Combining colonial past with the eagerness of a developing country, Manila will leave you longing for more as you sashay along the historical heritage of the city
First Spanish, then American, then Japanese. The history of Manila couldn’t be more colorful. Nowadays, the Philippines capital is independent and continues to prove itself a strong city which is rapidly developing into one of the most influential business centers in the world.
Founded in 1571 by Spanish colonizers, it has grown in one of the most densely populated city propers globally. The density currently reaches 71,000 inhabitants per one square kilometer. Around 1.8 million people live within the city limits and more than 12.8 million in the metropolitan area.
The only capital city in Asia that is not exotically Asian
In 1905, American architects and urban planners were commissioned to design the new capital. Inspired by the City Beautiful Movement, they turned Manila into a Western-styled network of broad streets and open avenues put together in rectangular shapes.
Indeed, due to its colonial past and a modern redesign, Manila is a fusion of different styles and influences and oftentimes it is described as the only capital city in Asia that is not exotically Asian.
The old walled city of Manila, Intramuros, should be on top of your must-see list when it comes to exploring the metropolis.
The Spaniards raised walls around the early city settlement and today you still can take a stroll on them, taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the big city. Intramuros is one of the few last areas of Manila with traces of the colonial past.
While inside the Intramuros, make sure to visit the Manila Cathedral and San Agustin Church, both of which are magnificent in their Catholic glory.
The real exotic flavors of Manila come up in the local food
Manila is easy to travel to. If you want true Asia while still being able to communicate with locals and find recognition in the way they lead their everyday lives, this former colony with Western influences might just be what you’re looking for. As a trace of colonial heritage, English is widely spoken across the country.
The real exotic flavors of Manila come up in the local food. Especially great for getting to know the dishes is visiting one of Manila’s local markets. No matter what day or time of the day, there’s always a market open somewhere in the city. Many of them start very early in the morning or run throughout the night.
As tempting as it is to stay in your bed, it is definitely worth getting out of its comfort and going into town to get some unique goodies, including some pretty tasty meals.
For everyone traveling to Asia, Manila included, sampling street food is a must. The Filipinos love their fish and meat — pork especially. There are nine species of pork endemic to the country, meaning that the iconic Filipino passion for crispy pork stews, pork abodo, or pork sinigang is not a subject of foreign influence, but the country’s authentic heritage.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous on your trip to Manila, you should try balut, which actually originated from the Philippines and nowadays is enjoyed in many other Asian countries. Balut is a developing bird embryo, usually a duck, which is cooked and eaten directly from the eggshell. Eating of this unusual dish is quite controversial but it’ll definitely provide for a good story once you’re back home.
Vegetarians won’t be left staring in Manila either, as the city floats in fruits and vegetables, and their national sweets.
Remember to pack lightly when visiting Manila (yay, extra space for souvenirs). All year-round, the city has hot and humid weather with a tight temperature range, rarely dropping below 20C (68F) and reaching over 38C (100F). If you’re traveling between the months of June and October, don’t forget to pack an umbrella or a raincoat because sudden and heavy downpours are the standard during these months.
Manila travel information
Manila, like many other big Asian cities, can get very busy. You might get lucky and your trip from the airport to your downtown hotel can take you only some minutes, but make sure you allow yourself enough time on your way out of Manila as the traffic can get crazy, especially during the rush hours.
Uber, or better yet Grab, can save you a lot of money and hassle and you can get a hold of a vehicle fairly easily using an app you download to your smartphone.
Quite a unique way to travel around in Manila would be using a jeepney. Jeepneys were originally made out of old US military jeeps left over after World War II. The name comes from the combination of words jeep and jitney, a type of travel particularly popular in the US.
The jeepneys have become a symbol of the Filipino culture and art, often spruced up with lavish and kitsch decorations. But beware, there are no designated stops for jeepneys, you simply hail one on their route and give a shout to the driver when you’re ready to get off.