Most travelers complain about Manila. Unless they’re catching a flight or have just landed from overseas, it’s uncommon to see backpackers spend much time here. Yes, the traffic is a constant headache and it’s hard to get around, but scheduling in a long weekend in Manila is totally worth it if you have time to explore Makati City. The Makati neighborhood is the financial center of Manila and is home to many more upscale businesses, residences and attractions than the rest of the city. While some areas of Makati are super fancy, another area is considered one of Manila’s red-light districts. The diversity and vibrant action throughout the neighborhood is what drew us and kept us entertained. We’ve gotten to know Makati City pretty well, so Expedia.com asked us to share our knowledge. Here are our top picks for what to do while in Makati City.
Greenbelt Shopping Center
Even if you’re not big on shopping, the Greenbelt Shopping Center in Makati City is a must-see. It’s without a doubt one of the most extravagant malls we’ve ever seen (think Beverly Hills plopped in the middle of Manila). Luxury stores line the walkways. We’re talking Gucci, Burberry and Coach; not much within the budget of a backpacker, or anyone short of a millionaire really. But the landscaping throughout the shopping center is beautiful with green patches, koi ponds and lawn areas to sprawl out on a summer day. There is also an impressive amount of restaurants and lots of coffee shops with free Wi-Fi, perfect for a day of catching up on blogging!
Sure, you can go to Manila and experience the culture through museum visits. But the real reason to stay in Makati is to the experience the city’s thriving red light district. The neighborhood’s streets turn into pulsing epicenters of nightlife as soon as the sun goes down. From midget boxing to “lady bars,” Makati City is anything but tame. If you’re not into a wild night on the town, we enjoyed simply walking the main strip and taking in the craziness as spectator.
The Legazpi Sunday Market was one of our favorite places to eat in Manila. Each week part of Legazpi Park is transformed into a pleasant farmer’s market. Some of the city’s best restaurants set up stands and sell incredible food. There are lots of options, so we recommend to pace yourself and try a bit from a bunch of stalls. We loved the dumplings, mee goreng and churros for dessert! They also have organic vegetables and delicious fresh ginger ale for sale. Live music gives the event a lively, communal atmosphere.
If you’re looking for a fun night out but aren’t interested in the seedy activities of the street bars, check out Makati City’s speakeasies. These “underground” bars have been popping up all over Manila, especially in the Makati area. We highly recommend The Curator, coffee shop during the day and classy cocktail bar by night. The bartenders here at the best in the biz and will whip you up a specialty cocktail depending on your particular taste. I had the best espresso martini of my life here. Don’t miss it. Other fun speakeasies in the area include Exit and The Blind Pig.
Makati is popular with travelers so there’s no shortage of hostels and hotels. Unfortunately for backpackers, Makati is on the pricier side with private rooms often costing $30+. Skip the annoying walk around the neighborhood trying to find a bargain and just head directly to Z Hostel. Owner Ben de Vera has created a haven within the chaotic streets of Manila. Z Hostel is an upscale boutique hostel that mixes the luxury of a hotel with the social atmosphere of a hostel. They host weekly parties and events that we recommend you check out even if you don’t stay there. You can read our full Z Hostel review here.