Beyond Casinos: Alternative Activities to Pursue in Macao
Besides being the gambling capital of the orient, Macao has got so much more to offer in terms of history, culture, and cuisine.
Macao is more than just a collection of luxurious hotels and casino resorts, having been a melting pot of Chinese and Portuguese cultures for close to half a millennium. Ancient Portuguese churches and forts alongside Chinese temples are dwarfed by modern megaresort casinos that tower over the city. This eclectic mix of east and west offers visitors a unique experience that is not solely focused on gambling.
Brief History of Macao
Macao was founded by Chinese refugees fleeing from Mongol invasions during the Qin dynasty. Portuguese merchants arrived in the 16th century and set up a trading port with the permission of China, who in turn taxed the Portuguese for this privilege.
Eventually, China ceded Macao to Portugal, after which it remained a Portuguese colony for over 400 years. During the final decade of the 20th century, Britain returned Hong Kong to China, and shortly after that, Portugal handed back Macao. Both cities are now special administrative regions of China, each with a considerable degree of autonomy.
East Meets West
Macao’s historic centre is a testament to centuries of harmonious coexistence between Portuguese and Chinese cultures. Its unique Portuguese colonial architecture, Chinese temples, squares, and gardens made Macao a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.
The historic city centre is divided into two zones located on the Macao peninsula. In addition to more than 20 landmark locations on the peninsula, there are many other places to experience the amalgamation of the two cultures.
Chinese Culture in Macao
One of the oldest Chinese monuments in Macao is the A-Ma Temple, built in 1488. The temple is devoted to the Chinese sea-goddess Mazu. The lavish temple complex is nestled in lush greenery on a hill that overlooks Barra Square.
A stroll through the historic quarters of Macao is like a trip through time. There are way too many historical structures to mention in this article alone, but you can easily zigzag from the 15th century to the present day just by walking around the centre.
The best spot to experience the melting pot of Chinese and Portuguese cultures is Taipa Village, a charming quarter of Macao with crayon colonial buildings adorned with Chinese writing, murals, and decorations. In the village, you can savour the fusion of Chinese and Portuguese cuisine, from the traditional Portuguese egg tart, or pastel de nata, to uniquely Macanese dishes, such as dried meats and local favourite crab porridge.
Macao’s Portuguese Heritage
Trade flourished during the Portuguese colonial period in Macao and left its legacy in the form of the city’s beautiful architecture. Senado Square, with its flowing mosaic cobblestones, boasts the best colonial architecture in town. The square is lined with beautiful edifices from the 16th – 18th centuries, as well as a plethora of shops and cafes.
A visit to Macao isn’t complete without hiking a few hills. Guia Fortress is located on the uppermost point of Macao, Guia Hill. The site features a fortress, lighthouse, and chapel, all built between 1622 and 1865. The lighthouse served as a beacon for sailors, while the fortress was used as a defence bastion during the colonial wars between the Netherlands and Portugal.
Back in town, one of the most visited sites in Macao is the ruins of St Paul’s church. All that remains of the 1640 minster is its stone portico, which has been restored and reinforced after centuries of neglect.
For those seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, the Coloane Walking Trail is just the thing. This eight-kilometre nature trail circles the hills of Coloane at the height of approximately 100 metres. Along the trail, you will come across Chinese temples, spring water fountains, and giant panda pavilions. You can start the trip at any point along the circuit, but a great end to the walk is at the Hac Sa Beach, famous for its black sand.
Alternatively, those brave enough can climb the highest building in Macao, the 338-meter Macau Tower. There, attached to a stretch cord, you can jolt down the world’s highest bungee jump from a building.