The oldest city in the Philippines is named after the flowering mangrove trees that grow in its natural harbour, Manila Bay. It’s no wonder Spanish colonialists chose to make this the country’s capital – an area of outstanding natural beauty able to support the vibrant streetlife of the world’s most densely populated city. With friendly people, warm weather, extensive beaches and a fun-loving atmosphere, your flight to Manila will open up a realm of possibilities.
Few people who’ve visited Manila will deny it has a creative buzz about it, with forward-thinking galleries and thriving indie music venues spearheading its arts scene. The Pinto Art Museum, for example, has six galleries worth of exhibits from some of the Philippines’ leading contemporary artists. And if you don’t fancy being cooped up indoors, you’ll find multiple outdoor installations across its beautiful gardens. More adventurous visitors can even get an authentic Kalinga tattoo, typical among North Luzon’s indigenous peoples.
People and Traditions
What to say about Manileños? First off, there are a lot of them in a relatively small city, so it’s good to know that they’re generally very friendly and outgoing. Fiestas are a huge part of the culture, with multiple feasts and festivals taking place every month, including the Chinese New Year in Binondo – the world’s oldest Chinatown district – and several religious parades, such as the Feast of the Black Nazarene in January and the Feast of Saint John the Baptist in June.
Manila has a tropical climate and stays warm all year around. Temperatures rarely dip much further below 20ºC and usually top off in the low 30s. Watch out for the wet season though, which starts in May and continues through to October, with typhoons a very real possibility from June through September.
Manila has many stunning islands just a short trip from the city. Cebu is one of the larger ones, with beautiful tropical beaches matched only by the pristine white ones on tiny Boracay. Mactan Island is a recreational hotspot particularly well-suited to watersports like parasailing, windsurfing and jetskiing. The shallow, crystal-clear waters also provide some top diving sites. If you don’t have time to travel – or learn to scuba dive – then Manila Ocean Park is a good alternative for viewing an impressive array of marine life, particularly if visiting with children.
Nature lovers should take a trip to the spectacular ancient rice terraces around Banaue in North Luzon. Carved into the Ifulgao mountains over 2,000 years ago, they’re frequently described as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”. Stretching like stepping-stones to the sky, these remarkable verdant terraces reach an altitude of 1,500 metres.
The sites of Manila are largely a colonial bunch, with plenty of old Spanish buildings to be found in the Intramuros district. The stone fortifications of Manila’s old town contain the Cathedral of Manila, the San Augustin Church and the Casa Manila Patio, as well as several picturesque gardens and plazas. The highlight, however, might just be the fort itself. Fort Santiago is the city’s iconic citadel, where national hero Dr José Rizal was imprisoned prior to his execution in 1896. The place of his incarceration is now a very impressive shrine exhibiting examples of his writing and even one of his verterbrae.
Malacañang Palace and the Manila Central Post Office are must-see sights, but for a taste of something very different indeed, the Marikina Shoe Museum is one of the city’s more unusual offerings. It exhibits a large collection of shoes worn by leading figures from the Philippines’ cultural and political history, with about 800 from the country’s former First Lady and bonafide style icon, Imelda Marcos.