Cars, trains, buses, and planes aren’t the only way to get around. For first-time visitors, the Philippines has its share of unique modes of transportation. Here are just a few of the iconic vehicles and rides you’ll inevitably come across as you travel and explore the beauty of the country.
Originally made from U.S. military jeeps left over from World War II, jeepneys or jeeps have become a symbol of Pinoy art and culture. These days, they’re the most popular public utility vehicle, dubbed the “kings of the road.” They’re well-known for their crowded seating and kitsch decorations, usually with colorful airbrush paintings decorating the exteriors.
Where to try it: Jeepneys are used everywhere in the Philippines, both in the city and in rural areas. In some areas like Sagada and the Cordillera region where trips aren’t that regular, passengers opt to ride on the roof of a jeep when there are no more seats inside just so they can get to their destination. The practice of “top loading” has now become popular with tourists just for the thrill of it. If you’re in Manila, Jeepney Tours offer daily city tours aboard an air-conditioned jeepney with videoke inside!
A kalesa (also known as caritela or karitela) is a horse-drawn carriage that was introduced to the islands in the 18th century by Spanish colonizers. In the olden days, it was reserved for nobles and high-ranking civic officials. The kalesa is rarely used today except for old cities and areas frequently visited by tourists.
Where to try it: The most popular place to try riding a kalesa is Calle Crisologo in Vigan, Ilocos Sur. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for its preserved Spanish colonial and Asian architecture and cobblestone streets, and kalesa tours are one of the top things to do here.
In Metro Manila, kalesas are also used in the areas of Binondo and Intramuros, where coachmen dress in old-fashioned garb to attract tourists. Horse-driven carts are also common in Cebu City, particularly going to Carbon Market along Magallanes Street.
Tricycles are three-wheeled vehicles that resemble the auto rickshaws of India and tuk-tuks of Thailand. The motorcycle with a sidecar allows more passengers to fit in depending on the size and seating arrangement. Being smaller in size, they are used for short-distance travel and are most commonly seen on the side streets, subdivisions, smaller cities, and towns.
Where to try it: The styles vary per province and region. You can try riding one almost anywhere around the country. One of the most unique types can be found in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur. Their iconic trikes are inclined at 25-40 degrees because of the hilly terrain of the city!
Also known as “padyak” or “trikad,” the pedicab is a bicycle with an attached side car, much like a tricycle. Like cycle rickshaws, these vehicles use human pedal power to transport passengers. You can find these in small towns and villages, or areas where jeepneys and buses can’t pass. Pedicabs have the capacity of two to three people per ride.
Where to try it: Like tricycles, pedicabs can be found almost anywhere, usually in secondary streets or near markets. I particularly like the colorful designs of the old-school pedicabs in Catbalogan City, Samar.
In Metro Manila, you normally only see one to two passengers riding on a motorcycle. However, when you go to other areas of the country, you’ll be surprised to see that the motorcycle is capable of carrying much more passengers than that.
The habal-habal is an improvised two-wheeled single motorcycle usually ridden beyond its passenger capacity with the help of extended seats or a T-shaped crossbeam. Commonly used as public transportation in areas with narrow roads, and steeper, rougher terrain, these sturdy vehicles are capable of carrying up to 6 or more passengers. It’s quite a sight to see a habal-habal bearing more than 10 persons, complete with all their bags, vegetables and livestock on board!
Where to try it: The habal-habal is commonly found in smaller villages, small island provinces, and mountainous areas in Mindanao (Surigao, Agusan), some parts of Visayas (Cebu, Leyte, Samar) and Palawan.
Have you tried any of these rides? Which one’s your favorite? Tell us in the comments!