“Complain less, travel more.” This is my mantra for 2015.
I realized how I had spent a great deal of most of last year planning for trips and not going through with them because of one reason or another – something came up at work, something came up at home, I couldn’t get anyone to take care of the dog, etc. and by the end of the year, out of the five amazing trips I had penciled into my organizer for 2014, only one of them actually pushed through!
So, I say, enough with the complaining, the excuses, and the procrastinating! If you’ve been like me last year, then get on it and start planning your amazing Philippine adventure! To get started, here are a few suggestions of where to go and what to do if you have a few long weekends in the year you want to fill up with activities:
1. Plan a Tagaytay Getaway.
Start small with a weekend trip out of the city. Book an overnight stay at one of the nice hotels like the Taal Vista Hotel, Hotel Dominique, or Lazea Tagaytay Inn and start your day at Breakfast at Antonio’s before checking in. Learn about the country’s rich coffee culture.
Another good reason to take the 2-hour drive up to Tagaytay is to get away from it all and detox physically, mentally, or spiritually. To unburden the body, book a detox or one of the other holistic services package at Nurture Wellness Village, or take a mental and spiritual retreat at the Brahma Kumaris Retreat Center. If you’re not interested in spending the whole week there, you may want to opt for their one-day workshops instead.
On the way home, stop by Mahogany market for the local delicacy, tawilis, or stop by one of the highway stalls (there are quite a few) and get yourself a few ripe pineapples, fresh buko juice (bring your own jug to make things easier), suman sa lihiya, a big jar of honey, and maybe a bouquet of fresh flowers to spruce up the home.
2. Take a Tour of Manila.
If you plan on discovering Manila, what’s a better way to do it than with the animated Carlos Celdran and his Walk This Way tours of the old city of Intramuros. On the other side of town, tour guide, Ivan Mandy’s Old Manila Walks, reigns supreme when it comes to knowing the ins and outs of the oldest Chinatown in the world – make sure you get in on The Big Binondo Food Wok and Mounds, Magnates, and Mausoleums tours on a weekday, as its usually very hard to book him on a weekend. If you’re looking for something extra special, Jeepney Tours can do all of the above while you sit in the comfort of an air-conditioned jeepney that comes complete with a videoke machine!
3. Eat Your Way Through Pampanga.
Pampanga is the food capital of the Philippines, and many a talented chef has come out of those parts. It is such a foodie city, five different friends have told me that all they do when they pay their hometown a visit is eat, drink, sleep, repeat. Somebody is always feeding you something, and it’s so good you can’t help but polish the whole thing off and look for more.
When I think of Pampanga, I think of sisig, and you can get some of the most authentic stuff at Aling Lucing’s and Mila’s. Another cholesterol-raising favorite to tuck into when in the city is lechón pugón at Lapid’s Bakery in Guagua. Pork in its most divine form, Mario Lapid bakes the slabs of porcine inside an old brick oven for four hours using ipil wood, to help give the meat a smokey flavor. Don’t forget to take home lots of chicharon (pork crackling), súman bulagtâ (glutinous rice cakes cooked with coconut milk and sugar), and lóngganísang Guagua (a small, sweet pork sausage) while you’re there!
When in Pampanga, one might as well pay homage to one of the best chefs in the Philippines, Chef Claude Tayag. But if you really aren’t one for the balls-to-the-wall Bale Dutung experience, you can always pay a visit to their laid-back Downtown 1956 Café, a throwback to the good ol’ days complete with a jukebox machine and interesting dishes like the Pato-tim, Crisp Pan de Bagnet, Bringhe, Tibok-tibok, their special Halo-Halo with crema de pastillas instead of milk, and a very sweet Ice Lolly – a fruit salad on a stick!
If you’re feeling rather adventurous, the food at Everybody’s Café will make your trip up there interesting, with dishes like Pindang Damulag (carabao tocino), kamarú (fried crickets) and bétúte (frog stuffed with minced meat). For chocoholics, their Tsokolate Batirol is something not to be missed out on, done the old school way with a stone grinder.
For those with a sweet tooth, head to Carreon’s Sweets for a pick me up, with their heart-stopping plantanillas, a lethal and exciting combination of egg yolks formed as crepes and wrapped around pastillas gatas damulag (carabao milk pastilles). Pre-order your Classic Ensaimadas from Homemade Treasures, Cakes & Pastries before heading back home, and make sure you hit up the Puregold Duty Free in Clark before passing by Ocampo-Lansang’s Delicacies for boxes of sansrival, uraro, and turones de casuy.
4. Immerse in Indigenous Culture at Banaue-Sagada-Baguio.
When heading up north, put in a few extra days to pay Banaue and Sagada a visit before heading to Baguio, the summer capital of the Philippines. Here’s a rundown of how to get there and what to do:
Manila – Banaue: Since there’s no direct bus line to Banaue, you’re better off catching the Banaue-bound bus at the Ohayami Bus Terminal (Php 405) at the corner of Fajardo Street and Lacson Avenue in Sampaloc, Manila. They stop over at a gas station in San Miguel, Bulacan, and Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya. From Banaue, take a tricycle from the terminal to the town proper (Php 30).
Spend a few hours in Banaue or stay the night in an Ifugao Hut (around Php 200/person). While you’re there, bask in the beauty of the Batad Rice Terraces and Bangaan Rice Terraces, which have been declared as World Heritage Sites; head to Banaue Viewpoint to take pictures of the rice terraces and pose with the elderly Igorots in tribal attire; check out the Museum of Cordillera Sculpture; trek to Tappiyah Falls in Batad village or Chapah Waterfalls in Bocos village; oh, and while you’re at it, try to ride Igorot wooden bikes!
Banaue – Sagada: From Banaue, catch a jeepney or bus to Bontoc (Php 150), which will take you approximately three hours before stopping near the Bontoc Municipal Hall. From there, Sagada is just a jeepney ride (Php 45) away. Feeling adventurous? Ride the roof of the jeep to better take in the view and the sea of fog that trails from Bontoc and Bayyo.
There is also the Residential Lodge, a three-storey building with complimentary WiFi, a common area per floor, and with very affordable room rates – around Php 250/person a night for a room with common t&b, around Php 300/person a night for a room with private t&b.
What to do? Go spelunking in Sumaguing, Lumiang, or the Crystal Caves; take a tour of Echo Valley, the underground River, Bokong Falls, the hanging cemetery, and Calvary Hills; trek to Bomod-ok Falls and Pongas Falls or take it a step further and trek Mt. Ampacao; wait for the sunset at Kiltepan Viewpoint; check out Blue Soil Hill; try white-water rafting in the Chico River; visit Sagada’s Pottery and Ganduyan Museum; and make sure to stop by Sadaga weaving and other local shops to take home some amazing handmade products.
Sagada – Baguio: From Sagada, catch the Lizardo Trans Bus (Php 220), with the bus station located near the church, which will probably take around five to six hours, as they pick up other passengers along their route, and you get off at the Dangwa Bus Terminal in Baguio.
Check in at Casa Vallejo, an old colonial building turned rustic b&b; give the majestic The Manor at Camp John Hay a go, or indulge in the newer (not to mention romantic) Le Monet Hotel whilst you explore the city.
Gawk at the PMA Heritage sight; journey to Bell Church, which is more like a Buddhist temple than actual “church”; admire the work of Ben Cabrera, a national artist, at the BenCab Museum; explore Session Road – the heart and soul of Baguio; experience local life at Baguio’s City Market; have your portrait sketched at the Tam-awan Village; stock up on Benguet coffee; get a game of golf in; return to Burnham Park at night to see it transformed; pick strawberries; and take home ethnic-patterned fabric from Easter Weaving (around Php 400/meter).
Baguio – Manila: The ride home is probably the easiest – get yourself to the Victory Liner bus terminal (they run 24/7 and leave every hour) which is a walking distance from SM City Baguio and you can get off at Cubao or Pasay. The bus fare is around Php 450.
5. Surf’s Up in La Union and Baler.
This is definitely the year that i get to tick “learn to surf” off of my to-do list!
Make a weekend of it and join Elaine Abonal and her group at Surfista Travels, where you can all learn to brave the waves together! The Php 5,700 fee is inclusive of round trip private transfers from Manila to La Union and back again, private instruction and two lessons with San Juan Surf School, a Surfing 101 lecture sponsored by Hurley Philippines, surfing equipment and rashguard rentals, overnight accommodation at the San Juan Surf Resort (and breakfast!), transportation within San Juan to local restaurants, a certificate of attendance to say you rocked it, some cool products from sponsors, and a Surfista shirt (and stickers!) to keep you excited ’til your next surf trip!
If you’re already in La Union and plan on staying a few more days (you may have come from a Vigan-Laoag-Pagudpud trip), hit up the La Union Surf School for a lesson or two to get you surfing like a pro. If you’re staying as a group, the surf and stay rates at the San Juan Surf School may be better suited to you.
If you’d rather head over to Baler to learn to ride the waves, get on a Genesis bus, sleep through the six-hour bus ride and hit up Aliya Surf Camp refreshed and ready to learn!
6. Island Living in Caramoan.
A favorite location for international versions of reality TV show, Survivor, it’s easy to see why people would voluntarily want to be stranded in this beautiful part of Camarines Sur. #IslandLife
You may be in the middle of nowhere, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be luxurious. Book a few night’s stay at the beautiful Tugawe Cove Resort or Gota Village Resort, or if you’re lucky, and they aren’t booked through for a reality TV show, give the more affordable West Peninsula Villas a try.
In order for one to sufficiently be lost in paradise, go island-hopping around Matukad, Hunongan, Lahus, and Gota Beach or talk to a boatman to include the islands like Cotivas Island, Sabitang Laya, and the Manlawi Sandbar; explore the various caves around Caramoan like the limestone covered Omang Cave, Manipis Cave (rumored to be the hiding place of General Yamashita’s treasure), Culapnit Cave (a literal bat cave), or cool down in the underground stream of Bulang Bulang Cave in Taisan; go rock climbing at Matukad island; hike the 524 steps up to the 26-foot Shrine of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary; get a bite to eat at the floating resto-bar in Paniman Beach; visit the Parish Church of St. Michael the Archangel; trek to Hugsad and Layahan Waterfalls; and lastly, digitally detox and camp on one of the secluded beaches – definitely no WiFi signal there!
7. Take Part in the Religious
Living in a country where superstition, history, and religion are so intertwined, you almost can’t tell which is which. Some of the religious festivals we celebrate here are nuts – in a good way! I have been so scared of going to one for fear of getting trampled on by a crowd of frenzied Catholics, that I have totally missed out on the actual beauty the festivities like these provide. There’s the Feast of the Black Nazarene (Viva Señor!) where Quiapo is at a standstill, filled with crowds holding out towels and handkerchiefs, trying to get at the giant statue in the hopes that if their prayers do come true it would be worth all the elbowing to the head; the traumatizing Ang Pagtaltal sa Guimaras, where devotees re-enact the Passion of Christ (scourging included) as they trek to the “Balaan Bukid” or Holy Mountain for the (literal) nailing on the cross; and the happier Pahiyas Festival that’s held in Quezon, where houses are usually decorated with kipping, fruits and rice stalks – the farmers way of offer their thanksgiving to San Isidro Labrador for a bountiful harvest.
8. Shred It Up in Nuvali and CamSur.
The Philippines has former Governor of Bicol, Lray Villafuerte, to thank for this! Wakeboarding wasn’t even a thing here until he put up the CamSur Watersports Complex, and today sports tourism is alive and well with some of the best wakeparks in Asia being in the Philippines. Learn your wake basics at the Republ1c Wakepark in Nuvali, Laguna – an hour’s ride from Metro Manila – and once you’re confident enough to ride with the big boys, head on over to CWC in Bicol to show off.
9. Take a Pilgrimage to the Mystical Mt. Banahaw.
I am definitely not a mountaineer, but since I’ve promised myself to try something new, a pilgrimage to the Philippines’ sacred mountain feels like a challenge fit for any intuitive looking to learn more about themselves.
The Filipino Mystical Culture as we know today traces its roots to Mt. Banahaw. The revered mountain spans the borders of Laguna and Quezon attracting thousands of devotees every year during the Holy Week. It is during this time that they camp at the base of the mountain, perform their rituals to recharge their spirituality, test their skills and to mingle with other mystics. Hey, Filipino Mystics have social lives, too!
The traditional way of learning Philippine Mysticism is undergoing the rigors of mental and spiritual cleansing, sensitivity and training. Every special spot, called a “station”, has its challenges and purpose, accompanied by prayers to elevate the devotee’s state of spirituality. Go through stations with names like Presentahan, Husgado, Kumpisalan. Look for one of the mountain’s special springs of “blessed water” that is said to be an effective cure for illnesses and a charm against bad spirits. I have a friend who did her pilgrimage, taking pictures along the way, and when she uploaded them on her laptop, found that she had also taken pictures of elementals like gnomes as well!
Another reason why this particular mountain intrigues me are the group of Rizalistas that stay at the foot of the mountain who they consider Dr. Jose Rizal – the Philippine’s national hero – as their God. They worship and praise him as some sort of an idol with a small chapel for him in Mount Banahaw.
10. Get a Diving License in Puerto Galera.
I took a Discover Scuba Diving course last year in Puerto Galera and I loved the rush that I got from discovering life under the waves! This year I plan on getting licensed to dive, and the first step is taking the Open Water Diving course (starts at Php 14,500). Puerto Galera is popular with divers since there are over 30 dive spots surrounding the islands, and because of that, there are also an abundance of dive shops.
If you want to treat yourself to a really good certification experience, Marco Vincent Dive Center at White Beach has some of the nicest facilities, equipment, and boats for you to use while working on getting your c-card.
11. Swim with Whale Sharks in Oslob, Cebu.
If there’s one item on this list that I’m really excited for, it’s swimming with the gentle giants at Tan-awan, Oslob in Cebu!
Check into one of Cebu’s many beautiful hotels, like the Radisson Blu Hotel, Crimson Resort and Spa, and Mövenpick Hotel Mactan Island. From Cebu City, take the South Bus Terminal and hop on an Oslob-bound bus (Php 15o) and ask to be dropped off at Bgy. Tan-awan, which is conveniently along the highway. Get there early (and on a weekday for less of a crowd), as visibility is best between 7am to 9am with whale shark interactions going on until 12:30pm every day. Oh, and if you do plan on snorkeling alongside the big beauties, please refrain from slathering on sunblock, as it is poisonous to whales harks – yet another reason to go early.
There are a couple of packages available once you get there (rates start at Php 500 for locals and Php 1,500 for foreign nationals), and because I’m not the one to want to sit on a boat and stare at them over the side of the deck, the plan is to either snorkel next to them or get a diving package to swim around them (I’ve heard there aren’t any decent dive shops there though, so the latter is questionable). How awesome would that be?!
12. Fall In Love with (or in!) Palawan.
If you want to fall in love, take that special someone to Palawan and let the island do the rest. Puerto Princesa is picturesque, with tranquil beaches, beautiful (read: Instagram-friendly) landscapes, and the most relaxing vacation you can ever treat someone to. At the end of it all, even if sparks don’t fly, at the very least you will always have fond memories of the little island.
Hit up Puerto Princesa before heading out to El Nido (and hopefully Coron!). While you’re at PP, it would be wise to take a tour of the city (starts at Php 600/person), which is something that most hotels offer, giving you a quick look at the major attractions in the little city like the Puerto Princesa Cathedral, Butterfly Garden, Crocodile Farm, Iwahig Penal Colony Farm, and Irawan Eco Park; paddle your way down the Underground River, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site (around Php 1,500/person); go spelunking at Ugong Rock (around Php 200/person); island hop in a paraw; go snorkeling at Pambato Reef; book a day trip to Dos Palmas Island Resort (around Php 1,500/person); go dolphin watching (around Php 900/person); and hopefully by that time I have my diver’s c-card by then to go diving at Tubattaha.
I am pretty excited to make my Philippine travel resolutions for 2015 come true, and if you’re planning out a couple of trips around the country for later months, I hope this helps to serve as a guide. Where else in the Philippines do you plan on traveling to this year?