The last several years have seen the continued transformation of Poblacion in Makati. From a dreary red-light district, it has morphed into a lively foodie, artistic and backpacking quarter in Makati. Although a lone strip where Go-go bars and a midget wrestling club remain, the surrounding streets are now filled with a scene of vibrantly textured neighborhood. It’s one brimming with local art, heritage, and imaginatively conceptualized restaurant, bars and cafes.
Based on my previous visits to Poblacion, I’ve learned to associate it with binging on food and drowning in drinks with friends. It has become a go-to place for me whenever I want to show-a-new-friend-to-the-city around (Poblacion Travel Guide soon!) Little did I know that I still must discover more about this fascinating neighborhood. Thanks to Meaningful Travels PH, I was given the chance to explore the other hidden gems of this district in Makati through the Poblacion Walking Tour.
What is Meaningful Travels PH? Poblacion Walking Tour?
Meaningful Travels PH is a travel company founded in 2015 by Ann Marie Cunanan. The credo of the company is to combine adventure and exploration with cultural immersion and giving back to local communities. In the era where traveling has become a mere checklist of places to see and take photographs, Meaningful Travels PH aims to re-introduce the true magnetism of traveling—which is the opportunity to learn more about a place.
After organizing trips to far-flung communities to places like Mountain Province, Abra and South Cotabao where the group also supported local schools by sharing school supplies, Meaningful Travels PH decided to touch base with local communities in Metro Manila. This time to introduce a new set of tours that will open the eyes of travelers to concealed charms in the city.
These are the Quiapo Muslim Town Immersion Tour, Marikina Discovery Tour, and the one I recently participated in, the Poblacion Walking Tour.
The Poblacion Walking Tour Itinerary
Plaza Casa Hacienda Park (1st Stop, Meeting Point 5PM)
Our tour started at Poblacion Park which was originally called Casa Hacienda Park. Situated across the Pasig River, this linear urban park traces its history back to the 18th century when the land was still owned by the Jesuits. During the pre-war days it became the site of a plantation house.
After World War II, the land was transformed into a park. Whilst retaining an old “bahay na bato” used to serve as an administrative building for the Jesuit’s hacienda in Makati. Today, the park features a children’s playground, an amphitheater, and stone benches. It also has gazeboes, solar lamp posts, and a mini boat terminal for passengers crossing the Pasig River to Mandaluyong. I loved that we went on the Poblacion Walking Tour around 5 and the sunset along the riverwalk was amazing!
A historical marker signifying the landing of Don Miguel de Legazpi—then Governor General of the Spanish East Indies—in Makati is displayed at the park. Ann narrated to us the origin of the name of Makati. She said that when Lopez de Legazpi visited a settlement in the banks of the Pasig River, he inquired about the name of the place. A local replied “Makati na, Kumakatina na”. Clearly misunderstanding De Legazpi’s question, the local was referring to the rising tide of the river.
See, I would never have known the history of this park nor stop to appreciate the history of this place. If it weren’t for this Poblacion Walking Tour—and yes, we just started. I was excited for what came in next!
Museo ng Makati (2nd Stop)
From the park, we crossed the street to Museo ng Makati. An early 20th century neo-classical building ornamented by a Capiz-shell window shutters. First built in 1918, it used to be the town hall of Makati from 1918 until 1961.
Today, the Museo ng Makati displays several historic pieces. Such as rare photographs, murals, dioramas and other artifacts showcasing the history of Makati. It also houses a gallery called the “Living Exhibit”.
It features the different unique regional artworks found all over the Philippines. As a self-confessed museum-junky, I am glad to learn about this place located in the bustling Poblacion district. We also chanced a wood carving workshop that time. And learnt that the museum does run similar workshops every now and then.
So the next time I show a friend around Poblacion, I will definitely include the Museo ng Makati in our pit stops.
Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral (3rd Stop)
While I’ve been aware of this church in Makati before, I never knew that the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral was one of the oldest churches in the Philippines, as Ann quickly pointed out to us.
Originally built by the Jesuits in 1620, the Church retains its beautiful Baroque-style architecture. Albeit the original facade was destroyed during the British attempt of invading Manila in 1762. Inside, the altar adorned with a Baroque Rococo-styled carved reredos is a sight to behold.
Just across the Church is the Plaza Cristo Rey—another historical location being the previous site of Pedro de Macati Cemetery. Melancholic in every sense of the word.
Pineapple Lab and Glorious Dias (4th Stop)
Our next stop on the Poblacion Walking Tour was the quirky experimental art space called Pineapple Lab located at R. Palma Street. Its sister establishment, the quirky vintage shop Glorious Dias is situated next door.
A brainchild of local designer Jordinand Aguillon, Pineapple Lab is an art gallery showcasing recent works of emerging local artists. Especially the ones who took up residence in the Poblacion neighborhood. I particularly loved the idea that the gallery itself transforms into a lounge bar at times. Even hosting a mini jazz festival recently. How cool is that?!?
Glorius Dias (named after our very own 1969 Miss Universe Gloria Diaz) meanwhile, is filled with vintage Filipiniana silk tops and barongs. Which I honestly found very interesting. Imagine having unique and iconic clothing pieces made in the 1950s all in pristine condition? A few ones creatively redesigned to match modern fashion while at the same time retaining a nostalgic appeal.
The whole space of Glorius Dias is every Tita’s—and even millennial fashionista’s—fashion heaven. Racks and racks of vintage dresses made from silks and pineapple strands are displayed.
There’s also a corner for old books, vintage accessories, and au naturale beauty goods. We then watched in amazement as the store owner herself was working on the do of a customer that time. Sweet spot!
Agimat Foraging Bar & Kitchen (5th Stop)
As nighttime sips in and the collective vibe around Poblacion turns notches into party-mode, we started venturing into the inner area of the neighborhood. We dropped by this unique bar priding itself with serving its guests with a touch of the peculiar—or what they call as “rituals”.
In essence, the place is inspired by the Filipino folklore of the “agimat” or an “amulet“. Believed to be used by the elders to ward off evil spirits and summon mythical magic, Agimat brings this folklore to life. Particularly through the way they serve their drinks and food.
Before serving our group with a cocktail drink called “Ritual ng Agimat” the waiters performed a ritual dance to the delight of the guests. It was thrilling, exciting, enchanting; to say the least. Other quirky names on the menu includes “Anting anting ni Malvar”, “Agimat ng Sawi”, “Gayuma ng Paraiso” and more. They also serve Filipino Tapas, Beef Pares and a variety of Filipino dishes with a twist.
The Annex House (6th Stop)
On our way to our dinner to wrap up our half-day tour, we passed by and went inside the Annex House. It is an old heritage home transformed to a bar that hosts DJ sets every night. Located next door, is another old house known as the Ruins. It is also a bar that doubles as a creative and art space where artist regularly display their works and host creative talks.
Cosmic Vegan Restaurant (7th Stop)
The next stop of our Poblacion Walking Tour treated us to a quick snack. Tucked in a busy corner on top of Ministop was a heatlhy food joint called Cosmic Vegan Restaurant.
While I do not see myself converting to a vegan diet anytime soon, I am always being “vegan conscious” and am definitely open to having vegan meals regularly. Cosmic is the perfect place to introduce this concept to friends and to take vegan friends to eat. Take my word for it, you will get a nod of approval for recommending this place.
Unfortunately, they were scheduled to close early that night so we were able to taste only two of their bestsellers, the Crunchy Bagnet and Isaw. How do I describe the taste? Savory meatless! The texture and strands looked and felt like real pork. Save for the mushroom smell, the bagnet even had a ‘pork fat’ trimming on the sides. The Isaw, on the other hand, was a guiltless pleasure to the lips!
Julyan’s Coffee Spot (8th Stop)
I’ve been to several cafes in Poblacion before, so I was initially not excited when Ann told us that we are dropping by at new café for dinner. But I figured something unique might be in this coffee shop for Meaningful Travels PH to include it in its Poblacion Walking Tour itinerary.
Already anticipating something exceptional, Julyan’s Coffee Spot still exceeded my expectation. For one: Julyan’s Coffee Spot is a green sanctuary that doubles as an art space featuring works of artists with autism. Second, the cafe employs people with hearing loss as baristas. In ordering your choice of coffee, you must motion a sign language. Hand signals representing each type of coffee are displayed on the counter. Or you can always just write down your order(s) on the whiteboard provided by the counter.
Good coffee check Homey interior check. Autism and PWD awareness double check. This coffee shop has it all. If you’re lucky, you might chance upon the owner Rachel Harrison (like we did) who is very generous with her time and is always eager in sharing more about her advocacy of championing people with autism and disability.
For dinner, Ms. Rachel whipped up a hearty meal for us consisting of Fried Vegetable Rice, Cabbage Stirfry, and Sausages. Capped the night off mingling with other participants of the Poblacion Walking Tour. While I slipped on the creamy, pearl-abundant Matcha Milktea (Php 155.00?) I’ve ordered at this sweet spot!
Meaningful Travels Ph is a social enterprise specializing in organizing cultural and community immersions trip all over the Philippines. Aside from the Poblacion Discovery Tours, they also have a Marikina and Quiapo Muslim Town and Culture Tour. They also organize longer tours to Batanes, Batad, Lake Sebu, Isulan, Songco, Bukidnon and more.
Special thanks to Aleah of Solitary Wanderer for lending us some photos for the last few stops of the tour. 🙂
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