Asian Highway 26 (AH26), better known through various names like Maharlika Highway (Tagalog: Daang Maharlika) and Pan-Philippine Highway, is a major north-south highway traversing the Philippines. While a journey from its termini at Laoag and Zamboanga can be done faster through a more direct route via Angeles, Manila, Batangas, Mindoro, Iloilo and Negros (and a possible additional side trip to Cebu), AH26 provides a more scenic route through various landscapes of the Philippines.
- See also: Driving in the Philippines
The highway was proposed during Ferdinand Marcos' presidency, but some sections were constructed earlier. Asian Highway 26 forms 3,517 km (2,185 mi) of highways in Luzon, Samar, Leyte, and Mindanao, excluding spurs and ferry connections. While it is a major north-south road, it bypasses other major points in the Visayas, which are rather served by road and ferry connections.
It is the only completely isolated route of the Asian Highway system. Maps by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), which assigns the Asian Highway numbers, show connections to China (to Asian Highway 1) and Malaysia (to Asian Highway 150 or the Pan-Borneo Highway from Sandakan), but there are no ferries to China, and the Zamboanga-Sandakan ferry route is passenger-only.
The itinerary most covers travel by car, but car rental is seldom found outside the large cities. You can also follow AH26 by public transportation; there are many bus routes that have routes plying the highways forming AH26, and its possible to travel the route without a car.
- Laoag-Tuguegarao: GMW Transport (whole leg), G.V. Florida Transport (Laoag-Pagudpud leg)
- Tuguegarao-Manila: Victory Liner
- Manila-Sorsogon (Matnog port): Multiple competing operators, but for a complete trip on this leg, there are Philtranco, DLTBCo, Silver Star, and Elavil (from Pasay). Metro Manila is the hub of bus services in Luzon; you will need to transfer to a city bus or taxi to transit through Manila and get to your departure bus station.
- Samar (Allen port)-Leyte (San Ricardo port): Philtranco, DLTBCo, or Silver Star (continuing from Luzon)
- Tacloban-Ormoc: Philtranco or DLTB. UV Express van shuttles are also available between the cities, but with the disadvantage you can't make side trips to towns along the way.
- Surigao-Davao: Philtranco, Bachelor Express
- Davao-General Santos: Yellow Bus Line, Mindanao Star
- Davao-Cagayan de Oro: Rural Transit
- General Santos-Cotabato: Husky Transport (via Tacurong and Isulan). For a trip that stays on AH26 through this leg, take a Yellow Bus Line (YBL) or Mindanao Star bus to Koronadal, transfer to a YBL bus that travels to Isulan via Surallah, and take the Husky bus to Cotabato.
- Cotabato-Pagadian: no buses, only UV Express
- Pagadian-Zamboanga: Rural Transit
The highway is a more easterly route through Luzon, Samar and Leyte, and Mindanao. It takes over 45 hours to complete driving the route, if you do not stop for food or rest, or longer if travelling by bus. Conditions on the highway vary, from wide tolled expressways and avenues in Metro Manila and suburbs, to narrow meandering two-lane highways through small villages and towns.
Distances are easy to underestimate in the Philippines, and travel time should account for breaks, sightseeing, and ferries. Rainy weather and typhoons can hamper trips if you travel during the monsoon season. Except for mountain passes or sections through rainforest, almost the entire route passes through barangays, ranging from urban neighborhoods to small villages. Availability of gasoline stations or repair shops varies on where you are along the way.
The trip can be started anywhere in the Philippines, either from Luzon or the Mindanao side.
The northern terminus, Laoag, has flights from Manila on Cebu Pacific and PAL Express, and daily bus trips from Manila or Baguio. By road, Manila North Rd (Rte 2, also the MacArthur Hwy from Manila to Pangasinan) leads into Laoag.
Manila has the main airport, Ninoy Aquino International Airport, and the central hub for buses from most of the Philippines.
Zamboanga City has flights from Manila or Cebu on Cebu Pacific, Cebgo and PAL Express, buses from Cagayan de Oro, and ferries from the rest of the country and Sandakan in Malaysia.
It is also possible to start the trip at:
- Cebu City - Indirectly connected to Ormoc by ferry, it has the second most important airport at Mactan, with both international and domestic flights, and the busiest seaport in the Philippines with ferries to Ormoc. By car, you can drive to Ormoc via the Daanbantayan (Maya) RoRo (roll-on/roll-off) terminal.
- Davao City - There are international and domestic flights to Francisco Bangoy International Airport.
Distance along AH26 are measured from a symbolic milestone at Manila's Rizal Park (where AH26's western alternate route passes through). The eastern route of the Nautical Highway System also completely follows AH26 from Sorsogon to Surigao.
Section length: 104 km (65 mi). Paved road, becoming twisty at the edge of the Cordillera. Speed limits between 30–80 km (19–50 mi), except at Patapat Viaduct 15 km/h (9.3 mph). Route begins at 1 Laoag (km post 488).
Head north to Bacarra (km post 495), a town of about 32,000, and has a "headless" church belfry and Pasuquin (km post 505), a municipality of about 29,000 with a salt-making village, some beaches, and other outdoor activities. AH26 turns east at Burgos (km 536), which has a Spanish-era lighthouse, rocky cliffs and a wind farm. Head east to Bangui (km post 552) and Pagudpud (km 559), whose coastlines are windy and have wind farms producing electricity, also attractions on their own. East of Pagudpud town proper, AH26 runs at the edge of the Luzon Cordillera and follows a scenic route through the coast; the most scenic section being on the 1.3 km (0.81 mi) Patapat Viaduct which rises 31 m (102 ft) above the coast. AH26 traverses a winding route, becoming mostly straight and flat for a short section, then reverting into a zigzag road into the boundary with Cagayan Province at Santa Praxedes municipality, at the edge of the Caraballo Mountains.
Section length: 213 km (132 mi). Paved road, zig-zagging through the Caraballos, becoming mostly straight for the remainder of the route through the province. Travel time: 3½ hr.
- 2 Santa Praxedes, a small town of over 4,000.
- 3 Claveria (km post 611) - A rural municipality of of 3,000 people, has a town with beachfront and a boat terminal to Calayan Islands. AH26's northernmost point is around this municipality, and there is a viewing deck at barangay Camalaggoan (between km posts 613 and 614)
- 4 Sanchez Mira
- 5 Pamplona (km 649). AH26 crosses the Pamplona River on the 0.49 km (0.30 mi) Pamplona Bridge,
- 6 Allacapan (km 694), a municipality of 34,000 with a small town.
- 1 Magapit Suspension Bridge AH26 crosses the mighty Cagayan river at this 0.43 km (0.27 mi) long bridge, the longest in the Philippines.
- 7 Lal-lo A rural municipality of 44,506. The town, used to be the capital of Cagayan during Spanish times and historically Nueva Segovia is 10 km (6.2 mi) from Magapit Interchange connecting with Magapit Suspension Bridge.
- 8 Tuguegarao - The provincial capital of Cagayan and the center of Cagayan Valley. It is known for its hot summer weather; some of the city's sights are the Tuguegarao Cathedral, the Afi Festival and Buntun Bridge.
AH26 passes by the northeast of downtown Tuguegarao before veering northeast into 9 Peñablanca, a rural municipality beside Tuguegarao, where the first fossil of the first inhabitants in the Philippines are found, inside Callao Cave. From there, AH26 parallels the east bank of the Cagayan River and crosses the Cagayan-Isabela boundary southeast of Tuguegarao.
Section length: 157 km (98 mi). Paved road. Mostly straight, becoming winding at Nueva Vizcaya boundary. Travel time: 2-3 hours.
- 10 Ilagan City of 146,000, houses the world's largest lounge chair and the oldest church in Isabela Province.
- 11 Cauayan a city of 130,000 economic center of Isabela is little known, but it has a single Baroque church, malls, and hotels.
- 12 Santiago City A city of 135,000.
Section length: 100 km (62 mi). Paved road, winding at the Caraballos and Dalton Pass, and mostly flat within the province. Driving time: 2 hr.
AH26 enters Nueva Vizcaya from Isabela Province at the municipality of Diadi, and meanders across the terrain of the Caraballos and the Magat River valley.
- Bagabag - a town of 35,000, the junction to Banaue. AH26 does not enter Bagabag town proper, but the highway to Banaue (Bagabag-Ifugao Rd, Rte 109) do.
- 13 Solano - a larger town, with a population of 60,000. It serves as a major stopover for many buses to Cagayan Valley and Ifugao.
- 14 Bayombong - the provincial capital of Nueva Vizcaya, with population of 62,000. A larger town, Bayombong has multiple attractions, the St. Dominic Cathedral (Bayombong Cathedral), the Nueva Vizcaya Provincial Capitol, and Bangan Hill. AH26 bypasses the town to the north
From Bayombong up to the Dalton Pass, AH26 crosses again Magat River and passes through rural southern Nueva Vizcaya, through these municipalities:
- Bambang A town of 53,000. Main attraction is the 18th-century St. Catherine of Sienna Parish Church and the Salinas Natural Monument 14 km (8.7 mi) west of town along the provincial road connecting to the highway to Baguio.
- Aritao - A town of 37,000 which has the junction to Baguio and the twin municipalities of Dupax del Norte and Dupax del Sur.
- Santa Fe - A rural municipality with 16,000. AH26 exits Nueva Vizcaya here, at the Dalton (Balete) Pass which rises above 910 m (2,990 ft) above sea level.
Section length: 122 km (76 mi). Paved road, mix of concrete and asphalt segments. Speed varying between 30 km/h (19 mph) at certain segments, and 50–80 km/h (31–50 mph) at remainder. Driving time: over 2½ hr.
Section length: 63 km (39 mi). Paved road, with expressway segment from Guiguinto to Valenzuela boundary through North Luzon Expressway (NLEX). Speed varying between 40–80 km/h (25–50 mph) (including through NLEX). Driving time: appr. 1 hr 15 min.
Section length: 47 km (29 mi). Paved road, with expressway segments between Bulacan boundary and Balintawak Interchange, and Magallanes Interchange and Laguna boundary. Speed limits: 80–100 km/h (50–62 mph) on expressway, 60 km/h (37 mph) on EDSA. Travel time: 1 hr (if without traffic)
- Valenzuela - A suburban city, it has the future bus terminal for long-distance buses from Central Luzon. Major attractions are the Old Polo Church and the Arkong Bato.
AH26 exits the expressway at Balintawak in Quezon City and follows EDSA. It passes through the Triangle areas, largely a residential and government center but also home to two giant malls, and Cubao, Quezon City's traditional shopping district. South of Cubao, AH26 passes near the People Power Monument, where the People Power Revolution in 1986 happened, and EDSA-Ortigas interchange; around that intersection is Robinsons Galleria, another large, multistorey mall, and the EDSA Shrine (Our Lady of EDSA Monument), a shrine commemorating the People Power Revolution and is designed by the architect Francisco Mañosa.
- Mandaluyong - hosts SM Megamall, another large mall, and the historic Wack-Wack Golf and Country Club.
- Makati – The financial center of Metro Manila and the Philippines, its central business district is filled with skyscrapers and a commercial area occupied by large classy malls and department stores. Makati's older poblacion or downtown has a vibrant nightlife and some skyscrapers.
AH26 reenters the expressways again at the Magallanes Interchange, southwest of Makati CBD
- Taguig - A large suburban city. Much of it is crowded and lower-class residential areas, but it is known for Bonifacio Global City (BGC) and McKinley Hill, two CBDs developed from what was part of Fort Bonifacio (or Fort McKinley during the American era. BGC feels more like Singapore with its many skyscrapers and pedestrian-friendly roads, and McKinley Hill is known for a mall that is itself a replica of Venice, complete with gondolas.
Western alternate route
If you want to avoid EDSA, AH26 has also an unsigned western alternate route which passes directly through Manila city proper. The road is less congested, but watch for large trucks as it passes by Manila's seaport and its northern industrial suburbs.
Northwestern Laguna and Cavite
Section length: 28 km (17 mi). Mostly expressway (following Skyway and the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX)) with up to 8 lanes and a median, reverting back to 4-lane at-grade highway at Calamba (where it gets back on the old Maharlika Highway). Speed limit: 80–100 km/h (50–62 mph) at the expressway (except at toll plazas), ~60–80 km/h (37–50 mph) b Travel time: ~25 min.
AH26, which follows South Luzon Expressway, enters Laguna at the suburban city of San Pedro. The expressway is mostly straight and flat, and there are exits to Biñan, Santa Rosa, and Cabuyao. AH26 enters the suburban town of Carmona in Cavite for a few meters before entering Laguna again. The expressway section ends at Calamba (exit 50); to continue following AH26, from SLEX southbound, exit at the first ramp with directions pointing to Batangas and Lucena, and from Maharlika Highway northbound, take the second ramp past the overpass. To Calamba city proper, take the second ramp from SLEX or continue straight if from Maharlika Highway
The highway then follows Maharlika Highway again from Calamba, passing through a suburban area with industrial parks and some residential communities. AH26 passes around Turbina, which is a major stop for buses headed south from Manila, and to Calamba city proper, you can get onto a jeepney or a bus.
A toll-free but slower alternate route to the expressway segment is the older National Highway (Route 1), a four to six lane highway which passes close to the downtowns of the cities along the route. At Calamba Crossing, National Highway forks into two routes, one headed for eastern Laguna and another to Batangas and the rest of Southern Luzon. The Crossing is not much of a fork as in a road map, but rather a roundabout-like junction created by one-way streets through a congested shopping and commercial district.
Section length: 12 km (7.5 mi). Completely paved road with 4-6 lanes, traversing heavily urbanized area. Travel time: ~15-20 min.
AH26 enters the province of Batangas for a few kilometers, passing through the city of Santo Tomas, a suburb of the city of Calamba in Laguna and a major stopover for trips down to Quezon Province and Bicol. Some of Santo Tomas's few sights are the Padre Pio Shrine, a Roman Catholic religious site which has buildings containing elements of traditional Tagalog architecture, and a shrine to Filipino revolutionary general Miguel Malvar, who led the Tagalog people in Batangas and Quezon provinces on their fight against the Spaniards during the Philippine Revolution.
From Santo Tomas, you can also make a side trip to most of Batangas. STAR Tollway, a toll expressway, provides direct access to the rest of Batangas, and to the cities of Lipa and Batangas; most buses headed for destinations in Batangas that stop at Calamba enter the expressway at Santo Tomas. The parallel Jose P. Laurel Highway (Route 4, or simply J.P. Laurel) also serves the same cities and municipalities, but is a slower route, yet it has undergone major upgrades and is now a four-lane road with a six-lane section at Lipa. STAR and J.P. Laurel also connects with other highways leading to other parts of Batangas.
Section length: 23 km (14 mi). Paved road, with up to 4 lanes, and gently rolling topography. Fast urbanizing area. Travel time: ~25-30 min.
After a short pass through Batangas, AH26 enters again Laguna, at the town of Alaminos. It heads eastward to San Pablo, a city known for its seven lakes and is the commercial center of central and southern Laguna. AH26, still carrying the Maharlika Highway name, turns south shortly before entering Quezon Province.
Section length: 152 km (94 mi). Paved road, up to 8 lanes through Lucena. Mostly flat, with some gently rolling sections, and curvy route through Quezon National Park. Travel time: 2 hr 45 min-3 hr.