There are numerous options for traveling about in the Philippines. Certain modes are preferable for the big cities of Manila, Cebu and Davao, whereas others are preferable for the rural areas. Below are listed my preferences based on over 20 years of living, traveling and doing business in the Philippines.
There are numerous major carriers operating in the Philippines, with flights to destinations throughout the country. The safety record of carriers in the Philippines is excellent and their security measures are up to par with international carriers. Best of all, there is currently a lot competition and rates are extremely low
Ferries and Boats
There are so many islands in the Philippines. Consequently, ferries have traditionally provided efficient and cheap means of transportation between islands, particularly Manila, the Visayas (Cebu area), and Mindanao. However, I have only traveled by this means once, as notwithstanding what the government says about introducing strict new safety regulations, there have been too many disasters due to overloading for my comfort. However, I have found travel between Cebu and Bohol and other short hauls using the small and slick catamarans to be very efficient and safe.
Just about anywhere of any significance is served by an air carrier these days in the Philippines, and the cost is extremely reasonable. I therefore recommend air travel as much as possible over ferries.
In Manila, one can find excellent rail transportation. The LRT (Light Rail Transit) and the MRT (Metro Rail Transit). The LRT is older, whereas the MRT is relatively new and focuses on the commuter hub bringing commuters into and out of Makati (the central business district in Manila). The trains are air conditioned and with the horrible traffic jams in Manila, this is an excellent alternative, provided your destination is within a short walk of the MRT station. Of course, one can grab a cheap taxi upon exiting the station.
Taxis are everywhere in every city, and they are generally all air conditioned. However, as a foreigner one needs to always be on the alert in the larger cities for the unscrupulous drivers who don’t want to turn on their meter, but rather want to negotiate the fare, or want to drive you in circles! Your safest bet, if you are new to an area and are not familiar with where the driver is going, or you cannot speak enough Tagalog to let him know you are a “local” foreigner, is to always take an airport or hotel car. If you take these taxis, they are slightly higher, but they are safe and the registration number is always logged down by an official. This keeps the driver honest so he can keep his special arrangement as a hotel or airport qualified taxi. The drivers usually expect a tip of some nominal amount of change you have.
I have traveled the buses time to time in Mindanao and Luzon. However, I must say they generally are not well maintained, and the drivers tend to be “cowboys”. However, recently I have found the long distance buses to be newer, air conditioned and better maintained. The fares are a little higher, but well worth the additional fare. These buses, which generally travel overnight from Manila to other parts of the island of Luzon and down to the Visayas are very reliable.
This is a form of transportation unique to the Philippines. It is a vehicle designed like the surplus U.S. army jeeps that were around after World War II. The vehicle is open at the back for entry to the bed where there are two rows of benches, one of each side of the vehicle. It is all open air, except for the roof. Each driver has a set route, which is painted on the side. Fares are very cheap, and the driver will stop anywhere and at anytime along his route to pick up and dispense passengers. It is the common man’s form of public transportation. I find them very efficient for short destination riding, which is of course what they are designed for.
Hired Car – or Your Own Car
Many foreigners prefer not to drive, due to the incessant traffic jams these days in just about every major and secondary city. This is why many foreigners who own a car simply hire a full time driver. Filipino drivers are animals behind the wheel of a car. Their normal easygoing and polite ways seem to disappear when they get behind the wheel of a car. They also love their horn. They give the right of way to no one, so it is “offensive driving” which rules the day, not “defensive driving”. One must push his way into the traffic, forcing the other guy to slow down. They regard traffic rules as “suggestions”, which are simply ignored if the driver does not like them. It is a hectic jungle on the busy streets as a driver. Having said this, I have had a car and driven myself in both Cebu and Mindanao, but don’t think I would attempt this in Manila.
These days I use a driver rather than deal with the stress of driving myself.