Is Manila Worth Visiting?
In general, Manila is only worth visiting if your goal is to meet and get to know the Filipino people. Manila doesn’t have one of the 7 new natural wonders of the world, such as the Underground River in Palawan. Nor does it have the historical grand structures like the Grand Palace in Bangkok or ancient ruins like Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
It doesn’t even have any modern marvels, such as one of the world’s tallest buildings like Taipei 101 in Taiwan or the Petronas Towers of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Even bargain-hunting backpackers won’t find solace in Manila. Due to its geography of being on an island, everything has to be imported, which means it’s more expensive than other cities in Asia. Most westerners don’t find local cuisine appealing as Filipino food tends to be high in sugar, salt, MSG, and fat. Then there’s the fact that Manila was ranked as one of the world’s most stressful cities.
Note: During COVID times, almost everything of interest is closed, so no, it’s definitely not worth visiting unless you’re coming to see family or meet a special friend.
Related: The Pros & Cons of The Philippines
Is Manila a Good Holiday Destination?
Manila is a good holiday destination if you’re coming to The Philippines to meet the Filipino people. Filipinos are well known for their friendliness to outsiders, and westerners will appreciate that English is widely spoken here.
There are some famous tourist sites that are often listed in other blogs; however, they pale in comparison to the more interesting and historically significant sites of other places in Asia.
Manila’s tourist attractions are decent places to fill your day, but they’re nothing that I’d make a special trip to go and see. Most people use Manila as a layover to more interesting places such as Palawan or Boracay.
A common tourist destination is the old Spanish colonial city of Intramuros which literally means ‘between the walls.’ While it’s interesting, there are far better examples of Spanish colonial towns in the world, such as Oaxaca Mexico and San Cristobal de las Casas in the Mexican state of Chiapas.
The truth is The Philippines was never the cash cow for Spain that the Americas and Caribbean were, so they didn’t pay that much attention to the archipelago. That’s why Filipinos don’t speak Spanish, unlike the rest of the former Spanish colonies.
On a positive note, the best pizza I’ve ever had in The Philippines was at Raffaele Woodfired Pizza in Intramuros.
Manila Ocean Park
Manila Ocean Park is another famous tourist attraction in Manila. It’s a Chinese owned worse version of Sea World. They’ve faced numerous accusations of animal cruelty and poor maintenance.
While they have made efforts to clean up their act recently, the attraction still only has a 3.5 out of 5 rating on TripAdvisor. It’s unlikely those from the west or those who have been to SEA Life Ocean World in Bangkok or S.E.A. Aquarium in Singapore will be impressed by this place. Still, it can be a good way to kill time while in Manila.
As a history buff, the national museum is one of the places I actually enjoyed visiting in Manila. It’s a beautiful building and wonderfully maintained. It has some of the best exhibits of the history of The Philippines and its people. It has paintings by Jose Luna, a world-renowned artist, and many other famous works.
But again, this would only be of interest to someone who wanted to learn more about The Philippines and its people. It doesn’t even come close to the poignant experience you’ll get from visiting the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh Cambodia or the sense of awe from viewing the 2,000+-year-old Terra Cotta Army of the first dynasty of China at The Museum of Qin Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses in Xi’an, China.
The Greenbelt Mall
Malls are synonymous with The Philippines. They’re where teenage boys go to meet girls and where families often spend their Sunday afternoons after mass. The climate-controlled structures offer an oasis from the Philippine tropical heat and heavy downpours. The greenbelt mall is a luxury mall in Manila and is often considered the apex of shopping in The Philippines. I’ve been there a few times, there are some nice restaurants in there, and you can do some high-end shopping.
It’s also huge at 250,000 square meters but nowhere near the top 10 in the world. The Mall of Asia (MOA) and SM City North EDSA are bigger. Given the prevalent mall culture, you’d think The Philippines has the world’s biggest and best malls; but even in that category, Manila doesn’t measure up.
The title of World’s Largest Mall goes to Dubai Mall in the United Arab Emirates at 3.77 million square feet (350,244 sq Meters). It pales in comparison to places like West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada, or Siam Paragon in Thailand, which, aside from the usual mall amenities such as clothing shops, restaurants, and cinemas, it even has its own aquarium, art gallery, and opera concert hall.
Art in Island (closed as of March 2020)
This is another one of the tourist attractions I actually liked. It’s an interactive 3D art museum where you get to be part of the art and one of the biggest of its kind here in the Philippines and maybe globally! You can take pictures of yourself in various artworks and make it look like you were part of the artist’s vision. My girlfriend and I spent nearly all day there. It costs 500 PHP ($10) to get in, and it’s a LOT of fun!
Is Manila a Beautiful City?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. While there are some beautiful parks and places such as Rizal Park, Intramuros, various church grounds, and pretty neighborhoods like BGC, overall, the capital city is overcrowded with people, trash, and cars.
There are no significant natural phenomena that would warrant a detour to Manila. Compared to the rest of Manila, Bonifacio Global City (known locally as BGC) is a modern area with nice, well-maintained streets and parks, but you can see places like that in almost any other city.
Is Manila Safe to Visit?
Next, let’s talk about crime and safety. The vast majority of tourists will be perfectly safe in Manila so long as they follow some common-sense rules like not staying out late at night, going to shady areas, and not buying drugs.
Like any other city, the Philippine capital has areas that are safer than others. While the city has an extraordinarily high crime level (one of the highest in Asia), most of the violent crime is concentrated in the lower-income areas that most tourists don’t visit.
Some of the most common crimes that affect tourists
These are some of the most common crimes that impact tourists and foreigners living in Manila.
Lei Wi Yang was a tourist in Intramuros who was set up in a restaurant by a confidence gang. The 4 innocent-looking locals won her confidence and convinced her to take them to her hotel room. At which point they drugged and robbed her. She told police that the gang took her cell phone, 400,000 pesos, and $1,376.
This was not an isolated incident. Confidence gangs are numerous in Manila, even more so now due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. Not everyone who smiles and is nice to you is your friend.
Tricked into Bad Business Deals
In the neighborhood of Bel-Air Makati, Gareth Roberts was abducted, tied up, and gagged by his own business partner, Randy Domingo. Police allege that Domingo tied up, gagged, and threatened the Brit with a knife and pellet gun unless he handed over his ATM card and bank details.
At which point, the local attempted to withdraw over 600,000 pesos but was blocked by the bank’s security system. Domingo denies ever robbing the suspect; however, police apparently caught him in the act. Domingo & Roberts co-owned a bar in Makati. Without a doubt, if you’re here long enough, you can expect to be approached by a local with a ‘sure investment.’
So, is Manila Worth a Visit?
I love the Philippines and Filipinos. They are some of the warmest, friendliest people I’ve ever met. However, that’s the only reason I like the Philippines. The government is corrupt, the traffic is horrible, and there are simply not many interesting things to do here.
You can walk around Bangkok (or take the Metro) for hours seeing the sites such as the Grand Palace and eating cheap and delicious Thai street food. You can see beautiful 1,000-year-old Buddhist temples in Siem Reap Cambodia AND get delicious yet cheap food to boot.
In Manila, you’ll be stuck in traffic (sometimes for hours) to see mediocre tourist attractions, and local cuisine consists of fast food like Jollibee–yuck, and fertilized duck eggs–double yuck! So, is Manila worth a visit? Unless you’re coming to meet someone special, no sorry.