Backpacking in Manila: A Guide to the Crazy Capital of The Philippines

We’ve travelled all around the world, to some of the planets largest and busiest cities, but nothing quite prepares you for Manila. The capital of The Philippines is chaotic, overwhelming, intimidating and bigger than you can comprehend. Crossing the city takes hours, the traffic is exhausting, the poverty of the local people is so plain to see. And yet there is something deeply fascinating about it, it’s so real and so raw. Backpacking in Manila takes a little bit of work, but it rewards you with a look into the side of the Philippines many choose to overlook. With its stunning centuries old cathedrals and ancient city walls, bustling markets and unique transport system, Manila is worth a second look rather than just being a pit stop for those beach paradises! Here our Things to do in Manila guide!

Backpacking in Manila: Things to do in Manila, Philippines, transport in Manila, where to stay in Manila, Makati.

Backpacking in Manila:

Transport:

Navigating Manila isn’t the easiest, there is very little in the way of truly organised public transport and using what is available is confusing at best!

The best way to get around is to use GRAB or UBER and make sure you have a local sim with some data. These online taxi services are popular in Manila and always offer competitive prices. If you are going some distance across the city then you really can’t beat them. Bear in mind if you need to get somewhere for a certain time then do set off in good time, Manila traffic is crazy at any time of the day! Try to avoid the taxi’s as they will most certainly overcharge you! Unusually for us using UBER is one of our top tips for Backpacking in Manila!

Backpacking in Manila: Things to do in Manila, Philippines, transport in Manila, where to stay in Manila, Makati.

However if you are up for some adventure then taking a ride on one of the unique vehicles to the Philippines: The Jeepney is a truly authentic pinoy experience and one of the most fun things to do in Manila. These loud and brashly decorated diesel chugging surrogate buses are made from parts of American jeeps left after the war and are only seen over here! They are a little confusing to use so take a short trip and ask a local to help you get on the right one! They are crowded and don’t allow much space, but are a fast and cheap way to get around! Taking at least one Jeepney is an integral part of an authentic Backpacking in Manila experience, just maybe don’t use then when you’ve got a flight to catch!!

If anything, taking a Jeepney ride should be on your things to do in Manila list as it is such a local thing to do!

Backpacking in Manila: Things to do in Manila, Philippines, transport in Manila, where to stay in Manila, Makati.

Another option for shorter journeys is to take one of the tricycles, The Filipino answer to a tuk tuk or rickshaw. These are essentially a motorbike with a sidecar built around the entire thing. They might not be the most comfortable or indeed safe ride but they can weave through the traffic and are a popular alternative to taxis for the locals. Again, some could argue for adding it to the things to do in Manila list itself as its such an experience. For beating the traffic tricycles are a great idea!

Backpacking in Manila: Things to do in Manila, Philippines, transport in Manila, where to stay in Manila, Makati.

Backpacking in Manila:

Safety:

Manila is a poverty stricken city with many people living in self built shanty towns and squatting in empty lots. Across South East Asia poverty is of course a huge issue, but we have often found that the poorer the community the more they are open and friendly. However in Manila some extra caution must be exercised as muggings and gun crime are issues in some areas of the city. However we never at any point felt in danger and we explored many places on foot. But do be cautious of showing off your belongings, wandering into bad neighbourhoods and also at night. But generally Backpacking in Manila is just as safe any as where else in the region and it shouldn’t be a major concern when you’re planning what to see in Manila.

Backpacking in Manila: Things to do in Manila, Philippines, transport in Manila, where to stay in Manila, Makati.

Backpacking in Manila:

Which Area to Base Yourself in:

Manila is a huge city that is actually many cities in one. Those once small cities on the outskirts of the city have merged together to create the mammoth Metro Manila area we find today. So often when you visit the city you might actually find yourself technically staying in another city! But there are a lot more things to see in Manila than you might imagine and they can be quite spread out.

Backpacking in Manila: Things to do in Manila, Philippines, transport in Manila, where to stay in Manila, Makati.

Most foreign visitors head for the more developed and modern area of Makati so it’s a perfect base for Backpacking in Manila. Here you will find great hostels such as Z Hostel where we stayed that offer great views over the city, comfortable rooms as access to a wide range of bars and restaurants within walking distance. Makati feels very different to other areas of Manila and around here it is quite usual to see many other tourists whereas often when exploring the wider city you come across very few. There are plenty of places to eat and drink, nearby malls and a thriving nightlife. On our things to do in Manila list there might not be all that much to do in Makati but its a cool place to stay!

However, as we mentioned previously Manila can be notoriously difficult to get around especially when you’ve got a flight to catch!! So when we had a long international flight we looked for hotels near NAIA Terminal 2 for a couple of nights just to be sure and ordered an UBER to come a lot earlier than we would usually do!

Backpacking in Manila: Things to do in Manila, Philippines, transport in Manila, where to stay in Manila, Makati.

Things to do in Manila: 

Backpacking in Manila: Take in the skyline

Being a huge city made up of a mixture of modern skyscrapers, rundown shanty towns and ancient colonial architecture Manila has one of the most interesting skylines. From the vantage point of the rooftop bar at Z Hostel over in Makati you can take in this impressive city from above from several jaw dropping angles! In actual fact the skyline has to be one of my favourites and high on our things to do in Manila list!

Backpacking in Manila: Things to do in Manila, Philippines, transport in Manila, where to stay in Manila, Makati.

Visit the Ancient Walled City of Intramuros:

When Backpacking in Manila you can’t help but notice the Spanish names, street signs and city names. Even the country itself was named after King Philip of Spain. Despite the language fading in favour of the English the Americans brought over as well as many other elements of culture the Spanish influence is still very clear to see. One of the most impressive and historic areas of Manila is the ancient walled city and citadel of Intramuros built in 1571 and one of the most historic places to visit in Manila. Here the architecture is very much like wandering around a crumbling old Spanish town, you might be forgiven for forgetting what continent you are on! It’s beautiful streets take you back in time to the Manila of old. This must be your number one on your things to do in Manila list!

Backpacking in Manila: Things to do in Manila, Philippines, transport in Manila, where to stay in Manila, Makati.

Backpacking in Manila:

Explore the Bustling Markets

Rather than avoid the chaos of Manila dive right in and embrace it! Heading to one of the many markets around the city is a sure fire way to be dropped right off from the fire into the frying pan. Here both inside and outside markets are a hive of activities, noise, smells, colour and life. You can’t help but be swept away with the energy which makes them one of the most authentic places to go in Manila! It’s a real fun thing to do when you’re Backpacking in Manila and a great way to meet local people and try new food!

Backpacking in Manila: Things to do in Manila, Philippines, transport in Manila, where to stay in Manila, Makati.

Visit the Centuries Old Churches and Cathedrals

Manila was once the heartland of the Spanish conquest of The Philippines, bringing with them their Catholic religion which is still a major part of life here. The Filipinos are devout and even spending a short amount of time here you can’t fail to notice the crosses hanging around peoples necks, the nuns walking through town and almost every vehicle decorated with the images of Jesus! After visiting many other countries in the region visiting the Churches was high on our things to do in Manila list as it makes the country stand out so much culturally!

Backpacking in Manila: Things to do in Manila, Philippines, transport in Manila, where to stay in Manila, Makati.

Despite many of the ancient colonial architecture suffering heavy damage during the war many of the churches remain and were a highlight of our time Backpacking in Manila. Some of the highlights include the impressive Manila Cathedral, which was founded in 1571 as has been visited by several Popes over the years. Others include when you’re planning what to do in Manila are the San Agustin Church, Quiapo Church, San Sebastian Church and Binondo Church.

Backpacking in Manila: Things to do in Manila, Philippines, transport in Manila, where to stay in Manila, Makati.

Wander Through the Impressive Rizal Park

This historic park in the centre of the city is an important national monument for the country and is one of the largest urban parks in Asia…as well as being home to the biggest Filipino flag you are ever likely to see! Not only is the park an oasis of greenery within this urban jungle but it is one of the most important historical sites in the country and a must see of the Manila tourist attractions. Named after the national hero Jose Rizal whose execution on the 30th of December 1896 provoked the 1896 Philippine Revolution against Spain. The monument here contains his enshrined remains and is the centre focal point of the park. Here also occurred the declaration of Philippine independence from the United States on 4th July 1946 as well as many other political rallies and protests over the years. It’s a lovely place for a stroll for and one of the nicest places to visit in Manila for couples

Backpacking in Manila: Things to do in Manila, Philippines, transport in Manila, where to stay in Manila, Makati.

Backpacking in Manila: Take in the Local Way of Life

Despite being a huge and overwhelming city Manila retains its authenticity and local feel which makes exploring the streets one of the top things to do in Manila . Whereas other large capital cities have been overtaken by gentrification and unscrupulous modernisation, Manila retains a unique characteristic. Explore any of the network of streets here and you are sure to see a basketball game going on, visit local restaurants and you will be sure to strike up a conversation with some intrigued people. Manila has so much life to offer those willing to explore a little deeper and the best part of it is the friendliness of the Filipinos!

Book your transport across The Philippines and Asia here:

Powered by 12Go Asia system

Backpacking in Manila: Things to do in Manila, Philippines, transport in Manila, where to stay in Manila, Makati.

Book a Tour Here

Book Your Accommodation Here



Booking.com

Hey, You’ve Got Your Travel Insurance Sorted Haven’t you?

Travelling and especially backpacking is a wild adventure, but make sure you are covered just incase something goes wrong, which if you’re living it up to the fullest it’s always a possibility!
Check travel insurance prices with World Nomads here!

Have You Been Backpacking in Manila?

See more from this country:

PHILIPPINES

See more from our backpacking adventures:

ASIA LEG

EUROPE LEG

Pin for later:

Backpacking in Manila: Things to do in Manila

13 thoughts on “Backpacking in Manila: A Guide to the Crazy Capital of The Philippines

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-4106">

    Philippines represent here! 🙂 Glad you’ve tried the jeepney challenge. And yes, even locals would definitely avoid riding the jeep if bound for the airport. Taxi or Grab (Uber has now been acquired by Grab) is the way to go. I’m loving your honest take on Manila.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-4105">

    I do love all the Spanish influence there and I’m glad it’s still evident. It’s one of many reasons I want to visit the Philippines (love the food too)! I have to see the view from the Z Hostel’s rooftop bar. That’s incredible! Also I’ve never heard of a Jeepney so a ride on that is a must. The first time I heard about a tuk tuk was when I was in Thailand I enjoyed that so a Jeepney would have to happen! Cathedrals are something I like to see everywhere I go!

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-4104">

    There are so many cool things to do in Manila! I love how it seems to be the perfect blend of historical colonial history with modernism. Definitely sign us up to ride one of those cool Jeepney rides. The jeep reminds me of the run down touring bus the Muppets used to drive! Love it! I definitely cant wait to eat all the food in Manila too.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-4103">

    Manila looks like a crazy place! I would have to try the bus, it looks so funky and it’s a great way to meet the locals. It’s good to see in that there is still some old architecture standing amongst the chaos!

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-4102">

    Manilla looks exactly how I imagined it would. Busy and hectic! lol It’s nice to know that they have Uber there is you need. Way better than taking a taxi!

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1 parent" id="comment-4100">

    I’m not sure if I’d like this city. It looks too hectic and loud, so if the city does not come to rest. But maybe the impression is deceptive.

      li class="comment byuser comment-author-nic-hilditch17hotmail-co-uk bypostauthor even depth-2" id="comment-4101">

      I guess you never know until you go! What I love about travelling is having my preconceived ideas about a place totally changed once I experience it for myself. I also think travelling isn’t just nice beaches but it’s seeing real life too and that is what makes Manila and interesting place to visit but a confronting one too.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-even depth-1 parent" id="comment-4096">
    pappasw

    Wow, Manila has so much history. I think I would love the Jeepney ride it looks like a fun way to see the town.

      li class="comment byuser comment-author-nic-hilditch17hotmail-co-uk bypostauthor even depth-2" id="comment-4097">

      Yeah, the Jeepneys are so much fun!

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1 parent" id="comment-4095">

    Wow this looks like an adventure to say the least. I’ve never felt like Manila would be the safest but I like that you said it is safe if you are cautious.

      li class="comment byuser comment-author-nic-hilditch17hotmail-co-uk bypostauthor even depth-2" id="comment-4098">

      Yeah, it’s a unique experiences in terms of South East Asia too. It feels so different and the contrast at first is very stark, but after a little while you do loosen up and see that it’s not so scary and you just need a bit of awareness that’s all.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-even depth-1 parent" id="comment-4094">
    MY RIG Adventures

    Thank you for your raw honesty. I don’t know if I could visit Manila. As a westerner I can see how confronting it would be. However, you do make me feel reassured that it’s pretty safe if you take all of the right precautions. I must say, I’d be intrigued to check out the old Spanish citadel!

      li class="comment byuser comment-author-nic-hilditch17hotmail-co-uk bypostauthor even depth-2" id="comment-4099">

      Thanks, yeah we try to be as honest as we can and no sugar coat our experiences. I think it’s a confronting place for sure but it is also one of the most authentic and eye opening experiences of our time in SEA. I just think you maybe need go there knowing what to expect and how to prepare for that. It’s a very interesting place to explore.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *