Manila is one misunderstood city.
Whenever I travel abroad and locals find out I’m from Manila, they sometimes make this quizzical face and ask me “but what’s good about Manila?” People most likely have heard only bad things about it but there are also those who are sincerely curious about it.
For the former, I tell them, “Manila is okay but I think you’d best explore the other islands in the Philippines, like Palawan or Boracay”. Why not direct them to the other islands of the Philippines, which are popular among locals and foreigners alike, instead of Manila, which they are already skeptical about?
If I feel that they are really clueless about Manila, I tell them something along the lines of “Manila is gritty but there are some things about it that make you want to explore it”. It’s something I came to know later on. I hated the traffic and the noise and the grittiness of Manila when I was in university but strangely enough, I found myself going back to explore. I even rediscovered one of my favourite places on Earth: Intramuros.
- Half a day would be enough to see many of the popular sites but if you want to fully explore, an entire day is ideal. Most attractions, however, close by 5 pm.
- Maps of Intramuros are available for free. Just ask around the stores or places of interest for one. You can always ask the guards wearing blue uniforms, reminiscent of the Spanish Guardia Civil, for directions (hint: take photos with them. I did).
- You can also opt to ride the Calesa (horse-driven carriage). Price varies but you can negotiate the price. The driver sometimes doubles as the tour guide as you ride along.
Places of Interest:
The Silahis Center
One of the quickest ways to see and buy Filipino handicrafts is by visiting the Silahis Center. On the first floor, you’ll see works made by the various indigenous groups in the country, as well as items inspired by the works of Filipino artists. You’ll find some more handicrafts, as well as oriental ceramics and antiques, on the second floor. The third floor houses mostly Filipiana books, both still and out of circulation. The fourth floor always has surprises in store. The first time I checked out the Galeria De Las Islas, contemporary artists made the works on display. The second time I went to this floor, I’ve seen sculptures for sale that average around half a million pesos each! After all, those pieces were made by national artists and some were even never before seen in public.
Entrance is free.
The Cathedral is one of the easiest to spot, as it’s a big building in the heart of Intramuros and has a big dome and an impressive façade. The inside is as equally impressive. The smaller chapels at its sides houses some artifacts, including a replica of Michaelangelo’s Pieta.
Entrance is free.
San Agustin Church and Museum
While the Manila Cathedral is impressive, it was the San Agustin Church that left me in awe (and I had to check if I was drooling). The church itself was remarkable; looking at the floors and the sections near the doors, you’d see that this was where the rich elite during the Spanish colonisation were buried (it’s one way to impress the folks back then). It is one of the best-preserved churches in the country and is in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Words fail me because you have to see it for yourself.
The Spanish Conquistador, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, is buried on the left side of the altar. It took me three tries and following a tour group until I finally saw his tomb (you’ll need to enter the high altar and go inside the room on the left side).
Exploring the adjacent museum made me feel like I was travelling back in time. Thank goodness they only open during the day or else I had to prepare myself in case I meet a ghost or two at the end of the long hallways of this historic building (not to mention some urban legends about things that might have happened on the second floor). The museum shows the history of the Agustinians upon their arrival and other religious and cultural artifacts, as well as the crypt where the greatest Filipino painter, Juan Luna is interred, and a very impressive library (can only be seen through its glass walls).
Entrance fee for the museum: PHP 200, Church: free but will only be open before a mass and after the museum closes. It can be accessed through the side doors upon entering the museum.
From the name itself, Casa Manila is a house that shows how exactly the elites lived back then. Upon climbing up the stairs, while making sure you are stepping only on the red carpet and not the hardwood floors (tres chic!), you’ll feel like you are entering someone’s home back in the 1800s. You’ll be able to see every nook and cranny, from the living room to the bedrooms and including the toilets and bathrooms.
Entrance Fee: PHP 75 for adults, PHP 50 for students & children.
Fort Santiago and Rizal Shrine
If you are wondering what the golden footprints are for, it allows you to trace the last steps of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. Inside the fort, you can enter the Rizal Shrine and get to know more about him and his contributions not only to the country but also to other places.
Here you can see some personal effects, his works, his prison cell and what it probably looked like, and even the urn containing a small bone fragment that was recovered after he was shot by the firing squad. Outside the shrine, you can explore the fort’s grounds and see the old building where Rizal stayed before walking to face his death (just don’t scream in surprise like I did when you see a statue of Rizal inside the cell).
A smaller museum is found immediately after exiting the Shrine and this one contains actual furniture and artifacts from his home, including a painting of one of his many lovers, O Sei San, and even his clothes, which were all donated by his sister.
Other markers, like those indicating where prisoners were held and one dedicated to Filipinos and Americans alike who became victims during the Japanese occupation, can be found here, as well as the artillery the used. You can even see bullet holes of the old buildings. You can also walk above the walls above the fort, like what the old guards did. Unfortunately, time wasn’t kind to us when we visited and it was a quick visit for us.
Entrance Fee for Fort Santiago: PHP 75 for adults, PHP 50 for students & children, Rizal Shrine: Free, Rizaliana Furniture Exhibit: PHP 10.
The twice I’ve recently gone to Intramuros, I still failed to see everything it has to offer. I have yet to see the other parts of the fort, the ruins, eat in the popular restaurants, and ride the calesa and the Bam-bike (bicycle made out of bamboo). I guess it just means one thing:
I have to go back.