I remember the All Saints’ Day nights in the 90s when we would turn off the lights, turn on the TV, and grab some snacks. The family would crowd around the television to watch Noli de Castro’s Magandang Gabi Bayan.
Kabayan’s MGB series that ran for nearly two decades famously told horror stories in the Philippines as its Halloween special. The visuals and the costumes may be occasionally hilarious and considered corny now, but it captured my imagination as a child. My brothers would scare each other to sleep and we would glance at the lighted candle by our gate, thinking of the spirits lurking outside.
Reminiscent of this Pinoy-flavored Halloween, I yearned to go beyond corporate Westernized costume parties of the new millennium. The Pinoy-flavored Halloween was composed of scorned lovers, depressed students, devout Catholics, and war victims; not to mention, the non-human creatures of Filipino folklore. The search led me to the Intramuros Ghost Walk, a Manila city tour which fused my love for history and travel.
Will I see ghosts at the Intramuros Ghost Walk?
Intramuros is the oldest district and at the heart of Manila. Its location near Pasig River and Manila Bay made it a strategic location for pre-colonial era traders. Intramuros literally translates into “within the walls”, the latter of which was built as a fortress to protect the Spanish seat of power from foreign invasion and natural disasters. Tragically, Intramuros was reduced to dust by Japanese and American bombings during World War II.
Before you let your imagination for the paranormal run wild, let me give you some fair warnings. It is best to suspend your disbelief! When you join the ghost tour, going around challenging every claim on the supernatural may be in futile. It’s best to keep your eyes and mind open. You can do your own research and fact-checking afterward.
Here are what to expect from the Intramuros Ghost Walk:
#1 It’s more of a historical tour. Give it up, you won’t be a Ghost Buster or Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the night. That’s not the point! The Intramuros Ghost Walk is meant to take you on a historical tour of Manila, with an inclination to tell paranormal sightings and activities. It’s not a guarantee that you can peer into the spiritual world, for that depends on your beliefs and abilities. But if you’re serious about ghosting, set your camera to burst and watch out for the following:
- Imprints – residual energy or memories resonating in a place, such as a typing keyboard or crying.
- Spirits – the dead still roaming our world probably due to confusion or unwillingness to move on.
- Elementals – non-human creatures you often hear in fairytales or folklore.
- Demons – malevolent entities causing chaos, thankfully not yet found in Intramuros!
#2 Photographs are hard to take. Because it’s a night tour, expect poor lighting throughout your trip. You will literally visit the nooks and crannies of Intramuros. This includes dungeons, bridges, ruins, and abandoned buildings that you never thought of going anywhere near to. Adjust your expectations and bring high-power cameras or flashlight. Better yet, sit back, relax, and just enjoy the tour.
#3 It’s gonna be a long walk! The three-hour Intramuros Ghost Walk is not a walk in the park. It can be tiring and lengthy, so prepare some food, water, and comfy clothing. You might also reconsider bringing older or younger members of the family who might end up tired and tantrum-prone in the duration of the tour.
Are you comfortable with no guarantees of seeing ghosts or taking spine-tingling photos? Do you think you can endure three hours of marching within the walls? Then, by all means, proceed with the Intramuros Ghost Walk!
Looking for Manila nightlife? Read this article!
Intramuros Ghost Walk: the stopovers
During the Intramuros Ghost Walk, I saw the city literally and figuratively in a different light than the Manila nightlife. As a self-confessed history nerd (and a daughter of a former history teacher), I have fallen in love with its cobblestone streets, old ruins, and guards dressed in period uniforms. The places only considered for #OOTD purposes came alive with vivid details of 1940s war stories.
We were introduced to Jade Martin, a tarot reader and psychic adviser affiliated with the Center for Paranormal Studies and Profilers of the Unknown. She started the Intramuros Ghost Walk only recently, and it turned out to be an instant success for city-dwellers and the media. Our group is composed of families, groups of friends, and yuppies. It was easy enough to blend in and enjoy the tour with a bunch of strangers.
Intramuros is a survivor not just of man-made wars, but also of earthquakes and fires. I wonder how it preserved its beauty, even though almost no original architecture remained. The luminous Manila Cathedral was beautified by corner lights, appearing as if it was a real European cathedral. The kalesa (horse-drawn carriage) clopping on the pavement was music to my ears. The streets were empty just around dinnertime, and the breeze coming from the Pasig River was chilly on the eve of November. Plus, it was Halloween. We were extra sensitive, or even a little hopeful, that we’ll be delightfully surprised.
Along the way, we had stop-overs where both history and horror stories were told.
Lyceum University of the Philippines. Like many Catholic schools, Lyceum tells its own horror stories within the school grounds. Although LPU opened post-war, a woman without limbs is said to have been found in the ladies’ restroom. Meanwhile, a ghost of a child was found roaming the corridors.
Juris Grill. Located near Colegio de San Juan de Letran is an empty food hub. It looks like a beautiful spot for restaurants, but now it has been abandoned and locked up. We peered into the darkness and saw broken chairs and trash. Jade said there were high poltergeist activities here, where the stressed energy of the living was reflected in the physical surrounding, making the area look messed up. She attributes this as one of the reasons why the area was vacated and no business could prosper.
Fort Santiago. Known as the national hero Jose Rizal’s detention place before being executed in Luneta, Fort Santiago is rumored to be the hiding place of the Yamashita treasure. It is also arguably where the death toll is highest during the war. A mass grave of hundreds of Filipino and American soldiers was built within the citadel. The victims died of suffocation, hunger, and suicide as they were imprisoned in the dungeons. Ghosts of American soldiers have been found on its grounds.
Aduana Building. The most haunted of all buildings is the sprawling ruins of the Intendencia, which formerly housed government facilities and resembled the Diplomat Hotel in Baguio. Jade dared us to peer into the shadows. Active portals, children running up and down the stairs, and the grim reaper have allegedly been spotted here. It also is said that Aduana Building still attract tragedy, making the streets surrounding it prone to accidents.
Pasig River. Formerly an indispensable element of Manila living, the river was known to be a transport route and a source of water. Sadly, it can no longer sustain life today. Jade claims that the river is now impossible to clean in more ways than one. Aside from its physical filth, the river silently witnessed the city’s grief and remorse in the aftermath of the war. Overwhelming human sorrow is said to be one of the reasons that killed the river.
Palacio del Gobernador. Do you want to go to South America? When the building was invaded by the Japanese, a guard designated to watch over the area allegedly found himself on the opposite side of the Pacific, in Mexico! Jade believes the portal story was a lie, a means to escape accountability on the part of the guard.
Cuartel de Sta. Lucia. The hollow ruins of the military quarters and artillery are called “break up” park. Many couples allegedly ended relationships here, so that paranormals can sometimes hear imprints of crying sounds. A ghost of a guard was also said to remain, being unable to move on from his earthly duties.
Suicide Tree in Arzobispo Street. In Arzobispo corner Sta. Clara street is a large tree whose shadows are the only things visible when you look up. It is believed that illusion of fairies and castles have been seen here. But it’s not only the dreamy creatures that can be found. A kapre and a ghost of a student who allegedly jumped to her death from the balcony above was believed to have been caught on camera.
San Agustin Church. The only surviving building after the World War is no less than a church. The oldest church in Manila became a concentration camp of the Japanese for prisoners and hostages. Rumor has it that it was spared from the bombings when an influential devotee pleaded to the Americans to leave it untouched.
Manila Cathedral. More beautiful at night, the cathedral is the final rest of many Catholic priests and nuns, most prominently, of Jaime Cardinal Sin. Not surprisingly, it is popular to see headless ghosts dressed in religious habits. There are also reports of strange offerings, such as a fetus found inside the basket of flowers and fruits commonly offered during the mass.
At the end of the tour, Jade thanked us for helping her advocacy to promote tourism in Intramuros. She also gave positive encouragements to adopt a positive outlook in life, since this was the primary reason why most spirits still walk our world!
I can honestly say that I liked the Intramuros Ghost Walk even though I don’t believe in ghosts. I wouldn’t mind bringing friends here or even going through the grueling three-hour tour again. It made me see Intramuros for what it was — a place that thrived, was struck by man-made tragedy, and is now rebuilding and moving forward.
Preparing for your Intramuros Ghost Walk
- How to commute to Intramuros. The meet-up place is for the Intramuros Ghost Walk is at McDonald’s near The Bayleaf Hotel located within the walls. If you’re coming from Quezon City and Manila, simply take a jeep, van, or FX headed for Vito Cruz, Lawton, or Buendia. If you’re coming from Pasay City, you can take a bus or jeep going to Lawton or Quiapo. Get down at Manila City Hall, the landmark of which is the clock tower. Take the underpass going to the golf course and enter the Intramuros gate. Straight ahead is McDonald’s.
- Call Time. Note that guests should be in McDonald’s by 5PM. The group leaves as 5:30PM because the Intramuros walls will be closed by 6PM.
- Fees. The tour fee is at PHP 250 per person. You are required to at least fill in 8 slots, which is not a problem usually for weekends and holidays. A part of the proceeds will go to Tribu ni Bro, a community initiative.
- Food. There are many fast food restaurants and convenience stores in Intramuros. Just be sure to eat a heavy meal prior to the tour because you won’t be able to stop for a full dinner.
- Best time to take the tour. The most important must-do is a weather check prior to your trip. Because it is a night tour, the sweltering tropical heat won’t be much of a problem. For the thrills, you might want to take the tour during the Halloween!
- What to bring. Some must-haves are bottled water, snacks, face towel, flashlight, and an umbrella in case it rains. Pack light!
- What to wear. Because it is a walking tour, it’s best to wear your comfiest clothes. Wear flip-flops, sandals, or rubber shoes for footwear, and breezy tops that you can afford to sweat through.
- Intramuros Ghost Walk contact number. Reach Jade Martin via the Intramuros Ghost Walk Facebook page or message (+63) 998-851-4516.