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Welcome to Manila


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; this 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 plies around Manila Bay.

Information & Facts


Manila has hot, humid weather all year round, although it is a little cooler between November and February. 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.

Getting Around

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. Travelling above the chaos, 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 converted jeeps used as minibuses) that can be hailed anywhere; they are best for shorter journeys, and are the most popular form of transport. Buses and jeepneys are the cheapest form of transport for areas not covered by the LRT. Taxis are also inexpensive and convenient, although traffic is bad and some drivers try to overcharge visitors. There are also calesas(horse-drawn carriages) used by tourists for short trips, and tricycle pedicabs available for hire. No matter how you travel through Manila, be aware of pickpockets.

The official language of the Philippines is Filipino, but English is widely spoken. Tagalog is the most predominant of the many dialects or local languages spoken throughout the islands.

The currency of the Philippines is the Peso (PHP), which is divided into 100 centavos. Major credit cards are widely accepted in the cities and tourist destinations. Banks do not always accept travellers cheques, but a receipt of purchase is useful. ATMs are available in the major cities. US dollars are widely accepted in Manila and other tourist areas and are the easiest currency to exchange; otherwise Euros and Pounds Sterling can also be exchanged in banks and hotels. Banks open from 9am to 3pm, Monday to Friday, but their ATMs are open 24 hours. It is best to carry pesos when travelling outside of major centres.


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 everything from bar strips to 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, guaranteeing 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, while the Hobbit House in Malate 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 where all the bars and clubs are conveniently ordered in a neat little row, and bustles 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 where 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.

The 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.


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 from the original capital of the Spanish East Indies which was founded in 1571, Intramuros, located on the south bank of the Pasig River. The surrounding area is full of performing venues, art galleries, shops and restaurants, making it a popular tourist Mecca. History buffs will also love the National Museum which exhibits sunken treasure from one of the Manila galleons dating back to 1600, while the Ayala Museum 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, evident in the multitude of ornate churches, such as the San Agustin Church which dates back to 1606 and has survived invasions and world 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 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.

Local time is GMT +8.

Providing a quiet spot to retreat from Manila's rat race, the American Cemetery near the Makati commercial centre is a welcome oasis, much visited by tourists, especially veterans of World War II. The hillside cemetery contains thousands of white marble crosses marking rows of graves of those who died in battle. The circular memorial contains the names of those missing in action engraved in marble columns; while huge wall mosaics depict battle scenes from WWII, and a small memorial chapel is located on site.

This fascinating region in northern Luzon is known for being largely untouched by Western civilisation, and gives a glimpse of the true Philippines. In a string of villages around Banaue people live according to age-old tribal traditions. The main attraction in the area is the Banaue Rice Terraces, a UNESCO World Heritage site dubbed the 'eighth wonder of the world' by locals. Constructed about 3,000 years ago, the terraces start from the base of the Cordillero Mountains and extend upwards for thousands of feet, cleverly irrigated by channelled streams and springs. The terraces bear testimony to the ingenuity of the ancient Ifugao people. There are more terraces at Batad village, which also sports a waterfall and natural swimming pool, and at Sagada there are a series of ancient burial caves in the mountainside with the famous 'hanging coffins' perched on limestone outcrops.

Established in 1594, the city of Manila's enclave of Binondo is the oldest 'Chinatown' in the world - and remains to this day as one of the largest, most authentic, and most culturally intriguing to foreign visitors. Binondo was established by the Spanish at the end of the 16th century, when they gave some tax-free land that lay outside the bounds of Manila to (converted) Catholic Chinese immigrants, along with self-governing privileges. The immigrants, who hailed mainly from China's Fujian province, soon established a bustling community - and these days, Binondo is one of modern Manila's most vibrant areas, constantly buzzing with trade and activity. Most visitors to Manila visit Chinatown to shop at the wholesale stores, where everything under the sun may be purchased (and usually at good prices); or else to sample the wide range of exotic cuisine. One of Binondo's best features is its converted movie theatres, which now house top-quality restaurants turning out traditional Chinese fare.

This small island, shaped like a tadpole, has become a memorial and open-air museum commemorating the World War II stand of Filipino and American troops against the Japanese invaders. The island is the largest of several at the entrance to Manila Bay, laying off the tip of the Bataan Peninsula, about 26 miles from the city. Its strategic position made it a prime candidate for the last stand against the Japanese in the Pacific War, and its three-and-a-half square miles (9 sq km) of dry land remains littered with the detritus of battle. Guided tours of the island are available by arrangement with the Corregidor Visitor's Information Centre in Manila.

The oldest part of Manila is the medieval Spanish walled enclave of Intramuros on the southern bank of the Pasig River, packed with historic buildings and churches, many of which are being or have been restored. The reconstruction of Intramuros has allowed for the inclusion of several parks and performing venues, art galleries, souvenir shops and restaurants, so that the area has become an attractive, entertaining and interesting tourist Mecca. Fort Santiago, for example, was where political prisoners through the ages, from Spanish to Japanese occupation, were held, tortured and sometimes executed. Today it is a lush park full of flowering trees and homing pigeons, where visitors can take a ride along the promenade on a horse-drawn carriage. Then, in the Barrio San Luis along Juan Luna Street there are five colonial residences that have been beautifully restored. 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.

Although the village of Las Pinas, 12 miles (20km) from the centre of Manila, has now been swallowed up in the suburban sprawl of the city, it has kept its character and is a favoured stop on most tours of Luzon because of its famous bamboo organ. The organ is housed in the San Jose Church, and has a very unique sound that draws international organists here every year in the second week of February for an Organ Festival. Another attraction at Las Pinas is the Sarao Jeepney Factory, where visitors can watch these unique Filipino vehicles being assembled and learn how they came to be the favoured form of transportation on the islands.

The name of the Malacanang Palace, now the seat of government and official residence of the Philippines head of state, comes from the vernacular 'May Lakan Diyan', which means 'there lives a noble man'. This gracious villa has been a noble residence on the north bank of the Pasig River since the 18th Century, when it was built for a Spanish aristocrat. In 1825 the Spanish Government bought the property as a summer house for the Governor General, but it later became the permanent seat of the head of state. There is now a museum housed in the palace that features mementos from each of the Philippine's presidents, including the notorious Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.

The large and comprehensive National Museum of the Philippines preserves and showcases the cultural, historical and natural heritage of the islands with collections housed in two different buildings (both located within Rizal Park). Exhibits are categorised in five divisions: art, botany, zoology, geology and anthropology. Among the many archaeological exhibits is the skull of 'Tabon Man': the oldest human remains found in the archipelago. The section devoted to the Filipino People includes the preserved remains and treasures of the San Diego Spanish galleon that sank in Philippine waters in 1600. A deeply interesting place to visit for tourists to the Philippines looking to grips with the local culture.

The island of Palawan is an elongated stretch of thickly forested landscape bordered by coves, beaches, lagoons and limestone cliffs, stretching from southwest of Luzon towards Malaysia. The island's Tubbataha Reef is extremely ecologically important to the Philippines as a feeding ground and nursery for marine life, and the area is archaeologically important too. Caveman remains have been discovered on the island dating back 22,000 years. 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.

The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is located in the Filipino province of Palawan, about 30 miles (50km) north of the city of Puerto Princesa. Although it is a little 'off the beaten track', tourists to the Philippines are strongly encouraged to make the trip to see the underground river - which, by all accounts, has emerged as the one of the very best things to see in the Philippines in recent years. In fact, the spectacular Puerto Princesa Subterranean River has not only been inscribed in UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites, but - in November 2011 - was also named as one of the New7Wonders of the World. The well-maintained National Park contains an area with a limestone karst mountain landscape, and the famed river follows a 5-mile (8km) course through a large cave complex before merging with the South China Sea. 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.

The 58-hectare (143 acre) Rizal Park is named for Dr Jose Rizal, renowned Philippine anti-colonialist, writer and philosopher. The park is one of the largest in South East Asia, and is a green lung much used by the residents of Manila for recreation and entertainment. The park features numerous ornamental gardens, a chess plaza and a skating rink. In a pond on the east side of the park the Philippine archipelago has been recreated in miniature. There are also some museums and public buildings within the park, and after sunset a sound and light exhibit featuring the martyrdom of Dr Jose Rizal is displayed. On Sundays there is a free concert in an 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.

Within Intramuros stands Manila's oldest stone church, San Agustin, which was completed in 1606 and has since survived the ravages of time and successive invasions. The church has a magnificent and intricately-carved door, a Baroque pulpit, and an 18th Century pipe organ. A museum is housed in the Monastery alongside the church, which holds paintings of saints and other religious art. The Sacristy houses a collection of richly embroidered vestments, and Philippine notables are buried in the crypt. An extremely worthwhile tourist sight for visitors to Manila.

Subic Bay is a unique project on the site of a former United States Naval base. It was buried under ash after the eruption of Mt Pinatubo in 1991 and has since been transformed into a buzzing eco-tourism and commercial hub, only five minutes from Philippines International airport and a two-hour drive northwest of Manila. Most of the area, which is enclosed by a security fence, is covered in dense forests teeming with flora and fauna, including rare butterflies and bats. There are also lovely unspoiled beaches to enjoy, exceptional scenery, forest trails, watersport activities, coral reefs and shipwrecks to explore, numerous sports facilities and duty-free shopping centres.

Tagaytay is one of the most-visited tourist destinations in the Philippines, famous for the Taal Volcano. The volcano is unique in that it sits on an island in a lake, and has another lake within its vast crater. The views from the ridge on the access highway to the volcano are legendary and breathtaking. As Tagaytay itself is the favoured 'summer capital' for Filipinos wishing to escape the capital during the unpleasant summer heat, the area provides plenty of recreation opportunities and good hotels and restaurants. Other sights in Tagaytay are the 'Palace in the Sky', an unfinished complex originally meant to be a home for former president Marcos and now used as a viewpoint and park; and the huge flower farm, abloom all year round, on a slope at Barngay Guinhawa.

Established by the Spanish in the 16th century, Vigan is a charming town, full of gorgeous architecture and redolent of the Philippines' colonial history. Located about 250 miles (400km) from Manila on the island of Luzon, Vigan is the best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in the whole of Asia - a distinction which has seen the town earn a place on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites. Full of cobblestone streets and buildings which fuse Spanish-Colonial architecture with Filipino and Oriental designs, Vigan is a fascinating and highly photogenic place. There is much to see and do in Vigan, including the hugely impressive Baroque-style St Paul's Cathedral; and the opportunity to spend a night in one of the grand colonial houses built by wealthy Chinese traders in the city's 'Mestizo' district, some of which now double as hotels. 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.

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