It’s been over two years since I wrote the first edition of this Manila travel guide. I decided to write it after hearing more than one foreigner describe Manila as the scariest city they’ve ever visited. I don’t know where they stayed or what happened that made them say that, but it inspired me to write a travel guide that put traveler safety first. I certainly didn’t want anyone visiting my home city and having a negative or even traumatic experience.
But the thing is, focusing so much on safety inadvertently put my city in a negative light. Without meaning to, I may have made it seem worse than it actually was. Sure, we have our share of taxi scammers and purse snatchers, but don’t many destinations around the world have those too? Surely Manila isn’t worse than any other third world metropolis? I wanted tourists to have fun in Manila but I realized after some time that putting so much emphasis on traveler safety wasn’t the right approach. It shed light on the negative instead of focusing on the positive aspects of my city and Filipinos in general.
Many travel bloggers have come to Manila and fallen in love with my city and its people, so much so that some of them are actually considering moving here. And they all said the same thing – when you’re here, you’re family. We Filipinos are known for our hospitality. Travel safety is a concern no matter where you go, but the chance to be welcomed like family isn’t something you can find just anywhere. I wanted the new edition of this guide to be a reflection of that.
GUIDE TABLE OF CONTENTS
MANILA AT A GLANCE
Manila is the capital city of the Philippines. Strictly speaking, it refers to one specific city but it’s also used as a blanket term for the whole metropolitan area. When people say “Manila”, they can either be referring to the actual city of Manila which is home to the capital’s most recognized attractions like Intramuros and Fort Santiago, or they can be using it to refer to the entire metropolitan area which consists of several cities like the city of Manila, Makati, Pasay, and Quezon City. Does this make sense?
According to Wikipedia, Manila is the most densely populated city in the world (as of June 2016). If you’ve ever driven through Manila’s rush hour traffic, then you won’t argue with that. The Philippines is a developing country with a dearth of well-paying jobs in the provinces. Many Filipinos flock to Manila looking for work which is part of the reason why the city has become so densely populated.
I’ve lived in Manila most of my life and I’ll agree it isn’t the prettiest city. But if you give it a chance, then you’ll find that there’s much to love here.
BEST TIME TO VISIT MANILA
More often than not, Manila is a stopover for many travelers 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 40°C (104°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.
Climate: Annual Monthly Weather in Manila
To help you better understand the weather in Manila, I’ve included average temperature and annual rainfall graphs below. Suggested months to visit are indicated in orange.
WHAT TO WEAR
Unlike some Southeast Asian countries like Thailand or Myanmar, there’s no strict dress code in the Philippines. Manila is hot and humid for most of the year so walking around in a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops is perfectly acceptable. I do pretty much 99% of the time. 😆
Just don’t walk around shirtless or in a bikini or anything like that and you’ll be fine. If you plan on visiting any churches, then please dress modestly. No one will stop you if you’re wearing shorts but that’s generally frowned upon, especially if you come during mass hours. The Philippines is a conservative country so remember to always be respectful in how you carry and present yourself.
If you plan on going to a more upscale restaurant or bar, then you’re expected to dress more appropriately. Smart casual is fine – ie a dress for women and pants with a collared shirt for men.
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, or private transfer. Personally, I always use Grab. There are metered and coupon taxis as well but I’ve never used them.
BY UBE EXPRESS BUS: A fleet of air-conditioned buses called UBE Express services passengers to and from the airport. Buses are equipped with onboard wifi and cost PHP 150 each way. You can purchase tickets at the airport kiosks when you arrive 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 several routes. You can follow the link for more detailed information about UBE Express and their bus routes.
BY GRAB: Despite being known as an app-based service, you’ll be able to book a ride with Grab even if you don’t have a smartphone or wifi connectivity. Grab booths can be found 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
Most travelers will probably fly to Manila but there may be other ways to get there depending on where you are. I suggest checking 12Go Asia to find route options available to you. You can click on the link or use the widget below. 12Go Asia is a popular transportation website that services Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, and the Philippines.
WHERE TO EXCHANGE CURRENCY
The best place to exchange currency in Manila is at a licensed money changer. 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 like the plague. Exchange your currency only at licensed money changers and be sure to count your pesos before leaving the counter.
WHERE TO STAY IN MANILA
In my opinion, the Poblacion area in Makati is the best place to stay in Manila. It’s located near the commercial business district so there are plenty of shops, restaurants, bars, and convenience stores in the area. There are many hotels to choose from in Poblacion but I can recommend these three based on personal experience.
BACKPACKER: 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-type accommodations. 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 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.
Dorm Room Rate: Starts at around PHP 749 per person a night with breakfast (as of Oct 2017)
BOUTIQUE: La Casita Mercedes
This is the type of place Ren and I love staying at when we travel. La Casita Mercedes is an old Filipino house that was renovated and reopened as a 7-room bed and breakfast in 2015. If you’re traveling as a couple and want peace and quiet, then this is a great place to stay. You can make a reservation through AirBnB, Booking.com, or Agoda. Be sure to check all three sites to find the best deal. If you’re new to AirBnB, then you can get USD 31 free travel credit via THIS LINK.
Room Rate: Around PHP 2,000 per night with breakfast (as of Oct 2017)
BUSINESS: City Garden Grand Hotel
City Garden Grand Hotel is a 4-star hotel just a few minutes’ walk from Z Hostel and La Casita Mercedes. 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 around PHP 3,785 a night. 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 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.
Room Rate: Starts at around PHP 3,785 per night with breakfast (as of Oct 2017)
HOW TO GET AROUND
Ride sharing apps are the best way to get around Manila. It isn’t the cheapest, but it’s the safest and most convenient. You can choose from either Grab or Uber. For the purpose of this blog, we’ll go with Grab though Uber is 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:
Don’t get into a regular taxi. They don’t have the best reputation, 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 for your safety and peace of mind, then it’s best that you stay away from regular taxis for now.
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.
Public jeepneys aren’t the most comfortable means of transportation but they’re an iconic part of Philippine culture so feel free to ride them at least once. It’s a memorable experience and the cheapest way to get around. 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.
As much as I would love to recommend the MRT (subway system) as an ideal means of transportation for tourists, 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!). The MRT has potential but until they address certain issues, it isn’t the best way to get around the city.
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. They may change 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 we locals can be proud of.
THINGS TO DO IN MANILA
1. Tour Intramuros on a Bamboo Bike with Bambike Ecotours
Historic Intramuros is without a doubt the premier tourist attraction in Manila. Known as the Walled City, this 0.67 sq km walled area (0.26 sq mi) WAS the City of Manila during the Spanish Colonial Period. You can explore Intramuros on your own but one of the most fun ways to experience it is on sustainable bamboo bikes made in partnership with one of the Philippines’ most respected NGOs, Gawad Kalinga.
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.
Length of Tour: 3.5 hrs / Cost: PHP 1,400 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.
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.
Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 321 each way (Destination: SM Mall of Asia)
5. Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth at the Dessert Museum
If you’re going to Mall of Asia, then you may want to pay a visit to the Dessert Museum as well, especially if you like sweets and posting your #ootd on Instagram. It’s a fun and unique candy-filled attraction that boasts eight themed rooms, each inspired by a different dessert.
Walk-ins pay PHP 799 for a 2-hour curated tour with up to 6 free desserts, but you can get in for just PHP 699 if you purchase tickets in advance through Klook. Check out my post on the Dessert Museum for more pictures and information.
Length of Tour: 2 hrs / Entrance: PHP 699 / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 321 each way (Destination: The Dessert Museum)
6. 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.
Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 299 each way (Destination: Greenhills Shopping Center)
Borrowed with permission from Juan Paulo Gutierrez’s Flickr stream / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
7. 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. If you’re interested in visiting the Mind Museum, then you can get a discount on the all-day pass if you purchase it through Klook.
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)
8. Take a Cooking Class
Ever since we took this cooking class in Hoi An, Vietnam, Ren and I have been taking cooking classes wherever we go. They’re surprisingly fun, even for people like me who don’t cook, plus they teach you a lot about the local cuisine.
Filipino food has arrived. Thanks to the success of Bad Saint, the global expansion of Jollibee, and Andrew Zimmern’s endorsement of Filipino food as the next big thing, Filipino cuisine is as popular as it’s ever been. If you’re spending enough time in Manila and want to learn more about the local cuisine, then I suggest taking a cooking class.
Cookly is an online booking platform that offers cooking classes in many cities around the world, including Manila. They’re basically a tour provider that focuses on cooking classes so there’s no better place to look for one than on Cookly. Unfortunately, they only have one in Manila right now, but with the growing popularity of Filipino food, I expect them to add more soon.
Length of Class: 5 hrs / Entrance: USD 110 per person
Photo borrowed from cookly.me
9. 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 in Poblacion, then I recommend Nuat Thai near A Venue Mall. 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 (PHP 50-100).
DAY TRIPS FROM MANILA
If you’re staying a few days in Manila, then here are a few day trips you can take from the city.
1. Masungi Georeserve
This is the place that went viral on social media not too long ago. Located about 1.5 hours from Makati, Masungi Georeserve is a geological park and conservation area in Baras, Rizal. It’s home to a hiking trail featuring rope walls, hanging bridges, and unique viewing platforms suspended over limestone karsts and overlooking a lush tropical rainforest. If you had time to take just one day trip from Manila, then this should be it.
Length of Tour: Half a day / Cost: PHP 1,500 per person on weekdays, PHP 1,800 on weekends
2. Taal Volcano
A trip to Tagaytay is one of the most popular day trips locals make from Manila. Tagaytay is a holiday town about 2 hrs south of Manila which features cooler climates and a picturesque view of Taal Volcano. Located in the middle of a lake, Taal Volcano is one the most active volcanos in the Philippines with 33 historical eruptions, though don’t let this frighten you. Like many Filipinos, we’ve been making weekend trips to Tagaytay for as long as I can remember and I don’t recall the volcano ever being a concern.
If this stunning view from Tagaytay isn’t enough, then you can go trekking on the volcano itself. I’ve done this once before. It’s fun but very hot so be sure to wear a hat and lots of sunscreen. You can book a trekking tour to Taal Volcano from Manila through Klook.
Length of Tour: Whole day / Cost: Around PHP 2,760 per person
3. Taal Heritage Town
Have you heard of the historic town of Vigan in Ilocos Sur? Think of Taal Town as a mini-version of Vigan, but just 2 hours south of Manila. It’s home to a wealth of Spanish colonial heritage houses and the biggest church in Southeast Asia. If you don’t plan on doing a Taal Volcano trek, then it’s possible to pair this with a trip to Tagaytay.
Check out my Taal Heritage Town travel guide for more pictures and information. You can visit Taal Town on your own using public transportation, but it’s easiest to hire a chauffeured car for the day.
Estimated Time Needed: Whole day
4. Mount Pinatubo
If one active volcano isn’t enough for you, then you can pay a visit to Mt. Pinatubo as well. Many people may not remember it, but Mt. Pinatubo was the volcano that produced the second largest terrestrial eruption of the 20th century. Turning day into night, it erupted in 1991 and covered Manila in a blanket of ash.
Located in the Zambales Mountains, a trek to Mt. Pinatubo’s crater lake is one of the most popular hikes you can do from Manila. You can book a hiking tour of Mt. Pinatubo through Klook.
Length of Tour: Whole day / Cost: Around PHP 5,270 per person
5. Corregidor Island
If you’re interested in WWII history, then a visit to Corregidor Island is a must. Because of its strategic location at the entrance of Manila Bay, Corregidor has long been fortified with coastal artillery to defend Manila against attacks from enemy warships. During WWII, it played a vital role in the liberation of the Philippines from Japanese forces. Today, it’s a popular tourist attraction featuring military installations used during the war.
You can book a guided tram tour of Corregidor via Sun Cruises. The tour starts and ends at the ferry terminal of Mall of Asia so you’ll need to make your way there and back. The tour will have you back at MOA a little after 4PM, so you may want to end the day with dinner and drinks while watching the sun set over Manila Bay.
Length of Tour: Whole day / Cost: PHP 2,550 per person on weekdays, PHP 2,749 on weekends / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 211 each way (Destination: Esplanade Seaside Terminal)
6. Villa Escudero
Villa Escudero is a plantation resort in Quezon province about 2.5 hours south of Manila. It’s most famous for its Labasin Waterfalls Restaurant which you may have seen on social media. Diners get to eat Filipino food kamayan-style (with hands) while soaking their feet in shallow running water at the base of a manmade waterfall.
You can book a day tour through the Villa Escudero website. Transportation isn’t included so I suggest hiring a chauffeured car for the day.
Length of Tour: At least half a day / Cost: Starts at PHP 950 per person
ON FILIPINO FOOD
14 MUST-TRY FILIPINO DISHES
Renowned food personality Andrew Zimmern once said that Filipino food will be the next big thing. I believe it with all the features on Filipino food I’ve been seeing more and more on social media. There are many delicious things to eat in the Philippines but in my opinion, these are the dishes that you absolutely must try. Follow the link for a list of 14 delicious things to eat in Manila.
FILIPINO STREET FOOD
If street food is your thing, then you need to check out this guide. From fish balls to ukoy to the infamous balut, check out this post for a list of Filipino street food dishes you can try in Manila.
POBLACION FOOD CRAWL
Poblacion is one of the hippest and trendiest areas in Manila. It’s fast becoming a food and arts hub in the city, which is part of the reason why I think it’s the best place to stay in Manila. With all the interesting restaurants popping up in the neighborhood, it’s recently been the subject of many lifestyle shows and blog posts. Check out my post for a list of popular restaurants you can visit on a Poblacion food crawl.
WHERE TO EAT IN MANILA
This was the hardest section to write being a food lover from Manila. How could I narrow it down? These restaurants may not be the trendiest, but they made the list for what in my mind are the most 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 and have withstood the test of time.
1. Blackbeard’s Seafood Island
There’s no Filipino dining experience more fun than a boodle fight. A tradition that started in the Philippine military, a boodle feast consists of a central mound of food – typically grilled Filipino food – piled high on banana leaves. Diners are seated around the spread and expected to eat kamayan-style, which means to “eat with one’s hands”. Many restaurants offer boodle feasts but one of the most popular is Blackbeard’s Seafood Island. They have many branches in Manila, including Mall of Asia.
Here’s a video I made of a recent boodle feast we had to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 88th birthday. It’s a fun experience and a must-do for any first-time visitor to the Philippines.
Expect to Spend: Around PHP 400 per person with drinks / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 321 each way (Destination: SM Mall of Asia)
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).
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.
Expect to Spend: Around PHP 800 per person with drinks / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 273 each way (Destination: Serendra Piazza)
3. 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.
Expect to Spend: Around PHP 500 per person with drinks / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 243 each way (Destination: Greenbelt 5)
4. Toyo Eatery
If you want a contemporary Filipino fine dining experience, then Toyo Eatery is the place to go. Helmed by Chef Jordy Navarra, they’re a Miele One To Watch – Asia 2018 awardee. Chef Navarra draws inspiration from the local culture and heritage to create contemporary, often playful interpretations of Filipino cuisine. For me, it’s the best Filipino restaurant in Manila right now. Check out my post on Toyo Eatery for more pictures and information.
Tasting Menu Price: Starts at PHP 1,000 / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 201 each way (Destination: Toyo Eatery – Makati)
5. 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.
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)
6. 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 in Poblacion, then the Greenbelt 3 branch will be one of the 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.
Expect to Spend: Around PHP 500 per person with drinks / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 238 each way (Destination: Greenbelt 3)
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.
Expect to Spend: Around PHP 170 for a burger with fries and a drink
HOW MANY DAYS TO STAY / SAMPLE ITINERARY
As previously described, Manila is a stopover destination for most travelers so there’s no need to stay too long. If you won’t be doing any day trips from Manila, then three days should be plenty. You can extend your stay based on how many day trips you want to do.
Here’s a sample 4D/3N Manila itinerary I put together to help you plan your trip. I made it four days to give you time for one or two of the recommended day trips.
| DAY ONE|
• Go on an Intramuros Tour
• Visit the National Museum
• Enjoy the sunset at Mall of Asia
| DAY TWO|
• Visit Taal Heritage Town
• Enjoy the sunset at a restaurant in Tagaytay overlooking Taal Volcano
| DAY THREE|
• Do the Binondo Food Wok
• Look for bargains at Greenhills Shopping Center
| DAY FOUR|
• Visit the Mind Museum and Bonifacio Global City (BGC)
• Get a massage
• Go on a Poblacion food crawl
BUDGET / SUMMARY OF EXPENSES
Assuming you’re traveling with one other 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. You can adjust your budget depending on which of the suggested tours you want to do and how much you want to shop. Here’s a quick breakdown of expenses:
This is highly subjective. It depends on several factors like hotel preference and number of travel companions. Let’s start at the low end and say PHP 750 a night per person.
Again, this is subjective, but based on my recommendations, we can say around PHP 800 a day per person.
| POCKET WIFI RENTAL|
If you’re sharing the cost with one other person, then you’ll be paying PHP 225 per day.
This is the most difficult to pin down because it obviously depends on where you want to go. Plus, there’s Manila’s notoriously horrendous traffic. Assuming you’ll be using Grab or Uber and following my suggested itinerary, then we can say around PHP 700 a day per person.
This comes out to around PHP 2,475 a day per person. Keep in mind that this estimate doesn’t include tour costs and miscellaneous expenses like shopping or car rental. If you plan on taking public transportation and not spending as much on food, then you can do it with 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.
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.
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.
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. Check for Discount Passes
There are many websites that offer discount passes to tours and services. The websites I’ve used the most are Klook and Kkday. They offer deals in many cities around the world, including Manila. If you’re looking for deals on things like tours, airport transfers, and activities, then you can search through these lists of Manila attractions on Klook and Kkday. You’ll often find interesting activities that you wouldn’t normally think of yourself so they’re definitely worth a look.
Another good website to look through is Viator. I haven’t used it as much (probably because of the less pleasing interface) but they’re actually one of the leading online providers of tours and activities. They’re owned by TripAdvisor so you know they’re solid. You can follow this link to search through tours and activities in Manila on Viator.
4. 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 the link or use the widget below to learn more and get a free travel insurance quote from World Nomads. It’s super quick and easy.
5. 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.
POBLACION AREA MAP
Here’s a map I created to help familiarize you with the Poblacion area. It includes all three hotels as well as the restaurants recommended in our Poblacion food crawl guide.
As described up top, many travelers gloss over Manila. It may not be as beautiful as other destinations in the Philippines but I hope this guide convinces you that my city has a lot to offer if you give it a chance. If you have any questions, then 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 Manila and the Philippines!
These are some of the things we used to make this travel 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.)
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 and Renée are the Traveleaters behind Will Fly for Food, a travel blog for the gastronomically inclined. They enjoy experiencing food from different cultures so they’ve made it their mission to try every country’s national dish. Read more about them and their National Dish Quest here.