Getting Around The Philippines

Getting Around The Philippines

Public transportation within the Philippines varies greatly from region to region. If you’re planning on spending a good amount of time in the country, you can expect to ride all kinds of vehicles. Depending on where you are or where you’re headed, getting around the Philippines can involve buses, boats, planes, cabs, bicycles, motorbikes, or any combination of these.

MRT, LRT-1, and LRT-2

Trains in the Philippines

The Metro Rail Transit (MRT) and Light Rail Transit (LRT) are the main rail systems that go across Metro Manila. The systems cover the major thoroughfares of the metropolis, so pretty much every commercial hub is covered. All three lines are also connected so it can be a convenient way to do some sightseeing or run errands in the metro. Be warned, though: the MRT and LRT are also notorious for long, snaking lines and trains that are so packed that being squeezed up against a stranger at some point in your ride is all too common.

Philihappy Pro Tips:

  • Single ride tickets cost between PHP 15 to PHP 25, depending on how far you’re going. If you foresee yourself using this mode of transportation often, it’s better to buy a Stored Value Card for a minimum of PHP 100. That way, you won’t have to line up to buy a ticket every time, plus your last ride is free (or costs however much credit you have left).
  • The MRT, also known as the Blue Line, covers the length of EDSA and is the line you take when you’re heading to the commercial districts of Ayala and Ortigas. If you’re catching a northbound bus out of town (like if you’re headed to Baguio or La Union), this line will also bring you to Cubao, where a lot of the bus stations are. This line has the least stops, but it’s also the one that overflows during rush hour because its stops are close to a lot of offices. If you’re taking this line, it’s best to go during down time: late morning or early afternoon.
  • LRT-1, also known as the Yellow Line, covers the length of Taft Avenue. It’s the oldest of the three rail systems and is the one you ride when you want to head to Old Manila, Rizal Park, or the Cultural Center of the Philippines. To Intramuros, for instance, you can get down at the LRT-1’s Central Station. If you’re taking a provincial bus to the south (like to Batangas or Quezon), you can take this line and get off at Buendia or EDSA-Taft stations. It also stops near a lot of universities and colleges, so it can be packed in the mornings.
  • LRT-2, also known as the Purple Line, is the newest line and has the best and widest trains. It passes through Aurora Boulevard and is usually very spacious because the area is not as commercial as EDSA. It’s a good train to take if you’re heading to the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Ateneo de Manila University in Katipunan, the Maginhawa area for a food trip, or Quiapo Church.
  • Stay alert while you’re on the trains. They’re not exactly dangerous, but pickpocketing is easy particularly when trains are cramped.
  • If your stop is still far, move to the middle part of the train car so that you don’t block the door and more people can come in. Just slowly inch your way closer to the door the closer you get to your destination.

Cabs

Cabs in the Philippines

This is perhaps easiest way getting around the Philippines, but not exactly the cheapest. There are also some scumbag drivers who will try to charge you more than they should. Sadly, this is particularly true for foreigners.

Philihappy Pro Tips:

  • Insist that they charge you by the meter. Never settle for a fixed price, because some drivers might pad it, intentionally or not.
  • The standard flag-down rate is PHP 40 for the first 500 meters. The meter rises by PHP 3.50 every 300 meters. Traffic affects the price, though, and the longer you’re in the cab, the higher you’ll pay.
  • Take note of the cab’s plate number and name, in case you leave any belongings behind.
  • Talk to the cabbies! A lot of them are actually quite nice and are starving for some conversation.

Jeepneys

jeepney in the philippines

Jeepneys are those loud and colorful vehicles you’ll see pretty much everywhere. More often than not, they’ll be blasting local hip-hop from their speakers and causing traffic on the roads. These babies are a Philippine icon, but more than that, they’re a convenient form of transportation, if a bit confusing to use. Getting around the Philippines is a lot cheaper with this mode of transportation.

Philihappy Pro Tips:

  • There are virtually no systemized route maps or schedules for jeepneys. Your best bet in figuring out where to go is to ask a local. Fellow passengers and jeepney drivers tend to be very helpful, approachable, and knowledgeable!
  • At the time of writing, standard fare in most locations is PHP 7. If your destination is further than four kilometers, the fare goes up to PHP 12.
  • Payments are usually passed on to the driver directly. If you’re seated away from him, simply ask your seatmate to pass your payment on for you. Don’t forget to say “bayad po!” (payment please!) to let the driver know it’s coming from you.
  • Best seats in the house: the ones closest to the jeepney entrance, farthest away from the driver. These are the seats that are easiest to alight from, and you won’t be bothered every now and then by people asking you to pass their money to the driver. Occupy these seats by all means, but be ready to give it up to the seniors or pregnant women who are entitled to them.
  • The second best seats are the shotgun seats. This way, you can talk to your driver and remind him to drop you off at your destination. You also get a good view of the road.
    Jeepney drivers and “barkers” tend to fill up the vehicle to bursting. When it’s rush hour, be ready for a tight squeeze. It is proper jeepney etiquette to make yourself as tiny as possible when new passengers pile in.
  • Keep your valuables close. Depending on the area, some jeepneys are fertile ground for pickpockets.
  • If you want to get off, just say “para!” (or “lugar lang!” if you’re in the Visayas).

Tricycles and Pedicabs

Tricycle in the Philippines

If you’re coming from other parts of Southeast Asia, you might know these vehicles as tuk-tuks, but over here they’re called tricycle or trike (for the motorized ones), and pedicabs or sidecars (for the pedal-powered ones). Getting around the Philippines in a trike is an experience you shouldn’t miss!

Philihappy Pro Tips:

  • Trikes and pedicabs usually charge per person, and the minimum fare usually ranges from PHP 7 to PHP 10. However, the fare varies from town to town, so ask the locals how much it’s supposed to be.
  • The regular fare usually applies to passing trikes you hail from the street. If you’re boarding the trike from the terminal, make sure it is taking in other passengers as well, so you just have to pay regular fare. Otherwise, it is considered a “special trip,” and you’ll have to pay a lot more.
  • Trikes are usually the transportation of choice if you’re touring an island or destination. Some trikes, such as those in Palawan or Pagudpud already offer tour packages that take you to places of interest for a standard price. Generally, the package is a good deal, so don’t hesitate in taking it.

Bicycles and Motorbikes

motorbikes in the philippines

While the big cities are not exactly bike- or motorbike-friendly, other provinces with lesser cars are great places to explore on two wheels. In fact, getting around the Philippines by bike can be quite pleasant, as you get to experience all the scenery in full force.

Unfortunately, bike rentals are scarce, though some groups such as Bambike offer bike tours of BGC and Intramuros in Metro Manila. Motorbikes are more common than bikes, especially on the islands, and we call them habal-habal.

Philihappy Pro Tips:

  • Motorbike rentals range from PHP 250 to PHP 500 per day, though it could cost more if you need the services of a driver. The rates may be different from island to island. Motorbikes can fit between two to three people.
  • If you’re driving on your own, be sure you have the proper safety gear (a helmet at the very least).
  • Make sure to give your rentals a test drive before taking them out. Pay particular attention to the brakes!
  • Bike lanes are virtually non-existent, so when you’re on the road, put a considerable distance between you and the curb. Let the cars know you exist!

Buses

buses in the philippines

If you’re going from province to province, this is a cheap, scenic, and relatively comfortable way to do it. Just keep in mind that getting around the Philippines by bus is best only if you have the time.

Philihappy Pro Tips:

  • Pad your travel time. Apart from the traffic, a lot of buses start and stop as they please to let in passengers and vendors. This can significantly increase your travel time. If you’re told that it takes four hours to get to your destination by driving, expect to be on the bus for six hours, just to be sure.
  • Try to catch the buses that travel from midnight to before dawn. There’s usually less traffic on the roads at this time, and you can sleep on the bus anyway.
  • Bring a hoodie or a blanket! More often than not, it’s always winter in buses in the Philippines.
  • Get a window seat if you can, especially if you plan on sleeping. This is because, like jeepneys, buses tend to be filled up to breaking point, and if you’re seated by the aisle, you can expect someone’s crotch or butt to be pressed up against your face at some point in your journey.

Boats

boats in the philippines

Since you’re traveling in an archipelago, it’s only natural that you’ll be boarding a boat at some point in your journey. In fact, some islands (such as Boracay) cannot be reached without a boat ride. Long-haul journeys (for instance, Manila to Cebu) can be done via passenger ferry, while shorter trips between islands are done through smaller boats.

Philihappy Pro Tips:

  • A lot of island hopping tours are done via boat. If you sign up for one, expect to spend the whole day out at sea.
  • Life jackets are coast guard regulation, so even if you know how to swim, keep your life vest on just in case the coast guard checks your boat.
  • Waterproof your bags and gadgets! You never know when the water will sneak up on you and decide to send a rogue wave crashing into your boat. This can happen even on a good-weather day, so it’s best to be prepared!
  • Consider the toilet situation. If you’re riding a smaller boat, chances are there won’t be a toilet on board. If you’re spending an extended amount of time on such a boat and won’t have an opportunity to “go” in the ocean, make sure you empty your bladder before you board.

Plane

flights in the philippines

Getting around the Philippines by plane is your best option if you’ve got limited time and a packed itinerary. It only takes an hour at most to get pretty much anywhere in the country from Manila—and with several airlines offering seat sales, there’s almost always a cheap flight available at any time of the year.

Philihappy Pro Tips:

  • Air traffic, particularly in Manila, can be bad. Expect a slight delay in your ETA if you’re flying in our out of the main airport in Manila.
  • Consider the traffic situation when heading to the airport to catch your flight. Again, it is better to arrive early and wait, than to rush and be in danger of missing your flight.
  • Most budget carriers don’t serve food, so be sure to bring snacks or drinks.
  • Most airports in the Philippines charge a terminal fee when you fly out. Terminal fees range anywhere from PHP 100 to PHP 550, so be sure to set aside some cash when you’re getting on a departing flight.
  • The airports in the Philippines are small, and waiting areas aren’t always that comfortable. If you bring a pillow and a small blanket, though, you can make your airport wait pleasant enough.

So many transportation options can be overwhelming, but it just means that every side trip in the Philippines is bound to be an adventure. If you remember our pro tips and stay alert, getting around the Philippines can actually prove to be a lot of fun!