Macau, a former Portuguese colony, is situated within proximity to other popular destinations in China like Hong Kong and Guangzhou. The territory of Macau occupies a small peninsula and the islands of Taipa and Côloane. It is located on the western side of the Pearl River Delta, 37 miles (64 kilometers) to the southwest of Hong Kong and 90 miles (145 kilometers) from Guangzhou.
A bridge connects the Macau peninsula to Taipa Island, which itself is connected to the island of Côloane via a long causeway extending over 1.3 miles (2.2 km). This stretch is the famed ‘Cotai Strip’ which draws inspiration from its sibling in Las Vegas, and is similarly renowned throughout the world for its many outrageously grand casino hotels, magnets for high-rollers and tourists from far and wide.
Present-day Macau, like Hong Kong, is administered as a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. Prior to its handover to China in 1999, Macau was a colony belonging to the Portuguese. The Portuguese colonized Macau in the early 16th century. They soon established it as a major trading post for the smooth movement of goods between ports in China, Japan, India and the European continent. Macau was the first and the last European colony in China, and it passed back into Chinese control on 20th December 1999. As in the case of Hong Kong, a Sino-Portuguese Joint declaration and the framing of the Basic Law of Macau featured as part of the handover process. Both these documents confer much autonomy on Macau for up to fifty years after the handover.
Owing to its proximity to Hong Kong, most visitors to Hong Kong do pencil in a quick trip to Macau as well. Macau is easily accessible by air, land (bus services) and sea (super-fast ferries) from Hong Kong. Passengers whose sole aim is to visit Macau can in fact, fly into Hong Kong and bypass Hong Kong immigration and customs as they carry on to Macau. The Hong Kong International airport has within its folds a Macau ferry terminal (SkyPier) which offers transport services to overseas transit passengers carrying on to Macau. Passengers whose trips start off from Hong Kong are unable to use this conduit to Macau as it is only for overseas arrivals.
In addition, Macau is connected by air links to various overseas and regional destinations as several airlines serve the Macau International Airport. Helicopter services connect Macau to Hong Kong and Shenzhen.
Like neighboring Hong Kong, Macau has a climate pattern which is described as subtropical, featuring hot, humid summers (May to October) and cool, mild winters (December to March). Again, like Hong Kong Macau also has a wet season characterized by typhoons and thunderstorms. This season usually extends from July to September.
Must-see sights and experiences in Macau
Macau, exudes a distinct old-world charm especially within its historic epicenter. A locale, which plays host as many as twenty-five heritage attractions in the form of several colonial-era buildings, ruins and quaint cobble-stone and mosaic-tiled streets. These old-world sights are a sharp contrast to the territory’s modern grandiose sights, namely the opulent casino hotels.
The Ruins of St Paul’s Church
The Ruins of St Paul’s Church refer to the outer shell of what was once the Church of Mater Dei. The church that dates back to the 16th century was the most important church in Asia at that time. It stood adjacent to St Paul’s College. Both the church and the college were Jesuit institutions, destroyed by a devastating fire in 1835. The outdoor facade of the church is all what remains of this institution today, and it is often referred to as Macau’s ‘acropolis.' The Ruins of St Paul’s Church was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.
The Guia Fortress and Lighthouse
Atop Guia hill, the highest peak in Macau stands another UNESCO World Heritage site in the form of the Guia fortress. A fortification built during the 16th century to protect Macau from the Dutch invasion of 1622. The fortress used to house army barracks and arms and ammunition stores along with a chapel, established by Clarist nuns who resided on the site. The Guia chapel which is intact until today features an image of the Virgin Mary along with recently discovered frescoes that display Chinese and western influences. Also of importance is the Guia lighthouse, of 1865 vintage and the oldest lighthouse in China. Visitors can gain access this historic and fascinating site via the Guia cable car system.
The Largo do Senado
The Senado square or the Square of the Senate lies in the heart of Macau. The square is typical of European plazas for it is a mosaic-tiled central square encircled by imposing colonial era structures. Many of these structures host restaurants and bakeries’ selling a variety of well-known Macanese treats like egg tarts and almond cookies.
Macau Maritime Museum
Macau’s Maritime Museum stands on the very spot where the Portuguese first arrived way back in the 16th century. The museum building has the form of a sailboat and was built so as to emphasize the importance of the sea for the Macanese. The permanent exhibits of the museum are all marine-based. These presentations offer insights into the lives of Macau’s fishermen, the species of marine creatures that inhabit the seas around Macau and the role the sea played in shaping the culture and the ethnic makeup of Macau.
The A-Ma Temple
The A-Ma temple situated half-way up Barra Hill predates the establishment of Macau city. The moniker, Macau was, in fact, derived from the Chinese ‘A-Ma-Gau’ which translates as ‘Bay of A-Ma.' The temple as in the style of most Chinese temples consists of various sections. These include the Gate Pavilion, the Prayer Hall (dedicated to Tin Hau, the goddess of the sea and benefactor of fishermen), the Memorial Arch, the Hall of Benevolence, the Hall of Guanyin and the Zhengjiao Chanlin (a Buddhist pavilion). Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, all have representation at the temple as do several folk beliefs.
The Macau Museum
Housed within Macau’s Monte Fortress, the Macau Museum recounts the history of Macau via its exhibits. The arrival of the Portuguese, the influence of the Jesuit missionaries, the mingling of the European colonists and the local Macanese population are all displayed via paintings, sculptures, photographs and more.
Aside from sight-seeing, Macau offers a wide array of recreational pursuits. The many large casino hotels of the Cotai strip offer numerous shopping, dining and entertainment options at their many top-notch restaurants and luxe stores. They also provide a platform for spectacular shows like the ‘House of Dancing Water’ along with performances by much loved entertainers like Rihaana, Justin Bieber and many more.
Also on offer are adventures like bungee-jumping from atop the 338 meter (1,109 feet) high Macau tower. The tower also hosts an observation deck at the height of 233 meters (764 feet) above the ground. This deck apart from affording stunning views of the Macau city-scape also hosts restaurant, shops, theaters and the Skywalk X attraction which invites daredevils to take a tour of the outer periphery of the tower high above the ground.
Another must-do in Macau is the sampling of its native cuisine. Like most other former Portuguese colonies, Macanese cuisine also features an amalgamation of local and European flavors. This indigenous fare is best sampled via native Macanese treats like Portuguese egg tarts (at Lord Stow’s on Coloane Island), Almond cookies and sweet pork jerky (available at various bakeries all over Macau) and black garlic chocolate and ice cream (from McPherson’s sweet shop).
Also, recommended is typical Portuguese food like bacalao (salted cod,) and Portuguese seafood rice on offer at well-known traditional Portuguese restaurants like Fernando’s, Restaurant Albergue 1601, O Santos, and Miramar amongst others.