Crack open Manila’s unyielding shell and you’ll discover a cultural mecca soaked in colonial heritage. Home to over 20 million people, this sprawling megacity pits cloud-grazing skyscrapers against cramped shanty towns; air-conditioned malls and fast-food chains against the world’s oldest Chinatown and markets heaving with tropical produce. Manila’s roads serve as its traffic-clogged arteries, transporting suited office workers and street hawkers alike in colourful jeepneys painted with bible quotes. By night, 80s power ballads blare from karaoke bars, a Filipino institution that has spawned a new craze: videoke.
To escape the frenzy, enter the thick stone walls of Intramuros. This historical microcosm marks 300 years of Spanish – and for a brief time, British – colonial control, its cobbled streets preserving the ghosts of rulers past. UNESCO-protected San Augustin Church speaks to the country’s deep Catholic faith while Fort Santiago shelters a shrine for the national hero Jose Rizal, who was imprisoned here during the Philippine Revolution. A monument in Rizal Park marks his 1896 execution, surrounded by fountains and lawns where families gather for weekend concerts and old men play endless chess tournaments.
To make sense of this pulsing metropolis, talk to our Philippines team. They can connect you with local guides who can help you explore this bewildering, yet bewitching capital.