Where once traders came to Macau for its duty-free ports, now gamblers and vacationers come to try their luck at the many luxe gaming complexes that have appeared on the Cotai Strip from big names such as Wynn, MGM Grand and Sands.
Languages spoken in Macau
The most commonly spoken language in Macau is Cantonese, similar to the neighboring Guangdong province, but Mandarin has been gaining ground since Macau’s handover to China in 1999. Other Chinese dialects, like Hokkien, are also spoken.
The area’s other official language is Portuguese, a remnant of a time when European traders would frequent the local ports.
English is not as widely spoken here as it is in neighboring Hong Kong, but with an influx of international travelers in recent years, it has become more commonplace. You likely won’t be able to navigate beyond the Cotai Strip without a Cantonese or Portuguese phrase book — though government offices and news outlets all offer English options.
The best time to visit Macau
March and April can be good months to visit Macau. After the frenzy during the Chinese New Year, the city quiets down and the weather is moderate (by local standards).
During the following months, temperatures and humidity rise up to a point where air-conditioning deprivation is almost unbearable. August is perhaps the hardest month to walk around town — it’s the tail end of the summer monsoon season.
The heat and humidity get lower in September and milder temperatures remain until mid-November, when the Macau Grand Prix is held. From December to March it can get cold, but it’s nothing that a good coat won’t fix — and it’s always comfortable around the gaming tables.
What to pack for a trip to Macau
If you’re here solely for the Sin City-style gaming, pack as you would for a trip to Vegas: casino-chic clothing for the days and cocktail attire for the evenings.
But if you plan to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Sites found beyond the Cotai Strip (and you should) there are a few more essentials to grab. Since there are a lot of popular destinations in Macau that are within walking distance of one another, a backpack and a bottle of water might come in handy as well as some comfortable shoes. The usual camera and roomy luggage with which to bring souvenirs home with you should make your list, too.
Because of the tropical climate, the summer is quite humid, so airy clothes are a must. Shorts, tanks, tees, hats, sunglasses and sunscreen are all highly recommended for exploring the city.
Public transportation in Macau
Between an extensive public bus network that services the main tourist destinations and a bevy of casino shuttles, you’ll have no problem getting around Macau during your stay.
The complimentary casino shuttles are a great way to explore the Cotai Strip and the surrounding area, with stops at each of the resorts and also at the ferry terminals and border gates to mainland China and Hong Kong. The drawbacks are that they really only travel between hotels, operate less frequently than the public buses and during Chinese New Year, the crowded terminals can feel a bit like cattle markets.
Though you’ll have to pay to use the public buses, they are cheap, plentiful and efficient, covering most of the Macau peninsula, Taipa and Coloane. Be sure to grab a map before hopping on a bus — while the stops are announced in Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Portuguese and English, very few of the signs include an English translation.