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Travel Guide to Manila

Travel Guide to Manila


Written by Drew Binsky

Manila is one of the best cities out there and I keep going back for something new. Below, I’m going togive you an overview of the city and provide travel tips and recommendations for things like culture, attractions, food, nightlife and more. Everything you read is based on my own experiences.

General Thoughts

The Philippines, as a whole, is one of my favorite countries on earth. But the bustling capital of Manila might be different than you expect.

Manila doesn’t have natural beauty like the other 7,106 islands in the country.  So, if you’re looking to visit the Philippines for its beautiful beaches, then you might want to skip Manila. However, what this mega-city does have is lots of character and a special charm that keeps me coming back.

Manila is very affordable, which makes it an attractive place for budget travelers.  Along with Vietnam, the Philippines is the cheapest country in Southeast Asia.

The entire city of Manila was nearly destroyed during World War II, and has since been rebuilt to a bigger metropolis that is the heart and soul of Filipino culture. Manila is still being reconstructed today, as you’ll see dozens of new skyscrapers and malls being built.

Another thing to note about Manila is the giant gap between rich and poor. For the number of upscale areas you’ll find around town (Makati and The Fort are amazing), you’ll uncover just as many slums. Essentially, there’s a lot happening at the same time, and all contrasts are visible right in front of your face.

On one hot afternoon, I witnessed a poor woman breast feeding her son on the side of the road, begging my leg for money. That same day, about one block away, I went to one of the most luxurious bars in the world on the 71st floor of a luxury condo complex overlooking the city. It’s hard to wrap your head around.

Public Transportation

Getting around in Manila is kind of a nightmare. There is HORRIBLE traffic 24/7. Prepare to spend a lot of time getting from point A to B in a taxi.

There really isn’t any efficient public transportation. There is a ‘sky train,’ but it’s dirty and not a place that you will want to be.

Most people get around by Jeepneys, or shared taxi buses that carry their own distinct character. Jeepneys are customized with colors, photos, graffiti, and accessories (some even blast music inside).

I almost always get around by taxi or Uber — which are both very cheap. You won’t pay more than $5 USD to get across the city. Just try to avoid going anywhere during rush hour.

Quick Facts

– Population: 1.8 mil (city), 22 mil (urban)

– Language: Tagalog and English

– Currency: Philippines Peso (PHP)

– Manila is one of the 16 cities that makes up Metro Manila, the capital region

– Manila is the most densely populated urban area in the world with 46,000 people per square kilometer

– In 1571, Spanish Conquistadors arrived from Mexico, and founded present-day Manila in what today is Intramuros

– Manila became the center of Spanish activity in the Far East and one end of the Manila x Acapulco Galleon trade route, linking Spanish America with Asia

– Towards the end of WWII, during the Battle of Manila, most of the city was flattened by aerial bombardment by the US Air Force

Culture & People

The Philippines is one of my favorite countries because of its people.

Filipinos are some of the friendliest, most heart-warming and down to earth people on this planet. The hospitality is impossible to beat. I’ve never felt more welcomed anywhere in my life! You will ALWAYS be greeted with a “hello sir” or “hello ma’am” with a giant smile. No other culture in the world calls me “Sir” like the Filipinos do, and I love the respect.

Another thing I love about Manila is that there is no language barrier. English is actually considered a national language in the Philippines. In fact, the Philippines is the 4th largest English speaking country in the world.

Everyone I came across was conversational at worst, and most people are fluent English speakers. This makes travel so much easier!


There are certain (modern) areas which are worth checking out, and the other parts of the city don’t have much happening.

The two best areas to hang out are Makati and The Fort (Bonifacio).

Makati is the financial center of the Philippines, and it has the highest concentration of multinational and local corporations in the entire country.  Here you will find major banks, department stores, and foreign embassies. Makati is also home to a vibrant nightlife scene and it’s a major cultural entertainment hub.

The Fort (also known as Bonifacio) is located 11 km southeast of Manila’s city center. Over the last few years, the Fort area has experienced tremendous growth through the sale of military land. Here you will find modern buildings, night clubs, nice restaurants, shopping malls and more.

Visit the Mall of Asia – The MOA is the 11th biggest mall in the world, and it has every store you could ever hope for…

Go Shopping – Speaking of shopping, you can find anything under the sun in Manila for about half the price as anything in the USA.

Visit Binondo – This is the world’s first Chinatown, and it’s an awesome place to stimulate your senses. Walk down the busy streets and see thousands of people eating, shopping, and going about their lives.

Hike Mt. Taal – Mt. Taal is located about 2-3 hours away from Manila, close to a town called Tagaytay. It’s the world’s smallest active volcano!


I hate to admit this, but Filipino food is my least favorite in Asia. Don’t get your hopes too high. Except for this roast pig called Lechon (seen below) — that is amazing!

There are a few other local dishes that I enjoyed, like sinigang (a sour and savory beef stew), and lumpia (fried egg rolls) — but these dishes don’t have anything on the tasty foods of Thailand, Vietnam, Japan or Korea.

Much of the local “Filipino foods” are plain rice and fish. It gets old after a while.

Also, Manila has a lot of fast food all over the place — both American food chains and local joints. I tried McDonald’s and Wendy’s in Manila, and both were the lowest quality I’ve ever had.


Manila’s nightlife is CRAZY, and I’d put it in the Top 5 best party cities in Asia. It was so unexpected, and I had a legendary time raging with new Filipino friends.

The nightlife scene mostly consists of young, flashy and sexy party goers who are looking for nothing more than to have a great time.

There’s something for everyone. All of the upscale bars and clubs are in either Makati or The Fort area. Some of my favorites were Club Valkyrie, Pool Club and Club Chaos and House Manila.

Lastly, The Philippines is home to one of my favorite beers in Asia called Red Horse. It is really cheap and strong (like 9%) and it’s sold all over town. If you don’t like beer this strong, then try some San Miguel — it’s also local.

Where To Stay?

From cheap hostels to luxury condos, Manila has a large variety of places to stay that will satisfy your budget. Below is a list of my favorite places around the city.

For a more comprehensive list of accommodations in Manila, check out this page on Agoda.com and book your stay today!

Z Hostel (Book online now)

Z Hostel is the only hostel I’ve stayed at in Manila, and I absolutely recommend it for budget travelers. It’s one of the most well-kept and friendly hostels that I’ve ever been to, in the heart and center of the bustling Makati district. Z hostel is 7 stories tall and offers affordable private rooms as well as dorm rooms. The building has a wonderful hostel vibe with friendly staff, a variety of backpackers from all over the world, a really delicious cafe, and my favorite rooftop bar in the city (you have to see the view).

City Garden Hotel (Book Online Now)

The City Garden Hotel is located right off Makati Ave. This mid-price hotel offers huge rooms with nice size king beds, fast wifi, and a spacious floor area. There is a solid gym, pool area, and a buffet with genuinely great local foods. The staff will make you feel right at home!

Sofitel Plaza Manila Hotel (Book Online Now)

Sofitel Manila is as good as it gets! This luxury hotel has the most spectacular buffet I’ve ever enjoyed. The service is just as amazing as the cleanliness and comfortable rooms. Head down to the relaxing pool to drink a martini while watching the golden sun set over the bay. Highly recommended!

Thanks for reading! Have you ever been to Manila? Comment Below!

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Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.