Macau was a territory of Portugal until 1999 when it was returned to China, two years after its neighbor across the Pearl River estuary, Hong Kong, was similarly returned by the British. One of the world’s most densely populated areas, the Portuguese influence can be seen in the streets and buildings of the older parts of town, in the cuisine, in the language on the signs and even on the money. Macau’s biggest claim to fame, however, is as the world’s gambling capital, with around three times the revenue of Las Vegas and the largest casino on earth in the Venetian Macao Resort Hotel on the Cotai Strip.
Best Time to Go
Summers in Macau are hot and humid, but not as bad as many parts of China. Winters are quite mild. Autumn and spring are the most comfortable seasons, but the humidity usually begins to increase toward the end of March. Mid-summer to early autumn is the main season for typhoons.
Getting to Macau
Macau International Airport lies just off the shore of Taipa Island. Taxis are the easiest way to get into town and will cost about MAC $40-50, plus a $5 airport surcharge, a $2 bridge fee and a $3 fee per bag.
I generally try to avoid taxis, in which case the public bus is the only remaining option. Bus AP1 will take you to the ferry terminal for MAC $4.20 plus $3 per bag. From there, you can connect to buses going anywhere else in Macau
The only other ways to get into Macau are by ferry from mainland China or Hong Kong or overland from Zhuhai in China. Buses connect the ferry terminals and the land borders to downtown Macau.
The Macau Peninsula is small, so you can get around most places on foot. Public buses go pretty much everywhere and are quite cheap. They don’t have English signs, but they do have Portuguese, which makes deciphering place names a lot easier than Chinese alone would be. You can also get free rides to a lot of places by taking advantage of the free shuttle buses offered by the casinos.
Macau does not have many options in the budget range and pretty much all of those options are geared toward the red-light industry. None are nice. I spent one night in Macau then just switched to staying in Hong Kong. If you want to look for budget places, head downtown and walk around a bit. The Rua da Felicidade and its vicinity are a good start. If you prefer to have a room lined up in advance, the Holiday Hotel is a bit better than most other places. You’re still much better off staying in Hong Kong, though.
The Macau page on Agoda is a good place to start your search and you can use the excellent accommodation map to help you scout out some locations before arriving, even if you don’t want to book ahead.
Eating & Drinking
Despite being the world’s gambling capital, Macau’s nightlife is still pretty pathetic. The city is starting to get a few of the standard pretentious mega clubs, like Club Cubic, but apart from those you’ll just find a few bad bars. For now, the best places to have a drink are in a restaurant or a casino.
More than Hong Kong even, the cheap food in Macau is terrible. If you pay for it though, you can get some pretty good food with the local fusion of Portuguese and Chinese cuisines.
Macau is safe, but do watch out for petty thieves and pickpockets in crowded areas. If a mainland Chinese tourists talk to you claiming to have lost their wallet and asking for money, get rid of them. It’s a well-known scam.
Things to Do
- UNESCO World Heritage Site: A large section of Macau containing 25 locations or buildings of cultural and historic significance has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site; these sites can easily be visited on foot and are well worth checking out; in fact, this whole area of Macau is a great place to walk around and do some sightseeing
- Macau Tower: both times I was in Macau, a typhoon hit, so I never went up the tower, but apparently the views of Macau are pretty good; AJ Hackett’s company offers adventure activities including a 233m bungee jump they claim is the world’s highest—whether that’s true or not, I’m pretty sure it’s the world’s most expensive at $319
- Gambling: Macau has no shortage of casinos willing to take your money
- Beaches: Macau has two beaches on the south side of Coloane Island: Hac Sa and Cheoc Van; the second is by far the nicer one
- Hiking and Cycling: the large hilly area at the center of Coloane Island is crisscrossed with hiking trails that are also good for mountain biking
Money Saving Tips
- do not take a taxi from the airport; take the public bus instead
- if you’re not in town to gamble, there’s little else to do but sight-see; once you’re done with that, I’d leave; you’re much better off spending the night in Hong Kong