Essential Manila for the Luxury Traveler
Blending together a heady mixture of Filipino, Spanish, American and Chinese cultures, Manila is a city apart from all others. The capital of the Philippines is a bustling metropolis, home to around 10 million people and some of the most exciting new attractions for the luxury traveler.
Stay at Okada Manila
For a real taste of luxury, it’s worth visiting the Okada Manila, home to the PokerStars Festival, South Asia’s largest indoor beach and most importantly, the world’s largest multicolored waterfall. As well as this, the rooms here are incredible. Bringing five-star elegance to every detail, Okada Manila’s suites all face either the ocean or the fountain. Make this your base and feel spoiled every time you return to your suite after a long day’s exploring.
Starting your break within the walled city is the best way to begin. Intramuros (which translates as “inside the walls”) is the historical center of Manila. This fortified city was the town center during the Spanish Colonial era, and despite the onslaughts of World War II, there are still some streets that have left Manila’s old charm undisturbed. Cobblestone streets, picturesque churches and colonial villas create a bizarrely European atmosphere, which is nevertheless quite beautiful. A guided tour around this part of the city would be time well spent as it is so rich in history that even the best guidebooks miss some parts. However, if guided tours aren’t your thing, here are a few must-sees.
The San Agustin Church
The oldest church in the Philippines, the San Agustin Church was the only building left intact after World War II. The structure you see today is the third reinvention of the church after the original buildings suffered at the hands of seven major earthquakes. While the external architecture is undoubtedly beautiful, the interior is a cornucopia of incredible artifacts and one you should not miss.
Afternoons can get warm in the walled city, but the stunning Casa Manila is a wonderful place to escape the heat and relax. This stunning colonial house hints at the opulence and excess of life here in the 19thcentury. While one might mistakenly think this house was part of Colonial history, instead it was commissioned in 1980 by Imelda Marcos to include the lavish architecture of an era that she loved.
Don’t let that dampen your experience though, as all the furniture, paintings and fixtures are real 19th century pieces.
Eat at Purple Yam Malate
After a day’s exploring, you’ll no doubt be a little peckish. Opened in July 2014, Purple Yam Malate brings seasonal and exceptional dining to Manila. The restaurant is in a stylishly renovated 18th-century home where you must make a reservation to eat. Chef Romy Dorotan works only with local and seasonal ingredients, creating stunning yet simple dishes. It’s hard to recommend a specific dish as the menu changes frequently, but the red snapper escabeche captures the freshness of Filipino cuisine perfectly.
The most important tourist attraction is Fort Santiago. The gardens here are quite spectacular, with manicured lawns, tropical plazas, beautiful fountains and an immaculately kept lily pond, this is a slice of paradise. While it would be quite possible to have a wonderful time in the gardens alone, one should visit the inside of the museum, too. The Rizal Shrine museum is where Dr. José Rizal (the Philippines national hero) was incarcerated in 1896 and holds many displays of memorabilia.
As much as luxury is usually atop the list, sometimes it’s nice to spend a few hours getting to know how the locals live. If authenticity is what you look for from a holiday, look no further than the Salcedo Market in Makati. Open bright and early on Saturday mornings (7 a.m. until 2 p.m.), the market is home to the usual locally produced fruit and vegetables as well as an array of irresistible street food.
Manila Ocean Park
Looking for something a little bit different in the afternoon? For those who have always wanted to try snorkeling but feel more comfortable on dry land, the Manila Ocean Park, a theme park and hotel that allows you to immerse yourself in an underwater world, is a breathtaking underwater experience.
While the park itself is exciting enough, the hotel is also special. Often themed hotels can leave you feeling a little cold, but the aquarium one here is subtle. Each room features a floor-to-ceiling aquarium as well as all the mod cons you could possibly need for a comfortable night’s sleep.