Manila’s airport is the largest and busiest airport in the Philippines and serves more than 90% of international flights. While there are also flights from nearby Asian countries directly to Cebu and even some smaller islands, these are much more expensive and very hard to find. So, chances are you’ll be landing in Manila first, and you might be wondering how to handle yourself upon arrival.
Most travelers spend at least 1 night in Manila to recover from their long international flight. We recommend this even for short stays since transferring straight to the islands can create logistical problems. If you are planning to stay in the Philippines for a longer period of time, consider spending an extra night or 2 in Manila – it is underestimated and has a lot of interesting and unique attractions. Check our Manila packages for a complete list of hotels and tours we offer at the capital.
Manila airport general information
The Nino Aquino International Airport (NAIA) is the only airport serving the capital and has 4 different terminals. Unlike most airports, these terminals are quite far from one another and require you to take a taxi since there’s no shuttle or any other public transportation. This can lead to delays and missed flights since you can easily get stuck in Manila traffic, so it’s something very important to keep in mind if you are planning a connecting flight in Manila.
Terminal 1 is in Pasay which is not far from both Manila bay and Makati – it should take 30 minutes to get to each of these areas if there’s no traffic. Terminal 1 serves all major international airlines except for Philippines airlines (PAL), Cebu Pacific, Cathay and KLM, Emirates and a few other smaller airlines.
Terminal 2 is right next to 1 and serves only PAL for both domestic and international flights. If you plan to land in Manila and continue straight to the islands this is your best bet – just make sure both flights you book are operated by PAL. Terminal 3 is also in Pasay, but it’ll take you 10-15 minutes to drive there assuming there’s no traffic. This terminal serves all international airlines who are not found in terminal 1 or 2.
Terminal 4 is used exclusively for domestic flights, and serves all airlines except for PAL. While it is also in Pasay don’t let that fool you – it’s quite far from all the other terminals and can easily take 30-40 minutes to get there from any one of them. If you are arriving from Makati or Manila bay during rush hour, leave your hotel at least an hour earlier so you don’t miss your flight. You should tell the driver to take you through the toll highway (costs 1$) as it can save a significant amount of time.
For more information regarding domestic flights in the Philippines and a comparison between the different airlines, please check our guide to flights in the Philippines.
What to do when you land
Private transportation from Manila airport is very expensive and we don’t recommend it. This is especially true since the public transportation (taxis and apps) is very cheap and accessible. That said, we do understand some people don’t want to worry about that, especially after a long flight. If that’s how you feel, let us know and we will do everything we can to arrange a private pickup instead.
Alternatively, the best solution is to just grab a taxi from the airport to your hotel. This will save you roughly 15-20$ per person and is hassle free and safe. As you exit the terminal, turn right and follow the sign leading you to the ‘metered taxi’ line. Driving from any terminal to the area where hotels are takes 30 minutes and should only cost between 4-5 USD. If the driver doesn’t start the meter, simply exit the vehicle – there are plenty of other taxis standing in line. The yellow taxis are called “airport taxi” and they are more expensive (meter runs quicker) but they always start the meter.
If the line for taxis is too long you can book a driver through Grab instead. Grab is the local version of Uber – a downloadable app for your mobile device which allows you to book rides all over the city. It is even safer than taxis since drivers who wish to apply go through a rigorous application process, but it also more expensive and usually costs double the price.
We also recommend you change as much money in the airport as you can. The rates offered there are very competitive and you are very unlikely to find better ones anywhere else. The only way to save some money is to go between the various moneychangers and banks in Makati and compare rates, but since the rates given in NAIA are very fair we feel it’s a waste of time. Since many islands don’t have ATMs or money changers, it’s best to get a decent amount of the local currency while still in Manila.
Lastly, the airport is where you should get your local sim card if you want one. This will allow you to communicate with local phone numbers via calls and texts, as well as provide a reasonable amount of data to use when not connected to a Wi-Fi. We strongly suggest you get one, as it will make it much easier for us to be in touch all throughout your trip. Read our detailed guide to using your mobile phone in the Philippines and you’ll see how easy it is.