Asian Highway 26, better known through various names like Maharlika Highway (Filipino: 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 stop in Cebu), Asian Highway 26 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 rentals are seldom found outside the large cities. There is good coverage of public transportation, from buses, minivans and jeepneys.
- 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 (from Pasay), DLTB (from Buendia or Cubao) Silver Star (from Cubao, Buendia or San Pedro), and Elavil (from Pasay). You may need to transfer to city buses, taxis or jeepneys to transfer to another bus terminal in Manila, unless you arrive in Cubao, but a transfer involving using the local public transit is always needed once the centralized bus terminals are fully operational in Valenzuela, Parañaque, and Santa Rosa (in Laguna).
- Samar (Allen port)-Leyte (San Ricardo port): Philtranco, DLTB, or Silver Star (continuing from Luzon)
- Tacloban-Ormoc: Philtranco or DLTB. There are UV Express minivans from Tacloban.
- Surigao-Davao: Philtranco (continuing from Luzon, Samar and Leyte), Bachelor Transport
- Davao-General Santos: Yellow Bus Lines, Mindanao Star
- 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, but there are infrequent 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 the middle of small villages and towns.
It is unrealistic to drive for over a day without allowing any time for sightseeing and food dining, and it is also easy to underestimate travel times. 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 (small villages), so watch out for people crossing or tricycles using them (though it's illegal, they are very common in the countryside). Roadside services are far-flung in the countryside, so ensure you are prepared if your vehicle breaks down.
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 Road as Route 2 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.
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).
Laoag is the northern terminus of the highway, but not the northernmost point of the highway system. It is served by daily flights and multiple buses from Manila or Baguio.
Head north to Bacarra, a town of about 32,000, and has a "headless" church belfry and Pasuquin, a municipality of about 29,000 with a salt-making village, some beaches, and other outdoor activities. AH26 turns east at Burgos, which has a Spanish-era lighthouse, rocky cliffs and a wind farm. Head east to Bangui and Pagudpud, 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 hrs.
AH26 enters Cagayan from Ilocos Norte at the municipality of Santa Praxedes, a small town of over 4,000. It traverses a valley, where then it approaches Claveria, a larger town with about 3,000 people. AH26 then hugs the coast, passing by the municipalities of Sanchez Mira, Pamplona (where it crosses the Pamplona River), Abulug, Ballesteros, and Allacapan, and comes into the municipality of Lal-lo, where it crosses the mighty Cagayan River at the Magapit Suspension Bridge, turns south and runs along the eastern bank of the river, passing through many small towns up to Tuguegarao, the largest city of Cagayan Province and of Cagayan Valley region as well.
Section length: 157 km (98 mi). Paved road. Mostly straight, becoming winding at Nueva Vizcaya boundary. Travel time: 2-3 hours.
Section length: 100 km (62 mi). Paved road, winding at the Caraballos and Dalton Pass, and mostly flat within the province. Driving time: 2 hrs.
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 hrs.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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 hrs 45 min-3 hrs.