How to get around in the Philippines
I love seeing new countries. And I mean really seeing them — not just camping down in one city and spending a few days there. I like to get out in the more rural areas, take road trips and get lost once in a while. The hardest part of doing that, though, is figuring out how.
Buses, taxis, trains, horse and buggy…there are many options for getting around throughout the world. In the Philippines, you’ve got a few unique options. Here’s a breakdown of what’s available and which option is best for what you need.
If you’re planning on seeing multiple places in the Philippines, you’ll likely need to be traveling by plane. The country is an archipelago made up of thousands of islands, and many of the popular destinations are in different parts, on different islands that aren’t necessarily close together.
Thankfully, these are also places that tend to have airports nearby. And local airlines make regular flights, so you don’t have to worry too much about getting to and from the various airports. It’s easy to find and book these flights, which range between $40 and $150 depending on where you start and where you’re going.
Philippines Airlines and Cebu Pacific are Filipino airlines that are likely going to be your best bet for getting around. It’s not terribly expensive, and flying is probably the most efficient way (and for the most part, the only way) to get around to see different parts of the Philippines.
Like many archipelagos in the world, the Philippines has long been linked by an intricate ferry system. The fee is small (usually less than $1 USD / person), and there are terminals on most islands. You can look at the website to get an idea of a schedule, but it’s not the best site and isn’t comprehensive. It’s also difficult to book, since it’s really only Filipino friendly and won’t accept most other forms of payment outside of a Filipino money order. Here’s what you need to know:
Book tickets ahead for long-haul trips.
This can be done at ticket offices and travel agencies found in most cities.
There are a few different boating options .
Pump boats (bangka): Your standard small wooden boat with a wooden or bamboo outrigger. These regularly tote passengers between islands, but are also available to rent for the whole day to do some sightseeing, snorkeling or diving. In other words, these aren’t made for long trips in rough seas, but for just hopping between islands that you can see. There aren’t any set times or schedules, but there are usually many available if you make your way to the nearest beach.
Fastcraft: The passenger boats that can be used on short hauls. They’re faster, but usually more expensive. This is a similar experience to ferries in Western countries. The one plus is that these usually have air conditioning!
ROROs: These are the most popular form of boat travel for medium-long hauls. Slower, but enjoyable in good weather. You can also sit outside and watch the view pass by.
Passenger liner: Big passenger ships that can hold a few thousand passengers, cars and have multiple decks. They’re the most reliable option, but still prone to cancellation due to weather or maintenance.
The popular bus transportation that is found throughout the Philippines and is one of the most popular ways to get around locally.
They can get crowded, but they’re cheap and an easy way to get around once you get the hang of it. Many of these are also available to rent our for the day to take a group to a resort or to various stops.
Tip: Paying your fare on a jeepney is a trick all on its own, but it’s simple once you get the hang of it. Simply pass your money to the person next to you and they’ll continue passing it up to the driver. Then the driver will get your change, hand it back and it will be passed back until it reaches you. Might sound sketchy, but the Filipinos are actually pretty honest, and it’s a system works.
Jeepneys are ubiquitous and stops are frequent. If you just look around, you’ll find one going in the right direction easily. Remember, in most areas of the Philippines, English is spoken by the majority of residents. You can always ask and check that you’re getting on a jeepney that will take you where you need to go.
My personal favorite form of local transportation (particularly for when I’m not in downtown areas), the tricycle is just a motorcycle with a sidecar. They’re perfect for navigating the neighborhoods and smaller streets. Although the price fluctuates depending on distance and driver, they’re usually around $1 USD/person. Plus, you have room for your bags if you’re carrying groceries or shopping.
To hail a tricycle, all you have to do is stand at the side of the road and stick out your hand when you see an empty one (or one with just one passenger) coming your way. Filipinos are extremely friendly and accommodating, so don’t worry about not finding someone willing to give you a lift.
Taxis / Rental Cars
Of course, taxis and renting a car are possibilities as well, but not ones that I have used very often. If I need to take a trip that is farther away or I have a lot of shopping, we will rent a taxi, but I’ve only once ever done a rental car, and if you aren’t used to driving in Asia, I would NOT recommend it. There are just so many other ways to get around, and taking advantage of what’s already there is a fantastic way to get to know a destination and gain greater insight into how the place runs.
Taxis are straightforward and not expensive, and they’re easy to find. Like I said, if you’ve got a bit farther to go and want to escape to an air conditioned vehicle, a taxi is certainly a good option. They work just like anywhere else, so it makes it an easy and simple option.
Exploring new countries and destinations is always an adventure, but sometimes one of the trickiest parts of making that adventure happen is figuring out how to get around. There’s so much to see, do and eat, and it can take a lot of trial and error before figuring out how to get to them all.
Hopefully this little crash course in Filipino travel will help you get where need to go, and help you realize that getting around doesn’t have to be so intimidating or limited to just one way of transportation. Exercise some bravery and try out what the country has to offer! And if you get lost? Well, sometimes that’s when the best memories happen. Don’t be afraid to just go with the flow.
What are some of your favorite types of local transportation? What tips do you have for getting around foreign countries?