One of the most important historical sites in Manila, Fort Santiago was built by the Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi as a defensive fortress designed to protect the newly formed city of Manila. It is a key feature of the famous Walled City of Manila, which is referred to as Intramuros.
José Rizal, considered a national hero in the Philippines, was imprisoned at Fort Santiago before his execution in 1896, as were countless others. It played a role in the city’s penal and defense system all the way up to World War II, and has been occupied by: the Spanish, free Filipinos, the US (the Stars and Stripes were raised there in 1898), and the Japanese Imperial Army.
Today, this beautiful, 16th century structure is home to a shrine dedicated to Rizal, which includes an eerie set of footprints painted onto the street outlining the great man’s final steps as he was led to his death.
The historic heart of Manila, Intramuros (literally meaning "within the walls") is the oldest district in the capital city. The three-mile-long stone wall completely surrounds the district (with the exception of a small stretch near the River Pasig) and despite the fact that the district was nearly entirely obliterated by US bombers, it remains for visitors a rich cultural experience.
Historical attractions within Intramuros include Fort Santiago, Postigo del Palacio, Baluarte de San Diego, Puerta de Isabel II, Plaza de Roma, San Agustin Church, and Ayuntamiento. The church, which was the sole structure left unmarred by the bombers, has been declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site There are also multiple museums and other points of cultural interest, many ruins, and a few tasty eateries. Intramuros is also a great locus for buying souvenirs and local wares. There are also a few choices for overnight stays.
Located in the historic Intramuros district of Manila (the oldest district and historic core of Manila, otherwise known as the "Walled City"), the Church of San Agustin was designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site as an example of the Baroque architecture that was specific to the Philippines. A Roman Catholic Church, it was constructed by the Spanish in the sixteenth century, but was not consecrated until 1607. Its beautiful architecture is worth the visit all by itself, though it also houses the tombs of several historical figures, including several conquistadors, statesmen and artists.
The accompanying San Agustin Museum is housed in the adjacent San Agustin Monastery, and exhibits art and artifacts from the Philippines, Spain, Mexico and other cultural centers. The original Augustinians arrived in the Philippines in 1565 just a few decades after Magellan explored the islands, meaning that the aforementioned museum is no slouch.
Covering several blocks near Manila Bay, the Rizal Park and Shrine is considered one of the best ways to relax in Manila. A shinning tribute to national hero and icon Dr. Jose Rizal, a patriot for reform during the Spanish Colonial Era, the park is a historical landmark as well as a beautiful stroll, with several well-manicured ponds, gardens and statues.
Scattered throughout the park are the affects and literature of Dr. Rizal, including one poem carved into a stone, called "Mi Ultimo Adios." It is a moving, yet tragic account of his feelings written in the moments leading up to his execution.
At the shrine itself, located on Santa Clara Street, are several pieces of memorabilia, including Dr. Rizal's collected artwork, his manuscripts, books and even seashells that he accumulated over the years. Rizal Park is also home to a number of great attractions including the national library, a butterfly pavilion, a museum of Philippine history, and a planetarium.
One of the best family destinations in the Philippines, Manila Ocean Park is as fruitful a journey through the aquatic that one can imagine. A tour through the oceanarium reveals an astounding variety of fish and marine life: over 5,000 kinds in all. The viewing tunnel is the biggest in the region, spanning 82 feet (25 meters), and contains stingrays, colorful seahorses, sharks and loads of attractive reefs. The experience of passing through the tunnel is like walking along the ocean floor.
Another recommended feature at the Ocean Park is its newest attraction: the marine life habitat and sea lion show. Open daily, the show features five new South American Sea Lions - with names like Isabel and Sandra - which are a dazzling addition to the park as they talk and clap their way into visitors' hearts.
For a more interactive experience, you can make an appointment at the fish spa where you submerge your hands and feet into a pool filled with dozens of little fish.
In the middle of the Philippines’ third-largest lake lies Taal Volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in the country. Sitting on the Pacific Ring of Fire, Taal has had 33 eruptions in its history; even the lake it sits on was created by volcanic eruptions more than 500,000 years ago. To get to the volcano, head to the little town of Talisay 2.5 miles (4 km) southeast of Tagaytay, where you can catch a boat. The 30-minute ride across sulfuric Taal Lake will bring you to the shores of Volcano Island from where you can hike or ride a horse to the top of Taal Volcano. Horse rides are popular because of the heat, but if you’d rather hike, there are many routes around the volcano, the most popular being the Spanish Trail, which goes to the very top. From here, enjoy views from the rim of Main Crater Lake to Vulcan Point, the world’s largest island that’s in a lake on an island in a lake on an island. Yes, you read that right!
Regional travelers that make it over to Manila are sure to enjoy its affordable hotels and amenities. If youâre in the mood for a real treat, however, youâll want to book a room in Makati City: the stand-alone definition of class in the Philippines.Known for its upscale shopping centers, Makatiâs central business district is a step above the rest in terms of quality, which also translates to an increase in prices. The Ayala Center is considered the best place to do it all, including several malls such as the Glorietta, with more than 500 shops and restaurants, and the Greenbelt, which is home to basically every high-end brand imaginable.
There are also a number of landmarks in Makati that allow visitors to soak in the Filipino culture. At the Ayala Museum, you can revisit the earliest days of Filipino history or see famous art from local, modern painters including Fernando Zobel.
The oldest known artworks in the Philippines, the Angono Petroglyphs are neolithic carvings that date all the way back to 3000 BC. Based in the Rizal province two hours from Manila, the prehistoric cave paintings weren’t actually discovered until 1965, when acclaimed artist Carlos Francisco noticed the ancient-looking engravings on a Boy Scouts field trip and let the National Museum of the Philippines know about his exciting find.
Stretching along a 200-foot (60-meter) cave tunnel, the drawings are carved on ancient rocks made of compressed volcanic ash. Get close up to the walls to see the 127 engravings of stylized people and animals, including images of frogs and lizards. Why did the late neolithic people carve these artworks? No one is completely sure, but it is thought that the drawings were symbolic and could have been used in ancient healing practices.
A must for any American visitor to the Philippines, the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial is a not only a great and emotional symbol of American heroism, it is also a beautiful testament to a complicated history of American intervention in the region.
Located in Metro Manila, the cemetery covers 152 acres, or 62 hectares, of total space and is the eternal home to more than 17,200 Americans killed fighting in the Pacific theater of World War II. Those buried may have either fought during the recapturing of Japanese held islands in New Guinea, or the Battle of the Philippines in 1941 and 1942. Even though it is surrounded by urban landscape, everything is surprisingly quiet and peaceful upon entering the cemetery, giving hundreds of wanderers each day the chance to be alone with their thoughts. As the largest resting place for Americans lost during the war in the region, the headstones themselves, which are made of marble.
Widely considered to be one of the most important cultural institutions in the Philippines, the Ayala Museum was conceived by abstract painter Fernando Zobel. He originally envisioned a museum of history and iconography (and it still functions on both of those levels), yet it eventually developed into a fine arts museum of international renown.
Conveniently located in Markati (part of Metro Manila, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world), its collections of art, gold jewelry, historical dioramas, maritime vessels, and many other displays are dazzling and sure to impress. While visiting, plan on taking in some restorative sustenance amid the blissful ambiance of the M Café, which is located on the ground floor. It’s a perfect place to have lunch and a glass or cup of something stimulating before embarking on a further exploration of the museum. Complete with a Zen garden and a beautiful conference center.