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Things to do in Philippines

Touring Intramuros, Manila’s ancient walled city

This trip to Manila’s ancient walled city will contextualise your entire trip to the Philippines …

By Joanna Altomonte Abrera
Tour guide and cultural interpreter for Intas, Alfred&’s partner in the Philippines

Manila Cathedral, Intramuros

To really understand the Philippines, you need to visit Intramuros. This trip to Manila’s walled city contextualises the entire country and will help you understand why the Philippines feels like the most un-Asian place in the region. Intramuros literally means ‘within the walls’ and during the half-day tour of this cultural landmark, you’ll trace our history, from native rulers to the Spanish and American eras and our eventual independence.

The tour starts with a brief stop at Rizal Park, where you’ll see a monument to our national hero, José Rizal, who was executed here by the Spanish in 1896. You’ll hear much more about Rizal later during the walking tour of Intramuros, which can also be conducted by bamboo bicycle if you prefer. We’ll then visit Fort Santiago, which is the site of an original wooden fort built by native rulers. The entire walled area spreads out from here and forms the city’s ancient cultural and political capital.

Fort Santiago sits at the mouth of the river, so it’s a great place to set the scene and talk about the Manila Acapulco Galleon trade. The fort has been used by every military force that’s taken control of the Philippines, including the Spanish, Americans and even the British for two years, which not many people know about. Guests are often bowled over by the fort’s shrine to José Rizal where you can see samples of his writing, which influenced so many Filipinos in the fight for independence.

A highlight of the tour is visiting San Augustine Church, a UNESCO site and the only physical structure that wasn’t completely destroyed during the bombing of Manila. It’s the perfect point to talk about the Philippines’ deep Catholic roots, which you’ll notice when you travel around the country. There are plenty of stories to tell here, including how the British looted San Augustine’s treasures and the signing of the Paris Treaty in 1898, whereby the Spanish ‘gave’ the country to America as part of the spoils of war.

We continue with a walk around Baluarte de Dilao, the reconstructed ramparts of Intramuros, which feature old Spanish cannons. At the Chinese Gate, we’ll talk about the merchants from China who emigrated to Manila and how they influenced our culture; you can even spot sprawling Chinatown from Fort Santiago. If we have time, there are additional museums to visit including Casa Manila, a preserved 19th century house, before the tour ends with lunch at a local restaurant.


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Alfred & Joanna Altomonte Abrera

Joanna Altomonte Abrera’s non-traditional upbringing in a multicultural family that travelled all over the world sparked her interests in tourism, education and the humanities. Apart from being a guide and cultural interpreter, Joanna consults on research and is an intercultural communication trainer for tourism front-liners, as well as a certified teacher of English to Italian students.
Joanna Altomonte Abrera, Manila tour guide

Plan your holiday withAlfred&

Your journey will start with one of our UK team – someone like Suzanne, who's travelled extensively in The Philippines. They’ll shape your ideas into the trip of a lifetime. But they won't do it alone. They'll draw on the expertise of our contacts on the ground, connecting you to the people who'll make your holiday one you'll always remember – the free diver who can take you swimming with turtles, the guides who can take you to secret lagoons and hidden beaches, and the locals who can school you in the art of nipa weaving.

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