Getting from Manila Airport to Downtown

 

After landing in Manila, the first thing you’re going to notice stepping off the plane is oppressive heat followed shortly thereafter by the surging crowds. Manila is a massive city and NAIA – Ninoy Aquino International Airport- is pretty much a portrait of the city in miniature.

Coming off the plane, you’re most likely to be exhausted and on the oh-so-fun cusp of acute jetlag.   Following 10 to 24 hours of travel time, most folks are simply looking to get to their hotel as quickly as possible.

You can connect to taxi and bus services from the terminal.  We’ll go through the ins and outs of each, reviewing the procedures, the costs, and how not to get scammed or hustled.

The airport area has a reputation for insane traffic and shady taxi drivers.  And although this is true, if you follow the suggestions in this guide, you shouldn’t have any problems.  And if you do, well there’s no refund as I don’t charge for the information on this website.

NOTE:  Unlike Bangkok, there is currently no rail service from the airport to the center of Manila.  The Metro Manila area does have quite a decent light rail train network, but for some unfathomable reason, it doesn’t extend to the airport.

Taxi Services

International flights arrive at NAIA at either Terminal 1 or Terminal 3.  Once you process through immigration, simply walk straight through the exit doors, following the signs along the way.  The taxi stands will be right in front of you once you exit the hall.

This is where people first start getting tripped up, as when you push out into the humid  “air,” you will see both yellow and white taxi’s.  “Hmmmm….,” muse most first timers, “What’s the difference between the different colored taxis?”

Not to worry, fellow traveler!  If I was there, I would simply reply, “The yellow taxis are sanctioned by the airport.  They are a bit more expensive but are regulated.  The white taxis cost less, but you might have some “issues” with the drivers.  In short, yellow taxis good.  White taxis bad!”

Yellow Taxis

The yellow taxis that you see at NAIA are formally certified and registered with the airport.  They are legit.  When all is said and done, they are the safest mode of transportation from the airport to whatever you downtown destination in Manila might be.

Cost:  Yellow taxis are slightly more expensive than their paler white brethren. You can catch one at the taxi stands which are just outside the arrival terminal. The meter starts at 70 pesos and increases by increments of 4 pesos (the white taxis start at 40 and increase by 3.5 pesos).  All said, the yellow taxis cost about 50 pesos more for a ride as compared to a white taxi.  For those of you with math/currency exchange issues, that’s ONE US dollar for peace of mind.  If you are going to the Makati area, the total fare will run about 150-200 pesos ($3-$4 USD).  That is a VERY reasonable– the biggest hassle will probably only be the traffic, which in Manila, can be brutal at times.

The White Taxis

White taxis are not formally certified and registered by the airport. These are the guys that some folks have already heard about – the kind of taxi drivers that don’t want to turn on their meters and will give you a “fixed price.”  Usually, the fixed price is a total scam, with them wanting 500 pesos for a trip that would cost 200 in a yellow taxi.  Some of these fools won’t even say anything until you get to your destination, turning around with a smile and a polite demand for “500 pisos, siiiiiir.”

Ugh.

Make sure that any taxi driver that you encounter in Manila turns on the meter.  If he won’t – or explains that “Eets broke, siiir,” simply get out and walk away.  It’s also a good idea to take a photo of the taxi’s license plate and – being surreptitious, the driver and his ID.

And for the love of all that is holy, make sure that the driver gets out first to open the trunk if you have bags back there.  Driving off with your luggage is another big hustle in Manila with sketchy taxi drivers.

Downstairs Area

Do not try to grab a taxi downstairs from the departure hall.  Yes, there will be taxis there dropping people off, but they will usually (if not always) be the white taxis and will try the no meter/fixed price BS.  Use the stands upstairs and take a yellow taxi. The extra 50 pesos/$1 USD won’t break you.

Buses

Buses to the downtown area leave every 30 minutes or so and can be caught just down from the yellow taxi stands.  They usually cost about 150 pesos and are identified by destination signs (Robinson, Greenbelt, etc.).

We don’t recommend using the buses at the airport.  Yes, they are regular, dependable and usually on time, but they are also a hassle to drag your luggage on and off and won’t drop you right in front of your hotel.  Scrambling through Manila vehicular and pedestrian traffic in the heat whilst dragging your bags is not a recommended way to start your stay in the National Capital area.

Jeepneys

IF you are destitute or simply a glutton for punishment, you could conceivably take an old-school Filipino jeepney to your hotel.  They aren’t allowed in the airport, however, so you’ll have to drag yourself and your luggage out to the main drive.  Once there – and as an added bonus to your poor decision making – you’ll have to figure out which jeepney is the one going towards your hotel.  Sure, taking a jeepney will only cost you about 10 pesos, but have fun deciphering the color-coded routes and hauling your luggage on and off these fume-belching, sweltering-hot beasts.

From Downtown to the Airport

Once your vacation in Manila is up, it will be time to reverse direction and head back to the airport.  The vast majority of hotels in the NCR do not offer free shuttle service, but they can be counted on to either provide a driver or contact a taxi.  Be sure to ask how much this “driver” will cost.  If it is more than what it cost you to get to the hotel in a yellow taxi, smile and say “no thanks.”  As an alternative, you can usually just walk right out of the hotel and flag down a cab.  Again, make sure that the driver is using (actually using) the meter.  Alternatively, the Uber and Grab apps are a great way to get a ride to the airport (or around the city, for that manner).

If you are heading back to the airport, be sure to leave around three hours before your scheduled departure.  Travel times due to the traffic can be onerous, with some trips from Makati taking up to one and a half hours.  Yes, if there is little traffic, you might have to wait a little longer at the terminal waiting on your flight back home, but there’s nothing worse than the anxiety of waiting in a taxi while the minutes (and hours) tick down towards your departure time!  Instead, kick back in the terminal, sip a sweet mango smoothie and ponder exactly what it is that is causing the tip of your penis to burn every time you take a leak.

FUN FACTS!
Ninoy Aquino International Airport is named after Benigo “Ninoy” Aquino, a former senator opposed to Ferdinand Marco’s presidency who was assassinated right on the airport’s tarmac on August 21, 1983.  His widow, Cory, later went on to become president of the Philippines followed later by their son Benigno who became the 15th president of the Philippines.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we refer to as political dynasties.

NAIA has also been rated among the worst airports in the world based on convenience, comfort, cleanliness and customer service, with most complaints centered around the dilapidated conditions, rude workers and – as we’ve noted – particularly dishonest taxi drivers.

As the saying goes:  It’s more fun in the Philippines!

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