After more than two years of the pandemic and its seesawing mandates on lockdowns, it’s literally a fresh idea to literally go out once again in the open to the freedom of your nearest park. Imagine how we all coped staying put and working (studying for those still in school) at home, going out only on the most exigent errands.
The nice thing about the reopening of public spaces is that even overseas Pinoys who’ve always yearned to go home to local shores are just a few clicks away from seeing the green spaces of Metro Manila once again, procuring tickets from, say, Dubai to Manila with just a few clicks on the web. First, why not just go to the malls? Well, parks offer the open-air experience that’s missing these last two years. Sort of why go from the confines of your home to inside another building when you can go out there in the open? And it’s completely free anyway, away from the temptations of shops with fancy merchandise.
Besides, parks are undeniably an important resource to all people, especially city residents whose connection to nature is rather limited. The tangible benefits may not be that apparent pre-pandemic but these last two years have changed all that. We’ll leave the economic benefits that parks provide to the economists but even avid mall-goers will concede that after years of being cooped up at home, going out to the park can be a very liberating experience.
At the very least, exposure to a bit of nature has dramatic impacts on health. If you exercise outdoors – run, play badminton, ride a bike, participate in soccer games for example — the benefits are compounded and studies have always confirmed that fact. In terms of social interactions much missed during the lockdowns, connecting to friends in the outdoors can also be a safer alternative to meeting indoors.
So wear your most comfortable pair of shoes and sandals as well as bring a flask of water as we get ready to visit some of Metro Manila’s wonderful parks.
Rizal Park, Where the Legacy of Our National Hero Lives On
Formerly known as Luneta (from the French ‘lunette’ as an apt description of its erstwhile shape as a crescent fort), this is the country’s most famous and popular public park. Located in Ermita, Manila, this 58-hectare green space on the eastern shore of Manila Bay has the remains of the Philippines’ national hero, Jose Rizal, as its enduring attraction. Constructed on the marshlands of Nuevo Barrio (Bagumbayan) just outside the walls of old Manila in 1820, it was during the American colonial period when the Rizal monument was constructed.
Rizal Park brims with history – the hub of carriage-riding elites during the Spanish era; the site of the proposed government center by William Taft in the American colonial period; the site of notable historic events in the country during the contemporary period (beatification Mass of the first Philippine saint, Lorezon Ruiz, in 1981; 10th World Youth Day closing mass site in 1995; Philippine Centennial Celebrations venue in 1998, to name just a few).
There are several notable gardens here (Chinese, Japanese, Noli Me Tangere, as well as the Orchidarium & Butterfly Pavilion) for those inclined to reconnect to nature. If you take the time to meander, you can spot relevant artworks and monuments. For those inclined to learn, the green spaces are surrounded by the National Planetarium, National Library of the Philippines, National Museums of National History, National Museum of Anthropology, and National Museum of Fine Arts.
Trivia: Rizal Park is home to 112 species of trees; there are 3,497 trees here with 527 of them being the prized hardwood Narra.
Park opens as early as 5 am and closes at 4 pm.
Paco Park Presents
Located along General Luna and Padre Faura Streets at the heart of Manila, Paco Park just turned 200 years old last April.
Built by the Dominicans as a municipal cemetery for the affluent members of the city during the Spanish colonial period, the park was repurposed into a national park in 1966.
This park has always prided itself as a sanctuary of Philippine culture, history, and heritage where the country’s national hero, Jose Rizal, was interred after his execution, being moved only to nearby Luneta in 1912. Designed with the help of National Artist Idelfonso P. Santos, Jr., this circular fort used to host a long-running classical music program, “Paco Park Presents” which successfully shaped the image of an erstwhile cemetery into a recreational venue for the living. Weaving through the traffic of Manila and entering the park can be a balm for the spirit as the trees and paths provide a peaceful and calming respite.
Park opens at 6 am and closes at 11 am.
Going Green in Arroceros Forest Park
Located at the foot of the Quezon Bridge from Quiapo, this 2.2-hectare forest park is home to 61 varieties of trees as well as a habitat for 10 bird species. Arroceros Forest Park is considered as Manila’s remaining lung as it is the city’s only nature park.
Pretty hard to imagine that a secondary growth forest is now growing on a site formerly known as Parian, a Chinese settlement for trading in the Spanish colonial period. Birders and birdwatchers will have a good time here as the trees form a habitat for birds. The park is also very accessible via commute, only a short walk away from LRT Central Station and easily reached by foot if you’re coming in from Binondo or Quiapo.
Park is open from 6 am to 8 pm. No entrance fee is required.
Walled in in Intramuros
The vestiges of Spanish-era architecture live on in Intramuros, the former walled city of Manila during the Spanish colonial period. This .67 sq km historic site is home to Spanish colonial architecture landmarks such as Fort Santiago, the citadel built by navigator Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, and the World Heritage Site that is the San Agustin Church.
This July, The Remembering World War II exhibit opens at Fort Santiago focusing on the peacetime years of the American occupation until the Japanese invasion.
Fort Santiago is open daily from 9 am to 8 pm. The entrance fee is P75 per person.
La Mesa Ecopark, A Lush Eden In QC
Located in Novaliches, Quezon City, La Mesa Ecopark is a 33-hectare public park along the La Mesa Watershed Reservation boundary. Lush with old-growth trees and replete with hiking trails, you can jog or hike here and breathe in the fresh air. Bonus for birdwatchers: lots of bird life to be spotted here. Or maybe just meditate and commune with nature.
No entrance fee is charged but the public is enjoined to donate at least P40 per person for the maintenance of the park.
Guests are limited to 100 per day to avoid crowding. Visitors must also book and reserve in advance. Opens at 6 am, closes at 12 pm on weekdays, and opens from 6 am-3 pm on weekends.
Circling In On Quezon Memorial
If Rizal Park has a monument that commemorates the country’s national hero, the Quezon Memorial Circle has a 66-meter mausoleum that contains the remains of the second President of the Philippines, Manuel L. Quezon, and his wife, Aurora. It is also a national park inside a traffic circle, shaped like an ellipse bounded by, you guessed it, busy Elliptical Road at the heart of QC. It houses two museums containing presidential memorabilia as well as a house of the Quezon family in Gilmore transplanted here and converted into a museum.
There are several smaller gardens and parks within the circle including the Hardin ng mga Bulaklak the Philippine-Israel Friendship Park, as well as relevant markers and monuments (Peace Monument, World Peace Bell). The park is a nice venue for outdoor recreation such as jogging and biking.
Going Wild at Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center
If wildlife is your thing, then the 22.7-hectare Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center in Diliman, Quezon City, should be on your itinerary.
With a lagoon, aquarium, playground, wildlife rescue center, as well as a botanical garden, the park offers a sanctuary from the urban noise just outside its gates. Home to some 4,500 mature trees, including 100 species of which are endemic to the country, the park is a veritable nature sanctuary for the public yearning for the freedom of the outdoors after spending two years in lockdowns.
The park is open from 8 am to 5 pm daily except Mondays and Tuesdays. A P30 entrance fee is charged per person.
Marikina River Park: A River Runs Through It
With 11.6 kilometers of trails, parks, facilities for recreation, and open venues for all sorts of events, the Marikina River Park lies east of the Metro. Covering 220 hectares, it runs through seven villages and was developed during the course of the Save the Marikina River rehabilitation program of the Marikina city government in the 1990s. The park is popular among campers, bikers, and joggers.
Washington Sycip & Legazpi Active Parks – A Duo of Green Spaces in Makati
Privately-owned Washington Sycip Park which lies steps away from the Ayala Greenbelt Mall at the heart of the country’s premier business district is open to the public for all sorts of recreation. Mainly, it’s a lush oasis for meditation and jogging amidst tropical trees, a Japanese garden, inspiring Impy Pilapil sculptures, gazebos, and a koi pond. On Sundays, the adjacent parking lot near Corinthian Plaza transforms into a venue for the popular Legazpi Sunday Market, a good reason to drop by on a weekend.
If you’re more inclined to play games with your kids or have a picnic on the grass, the adjacent Legazpi Active Park may be your better option. This .75-hectare park located along Legazpi, Rada, and Salcedo Streets, has tiled walkways, paved jogging paths, a playground, drinking fountains, and clean washrooms.
Both parks are open from 6 am – 6 pm daily. No entrance fee.
Enjoy the Freedom of Parks & Green Spaces All over Again
While the pandemic isn’t over yet, it feels good to know that our parks and green spaces are still there to provide us with the freedom of being outdoors after being locked down several times over the past two years. It’s a privilege to enjoy whether you’re a resident of Metro Manila or a Pinoy working or staying overseas as flying home from say, Dubai to Manila, and heading back to our local parks and attractions can be just a few clicks away.
Yogi wanderer. Solitude searcher. Book worm and chill out music tripper.