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Intramuros: The Best Budget Tour in Metro Manila Edit

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Colleen Cabili  • Contributor
Opinions expressed by Explora.ph Contributors are their own.

Intramuros’ charm lies in the exploration of its other churches, gardens, gates, walls, and enchanting streets.


Amidst the traffic, slums, and knotted cable wires, there lies the historic splendor: the ruins of the almost forgotten Old Manila. Like the miniature version of the Great Wall of China, the 400-year-old stone walls of Intramuros cocoons the cultural center inside. Walking around the walls would take you as long as walking five rounds around a basketball court. From the top of the wall fortress you'd see the majestic ruins, kalesas, and slums inside Intramuros. Outside, you'd see the Club Intramuros golf course and the 20th century block buildings that make up the metropolis. The defensive walls are the defining character of Intramuros, which in Spanish, also means "within the walls."

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One of the walkways inside the walled fortress. (Photo courtesy of JR Felipe.)

Without even stepping inside the paid destinations, you’d notice that the architectural landscape in Intramuros is influenced not just by Spanish design, but also Mexican and Chinese. Elaborate baroque churches once brought eminence to the walled city. Those structures now have either been rebuilt after the World War II bombing, or have been converted into universities or governmental office buildings. Those that have been rebuilt over the old one reveal the country’s Chinese influences (e.g., the San Agustin Church). Others, however, have remained untouched as but mere ruins, adding texture and drama to the place. Aside from those mentioned above, you are free to roam around its gated gardens and picturesque streets, and read the descriptive texts labelling every historic area.

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Old houses of the country's ilustrados line the streets of Intramuros. (Photo courtesy of JR Felipe.)

The four paid destinations in this itinerary encapsulates the brief history of the Philippines from the Spanish Regime in the 15th century, to the pacification of the Filipinos through 300 years of religious indoctrination, down to the revolution against the Spaniards, and the current culture sampling of the archipelago through one of its subcultures, the Chinese Filipinos.

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Back in the day, most of the members of the Chinese-Filipino community lived through trading and selling goods. (Photo courtesy of Jay Ermitaño.)

While it is possible to bike around Intramuros, or rent a pedicab or kalesa, we recommend that you walk instead. The time allotted in the itinerary is a leisurely walk, an immersion to the defining identity of Filipino culture not just by looking at its architecture, but also by feeling the cobbled streets underneath your feet, touching the stone walls, reliving its memories, and soaking up in the very place where Spanish domination, psychological repression, and thousands of human carnage was once laid bare in morbid detail.

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Tourists can go around Intramuros in a kalesa. (Photo courtesy of JR Felipe.)
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Baluarte de Santa Barbara overlooks Pasig River. Manila City Hall's clock tower can be seen from afar. (Photo courtesy of JR Felipe.)

This story of colonization is no different from that of other colonies. This, however, is just one story among many. It is a story that every Filipino must know, and every visitor must understand. That is, before going anywhere else in the Philippines. While the Filipinos may have forgiven the quirks of history and have moved on, the Hispanic influences of this nation are an irreversible fact, demanding the Filipino culture a different pair of eyes unlike those in other Asian countries.

Fort Santiago

Visiting Hours: Monday, 1 PM to 5 PM and Tuesday to Sunday, 8 AM to 5 PM

Admission Fee: P100

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The gate leading to the main entrance to Fort Santiago is imposing even from a distance. (Photo courtesy of JR Felipe.)

Before touring Fort Santiago, we recommend that you watch the introductory video at the Audio-Visual Chamber. The video is played every hour, though you may request an impromptu viewing from the technician in the Chamber.

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The royal seal of Spain sits atop the entrance. A relief sculpture of St. James defeating the Muslim natives can also be seen here. (Photo courtesy of Jay Ermitaño.)

The Fort Santiago is a microcosm of Intramuros. It is the governmental seat of power during the Spanish period. Hence, the most important details of history are etched in its structures—its dungeons, death chambers, prison cells, and Spanish offices. The highlight of the Fort Santiago, however, is the intellectual giant and martyr, Dr. Jose Rizal, whose novels and public execution were so overwhelming it sparked a revolution and ended the 333 years of Spanish regime.

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One of the plazas in Fort Santiago. (Photo courtesy of JR Felipe.)
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Cannon balls and shells that were stored and left behind. (Photo courtesy of JR Felipe.)
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Dr. Jose Rizal spent his last days in detention in Fort Santiago. (Photo courtesy of JR Felipe.)

Casa Manila Museum

Visiting Hours: Tues to Sun, 9 AM to 6 PM

Admission Fee: P75, regular; P50, students, teachers, and senior citizens

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The houses of ilustrados are a reflection of their wealth and influence in society. It's rare to see one that is not ostentatiously decorated. (Photo courtesy of Intramuros Administration.)

While Manila is known for its slums and aching poverty, there is a class that has been much overlooked: the Filipino elite. In the 18th century, the Filipino elite lived in impressive houses such as that recreated in the Casa Manila Museum. They were members of the Ilustrado, the highly educated and moneyed class, and wielded great influence among government leaders, as well as among the masses. While the people who had once lived in such a house are gone, there remains the things they have left behind—the products of their extravagance and the relics of their family values, customs, traditions, and beliefs.

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The large contraptions hanging on the ceiling are pulled by maids to keep the flies away from the food. (Photo courtesy of Intramuros Administration.)
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A well-preserved bedroom. A ceramic bowl and pitcher for washing the face and hands can be seen atop the dresser. (Photo courtesy of Intramuros Administration.)
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Every bahay na bato has an azotea, a balcony or terrace that can be used for socializing and even for working. (Photo courtesy of Intramuros Administration.)

San Agustin Church and Museum

Visiting Hours: Everyday, 8 AM to 12 NN, 1 PM to 5 PM

Admission Fee: P100, adults and foreign students; P80, senior citizens; P50, college students; P45, high school; P40, children

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San Agustin Church is ornately decorated, from the walls to the ceiling.

The Philippines stands out to foreign travelers for being the only predominantly Catholic country in Asia. The San Agustin Church and Museum in Intramuros is an excellent crash course to the prevailing Catholicism in the country. This church is an expression of the Spanish baroque and Dominican affluence during the Spanish regime. While many such churches permeate every Filipino province and culture, the San Agustin is different: it is the oldest stone church and bears witness to the 400-year-old Spanish rule in the country. The San Agustin Museum, on the other hand, preserves the church's ecclesiastical relics and artworks, including wooden and ivory statues, and Dominican paintings and sculptures.

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This 3,400 kg bell that sits at the entrance used to hang from the church's belfry. (Photo courtesy of JR Felipe.)
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The hall that leads to the museum is also lined with paintings and religious artifacts. (Photo courtesy of JR Felipe.)
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A wide assortment of earthen jars are on display in the museum. (Photo courtesy of JR Felipe.)

Bahay Tsinoy

Visiting Hours: Tues to Sun, 1 PM to 5 PM

Admission Fee: P100, regular; P60, student, senior citizen

The Bahay Tsinoy is a storytelling museum that recounts an essential, but mostly unrecognized, part of Philippine history. The museum chronicles the struggles of the Chinese community in life-like wax figures in the realistic setting of the Parian, now the Chinatown in Binondo. 

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A common scene at a barber shop is depicted by these wax figures. (Photo courtesy of Jay Ermitaño.)

The museum has other interesting galleries, including the Bahay na Bato, the typical Chinese settlement in Manila; the Ching Ban Lee Ceramics Gallery, the Martyrs Hall, Batang Tiaong, and the gallery featuring the prominent Chinese Filipinos who aided in nation-building and in the Philippine revolution against the Spaniards. History aside, the Chinese have become an integral part of the Filipino nation that they walk among the Filipinos, speak the Filipino language, and think and believe themselves as Filipinos.

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A Chinese merchant entertains a potential buyer in this scenario. (Photo courtesy of Jay Ermitaño.)
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A section of Bahay Tsinoy is allotted for this display of ceramic wares. (Photo courtesy of Jay Ermitaño.)

Transportation

Inside Intramuros, you may hire a two-seater pedicab (approx. P200/hr) or a four-seater horse-drawn carriage called kalesa (approx. P350/30mins), and tour Intramuros for one to two hours. You may also rent a bike (P500/hr, guide included) or an e-chariot (P500/30mins, guide included) from White Knight Hotel Intramuros, beside Casa Manila Museum. For group tours you may want to consider reserving beforehand a tranvia, an electric bus that can hold 20 to 25 people (half-day Intramuros tour, P2,000). While all these are paid modes of transport, walking, on the other hand, is free.

Itinerary

If you’re new to the Philippines and have only one day to spend in Metro Manila, touring Intramuros is the ideal place to start. This itinerary includes 2 heritage sites, 3 museums, 1 restaurant, and an optional pedicab or kalesa tour of the entire Intramuros. After the trip, you should have a glimpse of the Philippines’ Spanish roots, Chinese influences, and 400 years of Catholicism.

07:45 AM Assembly at the Fort Santiago entrance

08:00 AM Fort Santiago (P75/regular, P50/student)

09:50 AM Walk to Casa Manila Museum

10:10 AM Casa Manila Museum (P75/regular, P50/student)

11:00 AM San Agustin Church & Museum (P100/regular, P50/student)

11:50 AM Walk to Ristorante delle Mitre

12:00 NN Lunch at Ristorante delle Mitre (approx. P200/head)

01:00 PM Walk to Bahay Tsinoy

01:15 PM Bahay Tsinoy (P100/regular, P60/student)

03:00 PM Option 1: Baluarte de San Diego (P75/regular, P50/student)

Option 2: Tour the entire Intramuros in a pedicab (approx. P200/hr, 2 seats) or a kalesa (approx. P350/30mins, 4 seats). Tell the driver to stop by historic sites to take photos.

05:00pm End of Intramuros Tour

The budget for both itineraries is P600 per head. Accommodations near Intramuros can be found here.

Getting There

Take the LRT 1 and alight at Central Terminal Station. From there, the nearest gate to Intramuros is just a 10-minute walk away.

Things to Remember

1. Always ask if there is an available tour guide in each paid destination. The tour guides, mostly volunteers, are free of charge.

2. Flash photography is usually not permitted in paid destinations.

3. It's best to see Intramuros on a cloudy weekday. It's busy with tourists on weekends.

4. Bring water, snacks, an umbrella, and a camera.

5. Wear comfortable shoes.

6. Write about your experience and let us know how your trip went!


Original text by Michelle Tobias


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