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THE ‘PEARL OF THE ORIENT’

Manila City and Bay

Manila is Much More than Meets the Eye

Tropical, sprawling beaches of white sand and tranquil breezes, unspoiled jungles and subterranean natural wonders. These are some of the images of the Philippines that may conjure in a curious traveler’s mind. However, beyond the ecological beauty of this cluster of islands between the South China Sea and the Philippines Sea lies the heartbeat of the country – a true Asian mega-city with high energy pulsating through streets that never sleep, where Old World meets New and adventurers from around the world find urban thrills in the midst of tropical paradise.

Manila: known as the “Pearl of the Orient”; the second largest city in Southeast Asia; home to both the oldest Chinatown in the world and skyscraping towers that reach beyond 700 feet high; the epicenter of international commerce and time-honored Philippine traditions. This city is so many things, all culminating into one word: captivating. A stay in Manila can be whatever an individual traveler wishes, as within its city borders are delights for foodies, art aficionados, history buffs and those with a penchant for curious discoveries. Beyond the city, rice terraced-hillsides, dormant volcanoes outlined with hiking trails, tropical parks and the forest green blanket that covers Luzon Island welcome nature lovers.

Manila is indeed the perfect starting point for any Asian adventure, which is why several 2020 and 2021 Crystal Cruises offer overnights in this entrancing city. Like its character, the ways to explore Manila are seemingly endless, so we’ve chosen a few “musts” to begin your list.

Manila, Philippines
Manila cityscape from Intramuros, Philippines

Go “within the walls” of Manila’s history to Intramuros. Intramuros – Spanish for “within the walls,” also called the Old City and the Walled City – is a quarter square-mile time capsule in the center of the modern capital city, guarded by Fort Santiago. It hails back over 400 years to the time when the Philippines was an extension of the Spanish Empire and is packed with treasures of that era, including National Cultural Treasures like the “Fortifications of Manila” and UNESCO-listed San Augustin Church.

Go underground. As much as there is to see in the sprawling city of Manila, there are also fascinating discoveries beneath it. There are legends of a network of tunnels connecting the churches and convents underneath Intramuros that were used by 19th century nuns and friars for rendezvous. There is also the very real presence of 20th century tunnel complexes – the Fort Bonifacio Tunnel and the Malinta Tunnel – built between World Wars to aid in channeling supplies and communications to the military.

Trek to Tagaytay Ridge, 2,100 feet above the sea for spectacular views of Taal Lake and Taal Volcano. This second most active volcano and its lake constitute one of the most iconic and breathtaking scenes in the island country, set just over 30 miles from Metropolitan Manila.

Taal Volcano
Taal Volcano and the Lake Taal on a sunny day in Tagaytay, Philippines.

See many Philippine “firsts” and the oldest Chinatown outside of China. Manila’s Chinatown, Binondo, is part highlight for travelers, part everyday life for Chinese-Filipino residents, which makes it a wonderful glimpse into local culture. Established in 1594 by the Spanish rulers, it continues to thrive as the heart of Chinese culture, with local merchants offering traditional Chinese medicines, dim sum and noodles, woven wares and other handcrafted items.

Meanwhile, Escolta Street is the place to go to experience the relatively modern developments of the Philippines. Here is where you’ll find the country’s first ice cream parlor, cinema, cable car, building with an elevator and American style department store.

This is just the beginning of what awaits you in Manila and the other iconic destinations featured on Crystal Cruises’ 2020 and 2021 Asia voyages. Book your journey today.

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