Manila Safety Guide – Is Manila Safe for Tourists? (Local Insight)

Planning a trip to the bustling capital of the Philippines and wondering “Is Manila safe for tourists”? As a frequent traveller to the Philippines, I’m familiar with both the safest neighbourhoods and areas best avoided in this vibrant megacity. This local guide provides insider tips on how to stay safe in Manila, the most dangerous places to steer clear of, tips for getting around, and precautions to take as a visitor.

While violent crime rates are relatively high compared to other major tourist destinations, millions visit Manila annually without incident. By using common sense, sticking to the right districts, and following a few basic safety protocols, you’ll likely have a rewarding and trouble-free experience here.

Is Manila Safe for Tourists?

Manila is generally safe for tourists who stick to the right neighborhoods and take reasonable precautions. Like other major cities, it has higher-risk areas plagued by poverty and crime that visitors should avoid. However, the central tourism districts, historical sites, shopping areas, and wealthier enclaves tend to be quite secure.

The Philippines government works hard to ensure tourist safety in Manila, with heavy police presence around major attractions and business districts. Terrorism is also relatively rare in the capital compared to more volatile regions. However, the huge inequality and poverty levels mean property crimes like theft and robbery are still fairly common if you’re not cautious.

Crimes to watch out for in Manila include:

  • Pickpocketing and bag snatching, especially in crowded areas
  • Taxi scams like overcharging, taking circuitous routes, or unlicensed cabbies
  • Opportunistic robberies and muggings in isolated areas

While annoying and potentially unsettling, these crimes are usually non-violent in nature if you avoid confrontation. Staying alert, using common sense and following basic safety precautions can greatly minimize your risk as a tourist.

My personal experience with Manilla was that it was completely safe. I had no issues and went too all the areas that are considered high risk zones, filming myself with a camera. Even in Tondo where the economic conditions are the worst, people were incredibly friendly and there was little danger. It was a little rough around the edges, I had to keep an eye on things, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone go at night, but if you have your wits about you, you’ll be fine in Manila during your stay here.

Safest Areas to Stay in Manila

These are considered the safest areas for tourists to stay in Manila:

  • Makati CBD – The primary central business district and major financial hub. Very modern with plenty of upscale malls, hotels, embassies, and dining. Heavy security presence.
  • Bonifacio Global City – An affluent master-planned community popular with expats. Feels very westernized with luxury condos, malls, parks, and offices. Quite secure.
  • Eastwood City – Another wealthy enclave in Quezon City with residential areas alongside shopping centers and entertainment districts. Self-contained and relatively low-crime.
  • Greenhills – Affluent shopping and residential district in San Juan. Popular modern malls and Chinatown area. Relatively safe during daytime.
  • Fort Bonifacio – Former military base turned into an upper-class community. Guarded entries, international schools, parks, and lifestyle malls. Very family-friendly.
  • Bacoor – Family area with lots of gated communities, some places are a little rough around the edges, but it’s mostly safe here.
  • Imus -Beautiful, quiet areas, affluent and amazing churches/monuments here. Little far out of the main city, but very nice if you’re more about peace.

I stayed in Makati CBD, Imus and Bacoor. All were completely safe and I would highly recommend each place. If you stay in the outskirts of Manila, I recommend staying in gated communities or higher-cost hotels that have some form of security at the front.

Most Dangerous Areas to Exercise Caution in Manila

Exercise caution in these areas especially at night in Manila:

  • Tondo – One of Manila’s poorest and most densely populated slum districts. Open drug dealing, high risk of violent crime and robberies.
  • Baseco Compound – Another impoverished area in Tondo notorious for squatters, criminal gangs, and drug abuse. Extremely unsafe, even for locals.
  • Payatas – Tragically poor area dominated by the massive open-air dump where many informal settler families live in hazardous conditions. Risky for outsiders.
  • Parts of Pasay City – While having some decent areas, the poorer districts near Manila’s ports struggle with prostitution, drug dens, and property crimes targeting visitors.
  • Quiapo – The black market district where petty thefts are rampant and criminals operate gambling and drug dens best avoided.
  • Quezon City – One of the highest crime rates in Manila. Huge area so there’s nice parts and bad parts, just be careful in the bad parts and at night.

Please don’t entirely avoid these areas if you want to go. Some places don’t always live up to their name, and usually, if you go during daylight, with friends and exercise caution, you’ll be completely fine. Additionally Filipino people are incredibly helpful towards tourists, so you’ll always have someone who is willing to help you stay safe, help you avoid the difficult areas.

Why shouldn’t you avoid these areas?

If you’re interested in the KKK history in the Philippines, for instance, Tondo is a great area to visit. On Recto Ave. you’ll find two monuments to commemorate the La Liga Filipina and KKK – organizations which would finally liberate the country from 333 years of being colonized.

And, having personally gone here because of my interest in history, I can confirm that, although it’s a bit rough around the edges, during the day it was completely fine and people were incredibly friendly. However, I would exercise caution here, but during the day, if you keep your wits about you, you’ll run into no trouble here.

In this video I go to a lot of the places that are considered very dangerous for the story of the history I was trying to tell, you’ll see most places were fine, but this is personal experience:

Is Grab Safe for Getting Around Manila?

Grab (Asia’s equivalent of Uber) is generally a safe and reliable option for getting around Manila. You can review the driver’s details, track your ride on a map, and pay by cash or card.

On Grab you’re not able to get a Motorbike Taxi, so if you want to get one, download Angkas. Just be cautious, because the safety on these rides is not great, although Angkas make sure that you wear a helmet, which makes them better than the other companies, in that respect. If you want to get around fast, Angkas is additionally a great option considering the terrible traffic in Manila, but just know the risks when hopping on one – Manila is no stranger to road accidents.

Some Grab drivers may refuse to go to higher-risk neighbourhoods after dark due to safety concerns. Solo female travellers should also potentially avoid using Grab late at night as an extra precaution, or travel with another friend.

Safety Tips for Solo Female Travelers in Manila

While taking reasonable precautions, Manila can be safe for solo female tourists but does pose some elevated risks women should be aware of:

  • Dress conservatively to avoid harassment and unwanted attention
  • Stick to major tourist areas and avoid walking alone after dark
  • Never leave drinks unattended or accept drinks from strangers
  • Travel in groups or use respected rideshare services like Grab at night
  • Beware of unusually overfriendly strangers who could be involved in sex trafficking or scams
  • As a solo female traveler myself, I’ve had to deal with more catcalling, jeering, and unwanted propositioning from local men than I’d prefer, though violent assaults are relatively rare if you’re vigilant. Human trafficking is unfortunately an issue to be cautious about as well.

I don’t mean to sound overly alarmist – millions of Filipina women get around Manila daily without issues. But a little extra caution goes a long way to avoiding risky situations alone as a female visitor unfamiliar with the city.

Safety for LGBTQ Travelers in Manila

The Philippines is a relatively conservative, Catholic-majority country. However, Manila does have an active LGBTQ community and scene centred around areas like Malate. Same-sex couples should generally feel comfortable being open here compared to more rural parts of the nation. The Philippines is very open minded and is additionally ranked as one of the most gay-friendly nations.

Personally I met many LGBTQ travellers during my stay in Manila and locals who identify with the LGBTQ movement and many seemed to have had a great experience travelling in Manila.

Open hostility is uncommon, but some discretion may be advisable in public to avoid judgmental looks or comments, especially from older generations. Various support organizations provide resources and advice for LGBTQ travelers to the capital.

The law now provides anti-discrimination protections, though traditional cultural biases persist in some areas. Overall, LGBTQ tourists taking the same precautions as others shouldn’t face significant issues exploring Manila.

Common Dangers to Be Aware Of Travelling in Manila

Violent Crime – While lower than other regional capitals, homicides, robberies, and kidnappings targeting the wealthy occur at a moderately high rate often related to poverty, gangs, or drugs.

  • Theft – snatch-and-grab robberies of phones/purses, burglaries, carjackings, and scams are daily risks in Manila’s poorer areas. Avoid flaunting wealth.
  • Drug Crime – Widespread illegal drug trafficking and abuse fuels other crimes. Philippine authorities pursue harsh anti-drug policies making dealers/addicts potentially volatile.
  • Terrorism – While relatively infrequent in the capital, extremist groups have carried out bombings and attacks in Manila, so remain alert.
  • Kidnapping – Organized crime kidnapping for ransom is a risk, especially targeting foreigners and the affluent. Avoid any confrontation if targeted.
  • Scams/Fraud – Urban classics like fake tourist guides, gem scams, taxi overcharging, and credit card fraud all happen frequently. Only use official transportation and guides.
  • Natural Disasters – Being coastal and in the tropics, Manila faces risks of typhoons, flooding, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. Stay updated on current conditions.

Political Protests & Demonstrations

The Philippines has a long history of political activism and public demonstrations, some of which have turned violent in the past. While generally peaceful, large-scale protests sometimes occur in Manila that could potentially escalate or disrupt transport.
It’s wise to monitor local media and avoid any announced protest areas or marches, especially those involving clashes with authorities. Protests can materialize with little warning around controversial issues.

As a visitor, it’s best to steer clear of any political rallies or confrontations you encounter. Don’t attempt to photograph or engage with demonstrators who may misconstrue your motives. If caught up in a unexpected protest, quickly remove yourself from the area.

Natural Disasters

Manila’s location makes it vulnerable to various natural hazards that tourists should be aware of:

  • Typhoons – The Philippines is prone to powerful typhoons annually during storm season between June and December. High winds and flooding can cause disruptions.
  • Earthquakes – Situated along the Ring of Fire, Manila faces risks from earthquakes and tremors. Building collapses have occurred during major quakes historically.
  • Volcanic Eruption – The greater Manila area has several active volcanoes like Taal that could potentially erupt and disrupt the region with ash clouds.
  • Flooding – With portions below sea level, seasonal monsoons and poor drainage systems lead to regular urban flooding across Manila’s streets.

While the risks are relatively low for any one event, travelers should follow official guidance, heed any disaster warnings, and potentially alter travel plans if a significant natural threat arises during their trip.

Human Trafficking

The illicit human trafficking trade, both for sexual exploitation and forced labor, is an unfortunate reality in the Philippines that tourists should exercise precautions against getting inadvertently ensnared in.

As a general rule, never accept offers of transportation, tours, or entry into private residences from overly-friendly strangers or unregulated services, especially for solo females. Established tourist companies and legitimate services are best used by visitors.

Avoid venturing alone to red-light districts or overly nightclubs where traffickers may be operating. Be skeptical of any unsolicited “help” from people claiming to be guides or offering opportunities that seem too good to be true.

While the issue is widespread across the Philippines, taking common sense precautions around unfamiliar individuals or circumstances reduces any potential risks.

Getting Around Manila Safely

Public Transportation Safety

While extremely affordable, Manila’s public transportation of buses (jeepneys) and trains unfortunately have persistent issues with safety, overcrowding, and criminal activity. And they overcrowd some of the buses here… so expect to be cramped when you’re travelling some routes. Additionally, seats are not built for taller people, so be weary of that when travelling around.

Here are a few tips for using them more securely:

  • Commuter Rail – The LRT and MRT rail systems are efficient but densely crowded. Ride in the designated women’s coach if solo, avoid end-cars, and keep belongings secured.
  • Buses (Jeepneys) – The cheap jeepney buses make frequent stops and are prime areas for petty thefts and street crimes. Only board from secure designated stops, never resist a snatch theft, and exit with the flow of traffic.
  • Taxis – Only use certified official taxis from regulated companies, not independent unlicensed drivers who could be involved in kidnappings or worse. Book rides from your hotel when possible.
  • Rideshare – Reliable app-based options like Grab are the safest way to hire transportation services around Manila with encrypted payment. Avoid flagging down unbooked private ride services.

For travellers, sticking to private transportation like Grab rides prevents many potential hassles and criminal risks compared to navigating Manila’s hectic public transportation system alone.

Is Manila Safe for Families and Kids?

While taking some common-sense precautions, Manila can be a relatively safe destination for family travel with children. Many of the wealthier, modern districts like Bonifacio Global City and large malls/attractions are quite secure.

Families should stick to touring major sites during daytime hours and avoid straying into unfamiliar lower-income areas unaccompanied. Using private transportation services like Grab prevents hassles with public transit.

Hotels and resorts in Manila offer plenty of family-friendly amenities and kids clubs to keep children occupied in secure environments. Many expatriate families with children live full-time in Manila’s guarded residential communities.

That said, the poverty, inequality, and resulting crime that exists does warrant extra vigilance with kids compared to travel to places like Singapore or Japan. Letting children freely wander or leaving them unsupervised wouldn’t be advisable.

With reasonable precautions though, Manila can be a rewarding and eye-opening experience for families to expose children to another culture in a dynamic world capital. Just manage expectations accordingly.

How Safe is Manila Compared to Other Cities?

To provide some regional context, Manila’s levels of violent crime like homicides and robberies are moderate to high compared to other major metropolitan areas globally, but on the lower end for Southeast Asian capitals.

According to official statistics, Manila has a slightly higher homicide rate than Bangkok, around 4 times higher than Kuala Lumpur, yet lower than Jakarta. Petty property crimes are seen as more commonplace than even Bangkok though.

Crime Rates Per 100k Population:

  • Manila – 12.1 homicides
  • Bangkok – 3.5 homicides
  • Jakarta – 15.5 homicides
  • Kuala Lumpur – 2.9 homicides

Compared to cities in the West like London, Toronto, or Sydney, violent crime and lack of personal security are more of a daily concern for people who live and travel there. However, the vast majority of serious criminal incidents in Manila occur in pockets of the city that are known for their poverty, drug trade, and organized crime activity that tourists would usually have no reason to visit (unless you’re into danger tourism).

Tourists who stick to hotspots face similar risks that are found in other popular cities. So in summary – while perhaps not the absolute safest capital in the world, millions visit Manila annually without issues by avoiding the highest-risk areas and taking sensible security steps.

It’s not as low-risk as Tokyo or Seoul for instance, but if you use you’re head, you’ll be fine.

“Manila is like any other major city – it has its dangers if you go looking for trouble or let your guard down entirely. But it also has so much vibrance and amazing cultural experiences to offer for those willing to navigate it sensibly. Don’t be deterred by horror stories – use common sense about where you go, keep your valuables secured, stick to regulated transportation services, and avoid deserted areas at night. Do that, and your Manila trip is likely to be an incredible, eye-opening experience seeing the juxtaposition of modern urban life against persisting poverty and inequality you rarely witness in the West.”

Sam R – An American expat in Manila

Local Safety Advice for Tourists

Here are some final top tips from Manila locals for staying safe while visiting:

  • Use secure app services like Grab, and Angkas for transportation over taxis or public jeepneys. Have your hotel call reputed taxis if needed.
  • Keep belongings secure and avoid appearing too affluent or touristy to avoid becoming a target for robbery/snatch crimes.
  • Stick to major malls, business districts, and tourist sites during the daytime. Avoid unfamiliar neighbourhoods and remote areas alone, especially at night.
  • Don’t buy counterfeit items, drugs, or anything illegal from peddlers. Don’t get lured into any underground criminal activities.
  • Be wary of overly friendly strangers offering unsolicited help or services – common scams and potential human trafficking risks.
  • Monitor local media and steer clear of any protests, demonstrations, or areas with political unrest.
  • In a true emergency, legitimate police/authorities can be contacted by dialling 117 from any phone.

The reality is that while Manila has higher crime rates, taking basic precautions allows most tourists to navigate it relatively safely and have an amazing experience in one of Southeast Asia’s most dynamic cities.

With the right guidance and security awareness, there’s no need to avoid travel to Manila or the Philippines entirely despite any perceived dangers. Embrace it cautiously while being a smart, prepared traveller unwilling to get caught in any risky situations.

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