The coronavirus pandemic may have put international travel plans temporarily on hold, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start planning your first post-COVID getaway. In fact, with a little extra time on your hands, now could be the perfect opportunity to prepare for the trip you’ve always dreamt about.
Boasting idyllic beaches and stunning landscapes, the Philippines deserves a spot at the top of your travel bucket list. Made up of more than 7,000 islands, the nation offers plenty of opportunities for exploration and sightseeing. In this article, you can find out how to get around the Philippines for the best island-hopping experience. From seaplanes to tricycles, there are modes of transport for every journey you’ll need to take.
Can I Go to the Philippines Now?
The answer to the question can I travel to the Philippines now is, unfortunately, probably not. As with most countries across the world, the Philippines closed its borders in an attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Currently, entry is restricted to:
- Filipino nationals and their families
- Indian nationals with a Temporary Resident Visa
- Chinese nationals with a Permanent Resident Visa and spouse of a Filipino national
Foreign nationals with the following types of visa may also be admitted:
- Non-immigrant visa issued under Section 13 of the Immigration Act (Section 13 series visas)
- Resident status under Republic Act 7919 (RA 7919 visa)
- Native-born foreign nationals (native-born visa)
Check with your nearest embassy or consulate of the Philippines if you think you might fit into one of these categories and wish to travel to the Philippines in the coming weeks and months. Entry restrictions are subject to change at short notice, so make sure you have the latest information before making any arrangements. Travelers will be tested for coronavirus on arrival and are required to quarantine.
Planning Your Philippines Travel Itinerary
The Philippines will reopen its borders to international tourists as soon as it is considered safe to do so. Prepare your trip now and all you’ll have left to do is apply for a visa if you need one (this depends on your nationality and how long you want to stay) and book your flights!
Putting together your ideal Philippines vacation can be more challenging than most international travel destinations. As an archipelago consisting of thousands of islands and inlets, you’ll need to do plenty of island hopping to get the most out of your trip.
Let’s take a look at the best ways to get from island to island to ensure you don’t miss any of the most beautiful places in the Philippines. Be prepared to head out to sea and hop aboard aircraft as you traverse this incredible nation.
Getting Around by Boat in the Philippines
The islands of the Philippines are connected by an extensive network of ferries. Depending on the length of the journey and the islands you’re traveling between, you’ll take a selection of different vessels during your trip.
Short to medium journeys are usually made by motorized outriggers, fast ferries, or roll-on, roll-off ferries. Multi-decked passenger ferries are the norm for long sea trips. Whichever type of boat you’re taking, bear in mind that you’ll usually have to pay a terminal charge, generally around 95 Philippines peso (under $2 USD).
Bangka, a great option for short sea trips
If it’s your first time in the Philippines, you may not have seen this type of boat before. The Bangka (also called a pump boat) is an outrigger boat native to the Philippines and widely used for inter-island transportation, you’re sure to take a Bangka at least once during your trip.
Bangkas range in size from tiny 2-person vessels to large boats that fit up to a dozen passengers. Many companies offer full-day tours for around 3,000 PHP (50 USD) which is a great way to see the islands from the water and gain some expert local knowledge.
Most pump boats have a ladder off the side so you can take a dip and try out snorkeling and diving in beautiful spots such as El Nido. Just be sure you travel lightly, there isn’t much room for luggage on board. It’s also worth taking a pair of earplugs as the engine can be quite loud.
Roll-on roll-off ferries and the Nautical Highway
If you’re planning to drive in the Philippines, you’ll be making use of roll-on, roll-off ferries, also known as RoRos. These large vessels are mainly for medium-haul routes, taking passengers and vehicles from one island to another.
The RoRo system, or Nautical Highway System, is a system of roads and ports connecting the major islands of the Philippines: Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao. The Nautical Highway covers a total of 919 kilometers and provides a practical way to cover the main islands.
Although these vehicles are slow, you’ll have the chance to sit above deck and take in the breathtaking views.
Fast ferries, the speediest way to island-hop
As the name suggests, fast ferries offer the quickest way to get around the Filipino islands. Whilst double the price of a roll-on, roll-off ferry, they’re about twice as fast. In addition, fast ferries are modern and usually have air-con, so you can enjoy a comfortable trip.
Flying Between Islands in the Philippines
If you’re prone to seasickness, or simply prefer flying to sailing, you can take short domestic flights around the Philippines. Several airlines including Philippine Airlines, AirAsia Philippines, and Jetstar offer several routes connecting the main destinations, in particular Manila and Caticlan and Busuanga.
Small seaplanes are also available, some with just half a dozen seats, to take tourists and locals between the other islands. The cost of flying varies depending on the route and the time of year, it’s worth checking out the price of tickets at the time of year you’ll be traveling.
The airport exit fee is around 200 PHP (4 USD) which you’ll have to pay before going through security.
Land Transportation in the Philippines
So, now you know how to get between islands in the Philippines, but what about getting from A to B when exploring Palawan, Mindanao, or Samar? There are several different ways to get about, here we’ll take a look at the most widely used local transport options.
Jeepney: a popular form of Filipino public transportation
Jeepneys, Filipino jeeps, have an interesting history. The first Jeepneys were converted U.S. military jeeps that were leftover from the Second World War, they have since become one of the most popular public transport vehicles in the country.
Today, Jeepneys are often brightly colored featuring scenes from comic books or other fun designs, they’re certainly hard to miss! The vehicle is often jam-packed with passengers, drivers try to squeeze as many people as they can, so don’t expect the most comfortable journey. Nevertheless, it’s a great way to travel like a local.
The Jeepney is a convenient and inexpensive way to get about town and between urban areas.
Taking taxis in the Philippines
Taxis can be found in Manila and most other urban areas. You do need to be on your guard when you take a taxi in the Philippines as some drivers may be reluctant to turn on the meter in an attempt to overcharge.
Most taxi drivers, however, are honest and helpful making taxis one of the most convenient ways to get straight to your destination. Taxicabs are also a great way to reach your accommodation from the airport. Airport taxis are yellow in color making them easy to spot.
Tricycles and other local transport options
If you’ve traveled in Africa and Asia, you’ve probably come across the rickshaw. Tricycles are the Filipino version. A tricycle is a motorbike with a roof and a sidecar attached for passengers. You can easily pick up a tricycle near shopping malls and hotels, local drivers wait in these popular areas but it’s cheaper to flag one down at the side of the road.
Another option for a short journey is the pedicabs, a kind of non-motorized tricycles. If you’re in and around Manila Chinatown or Cebu City you can also hop aboard a Kalesa, a 2-wheeled horse-drawn carriage.
Driving in the Philippines
To enjoy the greatest flexibility and to explore the most remote areas of the Philippines, you might be considering hiring a car and driving around the islands.
As always when driving abroad, it’s important to familiarize yourself with road rules and regulations before getting behind the wheel. Driving conditions are likely quite different from those back home, only rent a car if you’re a confident motorist.
That said, it is mostly safe to drive in the Philippines, provided you exercise caution and stay aware of other drivers. If you’re in and around Manila you can expect a lot of traffic to build up, especially during peak times. A little-known fact about the Philippines is that Manila is one of the most congested cities in the world. You can get around this by planning your itinerary to avoid the busiest spots and peak times.
You can drive with a foreign license in the Philippines for up to 90 days, as long as it’s in English. If it’s not in English, you’ll need to get an official translation of the document from an embassy. Keep your driver’s license with you at all times when on the road in the Philippines, you’ll need to present it if you’re pulled over by the police for any reason.
It’s a good idea to carry cash with you, especially for buying fuel, as not everywhere in the Philippines accepts card payment. Another top tip is to save emergency numbers on your mobile phone, including the number of the car rental company, in case you need to get in touch with them quickly.
Road trips in the Philippines
If you do decide to rent a car, you can enjoy some spectacular routes and breathtaking views. One popular option is to drive from Manila to Sorsogon on the island of Luzon, passing through Quezon and Naga on the way. You can also explore the Zambales province of central Luzon, and don’t miss out on Laguna with its forests and waterfalls.
And remember, you can use the RoRo ferry service to travel between islands with your vehicle. So, whilst driving in the Philippines isn’t for everyone, it’s certainly possible and gives you the best chance to discover some of the nation’s hidden gems.