Capital of the Philippines, around 1.6 million people call Manila home, making it the country’s second largest city. However, it is just one of 16 cities that together comprise the National Capital Region, also known as Metro Manila, with a population of 12 million.
As the world’s mostly densely populated city, there is no shortage of hustle and bustle although you will find oases of calm in some of Manila’s five-star hotels as well as finding accommodation to suit all pockets.
Historically there has been human settlement in the area since 3000BC but the city was not mentioned in writing until the 10th Century when it became an important trade city with the Ming Dynasty of China. Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the 15th Century, making Manila the centre of their activity in the Pacific and earning Manila the nickname ‘Pearl of the Orient’ for its place on the trade routes. Subsequently Manila saw British, American and Japanese rule until the Philippines gained independence after WW2.
An appropriate place to begin getting to know Manila, Rizal Park has played a central role in the country’s history. It was named after national hero Dr Jose Rizal, whose execution by the Spanish in 1896 sparked a revolution against European rule. A bronze and granite monument to the poet and patriot was unveiled in 1913 and it was on this spot in 1946 that the Philippines gained full independence in 1946.
Today the park hosts free concerts at the open air auditorium as well as other theatrical performances throughout its grounds. Early morning visitors may also get to see one of many Eskrima – Filipino martial arts – experts at practice. Also well worth a visit are the tranquil Japanese and Chinese gardens.
National Museum of the Philippines
Bordering the park, the National Museum of the Philippines is an excellent continuation of your Filipino cultural tour. This complex of grand buildings, formerly occupied by government departments now houses an anthropology and archeology collection – the Museum of the Filipino People, the National Art Gallery and a Planetarium. These will soon be joined by the Museum of Natural History once the Department of Tourism vacates its current building.
For a quick hit of Filipino history, the Ayala Museum will do the trick. It tells the story of the country’s convoluted and often bloody history through 60 dioramas telling the story from prehistory, through Islamic and Chinese rule to postwar independence. The cruelties of the Marcos regime and more recent times are told through video presentations.
Club Intramuros Golf Course
One of the world’s most unusual golf courses, the Intramuros course was created in 1907 by the Americans, who filled in the moat of the old walled city. It may not be quite PGA standard but its urban setting, the need to cross several roads and avoid pedestrians and the occasional wall more than make up for it. A mere par 66, there are nevertheless plenty of water hazards and traps to avoid and playing at night when its cooler is advisable.
The Coconut Palace
A stellar example of the worst of the Marcos regime’s excess, this residence was built using natural materials (hence its name) to host Pope John Paul II during his visit to the country. However the Pontiff quite rightly refused to stay within its gaudy walls. Today it is now the home and office of the Vice-President and tours can be booked through his office.
Today Manila has a cosmopolitan vibe, attracting more than one million tourists a year who find there is no shortage of things to do.
During her recent trip to the Philippines, Sarah has discovered some of the hidden treasures on the country that she believes are great for incoming tourists.