Port Review: Manila, The Philippines

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It is the capital and biggest city of the Philippines, and the mega-metropolis of Manila has its own share of attractions to suit every interest including visitors arriving by ship.

The Facts

Location: On the island of Luzon, in the Philippines.

Language: Filipino and English.

Currency: Philippine Peso.

Docking/Anchoring: Most cruise ships dock at the North Port Passenger Terminal complex at Pier 6, which is about two kilometres from Intramuros and Baywalk. 

Transport: Taxis are usually at the pier, although most cruise lines also offer shuttles into the city or Intramuros. With taxis, be prepared to haggle, and be firm about your destination and the fare agreed before setting off.


Manila is a densely populated city located on the southern end of the island of Luzon, the largest of the more than 7,000 islands which make up the Philippines. The city  straddles Manila Bay, and is divided in two by the Pasig River, and it’s an unusual fusion of old meets new, where Spanish colonial architecture stands beside modern, big city skyscrapers. Dubbed the “Pearl of the Orient”, Manila and its surrounds have an impressive lineup of popular tourist sites to put on a must-see list., Rizal Park and the old walled city of Intramuros, and Quiapo and Chinatown for a dash of local colour.

Don’t Miss

The Baywalk is a bustling and pretty pedestrian strip which stretches for two kilometres on the oceanfront at Manila Bay. This is where the locals hang out at open-air cafes serving local food, while bands and buskers perform along with mimes, acrobats and other performers.

Intramuros is an impressive 64 hectare walled city which was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century and it has withstood countless wars with colonial invaders and natural disasters to remain one of the city’s most famous and historical attractions. 

Rizal Park, which is sometimes referred to as Luneta Park, is a manicured outdoor garden located in the heart of the city dotted with statues and monuments paying tribute to Manila's history. One to put on your list is the century-old Monument of Rizal, which is home to the remains of one of the Philippines' most celebrated heroes, Dr. Jose Rizal.

The Quiapo Church is one of the oldest Catholic churches in Manila. Fridays are the busiest days, when thousands of people pile into the square to pray at the church for novena.

Best Photo Op

The Baywalk on Manila Bay will always provide something fascinating and/or funny to photograph, especially at sunset. And one block back on Del Pilar Street, the city’s famous and colourful taxis, called jeepneys, operate against the backdrop of historical buildings and churches.


This is a city that takes its shopping seriously, and cruising Manila’s mega-malls is one of the favourite past-times for the locals. Part of the reason is that they’re air-conditioned to give you a break from the intense heat and humidity, but also these malls are like cities in their own right - they have the usual department stores and supermarket, but also have movie theatres, spas and skating rinks. The best items to look for are clothes, shoes and accessories but electronics are pricey as they have to be imported. It’s okay to haggle at the “open-air” markets in the shopping malls and English is widely spoken. The closest shopping mall to the cruise port is 168 Shopping Mall on Sta. Elena Street, while SM City Manila on San Marcelino Street is popular with locals, and in the expat enclave of Makati, Lazada Philippines on Paseo de Roxas is where you’ll find the high end designer boutiques.

Food And Drink

If you want to fit in with the locals, graze your way through the day with five little meals or snacks rather than the western way of three-meals-a-day. The street stalls are a great place to really immerse yourself in the Philippines culture, but if you’re not ready for this then the shopping malls have very good and inexpensive eateries with traditional food. Keep an eye out for Adobo, which is a way of cooking and preserving meat in vinegar, salt, garlic, pepper, soy and other spices. Sisig is a traditional dish which mixes pork cheek, pig’s head and liver with hot sauce as an appetiser which is actually pretty good, especially with a cold beer. Bulalo is a buffalo soup which is served piping hot after several hours, or days, of being cooked.

Pick of the Excursions

Most cruise ships offer half-day and full-day city tours which always include Intramuros and Rizal Park, Fort Santiago, and the Manila Cathedral along with a local handicrafts market or two. Longer tours also usually add on the American Memorial Cemetery the Cultural Center of the Philippines and Chinatown with lunch in the middle.

There’s usually a few tours on offer that get you out of the city if you’ve visited before and are looking for something different. One options is an all-day tour to Villa Escudero, a coconut plantation which dates back to the 1800’s, and which is reached via a two hour drive through the countryside to. There are colonial buildings including the Escudero Private Museum, and you’ll have lunch with your feet literally in a pool at the base of a waterfall. 


Joanna Hall