I love Divisoria, Manila’s popular commercial center for bargain goods. It’s true what they say that you’ll find almost everything you need there for the lowest price. I go there several times a year, for both business and personal shopping.
If you’re a foreign tourist curious about this place despite all the stories you’ve heard—the good, the bad, and the ugly—I commend you. Gone are the days when it was too dangerous for foreigners to visit Divi. The people there are actually used to seeing tourists, bloggers with their cameras, and reporters working on their next lifestyle beat. With the right mindset and by heeding these tips, you will survive Divisoria unscathed.
1. Dress down.
Best attire for Divi is comfy clothes. Wear slippers or sneakers that can handle a day of walking. You will find yourself in tight crowds, muddy streets, and narrow alleys. During peak season, it’s a war zone. For your basic possessions, bring an anti-theft bag or sling bag with a zipper enclosing. Keep your bag in front of you—not on your back or side.
2. Bring a Filipino friend.
Even when dressed down, if you look like a foreigner and don’t speak the native language fluently, then you will stick out like a sore thumb. I often get mistaken for a foreigner, but as soon as I converse in Tagalog street slang, the haggling becomes fair. Bring a local to help you negotiate, navigate, and figure out the overwhelming choices of items. If you can’t bring a Filipino friend, at least bring a map.
3. Don’t park on the street.
If you’ll bring a car, it’s best to park in the official parking spaces of Tutuban, 168 Mall, Lucky Chinatown, and 999 Shopping Mall. Just park in one mall, and then walk everywhere. Street parking is a huge risk for theft, getting your car scratched, and getting towed. Divi is also accessible to public transportation like taxis, jeepneys, and tricycles, but expect bumper-to-bumper traffic.
4. Prepare a game plan.
There are plenty of malls and a myriad of streets to explore, and it’s impossible to see everything in one whole day. Believe me, I’ve tried. Pick 2-3 spots to focus on. Here’s a list to help you get started:
I suggest starting outside in the street markets, and then when you’re tired and hot, head to the air-conditioned malls. It’s okay to want to skip the street markets and just shop inside the malls.
5. Choose the right time to go.
In the Philippines, Christmas season starts in September, which means the –ber months are both the worst and best times to go to Divi. It’s when a bigger selection of items arrive, but it’s also when it’s extremely crowded. I once went to Divi alone on December 23, two days before Christmas. It was a war zone! I’d never do that again. Best time to go is at 9 a.m. during weekdays, just when the stalls are about to open. Worst time to go is afternoons on weekends and the month of December.
6. Bring loose change.
Leave your credit cards, fancy wallet, and other valuables in the hotel’s safety deposit box. I usually bring a small zipper pouch with only my driver’s license, loose bills, and coins inside. While there are ATMs around Divi, it’s safer to already have loose change with you.
7. Prepare to rough it.
You will get elbowed, stepped on, and nudged as you trudge the streets and indoor shops. Expect people to be in a constant hurry. Watch out for vehicles and motorcycles passing through the street markets, as you may get bumped. You will get approached by peddlers and beggars. Be polite but firm when saying no. There are cops and security guards in key points around Divi, just in case you need help.
8. Be alert and street smart.
Keep your bag closed and clutched in front of you. Don’t keep anything in your back pockets. Be wary of pushy and unscrupulous vendors, professional beggars, and thieves. One common modus (not just in Divi) is when multiple street kids, beggars, or peddlers surround you to overwhelm you so and easily pick your bags or pockets. When this starts to happen, clutch your bag tightly, say no, and quickly walk away.
9. Haggle well.
The first price they give you isn’t always final price. Always ask for a discount. Everything is cheaper by the half-dozen. For example, an iPhone stand that starts at ₱140 can go down to ₱120 if you’re buying just one or two. If you get six or more, it can go down to ₱80-100 each. If you’re buying it in 100s (as wedding giveaways, company giveaways, to resell, or whatnot), it can go down to ₱60-70 each. Scout other stalls and compare prices before buying. Don’t buy something you want at the first stall you see. Walk away if you’re not happy with the price.
10. It’s okay to bring a mobile phone and camera.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s actually okay to bring your mobile phone and camera. Just avoid brandishing them in the middle of a busy street or when the crowd is tight. Me, I whip out my phone discreetly to text or take photos while on the side of the street. When making phone calls, I do it in a wide space inside the air-conditioned malls. For extra protection, get a mobile phone stent (which you can purchase everywhere in Divi for around ₱50 or 1 USD) to make it harder for thieves to snatch your phone from your hand.
11. Eat and drink with caution.
Hydrate well before shopping. It’s okay to buy bottled water, fresh fruits (unpeeled), and veggies (they’re such a steal in Divi compared to supermarkets), but when it comes to cooked meals and street food, I wouldn’t touch that unless you have a strong stomach.
12. Bring an extra large eco bag.
Stuff all the items you’ll purchase in a big eco bag, otherwise you’ll lug several small plastic bags. If you don’t have an eco bag, they sell large sack bags there for around ₱100 each.
13. Buy at your own risk.
While everything is ridiculously cheap, many items are also unsafe. Fake luxury goods could get you flagged in the customs or immigration area of your home airport. Many toys, accessories, and other knickknacks in Divi have high lead content. Unbranded packed candies and snacks are not cleared by the FDA. As for fake makeup, don’t even try! Read my Cosmopolitan report about the dangers of buying fake makeup here.
Share your Divisoria shopping tips and stories in the comments section below.
The wet and wild Divisoria we once knew has undergone a major cleanup! Read more about it on Spot.ph.