There are diferent ways, of going around in the Philippines. Due to its different Islands it is mainly by plane or via ferries. Within the Island, its normally buses (for bigger distances) or jeepneys, tricycle and habal-habal (motorbike taxis) inside the cities. Garb is widely used in at least Manila and Cebu City.
Note that holiday weekends are bad times to travel, with buses and ferries full – cities start to empty on Friday afternoon and the exodus continues into the night, with a mass return on Sunday evening and Monday morning. Travelling is a particular hassle at Christmas, New Year and Easter with buses and ferries full. Almost everyone seems to be on the move at these times of year, particularly heading out of big cities to the provinces, and the transport system can become strained. If you have to travel at these times, book tickets in advance or turn up at bus stations and ferry piers early and be prepared to wait.
Air travel is a godsend for island-hoppers in the Philippines, with a number of airlines linking Manila with most of the country’s major destinations; you will usually, however, have to backtrack to a major hub when jumping from one region to another. Philippine Airlines has a comprehensive domestic schedule, while Cebu Pacific offers even more routes and very cheap fares, particularly if you book some way in advance. Cebu Pacific runs numerous flights out of its hub in Cebu City, saving you the effort of backtracking to Manila – you can, for instance, fly straight from Cebu City to Caticlan (for Boracay), Puerto Princesa, Camiguin and Siargao. Davao is a lesser developed third hub, with connections to Cebu City, Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo and Zamboanga, but even here you’ll have to transfer in Manila and Cebu for other destinations.
Ferries and bangkas – wooden outrigger boats – are still important, especially in the Visayas. Indeed, despite some improvements in recent years, ferry accidents remain common in the Philippines and even in the dry season the open ocean can get surprisingly rough. Having said that, for many shorter inter-island trips ferries remain the only form of transport available, and especially in the Visayas, island-hopping by boat can be an enjoyable and rewarding part of your trip.
All Islands, are normally connected via fast ferries (during day time) and Slow boats, or ROR boats during night time. On the RORO boat you can bring a car or motorbike. The fares of the night boat is a lot cheaper and definitiely an experience.
Ferry fares and accommodation
The cheapest accommodation is in bunk beds in cavernous dorms either below deck or on a semi-open deck, with shared toilets and showers. Older ships might have just a handful of cramped cabins sharing a tiny shower and toilet. The major operators generally have newer ships with a range of accommodation that includes dorms, straw mats in an air-conditioned area, shared cabins with bathroom. These ferries usually also have a bar, karaoke lounge and a canteen serving basic meals.
Bus travel can be relatively uncomfortable and slow, but you’ll get a real glimpse of rural Philippine life from the window, and meet Filipinos from all walks of life. Buses are also incredibly convenient: hundreds of routes spread out like a web from major cities and even the most isolated barrio will have a service of some sort. You won’t go hungry either. At most stops local vendors will jump on and offer you various snacks and drinks, while on the longer hauls, buses stop every three or four hours to give passengers a chance to stretch their legs and buy some food.
There are some downsides. Though the largest bus companies have fleets of reasonably new air-conditioned buses for longer routes, most rarely have toilets. On shorter routes buses can be dilapidated contraptions with no air conditioning and, in some cases, no glass in the windows. You’ll also need to have a high tolerance to loud music or Tagalog movies played at full blast throughout the trip.
Bus fares and timetables
Fares are low; around P1 per kilometer. Roads can be poor, and even when the distances involved aren’t great, the buses will make numerous stops along the way. Timetables are not really existing. Once the bus is around 2/3rd full it leaves.
The jeepney is the ultimate Philippine icon, and in Manila, Cebu City, Davao and Baguio, jeepneys are important for city transport, with frequent services between important locations in each city. In the provinces jeepneys connect isolated barrios to nearby towns and towns to cities, but they might run only two or three times a day, depending on demand, the weather and the mood of the driver. There are absolutely no timetables.
Routes are painted on the side or on a signboard in the window. Even so, using jeepneys takes a little local knowledge because they make numerous stops and deviations to drop off and pick up passengers. There’s no such thing as a designated jeepney stop, so people wait in the shade at the side of the road and flag one down. The vehicles are cramped and incredibly uncomfortable, usually holding about twenty passengers inside and any number of extras clinging to the back or sitting precariously on top. It can be a hassle to get luggage on and off – small items might end up on the floor, but larger items will go on the roof. At least jeepneys are a great social equalizer; you’ll soon find yourself involved in jolly conversations with the rest of the passengers about your nationality, destination and marital status.
Fares are low: in the provinces they start at P7 for a trip of a few kilometres, rising to P50 for two- or three-hour drives. In the cities, a trip of a few hundred metres costs around P7, rising to P25 on longer routes. To pay, hand your money to the passenger next to you and say bayad po (pay please). If you’re not sitting close to the driver, the fare will be passed down the line of passengers until it reaches him; he will then pass back any change.
V-hires are air-conditioned Toyota minivans, with signs in the window indicating their destination. They normally go bigger distances on an Island. (Like in Cebu, they go to Malapascua (the pier in the north, where the boats leave for Malapascua) or Moalboal.
The cheapest form of shared transport, tricycles (habel-habel) are ubiquitous in the provinces. In Manila and Cebu City they are prohibited from using certain roads, but almost everywhere else they go where they like, when they like and at speeds as high as their small engines are capable of. The sidecars are designed for four passengers – two facing forwards and two backwards – but it’s not uncommon to see extras clinging on wherever they can, the only limiting factor being whether or not the machine can actually move under the weight of the extra bodies. Tricycles never follow fixed routes, so it’s usually a question of flagging one down and telling the driver your destination.
On every Island you normally can rent a motorbike (best via your hotel/resort). Especially for smaller Islands, like Siquijor and Camiguin, this is the best way to explore the Island. Traffic in bigger cities is quite horrible, but ones you are out of the city it is easy to go around.
It’s possible to rent a self-drive car in the Philippines starting around P2000 per day. The question is whether you’d want to.
If you do drive you’ll require your driving licence and be prepared to show it if you get stopped (rentals are allowed for up to 90 days – longer stays will require a Philippine licence).
Always drive defensively – cars, animals and pedestrians will pull out in front of you without warning (in many rural areas people are still not used to traffic), and always give way to jeepneys, which will happily drive you off the road. When passing anything, sound your horn twice as a warning.