The Philippines is made up of a few thousand islands so you can’t just jump on a train to get to your next destination. You need to research, plan and weigh up your options, especially if you want the cheapest deal.
Planes and boats are sure to be your go-to mode of transport in the Philippines and then once you’re on land it’ll be the jeepneys that’ll transport you from A to B. All the options may seem a little complicated at first but I promise it makes sense when you’ve decided where to go and you’re actually there. Until then, here’s every mode in a little more detail…
The Philippines is an archipelago meaning the easiest and often cheapest way to get around is via plane.
The most popular airlines are:
Routes from Manila will have plenty of options but when travelling between islands you’ll often go via smaller planes, some of them so small they may even feel like a private jet. The birds eye views over the islands will make every peso you spent on your ticket well worth it.
When you’ve decided where you want to go in the Philippines make sure to check around for the closest airports using Google Maps and this super helpful map of Philippines airports.
Please learn from my mistakes. I didn’t research properly the first time I went to the Philippines and ended up wasting money on a flight miles from where I wanted to be. The usual search engines don’t list every airport!
Keep an eye out for discount fares on the major airlines as you can get some really good deals. As in, flights for under 1000PHP (£15). Keep in mind though that pretty much every time you leave an airport in the Philippines you’ll have to pay an exit fee – usually around 300PHP. Make sure to factor that into your budget, and your wallet as not all airports have a working ATM all the time.
If you’re visiting the Philippines during any kind of Christian holiday expect the fares to go up horrendously. And I don’t use that word lightly. I paid £75 from Coron Busuanga to Manila in March, and that was a good price. A few flights at that rate on your credit card and your Philippines spends will really add up. When you’re doing your research for nearby airports make sure to look around and see what prices the bigger hubs are offering – with a bit of land travel thrown in you could really save some pesos.
If you can, book your flights in good time. Although, in the same paragraph, I’d also advise the opposite – to keep your plans flexible as you never know who you’re going to meet and what you’re going to hear about next.
There’s no doubt you’ll need to get around by boat at some point during your trip to the Philippines, every island is of course, surrounded by water. I’d strongly recommend you take advantage of all the island hopping opportunities in the Philippines, there’s some incredible scenery. Even better if you can link this sightseeing into cheap and practical transiting too.
If you’re using the boats to get around, rather than just to sightsee and island hop you’ll generally use the following.
Just to give you an idea of the destinations covered by boats in the Philippines here are the major ports you can reach from Manila.
Each of the bigger islands will have their own boats to help you get around. In Manila for example you can use the Pasig Ferry Service to get up and down the historical river. Prices start at just 25PHP.
If you’ve established that a boat is your best form of transport then just wait until you’re in your departure destination to book your ticket. I can guarantee there’ll be plenty of options once you’re there and it’ll be a lot easier than trying to work out which information is current from all the old websites online.
The major ferry companies in the Philippines include:
C’mon, don’t bow out at the word ‘cruise’. The cruises in the Philippines aren’t your average fat US couple arguing over the buffet table, oh no. Cruises in the Philippines are a great opportunity to see the islands you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise. They can also be a great option if your parents are planning to visit you on your trip. Just thinking outside the box here.
Some of the most popular cruise companies include…
The train carriages in the Philippines actually come from Japan so you can guarantee they’ll be comfortable, but they haven’t quite adopted the strict regularity and punctuality of the Japanese railway quite yet.
The Philippine National Railway (PNR) operates around Manila. The main train station in the Philippines capital city is Tutuban and trains call from here to many points along the way to Naga (the Bicol Express) and to Albay (The Mayon Limited) across different classes of seating. Check out the PNR website for more information, and as always in the Philippines make sure to book well in advance if you’re travelling around any religious festivals.
I wouldn’t really recommend renting a car in the Philippines unless you’re totally au fait with driving in an Asian country. The roads are crazy both in the people on them (swerving, honking, screeching etc) and with what they’re made of (anything they could find). It’s every man for themselves. From narrow dirt roads to crazy mountain paths, why bother when taxis and in-the-know chauffeurs are so cheap?
If you insist, international driving licences are valid in the Philippines for up to 30 days after arrival. Then you’ll need to register to get an International Driver's Permit or a Philippine driving licence. They drive on the right in the Philippines, unlike in England.
If you’re staying in Manila and just plan on travelling round there (why?) then it could be worth hiring a car. You’ll find the usual suspects – Hertz, Avis and Europcar – at the airport. You can also find them in the biggest cities of the biggest islands such as Cebu, Palawan and Boracay. Note that usually you’ll only be allowed to drive the car on the island it was rented on and there will be very limited options for bringing it to another island to carry on your journey.
Just so you know, and because it’s interesting, the traffic is so bad in Manila and Baguio that they’ve restricted the number plates that are allowed on the roads on different days of the week. For example 1s and 2s aren’t allowed on Mondays, 3s and 4s on Tuesdays and so on. Make sure to keep this in mind if you don’t want to be fined in your rental car.
And in case you haven’t yet realised – it’s not possible to enter the Philippines by car.
Taxis in the Philippines are so cheap. In fact when I was in Cebu for some reason I decided I’d live the life of luxury and used them to get around everywhere rather than working out the jeepneys (see below). Bad backpacker I know but they’re just so easy to hail and I never paid more than £3 a journey – cheaper than the London Underground!
Few tips for you: always make sure the driver has the meter on and keep change on you to give them a small tip. I heard stories of them claiming they didn’t have the right change so they could pocket it from other backpackers.
Personally, I never had a problem with the taxis in the Philippines – in fact I’d count some of the drivers among my friends – but if you’re worried at all just get your hostel to phone one for you and they’ll choose a reputable company to come and take your royal highness to your destination.
Travelling the Philippines by bus is a convenient and great value option, on the big islands and in the big cities where they operate anyway. There are tourist buses but don’t be afraid of using the local buses too as they’re an easy way to get around the Philippines. Even if you have no definite final destination the public buses can be a entertaining day out for just a few peso. Expect to pay between 3-700 per journey. Make sure to carry some change for all the food sellers that jump on too – I had some delicious Baku buns on my way down to Kawasan Falls from Cebu.
Jeepneys are awesome. They’re like little buses that look like something from 50s America – they’re left over from the US Army in World War II. Each jeepney is decorated in its own way, so keep your camera ready to snap the coolest ones going by. Work out which one you need – usually by asking around – jump on the back, chill until your destination and just pay the driver when you get off. They’re definitely the most affordable way of getting around towns, the most crowded (the driver’s salary depends on filling it) but also the most fun and authentic too. When I was in Cebu and I got all those taxis I could’ve got jeepneys for about a tenth of the price.
Rickshaws are a great invention for the smaller, more difficult to reach journeys in small towns. I was staying a little out of town in El Nido, Palawan, and for a just 20 pesos (30p) I could get a ride in a rickshaw to the centre.
Motorbikes are another quick and easy way to get around the smaller towns, and islands. In Malapascua I worked out on the final day that this was how people got from one end to the other, not by walking which was what I was doing. In the more populated islands, towns and cities renting motorbikes is great fun to get around on too.
Often you will have to use a range and mixture of travel methods to get to your destination. In my opinion all the above modes of transport are just as safe as each other. You just need to keep your wits about you, don’t let anyone go off with your stuff and keep at least one eye on it whenever you can.
This page was written by Victoria Philpott, who is an ex-content manager for gapyear.com. She’s currently travelling and writing about it for her blog vickyflipfloptravels.com. After travelling the Philippines extensively she’s become obsessed with the country and is planning on returning as much as possible. To fill in the void leaving the country has left she’s now our Philippines Section Editor.