The capital of the Philippines - its heart and soul -- is
Manila. It sets the rhythm of life in this archipelago and is a
pulsating hub that blends the Oriental with the Occidental, the
quaint with the modern, the mundane with the extraordinary.
Manila was born out of the ashes of a once flourishing Malay
settlement by the banks of the Pasig River. In 1571, Miguel Lopez
de Legazpi established the Ever Loyal City of Manila which, until
1898, was the seat of Spanish colonial rule in Asia. He built the
city within walls and called it Intramuros.
An anchor tourist destination, Manila is the very core of the
7,000 times more islands that make up the Philippines. It is a
center for the performing arts in Asia.
The Grandeur of Intramuros
At the turn of the 20th century, the great American architect
and city planner Daniel Burnham noted that "the old walled city of
Intramuros at the mouth of the Pasig River is one of the best
preserved medieval cities anywhere in the world."
The Pacific War of the 1940's took its
Faithful reconstruction goes on today in Intramuros. A few of
the gates and ramparts have been turned into parks and performing
venues, including Puerta Real and Baluarte de San Diego. Chambers
found along its gates are now occupied by art galleries, souvenir
shops, restaurants, even a cyber café.
Fort Santiago, the site of torture chambers and dungeons where
political prisoners from Spanish to Japanese times were kept and
executed, is now a lush park with flowering trees and homing
pigeons. Here, one may enjoy a leisurely ride aboard a horse-drawn
At the center of Intramuros is the grand Manila Cathedral with
its detailed stone carvings, stained glass mosaics and rose
San Agustin Church, completed in 1606, has withstood all the
fires and earthquakes that have hit Manila through the centuries.
One of the four Philippine Baroque Churches inscribed in the World
Heritage List, its monastery has been turned into a museum housing
priceless religious artifacts. Adjoining it are the restored
gardens of Fr. Jose Blanco who studied Philippine botanical life
during the Spanish period.
Barrio San Luis along Juan Luna Street is made up of five
faithfully reconstructed colonial houses - Casa Manila, Casa
Urdaneta, Casa Blanca, Los Hidalgos and El Hogar Filipino.
Beyond the Walls
Manila has since expanded beyond Intramuros to become the
nucleus of the country's largest metropolis, Greater Manila, made
up of 11 other cities and five towns.
But before it spread out of its confines, history saw Manila
figuring prominently in the Galleon Trade, the first trans-Pacific
commerce between Asia, America and Europe for some 250 years.
The city was also scarred by many foreign invasions, ravaged by
Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese and British marauders. Shortly after
the country declared itself Asia's first democracy in 1898, the
Americans invaded its shores and ruled for 50 years. And after the
Pacific War of the 1940's, when the Japanese Imperial Army reigned
for four years, Manila was the second most destroyed city in the
world. The rubbles of the past have seasoned and strengthened
Manila's character today.
Just off Intramuros' walls is the world-class Club Intramuros
which offers day and night golfing. Adjacent to it is the
58-hectare Rizal Park, which runs from Taft Avenue up to the
seawalls of the fabled Manila Bay.
In 1902, Burnham designed a U-shaped government complex within
Luneta. Only three buildings were however constructed: the
Executive House occupied by the National Museum, the Department of
Finance Building which now houses the Museum of the Filipino
People, and the Department of Tourism Building envisioned to
become the future Museum for Natural Sciences.
Across the Pasig River from Fort Santiago is Binondo, or
Chinatown. Not much has changed in terms of lifestyle in this
quaint district although, now, high-rise buildings have started to
appear in its skyline.
A stone's throw away from Rizal Park is the Ermita district
which, together with the Malate district, forms what is known as
Manila's Tourist Belt. Ermita is antique and art galleries, curio
and souvenir shops while Malate is cozy cafes, music lounges and
At the heart of Manila is Quiapo. What has caught the fancy of
many bargain-hunters is Ilalim ng Tulay - literally, "Under the
Bridge" - where stalls sell an array of handicrafts at prices that
are practically a steal
Near Quiapo is the genteel San Miguel district, with its
ancestral homes and Malacanang Palace, seat of the Philippine
government. A museum of presidential memorabilia is open to the
A Sampling of the Country's Best
Manila mirrors the best of this country's 7,000 times more
A few minutes away from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport
and the Fiesta Duty Free Shop in Paranaque City is Nayong
Pilipino, or Philippine Village, which features the country's
famous landmarks in miniature.
Weekends are good days to visit, when the park assumes a barrio
fiesta (village festival) atmosphere, complete with traditional
games, indigenous music, songs and dances, and craft
The Sunset Strip
Roxas Boulevard, which extends from Paranaque City to Manila,
is the Bay Area from where one can have a view of the famed Manila
Many landmarks are found in this area, including the Department
of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Senate buildings. Within the
stretch is the International Trade Center complex, the Philippine
Trade Training Center and the World Trade Center. Further back is
the Government Service Insurance System building which houses an
art gallery by the bay.
The boulevard is also home to the country's premier performing
venue, the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Within its complex
are the Philippine International Convention Center, the Product
Design and Development Center, the Folk Arts Theater, the Coconut
Palace and the Westin Philippine Plaza Hotel.
Adjoining the complex is the Manila Yacht Club and the
Philippine Navy Headquarters. A little farther is the US Embassy.
Across the Yacht Club is the Bangko Sentral (Central Bank)
complex which houses the Money Museum. The bank has Asia's biggest
and finest gold collection at the Metropolitan Museum, a home for
the modern masters.
Roxas Boulevard is lined with posh hotels, casinos and lively
Greater Manila is where the country's most prestigious business
addresses and the trendiest leisure establishments are found. By
day, it hums with the bustle of commerce and, by night, throbs
with the excitement of varied, high class entertainment.
Makati City is the country's financial center and the most
prestigious business address. Many foreign embassies and
multinationals call it home. Fashionable hotels, restaurants,
discos, music bars, boutiques and specialty shops converge around
the sleek Ayala Center.
In Makati is Forbes Park, home to the rich and famous. The most
elite country club, Manila Polo Club, and golf course, Manila Golf
Club, are nestled within the village.
Giving Makati a run for its money is Mandaluyong City, with
Ortigas Center an impressive alternative to Ayala Center. Home to
the Asian Development Bank and the Philippine Stock Exchange, it
is also the site of three of Metro Manila's gigantic shopping
malls - SM Megamall, Robinson's Galleria and Shangri-la EDSA
San Juan is the hometown of President Joseph Estrada. Built on
a hilly terrain, a drive along the old residential section can be
a pleasurable diversion. Its Greenhills Commercial Center houses
some of Metro Manila's vibrant music halls.
Quezon City was envisioned by the late President Manuel L.
Quezon (after whom the city was named) to be the country's
government center. Many of the national government offices are
located here as well as the country's leading educational
institution, the University of the Philippines.
Dominating Cubao, Quezon City's commercial center, is Araneta
Coliseum, the country's biggest enclosed entertainment arena. For
nightlife, the Quezon Boulevard, Timog Avenue, Tomas Morato Avenue
and West Avenue strips offer varied, colorful fares.
Marikina City is the Shoe Center of the Philippines. The city
takes pride in its 75.6-hectare River Park.
Paranaque City is generally associated with its dry goods and
seafood market and restaurants, and Redemptorist Church, a
pilgrimage site which houses the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual
Las Pinas City has retained much of its provincial appeal.
Visitors flock to this city to see the world's only bamboo organ,
housed at the picturesque St. Joseph's Parish Church.
Metro Manila is one big gastronomic trip of many cuisines. In
Intramuros is Illustrado Restaurant with its colonial ambiance and
Spanish provincial cuisine. The old Malate district, with Remedios
Circle at its core, is the favorite watering hole of artists,
designers and the café society who are only too willing to try the
varied international flavors offered by the many restaurants in
the area. Authentic Chinese cuisine can be had at the old
financial district of Binondo. Aside from Ayala Center, many fine
and theme dining establishments line Jupiter Street and Pasay Road
in Makati City. From theme restaurants to beer-and-grill gardens,
Tomas Morato Avenue, Timog Street, Quezon Avenue and West Avenue
in Quezon City have them all. Interesting clusters of restaurants
and bars are found in San Juan's Greenhills and Mandaluyong City's
The outskirts of Manila offer many places of interest that are
easily accessible by day excursions. Many of these destinations
can be reached in an hour or two.
Corregidor is a tiny tadpole-shaped island lying across the
entrance of Manila Bay. Also known as "The Rock," it was the focus
of a protracted battle between Filipino-American and Japanese
forces during the Second World War. The shell of the Mile Long
Barracks still stands. Within the Malinta Tunnel, a
light-and-sound show is staged for day tourists. It can be reached
by de-luxe cruisers from the CCP Complex jetty in Roxas Boulevard.
Laguna boasts one of the most beautiful country-sides in the
Philippines with a plethora of waterfalls, springs, seven big
rivers and the lake from which it got its name spanning all of 90
hectares, making Laguna de Bay the biggest freshwater lake in
The town of Los Banos ("The Baths") has numerous resorts fed by
hot and cold springs. Standing guard over the resort town is Mount
Makiling which houses at its slopes a botanical park and the
National Arts Center, a high school for budding artists.
The quaint town of Pagsanjan was the setting of the Francis
Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now." Its star attraction is the
Pagsanjan Rapids and Falls.
In the town of Alaminos is found Hidden Valley which is
actually a volcano crater. A number of hot, cold and soda springs
lace a forest of towering fruit trees, tropical shrubs and
Also in Laguna is the historical town of Calamba where the
ancestral house of Dr. Jose Rizal has been turned into a museum.
SAN PABLO CITY
In San Pablo City are found seven lakes. For a taste of
plantation living, visit Villa Escudero. Here, bamboo cottages
gird a river that flows into a dam.
A one hour drive south of Manila is Tagaytay, a city perched on
a ridge. From the Tagaytay Picnic Grove, there is an unobstructed
view of Volcano Island, a volcano within a lake with a volcano
within a lake, which is the standard description of the 406
meter-high Taal Volcano, the smallest volcano in the world.
The heritage town of Taal in the Southern Tagalog province of
Batangas features the largest church in the Far East, the
Ionic-columned and Gothic-designed Basilica of Saint Martin of
In the southeast area of Batangas is the resort village of
Anilao in Mabini town, the nearest scuba diving center to Manila.
Anilao is also a jump-off point for island-hopping expeditions.
Also within Subic is a virgin forest where one can go on a
12-hour trek, visit a tribal village, and take a jungle survival
course. Subic Bay is a rich hunting ground for both professional
and Sunday anglers alike.
Clark, in the Central Luzon province of Pampanga, is the former
homebase of the United States air fleet in Southeast Asia. A short
hour and a half drive north of Manila, Clark is a special economic
zone that has a recreation network which include an 18-hole golf
course, an aviation school, a de-luxe hotel, and duty free shops.
An hour's drive from Clark is Subic, the 18,000-hectare former
US naval reservation in the province of Zambales. Subic's
recreation area includes an 18-hole golf course, horseback riding
trail, firing range, casinos, restaurants, duty-free shops,
bowling area, a bungee jumping area, and a marina complex.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
Manila is the main gateway to the Philippines and is readily
accessible from the travel capitals of the world.
Traveling time to Manila from Hong Kong is an hour and 50
minutes; from Singapore, 3 hours and 10 minutes; from Bangkok, 3
hours and 50 minutes; Tokyo, 4 hours and 15 minutes; Sydney, 10
hours and 20 minutes; London, 20 hours and 45 minutes; Paris, 21
hours and 15 minutes; Frankfurt, 19 hours and 40 minutes; San
Francisco, 16 hours and 15 minutes; Los Angeles, 15 hours and 20
minutes; and New York, 25 hours and 20 minutes. Philippine
Airlines is the national carrier.
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