Sunday, 11 March 2012

Philippines: Manila City Charm and Beyond

The capital of the Philippines is an urban metropolitan hub for dining, shopping and sightseeing but it also offers nature retreats and rustic escapes...


Manila is a city of contrasts with jeepneys jostling for road space with limousines, street side food stalls next to posh restaurants and shanty towns down the road from five star hotels. You can’t help but appreciate the Filipino sense of hospitality with the locals greeting you with warm smiles.

It is easy to get around in the city that never sleeps. Taxis are a reliable way to get around. The adventurous can hop on a jeepney, a modified army jeep fitted out with an extended passenger cabin. 

Within the Metro Manila cities of Makati and Mandaluyong, you will find a melting pot of fun activities. Shop with a vengeance at mega-huge shopping malls such as SM Mall of Asia, or enjoy the jet set life at trendy nightlife outlets. 

Whatever your pleasure or taste, Manila’s dining scene has something that will meet your expectations. Apart from native Filipino fare, the abundance of city restaurants serve up international cuisine that range from Japanese, Italian, Indian to Middle Eastern. 

The must do’s on a visitor’s agenda include visits to touristy spots such as the historic Fort Santiago in the Intramuros district notable for displaying the memorabilia of Philippine national hero Jose Rizal. Close by is the Manila Cathedral, built in 1571 and the San Agustin Church at General Luna Street. Check out the Casa Manila, a restored 19th-century dwelling that houses handicraft and curio shops.

Get your fill of the capital, which is overflowing with incredible shopping, food, nightlife and tourist spots before heading out on trips to the surrounding outskirts to enjoy some amazing scenery and nature. 

Tagaytay

Just outside the capital is the summer town of Tagaytay, which is approximately a one and half hour drive away from Manila. At an altitude of 640m above sea level, Tagaytay experiences low humidity and has cool temperatures all year. It is a chill out spot to get away from the heat of the city, making it a popular weekend getaway for the locals. A convenient way to get to Tagaytay is to hire a taxi-van with a driver.

At the highest point, enjoy the spectacular view of the four bays and Lake Taal from which emerges the Taal Volcano. It is the smallest active volcano in the world, made all the more unique as it is a crater located within a lake in the midst of a volcano. To get across to the centre, hop aboard the boat at the Taal Lake shore for a 20-minute trip. Once there, you can trek or rent a donkey to get to the top of the crater.

For a family outing, make a day trip to the Philippine version of Disneyland, known as Enchanted Kingdom. It is 30 minutes away from Tagaytay and has rollercoaster rides, theme shows and fireworks displays.

Baguio City

A preferred getaway for visitors from Manila is Baguio City, which is about 250km north of the capital. Baguio City enjoys cool climate all year round. The crisp weather, misty hills and picturesque views of this mountain city are a draw for both tourists and locals. 

Baguio City was originally planned as a health resort for American civilians and military personnel who wanted to escape from the heat. It is also known as the City of Pines because of the numerous pine trees that adorn the landscape. 

The commercial centre of Baguio City is Session Road, which is a favourite spot for strolling and shopping to your heart’s content. The Baguio Cathedral sits atop a hill in the middle of the city. The rose-coloured church with twin spires is remarkable for its splendid architecture. 

Visit the orchidarium, where many types of plants, trees and flowers are on display. One of the highlights is a vast man-made lake where you can take a boat ride. For fresh air and sunshine, head to Burnham Park which is named after the planner of the city.

Practical Information:

Manila is warm for most of the year except between November and February when it gets cooler. Christmas is an exciting time to visit as the entire nation prepares to celebrate the yuletide. The rainy season is between June and October. 

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  Article written for www.natastravel.com

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