How to Survive Manila (and maybe even enjoy yourself!)

The capital city and the largest city of the Philippines is known for its terrible traffic, littered streets, extreme pollution, and reputation for being extremely unsafe. Manila is not our favorite Asian city, and not somewhere we would enjoy staying for a lengthy period of time, but it certainly had its moments. Here are a few tips for surviving, and possibly enjoying yourself, while in Manila:

  1. Stay somewhere central

For many people this means Makati, but take your time to look up what you want to do in the city and consider booking a hotel, hostel or AirBnb near to what you want to visit. Why you might ask? Traffic in Manila is horrific. It can often take between 45 minutes to an hour to drive a mere 15 kilometers. This is by far the worst traffic we have ever experienced, and we lived in Atlanta for nearly a year (a city renowned for terrible traffic!). A day of exploring can quickly be ruined by bumper-to-bumper, disorderly, neck jarring traffic.

2. Take in the history of Manila in Intramuros

We took a tour through the old walled city of Intramuros and we saw a different side of Manila. We saw old churches, horse drawn buggies (which are obviously for show now), cobble stone streets, and beautiful architecture. While much of Intramuros is very touristy, it is also a pleasant escape from the honking and noise that seems to be the rest of Manila. Exploring Intramuros also helped us to understand the history of Manila.

3. Try Something New

It’s easy to get caught up in the overwhelming pollution, grime and noise of Manila and write it off as unpleasant. We spent a week there though and found that we had a pretty good time. While there, we took a trip to the Art in Island 3D museum, which is something that we’ve never done before. It is a museum filled with paintings that look like their 3D by being painted onto the floor and on corners of the walls. Most of them are interactive, leaving a spot for you to insert yourself for a comical photo. Our personal favorite was the giant, fat cat!

We also went to Mystery Manila to try out our first Escape room. We picked one called Pym’s Particle and were given an hour to uncover the mystery of where the particle was hidden in a series of rooms. We didn’t quite solve the mystery, but we came pretty darn close. I think we’ve uncovered a new past time, and we plan to try Escape rooms around the world as we travel!

4. Take Uber

One of the best technological advancements since we started traveling are apps like Uber. They are efficient and dependable, even in dangerous cities like Manila. There are a ton of taxi scams in Manila that can be easily avoided by using a dependable, affordable taxi service like Uber. If you haven’t tried Uber before, sign up here and get your first ride free!

5. Be Safe

Manila isn’t a safe city. We have heard crazy stories of people getting mugged, robbed, etc., and although nothing happened to us personally, our best advice is to be cautious in Manila. We kept our lap tops and passports securely in our hotel at all time, split our credit cards so that if we were to get mugged we wouldn’t be left with nothing, and always carried minimal amounts of cash on us. Another word for the wise is not to flaunt your valuables if you have them on you. In busy areas of town where we’re already drawing attention by just being there, the last thing we’re going to do is whip out our iPhone’s to snap a photo or to check Instagram.

While you’re in Manila, prepare for the worst, be cautious of where you’re walking, and always take an Uber late at night, especially if it’s an area of the city you aren’t familiar with.

6. Get to know Manila, but don’t spend too much time there

The Philippines is made up of 7,000 islands. Manila is not the most beautiful or culturally appetizing place to explore, so be sure to get outside of Manila and take in some of the amazing beauty that the Philippines has to offer. Unfortunately, we only had the chance to explore Manila, and we can’t wait to get back to the Philippines to get outside of the big city!

If you have any other recommendations for surviving Manila, don’t hesitate to reach out to us! We would love to hear from you.

Originally published at on October 22, 2016.