Intramuros: what’s inside the walled city Part I
Mabuhay! I just learned that word when we got here in the Philippines. It means “long live,” but the locals don’t usually use it to greet each other. They use it a lot on foreigners like me, though. I hope I don’t remain a foreigner soon – my mom is from the Philippines and I just wanted to see and learn more about the land where she came from.
But perhaps you ask, why are we heading to Intramuros? It’s because Intramuros is a part of the capital of the Philippines that has deep roots to the past. Berta also wanted somewhere we can enjoy the outdoors since it’s a good day. So, we settled to go there.
We were told there are a lot of schools, churches, museums and historic sites in Intramuros. It’s also a top destination for foreigners and locals from the provinces. There are also lots of weddings and social events held there, so Intramuros is definitely something to look out for travellers visiting Manila. What’s inside the famed walled city? We’re here to find out!
What is Intramuros?
Intramuros is one of the oldest districts in Manila and was once a settlement of Spain when they reigned the country. Most consider Intramuros as the center of life during that period in history.
What makes Intramuros stand out today is its wall. The name literally means “within the walls” in Latin. Intramuros is also known as the walled city. Because of that, a lot of the buildings inside still retain traces of Spanish influence, compared to the modern buildings outside of the walls.
When we stepped through the gates, it was like being transported to another world. There were 711 stores and other modern restaurants, but the architecture is visibly different. Travellers who are interested in photographing buildings from the past will get loads to see here than in any other place in Manila. A heads up from our cousin though: there are instances when really fancy cameras for professional photography are not allowed. Not that it isn’t allowed to take souvenir photos. It’s just that most guards will think you’re shooting for commercial purposes, which require a permit, but you can just explain your purpose to the guards to clear things up.
Anyway, before we left our cousin’s place last Sunday he helped us plan our visit so we can enjoy what Intramuros can offer in a day. We used Google maps to plan our route. Here’s what we came up with:
Map for our Intramuros trip
We’re entering Intramuros through Victoria Street in front of the ManilaCity Hall. We’re following the blue line and stopping by the places encircled in the map. They’re all laid down neatly and we’ve also talked about how long we’re staying in each place since we’re doing everything in just one day, until the museum in FortSantiago closes as 6pm.
Like the saying goes, a good plan is like a road map.
Ilustrado coffee shop.
First stop is Ilustrado, a restaurant and café that serves Filipino and international cuisine. Both Berta and I believe that we can’t start a good day without a nice cup of coffee! And we had ours at their café, which opened at 8am. It’s a nice, very laid-back place where we had cups of coffee and a few bread and butter. Between the two of us, we spent less than €10 for the whole thing. It was too bad we didn’t order this funny ice cream made of sampaguita (yes, the flower!) – we thought it was still too early for that and didn’t want to mess our tummies. The restaurant also serves paella which looks very flavourful – I’m definitely going back.
Just beside Ilustrado is this crafts shop called Silahis. We really enjoyed the place, and almost spent over two hours going around the whole building. It’s not that we spent the whole of our visit shopping. There was just so much to see! And the best thing about it was that anyone can buy something from the place. From souvenir products worth less than €1 to pieces worth hundreds of euros, travellers will find really high quality arts and crafts. There were three floors full of furniture, paintings, instruments and toys for kids, clothes, apparel, jewelry, bags, books, figurines and other things… it was like a small museum! We definitely plan to go back there someday to buy things to bring home.
We had lunch at Barbara’s near the famous Real Street. Around this area are the cobblestone streets that date back to the Spanish time. The most affordable meal in the café is worth a little more than €1, and the most expensive is worth around €7. We got sinigang na bangus belly (milk fish belly stew) and bistek Tagalog (Filipino beef steak) plus drinks at around €15 all in all.
The walk from Silahis to Barbara’s was quite a long one, so we advise bringing bottled water along and hanky to wipe off sweat. Walking around noon time can also mean direct sunlight. There aren’t a lot of shades at this time of day. But it’s not uncommon in the Philippines to use umbrellas to shield from the sun. Hats, sunglasses and fans or pamaypay are also most welcome. Thank goodness I brought my hat along, but Berta bought hers from Silahis. It’s a hat made of buri plant fibres that’s also used to make native bags, baskets, and other things. Sunblock should add an extra shield to prevent nasty rashes for skin unused to the tropical sun.