The capital and largest city in the Philippines has a reputation for being a sprawling, wild and mysterious concrete jungle. Highly metropolitan and yet pulsating with an old-world aura that can only be described as the essence of the Philippine people, expect to find everything from throbbing nightlife to colonial Spanish influences evident in much of the city’s architecture and layout.
The roots of what later become Manila grew out of the grand beginnings of the Kingdom of Tondo, an Indianised kingdom that flourished greatly as a tributary of Ming China. In the 16th century, a Spanish expedition from New Spain (now Mexico) took control of the whole archipelago and founded the colony of ‘the Philippines’ (named after Phillip, king of Spain). Under the Spaniards, Manila established itself as important trading hub, attracting merchants and labourers from all kinds of backgrounds—the native Malayo-Polynesian people as well as Indians, Chinese, and Europeans. Nearly 350 years of Spanish colonisation ended when the United States was bequeathed the colony after winning the Spanish-American war in 1898. Though the city is now part of an independent republic, the influences that came from around the world to shape it are highly evident, and make the city a fascinating place to be.
Roman Catholicism is the primary influence here, as it is over all of the Philippines – 93.5% of Manila residents are Roman Catholic, with the rest of its inhabitants still generally adhering to other forms of Christianity. As such, visitors interested in sacred spaces can find a dearth of beautiful Catholic institutions to visit within the city: examples include the Manila Cathedral, which is the oldest established church in the whole country, and the San Agustin church in Intramuros, which has been recognized as a unesco World Heritage Site.
The culture to be found in Manila is highly Catholicized, and many of the most evident showings of city culture can be found in the many holidays and religious festivals so prevalent in Philippine public life. For one example of how highly Catholic the city is, one only has to observe the fact that every one of the city’s barangays (neighbourhoods) has its very own patron saint, with each barangay organizing an annual commemoration in honour of their chosen saint.
- Philippine manners involve the concept of ‘face’.
- Touching is welcomed, handshakes and hugs are common as greetings, as well as beso-beso or air kisses on each cheek.
- In formal settings, women should try as much as possible to dress conservatively.
Manila is situated on the island of Luzon, nestled upon its western shores, in the natural harbour of Manila Bay, 1.300km from the Asian mainland. The city features a tropical savanna climate, with year-round hot temperatures and humidity, and rainfall from May to November.
The city is bisected by the Pasig River, and is protected from extreme weather conditions through the surrounding hills of the Sierra Madre and the mountains of the Bataan Peninsula. Its sheltered harbor is an important feature of its landscape both geographically and historically.
Plant and animal life are quite easily found in and around the city. Keep an eye out for tropical plant species such as palms, banyans and bamboo—these can most easily be found for observation in public parks dotted around the city. Within the city limits, domestic mammals such as water buffalo and horses abound, although some areas have been severely affected by pollution.
Before you go
- Language: Tagalog, officially Filipino, an Austronesian language distantly related to Malay
- Currency: Philippine peso (php)
- Time Zone: Philippine Time Zone, utc+8
- Voltage: 220
- Electric Socket: Type A/B/C
- Sim cards are sold everywhere in the Philippines
- The biggest mobile network operators are Globe, SMART, and Sun
- A sim card itself only costs about $1, but it is advisable to put it around 1,000 pesos if you are planning to make more international calls or use lots of data.
- Within the airport, it is easy to find banks and money changers, but much better rates can be found in the city itself.
- For the best rates, look for small money changers farther away from the tourist belt, these don’t charge commission and are a safe bet as long as you count your money and secure it safely before leaving the premises.
- Banks are generally open from 9am to 3pm on weekdays, and close on public holidays.
- Credit cards are very widely accepted, and it’s very easy to find atms that support international networks. If in need of an atm, the best bet is to enter any mall in the area.
- Look for international bank atms such as that of HSBC and Standard Chartered, in order to avoid a commission – however some bank atms do charge a foreign withdrawals fee.
- Be aware that when using atms from local Philippine banks, you will very likely be charged an extra withdrawal fee above that of your home bank.
- Kaldereta: This is a hearty meat dish that can be made with chevon (goat meat), as well as beef or pork. The chosen tender meat is then stewed with potatoes, tomato sauce, and assorted vegetables together with liver spread of liver paste.
- Pork adobo: This dish can also be made with other meats, as well as many types of seafood and vegetables. The secret is in the concoction the meat is cooked in, which is soy sauce, vinegar and garlic.
- Bicol Express: Coconuts and chillies combined with pork and shrimp paste
It’s up to you how much you’d like to tip when in the Philippines, although it is common courtesy to leave spare change when you can.
Taxis: If the driver leaves the meter running and gives you decent service, it’s reasonable to tip 10% of the fare as a sign of appreciation.
Tricycle taxis: there is no need to tip the driver as ideally you must have negotiated a fixed price beforehand before starting on the trip.
Restaurants: A general rule for tipping in restaurants is to do so whenever there is no service charge added to your bill by the restaurant. There are no real rules as to tipping.
Hotels: Try to give the bellhop or concierge a small tip when possible. When staying in better (brand-name) hotels, be aware that this kind of tipping is often expected by hotel employees.
- Suggested vaccinations: hepatitis A and typhoid
- Be aware that during the rush hours (7am-10am and 5pm-8pm), all transportation from traffic to trains are completely busy. This is also the time when pickpockets are most active, so keep an eye out for your valuables during this time. Always be aware of your belongings.
- Don’t drink the tap water under any circumstances – always be sure to buy bottled water
- Emergency Line: 117
- Ospital ng Maynila Medical Center (public): Barangay 719, President Quirino Avenue, Roxas Boulevard, Malate, Metro Manila, Tel: (+63) 2 524 6063
- The Medical City (private): Ortigas Avenue, Pasig City, Metro Manila, Tel: (+63) 2 988-1000, (+63) 2 988-7000
- Tourism Board: Gen. Luna St, Ermita, Manila, Metro Manila, Philippines, Tel: +63 2 523 8411, Website: http://www.tourism.gov.ph/pages/default.aspx
- Hello (in general): Mah-boo-hi
- Excuse me. / Sorry: Mah-wah-lang-gah-lang-poh
- Thank you: Sah-laah-mat
- You’re welcome: Wah-lang anooman
- Good morning: Mah-gandang oo-mah-gah
- Goodbye: Pah-ah-lahm
- How much is this?: Mag-kahno-toh
- Cheers! (Toasts when drinking): Tah-guy
- Bon appetit!: Mah-boo-ting gah-NA
- Where’s the toilet?: Nah-sah-aan ang CR?
- Help!: Too-long
- I understand: Nah-i-in-tin-di-hahn koh
- I don’t understand: Hin-di ko nah-i-in-tin-di-hahn
How to get into this area, and how to get around it!
Getting to Manila by air is the most economical and reliable way to arrive at this city, even from other areas in the Philippines. Ninoy Aquino International Airport is the one hosting international flights in and out of Manila, and currently has four terminals—three for international flights and one for domestic flights. Take note of the fact that this airport is known for its delays, so make sure to arrive plenty of time in advance when leaving from this airport. To get to Metro Manila from the airport, you have several options, which include taking a special yellow-coloured airport taxi (to avoid scams, you will be given a slip with the taxi number on it, make sure to retain it at all times) which should cost no more than 250 pesos to take you to the city proper. Buses and jeepneys are widely available at the airport and will take you to the city for much less, around 15 pesos per person.
Many buses serve the Manila area, however there is no central bus terminal so many different operators serve specific destinations using their own terminals. You’ll find that most bus companies congregate around the EDSA area, and this is also where passengers are generally dropped off when taking buses to Manila from other areas of the Philippines. Routes are always marked in English, and most if not all of those who staff bus agencies speak English, so be sure to communicate clearly and directly with these people when trying to enter or leave Metro Manila by bus.
You can get into Manila from the other parts of the Philippines through using the heavy rail system that serves it, which is known as the PNR (Philippine National Railways). The PNR used to operate a nightly sleeper train to Naga and Ligao that was known as the Bicol Express (it inspired a dish of the same name that you should try when you’re in Manila!). However due to weather damage, the line was closed in 2012 and it’s not clear whether it will fully reopen before 2020.
The best way to get around by car is using mobile apps like Uber or GrabTaxi.
Otherwise, some reputable taxi companies that may be called for ordinary cabs are as follows:
- Basic Taxi (900-1447, 900-1448, 643-7777)
- MGE Transport (363-6096, 364-8260)
- Sturdy Taxi (330-3568, 361-1282)
Calling for a cab is generally a safer bet than just hailing one. Be sure to carry lots of small bills with you as a driver might not have appropriate change – and of course, always make sure the meter is running! The flagfall for a cab should be 40 pesos, while every additional kilometre should cost around 11.84 pesos.
Within Manila, there are three light rail systems (LRT-1, LRT-2 and MRT-3) and one heavy train line (PNR). Most tourist destinations can be found along the LRT-1 line, which can be seen as yellow on the system maps – its 20 stations include popular destinations such as Binondo, Intramuros and Rizal Park. The only other line that has points of note is the 13-station MRT-3 line, which is coloured blue on system maps—it includes two popular stops, Cubao (which acts as a gateway to Quezon City) and Ayala Avenue (which is the gateway to the Makati central business district). Be advised that the train lines generally run from around 5am to 9:30pm (on weekends) or 10pm (on weekdays).
A large number of city and provincial bus routes either cross through or terminate in Manila, with many of them passing by the Lawton bus terminal. This terminal is situated just outside the LRT-1 Central Terminal station, and once there you’ll easily find a variety of buses ready to take you around the city as well as around the outskirts of Manila. Since the buses are not numbered, be sure to check the bus routes displayed on the side of the buses, or make sure to confirm with the conductor whether you are getting onto the correct bus. Fares vary, but expect to pay at least 10 pesos a ride.
The above-mentioned Lawton bus terminal also serves as a major crossing point for jeepneys, which are colourful and converted jeeps that are a mainstay of the Philippine public transportation system. Be advised that like buses, jeepneys are not numbered, so look at the sides of the vehicles as well as on the dashboard to find out where the jeepney is going – better yet, ask the driver to confirm with you whether you’re on the right track. Fares are based on distance and begin at 8 pesos for the first 4 kilometres.
Things to see
The top locations to visit in this destination.