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Also known as Rizal Park after Philippines' national hero Dr. Jose Rizal, Luneta Park could be considered the symbolic seat of the nation's heart and soul. A beautiful green space, the park is spread out over some 60 hectares (148 acres) of gardens, wooded areas and open spaces, drawing crowds from all walks of life. Points of interest include the Rizal Monument, the Site of Rizal's Execution, the central pool and fountains, the Chinese Garden and Japanese Garden, and a huge relief map showing the whole Philippine archipelago. The National Library and National Museum are next door.
Set in Rizal Park, this pocket of solitude is a modern interpretation of the traditional Japanese style of gardening. A stone-paved footpath undulates around a central pond planted with water lilies, while stone lanterns (a quintessential feature of Japanese gardens) and two bridges (one over the central pond) create the illusion that you have been transported to the Land of the Rising Sun. Though bordering a busy street, the small garden is surprisingly serene and peaceful.
Constructed in 1587-1604, San Agustin Church is the oldest surviving church in the Philippines. It was the only building left intact when Intramuros was reduced to rubble during the Liberation of Manila in 1945. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is a mandatory destination for any Manila visitor interested in history and culture. Concealed behind the imposing facade is an elaborately decorated Baroque-style interior. Throughout the nave and six side chapels are fixtures of great artistic and historical significance.
With virtually the whole of Intramuros destroyed during World War II, this is the only remaining repository of the wealth that was once a common feature of Manila's churches. Formerly a monastery, the museum comprises two floors interconnected by a grand staircase. The various rooms and hallways display paintings, santos (religious statues, usually of carved wood or ivory), gold and silver ornaments, liturgical vestments, chests, and altars. It is an artistic treasure house that illustrates the richness of Philippine history and culture.
Filipinos and foreigners alike can view some of the Philippines' historic and cultural treasures in this Museum of the Filipino People. Among the many displays here, the galleries devoted to the San Diego galleon merit special mention. Porcelain plates, coins, jewelry, armaments and other artifacts recovered from the sunken battleship present revelatory glimpses of 17th century life. The Story of the Filipino People is another must-see for all visitors.
Unique in Asia, this was a European-style medieval fortified city that functioned as the seat of government from 1571 to 1898. The massive walls stretch some 4.5 kilometers, enclosing a 64-hectare area once occupied by palaces, churches, monasteries, schools and wealthy residences ('Intramuros' means 'inside the walls'). Sadly, the whole city was razed to the ground by bombings conducted by American forces when they recaptured Manila from the Japanese in 1945. Today most of the walls, gates and bulwarks have been restored, affording visitors a glimpse into the past.
The history of Manila is closely tied to this body of water. Naval battles were fought here, including the celebrated La Naval de Manila in 1646, which effectively put a stop to repeated attempts by the Dutch to take over the Philippines. It was also on Manila Bay that the Spanish fleet was annihilated by the American forces under Commodore George Dewey, ushering in 40 years of American occupation. But more than anything else, Manila Bay is renowned for its spectacular sunsets—a must-see for every visitor to the city.
The 1960s saw the emergence of a new business district in the then sleepy municipality of Makati. The Spanish-Filipino conglomerate of Don Jaime Zobel de Ayala developed the district by first establishing this main thoroughfare which cuts through to Highway 54 (now known as Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, or EDSA). Towards the end of the decade, Ayala Avenue emerged as the main artery of the Makati business area. Many major banks, multi-national corporations and embassies are located here.
If you are young or young at heart, you will certainly find plenty of "enchantment" at this amusement park. There are seven zones with rides in each: Spaceport, Jungle Outpost, Midway Broadwalk, Brooklyn Place, Portobello, Victoria Park and Boulderville. Among the thrillers is an 11-story roller coaster named Space Shuttle, a huge Ferris wheel and a water ride called Jungle Log Jam. Automated teller machines, a first-aid station, a paging and message center, and storage lockers are located throughout the park.
It is considered the world's smallest active volcano and reaches a height of just over 300 meters (1000 feet). However, this title is dangerously deceptive given the Taal Volcano's long history of eruptions, which total a staggering 33 and have caused significant damage. Visitors can take in the scene with a 45-minute boat to the volcano, then enjoy a 15-minute trek to the top of the crater. Declared a Decade Volcano to avoid collateral damage during eruptions, the volcano is a part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.
Both Pansol and Los Baños lie very close to metropolitan Manila. You could go there early in the morning and be back in Manila in the afternoon for other activities. Hot springs rich in mineral and medicinal properties dot the countryside around Pansol and Los Baños; many resorts operate in the area. Feel free to look around before making your selection. Said to be an effective cure for some ailments a soak in the natural springs is certainly a wonderful form of relaxation. The drive from Manila takes about an hour and a half.