Actually a conglomerate of 16 cities and one municipality in the Central and Southern Luzon regions of Northern Philippines, Metro Manila is the cosmopolitan gateway to the 7,107 tropical islands of the country, and to some of the most pristine beaches in the world. Travelers should think twice before using Manila simply as a connection point, however, as the city offers much from historical sightseeing from WWII and the Spanish colonial period to some of the most luxurious spa and wellness offerings in the world.
Ranked 5th by Yahoo! for international travel searches in 2007, Manila is the pulsating hub that blends the Oriental with the occidental, the quaint with the modern and the exotic with the extraordinary. Deluxe spa facilities abound in the city, featuring relaxing, luxurious atmospheres and world class treatments, including those unique to the Philippines.
One example is the Sanctuario Spa, Salon and Organic Café, conveniently located in the heart of Manila. Sanctuario takes special bows for its hilot treatments, a traditional Filipino-style deep tissue massage performed by an authentic manghihilot who uses mysticism and incantations while kneading the muscles to remove aches and pains.
Other traditional Filipino healing modalities include tapik kawayan (tapping of thin bamboo sticks to affected parts for circulation and releasing of energy blocks), dinalisay (concoctions of a mixture of indigenous medicinal herbs), kisig galing (biomagnetic energy healing), unang lana (virgin coconut oil), the paligo (a rinsing bath filled with leaves and flowers believed to have healing properties), and the oslob (steam inhalation from infusions of air-dried aromatic medicinal herbs), to name several.
While Metro Manila is a cosmopolitan city with modern designer shopping malls and five-star hotels, one need not travel far to reach the sublime natural beauty associated with the country’s more than 7,000 surrounding islands.
No trip to Manila is complete without an excursion to Tagaytay, famous for Taal Lake and Volcano. The world’s smallest active volcano, Taal Volcano is an island on a lake about 30 miles south of Manila. Most notably, the volcano contains a lake of its own within its center known as Crater Lake. What makes this volcano even more novel is the tiny island inside Crater Lake – Vulcan Point – which is an island within a lake on an island within a lake on an island.
Vacationers can climb Taal Volcano by foot or on horseback to peer into its crater, which still emits volcanic steam from several geysers. Sulphuric deposits can be seen collecting around the shores of the lake and the tiny, picturesque island in its center.
For those seeking a true adventure, Mt. Pinatubo – the site of the second largest volcanic eruption in the 20th century (the largest being in Alaska), where visitors can swim in hot springs and enjoy spa treatments utilizing the mineral-rich volcanic ash – is a bit further than Taal, but also within a few hours drive from Manila.
Just a short ferry ride from Manila, the island of Corregidor was a major strategic point in the battle between American and Japanese forces in WWII due to its position at the entrance of Manila Bay. Visitors can stand on bomb craters and examine the remaining batteries and artillery on one of history’s most important battlegrounds.
While taking heavy damage, sections of the barracks and other buildings are still intact and able to be explored. Corregidor also features several monuments dedicated to the soldiers that heroically gave their lives in the battle and a museum housing one of the greatest collections of WWII memorabilia.
Of course, Manila is full of wonders for history seekers dating back to the county’s early tribal history and continuing through its introduction to Christianity under the rule of Spain. The walled city of Intramuros, built by the Spaniards in the 16th century, offers great landmarks such as Fort Santiago, the seat of Spanish military power during the era; Casa Manila, a re-creation of a 19th century Spanish home in the Philippines; and Manila Cathedral, the seat of Catholicism in Manila with its Romanesque façade, graceful cupola and 4,500-pipe organ.
The oldest church in the Philippines, also within the walled city, is San Agustin. Built between 1587 and 1606, its massive façade conceals an ornate interior filled with objects of great historical and cultural merit, especially the trompe l’oeil frescoes on the vaulted ceilings.
Adjacent to the church is a small museum run by the Augustinian order featuring antique vestments, colonial furniture, and religious paintings and icons. The National Museum of the Philippines, located just outside Intramuros, houses many artworks by renowned Filipino artists including Juan Luna’s Spoliarium.
Intramuros also features a golf course which incorporates the picturesque “walled” setting into the play for a remarkably unique experience. Lighting provides the opportunity for night-play.
Accommodations in Manila offer luxury at very affordable pricing. Popular hotels include the Makati Shangri-La, Peninsula Hotel, Hyatt Hotel & Casino, Sofitel Philippine Plaza, Dusit Nikko Hotel, as well as the Manila Hotel, once the residence of U.S. General Douglas MacArthur. Guests can stay in the MacArthur suite starting from approximately $2,000 per night for a sense of what life was like for the General as he sat in his office at the onset of WWII.
“While we encourage visitors to experience our tropical islands as well as our rice terraces and other UNESCO treasures in the north, one should reserve at least a few days for the wonders of Manila,” said Vernie Velarde-Morales, Director of the Philippines Department of Tourism in Chicago.
“Newly introduced air service from Hawaiian Airlines makes Manila even more accessible now than before,” noted Velarde-Morales.
For travel to the Philippines, consult your local travel agent or consult one of several tour operators offering hotel and air packages combining Manila with other Philippine gems such as the legendary “White Beach” of Boracay and the “Chocolate Hills” of Bohol:
U.S.-based tour operators:
Orient Flexi-Pax Tours: 800-545-5540; http://www.isram.com/orient/index.htm
Pacific Asia Leisure: 212-661-3270; http://www.pacificasialeisure.com
Pacific Holidays: 800-355-8025; http://www.pacificholidaysinc.com
Rajah Tours: 800-392-3345; http://www.rajahtoursphilippines.com
Canada-based tour operators:
ATOURZ: 416-485-6375; http://www.atourz.ca
Goway Travel: 800-387-8850; http://www.goway.com
Jade Tours: 866-227-2125; http://www.jadetours.com
Royal Scenic: 888-302-8886 in Ontario/877-736-6028 in Vancouver; http://www.royalscenic.com
For additional information on the Philippines, call the destination’s travel information hotline at 1-877-PHIL-TRAVEL or visit http://www.experiencephilippines.ph
Philippine Department of Tourism
The Philippine Department of Tourism (PDOT) is one of the Executive Departments of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines responsible for the promotion of travel to the Philippines, tourism investments, and enhancement and preservation of tourism products in the country. Field offices in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco provide the following services free of charge on a selective basis: dissemination of tourism information, maps, brochures and posters; lending out of videos, CDs and other tourism-related materials; recommendations on places to visit; endorsement of relevant entities; and assistance to those traveling to the Philippines. These offices also engage in a number of promotional activities: presentations to travel organizations, travel trade shows, media inserts and joint marketing arrangements.
The Philippine Department of Tourism is headquartered in Manila, Philippines, with offices in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. For more information, visit www.experiencephilippines.ph or www.wowphilippines.com.ph, or call the toll-free Philippine travel information hotline at 1-877-PHIL-TRAVEL.