Whenever I tell friends who are not from here that I live in Metro Manila, the capital of the Philippines, the first sentence out of their mouths is usually something around the lines of, “How do you survive the traffic?” (Answer: I work from home and try not to go anywhere during rush hour). Their second question usually is, “So what can I do there? I’m headed to [insert  one of our many beach paradises here] and will be in Manila for a day or two. Well, why not take a tour of the city and learn about what makes a Filipino, Filipino? It isn’t just all adobo and videoke, you know.

Here are 7 interesting tours to take when in Metro Manila:


1. Carlos Celdran’s Walking Tour of Intramuros

My tours do not discriminate against people of any colour, race, sexual orientation, gender, taste in music or politicians. However, I am adamantly against bigots and humourless characters. Kindly move along. – Carlos Celdran

Let’s get the most famous (or infamous, depending on your political and religious leanings) tour guides out of the way. Carlos Celdran is a performance artist, known for his entertainingly insightful tours of Intramuros called Walk This Way. While exploring Manila’s walled city of Intramuros, he analyzes Philippine architecture, culture, and history as you stroll through it’s storied streets. He injects humor into the story he weaves, making it a little bit easier to bear under the humid Philippine weather. This is perfect for solo travelers to big groups who want to take half a day to soak up a bit of history, Disclaimer: This is performance art in the guise of a walking tour.

For tour dates, please check his website carlosceldran.com, text +63 920 909 2021, or call Lesley +63 2 484 4945 to reserve a slot. E-mail reservations can be made through celdrantours@hotmail.com.


2. Ivan Man Dy’s Binondo Food Tour


Ivan Man Dy has a lot of titles under his belt: long-time museum docent, a cultural activist, an occasional writer, and world traveler. He established Old Manila Walks in 2005, which also helped him foster a degree in Cultural Heritage Studies, do professional work in the field of in heritage tourism, as well as appear in countless local and international TV documentary shows. The Big Binondo Food Wok is a three-hour tour of non-stop culinary decadence as you eat your way around the most intimate alleys of Binondo, while learning about Tsinoy history, chowing down on food, and gorging on specialty treats as you nibble your way through Chinatown. Start at Plaza Calderon dela Barca, making your way to Basilica de San Lorenzo Ruiz, explore Ongpin, and end at Carvajal Alley Market. This tour is just the thing for solo travelers to big groups looking for an experience that tantalizes the tastebuds, so be sure to bring your appetite!

For tour dates, please check his website oldmanilawalks.com, and text or call +63 918 962 6452 or +63 2 711 3823 to reserve a slot. E-mail inquiries and reservations can be made through fun@oldmanilawalks.com.


3. SunnyTrip.ph’s Dampa Experience



If you have no idea what a dampa is, you’re in for a treat! Geared towards foodie travelers who want to explore Manila’s seafood scene, guests are given a tour of the local fish market, taught how to buy their own fresh seafood, and have it cooked at one of the nearby restaurants. Tahong with garlic butter and cheese? Yes, please! Deep-fried tilapia? Definitely. Crab and slipper lobster? Yaaaas!

For the Dampa Fish Market Experience and other bespoke tours, you can sign up for an account at sunnytrip.ph. If you want to arrange your own tour and would like a local tour guide to show you around, they can do that, too!


4. Intramuros Ghost Tour by A-Tours



I appreciate how A-Tours offers some of the more unusual tours. If you’re feeling brave, I highly recommend that you check out their Intramuros Paranormal Adventure Tour. The three-hour tour explores Intramuros, one of the oldest cities in Manila, known for its hauntings of troubled spirits as well as paranormal activities around the area reported by the residents. Reach out to prisoners of old who were tortured ’til they expired in the bartolina, visit a tree that is known to house tiyanaks (and figure out what a tiyanak is), catch a glimpse of the crying lady in black along one of the old city’s dark streets, ending your tour at the super creepy Aduana Building, where a portal to an evil dimension is supposed to reside.

E-mail inquiries and reservations can be made through atours.ph@gmail.com.


5. A Malacañan Palace Tour



So is it Malacañang or Malacañan? For travelers who want to soak up Manila culture, a visit to the historical. city of Manila and Malacañan Palace is a must. Surrounded by beautiful old churches and filled with relics from the past, the historic Kalayaan Hall houses the Presidential Museum and Library, affording its visitors a glimpse of history and heritage of the Philippine presidency, as well as the president’s official residence.

You can book a tour yourself (guidelines to do that are here) and would be best done at least two weeks to a month in advance in order for the Presidential Security Group to properly screen and vet each visitor.

For inquiries, please text or call +63 2 784 4286 loc. 4649/4945 to reserve a slot. E-mail inquiries and reservations can be made through pml@malacanang.gov.ph and malacanangmuseum@gmail.com. Please address your request to reserve a slot for your preferred tour to:

Presidential Museum and Library
2/F Kalayaan Hall, Malacañang
J.P. Laurel Street, San Miguel, Manila


6. Smokey Tours’ Cemetery Tour


Cemeteries reveal a lot about a place and its people. In the Philippines, most cemeteries possess a community that has given them opportunity to work and live. You will meet some of the people who were born in the Manila North Cemetery and have lived their lives here for decades. They say that living with the dead provides peace, which they cannot obtain living on the streets. And for some, being in the cemetery has helped them believe that life really goes beyond the grave.

Highlights include a taking public transportation, a trip to Dangwa Flower Market, the biggest one in Manila, and learn why many Filipinos choose to work abroad, visit the Jewish cemetery and hear how the Philippines took in Jewish refugees during the Holocaust, learn interesting Filipino practices of observing death and how we think about ghosts, visiting the cemetery and understanding why many of the urban poor decide to live there among the dead.

Please note that while taking photos at most of the stops is encouraged, Smokey Tours implements a strict no camera policy inside the cemetery in order to be less intrusive as possible and at the same time minimize any discomfort the tours can cause to the locals. Permits are also heavily needed in the cemetery.