Manila Itinerary 2 Days: Culture, History & Food (2022)
If you’re interested in learning how to get around Manila, you can read about my experience and tips for getting around this city.
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In This Post, You’ll Find…
(Just jump to the section you want to know more about!)
- Day 1 – Morning – Intramuros
- Day 1 – Afternoon – food tour
- Day 1 – Evening – sunset over Manila Bay
- Day 2 – Morning – museums
- Day 2 – Afternoon – Chinese cemetery
- Day 2 – Evening – walking tour of Makati
MANILA ESSENTIALS: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
To understand what you’re seeing and what I’m talking about, it’s a good idea to get an overall understanding of the geography and history of the city.
Layout of Manila
Metropolitan Manila is made up of 16 cities. The most important of these 16 is the city of Manila itself. As of 2022, it’s the most densely populated city in the world.
The city of Manila encompasses the following areas (look at the above map for these areas):
- Intramuros– the oldest part of Manila; it was where the Spanish first settled when they colonized the Philippines; You’ll spend the morning of day 1 in Intramuros
- Ermita and Malate – older and grittier area; some hotels and hostels here
- Binondo and Santa Cruz – Chinatown; On the first day of this itinerary, you can go on a YUMMY food tour in Binondo and on your second day in Manila, you can visit the fascinating Chinese cemetery.
Along with the city of Manila, other important cities or areas for tourists are the following:
- Pasay – the airport and bus station are located here; for info on getting to and from the airport, check out this article on getting around Manila
- Makati – business center; has some great hotels and hostels; great restaurants and bars; safer than other parts of the city; You’ll find some great places to stay in Makati; On day 2 of this Manila itinerary, I have a fabulous evening walking tour of Makati that you don’t want to miss
- Bonifacio Global City (BGC) – it’s actually not a city, but part of Taguig City; it’s newer and safer than other parts; lots of shopping malls
History of Manila
If there is one word that best sums up the history of Manila for me, it’s tragic.
Manila was once known as a beautiful and cosmopolitan city. In fact, it was often referred to as the “Paris of the East.”
The city was also one of the most ethnically diverse in Asia. It was settled by Filipinos, Chinese, Spaniards, Americans, and even the British and Japanese for a short time.
Knowing these things, I imagined Manila to be a city with cobblestoned streets lined with charming Spanish-style buildings like in Latin America as well as colorful Chinese shophouses like in Singapore and Malaysia.
Yet, this is not the case. Except for a few churches and reproductions, it’s hard to find Manila’s Spanish heritage. The Chinese shophouses look like they were built by the communist party. The Americans didn’t add much to the beauty of the city either. Their contribution consists of some golf courses and neo-classical-style buildings.
So, what happened to Manila for so many of the remnants of its past to be no more?
To get your answer, you need to look at its tragic history.
Spain Comes to the Philippines
When the Spaniards arrived in Manila in 1571 looking for a capital for their colony, they found a port ruled by Muslim tribes and filled with Chinese traders.
Because none of the tribes could work together to resist the Spanish, Spain quickly subdued them all.
Spain’s main aim in the Philippines was to promote Christianity. The real rulers of the country were not the military or the governor, but the Catholic church.
Fearing their loss of power in the Philippines, they vehemently opposed any kind of reforms that would give the Filipinos even a smidgen of power or equality. Little progress and few reforms occurred during the 300-year rule by the Spanish clergy so that the Philippines of 1571 was little different from that of 1898.
Revolution Comes to the Philippines
But starting in the late 1800s, the elite of Filipino society, who were wealthy mestizos (Filipinos with Spanish or Chinese blood), went overseas to study where they developed ideas of independence from Spain.
In 1896, a revolution was launched that lasted for 18 months. The violence ended with a peace treaty between Spain and the revolutionaries (KKK-see the section on City Hall). Spain promised to reform and the leaders of the revolutionary group agreed to go into exile.
The United States comes to the Philippines
Spain ruled the Philippines until the United States defeated it in the Spanish-American War in 1898. After some haggling over what was to become of the Philippines, the United States bought the country for $20 million ($4 billion in today’s currency).
The Filipino Reaction
As was typical at that time, no one bothered to ask the Filipinos what they wanted.
They expressed their opinion by putting their new colonial masters through a war that lasted until 1902. Of course, the ones who suffered the most from the war were the Filipinos. The war cost the lives of 200,000 Filipino civilians, 20,000 Filipino soldiers, and 4,000 American soldiers.
Read In Our Image or History of the Philippines: From Indios Bravo to Filipinos to learn more about this war.
How the United States Influenced on Manila
The Americans ruled over the Philippines from 1899 to 1946 (minus 1941-1945 when Japan ruled).
The first American governor of the Philippines, Howard Taft (future U.S. president), hired a famous American artist to design Manila in the image of an American city. This is why you’ll find a few neoclassical buildings with Greek columns like the Museum of Anthropology and the Museum of Fine Arts.
You can also thank the Americans for the oddly placed golf course inside the old city walls.
Of course, no one’s stopping the Filipinos from removing it now.
World War II’s Impact on Manila
However, much of what the Spaniards, Americans, and Chinese constructed in Manila doesn’t exist today. That’s because of World War II.
The Japanese occupied the Philippines as they did with every other country in Southeast and East Asia.
What’s more, the bloodiest battles in Asia took place in the Philippines.
Manila got hit hard when it was Japan’s last stand in the country. In order to defeat the Japanese, the Americans completely destroyed the city. This destruction included 60 city blocks. Only two structures in Intramuros that existed before the war still stand today: San Augustin’s church and a post office.
Along with the loss of historic structures, 100,00 Filipinos in Manila lost their lives.
Compare that to the number of people who died in Hiroshima (70,000) and Nagasaki (30,000) and further compare it to the number of Japanese (5,000) and Americans (1,000) who lost their lives in Manila and you can see how devastating World War II was for the Filipinos.
Philippines After Independence
In 1946 the Philippines received independence from the United States. You would have expected this loyal ally and former colony of the United States to have gotten a substantial amount of financial support to rebuild. Compared to what Japan ($2.2 billion) and Europe ($12 billion) received, the Philippines’ aid from the U.S. was quite paltry ($55 million) in aid.
Independence hasn’t helped the Philippines prosper as much as it should have. They’ve been run by the same corrupt elite families who haven’t done much for the common Filipino. And the United States hasn’t helped much as they continually back these corrupt leaders all out of fear of communism.
Manila Itinerary: 2 Days
This 2-day itinerary of Manila is filled with loads of things to do for history buffs, culture seekers, and foodies.
I’ve divided the tour by time of day (morning, afternoon, evening). The tour is based on what I did in Manila.
However, you can basically do it in any order. For example, you could do the food tour on the morning of day 2 and visit Rizal Park and the museums on the afternoon of day 1 since, from my research, most of these food tours are now in the morning.
- Day 1 Morning – Intramuros
- Day 1 Afternoon – Food tour of Chinatown (Binondo)
- Day 1 Evening – watching the sunset over Manila Bay
- Day 2 Morning – Rizal Park and Anthropology Museum
- Day 2 Afternoon – Chinese cemetery
- Day 2 Evening – Walking Tour of Makati
Manila Itinerary Day 1 – Morning – Intramuros
I highly recommend starting day 1 of your Manila itinerary with a walking tour of Intramuros, the oldest and most interesting part of the city. These kinds of tours usually give you lots of interesting background on the history of the city.
However, if you don’t want to spend the money on a tour, you can follow my suggested itinerary below. This is almost EXACTLY what I did on my walking tour.
Here’s a list of walking tours through Klook that have gotten very high ratings. Klook is the best online tour company for traveling in Asia.
- Walls of This Content Intramuros Tour: An Interactive Walk in Manila – (US$23.35; over 500 bookings; 4.9 Rating) – This tour has a long history and goes to the same places I went to when I was in Manila; I wanted to do this tour but at the time of my visit, they were only offering private tours
- Old Manila Full Day Tour – (US$50.25; Over 200 Bookings; 4.7 Rating) – This tour visits some of the same places that I went to during my tour
- Intramuros Bambike Tour – (US$16.95; 3,000 Bookings; 397 Reviews; 4.9 Rating) – This tour is REALLY popular and has great reviews; you can tour the city on a bicycle made of bamboo! How cool is that?
- Okada Manila Sunset Tour – (US$31.69; Over 200 Bookings; 5.0 Rating) – This tour takes place at night and visits the best sunset and Instagram spots. It also includes a buffet dinner
Intramuros means “city within the walls.” Today the walls are still there. Well, some of the original pre-World War II walls are still there. Much of it was rebuilt.
As mentioned earlier, Intramuros was where the Spaniards first settled when coming to Manila. It was also from here where they administered the Philippines.
But because of the destruction caused by World War II, many of the Spanish-looking buildings are reconstructions. The only two original buildings are San Augustin’s Church and a post office.
Here’s where you’ll stop on the morning of day 1 of this Manila itinerary:
- City Hall
- Walls of Intramuros
- San Augustin Church and Museum
- Casa Manila
- Museo de Intramuros
- Manila Cathedral
- Fort Santiago
Getting to Intramuros from Makati:
GRAB: it might cost you around 300 to 400 pesos (US$5 – 7) to get to Intramuros from Makati.
TAXI: Negotiate 300 to 400 pesos to get to Intramuros.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: This was how my tour guide got us to Intramuros (it’s also how I returned on my own).
In order to FULLY understand these instructions, you’ll need to read my “Getting Around Manila” post.
- Jeepney: We got on a Jeepney at the Petron Station on Buendia Avenue where it intersects with Makati Avenue. Ask the driver if he’s going to Gil Puyat Station (that’s the Light Rail Station). The ride cost me 9 pesos.
- Light Rail: Then we took a Light Rail Train (LRT) to Central station, which was 5 stops away. You want to get on a train that is going to Roosevelt, which is the train’s last stop. It cost me 20 pesos.
Day 1 – Stop #1: City Hall
COST: free | OPEN: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps
Start your visit to Intramuros with a visit to Manila’s City Hall. You’ll learn some fascinating things about the Philippines’ revolutionary history.
The clock tower is a major landmark in Manila.
Plus! It was conveniently located along our route from the LRT station to Intramuros.
On our way to City hall, we walked by a new park that had once been a market.
My guide, Dennis, was highly enthusiastic about Manila’s current mayor, Francisco Domagoso, a 40-something progressive who’s trying to create more green spaces for the people of Manila.
The most interesting thing about City Hall was the mural that encircled the room. You can find a similar one inside the Museum of Fine Arts. The mural tells the revolutionary history of the Philippines.
I was struck by how much the government in the Philippines likes to promote its revolutionary past. Along with the mural, the large central park in Manila also honors revolutionary heroes of the Philippines (day 2 of my Manila itinerary).
Two things on the mural stood out for me.
1. “KKK” struck me as odd.
In the United States, KKK stands for the Klu Klux Klan, but for Filipinos, the KKK stands for Katipunan.
Led by General Emilio Aguinaldo, the KKK was a secret revolutionary group that was planning to overthrow Spain. Before they were ready to launch it, the Spanish found out and forced them to launch their revolution prematurely.
The KKK and the Spanish fought for over 18 months until a peace treaty was signed forcing Aguinaldo into exile in Hong Kong.
2. The 3 figures in black robes and white hoods
The other part of the mural that grabbed my attention was located over the main door of the assembly room.
There are 3 people dressed in black robes and covered in white hoods. There’s also something around their neck. These three were Spanish priests who were found guilty of being revolutionaries. There was no proof that they were. Their only “crime” was that they advocated for the ordination of Filipinos as Catholic priests.
Under Spanish rule, only Spaniards could be priests as the Spanish friars believed that Filipinos weren’t intelligent enough to become priests.
In 1872, 40,000 Spaniards and Filipinos gathered in Luneta Park (Rizal Park) to watch the 3 priests being slowly strangled to death by a large iron screw.
Day 1 – Stop #2: The Walls and Entrance of Intramuros
After the City Hall, head over to one of several Intramuros entrances.
The entrance used to be an actual gate, but when the Americans took over in 1898, they turned it into an archway.
Most of the original wall was destroyed at the end of World War II and rebuilt in the 1970s when the Marcos regime renovated Intramuros.
See if you can find the bullet holes in the walls–remnants of World War II.
Day 1 – Stop #3: San Augustin Church and Museum
COST: free | OPEN: only for mass | LOCATION: Google Maps
The next stop on this Manila itinerary is the oldest building in the city—San Augustin Church. It was built in 1607.
While the Philippines was under Spain, the real ruler of the country was not the military but the Catholic church.
The church had total control over local communities: the police, the courts, the schools, taxes, and public health. They could ban anything that they found to be subversive, and they could send to prison anyone they wanted to without trial.
Fearing their loss of power in the Philippines, they vehemently opposed any kind of reforms that would give the Filipinos any kind of power or even equality. This included the one mentioned earlier about Filipinos becoming Catholic priests.
The church basically kept the Philippines the same for 300 years. No progress or reforms occurred during the 300-year rule by the Spanish clergy.
You can only enter it to attend mass on weekends. But a wedding was going on when I was there a second time, so I did get to take a photo of the interior from the outside. My tour guide said that wealthy Filipinos like to have their weddings at the church.
There’s also a San Augustin museum, but it was closed for renovation when I was there.
Day 1 – Stop #4: Casa Manila
COST: 75 pesos (US$1.50) OPEN: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps
Across the street from the church is Casa Manila. This tourist sight was my favorite place to visit in Intramuros. When I was on my tour, we only got to see the outside. But I came back the next day to tour the inside.
Imelda Marcos, the wife of the Philippines’ former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, (she owned 3,000 pairs of shoes) did one good thing and that was to renovate the old Spanish buildings in Intramuros.
Before her project, Intramuros was in awful condition. My guide referred to it as a “garbage dump.”
Casa Manila was one of her pet projects. The building that you see now is a reconstruction, but the furniture and artwork are originals.
Day 1 – Stop #5: Museo de Intramuros
COST: free OPEN: 8:00/9:00 am – 5:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps
The next stop on this Manila itinerary is a visit to one of Manila’s newest museums, Museo de Intramuros.
Museo de Intramuros displays the religious art created by Filipino artists and craftsmen over the centuries.
Day 1 – Stop #6: Manila Cathedral
COST: free | LOCATION: Google Maps
The other important structure in Intramuros is Manila Cathedral. Originally built in 1581, the church that stands now is the eighth version.
Manila Cathedral was destroyed again and again by earthquakes and the seventh one in 1945 in the Battle of Manila. The present one was built in 1958.
Day 1 – Stop #7: Fort Santiago
COST: 75 pesos (US$ 1.34) OPEN: 8:00 am – 7:00 pm/8:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps
End your tour of Intramuros with a visit to the main tourist attraction of Manila—Fort Santiago.
Built in the late 1500s, the fort was used by the Spanish as the main defensive fortress of the city. It was also used as military barracks and prison.
You’ll find beautifully manicured gardens, fountains, and plazas.
The most famous Filipino historical figure, Jose Rizal, was a “guest” here before his execution in 1896. There’s a shrine and museum commemorating his life. You can also visit the courtroom where he was tried and the cell that he spent his last days in before he was executed.
In the ground you can also find his last footsteps as he made his way to Luneta Park to be killed.
When the United States took over the Philippines, the fort became the headquarters of the US army. The Americans also drained the moats around the walls and turned the the ground into a golf course.
Make sure to walk to the far end of the fort to Baluarte de Santa Barbara. The military barracks here was where many Filipino and American POWs were killed by the Japanese during WWII.
Manila Itinerary Day 1 – Afternoon – Chinatown
The best way to tour the oldest Chinatown in the world is through your stomach. You’ll find hole-in-the-wall gems, restaurants that have been around for decades, fried chicken places that could win in a knockout against the Colonel, and well, just some really damn good food.
I did a food tour in the afternoon on day 1 of my time in Manila. However, I’ve noticed now in 2022 that some food tours, such as the very popular Big Binondo Food Walk, take place in the morning. You could definitely swap my food tour (day 1 afternoon) with the Rizal Park and Museums (day 2 morning).
I’m going to explain what I did on my tour to give you some idea about what you can experience on a food tour in Manila in 2022.
If you’re hesitant about joining a food tour, don’t be! It was the best thing I did in Manila. I learned so much about the food and culture of the Philippines as well as just having a good time.
If you’re a solo traveler, food tours are a great way to meet people and a way to avoid eating alone.
You can do a similar food tour with these tour companies:
- Tralulu – Binondo Food Crawl – US$38 – I took this tour via my hotel/hostel, Lub d Philippines, Mekati
- The Big Binondo Food Walk – US$28.75 – You get to try local specialties such as lumpia, siopao, pancit, champoy, and more!
- Manila Street Food Tour – US$60 – This tour starts at 3:00 pm and you get to try steamed dumplings, grilled meat on skewers, stews and soups and more.
- Chinatown Dimsum Experience – US$75 – This tour takes you to Chinatown to try empanadas, meat buns, dumplings, iced milk tea, etc.
Binondo is considered Manila’s Chinatown. This area is where you’ll find Chinese businesses, shops, and restaurants.
When the Spaniards first settled in Manila, there were already a few Chinese already living there.
But Spain was not so keen on that, so they forced the Chinese to live across the river from the Spanish part in the area of Binondo. “Binondo” literally means “hilly terrain.” I guess it must have been a hilly area back then. Not anymore. It’s flat as the rest of Manila.
The Fascinating History of the Chinese in Manila
The Spaniards needed the Chinese for their trade and banking as Spanish priests and officials were forbidden from dealing with money.
Yet they feared and looked down upon the Chinese. The Spanish authorities passed discriminatory laws to keep them in their place. They were forced to live in ghettos, deported for no reason, and taxed at a higher rate.
Eventually, the Spanish allowed them to buy land in the provinces but only after converting to Christianity or marrying a Filipino.
Chinese Community in the Philippines Today
Today the Chinese in the Philippines are probably the most integrated Chinese community in all of Southeast Asia. If you go to Malaysia and Indonesia, the Chinese are a separate distinct community with lots of financial clout but very little political power.
However, in the Philippines, the Chinese are not just the backbone of the business community (7 out of 10 of the wealthiest Filipinos have Chinese ancestry), but many of the most politically powerful are Chinese.
And you’ll find that many of the Philippines’ most famous revolutionary heroes like Jose Rizal and Emilio Aguinaldo are of Chinese ancestry.
They are becoming more and more integrated. My guide said that when the older generations of Chinese-Filipinos get together, they usually speak the Chinese dialect of Hokkien. But the younger generation generally uses Filipino or English. He also said generally Chinese-Filipinos see themselves first as Filipinos.
I asked the same questions to my Chinese-Malaysian guides in Penang, and they both said that they identified themselves first as Chinese and second as Malaysian.
Day 1 – Stop #8: New Po Heng Lumpia House
OPEN: 7:00 am – 7:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps
My guide and I started the afternoon off with a walk down Carvajal Street (Umbrella Street), a narrow covered lane filled with fruit and vegetable sellers and small restaurants.
We stopped by New Po Heng restaurant and had probably the best thing I ate in the Philippines–the lumpia (spring roll).
The only other place I’ve seen this type of spring roll was in Fujian, China.
It’s NOTHING like any spring roll you have ever probably tried before. Nothing like the deep-fried spring rolls that you get in Chinese restaurants in the West nor is it like the ones you get in Vietnamese restaurants.
The sad thing is that I could not find this type of spring roll in the rest of the Philippines. Every time I ordered lumpia, I got a boring greasy deep fried spring roll.
Inside the wrap, you’ll find chopped-up carrots and cabbage plus tofu, rice with seaweed and peanuts, and sugar. It looks more like a burrito than a typical spring roll but the outside wrap is not a tortilla. You can squirt some hot sauce or sweet sauce on it.
Eat very carefully or else the roll will fall apart.
This lumpia in Manila’s Chinatown was the best thing I ever ate in the Philippines. It’s sweet, salty, and spicy all in one bite.
Day 1 – Stop #9: Ying Ying Tea House
OPEN: 7:00 am – 2:00 am | LOCATION: Google Maps
The next stop on my Manila food tour was the Ying Ying Tea House, They serve dim sum and other Chinese dishes.
It’s very popular with Chinese Filipinos, so it must be good, right?
We had dim sum: Sio Mai, a Japanese sio mai, a dumpling made of tofu skin filled with pork and radish cake. All very delicious.
Day 1 – Stop #10: Fireman’s Eatery – dessert
The last stop was at another Chinatown institution called Fireman’s Café. My guide said that the place is so popular that on weekends the line to get a table goes into the street
Here we had two different kinds of lava bao (‘bao’ means ‘bread’ in Chinese).
Both were sweet and delicious. But you had to eat them very carefully so that the custard doesn’t make a mess all over.
One hundred percent of the profits from the Fire Man’s Café goes to support the firefighters of Chinatown. Because the buildings in Chinatown are so close together, it’s easy for one fire in one building to jump to another building.
Long ago the Chinese in Chinatown didn’t trust the Manila municipal government to protect their homes and businesses, so the Chinese financed their fire fighting brigades themselves. They continue to pay for their own firefighting service.
The fire trucks that are financed by the Chinese are purple.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure if this restaurant exists anymore as I can no longer find it on Google Maps.
Other Must-Visit Restaurants in Binondo
Here are some more restaurants that my guide recommended:
- Sincerity Restaurant – (Google Maps) – This place is famous for their fried chicken but they have other yummy dishes
- Tasty Dumplings – (Google Maps) – very popular dim sum restaurant
- Quik Snack – (Google Maps) – It’s located on Carajval Street; my guide says the stir-fried noodles are really good!
- President Grand Palace – (Google Maps) – This place has been in business since the 1970s; serves Cantonese food; their specialty is seafood
- The Great Buddha Café – (Google Maps) – another tasty dim sum place; very nice décor—a nice change from the rest of the plane Jane places in Chinatown.
- Ho-Land Hopi and Bakery – (Google Maps) – bakery
- Wai Ying Fast Food – (Google Maps) – uber popular fast food restaurant; you might have to wait to get a table
Day 1 – Stop #11: Binondo Church
COST: free | OPEN: 8;45 am – 5:15 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps
Before leaving Chinatown, make sure to stop at Binondo Church, also known as the Minor Basilica and National Shrine of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz.
The church was built here by the Spanish as a reminder to the Chinese that if they wanted to stay, they needed to convert to Catholicism.
Manila Itinerary – Day 1 – Evening: Sunset
End your evening in Manila by grabbing a spot near the shore or on the rooftop of a hotel or restaurant to watch the sun set over Manila Bay.
Here are some of the best spots for watching the sun drop below the horizon:
- Manila Baywalk – This promenade along Roxas Blvd has been recently renovated and cleaned up
- SM Mall of Asia by the Bay
- The restaurants on the upper level
- The wall behind the amusement park
Manila Itinerary Day 2 – Morning
We’ve hit day 2 in Manila. We’ll begin with a tour of the most famous park in the city, Rizal Park, followed by the brilliant Manila Anthropology Museum
The afternoon is a real treat. A tour of the fascinating Chinese cemetery. You’ll need to travel by the Metro to get there, but don’t worry. I’ll explain how to get there. I did it on my own and if I can do it, anyone else can.
Day 2 – Stop #1: Rizal Park
COST: free | OPEN: 5:00 am – 9:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps
The first stop on day 2 of this Manila Itinerary is a visit to Rizal Park (it used to be called Luneta Park).
Located next to Intramuros, the park is a large open rectangular-shaped area of green grass and lots of revolutionary statues.
The park was where the Spanish rulers executed Filipino revolutionaries. The 3 priests from the mural in City Hall and Jose Rizal, the most famous Filipino, were executed here.
My suggestion is to just walk from one end of the park (the Rizal statue) to the opposite end (Anthropology Museum). I made a few stops at the Rizal Museum (empty and closed) and the Chinese Garden (meh).
Getting from Makati to Rizal Park:
I took a taxi from my hotel in Makati to Rizal Park. After negotiating with the taxi driver’s original price of 500 pesos, another traveler and I got him down to 300 pesos. We took the taxi on a Saturday morning when the streets weren’t like a parking lot.
The park is named after Jose Rizal, the Philippines’ most famous revolutionary hero. His statue sits at the western edge of the park.
Jose Rizal grew up in a wealthy family. He didn’t actually want independence for the Philippines. What he only wanted was for the Filipinos to have the same rights as the Spanish.
Rizal was a polymath. He was an ophthalmologist, writer, painter, sculptor, poet, playwright, and activist.
Rizal was executed for leading an uprising against the Spanish. Ironically, he had nothing to do with the uprising.
He was executed by a firing squad in the same park that bears his name. Sprain created a martyr, becoming an inspiration for many other revolutionaries.
To the left of the statue is the site of the execution of Jose Rizal.
Day 2 – Stop #2: Manila Anthropology Museum
COST: free | OPEN: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm; closed Mondays | LOCATION: Google Maps
At the opposite end of the park is the Anthropology Museum (also known as the National Museum of the Filipino People). You can’t miss it as it’s in a huge white neoclassical building. It reminds me of the buildings in Washington DC.
For those like me who are fascinated by archaeology and history, the first floor is a joy to explore.
The displays are informative with clear and thorough descriptions. You can learn a lot about the history of the Philippines
- You’ll learn about the 2 competing migration theories of the Philippines.
- How and why pottery evolved from earthenware to ceramics.
- The role of the Philippines in the ivory and silver trade.
- There is also a very comprehensive exhibit on the sinking of the San Diego. What was fascinating was seeing how water and time impacted metal versus ceramics.
There isn’t much to see after the first floor except for the exhibits on rice cultivation.
Manila Itinerary Day 2 – Afternoon – Chinese Cemetery
After you’ve found somewhere to eat in Intramuros, head to the Chinese Cemetery.
The Cemetery is in Santa Cruz. You’ll need to take the Metro to get there. But not to worry. I’ll explain how to do it below.
Day 2 – Stop #3: Chinese Cemetery
COST: free | OPEN: 9:00 am – 3:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps
My guidebook raved about the uniqueness of the Chinese cemetery so I just had to see it. This is where Chinese Filipinos are buried (Filipinos can be buried here as long as they are married to a Chinese person) here. I’ve never seen a cemetery like this one.
The Chinese cemetery is the second oldest cemetery in the Philippines.
During Spanish colonial times, Spain wouldn’t allow the Chinese to be buried in their Catholic cemeteries so the Chinese set up their own.
Getting to the Chinese Cemetery:
Take the LTR north to Roosevelt and get off at the Abad Santos station (20 pesos). Then walk for 8 minutes to the South Gate of the cemetery or take a pedicab for 30 pesos.
The cemetery is full of these mausoleums that are built like houses. You’ll find graves that look like mini-mansions, suburban homes, and traditional Chinese temples.
The mausoleums house the remains of the husband and wife. A few times you’ll see a son or a daughter buried along with their parents.
It’s like you’re walking around a little town with its streets lined with little houses. You’ve got the rich part of town and then there’s the cramped poor part of town (the photo above).
The above photo looks like a suburban home.
It’s an actual tomb.
Pay attention to which tombs are Catholic and which ones are Buddhist. Sometimes you’ll see that the wife is Catholic and the husband Buddhist. You can tell by the red cross on the Catholic’s tomb and nothing on the Buddhist’s tomb.
Some things to notice:
- Why is there a bathroom in the tombs? When the family comes to worship, they need somewhere to go to the bathroom. My guide said that some families come every Sunday to tend to their loved one’s grave.
- Some families come every Sunday, but all families come twice a year—All Saints day on November 1 and the Chinese festival of Qingming (the grave sweeping festival) in April.
- The family has to pay for the cemetery every 25 years in order to be able to maintain the tomb. If they don’t pay, then they can’t paint or cut the grass or maintain the tomb. The body stays there, though. Pay attention to the ones that don’t look maintained.
- There are also apartments that are much cheaper. These are quite close together.
- Sometimes the tomb is not squarely in the center of the room, but off to the side. This is if the wife dies before the husband.
Do you need a tour?
I think it’s a good idea to have a guide show you around the cemetery and explain things to you. If not, you won’t get much out of the visit.
You can also join a tour of the cemetery through Klook. Their tour is at over 2 hours.
I did a tour. Standing at the entrance were a couple of old guys waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting tourist. And I fell for it thinking that I’d learn something.
At first, he wanted 1,000 pesos for 1 hour. I thought that was really expensive considering I paid 2,080 for an all-day tour the day before. I bargained him down to 700 pesos (US$12.58).
He said that Chinese families hire him to take care of their ancestors’ tombs.
Manila Itinerary Day 2 – Evening – Makati (Poblacion)
Make sure to end your tour of the cemetery no later than 3:00 pm so you can get to your last evening’s activity.
Day 2- Stop #4: Poblacion Walking Tour
In the evening, I joined the 4:30 p.m. Poblazion Walking Tour through Z Hostel in Makati. This is a fabulous and affordable tour of the bars, restaurants, galleries, night markets, and the “red light district” of Poblacion (a neighborhood of Makati). Just show up in the lobby of Z Hostel a few minutes before 4:30.
I couldn’t find info on whether they are still doing the tour in 2022, so check at the hostel.
We had an enthusiastic and earnest tour guide, Gio, who tried really hard to show us Poblacion. He took us to some interesting bars and cafes.
If the tour is not running anymore, you can still check out some of the places that he took us to. They are listed below:
- Agimat Foraging Bar – a cool bar that makes flaming drinks.
- Joe’s Brew – we got to sample some craft beer
- Dr. Wine – it has a rooftop bar with a 360-degree panoramic view of Manila. We got free shots of some kind of alcohol.
- Julyan Coffee Spot – a coffee shop owned and run by people who are deaf
- Kondwi – gallery, coffee shop, and bar
- Night market – usually the tour visits a night market, but because our tour was on a Sunday, we didn’t go
- San Pedro Makati church – a beautiful old church
More Things to Do in Manila
If you have time to add more sights to your Manila itinerary or more days to your Manila itinerary, then consider the following places:
1. Bahay Tsinoy: Museum of Chinese in Filipino Life
A museum dedicated to the history of the Chinese in the Philippines. You’ll find dioramas, photos, old coins, and porcelain.
2. National Museum of Fine Arts
Located in the old senate building, the National Museum of Fine Arts is an interesting museum with loads of traditional works of art by Filipino and Spanish artists. You’ll find religious art, works depicting Filipino revolutionary history and works by Jose Rizal. The museum holds one of the most famous Filipino paintings, Spoliarium by Juan Luna.
3. Malacanang Palace
Constructed in the mid-1700s, the Malacanang Palace was once the residence of wealthy Spanish nobility. Now it is the official residence of the president of the Philippines. You can only visit the museum part of the palace as long as you book 5 days in advance.
4. Ayala Museum
The Ayala museum is conveniently located in Makati next to the Greenbelt Shopping Center, which is a great place to hang out. If you’re staying in the area, you can easily walk to it.
The museum is considered one of the most culturally important ones in Manila. You’ll find exhibits on Philippine history, heritage, art, and culture. You’ll also find archaeological artifacts, a maritime vessel, gold, jewelry, and works of art from some of the Philippines’ best artists.
The museum was closed for renovation when I was in Manila.
5. Metropolitan Museum of Manila
This museum includes both local and international works of art. Contains a good collection of Filipino modern art.
6. Manila American Cemetery
This is the “resting place” of 17,206 soldiers who died in WWII. You’ll find murals and descriptions of important battles.
7. Manila Baywalk and Dolomite Beach
In the evening, you can come here to watch the sunset. There are street vendors and lots of locals. Statues. Walk along the promenade. There’s also a beach.
Day Trips from Manila
After spending 2 days in Manila, you’re probably itching to get out. Luckily, Manila has loads of places to visit on day trips that are ideal both for the history buff and the adventurous traveler.
Unfortunately, some of the tour companies that ran tours to these places did not survive the pandemic.
Here are just a few to consider.
1. Tagaytay and the Taal Volcano
Tagaytay is a town 2 hours by bus from Manila that is known for its awesome restaurants, great views, and its nearby volcano. It’s located near beautiful Lake Taal.
The highlight of a trip to Tagaytay is the volcano that sits on an island in the lake called Taal Volcano. The first time I was in Manila, the Taal Volcano erupted. Thirty-nine people died from the eruption in 2020 because they refused to leave their homes or because they experienced health issues during the evacuation.
You used to be able to take a boat to the island and easily climb the volcano to the stunning crater lake at the top. However, since the 2020 eruption, the island and volcano are off limits.
Here are some possible tours:
Panoramic Tagaytay Ridge Tour – This tour includes panoramic views of Lake Taal and Taal Volcano. It also includes a visit to a farm and the former “rest house” of former disgraced President and Dictator Ferdinand Marcos
Taal Volcano and Pagsanjan Falls – This tour includes a canoe trip down the river to Pagsanjan Falls as well as a visit to Tagaytay for views of the Taal Volcano.
Taal Volcano Boat Tour and American Cemetery and Memorial Museum BGC – This tour includes panoramic views of Lake Taal and the Taal Volcano from Tagaytay as well as a boat ride on Lake Taal. The tour finishes up with a visit to the American Manila American Cemetery and Memorial dedicated to the soldiers who died in the war in the Pacific
2. Mt. Pinatubo
The next time I visit the Philippines, I am definitely hiking Mt. Pinatubo. I’m sure that you’ll agree that the photos of the crater lake are stunning.
Located 87 kilometers (54 miles) northwest of Manila, Mt Pinatubo is an active volcano. Its claim to fame is that its 1991 eruption was the second largest of the twentieth century. It last erupted in 1993.
To see the volcano, you need to hire a guide and 4WD. The first part includes a 2-hour drive over lava fields and a 2-hour hike to the crater.
Check out this tour to Mt. Pinatubo that includes getting picked up and dropped off at your hotel in Manila. A visit includes a jeep ride over lava fields. Then a hike to the crater.
A trip to Pagsanjan is a popular day trip from Manila, especially for locals on the weekend. The highlight is a canoe trip along the Pagsanjan River to the Pagsanjan Falls. You can visit on your own by taking a bus from the Santa Cruz district in Manila or join a group tour.
Here are some possible tours:
Taal Volcano and Pagsanjan Falls – This exciting and jam-packed tour includes an exciting canoe trip down the Bumbungan River to Pagsanjan Falls as well as a visit to Tagaytay for views of the Taal Volcano.
Pagsanjan Falls Tour – This is an exhilarating, spine-tingling, adrenaline-pumping, 2-hour boat ride from the Bumbungan River to Pagsanjan Falls whose booming water cascades down from high atop a cliff to the river 300 feet below.
You’ll find loads of war monuments and ruins on this island including General MacArthur’s headquarters, army barracks, a lighthouse, an old army cinema, the Malinta Tunnel, the Pacific War Memorial, and a Japanese cemetery.
One of the best ways to visit the World War II attractions of Corregidor was with Sun Cruises, but they sadly became another victim of the pandemic.
Another great day trip for history buffs is a visit to the World War II monuments commemorating the Bataan Death March in the city of Balanga.
During the war, the Japanese forced 70,000 American and Filipino POWs 90 km to Camp O’Donnell POW camp. It’s estimated that 15,000 to 20,000 people died on the march.
Outside of Balanga and on top of Mt. Samat is a 90-meter crucifix with battle scenes carved into its base. You’ll also find the Battle of Bataan Museum on the mountain where you’ll find displays and photos telling the story of the march, weaponry, and a relief map of the Bataan Peninsula.
Here is a possible tour:
Bataan Heritage Tour – This tour involves a visit to all the monuments and memorials dedicated to the Bataan Death March. At the end, you’ll also stop off at Las Casas Filipinas De Acuzar.
6. Las Casas Filipinas De Acuzar
This is a resort, hotel, and heritage center near Bataan. A visit to this interesting resort is a way to step back in time to the Spanish colonial era of the Philippines.
The highlights are the heritage homes and buildings that were renovated and moved from other cities to Bagac, Bataan. The homes were placed around a man-made lake and canals. Most of the houses are from the Spanish colonial era. You can stay overnight in one of the houses or you can visit on a day trip.
Here is a possible tour:
Bataan Heritage Tour and Casa Filipinas De Acuzar Tour – This tour involves a visit to all the monuments and memorials dedicated to the Bataan Death March. At the end of the tour, you’ll also stop off at Las Casas Filipinas De Acuzar.
Where to stay in Manila
In 2022, the Philippines is still struggling to attract foreign tourists, so from my research, you can find some excellent deals on accommodations in Manila.
Agoda seems to have the BEST DEALS.
What’s the best area in Manila to stay in?
The BEST area to stay in is Makati. There are loads of restaurants, bars, and cafes in the area. It’s safe as well, so ideal for solo travelers. Plus, Makati has some excellent hotels and hostels. On the downside, it’s far from the major tourist attractions.
Best Hostels and Budget Hotels in Manila
Best Mid-Range Hotels in Manila
Best Luxury Hotels in Manila
Final Thoughts on Manila
After your 2 days in Manila, you have loads of great choices. I flew to the island of Palawan and traveled to Puerto Princesa, Port Barton, El Nido, and Colon. The beaches, the crystal clear water, and the beautiful limestone islands are stunning! You will NEVER forget it.
Another option is to travel around Cebu. There are so many fantastic places worth visiting. You’ve got some great diving and snorkeling, white sandy beaches, and the best waterfalls I’ve ever seen. I highly recommend Moalboal, Malapascua, Siquijor, and Bohol. I have a jam-packed itinerary for all the best places in this area of the Philippines.
You could even head north to the rice terraces of Ifugao province or the colonial town of Vigan.
Check out my list of 15 best places to visit in the Philippines for more ideas!
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3 Travel Essentials for Manila
These Brook’s Adrenaline GTS 22 shoes are what I've worn all through Asia. I have plantar fasciitis and bunions so I need good stability shoes that come in wide sizes. I've been traveling for the past 15 months and I ONLY wear these shoes, and they still give me fabulous support. You can wear them for hiking and walking around cities.
Best Packing Item
I was never a fan of packing cubes UNTIL I tried these fabulous compression cubes. They really keep my stuff organized AND save me tons of space. Plus, they come with a laundry bag and a shoe bag.
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More Info on the Philippines:
- Learn how to take public transportation and a Grab and taxi around Manila - First-Timers Guide to Getting Around Manila
- Manila Itinerary: 2 Days Exploring the Culture and History of Manila - In this guide, you'll get a detailed step-by-step itinerary for seeing the sights in Manila.
- Port Barton Itinerary: What to do for 3 Days in Port Barton - Find out how to discover the most beautiful beach in the Philippines.
- One of my favorite experiences in the Philippines was an island-hopping tour of Sibaltan. Get the details here: Sibaltan Tour: Finding Your Secret Paradise in Palawan, Philippines
- El Nido Itinerary: An Adventure of a Lifetime - Learn where to go, what to eat, where to see, and of course, what to do in El Nido.
- Bohol Travel Guide: Exploring the Natural Wonder of the Philippines will tell you exactly what to see and do in Bohol, how to get there, where to stay, and much, much more!
- Siquijor Itinerary: Exploring the Island of Fire will give you the skinny on everything you need to know to travel to Siquijor.
- Malapascua Itinerary: Plan Now! Go Later! will help you plan your trip to Malapascua and Kalanggaman Islands.
- Find out what my 15 favorite places to visit in the Philippines are.
- Solo Travel Guide for the Philippines will give you some pointers on how to best travel solo in the Philippines cheaply and safely and still have a kick-ass time!