manila (book these at least two days in advance, if possible, at the bus terminal).
- Bus and van tickets on some popular routes – such as Manila–Banaue (North Luzon), Manila–Bicol (Southeast Luzon) and Puerto Princesa–El Nido (Palawan) – can be reserved online through booking sites such as www.pinoytravel.com.ph or www.biyaheroes.com.
Car & Motorcycle
If time is short, driving yourself is a quicker option than relying on jeepneys and other public transport, but it’s not for the faint of heart. The manic Filipino driving style is on full display in Manila, and driving on the congested streets of the capital definitely takes some getting used to.
International car-hire companies are in the larger cities; however, these are exactly the places where you probably don't want to drive. But if you want to get out of the city you have to begin somewhere – rates start at around P3000 per day. Fuel costs P40 to P50 per litre.
Defensive driving is the order of the day: even relatively quiet provincial roads are packed with myriad obstacles. Right of way can be confusing to determine and obedience to stop signals is selective. Most drivers roll into intersections before or without checking for oncoming traffic.
It’s best to avoid driving at night if you can, not least because tricycles, jeepneys and even large trucks are often without lights (many drivers believe that driving without lights saves petrol), not to mention the issue of potential robberies in political trouble spots.
Small and midsized islands such as Camiguin, Siquijor and Bohol beg to be explored by motorcycle. You can even ride down to the Visayas via the ‘Nautical Highway’ – the system of car ferries that links many islands – and enjoy pleasant riding on larger islands such as Cebu and Negros.
Most touristy areas have a few easy-to-find shops or guesthouses renting out motorcyles – usually in the form of Chinese- or Japanese-made motorcycles (75cc to 125cc). The typical rate is P400 to P500 per day, but you’ll likely be asked for more in particularly popular resort areas. Ask for a helmet; these aren't always automatically included.
In more remote areas, just ask around – even if there’s no rental shop, you can always find somebody willing to part with their motorcycle for the day for a fee.
Your home country’s driving licence, which you should carry, is legally valid for 90 days in the Philippines. Technically, you are supposed to have an International Driving Permit for any period longer than this, and some car-hire companies may require you to have this permit when hiring vehicles from them.
Philippine law requires that when hiring a car you have third-party car insurance with a Philippines car-insurance company. This can be arranged with the car-hire company. You are required to have a minimum of P750,000 of insurance.
Driving is on the right-hand side of the road. With the exception of the expressways out of Manila, most roads in the Philippines are single lane, which necessitates a lot of overtaking. Local drivers do not always overtake safely. If an overtaker coming the other way refuses to get out of your lane, they’re expecting you to give way by moving onto the shoulder. It’s always wise to do so.
The first jeepneys were modified army jeeps left behind by the Americans after WWII. They have been customised with Filipino touches such as chrome horses, banks of coloured headlights, radio antennae, paintings of the Virgin Mary and neon-coloured scenes from action comic books.
- Jeepneys form the main urban transport in most cities and complement the bus services between regional centres.
- Within towns, the starting fare is usually P8, rising modestly for trips outside of town. Routes are clearly written on the side of the jeepney.
- Jeepneys have a certain quirky cultural appeal, but from a tourist’s perspective they have one humongous flaw: you can barely see anything through the narrow open slats that pass as windows. The best seats are up the front next to the driver.
Some parts of Manila are served by an elevated railway system, akin to rapid transit metro.
Metered taxis are common in Manila and most major provincial hubs. Flagfall is P40, and a 15-minute trip rarely costs more than P150. Airport taxi flagfall is usually P70.
Most taxi drivers will turn on the meter; if they don’t, politely request that they do. If the meter is ‘broken’ or your taxi driver says the fare is ‘up to you’, the best strategy is to get out and find another cab (or offer a low-ball price). Rigged taxi meters are also becoming more common, although it must be said that most taxi drivers are honest.
An alternative is to arrange a taxi and driver for the day – from P2000 to P4000 – through your hotel or another trustworthy source.
Though it’s not common, there have been cases of taxi passengers being robbed at gun- or knifepoint, sometimes with the driver in cahoots with the culprits or the driver himself holding up the passengers.
Get out of a cab straight away (in a secure populated area, of course, not in the middle of nowhere or in a slum area) if you suspect you’re being taken for a ride in more ways than one.
Tricycles, Kalesa & Habal-Habal
Tricycles Found in most cities and towns, the tricycle is the Philippine rickshaw – a little, roofed sidecar bolted to a motorcycle. The standard fare for local trips in most provincial towns is P10. Tricycles that wait around in front of malls, restaurants and hotels will attempt to charge five to 10 times that for a ‘special trip’. Avoid these by standing on the roadside and flagging down a passing P10 tricycle. You can also charter tricycles for about P300 per hour or P150 per 10km if you’re heading out of town.
Pedicabs Many towns also have nonmotorised push tricycles, alternatively known as pedicabs, put-put or padyak, for shorter trips.
Kalesa Two-wheeled horse carriages found in Manila’s Chinatown and Intramuros, Vigan (North Luzon) and Cebu City (where they’re also known as tartanillas).
Habal-habal These are essentially motorcycle taxis with extended seats (literally translated as ‘pigs copulating', after the level of intimacy attained when sharing a seat with four people). Known as 'singles' in some regions, they function like tricycles, only cheaper. They are most common in the Visayas and northern Mindanao.
The Bicol Express train route south from Manila to Naga in southeast Luzon – the only functioning railway line in the country – is suspended indefinitely; the southbound train out of Manila goes only as far as Laguna Province.