Macau, otherwise known as the “Las Vegas of China”, is located about an hour west of Hong Kong. It is semi-bordered by China on its North and West sides. The Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China is made up of the Macau Peninsula, and the islands of Taipa, Coloane, and Cotai. Each location provides its own flare & favorite things to do and see with the Macau Peninsula being the most popular with tourists.
Macau was a colony of Portugal before it was returned to China in 1999. The Portuguese influence can be seen heavily via Portuguese tiles, architecture, food, and language found throughout Macau. As Macau slowly transitions back to Chinese reign the mixture of Chinese and Portuguese effects have created a new blend with each holding its unique characteristics.
Lots of people visit Macau solely for the gambling and shopping, which there are loads of lavish places to indulge. We, however, are neither gamblers nor big shoppers. We stopped over to see and learn about the history of this UNESCO appointed World Heritage site.
Macau is quite small, so we thought we would not have an issue covering the historic area in 1 day. We saw the majority of the historic center and have no complaints about what we saw, but we left wishing we had experienced more. In hindsight, we would recommend scheduling 2-3 days for Macau with at least one day for each the peninsula, Taipa & Coloane.
Things to Know Before Arriving
How to Get There
From Hong Kong, your options are a ferry or helicopter.
We are budget travelers and therefore took the ferry to the Macau Ferry station, which is the closest port to the historic center. The ferry takes about 90 minutes and leaves about every 15 to 30 minutes from either Shun Tak in Kowloon or Hong Kong Island. We took Turbojet from Shun Tak & would recommend their service. Check their website for current prices, which usually start out at around HK$134. Ferries do enforce luggage fees. Be sure to read their luggage regulations and plan accordingly.
Macau International Airport (MFM) located on the island of Taipa is serviced by over 30 different airlines.
How to Get Around
The two main modes of transportation are the bus or a taxi/Uber.
Free Map – Macau’s Government Tourist Office provides an excellent history and information map of 30 different sites to visit. The map booklet is free and is obtained at the tourist desk located near the exit at the port.
From the Ferry – We took the bus and found it simple, comfortable & cheap. From the Macau Ferry Station (after you’ve picked up your free map from the tourist desk) head out the front doors and take a right. The bus stop is easy to locate just outside the terminal. Bus numbers are found in the bus front window and easy to read. The back of the free map lists destinations by bus # making it simple to figure out where you want to go and which bus to take.
Prices are listed by the pickup location. Exact change is needed because drivers are unable to provide change. To verify prices, we asked the tourist desk to write a few prices on the back of our map. Most locations within the historic center will be under MOP$5. Free buses are available to major casinos and hotels. Exit the terminal and turn left look for your desired casino or hotel name on the bus. I am not sure if you need to confirm a reservation to board either of the casino or hotel shuttles.
*Taxi/Uber prices vary depending on pick up and drop off points.
What to Bring
- Passport – Macau is it’s own territory and requires each visitor to be processed through their immigration.
- Comfortable shoes – the historical area is large and some uneven stone steps and walkways.
- Camera and extra batteries – the plan is to be there all day.
- Sunscreen and a hat – lots of shady places & indoor venues but in between locations the sun is hot.
- Cash – ATMs are available but make sure to let your bank know you will be visiting Macau.
- Insect Repellent – I did not have a huge issue with mosquito bites, but I did walk away with a few.
*Check the weather during the rainy season. Best to bring an umbrella just in case.
Visas – Depending on your country of residence you may require a visa into Macau. What most people will need to double check is your re-entry into your departing/origin country from Macau. If you are making a day trip from China, and you are not a Chinese citizen, you need to make sure you have a multiple entry visa for China. If you only have a single entry visa for China, you will need to reapply for reentry.
Money – Patacas (MOP) is Macau’s currency, and the symbol is MOP$. ATMs are available at the port locations and around the city. Quite a few Macau vendors will accept Hong Kong dollars (HK$), but keep in mind Hong Kong vendors will not take MOP. The smaller vendors accept cash only with most medium to large restaurants and shops accepting credit cards.
Communication – Cantonese & Portuguese are the main Macau languages. English speakers can be found around the touristy historic center and most hotels. SIM cards are available for purchase at entry points, 7-11’s and some hotel locations. Most Hong Kong SIM cards will work in Macau, but roaming or additional fees will apply. Best to use free Wi-Fi locations or purchase a local SIM card.
WiFiGo is a government supported free wi-fi program mostly located in the historic area of Macau. Both the username and password are wifigo. The program exists but doesn’t always seem to work properly. We were not able to log in during our visit, but I have read others have used the service without issue.
Weather – Peak Season is October to December and March to April with pleasant temperatures and little to no rain. Off Season is May to October being hot, humid and wet. Average high temperatures around 31°C and January to February being the coldest months with average temperatures of 10°C.
Tipping – I found tipping to be a bit confusing in Macau. We used the guidelines below, but be that as it may, none of it is set in stone. Most restaurants include a 10% service charge with the bill. However, I was told at two different restaurants that the money is not necessarily passed on to the waiter. Tips are not expected but if you would like to leave 5-10% give the money directly to the person(s) who served you. Taxi fares can be rounded up and the difference used as a tip. If the driver (or hotel staff member) moves heavy luggage consider tipping MOP$5-10 per bag.
It is a criminal offense to tip government employees, government paid tour guides, and hostel staff. If you have negotiated a set price for a private tour an additional tip is not needed unless you feel the guide has gone above and beyond what was requested.
While in Macau
As soon as we departed the ferry, we grabbed our Macau World Heritage Map, jumped on the 10A bus and headed to A-Ma Temple. Our goal was to visit as many of the 30 listed heritage sites as possible. In one day we were able to see 27 of the 30 and some additional sites in between.
The Macau World Heritage Map was an invaluable tool for us as we made our way to the historic center. The map provides location address, hours and a short description of each site. Each site is numbered and designated by a number on a city map of Macau. Making it almost foolproof not to get lost or miss one of the places.
What We Did
Here are a few of our favorite places from our day in Macau.
A-Ma Temple – The oldest surviving building in Macau, was built in 1488. The temple is beautiful and provides some insights into the local Buddhist traditions. It is adjacent to the Barra Square, which is decorated with a beautiful water flow pattern of charcoal & ochre tiles. About a 30-minute visit.
Moorish Barracks – Built by an Italian architect, Cassuto, in 1874 the building has a very Islamic look. Originally built to house the Goa, India regiment it is now used by the Marine and Water Bureau. We spent 5-10 minutes here, the building was not open to tour.
“Leal Senado” Building – The highlight for us was the 1st-floor library. The room is stunning (we admit you may have to like libraries and/or architecture to get on board). We spent about 20 minutes scanning the book spines for texts from as early as the 17th century. Photos are not permitted in the library.
Senado Square – Located just outside the “Leal Senado” Building this is the area most photographed and seen in photos of Macau. It has a festive Mediterranean feel and is lined with yellow buildings. Lots of shops, restaurants, and cafés are located on and around Senado Square.
Lou Kau Mansion – Probably our biggest welcomed surprise. The outside of the building is as plain and boring as one could ever imagine, but don’t let that fool you. We almost passed it up because there wasn’t a sign or anything of note to let us know what it was. Luckily, two visitors exited and we confirmed it was the Lou Kau Mansion.
Once we passed through the front door, we were in awe of the transformation. The tour is limited to the ground floor only and will take anywhere from 10-30 minutes depending on your interest. The mansion was built in 1889 and was the residence of a wealthy Chinese businessman. The handful of rooms on display are gorgeous and worth the visit.
St. Dominic’s Square and Church – There are a few different churches to visit, but St. Dominic’s proved to be our favorite. The church sits at the end of St. Dominic’s Square which is designed in waves of black and crème tiles. The church was built in 1587 and was the first church built in China. We spent about 30 minutes inside and out of St. Dominic’s.
Ruins of St. Paul’s – Easily the most visited location in Macau. The remains of what was once the Church of Mater Dei built in 1602-1640. Originally part of St. Paul’s College the church and school were burned in a fire in 1835. About a 10-15 minute visit unless you have to wait for lots of tourists to stop taking selfies to enjoy.
Mount Fortress – Go for the view. From the fort, you can see out over the city in all directions. The Macau Museum and the Gardens are located in the fortress. We moved so quickly through both I could not tell you what I saw. We spent 20 minutes checking out the view from different areas of the fortress walls.
Camões Square & Casa Garden – This is where you will find the best local people watching. We enjoyed walking around the square and gardens because there were lots of locals out exercising and playing games. It was fun to see some non-tourists and the large tile mosaic walkways were beautiful. Take a rest and hang out for at least 30 minutes. Also, this is a good place to end your day and catch the bus back to the ferry terminal.
Diverge from the main streets & spend some time wandering the neighborhoods. We spent a good few hours walking around the neighborhoods and catching glimpses of local life. The apartments looked almost as compact as they do in Hong Kong.
What We Ate
You can find any food you want in Macau, but we recommend choosing the places with the Portuguese or Chinese style menus. We didn’t find any one place that we felt was extra special, but we did feel certain foods deserve a shout out.
Portuguese Egg Tart – An absolute must-eat! It’s a sweet little egg custard pie with a caramelized top of deliciousness.
Pork Chop Bun – It’s exactly what it is called. I didn’t have one that completely wowed me, but I can see how if you find the right place how they would.
Almond Cookies – I am a sucker for a Chinese almond cookie!
Jerky – By the Ruins of St. Paul’s you can find vendor after vendor selling jerky. Try a few samples before settling on the one you want to buy.
Portuguese Rice – The common plate served with seafood, but because Matt doesn’t eat seafood he had pork. Tasty.
3.5 out of 5 Travelationship High Fives. I think if we had spent more time visiting outside the historic district we would have rated it higher. For the traveler who likes – adventure, romance, relaxation, partier, historical, bucket lister, food, architecture