You and Your Balikbayan Friends Will Enjoy These Walking Tours This December


With everyone flocking to Manila, the month of December was always the busiest season for performance artist and tour guide Carlos Celdran. As Celdran’s perpetual intern, I would spend every university break shadowing tours and reading sources. Once the days started ticking down to Christmas, I saw the crowds swell. The biggest tours would top 250 people. But this year, there isn’t going to be a man in a top hat rounding up intrigued tourists—and I’ve been asked again and again where to take visitors and balikbayans this Christmas if they want to take a break from the carols and malls. Where, they ask, can they get something cultural?

The answer is Intramuros.

“Even without Carlos?” they ask. Of course.

Celdran never pretended to be the only game in town. In fact, if he was not around, he was quick to point out other tour guides who show people around the walled city. 

Here is a list of the tours I’m most looking forward to trying: 

Greg Dorris does tours of Chinatown and Binondo. He also totes around a book with photos in it that he shows during his tour. Celdran called him an “official alternate.” Esquire Philippines called him “the American tour guide who knows Manila better than most Manileños.”

Manila Who is a new narrative-driven tour company that takes small groups around Escolta following the stories of tawdry starlets and cursed paintings. The tours are interactive and involve solving puzzles and exploring urban areas. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s worth trying one of the storylines out.


Bambikes Revolution Cycles offers various packages that take participants around Intramuros on bamboo bikes. This is the perfect package for friends who are environmentally conscious and work to maintain a sustainable lifestyle.

WanderManila is another exciting touring service, Puesto proprietor Benjamin Canapi takes groups for history walks around the Old City. He even does a Trese-themed night tour that I’m gutted to have missed over the Halloween holiday. Intramuros is definitely ripe for a ghost tour.

If none of these options work for you, tour Intramuros on your own! In the last few years, Intramuros Administration has been working to make Intramuros more interactive and tourist-friendly. Check out the brand new amenities and upgrades. While you’re at it, take a break over some ube champorado at the Plaza Moriones—it’s worth the calories. There is also the brand new Intramuros Museum, which features restored rooms, exhibitions of sacred images, and Filipino versions of European art, where apples and pomegranates are replaced with bananas. It’s wild and worth the trip.

Intramuros, Binondo, Malate, and the other districts that make up “Old Manila” are rich with history and culture. Celdran’s absence doesn’t take away from that. The historians and guides suggested here are all people who shared Celdran’s love for Manila and its history. They, too, were inspired to try and change the way we look at this city—it wasn’t just him. 

There may be no more of the famed Carlos Celdran tours, but there will be others. Manila endures and the people who love this city follow in his footsteps. He walked this way, we walk (or bike!) that way, but just because he’s not going to be there this year, doesn’t take away the places he loved. This month, come to Intramuros and bring everyone you can. Walk with us!

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Sabrina Schnabel
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