Last Updated on December 18, 2022 by Tina
A month ago, a girl I met when I was backpacking in Cambodia messaged me on Instagram saying she’ll be in Manila for a day. She asked if there was a certain way she should dress to minimize attention and if there are places to avoid. That got me thinking, and it was so timely because I had an upcoming work trip to Manila that same month. I decided to go there earlier so that I could play tourist and be able to write about what to do in Manila in a day.
Manila City is the capital of the Philippines. When people use the word Manila, they can either be referring to the city, but most of the time people especially Filipinos use the word Manila to refer to the whole metropolitan area (Metro Manila). The whole metropolitan area includes other cities such as Quezon City, Makati, Pasig, and Mandaluyong.
I lived in Manila (metropolitan area) when I was in college. I took up Geology at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City. After graduation, I worked mostly in Benguet, and in 2015 got a job in Mandaluyong. I rented an apartment in Metro Manila until 2020. The point of sharing all of this information is that while I lived in Manila for a long time, I never saw it or thought of it as a tourist destination. When I was young, I always looked forward to going to Manila during our summer vacation because of the malls. We didn’t have malls in the province back then.
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Is Manila Worth Visiting?
If you are planning to visit popular destinations in the Philippines like Siargao, Boracay, or El Nido, most probably you will have to fly to Manila before you are able to visit these places. If you have an option to fly to these places via other international airports in the Philippines like Cebu, Clark, or Palawan, choose that option. The main reason is the traffic. When I was in college 20 years ago, there was traffic in Manila already but it wasn’t as bad as it is now. You lose a lot of time commuting from one place to another because of the traffic, especially during rush hour.
If you don’t have an option but to fly to Manila, I suggest allocating at least a day to check out Manila since you’ll be there already.
Travel Requirements to the Philippines
Just like most countries, the Philippines has eased its entry requirements. Aside from the applicable visa requirements, as of this writing, the following are the entry requirements to the Philippines for foreign nationals (per Inter-Agency Task Force Resolution (IATF) Resolution No. 2):
For fully vaccinated Filipino and foreign travelers
Fully vaccinated inbound Filipino and foreign travelers are no longer required pre-departure testing. Filipino and foreign nationals are considered fully vaccinated only if he/she has received the second dose in a 2-dose series or single dose COVID-19 vaccine more than 14 days prior to the date of time of departure from the country of origin or port of embarkation. He/she must carry and present any of the following proof of vaccination:
- World Health Organization International Certificate of Vaccination and Prophylaxis;
- National or state manual/digital vaccination certificate of the country/foreign government;
- Other proof of vaccination that is permitted by the IATF.
For unvaccinated or partially vaccinated Filipino and foreign travelers
- Filipinos and foreign nationals 15 years or older must present a remotely supervised or laboratory-based rapid antigen negative test administered and certified by a healthcare professional in a healthcare facility, laboratory, clinic, pharmacy, or other similar establishment taken within 24 hours, prior to the date and time of departure from the country of origin/first port of embarkation in a continuous journey to the Philippines, excluding layovers; provided that traveler has not left the airport premises or has not been admitted into another country during such lay-over.
- Travelers 15 years or older who fail to present negative pre-departure test results shall be required to undergo a laboratory-based rapid antigen test administered and certified by a healthcare professional in a healthcare facility, laboratory, clinic, pharmacy, or other similar establishment taken upon arrival at the airport.
- Accompanied minors below 15 years of age who are not vaccinated for any reason shall follow the quarantine protocols of their parant/s or an accompanying adult/guardian traveling with them.
- Unaccompanied minors below 15 years of age who are not vaccinated for any reason shall follow the protocols set forth in (1) and (2) above.
Must have a valid passport
Passports must be valid for at least 6 months at the time of their arrival to the Philippines.
Must have valid tickets for their return journey
Temporary visitors to the Philippines must have valid tickets for their return journey to the port of origin or the next port of destination corresponding to their permitted/allowable duration of stay under a valid visa or visa-free entry, as the case may be.
Travel insurance is no longer required when visiting the Philippines, but it is highly encouraged. SafetyWing is affordable travel insurance that covers COVID-19.
You can read the full transcript of the IATF Resolution regarding travel requirements to the Philippines here.
Getting to Manila from the Airport
There are different transportations that you could take to get to your accommodation from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. You can take an airport taxi, Grab, or a regular taxi. There used to be a point-to-point bus before the pandemic, but the last time I was at the airport in June I was told that they are still not in operation.
When you get out of the arrival hall, you will see the booths of the airport taxis. They have a fixed rate depending on where you are going. Aside from the fixed rate, you also have to pay extra for the toll fee. Airport taxis are more expensive than regular taxis.
Grab is a ride-hailing app similar to Uber or Bolt. Unfortunately, we don’t have Uber in the Philippines anymore (I prefer it more than Grab) and we also don’t have Bolt. Before the pandemic, I used to recommend Grab to my friends visiting the Philippines. I’m 50-50 about it now though because they’ve become super expensive. When I came back to the Philippines from my trip to Phuket last June, I was trying to book a car from the airport to the bus station. The quoted price was around Php 960 (~US$ 17), almost the same price as that of the airport taxi. It was around 8:00 PM. A week before that, I paid less than Php 600 (~US$ 11) from the same bus station to the airport. But it was almost midnight.
Regular taxis are the usual, metered taxis. Nowadays when I’m in Manila, if I’m not rushing or it’s not very late at night, I take the regular taxi instead of Grab. They are much cheaper now. I have proven it many times, and one instance was when I came back from Phuket. Because the Airport Taxi and Grab are extremely expensive, I decided to go to the Departure Area of the airport and wait for a regular taxi. I was lucky I got one and the driver was very nice and honest.
When I got to the bus station, my meter was around Php 360 (~7 USD) only. I decided to give the driver Php 600 because I was feeling generous that day. After all, if he didn’t let me ride, I would have paid more. The driver was very happy with it. Btw, the bus is in Cubao, Quezon City. If you are staying in Makati, it is way closer to the airport so it shouldn’t cost that much.
I would like to add though that one of the reasons I used to recommend Grab over regular taxis is that regular taxis have a reputation for being scammers. They take advantage of unsuspecting passengers, especially foreigners and those who look probinsyano (country bumpkin). There are those who won’t agree with using a meter; they will set a price before your trip. Also, if you pay with a large bill, you may get scammed by the driver saying he doesn’t have enough for your change.
Here are some tips in case you take a regular taxi:
- Research your destination. Another way taxi drivers scam their passenger is they take the longer route instead of the shorter one. But be wary of shortcuts too. If you see that the driver is headed in the wrong way entirely, let him be aware that you know the direction.
- Prepare smaller bills so you can avoid overpaying, just in case the driver comes with the excuse of not having enough money.
- Never agree about not using the meter. If the driver insists, better look for another taxi.
- Sit in the back seat away from the driver for safety and social distancing reasons.
- Take care of your belongings and be aware. Don’t fall asleep during the trip even if the traffic is really bad. Also, make sure you lock all the doors and the windows are rolled up.
- Make sure you got all your things when you get off the taxi.
I hope I didn’t scare you with all these tips. I’m sure you’ll get the same tips anywhere you go. I just wanted to share how it is here. Also, since I started using regular taxis again (in 2020), I have never experienced any of those scams.
How to get around Manila
Aside from those mentioned above, other ways to get around Manila/Metro Manila are by taking the bus, the jeepney, or the MRT/LRT.
The jeepney or jeep is the most popular mode of transportation in the Philippines. They have a designated route and their rates are cheap.
Just like the jeepneys, buses have a designated route too. There are ordinary and air-conditioned buses. They are also cheap, but you should avoid taking them during rush hours (7 am to 9 am and 5 pm to 9 pm).
Light Rail Transit (LRT)/ Metro Rail Transit (MRT)
The LRT or MRT is another cheap option to get around Manila but they are not as user-friendly as the MRTs in other countries. And just like the buses, they should be avoided during rush hours.
I won’t advise you to take those though unless you are with a Filipino or a foreigner living in the Philippines for a long time who is used to taking those modes of transportation so that you won’t get lost. But if you insist, have small bills or coins for the fare. Also, be mindful of your belongings and avoid taking out/using your phone and other expensive things during the trip.
Where to stay in Manila
There are a lot of different accommodation types in Manila, whether you are traveling on a budget or if you want to splurge. But Manila (the metropolitan area) is a huge place and it is really hard to select where to stay if you are not familiar with the places. I’d say Makati is the best area especially if it is your first time because it is clean and safe. It is near the malls and restaurants. Also, it is closer to the airport and is not too far from Intramuros, the tourist spot in Manila that must not be missed when you are there.
The most popular place to stay among backpackers is the Z Hostel. You can check their price here.
For other hotels, you can check out here.
Where not to eat in Manila
Normally when you read travel guides, you see a section about where to eat in so and so place. You must be wondering why I wrote where not to eat instead.
A very common thing I read in backpacker groups on Facebook is that the Philippines has one of the worst food in the world. I think one of the reasons they are saying that is because they are comparing the food from roadside food stalls (we call it karinderya) in the Philippines with that in Vietnam or Thailand. If that’s the case, then well, I would agree with them. The thing is, the food from karinderyas here is very cheap, and they cater to the “working poor”. These types of food stalls usually serve monotonous, unhealthy meat dishes, and you can’t be sure about the cleanliness of the food. I’m not saying all karinderyas are like this, as there are actually karinderyas that serve clean and really good food. But I wouldn’t advise you to try them because even the middle class don’t normally eat here.
Things to do in Manila in One Day
If you only have a day, I think you will have enough time to cover Luneta Park, Intramuros, and Binondo.
Widely known as Luneta Park, it is a historic park located in Ermita, Manila. It is the location where the Philippines’ National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal was executed. Here you will see the Rizal Monument. And while you are in Rizal Park, it will be interesting to also check out the Philippines’ main Km 0 marker located across the Rizal Monument. The Km 0 in Rizal Park is where road distances on the island of Luzon are measured.
Thirty minutes to an hour is enough to explore Rizal Park. From Rizal Park, it is a 20-minute walk to Intramuros.
Known as the Walled City, Intramuros is one of the top tourist spots in Manila. Its construction began in the late 16th century. It was built to protect the city from foreign invasion and served as the political and military base of the Spaniards.
If you would like to learn the rich history of the Philippines, visit Intramuros. I highly recommend taking the tour offered by the pedicab drivers there. I’ve been to Intramuros many times but last week when I visited, it was almost mid-day so I decided to give the pedicab tour a try. You can explore Intramuros on foot, but if you’re doing it mid-day, it will be too exhausting because it is very hot and humid in Manila.
The pedicab drivers were trained by the Department of Tourism, so aside from being your driver, they will also give you facts about the different spots that you will visit in Intramuros. And they will also be your photographer. What more can you ask for? I only did an hour tour in Intramuros because I still need to go to Binondo to meet my friends. But if you want to see all the places offered on the tour, two hours is ideal. I paid Php 300 (~USD 6) for the 1-hour tour but Kuya said it is low season so I got it at a low price.
From Intramuros, you can ride a tricycle or a taxi to Binondo.
Binondo is a district in the city of Manila and is referred to as Manila’s Chinatown. And in case you didn’t know yet (I just found out a few weeks ago while doing some research), Binondo is actually the oldest Chinatown in the world. According to Wikipedia, it was established by the Spaniards in 1594 as a settlement near Intramuros but across the Pasig River for Chinese immigrants who converted to Catholicism. The colonial rulers positioned it as such so that they could keep a close eye on their migrant subjects.
But the place was already a hub of Chinese commerce even before the Spanish colonial period. Binondo is the center of commerce and trade in Manila, where all types of businesses run by Filipino-Chinese thrive.
When I was in my teens, I knew Binondo as the place to buy gold jewelries. My grandmother used to sell gold jewelry in the province, and she would buy the items in Binondo. There were times when I accompanied her there. Aside from the gold jewelry, Binondo is also a famous gastronomic hotspot. Locals and tourists would go there for a food trip.
While in Binondo, it is also worth checking out the shops selling charms and crystals, and feng shui cures and enhancers. Also, don’t forget to drop by Binondo Church and make three wishes (there is this belief that if it’s your first time visiting a church and you make 3 wishes, your wishes will be granted).
Where To Next After Manila
If you are a beach lover, I recommend you visit Siargao, Boracay, or El Nido, Coron, or Siquijor. If you are into hiking, there are a few mountains near Metro Manila where you can do a day hike. And if you would like to check out the highlands, you can visit Baguio or Sagada.
I hope you find this guide useful and I hope I didn’t scare you 😀 . If you have any questions, feel free to email me or write them down in the comments section. Please subscribe to my blog if you don’t want to miss any of my posts. You can also follow my Facebook page @iwentanyways and Instagram accounts @iwentanyways and @tnadeperalta for updates. Happy travels!