The Philippines is an archipelago of over 7,000 islands, with the 11 largest islands making up 95% of the total land area. The biggest island in the Philippines is Luzon which measures around 65,000 square miles (105,000 square kilometers).
Many tourists in the Philippines choose to travel between islands in order to enjoy as much of the country as possible, from its buzzing capital Manila to its beautiful beaches, during their stay.
Some of the most popular islands amongst tourists are:
- Matinloc Island, Palawan
- Siargao, Surigao del Norte
- Boracay, Aklan
- Lahos Island, Camarines Sur
- White Island, Camiguin
- Malcapuya Island, Palawan
- Palaui Island, Cagayan Valley
The most convenient ways to explore the archipelago are by boat or domestic flight. For a hassle-free trip, tourists are advised to plan the routes in advance.
Traveling by Boat in the Philippines
An impressive network of ferry routes connects the islands of the Philippines. Different types of vessels are available depending on the type of journey to be taken.
Motorized outriggers, fast ferries, and roll-on, roll-off ferries are all available for short to medium journeys whilst for longer trips, there are larger multi-decked passenger ferries.
Visitors should be aware that there is a small ferry terminal fee in most places. The terminal fee in Manila is 95 PHP (under $2).
Island hopping in the Philippines by Bangka
A Bangka, also known as a pump boat, is a small wooden vessel with wooden or bamboo outriggers. Regular Bangka ferry routes operate between the islands and there are also companies offering full-day island tours for around 3,000 PHP ($50).
Most boats used for touring have ladders off the side to allow passengers to go swimming, snorkeling, and diving.
As these boats are designed for use in shallow water, it is possible to sail close to the island.
Advice for traveling by Bangka:
- Only take necessary items as space onboard can be limited
- Take earplugs as the engine may be loud
- Check the condition of the boat and ensure lifejackets are available.
Traveling between islands by Roll-on, Roll-off
Roll-on, Roll-off ferries, or RoRos, are used to transport passengers and wheeled cargo. RoRos are widely used for medium-haul routes, in particular along what is known as the ‘Nautical Highway’ connecting the major islands of Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao.
RoRos are the best option for tourists driving in the Philippines as cars can be taken on board. These ferries are slow but passengers are able to sit outside and enjoy the views.
There are separate passenger and vehicle fees that vary widely depending on the route taken.
Taking the fast ferry between islands in the Philippines
Several companies run fast ferry routes for short-haul trips. These passenger-only vessels are twice as fast as the RoRo and also around double the price for an equivalent Roll-on, Roll-off route.
Fast ferries are generally modern and equipped with air conditioning.
How to book boat tickets in the Philippines
Ticket offices and travel agencies in major cities sell tickets for long-haul trips which must be booked in advance.
Fast ferry and Bangka tickets can usually be purchased on the day at the pier, in some cases, fast ferry tickets can also be purchased online.
Traveling by Plane in the Philippines
The following airlines offer domestic flights in the Philippines:
- Philippine Airlines
- Cebu Pacific
- Airphil Express
- Zest Airways
- AirAsia Philippines
- Tiger Airways
Principal routes include that between Manila and Caticlan and Manila and Busuanga. Flights between other islands are often by small seaplanes with as few as 6 seats.
As an indication of pricing, a flight from Manila to Caticlan takes around 1 hour and tickets can be purchased for as little as 1,500 PHP (30 USD)
Travelers should be aware that an exit fee must be paid before going through security at each airport, this tax is somewhere in the region of 200 PHP (4 USD).
Advice for traveling by plane in the Philippines
- Plan journeys in advance, as there are more flights to Manila and Cebu, it may be necessary to take a connecting flight when going to and from smaller islands
- Check the baggage allowance before going to the airport as aircraft are small
- Allow time for delays when taking a connecting flight.
What to Take on a Trip around the Philippines
Due to reduced luggage allowance on planes and the lack of space on most boats, travelers are advised to only take essential possessions. However, some key items which should be prioritized include:
- Water: carry a bottle of water at all times especially during warm weather
- Sun protection: a hat and sunscreen should be worn when exposed to sunlight on a boat
- An underwater camera: highly recommended for capturing aquatic shots
- Formal identification: airlines require passengers to present a form of identification before boarding.
Foreigners are also advised to carry a copy of a valid Philippines online visa with them at all times during their stay.