Manila Travel Guide
For first time travelers to Manila the maze of busy streets, frenetic traffic combined with tropical heat and pollution can be intimidating. But looking beyond that, there are lots of shopping and entertainment options and Manila boasts some of the best restaurants and most exclusive shopping venues in the Philippines.
Heavy bombing during WWII devastated most of Manila and as a result few colonial landmarks remain today. Reminders of the towns colonial past can be found around Intramuros the old city created by Spanish. The tourism infrastructure is centered around the adjacent districts of Malata and Ermita. Located conveniently close to the airport is the business district of Makati, with a range of upmarket hotels, restaurants and bars and another popular place to stay.
The city of Manila is the capital of the Philippines and forms together with 16 neighboring districts the Metro Manila. It is located on the shores of Manila bay in the Southeastern part of Luzon and split by the Pasig river. The population is still growing and currently there are already over 20 million inhabitants in Metro Manila and surrounding provinces, making it the fifth largest urban area in the world by population. The city hosts the countries best universities who are attracting students from all over the Philippines as well as foreign students, mainly from South Korea. Manila is also Philippines' economic powerhouse and most international companies have some form of presence here, tapping into the cities growing amount of young educated workers.
Internet & communication
Staying connected while travelling is ofcourse important. Finding a place to stay connected in Manila is fortunately easy with the availability of free WiFi networks and paid internet cafes. All of the SM malls are offering free wireless access in their grounds, although connection speed can be frustratingly slow during peak hours. Free internet access is also available on the international airport. Some bus companies like JAC - and Victory liner even have free WiFi access in a selection of their buses. Paid internet access cafes offering cheap VoIP calls and printing services are scattered throughout Manila and malls usually have them on their top floors.
The area code for Manila is 02. Pay phones are very common and most Filipinos also have a mobile phone. Globe and Smart are the two main carriers and are offering roaming services to international visitors. If you want to avoid high roaming costs, you can buy a local SIM card for as low as 50php at many outlets in malls or on the International airport. Topping up your prepaid sim card is easy and prepaid phone cards are sold in almost all convenience stores.
There are two seasons dictating the weather in Manila. A dry season between November and May and a wet season during the other months. The most pleasant time to visit Manila is between December and April when the temperatures are relatively cool and the skies are clear. Daytime temperature during this time are hovering around 30°C and at night it cools down to a pleasant 23°C. From May, temperatures are heating up and rains starts to pour in. Typhoons usually occur between June and September and can bring the city to a halt for a day or two.
Most travellers are issued a free 30 days tourist visa on arrival. Another 29 day visa extension is generally easy to obtain without leaving the country. You can apply for one at the Bureau of Immigration in Makati City on the ground floor of the Board of Investment building on Gil Puyat Avenue or in Pasay City on Roxas Boulevard on the ground floor of the PEZA building. A dress code applies so be sure to dress appropriately.
ATMs connected to international payment network of Cirrus or Plus are dotted all over the city and the most hassle-free way to get cash. Most banks levy a 5 USD service fee for withdrawals by guest users. Best place to exchange money is at official money changers inside the malls, as they offer the best exchange rates and the location makes them safe. Aside from pesos most upmarket places tend to accept US dollars as well as Mastercard and Visa credit cards .
Manila is reasonable safe for travellers, but as in all big cities you should take precaution against pickpockets and luggage snatchers. Violent crime targeted against foreigners is rare and you should experience no problems if you stay alert and watch your belongings. In case you are casualty of a petty crime you should always file a report with the police department. Its unlikely they get your belongings back, but you need the report for your insurance company.