How to get around the Philippines: your options
The Philippines is actually made up of around 12,000 islands, so that means if you want to explore more than one island (which you will- trust me), then you’ll need to use a boat or fly.
To help make this post easier to manage, I’m going to split it into getting around the Philippines in general when you’re going from island to island, and getting around the Philippines islands when you’re actually on land.
On land: getting around the Philippines:
When it comes to getting around the Philippines on-land, you’ve got a few options available to you.
These actually tend to be the most common way to get between towns on different islands, and they’re easily accessible on Coron, Cebu, Port Barton, Siargao, Palawan etc. Everything tends to be a set price which is reasonable. We used shuttle vans to get between different towns when on Palawan, for example, from El Nido to Port Barton, then Port Barton to Puerto Princesa.
Another option you have to get around is renting a moped. This is quite a common thing to do for tourists, especially on the islands of Cebu, Palawan, Coron, Siquior and Siargao. It’s the easiest way to get around and manage your own itinerary and it generally costs around $5-8 a day depending on where you rent.
A few things to note about driving a moped:
- Always wear a helmet. Brad and I had an accident and thankfully we had our helmets on which lessened the damage to us. But far too often we see tourists riding on a moped without a helmet, and I cannot understand why. It’s not cool, it’s not legal and you can die if you fall, that isn’t an exaggeration. I fell going slow on a moped downhill and needed stitches in my knee, so imagine what it would be like if you were driving at a normal speed and came off, without a helmet.
- If you’re from the UK do note that you will only be covered up to a 125cc moped under the majority of travel insurances (if they cover you at all, check the small print), anything higher than that will cost extra. But you shouldn’t need anything bigger than 125cc.
- Have an international driver's licence. Your insurance company (regardless of what country your from) will not cover you if you fall and you never had a licence. In the UK it’s £5.50 for a licence that lasts a year, so there is no excuse not to have one.
- Be aware of other drives. Other drivers are your biggest threat, but as long as you’re aware and stick to speed limits, you should be fine. The road in the Philippines are generally in good condition.
For more advice and information on renting a moped in Asia, you can check out our blog post.
Some towns and cities have decent local bus networks that are dirt cheap. Do be aware that although they are super cheap, they tend to take twice as long! We didn’t actually use the bus when travelling through the Philippines, but I did see other tourists on them. It’s best to ask a local for the best option.
Buses are actually better known as jeepneys, which are old US style school buses. Cheap, no air con and probably not too reliable!
Ride sharing apps
Apps like Grab are available in major city points such as the capital of Manila, and Cebu. I always find these apps super useful to make sure you don’t get ripped off and they’re much cheaper for getting to and from the airport. Of course the traffic in these cities makes the journey longer, but you’re in an air conditioned car, so I’m sure you’ll survive!
In the cities you can order food from them too!
Getting around the Philippines in Taxis
In the cities and most smaller towns there will be some form of taxi service. The problem with them is that they’ll try to rip you off. So unless they have a valid meter, I would negotiate a price beforehand. A good tip is to price the journey on say Grab, then you know how much a journey should cost, but add on a little extra as they expect more.
This tends to be all around the Philippines are the cheapest way to get from a to b within a town. They are super cheap, for example in El Nido, it’s only 15php in the main area to get from one place to another, regardless of length of travel. But, always negotiate a price before you get in!
Island hopping between islands on the Philippines
Okay so now that you know how to get around on the islands, let’s talk about getting to and from each island.
Most backpackers to the Philippines start their journey in Cebu and Manila, because they both have international airports. Bradley and I started in Manila and flew to Coron from there to start our island hopping.
You can get a boat from Manila to Coron with 2goferries, but it’s 24 hours and doesn’t work out that much cheaper than just flying there.
Getting around the Philippines via Airplane
Flying between different islands in the Philippines is the quickest way to get around if you’re on 1 month tourist visa. Flights aren’t overly expensive, and if you plan your route in advance, then you can book your flights in advance.
On average our flights between islands cost around $70 per person. We flew between Manila and Coron, Puerto Princesa to Siargao, then Siargao to Cebu. This allowed us to see more on our Philippines itinerary.
Getting around the Philippines via Boat
If you’ve got time you could easily boat between all islands in the Philippines and there are certain parts were islands are so close together that they only require a quick journey between islands. Fast boats are readily available and we recommend using 12go Asia to book your ferries in advance.
We got ferries between Coron and El Nido, Cebu and Bohol, Bohol to Siquijor, Siquijor to Cebu.
Okay to make your life even easier, I’m going to break down getting from place to place. I do actually speak about this on each blog post on individual places, but I think it’s worth talking about it here. These will all be “vice versa” based too.
I’ve done this based on common ferry routes for a typical Philippines itinerary.
Getting from Coron to El Nido
You have two options here, the first is to fly, it’s not dirt cheap but of course it’s quicker, and you can check for flights on Skyscanner.
The second and more common route is to get the boat from Coron to El Nido. There are 2 ferries, one slower and one faster.
We got the quicker ferry and it took about 5 hours (it stated it would take 4). This was with Montenegro Cruise Lines and it was a pleasant journey with no issues. There was a snack service on board and I recommend the trip.
The boat leaves at lunchtime (12 o'clock) and if you purchase your ticket with 12go asia (like we did) then you need to go to the ticket office of Montenegro to exchange your ticket before you go to the dock. They are a short walk from each other.
It cost us around £27 (about $33) for the boat and that’s pretty standard to be honest.
It’s the same story for the vice versa journey but the boat leaves at 6am so it’s an early start!
Getting from El Nido to Port Barton
To get from El Nido to Port Barton you need to get a car service or a shuttle bus. The shuttle buses are cheap, comfortable, quick and the run quite frequently throughout the day. You only need to book your bus the day before, (or even the day of if you’re heading in the evening). There always tends to be availability as quite a few places offer the journey.
The cost is around $10 as standard.
You can also take a local bus, but I have no idea how, when or where, so ask your hotel or a local person! But I hear it’s around 150PP and takes 6 hours.
For the vice versa journey it’s similar, but actually they tend to charge you more going from Port Barton. Not sure why, probably because it is more remote!
Getting from Port Barton to Puerto Princesa
If you’re visiting Puerto Princesa the chances are you'll be coming from Port Barton (if you are coming from El Nido it’s a simple shuttle bus ride again- or fly…)
The prices tend to be inflated because of how remote Port Barton is (for now!), but there are plenty of tour agencies offering the service on the beach side. Or simply ask your accommodation.
Communicate clearly on time as we arrived at 10 am and our driver was just sitting there and we thought, aren’t we going? And he said no, going to wait until 11/12 and I was like nope and after a chat and an argument of some sort, we were on our way!
The journey takes about 4 hours and it's around 300pp. You can pay a little extra and have your driver drop you off at your specific accommodation in the city which I suggest you.
You can get a local bus (jeepney) too which will cost less, take longer and it stops at the bus terminal that’s located 5km outside of the city so you’ll need to hitch a tuk tuk ride inwards!
Getting from Bohol to Siquijor
Getting from Bohol to Siquijor is super easy and convenient. It’s just a boat ride away. The fast boat is with Ocean Jet (whom I highly recommend) and it takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes (and actually does!).
It costs around £14 and it’s an easy service. Be aware you’ll arrive in one port in Siquijor and depart in another if you’re heading to Cebu afterwards.
The vice versa journey is the same.
You don’t need to book this in advance when it’s not peak season. It’s cheaper to buy your ticket to get off siquijor island when you’re on the island.
Getting from Cebu to Bohol
You’ll need to get to the Cebu port and it’s only a 2 hour journey to bohol! It costs around £10 and there are two companies who run it which I trust which are Oceanjet and 12Go. For convenience I suggest you book your ticket online, as the queue for tickets at Cebu is crazy. If you’ve got your ticket online you can skip the outside check in counter and head inside for checkin and departure.
The vice versa route is the same.
FAQ about getting around the Philippines
Is it easy to get around the Philippines?
Yes, at least I think so. It’s well established for tourists and locals, so for such a complex set of islands, it’s pretty easy to see all the amazing things on offer for the Philippines.
Can I rent a moped to drive across the Philippines?
I thought this was worth mentioning as before we visited the Philippines Brad and I had the idea to rent a moped from Manila and drive it all around the Philippines, and by all around, I literally mean take it on ferries to shuttle between islands etc. But, when we did the research, this was not a common thing to do and actually it was just a nightmare logistically. Most places only mopeds available that are insured for that area.
So for example, if you rented a moped in manila, it’s only insured for manila. The only real way to do this would be to buy a moped and sell it at the end. Again a lot of hassle for a 30 day trip.
I would just suggest renting one in each place and returning it at the end.
Is it cheap to get around the Philippines?
Yes. everything is reasonably priced. Whilst it’s absolutely not dirt cheap, it’s reasonable. But other things in the Philippines are cheap such as food, drink and attractions, so that makes up for the price of getting around the Philippines.
Should I book boat/airplane tickets in advance?
Yes. Especially in peak season. But brad and I went in the shoulder season and boats were still booking up days in advance. Especially on busy routes from Coron to El nido, you can’t just book the day before. It won’t be available.
Actually for one of our boat journeys, we booked about 4 days ahead of time, and when we arrived they told us our booking was not confirmed and we needed to wait on standby. That was super frustrating as we had sorted everything ahead of time on purpose. Thankfully we did get a place on the boat, but just be aware that this could happen.
And that’s it! I hope you’ve found this guide to getting around the Philippines useful. If you’re interested in more information on each individual place then you’ll find our guides on each place useful so I’ve listed them here for you.
- 18 best things to do in Siargao
- 16 awesome things to do in Siquijor
- 32 best things to do in Bohol
- 15 best things to do in El Nido
- 30 best things to do in Coron
- Backpacking The Philippines: The Ultimate Guide
If you’ve got anymore information you think our readers would find useful on this post, then please do comment it below!