Manila, the densely populated capital of the Philippines, is famous for showcasing a blend of colonial architecture, vibrant markets, and lively nightlife. The best time to visit the Philippines is from December to February, characterised by cooler temperatures and minimal rainfall.
Prior to my trip, I purchased an e-SIM, finding it more convenient than switching out a physical SIM card. E-SIMs offer the advantage of retaining your phone number, and depending on the provider like Airalo or Nomad, can be used across the Asian region. If you want £2.36 ($3) off any data plan on Nomad, feel free to use my referral code: DHAR69SB.
Day 1: Flying into Manila
Arriving at the airport late at night, I opted for a hassle-free experience by taking a pre-paid taxi to my hostel instead of dealing with public transport. I booked through Booking.com. It cost about £20-30. An alternative suggestion is to use the Grab app, similar to Uber, for secure and reasonably priced taxi services, minimising the risk of being overcharged.
For budget travellers, Z Hostel in Makati, Manila’s financial district, is often recommended due to its convenient location and decent rooms with friendly staff. The highlight is the rooftop bar, ideal for socialising, though it may be noisy for those seeking tranquility. The hostel also provides a free short walking tour and offers breakfast and coffee at its ground-floor cafe.
In the evening, I went to a brilliant restaurant nearby called Lampara. A wonderful, modern take on filipino food. This was my favourite restaurant.
The food at Lampara is delightful.
I finished the night by trying some Filipino comfort food. My favourite was crispy sisig, a dish made of pig’s face. It sounds awful but was delicious. I also had some late night tacos at the best named fast food joint in the world, Onlypans Taqueria.
Day 2: Intramunos and Binondo
The nearby Anthropology Museum, housed in a large neoclassical building, was closed during my visit. This area offers several historical museums such as the National Museum of Fine Arts, making it a worthwhile destination for history enthusiasts.
National Museum of Fine Arts.
Later, I explored Intramuros, the Spanish colonial district in Manila. Highlights include:
- Casa Manila (colonial museum with an entrance fee)
- San Agustin Church (one of Philippines’ oldest building)
- Manila Cathedral
- Fort Santiago (featuring beautifully manicured gardens, fountains, and plazas) and visit the museum Jose Riza.
Jose Rizal’s Prison.
Top tip: you can book a tour from a local company, Bambike to get a cycling tour of Intramuros.
During lunchtime, I visited Binondo, the oldest Chinatown in the world. I started by exploring the area and visiting a vibrant Feng Shui store near the arch, where you can buy Ying Yang charms and Feng Shui items. Later, I discovered the Temple of Kuang Kong, dedicated to the God of War, located in a somewhat peculiar setting within an apartment building, accessible by a lift. Other noteworthy places in Binondo include Carvajal Street, colloquially known as Umbrella Street, featuring a narrow covered lane with fruit and vegetable vendors and small restaurants.
I had lunch at the Great Buddha Café, a dim sum spot with a large fat Buddha on the first floor. It was fantastic. Another recommended place is Fireman’s Café, known for its popularity and offering two different kinds of lava bao, though it can be challenging to get a table.
Afterward, I visited Divisoria Market, where you can find imitation versions of well-known products from around the world. I spotted Jordan trainers that closely resembled the authentic ones.
Inside Divisoria Market.
In the evening, you can visit Roxas Night Market along Roxas Boulevard by Manila Bay, featuring a vibrant atmosphere. Enjoy Filipino delicacies like isaw, fish balls, and more. If you’re feeling adventurous, try balut, though it’s not for the faint-hearted.
Day 3: SM Mall and evening meal
In the morning, I used a Grab taxi to reach the largest mall in the Philippines, SM Mall. While it offers various activities like shopping, bowling, laser tag, and ice skating, I didn’t find it enjoyable. I suggest exploring other parts of Manila.
If you’re in need of shopping, consider Greenhills Shopping Center—it’s more affordable but only accepts cash.
If you want to try something off the beaten track, then you could go:
- Explore the unique Manila Chinese Cemetery.
- Visit the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex, Manila’s top theatre and movie cinema, with museums and galleries.
- Experience Manila Ocean Park.
- Take a day trip to the Taal Volcano outside the city.
- Gain real insight into Manila’s lives by joining Smokey Tours on their slum tour.
In the evening, I met my tour guide, Sheena, and my group for my Philippines journey booked through One Life Adventures. The tour offers the advantage of exploring amazing places without having to plan anything. I 100% recommend this tour. It’s excellent. If you want to do things yourself, here are the places we visited:
- From Manila we headed to the beautiful Palawan island via plane, landing in Puerto Princesca. After landing, we went to the Iwahig Prison, where the inmates govern themselves. The next day, we visited the UNESCO Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park and Underground River. Here you can see incredible rock formations and bats!
- Afterwards, we drove to the remote Port Barton. We spent the evening on a private beach eating BBQ food and dancing the night away. Amazingly, the money we pay through One Life Adventure goes to support children’s education. We visited a local school to see this in action.
- We then drove to El Nido. Here, we spent time with locals to understand their way of life by cooking some tasty filipino food, climbing coconut trees, traditional Filipino stick fighting and more.
- From El Nido we went island hopping to snorkel and relax.
- Other travellers I know went to the island of Cebu Island for even better diving and snorkelling spots.
I trust you found this guide beneficial for your exploration of Manila and the Phillipines. A special thank you to: Sheena, Harry, Matt, Lilly, Katie, Anton, Alice, Callum, Catherine, Ellie, Erin, Hedvig, Nora, Jesse, Lauren, Mel, Lewis, Louis, Michelle, Nini, Scarlett and Taylor for making my trip special.