Many people dismiss Manila as nothing more than a 12 million person-strong entry point to more interesting rural destinations in the Philippines. And while the less built-up areas of the country do offer much to the adventurous traveler, those who stop to smell the incense and pollution find that the capital city has a few hidden treasures of its own. Manila is a modern-looking place (a result of virtual destruction during WWII), but the sprawling city boasts its fair share of colonial ruins - enough to keep those historically inclined amused for a while, anyway.

If you're looking for a good time, Manila could be just the ticket: bars and entertainment venues will keep you well fed, well greased and in the party mood for months on end. There is a high-profile tacky downside to the flashing neon, but there are plenty of options open to you even if you don't want nude dancers on your table. If you make it back to your room at night after all the fun and frolics, you're likely to perform an exhausted manila-folder flop.

Manila, like most of the world's large cities, suffers from a huge and problematic urban sprawl. Typically, urban sprawl also creates nightmares for travelers, although the main points of interest to visitors are centralized, making suburban navigation unnecessary. Manila sprawls east from Manila Bay along the Pasig River, and immediately south of the river is Intramuros, the old walled Spanish town where many of the city's historical sites are found. Further south again and you'll find yourself in the 'tourist belt' of the Malate and Ermita districts, where you'll find restaurants, accommodation and travel agencies.

Arriving in Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport is about as far as you'll ever get from a streamlined process. Poor signage, crowds and an illogical layout all contribute to the chaos, but if you're confused, you won't be alone. Once you finally make your way to the street, things begin to look up. The airport, only about 8km (5mi) south of the center of Manila, is well served by buses and taxis, and there is a metro rail station about 2km (1.2mi) away.

With maximum temperatures hovering above 30C (86F), Manila isn't the place to go to cool off. There are two seasons: the dry season lasts from December to May; the rest of the year is sodden with heavy rain. From June to November you might find yourself in a typhoon. The best time to visit Manila and surrounds is February to April.