Intramuros, Manila

I discovered that the best way to avoid being harassed constantly by tour guides, wanting to give me a tour of Intramuros, was to give in and take a tour from one of them! So I jumped into the small horse-drawn carriage (called a calesa) operated by Nestor Cruz and his son and allowed them to show me around this old walled section of Manila.

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Nestor Cruz and his calesa

I arrived in Manila last night and didn’t venture far from the hotel. Today, I wanted to explore the historical old part of the city that is known as Intramuros (within the walls). This is the oldest part of the city and was the entirety of the city during Spanish rule between 1571 and 1898. Much of Intramuros was destroyed in the Battle of Manila in the Second World War.

I walked about 2km to Intramuros from my hotel, fielding several offers of rides and tours from horse drawn carriages to guys with sidecars attached to their pedal bikes. But once I got inside the walled city, the attention of the tour guides intensified significantly. I’d intended to just walk around the place but I agreed to the calesa tour and it turned out to be an enjoyable experience. Nestor, my guide, shared a lot of information about the places that we visited and wanted to take several photos of me at every stop. So you’ll see more than the occasional selfie of me in this post.

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With Nestor, my tour guide

The first stop was at the Manila Cathedral, the 8th church to be built upon that spot. This one was constructed between 1953-1958. Its predecessor had been built in 1879 but was totally destroyed in the Battle of Manila.

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Manila Cathedral
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Wedding underway inside the cathedral

Next up was a memorial to over 100,000 men, women and children who were killed during the Battle of Manila. Many of the victims have no individual graves as they were consumed by fire or crushed beneath the rubble of the ruins. So this memorial serves as a gravesite for them.

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Casa Manila is a museum inside an old Spanish house that gives an insight into the affluent lifestyle at the turn of the 20th century.

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Casa Manila. Note the tour guides with sidecars attached to their bicycles
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On the grounds of Casa Manila
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Courtyard of Casa Manila
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Courtyard – Casa Manila

At Casa Manila, there is an eco bike tour company that makes ‘Bambikes’ – bicycles with frames constructed from Philippine bamboo.

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Trying out a bamboo bike
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A couple more bamboo bikes
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Bamboo bike frames

Across the street from Casa Manila is the San Augustin Church and Convent, the oldest church in the Philippines and a UNESCO Heritage Site. It is the fourth church to stand on this spot, the first being built in 1571 and this one being built between 1587 to 1604.

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On the calesa outside the San Augustin Church
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San Augustin Church. The carved mahogany door is said to be over 300 years old
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Part of the carved mahogany church door
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Wedding inside San Augustin Church
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Part of the wall at Puerta de Santa Lucia
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On top of the wall at Puerta de Santa Lucia
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Gate in the wall with drawbridge – Puerta Real

Then Nestor took me to the Skybar on the roof of the Bayleaf Hotel, to get an overview of the Intramuras. Something I wouldn’t have known about had I self-guided my visit to the area.

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View above Intramuras from the roof of the Bayleaf Hotel
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The wall of Intramuras in the foreground with more modern Manila in the rear
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Canons on top of the wall, below the Bayleaf Hotel
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Statue of King Philip (Felipe) II of Spain, after whom the Philippines were named
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What remains of Aduana (Customs House) built in 1874 (after the original building was damaged in an earthquake in 1863)
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Hanging roots obscure a door of the Aduana
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Mats of Water Hyacinth plants float down the river
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At Fort Santiago
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Cell at Fort Santiago where Philippine national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, was held prior to his execution

I’d initially committed to a one-hour tour, but it was extended to two hours to include the visit to Fort Santiago. I had Nestor drop me back at San Augustin Church afterwards, so that I could eat lunch and potter around Intramuras alone for a while.

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Nestor and his son with their horse and calesa

After spending a little more time in Intramuros, I walked back to my hotel, through Rizal Park, which offers some green space, away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

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Locals enjoy some peaceful time in Rizal Park on a Saturday afternoon
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Pond and Amphitheatre in Rizal Park

It was an interesting first day of sightseeing in Manila and I learned a little about the history of the city.

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