Updated 2019: Manila is a fun city without countless flights, so getting there is easy. Arriving at the busy NAIA airport with its four spread out terminals can be overwhelming and getting around the city of more than 12 million people is time consuming. So, check out my tips how to get there, how to get from Manila airport to the city and how to get around Manila!
Getting There: Manila does not have as many global airlines serving it as Bangkok, Singapore or Hong Kong, but most of the large regional airlines fly there from their hubs! The Flag carrier, Philippine Airlines (PAL), has non-stop flights to the US, Canada, London and all over the region.
Another option is the local budget carrier, Cebu Pacific. You can often get discounted fares to one of the South East Asian cities, like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur – and just book your own connection for very little extra money!
The main airport for Manila is Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) with 4 terminals, the (old) international terminal 1, the PAL terminal 2 and the (new) international terminal 3, also used by Cebu Pacific. The (very old) terminal 4 is used by budget carriers and is really more like a bus terminal with departing flights. If you have a choice of airlines, Terminal 3 is the best, in terms of services as well as transportation to the city: the terminals are located on opposite sides of the airport, so getting from one terminal to the other can take some time – so make sure you know exactly where you are arriving or departing!
From/To the airport: Your choices to get from the airport to your accommodations has greatly increased over the last few years. First advice: never, ever go with anybody approaching you offering transportation, you are most likely going to get ripped off. People have been charged more than 10x the regular fair by these scammers, so just ignore them.
The easiest (and most expensive) way to get from the airport to your hotel is to ask the hotel to arrange it and a friendly face will wait for you at the exit with a sign with your name.
If you want to save some money, but prefer a fixed fare, you can go to the line of white coupon taxis with blue stickers outside each terminal. Look for the large board with the posted fees to destinations around the Manila Metro. Ignore anybody official looking, offering assistance, until you have found your destination and price. One you have, ask one of the staff for a car to take you there and name your price. Do not walk away with anybody – the official cars are parked right there, you will receive a receipt and pay exactly the price on the board. These prices are typically 150-200% of the metered fare, you have to pay cash, but at least you know upfront what your are paying and can relax.
The next cheaper option are the yellow, metered taxis pictured above. Follow the overhead signs for taxis and you’ll see the taxis and a line to wait. Once you make it to the front of the line, staff will give you a receipt with the taxi number on it in case there are any issues and point you to the car. Most of the airport taxi drivers speak English. The airport taxi driver should turn on the meter and take you there. Any road tolls on the SkyWay are your responsibility and you have to pay cash for the metered fare and tolls. Some drivers might ask “how much you pay?” – just tell them “meter” and ignore the rest….
The next cheaper option are the regular, white metered city taxis who are now allowed to pick up at the airport at a separate and usually longer line. They work generally the same as the yellow taxis, although there have been more reports of scams and issues, like hot meters or unusually long routes. The cars are also older and usually don’t have seatbelts and drivers may not speak English. If you have a smartphone with data, it helps to turn on Google Maps and watch the route taken. You’ll also have to pay cash for fare and tolls.
If you don’t want to pay cash, your only alternative is grab taxi, a ride hailing service similar to uber. You can read my review of grab app here and my tips for Using grab at Manila Airport and around Manila. The price of grab will be comparable to a yellow or white taxi. During surge pricing (which is very frequent in Manila), the price for grab will be higher than a taxi. But it’s reliable, safe and you can pay by credit card. The wait can be as long as in the taxi lines as cars need to make their way through the traffic around the airport. grab allows sub-compact cars to operate, so if you are a family of four with luggage, make sure to request a van or SUV.
There is no airport train at any of the terminals, but recently a bus service was launched to Makati – at P300 it’s as expensive as grab or taxi, so I’d pass!
Getting Around: Once you have made it to your hotel and are ready to explore the city, you have a few more choices to get around. My recommendation after 6 years in Manila is to use grab: For about the same fare as a metered taxi, you get a much nicer, newer car with seatbelts, a friendly driver and a hassle free experience. They also have SUVs or vans, in case you have lot of luggage. Regular taxis will frequently refuse to take you (if they don’t want to go where you want to go), refuse to use the meter and ask for an inflated fee, or go on a long tour around the city to increase the fare. You’ll never find a seat belt and many of the drivers are aggressive (unsafe) drivers who drive excruciatingly long hours to make a living.
There is a light train system with 3 lines in the metropolitan area – it’s cheap, but crowded and safety can be a concern at night time. It will get you to the main sights and you don’t have to deal with the terrible traffic that chokes Manila at most times of day…
If you are on a budget – or just an adventurous soul – you can try the iconic Jeepney – styled after the original US Jeep, with a stretched truck bed, benches and a roof. People cram in, so they are not comfortable, some people stand on the outside, holding on and the drivers are even less safe than taxi drivers. You do need to know where you are going, there are thousands of Jeepneys in Manila on set routes, so finding the one you need takes a little practice – or a helping hand from the locals!
Outside the business districts of Makati, Bonifacio Global City or Ortigas, you will find the small tricycles as cheaper taxi alternative. They can carry as many as 6 people in addition to the driver, two on the motorcycle behind the driver, two in front of the side car and two in the back. I’m 6ft3 and only fit in with my head between my feet – you won’t be comfortable unless you are short and very skinny!
Renting a car is not a good idea – traffic laws are rarely known or widely ignored, its constant grid lock and your vacation will be ruined faster than you can hand back your car. Get a driver & car instead – it’s not much more expensive (if at all) and you can relax in a car/van and enjoy your trip…
If you want to find out more about Manila, read my Destination Guide Manila!