A historical haven at the heart of the city, Paco is a hidden gem in the midst of the urban noise and modern high-rise buildings. Its best attractions are the stone walls of the Paco Park and Church and art nouveau houses in the surrounding areas.
In the Spanish times, Paco had been called Dilao. There are many speculations on its original etymology. Two of the most popular revolve around the amaryllis flowers in the area, and the Spanish slur for the Japanese migrants who had once settled there. Established as early as the 14th century, the district has seen the rise and fall of many years in Philippine history.
Although it isn’t often sold as a tourist attraction, Paco remains one of the most historical sites in the city today. At present, it is a residential district. But other parts of the area are quite close to commercial centers and restaurants that offer diverse flavors.
Paco is at the heart of the city, so there’s no shortage of public utility vehicles available. Jeepneys, tricycles, and trains are there for daily commuters and tourists alike. You can opt for the LRT line 1 by getting down at the UN station and walking to Paco. But the new PNR train’s San Andres station is similarly near the area.
Depending on which part of the district you plan on exploring, Paco can get very crowded. For instance, more solemn sites like the Paco Park and Cemetery won’t have a lot of people on the daily. But the Paco Public Market and its adjacent residential area is always full of people. The best way to get around narrow streets and get the most of the view is by traveling on foot. If it gets tiring and you want to get to one point to another faster, a jeepney or a tricycle is also a good option.
One of the often-talked about tourist sites in Paco is its Park. This was originally where the country’s national hero, Jose Rizal, was laid to rest before his body was moved to Luneta. Today, the Park’s major attraction is its Church. The stone architecture and design is reminiscent of the country’s colonial past, and stands as a testament to the Spanish influence. In February, musical symphonies featuring the best of local music play in “Paco Park Presents”. The Park is open to the public every day except Wednesdays, from 8 to 5 PM.
Tourists will find another delight in the San Fernando de Dilao Church, otherwise known as the Paco Church. The site has become famous among pilgrims during the Visita Iglesia every Holy Week. Paco Church has historically been renovated several times, and has survived riots and two earthquakes in the course of almost three centuries.
The Paco Railway Station is also a haunting look at the city’s golden past. It may no longer be functional, but the Railway station is still a marvelous vision of architecture against a gray skyline. Tourists are not allowed to go too near the structure, since it is already quite dilapidated. However, you can still observe it from afar. An ongoing petition to save the site may also soon open it as an actual tourist spot.
You can’t visit Old Manila without taking a tour of all its historic landmarks. From the Paco Park, to old Churches, and even a sightseeing of the houses lining the residential district – there is always something to remind visitors of the city’s rich history.
If you also fancy a trip on a ferry boat to relive the classic novel Noli me Tangere, why not try out the Pasig River Ferry Service? Paco is a district immediately overlooking the longest river connecting the entirety of Metropolitan Manila. Get on the nearest ferry station at Santa Ana and explore the city through the river!
For those looking forward to some shopping, the Paco Market is one of the city’s largest wet and dry market. Its items range anywhere from furniture to fresh produce and seafood. Since Paco is easily near the port area, expect the market’s raw products to be especially fresh.
The Paco area can be really diverse at times. Even its cuisine offers great food not just from the Philippines, but also from all over the world. Assad’s two-in-one café and restaurant offers guests a taste of Indian snacks and organic food. You can even do a bit of your own grocery shopping here if you want to recreate some of the dishes on your own at home.
To get a taste of another part of the world right in Paco, Laksarap is mainly a Singaporean restaurant. As its name suggests, its specialty dish is the laksa. The cozy interiors and good food make Laksarap a good place to just relax and watch the Paco district before moving on to your next trip.
Those who want a bit of a fancier dining vibe can check out My Kitchen by Chef Chris in the famous Oasis Hotel. The restaurant features a variety of food from Filipino, European, to Asian cuisine.
The center of Manila rarely sleeps at night. Thrill seekers will find many pubs and bars available in Paco and its adjacent areas. Bocobo St towards Malate alone already has a wealth of night life to explore.
One such popular hangout for students, local residents, and tourists is Oarhouse Pub along Bocobo St. The initimate interiors and affordable drinks are perfect for large groups who want to catch up or wind down after a long day.
But aside from quick bites and a few drinks, visitors can also enjoy some meals and desserts in places like Tambayan Gastropub. Their bar is more spacious but less homey. This is a better recommended place for those who want to socialize and meet new people. The Bar @ 1951 is a similar bar along the same area. Guests can expect a homey, well-lit ambiance with great wall art. The drinks and food are a great addition to any gathering.
It’s not hard to find plenty of available lodging in the Paco district. One of the most famous accommodations that’s located close to the famous Paco Park is Oasis Hotel. Guests can expect well-furnished rooms and great facilities, from the pool to its famous My Kitchen by Chef Chris restaurant. The Old Swiss Inn is another great place to stay the night. If you’re looking for a good casual dining experience with a homey interior to match, this lodging will be great for you. For travelers looking for a backpackers’ experience in the Old Manila district, you may want to check out Garden Plaza Hotel. It’s clean, comfortable, and good for a brief stay.
Familiarize yourself with local landmarks. The winding streets of Manila are often un-chartable on maps. If you find yourself lost, knowing which places are closest to major roads will help you find your way back.
Opt for public transportation. Or explore the city on foot instead. Big, bulky vehicles won’t fit in most of the narrow and populated streets, so it’s best to leave your car behind.
Wear comfortable and breathable clothes. It gets really hot in the city, and all the walking around can make you perspire. If your load isn’t too heavy, bring a change of clothes when you go exploring, too.