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Travel Tips and Tricks for Getting Around in Manila

A photo of the streets of Intramuros Knowing how to navigate the city will help you explore Manila better and stress free | Photo by Eldon Vince Isidro on Unsplash

Manila, the center of economy, culture, education, and government of the Philippines. This highly urbanized city was founded on June 24, 1571 and is considered to be one of the oldest cities in Asia. With such a rich culture and vibrant atmosphere, Manila has been a popular visit for tourists around the world.

The city of Manila is the capital of the country, and is thus the main gateway for foreign nationals seeking to enter the Philippines. When you say “Manila,” it can mean two things.

First, it can refer to the City of Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Manila is made up of 16 administrative districts, which include Binondo, Ermita, Intramuros, Malate, and Quiapo, among others.

Second, the greater Metropolitan Manila area is also referred to as Manila. It is officially known as the National Capital Region (NCR) or Metro Manila and is made up of the City of Manila, Makati, Quezon City, Parañaque, Pasay, and Taguig, to name a few.

For this guide, when we talk about Manila, we’ll refer not just to the City of Manila, but Metro Manila as well.

Getting around Manila

When it’s your first time exploring Manila, it can be quite daunting. The place is quite densely populated and there are hundreds of nooks and crannies.

However, Manila does have a comprehensive transportation system that you can make use of to get around the city.

Public transportation systems will be your best option if you’re looking to maximize and save money.

  • Jeepneys
  • Jeepneys are essentially fixed route public transport systems. They are the most common public transport system that the locals use to get to and from work or school.

    Since they are a fixed route system, if there are no direct rides from your place to your destination, you might have to ride more than one jeepney. These jeepneys and their corresponding routes can be identified by the code displayed all around the jeepneys. It will take quite some time for you to familiarize yourself with the codes, however, the list of specific routes can be found in the official website of Manila or the Philippine Transportation website.

    You will be able to hail these rides just about anywhere. There are jeepney terminals that you can go to, or designated jeepney stops along the road, usually marked by yellow stripes.

  • Rail Systems
  • Manila offers a rail system. These trains are called the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) and the Light Rail Transit (LRT). These rails run across Manila City and its neighbouring cities around the Metro.

    This is also a popular transport system for the locals, so fair warning, the rails are jam packed during rush hour. Lines can and will usually make it outside the station, so if you’re planning to ride the rails during the hours of 6am-9am and 4pm to 8pm, you’re gonna have to buckle in.

    During the off hours though, the rails are the fastest way to slice through the city.

  • Taxi Cabs
  • Taxi Cabs are extremely easy to find around the metro. Usually white in color and easily recognized by the luminous taxi top signs on the roofs.

    Although taxi cabs are an extremely convenient form of public transport for getting to your desired destinations, they are also the most expensive. Taxi Cab meters have a fixed rate per kilometer and also for time spent on the road. That means that if you get stuck in traffic, it’ll cost you quite a lot.

  • Private Vehicles For Rent
  • You may choose the option of renting private vehicles for you to drive yourself or to rent a car with a designated driver. These car rental programs offer the most convenience in terms of getting around the metro as this serves as a hassle free option for travellers.

    However, the daily rates for these cars for rent, plus the added cost of various fees like insurance makes this option the most expensive.

Commuting Tips

Manila can get quite hot and humid, so it’s best that you bring some water to keep yourself hydrated. You will often see vendors along the streets selling chilled bottled water, so this is a good option as well.

Be mindful of your belongings. Although Manila is a relatively peaceful place, there have been multiple cases of theft in the region. It is best that you be mindful of your personal belongings, most especially when riding public vehicles.

Filipino citizens are quite good at speaking English, so don’t shy away from asking for directions, or other information you might need. Just make sure to ask trusted individuals like the front desk at your hotel or local authorities such as a barangay tanod.

Commuting Essentials

Now that we have the mechanics of getting around the metro, what exactly are the essentials that you should bring?

  • Cash
  • This might seem like common sense right? But cash is actually something essential when going around town. Unlike other cities where they offer city cards to pay for various services, Manila still largely relies on cash-based transactions, most especially for public transport.

    There are huge movements to promote cashless transactions in the metro, however, only larger and more established businesses have followed suit.

  • Umbrella
  • Metro Manila during the dry months is known to be quite bone dry, however, unexpected rain showers do occur. It is best that you stay prepared by bringing an umbrella with you.

  • Map
  • Manila is a giant tourist destination, made up of several smaller tourist sites. For a lot of these sites, they are within walking distance from each other. It is best that you bring a map of the metro with you. That way you will know exactly where to go, but you can also avoid unnecessary rides and expenses by legging the next destination if you choose to.

  • Hand Sanitizers
  • Regardless of where you are, this should be a commuting essential. At some point along your commute, you’re bound to hold on to a grab rail. Bringing a hand sanitizer will allow you to clean your hands prior to touching your other items. It’ll help you clean your hands as well as you dig into some delicious street food around Manila.

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