Explore the Philippines with car rentals to make the most of your vacation. Learn about essential details and practical tips on renting a car with this comprehensive guide.
If you’re looking to experience road trip adventures in a tropical setting, the Philippines is an excellent choice! Although the country has its fair share of cities with airports, some of its most wonderful spots are not always ones you can fly into. Hence, the best way to reach them is by driving a private vehicle or renting a car.
The Philippines does have a public transportation system that is relatively affordable and somewhat accessible. However, this transport system can be confusing and overwhelming to many travelers. This is why self-driving a rented car in the Philippines is a smart and convenient way to get around.
Fortunately, several reliable companies offer this mode of travel, and they have managed to make the car rental process easy and smooth.
Locals use public transport all the time, but it takes a bit of time to get used to it, especially if you intend to do provincial or regional transfers. Public transport may not be the best choice for exploration depending on your travel goals and priorities.
Here are some compelling reasons why you should rent a car in the Philippines instead of commuting:
The Philippines do not have an extensive train network covering key regions in the country except for Metro Manila. If locals don’t intend to fly or flying is not an option, they tend to use buses to get to neighboring cities and provinces.
The Philippine bus system is not government-owned nor centralized. Buses are run by several private companies who organize their own schedules and destinations. Most of the time, these private companies have their own bus stations.
If you prefer to stay mostly in one area, then getting to know the country’s complex bus system may not be necessary. However, if you wish to explore many locations (as most travelers do), you will need to research bus companies and determine which ones go to your desired destinations.
This process takes up time and requires a lot of planning. In addition, taking buses also means that you will have to do several bus transfers throughout your holiday.
Transferring from one bus to another while carrying or dragging your luggage can be exhausting and stressful. If you prefer a hassle-free and more comfortable visit to many of the country’s top attractions, then driving a rented car is a great option.
Normally, you can book a car rental online before your arrival. Then you need to pick up the car right at the airport. This saves you time and energy and eliminates the need for you to go to an unfamiliar location for pick-up.
Driving your own rented car gives you the freedom to see the places you really want to explore at your own pace. If you’re taking buses or other public vehicles, you have to observe departure times.
You don’t have to worry about getting up early or missing the next bus. Leave or stay longer at an attraction when you feel like it. You may even choose to be on the road at night and relax in the morning. At any point in time, you can hop on your car and leave the city to explore waterfalls, caves, and beaches.
The Philippines is an archipelago of more than 7000 islands. It has several prominent attractions that are heavily visited.
However, there are still so many sites in the country that are barely visited. Because of lack of exposure, these sites is usually not easily accessible via public transport.
With a rented car, you can reach remote places and discover hidden gems in the country without time constraints. Car rental in the Philippines offers a more-than-your-typical holiday, which not all travelers have the privilege of experiencing.
Before signing up for car rentals, here’s a quick overview of the Philippines' geography to help you work out the important rental details:
The Philippines is composed of three main island groups, which are Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Each island group has a prominent jumpoff point for car rental.
Luzon is the northernmost island region in the Philippines and is where the central government resides. Some of Luzon’s notable areas include Metro Manila (including the capital city of Manila), Laguna, Tagaytay, Batangas, Pangasinan, La Union, Ilocos, and Baguio. The island of Palawan is also part of Luzon but you need to board a plane or ferry to get there from the main island.
The Visayas is the second island region located in the middle section of the country. Unlike Luzon, which is mainly one large island, Visayas is composed of a group of smaller islands. Tourist destinations in the Visayas include Cebu, Iloilo, Bohol, and Bacolod.
Mindanao is the southernmost island region and is home to the most remote sites in the country. Some of its most notable places include Davao, Siargao, Camiguin, Cagayan de Oro, General Santos, Dipolog, Bukidnon, and Zamboanga.
As a visitor, you need to first decide which island group you prefer exploring and then determine the specific jumpoff point to rent a car from.
If you plan on exploring Luzon, then it makes sense to rent a car in Manila. Metro Manila is the National Capital Region of the Philippines, and the city of Manila is its capital. When locals mention Manila, they often refer to the whole metropolitan area. Metro Manila is composed of other cities like Makati, Quezon, Alabang, and Cubao.
Metro Manila has numerous highways and flyovers. Traffic is typically heavy in certain areas, during rush hour. If you want to drive around the metro, make sure to start early. Go to tourist spots that are geographically close to each other.
It is also important to be familiar with the local government's traffic rules and regulations to decongest the traffic. One important regulation in place is the number coding scheme during weekdays. Take note of one-way streets, assigned lanes, and loading/unloading areas.
Most of the Luzon provinces are connected to Manila by highways and expressways. With a rented car, you can visit these provinces whenever you wish. Some of the provincial destinations worth visiting include Tagaytay, Batangas, Baguio, and Ilocos Region.
Visayas is a tricky region to do a road trip because its cities and provinces are not located on one big island. However, Cebu makes a sensible jumping point for car rental.
National highways and bridges connect some Visayan cities and provinces, but there are quite a number of sites that need to be accessed by sea. Fortunately, the Philippines has a Roll-On Roll-Off (RoRo) ferry system. Using the car ferry, you can visit destinations like Bohol, Dumaguete, Boracay, Iloilo and Bacolod.
If Mindanao is your destination, then Davao is most likely your car rental jumpoff point. Most of the prominent destinations are found on the main island of Mindanao.
Notable cities and provinces are connected via national highways, so it’s actually a great region for road trips. From Davao, you can self drive rental cars to well-known destinations like General Santos, Dipolog, Surigao, Cagayan de Oro, and Zamboanga City.
Car rental companies in the Philippines offer customers a range of vehicle types to choose from. This means that you can actually pick a vehicle that suits your budget and needs.
Just keep in mind that brands and models may vary from one company to another. But generally, car options are quite decent and models popular in the Southeast Asian region are often available.
Renting a small car is a great option for solo travelers, couples, and small groups. Small car rentals are usually categorized as such because they have relatively small engine size, and limited luggage compartments. They are also the least expensive of all the rental car types.
Examples of small cars include Toyota Vios, Mitsubishi Mirage and Toyota Altis, Toyota Wigo, Honda City and Nissan Sylphy.
Small cars are capable of running in sunny and rainy seasons. This type of car is more ideal for traveling around cities and nearby provinces as they are easy to park and have low fuel costs.
It’s possible to use a small car to get to highland destinations. However, if you really want to have a safe and more convenient journey, bigger cars with larger engines such as SUVs/ 4x4 are much suitable for such terrain.
SUVs or 4X4 vehicles have larger engines and more spacious interiors. These cars are big enough to accommodate a big group of travelers while also having enough space for multiple luggage.
Examples of vehicles under SUV or 4x4 car rentals category include Suzuki APV, Mitsubishi Estrada, Toyota Fortuner, and Chevrolet Trailblazer.
This type of car is more durable and is meant to travel greater distances. It can be used during the country’s warm and rainy seasons. SUVs are very suitable for highland travels that may involve steep inclines and rougher terrains.
Similar to 4X4 SUV cars, luxury cars are more spacious and have bigger engines. This type of car is considered a notch higher than regular SUVs because they offer high-end comfort and beautiful interior. Some of the cars found in this category include Lexus ES350, Toyota Camry, and Mitsubishi Montero Sport GLS.
Luxury car rentals are better fitted for city driving. However, some luxury 4x4 or SUVs combine comfort, toughness, and style.
Renting luxury cars is all about the experience and creating a lasting impression. It is perfect for business-related meetups, romantic escapes, or celebrations. If you intend to drive long distances, luxury cars will make the long trip more comfortable.
Vans come with a large engine size to match its impressive seating capacity of up to 9 people. Most vans would also have rooms for 4 luggage in their compartment. Some of the typical vehicles for van rentals include Toyota Hi-Ace, Toyota Innova, Mitsubishi Adventure GX, Hyundai Starex.
Most vans are suitable for long-distance and highland driving. They can handle rougher roads but also provide space and comfort to passengers. Vans are the best fit for family excursions or group trips.
To rent a car in the Philippines,you need to have a valid passport, a major credit card (Visa, Amex, Mastercard), and a valid driver’s license.
As a foreigner, you may use the driver’s license issued by your country for 90 days, but the license needs to be written in English. If your driver’s license is not in English, you will need to go to your local embassy to have it officially translated in English.
If you wish to stay beyond 90 days, you need to go to the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and have your license converted to a local version. You also have the choice to get a new license from the LTO.
You always need to have your passport, driver’s license, and car rental document with you while driving your rented car.
Renting a car in the Philippines is a straightforward process as long as you have all the requirements needed. With regards to actual driving, the streets can be chaotic at times, but most people will generally get used to it in no time.
It is generally safe to drive in the Philippines. Most roads are well-maintained, especially in metropolitan cities and provincial capitals. Car accidents are not as common as in other countries.
Here are just some tips to keep in mind if you’re driving a car rental in the country:
1. Take note that the Philippines drive on the right side of the road. This means that the driver sits on the left side of the car.
2. Schedule your driving time outside of rush hours (7-9 AM and 6-8PM) and peak times to avoid being stuck in heavy traffic. This is especially true if you’re driving in Metro Manila or other busier cities like Cebu and Davao.
3. Metro Manila traffic authorities implement a number coding scheme to alleviate heavy traffic. This scheme regulates the number of vehicles allowed to be on the road. The number coding is based on the last number of the car plate. Number coding system does not apply in provinces.
4. Be mindful of the common road rules to avoid violations and penalties. Several local drivers ignore common traffic rules. Do not follow their example as a traffic enforcer will most likely fine you.
Some common road rules to keep in mind include:
Always have your valid driver’s license, certificate of registration, and official receipt ready.
Slow down and not speed up when orange/yellow light is turned on. Do not try to beat the red light, or worse, run it.
Don’t drive while intoxicated with alcohol.
Wear your seatbelts at all times.
Drive only registered vehicles that are rented from reputable companies.
Avoid illegal parking and illegal turns.
5. Drive cautiously especially during heavy rain as roads are slippery and visibility is compromised. There’s no need to rush as excessive speed may lead to accidents and violations.
6. If you get pulled over for a possible violation, be calm and drive the car to the side of the road. Stay in the car and wait for the officer to approach you.
Traffic enforcement in Metro Manila is done by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) officers. These officers specialize in enforcing traffic rules, but they are not policemen.
In case of a traffic violation, the MMDA traffic enforcer will ask for your license and registration. Follow instructions and always be polite and respectful. You may ask more about your violation and how to pay for your ticket in a respectful manner.
7. You may hear stories about people bribing traffic enforcers, but this is not a good idea. Over the years, more attention is given to eliminate such corrupt acts so don’t take the risk of bribing an officer.
8. Navigation apps like Waze and Google Maps work perfectly for Philippine roads. They will help you avoid traffic and reach your destination faster. Just make sure to configure them correctly before hitting the road.
Overall, renting a car can grant you full control of your Philippines vacation. It will provide a lot of conveniences so you can actually spend the time enjoying instead of worrying and planning.
Availing of car rentals in the Philippines helps make your travel experience more spontaneous and less rigid. And trips sprinkled with spontaneity often end up being the most memorable ones.