With moviehouses, museums, and most indoor tourist attractions still closed in the metro due to community quarantine restrictions, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of things you can do for fun in Manila. But that hasn’t stopped cyclists from creating their own adventures.
Every biker knows that going around on two wheels, even if it’s just around familiar destinations, can spark that sense of adventure. Cycling for exercise is one of the few acceptable social activities people can do in the COVID era, which has led to a biking boom in the Philippines and around the world.
Those who have their own bikes at home have been lucky and haven’t really felt as trapped during the lockdown as others. But for non-bikers who just want to experience what it’s all about, a DIY tour on a bamboo bike around Manila’s most historic district could be a good starting point.
Bambike is a sustainable, locally-sourced bicycle brand made from durable and all-natural bamboo and abaca materials hand-made and crafted by builders from Gawad Kalinga, a Philippine-based community development organization.
Bambike Ecotours have been a staple of the Intramuros tourism scene for years. Before the pandemic hit, it was common to see groups of international travelers biking around old Manila’s landmarks on guided tours.
But since international travel has been restricted, the Bambike headquarters had to close its doors down in mid-March. The shop even lent their fleet of bikes to frontliners when public transportation was scarce.
After months of not operating, Bambike recently reopened in January 2021 for bike rentals and repairs. As of this writing, the fee is P100 per hour for adults and P50 per student per hour (valid ID required). No minors are allowed at this time.
Bambike founder Bryan McClelland shares that interest has been high since they reopened, especially during weekends, particularly among couples, barkadas, and expats stuck in the city.
“It’s been really great to see Intramuros coming back to life the past few weeks. Since we were closed for about 10 months, I wasn’t sure what things would be like just operating on a bike rentals basis back in the old city,” McClelland told Wheels.ph.
“But there seems to be a big demand for people to go out and enjoy the outdoors and explore Intramuros. Domestic tourism is going to place such an important role in our economic recovery here in the Philippines. What makes me the most happy is that all of our staff can come back to work and start to earn a livelihood again,” he added.
Sights to see around Intramuros
Those who plan to bike in the area should know that tourism sites and museums are still closed while Metro Manila is under GCQ, in compliance with the IATF Omnibus Guidelines. As of this writing, the GCQ status has been extended yet again until the end of February 2021.
While guided tours are still suspended, it’s still possible for those aged 18 and above to rent bamboo bikes and explore the historic “Walled City” on their own.
Why bike around Intramuros? Intramuros is the oldest district and historic core of the capital of the Philippines. It’s one of the few places in the city where you can still find old Spanish-era structures, well-preserved churches and get to pedal along cobblestone streets right next to vintage horse-drawn carriages.
For those who want a quick change of scenery, Intramuros is always great for DIY photography walks and architecture appreciation. It’s easier to get around and find hidden nooks, and notable landmarks on two wheels rather than walking and it beats having to find a parking spot if you’re driving around in a car.
While some major tourist spots, including Fort Santiago and museums like Casa Manila and Museo de Intramuros are still closed to the public, biking around the area gives visitors a chance to appreciate other sites of interest they may have overlooked in the past.
Many buildings have historical markers that you can easily read while going around. Refresh your history and take the time to read up on what makes the landmarks special.
For instance, did you know that the Aduana Building (Ruins of Intendencia), was formerly a Spanish colonial structure first built in 1823 that housed several government offices through the years? This historic structure with ornate grillwork can be found at Plaza Espana, Soriano (Aduana) Ave. corner Muralla St.
Right across the building is Plaza Mexico, a small riverside square bordering the Pasig River, that commemorates the historic Manila-Acapulco galleon trade relations between the two nations that lasted 250 years.
The Cuartel de Santa Lucia, a ruined building and fortification in Intramuros originally constructed for the Artillería de Montaña in 1781, was once used as a Philippine Constabulary headquarters and military school. While the interiors were never rebuilt following the building’s destruction during World War II, it’s been converted into a park where locals hangout to shoot the breeze, skateboard, and bike around.
When in Intramuros, the historic churches are always worth a visit.
San Agustin Church, right across the Bambike Headquarters, is a National Historical Landmark and one of four Philippine churches constructed during the Spanish colonial period designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Meanwhile, Manila Cathedral, which serves both as the Prime Basilica of the Philippines and the highest seat of the archbishop in the country is considered a masterpiece of architecture.
Intramuros isn’t just all old buildings and historic ruins. The side streets are peppered with street art that add a vibrant touch to the streets.
See if you can spot the mural featuring iconic Manila landmarks outside the defunct Intramuros Night Market or the “Bakunawa and Minokawa” by Ang Gerilya, which tells the legend of Philippine Mythological Dragons. This art piece made in collaboration with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and Intramuros Administration can be spotted in a parking lot along Gen. Luna Street cor. Anda Street, Intramuros beside the CBCP Compound in Intramuros.
Where to eat in Intramuros
After biking around, you can also stop for a meal or drink at one of the historic cafes in the area.
The Catholic-themed Ristorante della Mitre with its post-colonial Spanish-era interiors located just across the San Agustin Church, serves pasta, cakes and coffee.
Ilustrado Restaurant is another classic restaurant that’s been serving Spanish and Filipino cuisine since 1989 in a charming old-world setting. One of their uniquely Filipino specialties here is Sampaguita Ice Cream, inspired by the aromatic national flower of the Philippines.
One of the trendiest cafes in the area that offers open-air dining is La Cathedral Cafe, located behind the Manila Cathedral Church. The roofdeck cafe offers hearty food and coffee where diners can enjoy a picturesque backdrop of the church. However, because of its popularity, reservations are recommended to dine here.
The coziest place to enjoy post-ride drinks here is Batala Bar, which specializes in local coffee, craft beer, fruit shakes and ice cream. Bambike’s sister establishment, which also houses Philippine Artisan Trade, offers a great view of Plaza San Luis from the second floor window, giving riders a peaceful spot to cap their ride.
For those looking for a quick change of scenery and want to enjoy a socially distanced meet-up with a small group of friends around historic Manila, renting a Bambike to go around Intramuros offers an affordable and fun activity.
Virtual tours and field trips
Those who live in different provinces or can’t go out because of restrictions can still enjoy the sights through virtual tours and field trips.
Since tours are still suspended, Bambike Ecotours has taken its award-winning Intramuros Experience into the digital age in the form of a virtual field trip for students and teachers all around the country.
Bambike has launched a Filipino Heritage eLearning Kickstarter project to bring immersive educational content to public school students for free.
The guided bamboo bike tours are being transformed into immersive 360 degree virtual tours that can be embedded with tools used for eLearning. Their goal is to make the content available to all public school teachers and students for free.
This virtual tour is embedded with research tools and quizzes so it can be used for eLearning. Check out the details of the project in development in the video below.
The Bambike HQ is located at Plaza San Luis Complex. Real St, corner General Luna St, Intramuros, Manila City, Metro Manila. Bike rentals are available from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm daily. Fees: P100/hour for adults and P50/hour for students (valid ID required). No minors are allowed. Advance reservations are recommended to ensure bike units especially during weekends.