Manila’s massive North Cemetery takes up 130 acres. It is also home to upwards of 10,000 residents, who have chosen to live in the cemetery over their other option – the slums. For some, it is a safer and quieter choice to live here. After learning about the Manila North Cemetery I did a lot of research and, always keen to see all the parts of live in the places I travel, knew I had to see the place for myself. This New York Times article describes it better than I could and I highly recommend giving it a read.
The Manila North Cemetery is like its own city, with people living, working and carrying out their lives inside. Apparently the initial residents were caretakers, whom worked in the graveyard year round and slowly moved in. Eventually, others who were out of money and options started moving into their family crypts. Some people simply sleep outside, among the graves. People work in the cemetery, too, carrying coffins, doing masonry work, collecting scrap metal, cleaning crypts, painting and digging graves. Some people have even opened businesses – little sari sari shops and stalls selling flowers – in the mausoleums and open spaces.
The Manila North Cemetery is owned by the city, and there is not formal electricity or plumbing in any structured sense. But people run illegal power lines and bring in containers of water to support daily life here.
Like most places in Manila, it’s possible (and budget-friendly) to arrive here on your own by Jeepney. While I didn’t feel unsafe wandering around alone on foot, I was warned by a police man to be very careful. I did not see any other tourists – or many other people – around when I went. If you want to visit but don’t feel comfortable visiting alone, there is one company that offers tours and appears to do some good, too.
[Visited April 2019]