Located on the eastern shore of Manila Bay, bisected right in the middle by the mighty Pasig River just west of Quezon City on the island of Luzon, Manila is the chief seaport and cultural center of the Philippines. This 3,855-hectare land is the country’s seat of political and administrative power as it is the home of Malacanang Palace, the official residence of the President of the Philippine Republic, the Supreme Court and other major government agencies.
The city’s name is derived from the phrase “May Nilad,” which literally translates to “the place of the nilad,” referring to the flowering mangrove plant that grew in abundance centuries ago on the marshy shores of Manila Bay. Even in Pre-Hispanic times, this ancient city traded with India and China as it was once a part of two powerful Hindu empires, the Srivijaya that ruled Sumatra, and later, the Majapahit empire based in East Java.
Starting from the country’s colonial period in 1565 up to its independence in 1946, the city was the center of government by a succession of Spanish and American colonizers and Japanese invaders. Up until the start of the Second World War, Manila was considered the most beautiful city in Asia. But this distinction was abruptly put to an end when carpet bombing by U.S. Forces and house-to-house fighting leveled the city to the ground and made it the most ravaged city in the world second only to Warsaw in Poland.
Although the Philippines is said to be the largest Catholic country in Asia, Manila’s cosmopolitan culture mirrors a society that has held on to its roots. It has a mixture of different religions such as Muslims, Hindus and Christians that live together in harmony. This premiere city’s stature as the capital of the Philippines is globally recognized as Paris is widely known as the capital of France.
The City Seal of Manila, which shows a pearl embedded in a shell aptly describes the city as the “Pearl of the Orient” because of its picturesque location and astounding golden sunsets viewed from the shores of enchanting Manila Bay.
What to see in Manila
On account of its strategic location, this modern, teeming metropolis is used as a base for further travel to other parts of the country that is why it is often referred to as the “Gateway to the Philippines.” However, many people who stop to explore the city on their way to other parts of the islands discover the friendliness and charm of its blend of cultures, and invariably find nuggets of treasured sights to behold and experiences to remember. Manila is an exciting place to be and communication with its friendly people is easy because English is widely spoken, prices are dirt cheap and you can definitely get much more than your fair share of sunshine. A visit to Manila can never be complete without a tour of the following:
The Walled City of Intramuros: Located south of the Pasig River along Sta. Clara Street, this ancient fortress built by the Spanish colonizers in 1571 is the old and original enclave of Manila, which was the exclusive preserve of the Spanish ruling class. One of the oldest spots in the country, Intramuros is packed with ancient churches and buildings. The walls are almost what remained of the original fortress after the devastation of World War II. And, if you walk on its 4.5 kilometer long rampart, you can almost feel a strong sense of its glorious history.
Rizal Park: Said to be Asia’s largest park, this 60-hectare expanse of ornamental gardens, paved walks, open lawns, and wooded areas, is bordered by Burgos Street, Taft Avenue, T.M. Kalaw and Quirino Streets. The most familiar spot in this historically significant park is the monument of Jose Rizal, the Philippine National Hero, who was executed on this site by the Spanish colonialists, and where his remains now lie buried. Other attractions in the park are the National Museum, the Planetarium, Orchidarium, the Butterfly Pavilion, the Chinese and Japanese Gardens. Hundreds of locals and tourists alike flock here daily for a relaxing early morning or late afternoon stroll or to go people watching.
Ermita-Malate Tourist Belt: The Ermita and Malate Districts located south of the Pasig River are the centers of bohemian nightlife and are two of the city’s most well-known tourist districts known for night entertainment. In this area, tourists can also shop till they drop in the daytime for priceless souvenir items such as indigenous and tribal products crafted from fabric, wood, shells, silver, leather and other handicrafts and elegant embroidered products. The more adventurous bargain hunters can go to a cluster of stalls located under the Quezon Bridge in the Quiapo District north of the Pasig River where native handicrafts are sold at rock-bottom prices.
Where to Eat in Manila
The historic past of the city is reflected on its blend of flavors and cuisine–from American to Spanish, Chinese and Japanese recipes, with specialties ranging from steaks to seafood and noodles. Understandably, the best Spanish food in the Far East can be found in Manila, the Philippines being the only former Spanish colony in Asia. However, a host of American fast food chains also dot the city such as Burger King, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Dairy Queen, Pizza Hut, KrispyKreme, Shakey’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Chow King (Chinese), Saisaki (Japanese) and Jollibee, the Filipino version of McDonald’s are found in most malls, tourist and university belts. A typical burger or chicken meal in these fast food chains can be had for as cheap as USD2.00 – USD3.00, or P80.00 –P120.00!
On the other hand, casual or sit-down dining in city restaurants fall under the mid-range price category, which amount to about USD8.00-USD10.00, or about P320.00-P400.00 per person. For this price range, you can also eat all you can buffet style in some of the city restaurants.
Ilustrado: Located in 744 Gen. Luna St. in Intramuros, this mid-range restaurant is set in a reconstructed Spanish-era house in the historic Walled City of Intramuros. European, Spanish and Filipino food are elaborately prepared and served here.
Harbor View: This establishment can be found at South Boulevard, in historic Rizal Park. Dining here is complemented by the clean, fresh sea breeze because the restaurant is located on a jetty fronting Manila Bay, which gives the illusion of dining aboard a yacht that is cruising on the bay.
Where to Stay in Manila
Because people from all over the country and around the world flock to Manila all year round, there are all sorts of hotels and resorts in the city that cater to all levels of visitors. Most of these are conveniently located near tourist attractions and commercial centers.
Friendlys Guesthouse: This hostel offers good clean accommodation aimed at backpackers and budget conscious travelers. It has large living areas, a big kitchen and free wi-fi. Big Bed Aircon Rooms With Private Bath – P800.00, Triple Economy Double Deck Aircon Rooms (sofa bed on bottom and single bed on top for 3 persons) – P800.00, Big Bed / Double Deck Bed Aircon Rooms – P700.00, Aircon Dormitory – P300.00, Single Bed / Big Bed Fan Rooms – P400.00, 450.00 & 500.00.
1750 Adriatico cor. Nakpil Streets
Lotus Garden Suites: This hotel is emerging as one of the most preferred standard hotels in Manila, whose best rates of USD33.00, or P1,320.00 is just right for the visitor looking for mid-range cost accommodations.
1227 A. Mabini cor. Padre Faura Streets
The Manila Hotel: Located right beside the Rizal Park a short distance away from the Walled City of Intramuros and the Baywalk area, this historic hotel will surely fit the budget of visitors who love to splurge for a taste of class.
One Rizal Park
Roxas Boulevard, Manila
How to Get to Manila
How to Go Around the City: Public transportation like buses, jeepneys and taxi cabs are aplenty in the city. To avoid the nightmarish city traffic, you can ride the Light Rail Transit (LRT), whose two elevated lines run from Monumento in Caloocan City to Baclaran in Pasay City and from C.M. Recto in Manila to Santolan Avenue in Quezon City. Going around the city entails the minimum fare for a jeepney or bus ride. In addition, horse drawn carriages called “calesas” are popular means of transportations in certain areas, such as Intramuros, Rizal Park and Chinatown in Binondo.
Cebu to Manila and Back: To reach Manila from Cebu, you can either fly or sail from Cebu to Manila. Approximate cost of a round trip plane ticket is P3,500.00 – P5,000.00 while a round trip boat fare is approximately P3,000.00 – P4,000.00. After you disembark at the Manila Domestic Airport or Pier area, you can take a cab, which will cost about P150.00 to P250.00 (one way). If you are not in a hurry, from your point of disembarkation, you can hop on a bus, jeepney or LRT which will take you to Manila for less than P30.00 (one way).
Dumaguete to Manila and Back: To reach Manila from Dumaguete, you can fly from Dumaguete to Manila. Approximate cost of a round trip plane ticket is P3,500.00 – P5,000.00. After you disembark at the Manila Domestic Airport, you can take a cab to Manila, which will cost about P150.00 to P250.00 (one way). But if you have less money and more time to spend, you can hop on a bus, jeepney or MRT which will take you to Manila for less than P30.00 (one way).