Source: Unsplash | Michael Buillerey
Ermita was once one of the richest neighborhoods in Manila, home to the alta sociedad who owned lavish properties. However, after World War II bombings destroyed most of the district and its surrounding areas, Ermita has undergone a transformation. Today, it stands as Manila’s civic center. It’s where the Manila City Hall is located, and it’s also home to a number of schools, banks, hospitals, and various commercial establishments.
Of course, Ermita also has plenty of recreational destinations and tourist spots. Perhaps the most popular among them is Rizal Park or Luneta, one of the most important sites in both colonial and modern Philippine history. Aside from being the place where Jose Rizal was executed, the park has been the venue of various political rallies and other key events in recent years. These include the Philippine Centennial Celebrations in 1998 and the concluding mass of Pope Francis’ papal visit in 2015.
Indeed, Ermita is one of the best places to start exploring the Philippine capital. Here’s a guide to a few of the many sites of interest in this busy Manila district.
The National Museum of Natural History
Located in Agrifina Circle, the National Museum of Natural History opened only last May 2018. It’s the latest civic building (one of three) in Rizal Park to be converted into a museum. The architect and the interior designers decided to maintain the building’s facade, but they added an iconic dome roof that can be seen from various angles. Inside, you’ll be greeted by the “Tree of Life.” This structure supports the exterior dome and has become a kind of attraction in the museum in and of itself. Of course, you shouldn’t miss out on the various galleries and exhibits on display. They cover a total of six floors, showcasing the Philippines’ natural riches.
If you’re checked into a hotel near St. Luke’s Extension Clinic or other hotels nearby, the National Museum of Natural History is just a few blocks away. This should be one of your first stops, followed by the other museums in the area: the National Museum of Anthropology and the National Museum of Fine Arts. The National Planetarium is also nearby, between the Chinese Garden and Japanese Garden, if you’re interested in astronomy and space science.
Manila Ocean Park
Being surrounded by seas on all sides, the Philippines has incredibly diverse and beautiful marine life. Many of these species, along with other marine creatures found in Southeast Asia, are showcased in Manila Ocean Park’s Oceanarium. This attraction has seven sections, which are home to 14,000 creatures covering more than 270 species. The highlight of the Oceanarium is the curved walkway tunnel, where you can see sharks, stingrays, and a variety of other fish species swimming around. If you have the money to spare, you can take the Aquanaut Voyage or the Sharks and Rays Swim Encounter. These will put you up close and personal with these wonderful and beautiful sea creatures.
Aside from the impressive marine life, Manila Ocean Park also has other attractions that feature other kinds of animals. There’s the Birds of Prey Kingdom where you can meet the Philippine brahminy kite or lawin, and The Birdhouse where colorful budgies and parrots are currently housed. Meanwhile, the Barnyard features adorable bunnies and hamsters, while the World of Creepy Crawlies showcases various insects and arachnids, frogs, and worms. There are also shows featuring sea lions and birds, as well as a fireworks display and a water show at night to cap off your entertaining and educational tour.
The Manila Hotel is the oldest 5-star hotel in the Philippines, built in 1909. This was where General Douglas MacArthur stayed from 1935 to 1941, when he was the Military Advisor of the then-Commonwealth of the Philippines. In addition, the Manila Hotel has also hosted plenty of celebrities and popular world leaders, including Michael Jackson, The Beatles, author Ernest Hemingway, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
You don’t need to check into one of the rooms to appreciate the beauty of this hotel. The lobby alone is a majestic creation, with Doric columns and Philippine marble floors. The sparkling chandeliers are adorned with seashells and crystals, while the furniture are carved from Philippine mahogany. You can also wine and dine at the bars and restaurants inside, which include the infamous Cafe Ilang-Ilang and the Tap Room Bar.
Arroceros Forest Park
The Arroceros Forest Park is called “Manila’s Last Lung” because of its status as Manila’s only nature park. It was established in 1993, and now has 3,000 trees and 8,000 smaller plants occupying its modest 2.2-hectare area. There are about 61 varieties of trees here, including majestic 150-year-old ones that survived the Second World War. Former Mayor Lito Atienza planned to close the park back in 2003, but conservation groups succeeded with their protest, and the park reopened in 2007.
The trees you can find in the Arroceros Forest Park include both local and foreign species. Among these are different types of acacia, African tulip trees, anahaw, kamagong, mahogany, molave, narra, talisay, and even teak. There are also fruit trees like avocado and mango, as well as flowering and ornamental ones like golden shower, ilang-ilang, and kalachuchi. With plenty of canopy and places to roost, the park is also home to bird species like the brown and yellow shrikes and the Pacific swallow.
Manila is one of the most historic places in the country, and that’s why places like Intramuros often get the most tourist attention. However, Ermita has its own share of destinations that may not be as historic but are definitely worth your time. Consider this quick list the next time you’re out and about in Manila.