Manila, Philippines for your Next Family Vacation!

Manila is a great place for a family Philippines vacation …really! I know what you’re thinking. It’s busy, crowded and the traffic is bad. There are no beaches. When I told my husband I was going to write a post on why Manila is a great place for a family Philippines vacation he made that same face that you are probably making right now! Which is exactly why I had decided to write this post.

We’ve spent a few days here and there in Manila on several occasions over the years and other than the shady taxi situation at the airport we have never had any problems. On our last trip to the Philippines though we actually planned some vacation time in the city with our son and we had a fantastic time (which my husband DID end up remembering)!

The Manila Jeepney

Thanks to the Tagalog for Kids Flash Card set we have at home “Jeepney” was one of the first vehicle words our son learnt along with car and truck. On our first trip to the Philippines to meet his lolo and lola we arrived around midnight in Manila. We pulled out of the airport in our taxi and there it was: “Jeepney!” He was only 21 months old at the time but it was a dream come true. Everywhere he looked, there they were. The taxi driver found it more than a little amusing that there was this little boy pointing out and yelling in excitement “Jeepney! Jeepney!” over and over. The next year when we visited we kept our eyes open for the brightly painted icons of the city, added additional toys to his Jeepney collection and even got to “drive” a Jeepney.

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Driving a Jeepney on display at Manila Ocean Park

Kids love Jeepneys and so do tourists on their Philippines vacation! The Jeepney is to Manila like the streetcar is to San Francisco. Though you can still track down some fantastically styled Jeepneys for your little car lover to marvel at they are becoming increasingly less common. Or at least the painted ones are.

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The most impressive Jeepney we saw in Manila. They are becoming less common.

I’ve heard two different takes on why this is. In the media I read that it is getting too expensive for drivers to decorate their Jeepneys. This may be true but I find it hard to believe. There are companies out there that offer to sponsor decorations and the more attractive Jeepneys tended to get more business in the past. When we were in Manila several different taxi drivers told us that the real reason was because of tension between the drivers of the decorated and not decorated Jeepneys. They said that the drivers of the non-decorated vehicles were unhappy that they were getting less business and that rules may have been put in place to discourage the decoration to create a more equal playing field. Whatever the reason, our son loves the Jeepney and the decorated ones even more so. Hopefully measures are taken to preserve this part of the Filipino culture and tradition.

Hotel H2O and Manila Ocean Park

On the way to the hotel our son fell asleep. We checked in, went to our room, placed him on the bed and waited. When he woke up he slowly sat up in bed and looked around unsure of where he was and then…fish! An entire wall of our room was a giant aquarium! We couldn’t have planned the surprise any better.

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He doesn't know yet that he's sleeping in an aquarium!

Located in Luneta, Manila behind the Quirino Grandstand and actually situated on Manila Bay, Hotel H2O features aquarium themed rooms. There are rooms that have beautiful views of Manila Bay but what we were after was the “Aqua” themed room. In the Aqua rooms an entire wall of the room is an aquarium. The fish are not confined to your room but rather the aquarium goes between the rooms so your visitors are always changing. We spent ages excitedly waiting for “Dory” to make her appearance in our room again. Twice a day the fish are fed in your room so each guest gets to see a great display of fish gathering at that time.

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Feeding time. We found Dory!

On the same grounds of Hotel H20 is Manila Ocean Park. Ocean Park is an 8,000 square meter oceanarium which features a 25 meter long underwater walkway, the tallest musical fountain in the Philippines, numerous tanks of fish and other underwater sea life, a penguin exhibit and a sea lion performance to name a few.

When we stayed at Hotel H20 we had just returned from a trip to Apo Island and Oslob to see the sea turtles and whale sharks so we were not very interested in visiting Ocean Park. I have heard mixed reviews of Ocean Park. Some people love it and others not so much. It really seems to depend on what you are expecting and which exhibits you attend.

Manila Ocean Park, Birds of Prey Kingdom

We did though check out Ocean Park’s newest attraction the Birds of Prey Kingdom. Our son loves birds and we thought it would be a great opportunity for him to see some up close. I think perhaps we didn’t read the description properly but when we saw that it was BirdS of Prey we thought there would be a variety of birds. Instead there is only the Brahminy Kite (the Lawin or Banog). The enclosure was also smaller than expected and we lost interest after about 10 minutes. We only bought tickets for that attraction. If you have purchased a pass it is worth checking out. A great chance to see a beautiful local bird up close and they seem healthy and well cared for.

Rizal Park and Intramuros

Probably about a 5 minute walk from Hotel H2O is Rizal Park. Traveling with a VERY active child we went there many times during our trip to Manila just to run and play. The thing that really struck me about this park is how alive it is. Early in the morning as the sun is rising, joggers run around in the cooler morning air and around noon people from local businesses gather to have their lunch. You can catch a ride around the park on a kalesa (horse drawn carriage). In the evening the park is full of families playing together, students practicing their dance routines and couples on dates. It was one of our favourite places to go as a family in Manila. In the evening they also have a fairly impressive light and music show at the fountain. FAQ.ph has an interesting post on some of the historical and national highlights at the park.

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The kalesa ride 

The light and music show at the fountain at night

A 15 minute walk from Rizal Park is Intramuros though you might want to opt for the 7 min taxi drive instead. The walking route was poorly marked and whenever we asked for directions the people in the area surprisingly didn’t seem to know the way or sent us in the wrong direction. Our walk ended up taking us over an hour!

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Intramuros is the oldest district of Manila and the historic center of the city. Once you get there though there are ruins, old churches and buildings, walls, and prisons to explore and discover. Kids (and parents!) can get swept away pretending they are soldiers of Fort Santiago and imagining where the gold from the legend of Yamashita’s Treasure might be hidden!


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