With gourmet restaurants, dazzling entertainment ranging from Chinese acrobatic spectacles to Broadway-style extravaganzas, boutiques selling designer watches, jewelry and fashion, spas offering innovative European and Asian treatments, and kid-friendly waterparks and recreation areas, Macao attracts not only gamblers but romantic couples and families with children.
An added bonus is the Historic Centre of Macao, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with Baroque churches, incense-filled temples and stone fortresses. Food is another big draw. Along with Portuguese and Cantonese restaurants are eateries specializing in Macanese fusion cuisine melding Chinese, Indian, Malaysian and Portuguese accents. This past November, in recognition of its innovative multicultural cuisine, Macao was designated a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy.
GETTING TO MACAO
On the Pearl River Delta, about 40 miles west of Hong Kong, the City of Macao covers only 11.8 square miles, and is composed of the Macao peninsula and the southerly islands of Taipa and Coloane, all linked by three modern causeways. In Taipa, Macau International Airport (www.macau-airport.com) welcomes flights from Mainland China, Japan and other Asian destinations. Travelers to Macao often pair their stay with a visit to Hong Kong, only a 15-minute plane or helicopter flight away.
Ferries from Hong Kong to Macao take about an hour and are offered by several companies. A favorite is the Sands group’s sleek, high-speed Cotai Water Jet (www.cotaiwaterjet.com). Two Hong Kong ferry terminals serve Macao, which also has two ferry terminals.
The Macao Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal & Heliport is on the Macao peninsula, home to the Old City’s Historic Centre, the Macao Museum of Art (www.mam.gov.mo/e/index), and the ultramodern Macao Science Center (www.msc.org.mo) featuring an asymmetrical metal cone designed by I.M. Pei and the world’s highest-resolution 3D planetarium. The Taipa Ferry Terminal, beside the airport, is a five-minute drive from the resort-lined Cotai Strip. Free casino-hotel buses and inexpensive taxis await arriving visitors at airline and ferry terminals.
Plan to spend at least 3-5 days, or as long as a week, in Macao. Year-round temperatures are 50-77 degrees. Fall, October through December, brings sunshine and low humidity. Winter, January through March, is cooler. In summer, May through September, expect hot, humid weather and the occasional typhoon.
SANDS RESORTS ON THE COTAI STRIP
Macao has scores of hotels in every category. The peninsula, with about three-dozen hotels, boasts three five-star standouts. The 289-room Sands Macao (www.sandsmacao.com) is known for its spacious rooms and fabulous lobby chandelier. The 1,007-room Wynn Macau (www.wynnmacau.com) offers a free daily sound-and-light show featuring a Chinese dragon. The Mandarin Oriental (www.mandarinoriental.com), with 213 rooms in a sleek trapezoidal tower, is the epitome of elegance.
Macao’s newest and most extravagant hotels are on the Cotai Strip running between Taipa, site of the University of Macau and the Jockey Club, and Coloane, with its sandy beaches, and Giant Panda Pavilion (www.macaupanda.org.mo), home to Kai Kai, Xin Xin and their adorable cubs. Arrayed along the Cotai Strip are six Sands resorts. Linked by underground passages, they offer guests a range of dining, shopping and entertainment options.
Opened in September 2016, the Cotai Strip’s newest resort is the five-star Parisian Macao (www.parisianmacao.com) boasting a 1,062-foot-high model of the Eiffel Tower, and a columned lobby with a huge fountain recalling the Fontaine des Mers in Paris. There’s also a casino, 170 designer boutiques, a food court, a 1,200-seat Las Vegas-style theater, and 7 gourmet restaurants, including La Chine, a stylish French-Asian fusion restaurant inside the Eiffel Tower. Also on site: Le SPA’tique spa, a fitness center, an outdoor recreation area and a waterpark. The hotel’s 3,000 luxury rooms and suites include stylish Famille Rooms with kid-sized chairs, tables and bunk beds.
From The Parisian, it’s a short walk up the Strip to another five-star Sands resort, The Venetian (www.venetianmacao.com) with watery canals plied by authentic gondolas and 3,000 deluxe rooms. In the nearby Sands Plaza-offering six restaurants, including the Michelin two-starred Zi Yat Heen-is the elegant, 360-room Four Seasons Macao (www.fourseasons.com).
Across from The Parisian, in the Sands Cotai Center, home of the Cotai Centre Theatre, are four more deluxe Sands hotels: the intimate 400-room St. Regis Macao (www.stregismacao.com), the 4,001-room Sheraton Grand Macao (www.sheratongrandmacao.com), the city’s largest hotel, the 636-room Conrad Macao (www.sandscotaicentral.com) and the 1,224-room Holiday Inn Macao, Cotai Central (www.sandscotaicentral.com).
MACAO’S HISTORIC CENTRE
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, The Historic Centre of Macao (www.wh.mo/en), with 22 churches, temples, mansions and forts, stretches along the Inner Harbor on the Macao peninsula. From the Cotai Strip, the Old City is a five-minute drive north by taxi or city bus, or on a free casino-bus from the City of Dreams (www.cityofdreamsmacau.com) restaurant-and-hotel complex.
Start your explorations at central Senado Square with its wavelike black-and-white mosaic streets, pastel-colored buildings and fountain. Steps away is 16th-century St. Dominic’s Church whose yellow-and-white Baroque facade is adorned with columns and green shutters. Founded by three Dominican priests from Acapulco, Mexico, St. Dominic’s published Macao’s first Portuguese newspaper, The China Bee. In the church tower, the small Museum of Sacred Art houses 300 historic artifacts.
Follow the winding lane north to reach the hilltop Ruins of St. Paul’s, Macao’s most famous landmark. Known as the Acropolis of Macao, the 17th-century complex once included the Church of Mater Dei and St. Paul’s College. An 1835 fire destroyed all buildings, leaving behind only the broad stone staircase and the spectral, multi-columned church facade.
East are two 17th-century fortresses: trapezoidal Mount Fortress, with cannons and barracks, and Guia Fortress, with a 19th-century lighthouse and a fresco-adorned chapel established by the Sisters of St. Clare. North are another five landmarks, including St. Anthony’s Church, established in 1560 and one of Macao’s oldest houses of worship, and the Protestant Cemetery, final resting place of early notables like 18th-century British artist George Chinnery whose paintings depict the early China trade.
Walking through the Old City, you’re sure to build up an appetite. Fortunately, Macao is famous for its Chinese and Portuguese restaurants, its multicultural Macanese cuisine, and its array of international restaurants serving everything from Japanese food to dishes from exotic Mozambique.
Feast to your heart’s content. Then take a postprandial stroll south to another dozen landmarks. Be sure to stop at the ancient A-Ma Temple, Macao’s longest-surviving building. Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist pavilions honor the Chinese goddess of seafarers who brought the early Portuguese safely over the South China Sea to Macao and still brings visitors here nearly 500 years later.
Contact the Macao Government Tourist Office at www.macaotourism.gov.mo