Most people know Macau for its gambling, but the city is far more than just its famous casinos. Macau itself is divided into 3 main areas; the peninsula which includes the historic old town, and the adjacent islands of Taipa and comparatively quiet Coloane to the south, with the new Cotai strip, sandwiched between the two.
Scattered across these are over 500 years of Portuguese architectural, linguistic and culinary heritage, blended seamlessly with the local Chinese traditions, forming the foundation of the city’s unique Macanese culture.
Nestled among all that is a surprising number of quiet green spaces, interspersed with uber-modern skyscrapers designed by famous architects like Zaha Hadid, giving Macau a great diversity of urban landscapes.
Macau’s historic old town is composed mainly of narrow cobblestone roads, steep hills, and a complex warren of streets. The churches, temples, barracks, lighthouses, and fortresses, all close enough in proximity to explore on foot.
The old town is at its best in the mornings (tourist-free before 8 am), especially around the colourful lanes of St. Lazarus (the arts district) and through the nearby Lou Lim Ieoc Garden with its rock gardens and lotus pond. It’s not far from the iconic ruins of St. Paul’s and the Guia Fortress at the top of the hill with its expansive city views.
The best way to take it in is to make your own way down towards Senado Square and stop by the bright yellow St. Dominic’s Church before heading towards Rua da Felicidade and its row of shophouses with conspicuous red doors and windows.
Evenings are ideal for an unset run along the Nam Van Lake, a favourite spot for local runners, with the best view of many Macau’s famous casinos like the Lisboa and Wynn. The Jardim Dr Carlos d’Assumpcao, a tree-lined pedestrian avenue stretching from the harbour to the heart of downtown, is great for a stroll. For thrills, head to Macau Tower for bungee jumping (highest commercial jump ion the world) or the slower SkyJump, both from 233m high.
Connected to Macau via numerous bridges, Taipa is very much a tale of two cities as it’s home to both the bustling Cotai Strip with its collection of high-end casinos and resorts, as well as the quaint Taipa village with its traditional shophouses that line the narrow labyrinthine streets. Sample some of Macau’s popular foods, from crab porridge to Portuguese serradura, at the famous Rua do Cunha.
Taipa still boasts swaths of green including the Grand Taipa trail (4km), which makes a circuit of Grand Taipa Natural Park, and crosses the summit of the island’s highest point, Taipa Grande (159m) with views across all of Macao.
You can also cycle along the seafront at the Leisure Area of Taipa Waterfront, with its wide, flat cycling tracks lined with shady trees, offering fantastic views across the water to the Macau Peninsula. Taipa Village is also a good place to explore, where you can get lost in the warren of tiny streets. Drop by the small Pak Tai Temple, and follow the road to the Taipa Houses Museum with its 5 green houses in the style of Portuguese architecture set alongside a lotus-filled mangrove swamp.
Further south, hilly Coloane boasts relatively untouched tracts of forest crisscrossed by a number of peaceful hiking trails.
The main ‘town’ is a tiny Coloane Village – home to Macao’s famous Lord Stow’s Portuguese egg tarts – which still retains its fishing heritage. Most locals come to Coloane to enjoy the beaches and BBQ areas. You can walk or cycle around this village, exploring the bright yellow Chapel of St Francis Xavier and the colourful tin stilted houses along the coast.
For a bit of a workout, cycle the main road out of town – and up the hill – towards Hac Sa Beach, situated at the tip of the island.
Hac Sa Long Chao Kok Trail
Starting within easy walking distance of Hac Sa Beach, the scenic 2km Long Chao Kok trail runs along Coloane’s remote southern coast, winding its way through a boulder-strewn landscape past windswept prehistoric rock formations.
The scenic rocky trail hugs the curving coastline of Cheoc Van Bay, bringing you to Cheoc Van Beach (one of Macao’s 2 main beaches), before winding uphill over a series of sandstone formations with views across to Mainland China.
Hac Sa Reservoir Trail
Situated in the hills overlooking Hac Sa Beach, the quaint 2.6km trail wraps around the reservoir, winding around the small lake through forested areas and across suspension bridge. There’s a BBQ area with paddle boats for rent during weekends. The trailhead can be reached by the public transport (Bus $15) or on foot from nearby Cheoc Van Beach, or via the connecting altinho de Ka Ho trail (1.5km).
The Coloane Trail is Macao’s longest hiking trail (8.1km), crisscrossing the central part of the island and branching off to numerous paths, including to the A-Ma Cultural Village, home to the world’s tallest A-Ma (Tin Hau) statue sitting atop Macao’s tallest hill, Alto de Coloane (172m).
Divided into 3 ring-routes, the trail itself covers a surprisingly wide range of terrain, including sections of the Seac Min Pun trail, an ancient path through Coloane’s backcountry. Connecting Coloane and Hac Sa villages prior to the first paved roads on the island in the 1960s, it passes the island’s main natural spring, as well as various bird and butterfly habitats, with other routes branching off to Cheoc Van and Hac Sa beaches, as well as the Hac Sa Reservoir trail.
There are direct daily flights to Macao via Tigerair, with a flight time around 3.5 hours. For more on Macao, visit en.macaotourism.gov.mo
Macao International Marathon
Held annually since 1981, Macao International Marathon was the first international marathon in the region, and today it’s the longest running, with last year’s event attracting over 7,000 runners from 40 countries.
The full course takes in most of the major sights, starting from the Macao Olympic Complex Stadium, taking runners through both Taipa and Coloane, as well as Macao city proper. The course is fairly flat (except for the bridge portions) with a scenic out back loop. The Macao Marathon – with 42km / 21km / 6.5km distances – happens on December 4 this year. Visit www.macaumarathon.com for more.