As the city center of the Philippines, Manila is a dense stew of urban development and historic sentiment.
Even within heritage districts such as Rizal Park and Intramuros, you won’t be far from a branch of local fast-food giant, Jollibee. University students pile out of kalesas, then walk the old fort’s walls to get to class. The Light Rail Transit (LRT) trundles past as families picnic on Luneta park grass.
Like passengers in a jeepney, the past, present and future sit shoulder to shoulder, flying down Manila’s streets. Get on the same ride. You can sit back, safe, as the city flashes past you. Or you can put your head out, let your hair fly in the wind and see where the city takes you.
When the Spaniards arrived in the 1500’s, they built a walled city in place of the kuta (fort) of Rajah Soliman. This city is now known as Intramuros, one of the best models of a medieval fort outside Europe.
Intramuros contains the UNESCO World Heritage Site San Agustin Church and the San Agustin Museum. The compound contains fine religious artifacts and relics from the Galleon Trade — from treasure chests to ivory santos (saints) to gold embroidered vestments. Juan Luna, one of the greatest Filipino painters, is interred here. Casa Manila, a lifestyle museum replicated from an 1800’s home, is also in the area. The guards and the owners of the calesas (horse-drawn carriages) are dressed in period costumes so take a picture with them. They’ll be all smiles with you.
If you want the juicy stuff, join Carlos Celdran’s Walk This Way tour of the walled city. He certainly makes history alive with his off-the-books anecdotes. This is the stuff that they don’t teach you in schools.
The Philippines’ first hotel is also located here. Established in 1912, the Manila Hotel is grand, classic, and historical, having hosted famous personalities like Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Marlon Brando, and The Beatles.
You can ride a calesa through the historic streets of Binondo and Ermita.
In Binondo, taste your way through Chinatown, which is said to be the oldest Chinese settlement in the world, having been established in the late 16th century. Have a sampling of authentic Fujian and Cantonese cuisine. But don’t forget to look outside the restaurants too; you will see vendors of dragon fruits and other tropical fruits at bargain prices.
Then walk a few blocks to try your luck at the wholesaler’s haven of Divisoria, where the more you buy, the cheaper it gets!
We know it’s a cliché, but we really do have the best sunset in Manila Bay. Take a walk down Roxas Boulevard and see it for yourself. Each day it seems like a different sun.
You can find many of the city’s significant landmarks off of this boulevard. Rizal Park, also known as Luneta, is the most important shrine in the country – as well a great place to watch the locals spend their weekend. Settle down on a picnic mat or buy a kite.
Also of importance in the area — the National Museum. The Museum holds the most extensive exhibit of Galleon Trade relics in the Philippines and illustrates the origins of the Filipino people. But even without stepping inside, the National Museum itself is a beauty of Neo-Classical architecture.
At night, party your way through the clubs, pubs, and quirky bars of Malate nearby.
But that’s just the basics! Make your own Manila memories by meandering through Manila’s side streets.
You might find an ihawan (hawker-style grill) that serves the tastiest barbecues or maybe an old book you haven’t found elsewhere. Strike up a conversation with a Manileño and see what makes them tick. Join a round of karaoke or beat an old man at chess. Whatever Manila you find, drink to it with a cold glass of San Miguel.
HOW TO GET TO MANILA
The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminals 1, 2 and 3 are the premier international gateways. More than 30 airlines fly to Manila through here, from different cities around the world.
Manila is also accessible from the international airports of Cebu, Clark, Davao, General Santos, Iloilo, Kalibo, Laoag, Puerto Princesa, and Zamboanga; as well as the other domestic airports throughout the Philippines.
All major provincial cities would have bus service to Manila. Inquire at your local terminal for schedules and ticketing.
You can take a passenger ferry from major ports around the Philippines to the port city of Manila. Inquire at your local port for schedules and ticketing.
It is also possible to travel from Sandakan, Malaysia to Zamboanga City, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi via Weesam Express. Then take a flight, boat ride or series of bus rides to Manila.