If you're flying internationally into the Philippines, there's a good chance that you'll be arriving in Manila. We've got the best Manila travel tips to ensure that you make the most out of your time here and don't get ripped off. As your plane descends through thick layers of smog and pollution, you’re probably thinking “this isn’t what I imagined the Philippines to look like”. Don’t worry amigo’s, we were totally thinking the same thing on our Philippines honeymoon.
Where’s the white sand beaches and crystal clear turquoise ocean? It's kinda hard to love Manila straight away. You step foot into the arrival terminal and a bunch of people run over, trying to "help". I guess it'd a bit hard to harsh to generalize because we were actually helped by a kind Filipino guy who not only found us cheap accommodation but free transfers too! There are quality humans out there, but finding them at Manila International airport is like finding a needle in a haystack.
Manila Travel Tips 1. Know the exchange rate before you arrive in the Philippines
This way you’re aware of exactly how much you’re paying. Use a calculator to convert it from pesos into your local currency, so save any confusion. You can check the current exchange rate online before you leave, as it fluctuates each day. If you try to organise your transfer from the airport, I guarantee you'll be paying a lot more. The arrivals gate have no taxi's at all, it's private transfers only! You are able to pre-book shared transfers online at quite a cheap rate.
We’ve seen screaming matches between locals and foreigners when they converted the price of their transfer into their local currency and it was $200 USD to go downtown! The locals have no shame and will charge you an arm and a leg. They literally don’t care, there are so many people coming in and out of Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Manila Travel Tips 2. Pre-book your transfer from the Airport
Don't get caught up in the scams at the airport and prebook a shared transfer prior to arriving. If you're going downtown during rush hour, you're better off going with a transfer as it's a set price. Perhaps you're going downtown outside rush hour, definitely opt for a metered taxi or an Uber. Uber is quite popular and cheap in Manila and is a great alternative to taxis, especially if you do not have Philippine pesos when you arrive. We're giving you US$5 off each of your first 4 Uber rides, just click here to save $20 USD!
The metered cabs are located upstairs in the arrivals bay. You can’t miss the miss the sign, nor the usually massive long line. They come quite frequently so don’t stress the line goes down fairly quickly and it beats paying anywhere from $20 and upwards to get a lift from the airport. To get to Makati it should only cost between 250-350p depending on the traffic.
Manila Travel Tips 3. Get a FREE tourist sim card on arrival
Get a free tourist sim card on arrival, they’re at every airport and it doesn’t cost you a cent! You’re probably thinking what’s the point, I don’t need to call anyone anyway? However, most airports and free wifi zones require you to have a Filipino sim card in order to connect. Take Manila airport for example, there’s free wifi all over but you won’t be able to connect or even see it if you don’t have a local sim card. Most sim cards even come with a small amount of free credit or internet too and if you want to top it up it’s like 20p.
Manila Travel Tips 4. Know the rush hour times in Manila
Make sure you know the peak traffic hours, it's the best Manila travel tips we can give you. We’ve all done it before, underestimated how long it’s going to take and missed a flight. Just because it only took you 15min to get to your hotel when you arrived, doesn’t necessarily mean it is going to be the same going back the other way. Manila is dubbed to have some of the worst traffic on earth and is rated the 9th worst place to drive in the world. It took us 50min to get from the airport to Makati during in rush hour, yet only 10 minutes to get back to airport… The peak hours are typically during the morning & evening commute 7.30-9.30am & 5-10pm.
Manila Travel Tips 5. There is a FREE airport shuttle from terminal to terminal
Don’t be sucked into paying for a taxi or a transfer to get from one terminal to the other! There is a bus that’ll take you there for free, just ask an airport staff member. Many travellers often get stitched up and end up paying for it because they didn’t know and don’t want to miss their connecting flight. Use this & the many other Manila travel tips to avoid getting ripped off!
Manila Travel Tips 6. How to make the most out your Manila layover
We’ve visited Manila airport well over 10 times and have mastered the art of a 12-hour stopover! So if you're wondering if you can leave the airport during a layover, the answer is yes! This is yet another epic Manila travel tip to help you make to most out of your layover in Manila.
In the arrivals bay you’ll see a big red sign and bus for “Resorts World Manila”, this is your FREE transport to and from the airport. It’ll drop you off at “Resorts World”. You can drop your bags off 24/7 for FREE at the casino. Inside you’ll find restaurants, cafes, the casino, shops and a movie cinema.
If you want to take full advantage of the casino become a member, it’s FREE. You’ll get a 100p voucher to play with at the casino, loads of discounts for food, drinks, shopping and free entry into the House nightclub with a complimentary drink. The resorts world shopping and dining complex is 4 stories and has FREE wifi everywhere. It's a fancy place so eating out can be expensive, but if you go the right places it can also be pretty affordable. Our go-to food place is Recipes, located on the 4th floor next to the games arcade. It had delicious, cheap, affordable Filipino food and drinks. Try the Ginseng Ginseng and the mango smoothie, it was our absolute favourite.
If you’ve got quite a long stopover and have heaps of time to kill, we recommend you going to the cinema. Majority of the movies are in English, the tickets are reasonable 320p each and it includes a drink and popcorn! If you’re desperate on getting some shut-eye, there are hotels in Manila Philippines near airport.
Manila Travel Tips 7. Is Manila safe?
Manila has a horrible reputation, so if you're wondering how safe is Manila, just be cautious. Is Manila safe? It is and it isn't, it just depends on where you are. There is a huge income inequality gap, with a distinct divide in the social class between the poor and rich in Manila. Just have your wits about you, don't walk around flashing fancy jewellery or loads of cash. If you look like a target you will be targeted. Manila travel tips: know where you are going, don't look lost and you will be fine!
Manila Travel Tips 8. Places to go in Manila
Majority of the tourist attractions involves you actually leaving the city. There are a bunch of museums and awesome shopping centres to check out. If you'd like to see the city of Manila in one day, you're better off getting an organised tour. Nearby Manila is Taal Volcano, one of the Philippines most active volcanos. If you're into history, check out the WWII sightseeing tour of Corregidor Island. Perhaps you're only in Manila for a day and want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Manila. Definitely check out the breathtaking Pagsanjan Falls!
Places to go in Manila: Makati Restaurants
If you're not into day trips, that's okay we loved Manila's nightlife and party scene, especially in Makati. El Chupacabra is a hidden Mexican street food place with cheap beers. From the front, it looks like a small little takeaway joint, but if you follow the hallway past the kitchen, it opens up into this big open room and bar, styled with some wicked art. The Mexican food is pretty authentic, we spent over 3 months travelling Mexico, so we’ve had our fair share of tacos!
Places to go in Manila: Midget Wrestling
Makati is also famous for their midget wrestling, at first we were hesitant because it does seem a little demeaning. However we were super surprised when we got there, they were all just mates having a laugh and putting on a show for the crowd. They loved doing their dances and they weren’t there to beat the shit out of each other, making it far more enjoyable. If you pay enough money, they’ll even let you be the referee for the fight. Beers are expensive here, but you also get a show out of it, so its kinda worth it.
Make sure you go late, they tend to usher people inside early and you get stitched up with drinking expensive beers all night. There are also tons of bikini girls and by bikini girls I mean prostitutes. It was actually quite uncomfortable watching these girls my age, if not younger throwing themselves on men nearly 3x their age. I guess that’s a bit rich coming from Aussies, where we have welfare to support you if you’re unemployed, in the Philippines you have to work to survive.
Places to go in Manila: Z Hostel Rooftop Bar
Z hostel is one of the only places in Manila with a rooftop bar and DJ pumping till the early hours of the morning. The only way to buy drinks is to purchase a wristband & load money onto it. The chip reader is how you pay your drinks, so you don’t need to stress or try work out money and change especially while you’re drunk. The view from Z bar is incredible, you can pretty much see all of Manila from up there. People are friendly, the music is good (not Justin Bieber on repeat) and we had a bloody blast at the Z rooftop. Right in time to get a cab back to resorts world, grab our bags, pass out for 3 hours at the airport and then fly to Boracay.
We both really enjoyed the limited time we spent in Manila. But to be honest, we absolutely hated it at first. It wasn’t until our mate who lives in Manila showed us around and gave us a different perspective. I guess we shouldn’t have been too quick to judge there are good and bad things about pretty much every busy city. So if you’re heading to this big bustling crazy city, definitely use our Manila tips to make the most out of your time here!
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