Manila travel guide
Manila, the somewhat daunting capital and pulsating hub of the Philippines, is situated on the east coast of Luzon, the most northerly island, the largest and the most developed. The city was founded in 1571 on the site of a Muslim settlement. The city is made up of 16 areas which were once towns in their own right, and its major tourist attraction is the old Spanish walled city known as Intramuros, which contains some historic buildings and ruins.
Modern Manila is a morass of traffic and people, polluted and chaotic, an industrial metropolis that grew from the ashes of war when, in 1945, the United States' forces fought to recapture it from Japanese occupation. It is also a city of theatres, libraries and museums, and the home to the University of the Philippines. The neighbourhoods of the metropolis vary from wide avenues full of palatial homes to squatter camps where the poorest of the poor scratch out a living.
Visitors to the Philippines cannot avoid using Manila as a starting point for their exploration of the other provinces and islands, because most charter flights to the outlying islands leave from the city's airport. The city is also within reach of day and weekend getaways on the island of Luzon, which makes it a good base for travellers intent on touring. One thing no visitor should miss is a famous Manila Bay sunset: a light show created out of the high humidity conditions coupled with the effects of cloud over the city's harbour. This remarkable sight allows a short respite from the more unpleasant aspects of the sprawling city. View the sunset from Rizal Park, Roxas Boulevard or from a cruise boat that circles around Manila Bay.
The area is full of street artists and stalls selling food and there is usually something going on, which gives it a festive atmosphere. All in all, a visit to Intramuros is a must for tourists to the Philippines: it is one of the best sights and experiences the country has to offer and certainly one of the most attractive parts of Manila.
Every morning martial arts classes and various fitness groups gather in the park for morning exercise, and on Sundays there is a free concert in the open-air auditorium. Rizal Park is a wonderful place for tourists to go and soak up a little of Manila's everyday life, in a lush and beautiful natural setting.
San Agustin Church
The Sacristy houses a collection of richly embroidered vestments, and Philippine notables are buried in the crypt. The Roman Catholic San Agustin is an active church with regular services and is a very popular wedding venue. It is an extremely worthwhile attraction for visitors to Manila.
Address: Calles Gen Luna and Real
National Museum of the Philippines
A visit to the museum can be enjoyed by people of all ages, making it a good attraction for those travelling with children in the Philippines.
Address: Padre Burgos Street, Rizal Park
There are great views over the river from some of the windows. Guided tours are compulsory and very informative. Photography is permitted but visitors who want to bring in cameras have to register them at the entrance and sometimes the number of cameras per group is limited. Visitors may have to go through security checks.
Address: JP Laurel Street, San Miguel
American Cemetery and Memorial
A staff member is always on duty during opening hours to answer questions, give tours and escort visitors to particular graves and memorials. The cemetery is big and beautifully landscaped and maintained and it is one of the most popular, and moving, attractions in Manila.
Address: Taguig City, Manila
Las Pinas is celebrated for being clean and eco-conscious, which is refreshing in the Philippines. It is a fun area to explore, preferably in a jeepney, and there are some fantastic restaurants and guesthouses in the village. Saint Joseph Church is in the oldest part of the village, making it a good starting point.
The area became famous for its natural splendour and the scenery is indeed spectacular; sadly, however, the city is slowly becoming a victim of its popularity and commercial development may eventually obliterate the natural appeal. Tagaytay City is conveniently close to Manila and getting there by car or bus only takes an hour.
Subic Bay Freeport Zone
The most popular activity in Subic Bay is probably scuba diving as there are so many phenomenal dive sites, including many wonderful shipwrecks. Subic Bay is ideal for diving because the dive sites tend to be conveniently close to shore, the shipwrecks are all within recreational diving depths and the sheltered waters enable year-round diving. There are more than ten dive operators in Subic Bay.
The Binondo Church is a popular attraction in the district. There are numerous Chinese festivals and parades throughout the year and lucky travellers may witness such events. Manila's Chinatown is a crowded, bustling place and visitors should take care of their possessions as pickpockets and bag snatchers are known to operate.
The cosmopolitan capital of the Philippines, there is plenty to see and do in Manila. The city is full of history and this is evident in the ruins that still stand in Intramuros, located on the south bank of the Pasig River, which was the original capital of the Spanish East Indies, founded in 1571. The surrounding area is full of performing venues, art galleries, shops and restaurants, making it a popular tourist hub. History buffs will love the National Museum, which exhibits sunken treasure from one of the Manila galleons dating back to 1600, and the Ayala Museum, which educates visitors on the history of the Philippines. Manila sustained heavy damage during WWII, but has since rebuilt itself into a major tourist destination in Asia.
Travellers should note that many Filipinos are Catholic, which is evident in the multitude of ornate churches such as the San Agustin Church, which dates back to 1606 and has survived invasions, earthquakes and wars. Manila has one of the largest Chinatowns in the world, where one can find exotic Chinese goods and delicious cuisine. The Malacanang Palace,
which is the residence of the Head of State, is also well worth a visit, while the American Cemetery and Memorial honours those who died during WWII and is a peaceful retreat from the buzz of the city.
Guided tours of the island are available by arrangement with the Corregidor Visitor's Information Centre and through numerous tour operators in Manila. Attractions on the island include the Pacific War Memorial, the Filipino Heroes Memorial, the Japanese Garden of Peace, and the Malinta Tunnel where visitors can now view an audio-visual presentation of the island's history.
Transport: There are regular ferry services available from Manila
At Sagada there are a series of ancient burial caves in the mountainside with the remarkable 'hanging coffins' perched on limestone outcrops. A hike through the jungle in the Valley of Echoes will bring travellers to the beautiful cliffs where the coffins have been strung up. The Banaue region is scenically splendid and culturally fascinating and a must for anybody travelling in the area.
The main attraction on the island, however, is the underground river, St Paul's Subterranean Cave near Sabang, about two hours by road from Puerto Princesa. The cave extends more than five miles (8km) and contains the world's longest underground river. Palawan is still 'off the beaten track', but it can be reached by a flight from Manila. For adventure and relaxation Palawan is a wonderful choice of destination.
Many of the streets are lined with shops selling trinkets, clothes and souvenirs and just strolling around is a pleasure. The best time to visit Vigan is in January, when the annual Fiesta celebrations bring parties, variety shows, beauty contests and a generally carnival-like atmosphere to the streets.
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park
Visitors can take boat rides along the underground river, and marvel at the huge stalagmites and stalactites, the interesting limestone rock formations, and the echo-filled chambers they pass by. The world's longest underground river - coursing through an area of appreciable biodiversity - nature-lovers and adventure-seekers alike will be delighted by a visit to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park.
Among the famous beaches in Puerto Galera are Sabang Beach and White Beach, which both have an active nightlife and numerous bars and restaurants lining the beachfront. There are many tiny beaches and coves to enjoy for those wanting something a little less crowded.
Feast of the Black Nazarene
The procession traditionally winds along the streets of the Quiapo district, but the route is sometimes altered to prevent overcrowding and to allow new neighbourhoods the honour. The procession of the Black Nazarene is taken extremely seriously by much of the population and it is a fascinating religious ceremony which has captured the imagination of many travellers.
Venue: From Quipo Church and through the streets of Quipo; Date:9 - 13 January 2017;
The nightlife in Manila is among the most vibrant and exciting in Southeast Asia, with the requisite dose of sleaze of course. You'll find bar strips, strip bars and everything in between on a night out in Manila. One thing is for sure: it will be a memorable experience!
Morato Avenue in Quezon City is a good place to start. Have dinner at one of the many restaurants before hitting a local bar or comedy club. The Hard Rock Café in the heart of the Malate district is always a good bet and with two levels, pool tables, and a stage, guarantees a really good night out. Head to the Pasay City and Makati region to visit upscale girlie bars, or for a really good variety of nightlife, the Malate district of Manila where everything from bars, nightclubs and discos to karaoke clubs, gay clubs and lounges can be found. Most bars in Manila close around 2am, but some will stay open later.
Looking for live music? Head to 70s Bistro in Quezon City, or the Hobbit House in Malate, which features live musicians performing in a very Tolkien-esque club. Or what could be more fun than partaking in a little karaoke? One of the favourite pastimes for Filipinos, there are numerous karaoke bars peppered throughout the city for travellers, tourists and just those passing through to enjoy a drink and a sing-along.
Eastwood City at Quezon City features a great selection of clubs, bars, cocktail lounges and discos to choose from, while Quezon Avenue's strip is brightly lit up after dark and all the bars and clubs are conveniently ordered in a neat little row, and seemingly always bustling with party goers, expats, tourists and ladies of the night. The Greenbelt region is another good place to head for a great choice of bars and clubs and revellers looking to dance the night away will have no problem finding a club to suit their taste. Remember, the legal drinking age in the Philippines is 18.
Those looking for a more cultured night out can see a performance by the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra or the Philippine Chamber Choir, which perform at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines or at the open-air Rizal Park Amphitheatre. Manila has several theatre companies, including the Philippine Educational Theatre Association (PETA), Tanghalang Philipino, and Repertory Philippines. You can also see performances by the Ballet Philippines, the Bayanihan Philippine National Folk Dance Company, and the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group.
Manila has just about every kind of shop, boutique and specialty store under the sun, including literally hundreds of shopping malls scattered across the city. With three large signature shopping malls in the Metro Manila area that form part of the world's top 10 largest malls, it's not hard to see why Filipinos are passionate about their shopping and tourists will enjoy sharing their love of consumables.
Head to the monstrous Mall of Asia on Roxas Boulevard for the ultimate shopping experience, though a bit of carbo-loading beforehand will help weary shoppers maintain their stamina as trying to conquer the entire mall in one day is virtually impossible. Boasting an IMAX theatre, science museum and an entire entertainment centre, this mall is an attraction in itself. Other shopping malls worth a visit are the SM Megamall, Robinsons Galleria, Shangri-La Plaza, and The Podium.
Head to Greenbelt 4 and 5, located in Ayala Centre, for big brands like Mango and Armani, while Bonifacio High Street in Bonifacio Global City is also lined with boutique stores, perfect for that little black dress or signature piece to add to your wardrobe.
A trip to Southeast Asia wouldn't be complete without a little bargain-shopping and haggling and travellers should pay the Divisoria Market a visit, where everything and anything from cookware and handicrafts to clothing and toys can be bought at astonishingly low prices - just beware of pickpockets. There are other interesting markets located at St. Francis Square, Greenhills Shopping Centre and Tiendesitas.
Ninoy Aquino International Airport
Location: The airport is situated eight miles (13km) south of the centre of Manila.
Time: GMT +8.
Contacts: Tel: +63 (0)2 833 1180.
Transfer between terminals: There is a free airport shuttle bus between terminals for passengers catching connecting flights; otherwise, travellers need to pay a fee to use the HMG transport shuttle.
Getting to the city: The Metro-Rail Transit station at Baclaran is nearby the airport, and trains run regularly; there is an airport shuttle that operates between the airport and the station. There's also a city bus service that leaves from outside the arrivals areas of Terminal 1 and Terminal 2.
Car rental: Car rental is available from Europcar, Avis, Hertz and National desks, among others.
Airport Taxis: Yellow metered taxi cabs leave from the stands outside each terminal.
Facilities: Passenger services at Manila airport include shops, restaurants and bars, ATMs, banks with currency exchange, left-luggage and postal services.
Parking: Short-term parking is available in front of international Terminal 1 and 2. Long-term parking is available in front of the domestic terminal.
Departure tax: P750 (international), P200 (domestic).
The roads in Manila are notorious for heavy smog and traffic congestion, especially at peak hours. Public transport is inexpensive and plentiful, including the elevated light rail system (LRT) and the Metrostar that has helped to alleviate some of the congestion, but public transport can also be dangerous in the Philippines and travellers should be wary. The elevated light rail system, travelling above the chaos, is a good option as it is fast, clean and efficient, although very crowded during the evening rush hour. There are numerous bus companies that comprehensively service the city, as well as local jeepneys (brightly coloured minibuses) that can be hailed anywhere. Buses and jeepneys are the cheapest form of transport for areas not covered by the LRT. Taxis are also inexpensive and convenient, but always agree on a fare before setting off. There are also calesas (horse-drawn carriages) used by tourists for short trips, and tricycle pedicabs available for hire.
Manila has hot, humid weather all year round and the city's proximity to the equator ensures that the temperature range is small, rarely dropping below 68°F (20°C) and seldom rising above 100°F (38°C). It is a little cooler between November and February and the hottest month is May, when the temperature averages 83ºF (28ºC). The rainy season is between June and October, although some precipitation is possible all through the year. The driest period is between December and May.
During the rainy season rain tends to come in heavy, short downpours and in between there is still plenty of sunshine; some travellers insist that a visit during the rainy season is ideal because it is cheaper and less crowded, and the downpours are refreshing. Between June and September typhoons can hit the city and these storms sometimes cause flooding. The hot weather and humidity is pleasantly tempered by sea breezes for much of the year. Manila suffers from high levels of air pollution and smog is very common. The most popular time to visit Manila is between January and May, when it is at its driest, but it is essentially a year-round travel destination. Tourists should be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen whatever time of year they visit.
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