The First-Timer’s SAFE Travel Guide to Manila, the Philippines from a Local (Updated November 2016)

The First-Timer’s SAFE Travel Guide to Manila, the Philippines from a Local (Updated November 2016)

“I’ve visited many cities around the world and Manila is one of the scariest.”

The first time I heard a foreigner say something like that was in 1997 in Tokyo. A friend of a friend, she was an American teaching English in Japan and had stayed in Manila en route to Boracay. I had never heard anyone describe my city in that way so I was shocked to hear it, but the look in her eyes and the tone in her voice told me she wasn’t kidding. Whatever happened, Manila scared the living Jesus out of her.

Fast forward to this year and I overhear another traveler declare my city to be one of the scariest. We were in Sagada in January and a group of caucasian tourists were sitting at the table next to ours. One of them said: “I’ve been traveling around Asia for weeks now and Manila is one of the scariest cities I’ve been to so far.” Practically the same statement 20 years later but just as surprising to me.

Being from Manila, I never really thought of my city as scary until I put myself in their shoes. Where exactly were they staying? How were they getting around? Were they riding around in taxis? Those same taxis we locals often hear about on social media? Because of all the stories I hear, I personally don’t feel comfortable telling my loved ones to ride a taxi. I know that might be unfair to the honest taxi drivers out there, but many locals seem to feel that way these days hence the popularity of commuter apps like Uber and Grab.

When I think of Manila from that perspective, then I begin to understand.

Manila is far from perfect. In fact, there’s a lot wrong with it. It’s polluted, traffic is atrocious, and petty crimes seem to happen regularly. But as often as I find myself disliking it, one thing never changes. I love this city. Which is why I was inspired to write this guide, to get tourists to hopefully see Manila the way we locals do.

Sure, Manila can be scary. But it doesn’t have to be.

GUIDE TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. When to Go
  2. How to Get There
  3. How Long to Stay
  4. How Much Money to Bring
  5. Where to Exchange Currency
  6. Where to Stay
  7. How to Get Around
  1. Where to Go / What to Do
  2. 14 Things to Eat
  3. Where to Eat
  4. Where to Get a Drink
  5. Travel Tips
  6. Poblacion Area Map

WHEN TO GO

More often than not, Manila is a stopover for travelers moving on to other parts of the country so there isn’t really a “best time” to visit. Just know that there are two seasons — dry and rainy. Dry season is from December-May while rainy season is from June-November. March-May is the hottest and most humid time of the year with temperatures frequently exceeding 90°F. July-September are the wettest months while December-February are the coolest, making it the most ideal time to visit. This holds true for most of the Philippines.

HOW TO GET THERE

The majority of international flights will be arriving at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1. Terminal 2 services Philippine Air Lines only, while the few airlines not served by Terminal 1 will land at Terminal 3.

Regardless of where you land, the best ways to get to your hotel from the airport are by UBE Express Bus, Grab, metered or coupon taxi. For your safety and peace of mind, DO NOT get into a car unless it’s one of these options.

UBE Express Bus

Beginning September 2016, a brand new fleet of air-conditioned buses called UBE Express will be servicing passengers to and from the airport. Equipped with onboard wifi, buses run from 7AM-11PM daily and cost PHP 300 each way. You can purchase tickets at the Premium Bus Service kiosk at the airport or you can buy them in advance through the UBE Express booking website. It services all three airport terminals and takes passengers to and from designated stops along three routes — Makati, Roxas Boulevard, and Entertainment City. You can follow the link for more detailed information about UBE Express and their bus routes.

Grab

Beginning 14 March 2016, Grab booths will be placed at designated areas at all NAIA terminals. Despite being known as an app-based service, you’ll be able to book a ride even if you don’t have a smartphone or wifi connectivity. How convenient indeed! Grab booths will be set up at these locations:

Terminal 1: Main arrival curbside
Terminal 2: Inner arrival curbside between Bays 7 and 8
Terminal 3: Secondary arrival curbside between Bays 5 and 6
Terminal 4: Curbside

Metered Taxi

Soon as you exit the terminal, look for the metered taxi queue. All metered taxis are YELLOW. Tell the dispatcher at the counter where you’re going. He’ll give you a dispatch slip with information about your destination and the plate number of the taxi you’ll be riding. Once you get in, be sure that the driver flags down his meter. If he doesn’t, remind him to do so. If he refuses and tries to negotiate a fixed fare, get off and fall in line again. This is a metered taxi so any driver that tries to negotiate a fixed price with you is a scammer.

The flag down rate for a metered taxi is PHP 70 and PHP 4 for every 300 meters. The ride from the airport to downtown Makati should run you anywhere between PHP 200-300. Many drivers are honest but there have been reports of unscrupulous drivers rigging their meters, so keep an eye on it and make sure that it isn’t advancing too quickly.

It’s a good idea to bring smaller bills with you in case the driver doesn’t have change. Be sure to request PHP 100 bills when you exchange currency at the airport. The Philippines is a “tipping” country, so you can give the driver around a 10% tip if you like.

Coupon Taxi

Soon as you exit the terminal, look for the coupon taxi queue. All coupon taxis are WHITE. Tell the dispatcher at the counter where you’re going. He’ll give you a dispatch slip with information about your destination, as well as the plate number of the taxi you’ll be riding and the fixed fare amount. Coupon taxis are more expensive than metered taxis so the fare from the airport to Makati should run you anywhere between PHP 330-440 depending on where your hotel is.

Like the metered taxi, it’s a good idea to bring smaller bills with you in case the driver doesn’t have change. Since this is a fixed rate, you aren’t expected to leave a tip.

HOW LONG TO STAY

As mentioned above, Manila is a stopover destination for most travelers so there’s no need to stay too long. Three days should be plenty. That’ll give you enough time to do everything in this guide.

HOW MUCH MONEY TO BRING

Assuming you’re traveling with another person, then a budget of around PHP 2,500 a day per person should be plenty. This takes into account accommodations, 2 daily meals (apart from free hotel breakfast), pocket wifi rental, and commuter app transportation. Feel free to add to this depending on which of the suggested tours you want to do and how much you want to shop.

If you plan on taking public transportation and not spending as much on food, then you can do it for even less. Ren and I are middle of the road travelers who enjoy good food and drink, so the recommended budget is a good baseline for travelers like us. Adjust accordingly based on your own travel habits.

WHERE TO EXCHANGE CURRENCY

The best place to exchange currency in Manila is at money changers. Their rates are generally 10-20% better than banks. The rate at the airport is terrible so be sure to change no more than USD 100 there. That’ll get you to your hotel and give you enough pesos to spend on your first day until you can find a money changer.

There are plenty of money changers in Manila, including malls, so you can ask your hotel where the nearest (and best) one is. Be wary of anyone who approaches you on the street offering a great exchange rate. These are scams so AVOID THEM AT ALL COSTS. Exchange your currency only at licensed money changers and be sure to count your pesos before leaving the counter.

WHERE TO STAY

BUDGET: Z Hostel

A hip, centrally located hostel in Poblacion, Makati, Z Hostel is perfect for backpackers and group travelers. It’s clean and well-designed with mostly dorm style accommodations, though they do have a floor with private rooms for couples as well. It’s near many restaurants, bars, convenience stores, and shopping malls. Over the weekends, it has a small roofdeck that turns into a lively bar with DJs and live music. You can make a reservation through Booking.com or Agoda. Be sure to check both sites to find the best deal.

Check out my post on Z Hostel in Manila for more pictures and information. If you do decide to stay at Z Hostel, I’ve included an AREA MAP at the bottom of this post that indicates where it is in relation to other points of interest mentioned in this guide.
Z Hostel, Poblacion, Makati, Philippines

Private Room Rate: PHP 2,700 per night with breakfast for two / Dorm Room Rate: Starts at PHP 990 per person a night with breakfast (as of Aug 2015)

BUSINESS: City Garden Grand Hotel

City Garden Grand Hotel is a 4-star hotel just a few minutes’ walk from Z Hostel in Poblacion. It’s central location makes it ideal for business or leisure travelers to Manila. Considering it’s a 4-star hotel in Makati, rates are reasonable with Standard rooms starting at just PHP 3,584 a night. You can make a reservation through Booking.com or Agoda, or contact them directly to inquire about their corporate rates.

Check out my post on City Garden Grand Hotel for more pictures and information. You can refer to the AREA MAP at the bottom of this post to see exactly where it is in relation to everything else in this guide.
City Garden Grand Hotel, Poblacion, Makati, Philippines

Room Rate: Starts at PHP 3,584 per night with breakfast (as of Nov 2016)

HOW TO GET AROUND

Commuter Apps

Hands down the best way to get around Manila. It isn’t the cheapest, but it’s the safest and most convenient. There are a few to choose from – Grab, Uber, and Easy Taxi. For the purpose of this blog, we’ll go with Grab though the other two are just as good.

To use Grab, you’ll need to download their app onto your smartphone. Downloading and using the app will require a constant internet connection which is why I’m suggesting you rent a pocket wifi device for the duration of your stay. Available for PHP 450 a day, you can find more information about pocket wifi rentals in the TRAVEL TIPS section of this post. For your convenience, I’ve listed the Grab location and approximate fare for each of the recommended destinations in this guide.

If you’re considering using anything other than commuter apps, don’t. As much as I would love to heap praises on our public transportation system, I can’t at this time. Here’s why:

Regular Taxis

Don’t get into a regular taxi. Their reputation is pretty bad, even among locals. Many are rundown and smelly, and we often hear about taxis being used to commit scams and thefts (or worse). With that said, I’m not saying all taxi drivers are evil. Many are good, honest people. But to be absolutely safe as a foreigner traveling in Manila, then it’s best that you stay away from regular taxis for now.

If you’re unconvinced, follow the link to read the PNP’s (Philippine National Police) advisory on the Do’s and Don’ts of riding a taxi in Manila. Is this something you really want to worry about while on holiday?

Public Buses

Forget buses. Not only are many of them rundown, bus drivers are the worst. They drive like fucking maniacs. A kiwi friend of mine who lived in Manila for a year told me that he was never sure he’d get out of a bus alive. I’m sure he was exaggerating but you get my point. Stories about passengers being pickpocketed or held up at gunpoint aren’t unheard of either.

Jeepneys (?)

Jeepneys are better than buses though they do have their share of incidents, mostly involving pickpockets and snatchers. When riding one, keep your valuables safe, try not to wear exposed jewelry, and don’t use your mobile phone. Because jeepney vehicles are open and exposed, we sometimes hear stories of people’s phones and jewelry getting snatched.

With that said, jeepneys are an iconic part of Philippine culture so feel free to ride them provided you follow my advice above. It’s a memorable experience and the cheapest way to get around as well. I’ve never personally used it, but there’s a mobile app from sakay.ph that can help you navigate Manila’s often confusing public transportation system. Just be sure to memorize or print out your route beforehand so you don’t have to pull out your mobile phone mid-ride. 😉

MRT

As much as I would love to endorse the MRT (subway system) as a safe means of transportation for foreigners, I can’t. At least not until they make improvements.

The most common complaints include how scorchingly hot train stations are and how crowded trains get during rush hour (not enough trains!), so much so that it becomes a haven for snatchers and pickpockets. In fact, one of my mother-in-law’s nurses was almost victimized the other day by a young boy (possibly a drug addict) trying to snatch her bag.

Watch this great video about an American’s thoughts on Manila’s MRT system:

Please be advised that my recommendations above reflect my personal thoughts and opinions at this time. As is the case with the MRT, they may change over time if improvements are made. I’ll be sure to update this page if they do, because there’s nothing I want more than a public transportation system that we locals can be proud of.

Until then, you can follow the link for 5 reasons on why you should use a commuter app in Manila.

WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO DO

1. Tour Intramuros on a Bamboo Bike with Bambike Ecotours

Historic Intramuros is without a doubt the premier tourist attraction in Manila. What better way to see it than on sustainable bamboo bikes made in partnership with one of the Philippines’ most respected NGOs, Gawad Kalinga?

Check out my post on the Intramuros Tour with Bambike Ecotours for more pictures and information.
Bambike Ecotours, Intramuros, Manila

Length of Tour: 2.5 hrs / Cost: PHP 1,200 per person / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 348 each way (Destination: Casa Manila)

2. Do the Binondo Food Wok with Ivan Man Dy

Have you seen the Philippine episode of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain? If so, then you might recognize Ivan. He was one of Anthony’s guides in Manila. A fun gastronomic tour that takes you through the back alleys of Binondo, there’s no better or more delicious way of exploring Manila’s Chinatown than this. Highly recommended.

Check out my post on the Binondo Food Wok with Ivan Man Dy for more pictures and information.
Binondo Food Wok with Ivan Man Dy

Length of Tour: 3.5 hrs / Cost: PHP 1,200 per person inclusive of food / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 339 each way (Destination: Minor Basilica of St. Lorenzo Ruiz of Manila)

3. Marvel at Juan Luna’s Spoliarium at the National Museum

The National Museum is Manila’ foremost museum and houses what’s widely considered to be the most internationally renowned piece in Philippine art history — Spoliarium by national artist Juan Luna. A cultural treasure measuring a gargantuan 422 cm x 767.5 cm, this painting of dying gladiators received a gold medal at the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in Madrid in 1884.

The National Museum is comprised of three buildings — The National Art Gallery which showcases visual artworks, the Museum of the Filpino People which houses important historical artifacts, and the Planetarium. Needless to say, you can spend an entire day visiting all three. The National Museum went through a major renovation in 2012 so the buildings look and feel brand new.

Check out my post on the National Museum of the Philippines for more pictures and information.
National Art Gallery, National Museum, Manila, Philippines

Suggested Length of Visit: 2-3 hrs / Entrance: FREE / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 321 each way (Destination: National Museum of the Philippines)

4. Enjoy the Manila Bay Sunset over Buckets of Beer at Mall of Asia (MOA)

Manila Bay is renowned for its sunsets and there are few better vantage points than Mall of Asia. Fronting the bay, its the third largest shopping mall in the Philippines.

To catch the sunset, head on up to the second floor around 5 PM and look for signs pointing you to Seaside Boulevard. There you’ll find a row of al fresco restaurants facing Manila Bay. Pick any restaurant that appeals to you and order a bucket (6 bottles) of San Mig Lights or Pale Pilsens. Kick back and enjoy the light show.
Mall of Asia, Manila, the Philippines

Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 321 each way (Destination: SM Mall of Asia)

5. Go Bargain Hunting at Greenhills Shopping Center

Greenhills Shopping Center (or “Greenhills” for short) is a bargain hunter’s paradise. You can find almost anything there like mobile phones, gadgets, jewelry, clothing, fashion accessories, watches, shoes, bags, etc. It’s also home to a good amount of quality knock-offs. Just be aware of any laws that your country may have about the importation of counterfeit goods before you go crazy buying fakes.

Original picture borrowed from juan_paulo’s Flickr stream.
Greenhills Shopping Center, Philippines

Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 299 each way (Destination: Greenhills Shopping Center)

6. Watch Science come Alive at the Mind Museum

This place was fun. If you’re traveling with kids, then the Mind Museum is a great way to spend a couple of hours. Not only will they be learning about things like Bernoulli’s Principle, magnetic fields, and Einstein’s theory of gravity, but they’ll be doing it in the funnest way imaginable. The Mind Museum is located at the BGC (Bonifacio Global City) as well which is home to some of Manila’s trendiest bars and restaurants.

Check out my post on The Mind Museum in Manila for more pictures and information.
The Mind Museum, Manila, the Philippines

Suggested Length of Visit: 2-3 hrs / Entrance: PHP 625 per adult, PHP 475 per child / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 264 each way (Destination: The Mind Museum)

7. Get a Massage

Massages are cheap in Manila and pretty good. You can get a full body massage for around PHP 350. Just be sure that you go to a LEGITIMATE massage parlor and not a sex den masquerading as one. There are many legitimate massage parlors around so just ask your hotel where the nearest one is. If you’re staying at Z Hostel, then I recommend Nuat Thai near A Venue Mall. It’s about a 10-15 minute walk from the hostel. You can refer to the map at the bottom of this post or ask your hotel for directions. Massages are hard work so be sure to give your masseuse a good tip as well (PHP 50-100).

14 THINGS TO EAT

Renowned food personality Andrew Zimmern once said that Filipino food will be the next big thing. Here are 14 reasons why. Check out my post for a list of 14 delicious things you can eat in Manila.
Pork sisig

Sizzling pork sisig

WHERE TO EAT

This was the hardest section to write being a food lover from Manila. How could I narrow it down? Some of these restaurants may not be the trendiest, but they made the list for what in my mind were more important reasons — longevity, accessibility, price, and overall experience. Tailored for travelers getting their first taste of Filipino food, we chose restaurants that serve authentic Filipino cuisine without being too exotic so as to put off any new fans.

1. Abe

Abe belongs to the iconic LJC group of restaurants that’s been serving excellent Filipino cuisine for over 30 years. It’s one of the first restaurants I think of when entertaining foreign guests. Popular dishes include the Lamb Adobo, Crispy Pork Adobo ni Lola Ising, Bamboo Rice (pictured below), and Sikreto ni Maria (sticky rice dessert with ripe mangoes and macapuno ice cream). For more adventurous eaters, I suggest trying the Betute (stuffed frogs) and Arobong Kamaru (sauteed crickets) as well.

Check out my friend Gerry’s post on Abe’s Farm for more pictures and information. It’s from their provincial restaurant but the dishes are the same.
Abe restaurant, Manila, Philippines

Expect to Spend: Around PHP 800 per person with drinks / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 273 each way (Destination: Serendra Piazza)

2. Mesa Filipino Moderne

Like Abe, Mesa is one of the first restaurants I consider when entertaining guests from abroad. They aren’t as pricey and their food is just as good. While Abe serves more traditional cuisine, Mesa serves Filipino food with a slightly modern twist. Standout dishes include Baby Squid in Olive Oil (pictured below), Crispy Hito Flakes (catfish), Chicken Binakol (chicken soup flavored with coconut meat), and Baked Scallops.
Mesa Filipino Moderne, Manila, Philippines

Expect to Spend: Around PHP 500 per person with drinks / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 243 each way (Destination: Greenbelt 5)

3. Seaside Market on Macapagal Boulevard

If you like fresh seafood, then you’ll enjoy the Seaside Market along Macapagal Boulevard. A fish market to table concept, you’ll buy your seafood from the wet market then have it cooked by one of the many restaurants in the complex. Seafood doesn’t get any fresher than this.

The seaside market is close to notable areas like Intramuros, the National Museum, and Mall of Asia, so you may want to pair a meal here with a trip to one of those places. Check out my post on the Seaside Market Dampa in Manila for more pictures and information.
Seaside Dampa on Macapagal Boulevard, Pasay, Philippines

Expect to Spend: Around PHP 500 per person with drinks / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 299 each way (Destination: Seaside Market — Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard, Pasay)

4. Gerry’s Grill

Gerry’s Grill is arguably the most popular Filipino grill restaurant in Manila. The food is good and inexpensive, making it a favorite watering hole among locals. I suggest trying the Inihaw na Liempo (grilled pork belly), Inihaw na Baby Pusit, and the Adobong Puso Rice (pictured below). They’re also known for their Pork Sisig, a hugely popular bar appetizer made with chopped pig’s face, ears, and chicken liver. You can read more about it in my post listing 14 delicious things to eat in Manila.

Gerry’s Grill has plenty of branches throughout the city, including Mall of Asia and Greenhills Shopping Center. If you’re staying at Lokal Hostel, then the Greenbelt 3 branch will be closest to you. Greenbelt 3 is an upscale al fresco mall in Makati so it’s a great place to walk around and kill time. Follow the link for a list of Gerry’s Grill branches in Manila.
Gerry's Grill, Manila, Philippines

Expect to Spend: Around PHP 500 per person with drinks / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 238 each way (Destination: Greenbelt 3)

5. Hole in the Wall

The only trendy eatery on this list. Hole in the Wall is actually an ultra hip food court located at the 4th floor of Century City Mall, which is about a 10-15 minute walk from Z Hostel. We already had a few Filipino restaurants on this list so why not add a place that offered some variety. There are 12 eateries at Hole in the Wall as of this writing. Many of them we’ve tried, all were good.

Check out my post on the Hole in the Wall food hall in Manila for more pictures and information.
Hole in the Wall, Makati, Philippines

Expect to Spend: Around PHP 400 per person with drinks

6. Jollibee

Jollibee is our local version of McDonald’s. It’s a hugely popular fast food burger chain that caters to the Filipino palate. More flavorful than typical American-style hamburgers, there are Jollibee restaurants all over the country (including the Mind Museum). Ask your hotel where the nearest branch is. I suggest getting the Champ. It’s their signature burger and the equivalent of a Big Mac.
Jollibee

Expect to Spend: Around PHP 170 for a burger with fries and a drink

WHERE TO GET A DRINK

There are many places to get a drink in Manila, but if you’re staying at Z Hostel, then this small cluster of restaurant bars along Felipe Street in Poblacion is a great place to go. It’s just a quick 5-minute walk from the hotel across Kalayaan Avenue so you can easily and safely stumble your way back home. I indicated where it is in the AREA MAP at the bottom of this post.
Poblacion, Makati, Philippines

At the moment, there are three al fresco restaurant bars here — Chupacabra which serves Mexican street food, Tambai which offers yakitori dishes, and H&J Sports Bar which has pool tables, dart boards, and lots of TVs showing sports matches. Lively and trendy even amongst locals, the vibe of the area feels a lot like a mini Pub Street in Siem Reap or a Khao San Road in Bangkok.
Poblacion, Makati, Philippines

Chupacabra has an extensive menu. These delicious mini tacos range between PHP 100-130. Beers are just PHP 50.
Poblacion, Makati, Philippines

Tambai is our favorite right now. The food is good and easy to eat. Try the US beef rib fingers (PHP 180), quail eggs with bacon (PHP 50), and soft shell crab (PHP 280). Daring eaters should also try the US beef isaw (intestines, PHP 40). Beers are just PHP 50 here as well.
Poblacion, Makati, Philippines

TRAVEL TIPS

1. Plan your Trip with Sygic Travel (formerly Tripomatic)

This free app is very useful. It enables you to plot points of interest on a map, including your hotel, so you can see exactly how far you need to travel between points. You can then group attractions together per day based on their location. With pocket wifi, it can turn your mobile phone into a GPS tracking device so people with a terrible sense of direction (like me) don’t get lost. Pretty cool right? Check out my post on the Sygic Travel app for more information.

DOWNLOAD: iOS / Android

2. Rent a Pocket Wifi Device

This guide hinges on getting around using commuter apps so it’s imperative that you have wifi access. Many public places like your hotel and cafes do have free wifi but the connection isn’t as good nor as reliable. For that reason, I suggest renting a pocket wifi device so you have uninterrupted wifi access at all times.

You can rent a device from Konbini Rentals for PHP 450/day. It’ll give you wifi speeds of up to 42 mbps and allow you to connect up to 10 devices. They’ll deliver the wifi device to your hotel a day before you arrive. The package comes with bubble wrap and a self-addressed plastic envelope so you can just leave it with the front desk upon checking out. Very convenient indeed. Follow the link to rent a pocket wifi device from Konbini Rentals.
Konbini Rentals

Smart Communications, one of the country’s leading wireless service providers, recently started a pocket wifi rental service as well called GoLocal. I haven’t used it personally but Smart is a good company and their rental prices are considerably less than Konbini. It’s interesting to note that they don’t follow the traditional per day rental scheme. Instead, you can rent a device in 1-day, 7-day, and 15-day bundles for USD 5.99, USD 14.99, and USD 24.99 respectively. You’ll have up to 3 days of the end of your rental period to return the device and get your USD 45 deposit back. Conveniently, they offer airport pick-up and drop-off as well on top of Metro Manila hotel delivery. You can follow this link to learn more and rent a pocket wifi device from GoLocal.

3. Get Travel Insurance

If you’re a non-Filipino, then I strongly suggest you get travel insurance before visiting the Philippines. Fact is, you never know what can happen. Much of our infrastructure isn’t as developed and if you go to places like Batad or Sagada where you can lose your footing when hiking, having travel insurance will be a godsend.

We buy travel insurance from World Nomads because every long-term traveler I know recommends it. From the sound of it, they’re the best in the industry by a mile. Not only do they provide a high coverage limit for medical expenses (up to USD 5 million with the Standard package), they also cover things like trip delays, missed flight connections, theft/loss of passport and luggage, etc. Follow this link to learn more and get a free travel insurance quote from World Nomads. It’s super quick and easy.

4. Give around 10% Gratuity

As mentioned up top, the Philippines is a tipping country, a practice that we probably inherited from the Americans. However, it isn’t as regimented (or expected) as the US so you’re free to give whatever you want. Filipinos are generally nice so they won’t chase you down for giving them a bad tip.

When you get your bill, check if service charge has already been included. Most will be 10%. If so, then you can give an additional PHP 20 on top of it, more if you’re a large group. If service charge hasn’t been included, then leaving a 10% tip would be nice. You’re welcome to leave more if you’re happy with the service of course. It’ll be much appreciated.

5. Be Vigilant

I don’t want to make Manila sound like such an unsavory city, but like I said up top, I’ve heard more than one foreigner call it one of the scariest cities they’ve ever been to. As a local, I often read about scams and petty crimes on social media. Many seem to involve taxis, pickpockets, and snatchers working in packs. Here are a few things you can do to avoid being victimized by unscrupulous people:

  1. As discussed in detail above, don’t hire regular taxis. Use commuter apps like Grab, Uber, or Easy Taxi instead. I can’t stress this enough. Even us locals are wary of regular taxis these days.
  2. Ignore people who randomly come up to you on the street offering something. Don’t even bother talking to them. Trust me, whatever it is they’re selling, you don’t want it.
  3. Be wary of locals who invite you to a bar or restaurant. They may be members of a gang that preys on foreigners. They’ll drug your food and/or drink so they can steal your belongings, which is what happened to this PORTUGUESE TRAVELER. So sad and precisely why I wrote this safe travel guide. 🙁
  4. Always keep your valuables in sight. Whenever we eat at a restaurant, any restaurant, I’ve got the strap of my camera bag wrapped around my leg. Ren does the same thing with her handbag. My mom was victimed by a purse snatcher once. She had her bag on the floor next to her chair. Next thing she knew, it was gone. Working in groups, a snatcher will sometimes sit at the table next to yours while another creates a distraction. They’ll grab your bag when you’re not looking and be gone in a millisecond.
  5. When walking on the sidewalk, carry your bag on the shoulder away from the street. We often hear about motorcycle-riding purse snatchers who grab the bags of pedestrians then speed away. If you can, try not to walk too close to traffic.

6. Pack Well

What you should bring on trips is highly subjective, but these are some of the things we used to make this guide. If you’d like to see what other gear we use, then you can check out our “What’s in Our Backpack?” post. (NOTE: The following links are Amazon affiliate links.)

POBLACION AREA MAP

If you decide to stay at Z Hostel or City Garden Grand Hotel, then you can refer to this map to see where they are in relation to other points of interest mentioned in this guide. Click on the map to enlarge.
Poblacion area map

Mabuhay!

Again, I don’t mean to scare you with these safety tips. I just want you to have a safe and enjoyable time here in Manila. Every city has its share of scammers so it always pays to be vigilant no matter where you are. If you’re smart and stay safe, then you’ll find that Manila has much to offer.

If you have any questions, please feel free to post them in the comment section below or join our Facebook Travel Group. We’d love to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by and enjoy the Philippines!

Disclosure

Konbini Rentals has a minimum 3-day rental period so I contacted them asking if I could rent it for just 1 day for the purpose of this guide. I offered to pay but they graciously allowed me to use it free of charge. We were also invited by City Garden Grand Hotel for the sole purpose of reviewing their hotel. They never asked to be included in this guide but I added them anyway to provide more choices to a larger demographic of travelers. Everything else on this guide was paid for by us and added at our own volition. No one asked to be added, no one knew they were going to be included.

Some of the links in this guide are affiliate links, meaning we’ll get a small commission if you make a purchase at NO extra cost to you. We only recommend products and services that we use ourselves and firmly believe in. We really appreciate your support as this helps us make more of these free travel guides. Thank you!

JB Macatulad

JB Macatulad

JB is one half of Will Fly for Food and its chief itinerary maker.  He's the one to blame for all the crappy photos and verbal diarrhea on this blog.  Don't listen to him.
JB Macatulad


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  1. hitokirihoshi at 3:13 pm

    wow! i go in manila often, but your post makes me wonder how deep my knowledge is.

    parang it’s a complete guide na talaga. mabuhay!

  2. Wayne Seto at 4:45 am

    Thanks for this post. I was in the Philippines about 5 years ago and didn’t want to deal with Manila. I regretted it soon after. I hope to return soon and this post is very helpful especially with regards to taxis. I hate dealing with taxi drivers when I travel. Thanks again for the post and happy travels!

  3. Corinne at 6:33 am

    I wish I had read your nice guide before setting foot in Manila (back in 2010!) 😉 I tried it all: taxis, metro (was it a train, or a metro?), jeepneys… I had no major problem with them fortunately (except the train that was crowded as hell), but ended up in a terrible neighborhood that was scaring even the taxi driver. No harm done, fortunately: two really sweet guys rescued me from there and toured me around their city! I’m keeping your guide handy for my next time in Manila though, with age we get more cautious, I suppose :p

  4. JB Macatulad at 8:13 am

    You’re welcome Wayne! I hope you do find your way back to the Philippines (and Manila) soon. It’s worth spending a couple of days here to see the sights. If you’re a foodie, we have lots and lots of great restaurants to enjoy as well. Best of luck to you and all your travels. 🙂

  5. JB Macatulad at 8:16 am

    Happy to hear that you enjoyed your stay in Manila Corinne! I don’t mean to make Manila sound like such an unsavory place, because it isn’t, but I just want travelers to be aware of its dangers so they can travel more mindfully and safely. I’d hate for visitors to have a bad experience here. Best of luck to you and all your travels and I hope you find your way back to the Philippines (and Manila) soon! 🙂

  6. Cassandra Surette at 6:25 pm

    Lately i have been finding a lot of buzz around Philippines as travel destination. A good compilation with many worthy tips. Thanks for the info.

  7. RyHereRytNow at 5:14 pm

    Great guide! A lot of it is about the unsavory side of Manila but to the ones who are reading from outside the country, it’s a crazy exciting city with lots of finds (shopping, eating, visiting-wise), better if you’re with a good group of people, hangout with eherm trustworthy locals haha, or go around the “right” places. It’s chaotic, and not for the faint of heart and it can takes a little warming up to but once you’ve found your groove (and manage your expectations) you’re in for a treat.

    A few other suggestions from a local :
    a.) Food parks and villages – from the locales of Maginhawa in Quezon City, Lilac in Marikina and Kapitolyo in Pasig or Mercato at BGC or Banchetto.
    b.) Weekend markets – Salcedo and Legaspi Village markets, or this art market in Escolta which I havent been to haha
    c.) Cubao Expo, if its still alive – bohemian pocket area of cafes & thrift shops in Cubao, Quezon City area
    d.) Bonifacio Global City public art and Burgos Circle of cafes & restos
    e.) not really into it now but Manila has its own share of trendy clubs (like Valkyrie, Palace Pool Club, Revel, etc)

  8. JB Macatulad at 7:01 am

    Thanks for sharing these Ry! These are awesome recommendations. We love Maginhawa/Malingap and Kapitolyo as well. They’re some of our favorite restaurant hunting grounds. I’d put Aguirre in BF in that group too. The markets are great recommendations as well. Thanks again. 🙂

  9. Tyrron Tan at 10:56 am

    Hi there, I’m not sure what it means, but Mabuhay! I’ve recently just arrived in the Philippines, Bonifacio Global City for work purposes and was trying to get around town to explore more about the places around where I stay. When I arrived in Manila Airport, I find the media over-exaggerating the dangers of Manila, except for the traffic – the people here drives like there’s no tomorrow! It’s only been the first week since I’ve been here, but I am already pretty excited to go around exploring the city – Makati, Quezon and some others. Hopefully, I can hear from you soon to have a more detailed guides around The Philippines. (Beach and mountain hiking maniac here!) Cheers and a job well done for taking time to share with us this guide. Thank You! 🙂

  10. JB Macatulad at 7:12 am

    Welcome to the Philippines Tyrron! Mabuhay literally means “to live”, like “Long live the Philippines!” when we say “Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!” in celebration of something. But it’s also used to welcome guests to the country. 🙂

    I’m happy you found the guides useful! If you like the mountains, then you’ll probably enjoy SAGADA and BATAD. You can follow the links to check out our travel guides if you haven’t already. TAAL HERITAGE TOWN is interesting as well. You can do it as a day trip from Manila. I don’t have guides for any nearby beaches yet but I do have one for BOHOL. Hope that helps?

    Anyway, thanks for the comment and have an awesome time in the Philippines! And I agree, the dangers in Manila are often exaggerated but it still pays to be vigilant. You should have no problems though being in the BGC area. 🙂

  11. Travis at 2:54 am

    I have a question on mobile and hotspot. I am going over to Manila for a month on a work assignment. I have a Verizon iPhone, so I know it won’t work and can’t change my sim. I was wondering if it would be best to just get this pocket MIFI hotspot and then use my Verizon iPhone via wifi… I do everything over apps: Skype, email, viber, slack, web, etc.

    The alternative people are saying is to buy a local sim and phone from smart / global.. But I’m not sure I need all that. If I get this recommended MIFI above it seems to be an all around solution. What do you think?

  12. JB Macatulad at 7:46 am

    Hi Travis, will cost be an issue? Not sure how much the local sim and phone will cost, but renting the pocket wifi device for a month may get a little expensive. Perhaps you can work a deal with Konbini for long-term rental? But if cost isn’t a concern, then I’d say the pocket wifi device is the more convenient option. Less to worry about.

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  14. Kay at 6:59 pm

    To Travis asking about the data plan, there is a cheaper option than renting a pocket wifi from konbini. It would make sense to purchase a prepaid Smart or Globe number and buy pocket wifis from either Smart or Globe (it can go from USD 20-40 for one time purchase). Basically, it’s pay per use (and generally the speeds suck with prepaid than with a long-term subscription) but way more cost effective than the daily rental for Konbini. You need the prepaid number to easily send credits to your pocket wifi device OR you can go to a 7-11 and they can usually do that for you, and just pay them the amount you need to have credited to your pocket wifi). Sell/give pocket wifi to someone else when you leave.

  15. Barbara Vezos at 11:06 pm

    Thanks so much for all this information! I just found out that I need to go to Manila next week for work so this is much appreciated. I’ll be traveling alone so I really appreciate all the safety tips. I’ll be staying at a nice hotel close to my office and I’ll definitely use Uber or Grab to get back and forth.

    I’m most anxious about the food! I am so un-adventurous when it comes to eating (I have the palette of a 3 year old) and when mentioned pigs faces, crickets, and frogs I got queasy. I hope I can get some plain rice or a grilled cheese sandwich somewhere 🙂 I’ll be packing lots of granola bars for back up.

    Despite all that (and the 20 hr flight) I’m looking forward to visiting your country!

  16. JB Macatulad at 2:19 pm

    Happy you found the guide useful Barbara! And don’t worry about the food. You’ll have plenty of less adventurous options. 🙂 Have a great time in the Philippines!

  17. Vincent Burke at 3:35 am

    Thanks All for the information. Trip planned for January 2018 and have no idea what to expect. Do plan to stay at Guijo Suites Makati or other Makati hotel. Will follow directions using Grab, Uber….now have to find out how to handle 20hr flight….don’t like long airtime.

  18. Neel at 9:52 pm

    Great information indeed. I’m from India, visiting your country during Dec 25 2016 and 1 Jan 2017. I’m in Manila between Dec 25-27, post which I’m taking a ship to Boracay. I hope these two days would be sort of okay to explore most of the to-do lists? I’d probably be staying at Makati Junction hostel as the rooms at Z is full for the period specific. I look forward to your feedback. Many thanks.

  19. JB Macatulad at 8:26 am

    Happy you found the guide useful Neel! 2 days should be enough to see the best of Manila. I suggest prioritizing Intramuros and the museum. If you’re big on food, then the Binondo Food Wok would be great as well. We haven’t stayed at Makat Junction Hostel but it’s very close to Z Hostel. I remember seeing it. It’s got good reviews online so it looks to be an excellent choice. Have a great trip and enjoy Manila and Boracay! 🙂

  20. tanya hamilton at 2:52 pm

    Thank you for your wonderful and informative tips. Any chance we can rent a device if we do not have the required three day notice before arrival? Also, is it really difficult to get transportation from the airport about 11pm at night?

  21. JB Macatulad at 7:09 am

    You’re welcome Tanya! I think so. The 3 day-notice is just to ensure there are devices available but you should be able to rent one if it isn’t peak season. I suggest taking Grab from the airport after 11PM. Have a good trip! 🙂

  22. Rachelle at 11:52 pm

    Hello. Thanks for the tips. My family and I are traveling to the Philippines in December. I’m balikbayan and this will be my first trip back since leaving as a child in the Marco era. Regarding currency exchange and getting money in general – we have always gone to an ATM at the airport whenever we travel outside of the US. Are there ATM’s at Ninoy International and are they safe to use?

  23. JB Macatulad at 2:52 pm

    Hi Rachelle, great to hear you’re coming back for a visit! Yes, there are ATMs at every terminal. You can check THIS LINK for more information. They should be safe. As long as you observe the usual safe practices like covering your pin then you should be fine. Have a great trip. 🙂

  24. AJ BAUTISTA at 5:59 am

    Thank you for the wonderful insight and information. I’m just curious since I live in North America. If there’s a problem and you need to contact police and the authorities, is the standard 911 the correct number?

  25. Deb at 11:45 pm

    Hi,
    At the last minute I have the opportunity to be in Manila (leaving in about 2 weeks).
    My husband and I will have about 3 days to tour. Questions:
    1) Are there any good tour guides? Are private tour guides expensive?
    2) With 3 days, are there day trips that are doable?
    3) Is it doable to get tothe Rice Teraces of Cordillera?

  26. JB Macatulad at 7:56 am

    Hi Deb, to answer your questions:

    1. Ivan Man Dy of Old Manila Walks is an excellent tour guide. He was one of Anthony Bourdain’s guides in the Manila episode of No Reservations. The Binondo Food Wok is the most popular but he offers other tours as well. You can check out his WEBSITE for a list of tours.

    2. A day trip to Taal is highly recommended. You can visit the lake, volcano, and Taal Heritage Town.

    3. No, I’m afraid it’s too far. It takes 9 hours to get there by bus.

    Hope that helps and enjoy your trip! 🙂

  27. Samosa at 1:14 pm

    Great article, thanks for the thorough advice! However, I have to say, avoid Konbini Rentals like the plague.

    I arranged and paid for a 3-day rental from Konbini to be delivered to my hotel. It did not arrive, so the following day I wrote them an email and they replied, “We apologise for the inconvenience and miscommunication but your order was refunded and cancelled the day you placed it. We were waiting for another booking from your end to proceed.”

    What? What does this even mean? Why would you cancel my reservation, and not tell me about it until I wrote an email to you and then not even explain why? This meant I was left with no wi-fi in Manila thanks to these clowns. Worse still, I had received no refund to my credit card. I told them this and they obviously they couldn’t care less about my situation and told me I had to ring paypal and sort it out for myself. I ended up wasting a whole morning on the phone to paypal USA to get to the bottom of their mess.

    You have to realise they are charging 450php per day – this is not cheap and deserves a much higher quality of customer service than what I experienced. They don’t even have a phone number you can reach them on – after digging around I found out they are actually part of a company called Leap Froggr Inc (https://www.leapfroggr.com/) – which specialises in internet marketing and has nothing to do with telecommunications and wifi. This is obviously just a fledgling project for them, I can’t believe they’re serious about it based on my experience.

    Go with Smart’s GoLocal service, it’s way cheaper, way better and they know what they’re doing – they’re one of the leading telecommunications networks in the Philippines. You can also just buy a device – go into and Globe or Smart store and you can buy a LTE mobile wifi for about 1200PHP which comes with a GIG of free internet. You can just load up with pre-paid sim’s in any store on the street if ever you’re running low.

    Don’t use Konbini, the word konbini is from the Japanese word for convenience store and I can tell you there was nothing at all convenient about my experience with them.

  28. JB Macatulad at 8:39 am

    Thanks for sharing your experience Samosa and I’m sorry to hear you had a bad experience with Konbini. I’ve never used GoLocal, but I’d agree that they may be the more reliable option since they’re owned by Smart.

  29. TravelBum from TeXas at 6:18 am

    First and foremost, thank you for sharing this article! I find it refreshing and very informative. Looking forward to visiting your country I’m December!

  30. Yvonne at 7:51 pm

    I loved this guide! I’m from Papua New Guinea and I spent a week in Marikina last year. Planning to go back next year to Makati to spend my birthday there and do lots of shopping and sight seeing!

  31. JB Macatulad at 8:35 am

    So happy you found the guide useful Yvonne! It sounds like you had a great time in Manila. Yes, do come back! Manila can be a really fun place if you know where to go. Makati is a great place to stay. 😀

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