2021 went off tangent with all my travel plans for that year. As much as I would like to pack my bags and get back to getting lost somewhere in the Philippines, I opted to be more cautious because of the pandemic. Travel plans were more localized for me while some were harping on their Boracay or Siargao escapes. I was either out re-discovering Manila and Baguio or exploring the country sides of Laguna and the waters of Quezon.
Although my travels were limited last year, the excitement that it gave me remained the same. Exploring nearby off-beat destinations gave me the same thrill and feel like pre-pandemic times. To cap of 2021, let me share with you my top 3 destinations for that year.
Cavinti Underground River and Cave System
This underground river and cave system in Laguna tops my travel list in 2021. This relatively new destination has 100 caves and 36 of these mapped out by locals. It was classified as a Class 2 Cave by the DENR, allowing the locals to conduct tourism activities in the area.
The cave is an amazing work of art by nature. The rock formations are magnificent and reminded me of my spelunking adventure in Sagada minus, of course, the anxiety of tripping into a dark whole leading to God-knows-where. The cave system was easy to navigate and explore. Each chamber had a different character giving its guests different kind of excitement as you traverse through the cave. I really loved the chamber with its skylight because it gave a mystical vibe at the right time when sunlight streams into the overhead opening.
The cave system has a collection of amazing rock formations that will amaze you.
The Cavinti Underground River and Cave System is a destination that would be a hit among day trip travelers in Laguna. It is not surprising that the LGU are taking the lead in making it more accessible. It is a rustic and beautiful destination that is exciting and gives you a different kind of Laguna vibe.
Check out my travel blog on the Cavinti Underground River and Cave System here.
Another amazing destination in Laguna is the heritage town of Pila. This laidback town is a popular destination of history enthusiasts because it is one of the few Philippine towns where heritage houses were well-preserved by its owners. It is a live and walkable museum that gives you a glimpse of its glorious and beautiful past.
Established in 1578, the town of Pila has maintained its original town design where religion, politics, and commerce converge at the town center. A sprawling open field/park serves as the town’s centerpiece where one could sit down, relax, and watch the town’s daily run. The whole town has a collection of well-preserved heritage houses from the Spanish and American period. I enjoyed walking around and exploring streets of Pila searching for these houses. The town center alone was a sight to see with some of these houses around the town plaza.
I enjoyed strolling around Pila and imagining the beauty of its modest past.
Walking around the town was an exhilarating experience for me. It was like walking back to past and imagining the modest lifestyle of the locals. Pila was one of my travel goals for 2021 and it was an amazing feeling to finally be able to finally see these houses up close and personal. You can check out my Pila travel blog here.
The pandemic has limited most of our movements and traveling was a bit more challenging with varying restrictions and requirements. I took the opportunity to continue on with my #ExploreManila! project at this time. I went around some the districts of the city of Manila and it was interesting how much quirks and history the metro holds.
I guess the old charm of the walled city of Intramuros never fails to amaze me. Exploring the inside of the walls is nostalgic with its rich history, spanning from the pre-Spanish period to the Liberation of Manila to the present. While most of its heritage structures were re-constructed, it will give you that sneak peek to the glorious past of Intramuros and the Philippines - the celebrations, the destruction, and the re-birth. It is a worthwhile destination that allows you to relax and chill while learning more about our glorious and colorful past.
Intramuros is a repository of the country's rich history and you get to walk through the stories.
Just like Pila, the Walled City of Intramuros is a destination that would give me the thrill. It is a destination that I would not mind checking out every now and then for its rich history. There is always something to discover in Intramuros. Just like its existence, Intramuros is a timeless destination.
Check out my Intramuros blogs here: North Wall and South Wall.
I am coming in to 2022 with a more courageous and determined will and heart. I seriously think that, the earlier we accept the reality that COVID19 is here to stay, the earlier we can adjust to the changes that we need to do. This would also mean that we take out the fear, start adjusting to the situation, and start moving forward.
I am looking forward to traveling more this year and here are some of the destinations that I intend to explore this year:
This landlocked province has been on my travel list for quite sometime already. Its rustic and rugged appeal has long piqued my interest that it always finds its way to my annual travel list. The province seems to have a lot of natural wonders that gives off that Jurassic Park kind of vibe.
I don’t know but Sorsogon gives me that impression that I should explore it DIY-Camping style. The idea of backpacking through Sorsogon is exciting me that I have made the initial plans for it. Swimming with the whale sharks in their natural environment is going to be a big plus.
This part of Visayas remains untouched for me and I think that it is about time that I explore the region. Tacloban is on my radar this year to see the San Juanico Bridge. If there is one area that sound off with resilience… this is the place to explore.
4. Zamboanga Sibugay
Zamboanga Sibugay is the province that I would need to explore to complete the Zamboanga Peninsula. Mindanao is one destination that holds a lot of wonders that will keep you amaze and in awe. It would also be nice to see and feel the rich culture of our Muslim brothers and sisters.
5. Malolos, Bulacan
Another destination that is full of history and heritage, Malolos is finally coming through this year. My love and appreciation for Philippine history has always had me gravitating towards this old Bulacan town. I am excited to walk its streets and play a find-me-game of its own collection of heritage/ancestral houses.
I am excited to finally start working again on my #GOT81Philippines project. It has been two years since I had to temporarily slow it down because of the pandemic. This is going to be a great year of exploring and finding my way around again. If you can’t find me, I probably got myself lost on one of the islands of the Philippines.
A socmed post about an underground cave in Laguna piqued my interest. Located along the foothills of the Sierra Madre, the cave system was still in the early phases of development so going there on a solo DIY trip was a bit of a challenge. So, when an organizer squeezed in a trip to explore this underground wonder, it was hard not to pack my bag for a quick day trip to Cavinti in Laguna.
Cavinti is one of the municipalities in Laguna that lie along the Sierra Madre mountain range. It is one of the popular weekend destinations in the province owing to the two man-made lakes of Caliraya and Lumot, and the Cavinti Falls or, more popularly known as, Pagsanjan Falls. But today we are taking on a different kind of Laguna and explore what beauty lies underneath. Welcome to the Cavinti Underground River and Cave System.
On The Dirt Roads of Cavinti
Exploring the Cavinti Underground River and Caves starts with an orientation with Kuya Jimsy where we are given a brief of this cave system. The underground cave system were discovered in May 2011. It consists of 100 caves with 7 entrances. 36 of these caves were already mapped and was already classified as a class 2 cave by the DENR, allowing the LGU to conduct tourism activities.
One can either choose to hike to the caves or to hop on a 4x4 to navigate through the muddy road leading to the jump-off point. The area is now being developed by the local government as a tourism site and they have cut through to build a road directly to the site. Presently, one needs to trek 3 kilometers of rough and muddy road to get to the jump-off point. Our group opted to walk the way. I mean an adventure like this one is not complete without getting all muddied and dirty, right?
The jump-off point of the cave complex sits along a river side. They have a makeshift shed where you can take a rest before you proceed to explore the cave. The rustic views here are very relaxing and refreshing especially after walking and sliding on the muddied trails. The cold water running over my feet was a relief after the first round of hiking.
Sa Loob Ng Yungib
It was another 15 minutes of river crossing and trekking through forest covers, from the jump-off point, to get to the mouth of the cave. The opening was inconspicuous and you wouldn’t even think that it leads to something naturally beautiful. Bamboo walkways above the water were installed at the entrance for easy access of guests. Be forewarned though that you will be crossing waist high waters at the end of the wood path so make sure to waterproof your stuff.
The chamber at the entrance will amaze you for its beautiful stalactite formations. The whole ceiling is covered with stalactites of different sizes. One of our companions brought a red lamp with her and it gave us a more dramatic vibe with our shots.
The caves of Cavinti reminds me of Sagada’s Cave Connection minus the nerve-wracking cliffs and traversing rock edges. A cabbage-shaped rock formation had similarities with that of Sagada’s. The only difference is that it is safer to traverse the cave system of Cavinti.
Cave Chambers, A Fountain, and a Waterfall
As you move deeper into this side of the cave, you will be captivated by the size and breadth of the chambers. A hundred people can easily fit to party into one of its chambers. The great thing about exploring the cave system is that the local tourism office manages the load of guests coming in. Guests stream in by batches to avoid crowding in any of its chambers.
As you walk deeper into the chamber, you will be treated with beautiful stalactite and stalagmite formations. You would also notice that minerals and crystals shimmering when light strikes the surfaces of the rock walls. A rock formation called “pawikan” is shaped like a turtle when viewed at a certain angle. The most prominent feature on this side is the “Fountain of Youth” - a stalactite and stalagmite formation with water dripping down from above flowing down to the cave floor.
The other side of the cave complex has three major features. The most popular is the cavern with an opening on the ceiling. The opening allows light to stream in giving the chamber an ethereal vibe. It is probably the most photographed spot because with the right streaming of light gives you a beautiful and magical capture.
The Cathedral is another amazing feature of this cave system. It is another chamber that has a rock shelf creating an image similar to a church retablo. The stalagmites formations atop the church stand as images of saints of the altar. Adjacent to the “altar” is a small opening leading to a smaller chamber where one can find an underground waterfall. The spring water that cascades on the rocks is safe to drink and offers a relaxing shower after all the cave exploration.
The Cavinti Underground River and Cave System is an attraction that can parallel other cave attractions in the country. Its beauty is a product of thousand of years of nature handcrafting this beauty and it was great to see that the community is taking a lot of effort. to preserve its natural beauty. Ironically, the cave system was said to be discovered by illegal loggers. It is great to see the opportunity that this new attraction will bring to the locals of Cavinti.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Laguna has always been a laid-back province to me where one can enjoy a quick weekend or day trip. I always associate the province to green fields, ancestral houses, and lined coconut trees that give you that hacienda vibe. Its rustic side usually covers hikes along its hillside to explore its majestic falls or taking a dip in its still lake waters. It is a perfect destination to relax and calm your mind and body. Little did I know that a different kind of Laguna exists in the rugged side of Cavinti with its underground river and cave system. It is something different but refreshing.
New attraction finds always excite me, especially when these attractions are in destinations that are not in the usual tourism map of the Philippines. This usually opens opportunities for locals to earn more from attention that it gets from both local and international tourists. It also shows us that the Philippines always have something new to offer. Again with more than 7,000+ islands to explore, we can never go wrong in our own country.
Let me also take this opportunity to make a call to my followers to help in the relief and recovery operations in areas that were affected by Typhoon Odette. There are no big or small amount. Any help will be deeply appreciated. Please check my IG and FB page on how you can help. Sabay-sabay tayong babangon!
Getting there: I was a joiner for this trip that was organized by Alvin Kusumah. You acn also check out Buhay Kalye Gala who has started organizing day trips to the Cavinti Underground River and Cave System.
I have always been fascinated with places with historical significance. Destinations or spots that give me a glimpse of its rich and colorful past. These are places that were mute witnesses to events that paved the way to where we are now as a nation. This fascination had me exploring destinations that you would not even think had a rich story to tell. This is the case of the heritage district of Sta. Ana in the City of Manila.
Sta. Ana, sitting along the banks of the Pasig River, is one of the oldest communities in the metro. Archeological excavations have shown that it has existed even before the Spanish arrived in the country and was the center of the ancient Namayan community. When the Spaniards established a settlement in the area in 1578, they gave it the name Santa Ana de Sapa in honor of its titular patroness. It was once known as the “Forbes Park of Manila” owing to the grand houses that lined its streets, owned by the prominent and wealthy. Join me as we go on a quick “Find Me” game along the streets of Santa Ana for a quick glimpse of its rich and elegant past.
Parish of Our Lady of the Abandoned
At the heart of Sta. Ana is the Parish of Our Lady of the Abandoned Church - a Spanish-period Catholic Church established by the Franciscan in 1578. The present stone church was completed in 1725 and was dedicated to the Our Lady of the Abandoned. It is home to the revered image of their patron which arrived here in the Philippines from Spain in 1717.
The church, designed under Baroque style, was built using adobe materials. The 3-level facade is adorned by arched stained glass windows on the second level and the images of St. Anne and St. Joachim on the first level, flanking the main door. The belfry stands on the right side of the church and dominates the district’s skyline. An image of the Our Lady of the Abandoned stands by the parking lot facing Plaza Calderon.
The interior of the church is grand and beautiful. The baptistry, on the right when you enter, sits on the base of the church’s belfry. It features a marble font and a painting of the Baptism of Jesus Christ. The three-level retablo of the church was a real beauty with its ornate and gold design. The saints occupying the niches are the saints that are relevant to the community. Its main centerpiece is the image of the Our Lady of the Abandoned which has been under their care since 1717.
The church convent and courtyard is also the home of the Sta. Ana Site Museum. It is a repository of the artifacts that were excavated in the church’s courtyard that yielded human remains and artifacts that pre-dates the arrival of the Spaniards, indicating that the district is one of the oldest communities in the metro. The museum was declared a National Cultural Treasure in 1973, recognizing Sta. Ana’s historical significance in Philippine history.
The church is also home to another National Cultural Treasue - the Camarin de la Virgen. The small chapel, located at the back of the retablo, dates back to 1725. It is home to well-preserved religious paintings on it door and ceilings that features Filipino-Spanish artworks. These paintings are as old as the stone church. Unfortunately, both the patio and the chapel are not open for visitors because of the pandemic.
Pozo de la Virgen
Located at the back of the Santa Ana Church is a small chapel that features an image of the Our Lady of the Abandoned and a deep well that is believed to spring miracle waters. The chapel is said to be the same age as the church as it was constructed at around the same time.
The “poso” or well is an integral part of Sta. Ana’s history. During the earlier days, it was visited by the sick from the town and its surrounding areas to drink its waters as it was believed to have healing powers. One needs to go down ten stone steps to be able to get water from its chamber. A typhoid outbreak in 1920 forced it closure and it was only in 2011 that the well was re-opened for public viewing.
Beyond its perceived healing waters, the Pozo de la Virgen also provides us with an insight on the historical connection between Filipinos and Chinese. Chinese traders and immigrants found comfort to the image and the chapel. It also became their “religious sanctuary” away from their home. Residents, with Chinese lineage, often visit the chapel after visiting the Taoist Temple, located across the road, to continue their prayers.
Pao Ong Hu Temple
A Taoist Temple, just right across the Pozo de la Virgen, is another historical and religious find in Sta. Ana. The temple, together with the excavated Chinese ceramics artifacts, are clear evidences of the good relations between the Chinese and Filipinos during the pre-Spanish period. A unique characteristic of the temple, as shared with me by Kuya Boyet, is the fusion of Taoism, Buddhism, and Catholicism in one religious temple.
However, the temple is currently on a legal battle between preservation and commercialism. It was left, by its owners, to decay in an attempt to strip the temple off its religious and historical significance. It is now closed off to the public and the altars, where Taoist Deity Pao Ong Hu and the Our Lady of the Abandoned once stood side by side, were taken down. I hope that we get to preserve this Important Cultural Property lest we lose a vital link to our colorful ancient past.
Felipe Calderon Plaza
At the center of the bustling business district of Sta. Ana is a public place dedicated to Felipe Calderon. He is a Filipino lawyer and patriot who authored the Constitution of the First Philippine Republic. He died in June 1908 and was once a prominent resident of this district.
The linear park, located along Pedro Gil Street, serves as a public park and plaza for its locals. The pedestrian island is a place where you can sit down and watch how Sta. Ana buzzes through its usual day.
Savemore Supermarket Excavation Area
Savemore Supermarket along Pedro Gil has a unique feature. An open space on the left side of the supermarket is a glass-enclosed excavation site where you get to see the foundations of a Spanish-period bahay-na-bato. Sta. Ana was once dubbed as the “Forbes Park of Manila” because of the beautiful and elegant houses that lined the banks of the Pasig River. Although commercial developments have sprung up in the district, there are remnants buried underneath its soil that give us a glimpse of its beautiful past.
Unfortunately, the excavation area has been vandalized. Glass panels that protect the “foundations” were broken and some guests have used it as repository of their trash. I really hope that it can be cleaned up and preserved because you seldom find this kind of adjustments done by commercial establishments.
The Heritage/Ancestral Houses of Sta. Ana
The district of Sta. Ana is the only district in Manila, and probably in the metro, that has a wide collection of well-preserved Spanish and American period homes. Similar to Pila, the houses are still in use by its present owners and have minimal or no alterations from its original designs. These houses blend perfectly with the urban development in the district and finding these homes on foot can be quite an exciting experience.
Two of the popular houses in the district is the Lichauco Heritage House (Pedro Gil St.) and the Cojuangco-Ocampo House (Lamayan St.). If my memory is right, the two houses are referred to as the “twin houses” along Pasig River because these are two ancestral houses that are located along the banks of the river. The Lichauco Heritage House is one of two recognized heritage houses here in Metro Manila.
Most of these ancestral homes were built during the American-period. Sta. Ana was lucky to have been spared the wrath of World War 2 and, in effect, preserved these houses. If you walk around the area close to the church, the ancestral houses of dela Merced-Panis, Perez, and Santo Romano, along Plaza Hugo, will immediately catch your attention for its unique architecture.
Two of the houses that caught my attention because of its elegant and classy designs were the Cahayon House on Leiva Street and the Batongbacal House on Revellin Street. Both houses remind me of old houses that we usually find in the province. But it is the Batongbacal House that really caught my attention for its “pangmayaman” design that I usually find in old Filipino movies.
Although you will find these houses along the small streets of Sta. Ana, there are ancestral homes that you can actually find along the district’s main roads. The Cobangbang Ancestral house along Syquia Street was built in 1930 and has kept its original design since its construction. I was also lucky enough to personally meet the owner of the house. The Pascual Modernist House (ML Carreon St.) is a house that blends perfectly well with the urban structures around it because of its modern architectural design.
Weaving through the streets of Sta. Ana and trying to find these beautiful houses was my kind of urban hike. There was a different kind of joy discovering these homes in perfect condition (most of them) and still functioning. For its residents, it is probably just the usual home but, for an enthusiast like me, these houses are repositories of stories of smiles, tears, anxiety, and hope of its residents, from the past to the present.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
I find it amazing that, in the midst of the hustle of the city, there is a district in Manila that can share its colorful history visually. Who would have thought that the streets of Sta. Ana exude that old town charm that we usually associate with the provincial vibe. The charm of the ancestral houses and historical sites of Sta. Ana have been grinding with the chaos of the city in an effort to keep its stories afloat for us to take notice. Why did I take notice of it just now?
We are often “blinded” that travel is about going out of town. What we forget is that within the metro are pockets of destination that gives you a different perspective of the city we live in. It is not all concrete in the city. There are soft spots where we can see a different aspect that we never thought was there. We just need to take the effort to see it because, when we do, we might be able to save a crucial link to our colorful past.
Getting there: You can take the LRT Line 1 and go down at Pedro Gil Station. You can then take a jeep to Sta. Ana. Alternatively, you can take the Pasig Ferry for a more scenic travel to Sta. Ana. You can go down at the Sta. Ana Ferry Station.
Weekends in the metro can be as exciting as going out of town for a quick break. I am not talking about hitting the malls but more of doing an “urban hike” to explore the hidden city wonders and the story that go with these spots. The fun part is having no trail to follow but navigating through the city via google map. This was exactly what happened when I decided to “hike” around the district of Paco in Manila.
Paco is one of the oldest districts in the metro, established in 1580 by Franciscan missionaries. It was originally known as “Dilao” and there are two versions as to why it was called as such. The first version was in reference to the plant “Amaryllis” that grew in abundance in the area while the other version was in reference to the Japanese migrants and refugees who created an enclave in the district. It later adopted the name San Fernando de Dilao with religion fusing into the local culture and then eventually to Paco, short for Francisco. Join me as I got lost in the streets of the district to get a more personal look in its rich and colorful history.
Paco Park is the district’s tourism icon. It is one of the popular city destination by travelers and photography enthusiasts in Metro Manila because of its beautifully landscaped garden. It has a rich history and is one of the prominent venues that showcases Filipino artists and artistry.
Originally referred to as Cementerio General de Dilao, the park was a municipal cemetery in Manila built by the Dominicans as a response to the Cholera Epidemic. It was inaugurated in 1822 to cater to the rich and affluent families that lived in Intramuros. The 3 Martyred Priests, GomBurZa, and Dr. Jose Rizal were initially laid to rest here. It is said that the remains of Rizal was secretly buried here and was discretely marked with “RPJ”, with only the century-old Acacia trees as mute witnesses to the burial. Interment in the cemetery ceased in 1912. It was used as a supplies and arms depot by the Japanese in World War 2. It was declared a National Park in 1966 by President Macapagal.
Paco Park was designed in a circular shape with its walls serving as niches and the top of the walls served as promenade areas. A small chapel, the St. Pancratius Chapel, was originally its simborio and is now a fully functional church. The design of the cemetery and its niches were retained during its restoration, with its occupants transferred to other cemeteries, giving it a unique eerie and beautiful vibe. Presently, it is a popular venue for weddings and cultural shows.
Paco Park is one of the few open spaces that we have here in Manila. It has managed to keep its tranquil vibe despite the urban buzz outside its walls. It is great place to escape from the urban jungle within the jungle. You may hear a soft sigh or whisper while there but I guess that adds to thrill of being there.
Located along Pedro Gil, the Paco Market is one of the oldest markets in the metro. It sits by the banks of the Estero de Paco which made the market accessible to commerce, during early times, via boats. It was one of the modern markets opened in 1912 with Manila Hotel architect William Parsons at the helm of its design. It was home to more than 500 vendors for centuries until it was renovated in 2011.
The Paco Market is still under renovation as of this writing. The renovation is in question by heritage enthusiasts as it working on a new design, keeping only the original facade of the old structure. Once inaugurated, it would be a good subject for my “Palengke Attack”.
San Fernando de Dilao Parish Church
The first church in Paco was built in 1580 made of bamboo and nipa, in honor of the Our Lady of Purification. It was in 1601 that a stone church was inaugurated and, since then, it had centuries of rough history that left it damaged by man-made and natural calamities. The present structure is a pre-WW2 edifice and one of the structures that survived during the liberation of Manila.
Its neo-classical design towers over the skyline of Paco with the two belfries standing over the district like a guardian. Inside the church, you will be amazed by its simple interiors highlighted by its gold-beige altar with a Crucified Christ at its centerpiece. The church has a long-standing devotion to Santo Entierro, the encased image of the dead Christ, located on the left side of the altar.
The church is probably one of the biggest Roman Catholic churches that I have seen in the metro. It is elegant and beautiful both inside and out. The structure stands dominantly showing the faith of the locals standing strong through the centuries.
Jose Laurel Ancestral House
Three blocks away from Paco Church is the ancestral house of Jose Laurel, the 2nd President of the 2nd Philippine Republic. The house was originally built in 1861 and it was acquired by Jose Laurel in 1926. This house was referred to as Villa Penafrancia where the former President lived from 1925 to 1955. It served as one of the three residences of the Laurel’s.
The house, that sits along the corner of Sto. Sepulcro and Penafrancia Streets, is a bahay-na-bato complete with capiz-shell windows. It was inherited by his son Sotelo, who then donated it to the Jose Laurel Memorial Foundation. The house was restored and was inaugurated in 1998 on the birth anniversary of Jose Laurel. Unfortunately, the house is still closed to public viewing because of the pandemic.
As mentioned earlier, Paco’s original name was Dilao and one of the associations to the name was the enclave established by the Japanese in the area. Plaza Dilao is one of the two open parks in the district and was the former site of the Japanese settlement under Blessed Dom Justo Takayama. Takayama settled in the Philippines in 1615 after he was exiled because of his Christian belief. A statue honoring the Japanese refugee now stands as the centerpiece of the open park.
Despite the main thoroughfares snaking around the park, Plaza Dilao serves as a sanctuary of freedom. It is one of the five freedom parks in Manila where peaceful gatherings can be assembled without needing permission from the local government. I just hope that the park will be able to retain its glory despite the developments around it.
Paco Railway Station
Just right across Plaza Dilao stands the beautiful and, hopefully, not forgotten Old Paco Railway Station. The train station was designed by William Parsons under a Beaux-Arts architectural style. It was opened in 1915 and was part of the Manila Railroad’s South Line. The station was also the site of a bloody battle between Japanese and liberation forces in WW2.
The old station was left in disarray and has deteriorated through the years after the war. Despite of its unglamorous state, one can still see the beauty and intricate details of its facade from the ground. It is a real beauty that is worth restoring and preserving. There are efforts to save the structure and I really hope that it does push through for the future generations to see our glorious past.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
The district of Paco may seem like your usual city neighborhood. Every corner is oozing with the sight and smell of the metro. But behind the chaos in and around Paco, there are pockets that show its strong connection to our colorful past. It gives us a glimpse of the grand beauty of Paco during its heydays and how it immortalizes history in its own unique way. I just hope that we could restore the beauty of its heritage sights, the same way that we were able to restore and preserve Paco Park.
As restrictions are slowly being lifted by the government, let us keep our guards up. Remember that we are opening up, not because the pandemic is over, but because our economy and livelihood need to recover. Let is continue to follow safety protocols and remain vigilant as we explore more in the coming weeks. Let us all make sure that we keep ourselves and the people around us safe and COVID free while we try to help revive the tourism industry. Keep exploring SAFELY, mga Viajeros!
Getting there: You can take the LRT1 line and go down at UN Avenue Station. From the station, you can walk to Paco Park. You can take a trike from Paco Park to the Paco Church. All other destinations are just a couple of blocks from the church.
Every Philippine travel story will always have a paranormal element that could give us that uneasy feeling. We get a different set of these thrilling and creepy stories as each destination has its own to share that gives a trip that extra dimension. The stories shared and, sometimes, the creepy feeling from… “something” give us the goosebumps and scare us out of our wits.
I have had my fair share of scare stories that creeped me out while exploring. Although I am not usually scared of such paranormal narratives, there have been a couple of experiences that did get through to me. One did haunt me sick while on a solo travel (the only time that I was creeped out to actually have a plan in case of an aswang attack) while, most of it, were brushed aside with a confident and uneasy smirk.
Hamtic Cemetery, Hamtic, Antique
This was one solo travel that had me creeped out for quite a bit. I was on a solo travel in Antique and part of my itinerary was to visit the Hamtic Cemetery Church. The cemetery is home to one of the well-preserved Spanish-period cemetery churches in the region with its baroque design. Its design with its two adjacent belfries was a real beauty to admire.
But its beauty goes beyond its Spanish design and origin. It had its own stories that fused colonial and pre-colonial beliefs. It is said that locals often would surround the burial plot of the newly interred with salt and garlic to prevent “aswangs” from eating the corpse. The story stuck through during the trip and the rustic ambiance of Tibiao, that was like a set of a horror movie, had me thinking of the existence of aswangs in Antique as evening came through. I was so creeped out that I even scolded myself for forgetting to buy salt and garlic when I was at the market.
It never fails to make me laugh whenever I remember that trip. I really feel stupid for letting my thoughts run wildly. It was a perfect mix of rustic ambiance and wild imagination fusing together on a trip. It creeped me out for nothing but made the trip memorable and funny.
You can read about my Antique travel experience here.
San Joaquin Spanish Cemetery Church, San Joaquin, Iloilo
While most of us would be amazed at the well-preserved colonial churches and mansions, there are a few well preserved colonial structures in our cemeteries. The classical-designed octagonal camposanto of the San Joaquin Spanish Cemetery was built in 1892 and is one of the well-preserved heritage structures in the country. It stands as a reminder of Spanish religious influence on how we mourn and celebrate the life of the dead.
The old Spanish Cemetery is a peaceful sanctuary along the highway, facing the sea. This was my first impression during my first visit to the place. It was serene and all you can hear is the rustling of the leaves with the wind. Then I heard the sound of “something” moving. I heard footsteps and I froze to make out the sound better but it also stopped. After a few seconds, I quickly gathered mu stuff to leave. when the caretaker steps out on the other side of the octagonal camposanto.
Both of us had that surprised look on our faces. Apparently, he heard my movements while he was working behind the camposanto at the same time that I heard his. His impulse was to gather his stuff and leave which was the same as mine. Our sheepish smiles came out after realizing that there was nothing paranormal about the experience. It was creepy and funny at the same time.
You can read about my San Joaquin travel experience here.
The Dungeons of Fort Santiago
The walls of Intramuros is a mute witness to the country’s rich history. Its walls are a repository of stories that span centuries of celebrations and horrors. Its special place in history make it a subject for paranormal stories where imprints were said to have been left by its previous occupants.
Fort Santiago is one of the defense forts of Intramuros. Completed in 1593, the fort served as a garrison for prisoners where many met their painful demise. Its dungeons was the site where almost 600 bodies of Filipinos were found when Fort Santiago was liberated by the Americans in WW2. The state at which these bodies were found showed that they all met a harrowing death. A memorial now stands to honor these nameless Filipinos.
The dungeons of Fort Santiago had an eerie vibe when I took a peek within its walls. Access to the area was not allowed at the time of my recent visit so I had to use my action camera to get a view of its interiors. I hurriedly left the entrance because it was already giving me goosebumps which was my signal to leave. Interestingly, the video that I captured lagged throughout the time that it was inside the dungeon.
You can read about my Intramuros travel experience here.
San Agustin Crypts, Intramuros
The San Agustin Church in Intramuros is the oldest stone church in the country. Completed in 1607, the church survived natural calamities and the devastation of Intramuros in World War 2. The church is considered a National Historical Landmark and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the collective title of “Baroque Churches of the Philippines”.
The San Agustin Convent and Museum holds one of the unique cemeteries in the country. The San Agustin Church Crypts is the final resting place of Agustinians and prominent families in the country. The remains of Juan Luna and Pedro Paterno are interred here.
The San Agustin Church Crypts can be quite an eerie sight for first time visitors. The towering crypts surrounding guests and its damp vibe can give you goosebumps. The thought that the mortal remains and their spirits lingering around the area can be quite uncomfortable and exciting.
You can read about my Intramuros travel experience here.
Teacher’s Camp, Baguio City
Local ghost hauntings and stories are not complete without the mentioning Baguio City. From the Lady of Loakan to the spirits of Diplomat Hotel, this city has its own paranormal stories to share. The city’s colorful and tragic past and its cool climate make it an ideal set-up for these stories to proliferate.
Teacher’s Camp is one of the city attractions that has been a melting pot of paranormal stories. The camp was established in 1907 and was once used by the Japanese as a hospital facility in World War 2. It’s 100-years of existence paved the way for stories of hauntings and phantom sightings within the halls of the camp. Some of these paranormal experiences were said to have been caught on cam or on audio recording.
Despite me being a resident of Baguio, it was only recently that I managed to visit and explore Teacher’s Camp. I took the time to walk around the camp and, eventually, ended up entering a museum. The museum outlines the early beginnings of the camp to its present development. The museum though was empty and I had a weird creepy feeling like someone was watching me as I walked around. The weird feeling did not stop me though from
reading through its history.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Dark tourism is a different level of exploration that everyone would be interested but only a few would probably be brave enough to try out. The stories that go with it, mixed with our perceptions of the paranormal, is enough to give anyone the scare even before the actual exploration. Like they say, it is not for weak.
I am not a person who would get scared about paranormal activities. I actually find it interesting that I try to find out more details about its stories. It forms part of the destination’s local culture and history. That is why we have century-old balete trees, stories about deities of rivers, and old mansions and ruins as tourist spots. These “dark tourist destinations” add a different spectrum to our travel explorations that makes it more exciting.
The COVID19 pandemic caused a number of businesses to close down as an after effect to strict community quarantines. On the other hand, it also paved the way for creative enterprises to be born where old ideas are given a fresh take. The coffee business is one of the enterprises that grew together with the increased interest in biking and the need for people to take a breather from the restrictions. In celebration of International Coffee Day, I went around popular coffee shops in a destination that made merged coffee and sights, making it a hit among metro residents.
The province of Rizal sits on the eastern borders of Manila. With the Sierra Madre ranges on its side, the rugged mountain terrains of the province is a favorite destination for local travelers, bikers, day trippers, or those who simply want a quick escape from the city. It offers a whole range of activities for any kind of traveler - from a chill brunch with a view in Antipolo to the mountain explorations of Tanay. With the province attracting of hundreds of guests weekly, it was not a surprise that coffee spots started popping up in the area and, more importantly, getting a lot of attention on social media.
Kaulayaw Cafe (Sumulong Highway, Antipolo)
Kaulayaw Cafe is the challenger of this cluster since it sits right beside a soon-to-open international coffee brand. Established in 2019, it prides itself to being a homegrown brand that supports local coffee farmers. It’s name is a Filipino word that means intimate companion that embodies the intimate vibe of the place best enjoyed by friends, family, and couples, and the intimate love for coffee.
The cafe sits on the famous ridge along Sumulong Highway that offers a breathtaking view of Metro Manila. The strip has long been popular and has been a fave spot to watch the metro’s city-lights. Kaulayaw has three floors and all floors have a good view of the city. Each floor has a designated view deck so you don’t have to worry about getting ahead of everyone for the “perfect” cafe spot.
They have a wide selection of coffee drinks, beverages, and meals. I got pork BBQ and an iced caramel macchiato. I enjoyed the meal and the coffee while enjoying the view of the city. I mean who would not enjoy having late lunch with a beautiful view.
Overall, Kaulayaw Cafe is great spot to unwind to break away from the stress. You get a good mix of good coffee, good food, and a great view. You would probably find me working or reading a book in the cafe if I live close to the area. Be forewarned, though, that it is a popular spot in Antipolo and getting a table may take some time, especially on a weekend.
Getting there: You can take the LRT 2 to Masinag and take public transport to Antipolo. Ask the driver to drop you off at Kaulayaw Coffee.
Playlist Cafe (Grand Heights Subd., Antipolo)
Tucked in a secluded corner of a subdivision in Antipolo, Playlist Cafe was born on the year of the pandemic. It is interesting that it has managed to keep itself on the ground despite the business and quarantine situations. It was one of the cafes that hit the mark of the public when the economy started to open after ECQ was lifted.
Playlist Cafe sits on a more secluded spot along the hillsides of Antipolo. The three-level cafe offers an overlooking view of the metro matched by the greens of the untouched hills of the city. The view of the city though is not as striking as that of Kaulayaw and Cafe Augusta. It does get an extra star for having a more relaxed ambiance compared to the other cafes in the area.
If you have plans of exploring the city, Playlist is the best way to start your day. They have an all-day breakfast menu and good coffee to with it. The food, the view, and the relaxed ambiance starts your day slowly with a kick of caffeine. The third level of the cafe is a view deck where you get to peek at the metro and enjoy the view of airplanes on its final approach of Runway 24 of NAIA.
Playlist Cafe is ideal for those looking for a chill spot where you get to enjoy a cup of coffee and a meal whether you are alone, with family, or with friends. The place is void of the usual chatter which makes it good for the talks that go with a round of coffee. The cafe, though, caps on their guest’s stay in the same way that your spotify playlist has a start and finish. I guess this would allow more people to be accommodated. I just wish that a little consideration be given during the down time of the cafe where there are no guests waiting to come in.
Getting there: You can take a public utility vehicle to Antipolo simbahan where you need to transfer to another PUV for Ortigas Extension, Cainta, or Tikling. Ask the driver to drop you off at the Provincial Capitol. Once you are at the Provincial Capitol, walk to the Clean Fuel Gas Station along the Sumulong Memorial Circle. You can them take a trike stationed at the gas station to Playlist Cafe.
Cafe Augusta (Grand Heights Road, Antipolo)
Cafe Augusta is THE breezy coffee cafe in Antipolo. Established in 2016, Cafe Augusta is my preferred coffee stop from this coffee run. I guess it stood out out for me for its perfect mix of accessibility, vibe, food, and metro view. The laidback and relaxing ambiance made me stay longer than usual.
Located atop a hill along Grand Heights Road, Cafe Augusta is a Greek-inspired cafe that offers an amazing view of the metro’s skyline facing the Makati - Laguna de Bay area. Its location and how the cafe was designed allows the breeze from the Sierra Madre ranges to flow freely through the compound which “cools” down the place even at the hottest time of the day. It was like enjoying the sunny weather while sitting on a patio at home and sipping an ice cold drink.
I was not able to try out their meals and coffee since my visit to the cafe was between breakfast and lunch. But I was able to try out their Blue Ocean Cooler, sansrival, and nachos which was perfect for the hot weather. The food selection was perfect as I enjoyed the relaxing ambiance of Cafe Augusta. I guess, the place is good for evening get-togethers.
Cafe Augusta was a perfect spot to slow down on a weekend in Antipolo. It is an easy escape that made me feel like I was at a cafe by the beach because of the breeze. If they played beach-themed music, it would have completed the vibe.
Getting there: From the Playlist Cafe, take a trike to Cafe Augusta.
Coffee Rush (Eastridge, Binangonan)
This is another coffee spot in Rizal that took day trippers, riders, and the general public by storm. It was in 2019 that Coffee Rush was established and has a number of cafes under its portfolio but the branch in Binangonan is taking social media by storm for fusing coffee and an overlooking view into one photogenic spot. Among the cafes that I visited for this coffee run, Coffee Rush Binangonan is, no doubt, the most instagrammable.
Similar to Playlist Cafe, Coffee Rush Binangonan is tucked inside the posh village of Eastridge. The cafe sits along a ridge that overlooks the metro and the Angono-Taytay area. Its dining area is al fresco and arranged around its a central garden area giving the place a homey feel. It was designed and landscaped to allow guests to be creative with their shots with the hope that it will end up on social media feeds.
Coffee Rush has all-day breakfast and main entrees in its menu. They also have a variety of coffee and non-coffee based drinks to match up with their meals. One thing that caught my attention was that their service is fast. The vibe is more upbeat but you also get the usual influx of socmed users moving around for pictures.
Coffee Rush appeals to the younger audience probably because of its socmed appeal. This is a coffee spot where you can enjoy coffee, the view, and countless photogenic spots at your disposal. My take though is having a table or picnic umbrellas along its outdoor dining areas would be appreciated by its guests. You also need to make sure that you bring a fan and a lot of patience especially on weekends where you can expect the rush and longer waiting hours to enter the outdoor cafe.
Getting there: From the Rizal Provincial Capitol, take a PUV to Cainta and asked to be dropped off at McDonald’s Tikling. Cross the walkbridge to other side and take a PUV for Binangonan and ask the driver to drop you off at SM Angono. Once in SM Angono, cross the highway to the waiting shed across SM Angono. That is the pick up point of the Coffee Rush shuttle. You can check their FB page for the shuttle schedules.
Kape-hingahan (Harmony Homes, Angono)
Kape-hingahan is not your usual kind of coffee spot. It is a rustic and no-fuzz outdoor coffee hangout whose main draw is its panoramic view of the Ortigas skyline. Its usual patrons are cyclist and riders who traverse through the area and Kape-hingahan is a rest spot where they get to rest and relax before they continue on with their planned travel itinerary.
Located in one of the highest points of Harmony Homes in Angono, Kape-hingahan is an outdoor cafe that offers the bare necessities - your preferred beverage, a snack to go with it, and a wide space where you can find your own spot. Its biggest pull is it panoramic view of the Laguna de Bay and the Ortigas skyline. You get to enjoy the breeze because of the open space but they do not have any shaded area to protect you from the sun especially at high noon.
The coffee spot has a limited menu to offer. Unfortunately, I was not able to sample any of their coffee drinks because they have a cut-off at 11am and resumes operations at 3pm. I reckon that riders drop by in the morning and locals come in the afternoon to enjoy an unadulterated view of the sun setting behind the cityscape.
Getting there: From SM Angono, you can take a jeep for Tikling or Cainta and ask the driver to drop you off at the Shell Station. You can hire a trike to bring you to Kape-hingahan. Make an arrangement with tricycle driver to either wait or return for you since there are limited tricycles in the area.
Cafe in the Sky (Muzon, Angono)
I first came across Cafe in the Sky on social media and the post gave an impression that it was a hit, most especially among riders who ply the route on this side of Rizal. It was another spot that offered a panoramic overlooking view of the metro and was said to be a perfect rest spot for those who are looking for a quick break. It piqued my curiosity that I included it on my list of coffee spots to check out.
Located on one of the highest points of a village in Angono, Cafe in the Sky is one coffee spot that got hyped on social media. It is not exactly a coffee spot for coffee lovers but more of a resting spot for cyclist, riders, and locals. It is actually just one of the makeshift stalls in the area that offer meals and snacks for those visiting the place. The place does offer a panoramic view of the metro and Laguna de Bay but don’t expect it to be as good as the views of the cafes mentioned above.
They have a limited menu list that includes the usual silog and snack meals. Their flavored iced coffee list are the ready-made powder drinks that we have in the market. What stands out though is how friendly the manangs are. The space has limited seatings but their are other stores in the area.
Similar to Kape-hingahan, Cafe in the Sky is a no-frills coffee shop. It is a good spot to rest after a long bike ride where you can enjoy a no-frills drink while enjoying the view. It has its own rustic appeal that may caters to a no-frill-no-thrill kind of person.
Getting there: Ask your driver from Kape-hingahan to drop you off at Cafe in the Sky. Both rest stops are in the same area.
Typica Coffee (Rodriguez Ave., Taytay)
Typica Coffee merges two concepts in one coffee stop - coffee-on-the-go and a neighborhood store. Reading through its story, the coffee shop was originally a sari-sari store that was converted into a coffee cafe. Its good coffee, cool exteriors, and concept caught the attention of the public.
The shop is not exactly the kind where you find yourself cozily warming up on its chic interiors. In fact, you cozy up by the road side. Think of its vibe as that of a sari-sari store with tambays only this time the exteriors are chic and the tambays are chic coffee lovers. Like what I said, Typica managed to fuse two concepts in one amazing business idea that is a hit.
The cafe’s menu has a selection of pasta, pastries, and coffee and the place has a small area for those who want to “dine in”. The space though can only accommodate a small number of diners. Their food selection and coffee are good that you won’t mind bringing home another batch to enjoy.
Typica Coffee’s unique styling, concept, and good coffee make it stand out despite having deviated from the usual coffee shop set-up. It is a minimalist in its truest sense that majority of its guests do come and go. It may have not the usual set-up or the amazing view but it has managed to keep conversations going over a cup of perfectly made coffee.
Getting there: From the Shell Gas Station in Angono, take a PUV for Cainta. Ask the driver to drop you off at Tropical. Take a trike on the side of Tropical Hut Hamburger Restaurant to Typica Coffee.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
I am a coffee drinker and my day doesn’t start without having a cup of coffee. It is a day starter for me and a perk me up drink when work starts getting a bit messy. I prefer it hot when the day starts and cold when its midday. The beverage is a good companion when I am reading a book alone and makes conversations easier when I am with my family and friends.
Interestingly, coffee shops and stations have been on a steady increase the past year. The popular cafe brands are getting challenged by local stores that offers something different, be it in terms of concepts and/or cafe locations. In a sense, it has become an attraction in an attraction. It has created its own attention by fusing good coffee with a good view and a good conversation.
Getting there: You can take the LRT 2 train to the last station (Antipolo). From there you can take a jeep or FX to Antipolo. Alternatively, you can take a jeep or FX in Cubao, Robinsons Galleria, or Shaw to Antipolo or Angono.
The eastern side of Bulacan is turning out to be an exciting destination to explore. Its rugged terrains have long kept its secrets of natural beauty that is slowly getting the attention of local travelers. Thanks to the current health crisis and community restrictions that we have started to appreciate destinations that are equally beautiful and close to the metro.
The Malaangan Cave is one of the destinations in Bulacan that started to make a buzz when travel restrictions were lifted. Its picturesque limestone formations, online, was enough to pique anyone’s curiosity. Located along the eastern boundaries of San Rafael, the cave and spring is popular spot among locals. The cave largely remained untouched by both tourism and quarrying.
The hiking trail weaves through the community and along the banks of the river. The timing of our visit was not ideal as a typhoon recently hit the area that inundated the river’s banks. Most of its tree covers were damaged that it was not able to provide us with protection from the sun. Our guide was explaining to us that water from the mountains flooded their area carrying with it debris and that the community was still recovering from the calamity.
A clearing along the trail will give you a perfect view of its karst landscape. The towering rock formations are beautiful from the ground that it was like you entered a totally different dimension. Its beauty was captivating that a TV station had turned the clearing into a set of an enchanted village for one of its shows. The set was partly damaged by the typhoon.
Some of us clambered up the limestone formations to get a perfect view of the landscape of its surrounding areas. There is small trail to the top but take extra precaution because the ascent is steep with jagged rocks. The view from the top is also amazing and made the climb worth it.
We headed further up the trail to the cave opening. Malaangan Cave is a pass through cave where you can enter from one point and exit the other. The entrance of the cave was partly hidden by foliage. We had to slowly go down into mouth of the cave before we could traverse through the cave.
It was pitch black inside the cave. It did not help that we didn’t have any flashlight with us so our phone lights had to suffice. The passage way was small and we really had to watch our steps throughout the traverse. It did not help that we came in after a typhoon so mud has accumulated inside the cave. We had to crawl like spiders and balance our weight on the small crevices on the side of the cave. We had to get a good grip on the rocks lest fall face first on knee-high mud. It was physically challenging and fun at the same time.
As we exited the cave, we were treated with the amazing views of its popular rock formations. The rocks formation was a perfect reward after hustling through the narrow cave. Clean water was flowing through the formations so we got to clean ourselves with fresh spring water.
The towering rock formations was a real beauty to admire and to capture. It took hundreds of years for nature to craft such natural beauty for us to explore and admire. It gives you that kick on nature’s immense creativity.
After getting all mudied up with the cave adventure, we decided to cool down by the river. The freshwater from the caves flows out to merge with the river. It is the perfect place to just relax after getting yourselves exhausted from spelunking.
The riverside is also an attraction in itself. The community has built picnic huts and tables along the banks for their visitors who want to enjoy a relaxed provincial ambiance. The water of the river is clean and cool to the skin so we really took our time to just enjoy a relaxing dip.
Some deeper parts of the river resort was off limits because of the debris that came from the uplands when river overflowed. Our guide said that this was the part where one can actually jump off from a tree branch into the water. It was unfortunate that we didn’t get to do it but, who knows, I would probably get to do it soon.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Malaangan Cave and Springs is just one of many destinations in Bulacan that is getting a lot of attention this pandemic. Owing to its accessibility matched by the thirst to explore or simply go out of our homes, it was a perfect spot where one can simply take a breather from all the craziness happening around us. The timing and the need both aligned to bring this side of Bulacan into the tourism limelight.
Our economy is slowly opening up with more vaccines being made available to us for free. Getting the majority of the population vaccinated is a key point in getting us out of this health crisis. This would allow us to start getting back some normalcy into our lives, and that includes getting a window to travel and explore. Get vaccinated when you get to your turn. Getting vaccinated and practicing health protocols diligently protects you and the community of the destination you plan to visit and explore.
Getting there: You can take a bus in Cubao to Baliuag. Once in Baliuag, proceed to the jeepney terminal near the Iglesia ni Cristo church and take a jeep to Tukod in San Rafael. You can hire a tricycle in Tukod to Malaangan Cave. Make sure that you make an arrangement with your tricycle driver to pick you up at a later time.
This city is one of the popular destinations in the Philippines. With the city located at 1,470 meters above sea level, it’s cool climate and rich history attract thousands of local and international tourists especially during the Christmas and dry season of the country. It has its own fare share of popular urban legends and stories that go with a visit to this tourist destination, the latest of which is the controversial meet-up with a “friend” by a celebrity after a highly controversial break-up. What’s the latest from this city? Let us go around and explore, as a friend, and discover what’s new in Baguio City.
Baguio City was once a rancheria or a rural settlement during the Spanish period. It was originally called Kafagway with its original community located along the area where Burnham Park is now located. It was the Americans that established the city as a hill station to escape the summer heat of Manila - a move that prompted the its development into a highly urbanized city. Baguio has grown from a simple community to a bustling and highly populated city. It has managed to fuse its colorful history with its advancement as a premiere urban center in the Cordillera.
The city has a collection of all-time favorite destinations - Mines View, Botanical Garden, Session Road, Wright Park, etc. But beyond the usual, there are also “subtle” attractions in the city that can spark a different way of appreciating the cool weather of Baguio City.
Kennon Road View Point
The Lion’s Head in Kennon Road is probably the most iconic image of Baguio City. Every tourist traversing this highway would always make a stop at this landmark for a quick photo op as a confirmation that they are already close to the City of Pines. Locals and Baguio enthusiasts have seen how the Lion Head have changed and shifted its look as efforts and attempts to beautify and give it a fresh look. Personally, I still prefer its original look.
Further up the road is another stop that is as interesting as the Lion’s Head Landmark, the Kennon Road View Point. The viewing deck gives you a panoramic view of the surrounding rugged terrains of Tuba, Benguet and Kennon Road. The view point is a multi-level structure that you can explore and enjoy the rustic views. I hope that the management can improve the facility like setting up a small cafe to make it more appealing. I mean it would be great to be sipping coffee while enjoying the view of Kennon Road snaking through the mountainside.
Baguio Orchidarium and Athletic Bowl
At the heart of the city is Burnham Park, famous for its iconic boating experience along Burnham Lake. The urban park, originally designed by Daniel Burnham, featured the century-old city pond (Burnham Lake), the Igorot Park, the Melvin Jones Grandstand, an Orchidarium, a Children's Park, and the Althletic Bowl. It is the “center of fitness” in the city where you can improve your fitness by boating, biking, walking, or running in open air. You get to breathe in the fresh air while working out in the open.
Baguio’s version of Central Park is not just for kids. There is a corner for green panthers, or what we know more today as plantitos and plantitas. The Baguio Orchidarium is an enclave located in one of the corners of Burnham where local plant entrepreneurs have their produce on display. The garden has gazebos where you can have a dose of plants of varying sizes and kind - from flowering plants to hard-to-find ones. Plant lovers need not go far from the city center to enjoy and get their hands on plants to add to their growing collection.
Fitness enthusiasts can also have their field day in the Burnham Park area. We are not talking about the Melvin Jones grounds but we are referring to the Athletic Bowl located on the other side of the park. The compound has a track oval, tennis courts, volleyball courts and a swimming pool that is open to the public with minimal fees. The great thing about this city is you can start your daily runs from your hotel to the sports compound, do your usual workout routine at the Athletic Bowl, and walk your way back to where you started. If you are still up for it, you can still rent a bike and enjoy a leisure ride with kids and kids-at-heart at Burnham Park.
Baguio Bamboo Sanctuary
The east side of the city is home to another cluster of the city’s tourist destinations. Mines View Park, The Mansion, Baguio Botanical Garden, Wright Park, and Good Shepherd are all located on this side of the city. Apart from the city center, this area is probably the most visited by new and returning tourists here in the city.
The Baguio Bamboo Sanctuary is a new destination to add to this group. Located at the St. Francis Xavier Seminary in Pacdal Liteng, the bamboo garden is a collection of different types of bamboo species that line along a series of trails within the seminary grounds. The growth of the plants created an amazing garden that refreshes your mind and spirit as you walk along the trails. The place is very photogenic that it allows your creativity to play with it as you take photos along the way.
The garden is a sanctuary and there are spots along the trail where you can sit down and just breathe in the tranquility that the place has to offer. There’s even a nearby hill that you can hike up where you can get a view of the community in its immediate area. The Baguio Bamboo Sanctuary is a perfect place to slow down and relax after hours of exploring.
Camp John Hay Forest Bathing
I remember Camp John Hay, when it was still an American Base, as a place where you catch a glimpse of the “American” lifestyle. You are talking about Sundays spent with Coney Island Ice Cream, fluffy cotton candies, picnics, and running around the nice children’s playgrounds inside the camp. However, the camp has changed much now that the Americans have left. It remains to be a good destination to visit and explore for its more laidback vibe.
There are a number of things that you can do in John Hay. It is a good place for a picnic because of its wide open areas. You can also go on a food trip in the area trying out the mainstream and local restaurants in the area. But did you know that John Hay is a good alternative to go horseback riding?
The Yellow Trail in the camp is a popular hiking trail in the area. It snakes through the forested area of the camp where you get to breathe in the fresh air and the beauty of nature. There are a lot of trails to explore and you can actually go from one spot to another inside the camp via the trails. You can enjoy Forest Bathing as you take on these trails, either on foot or on a horse.
Filipino-Japanese Park and Pine Trees of the World Park
Have you ever wondered what was the triangular park at the foot of the hill leading up to the Baguio Convention Center? It is that small space that you see on the left side as soon as the bus goes down from the flyover to turn right going uphill. That is the Filipino-Japanese Park.
The memorial stands to honor both Filipino and Japanese soldiers who fought for their respective countries in World War 2. The small tower stands as a reminder of the renewed friendship between the two countries regardless of the cruel war history that placed the two nations into different sides. It is one of the well-maintained Filipino-Japanese Memorials in the country.
Just right across the memorial is the Pine Trees of the World Park. I have heard about the area before because of a Peace Tower that serves as its focal piece. My curiosity got the best of me to discover a picnic place that is void of the crowd, especially during this time. The park sits within the Burnham Park Reserve and is a perfect spot for a picnic, without the usual crowd and under the shade of the trees that Baguio is known for.
Baguio Art Installations
Baguio City is a UNESCO Creative City so do not be surprised to find art installations in and around the city. Blank walls become canvasses of local artists where they get to showcase their creativity. While you get to see a great deal of history and culture at the Baguio Museum or the Museo de Kordilyera, artistry is infused in the daily lives of locals.
Session Road blooms into an artist and merchant haven on weekends with its regular weekend flea market. The whole stretch becomes a venue for artists and would-be artists, both young and old, to showcase their talents in music, movement, and art craft. Even the street becomes an art canvass where anyone can pour out their artist in them.
Art cafes and murals have become a common attraction in the city. Street murals is part of the urban scene that it challenges your own creativity to capture the image with your own flare. Art exhibits find their way in areas frequented by locals and tourists. Baguio City breathes creativity in every space available making it a huge canvass for self-expression.
Mirador Heritage and Eco Park
On the western side of the city is a small cluster of heritage attractions that includes the Diplomat Hotel, the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, and the Mirador Jesuit House. These attractions sit close to each other along one of the city’s highest points. Their location provides amazing views of the city and its surrounding areas.
The Mirador Jesuit House has taken steps to develop the area around their enclave. Officially opened in the last quarter of 2020, the Mirador Heritage and Eco-Park is one of the latest attractions to hug the limelight. The park sits on the Mirador hillside to showcase a rock garden, its own bamboo sanctuary, and meditation areas along its terrace that offers amazing landscape views of its surrounding areas. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes as going around its steep trails can be quite challenging.
Its main attraction is the Mirador Hill Peace Memorial that overlooks the western part of the city and Tuba. A Torii Gate was installed, facing the Lingayen Gulf, with its bell made from an unexploded bomb that landed on the grounds of the Jesuit House. It was installed to remind us of the horrors of World War 2 and to serve as a symbol of peace and spiritual healing.
The terraces, where the memorial stands, offer an amazing panoramic view of the rugged terrains of the western side of Cordillera. The views and the fog slowly reeling in gave a feeling of flight when I was there. I sat down by one of the benches to just enjoy and take in the fused beauty of nature and urban set-up. I plan to head back here just to sit down, read a book for hours, and hopefully to catch the sunset.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Baguio City has been getting new monickers as a destination - ““Break-up Capital of the Philippines” and the latest being the “Friendship Capital”. These tags come with stories and urban legends that more often than not we just laugh at and shrug off. But the city is more than just these stories. It is an urban destination that is constantly moving to re-invent itself to provide something new while keeping its old charm. It is a city of pines that is an all year-round destination, not just for summer, that is best enjoyed with family and, of course, friends.
As the Philippines enters the longest Christmas celebration in the world, we all look forward to be able to travel again. Baguio is definitely on the list where we expect to see an influx of tourist these “ber months”. I understand that we all need to take a breather but that comes with a responsibility when we travel. The responsibility to keep yourself safe and the people around you. Follow local health protocols, mask up, keep your distance, and get vaccinated. Remember that the way out of this pandemic largely depends on our behaviors and discipline.
Getting there: Victory Liner, Genesis Bus Line, and Solid North have regular trips to Baguio City from Manila and vice versa. Although, only Victory and Genesis have limited trips as of this writing due to the national and local travel restrictions. Guests needs to register at Baguio City’s Visita App prior to their intended date. RTPCR test or proof of vaccination is required to be allowed into the city.
As of this writing, ALL non-essential trips to Baguio are NOT allowed.
Family vacations are part of our annual plans. We always map out a trip every year where we get to bond while exploring and enjoying a new destination. We plan to either to get lost in the maze of a bustling city or go on a day trip by the beach. There is a unique thrill of getting “lost” together as a family.
My previous blog post had me stumbling on one of our pre-pandemic trips - Guimaras. It was an unplanned day trip that we squeezed in when my wife attended a medical conference in Iloilo. Guimaras is an island-province located in the Panay Gulf that is popular for having one of the sweetest tasting mangoes in the world. It is also an island that is blessed with pockets of white sand beach coves where one can enjoy the perfect mix of sun, sand, and sea.
How do you enjoy a day in Guimaras? Read on.
The first attraction to welcome you in Jordan in Guimaras is a 300-sqm plaza that holds the recognition of being the smallest plaza in the country. The plaza was once the holder of the Guinness record of the same recognition. The triangular plaza sits on the fork of the road that connects the Jordan pier to the Guimaras Circumferential Road so it is definitely not hard to miss.
The triangular plaza has a small statue of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, as its main centerpiece. It is properly maintained with small flowering plants to give it an added vibrant touch. I guess the place is a good afternoon spot for locals to enjoy a lazy afternoon.
Guimaras Provincial Capitol
From the smallest plaza, we headed up to the sprawling Guimaras Provincial Capitol. The center of governance of the island is located at the heart of the town of Jordan. The province was initially a sub-province of Iloilo until it was proclaimed an independent province in 1992. It has 5 municipalities under its jurisdiction - Jordan, Buenavista, Nueva Valencia, San Lorenzo, and Sibunag.
The best spot to enjoy at the Capitol Grounds is the huge “Guimaras” sign. I guess most Philippine destinations have this kind is sign where you get to enjoy the tourist vibe. We did not miss this one out and it did help that we had a very creative and innovative guide to take our pics.
Foodstop: The Pit Stop
A visit to Guimaras is not complete without having a taste of their world-famous mangoes. After all, the island is known for this sweet tasting fruit so it is not a surprise that locals have infused the produce into their delicacies. You would be surprised how mangoes give a different twist on normal dishes.
The Pit Stop is one food stop that you should check out when you visit Guimaras. It has managed to use mangoes on popular dishes like pasta and pizza giving it a unique and sweet twist. Most of the dishes they serve have the local fruit fused into usual dishes. Mangoes go beyond fruit shakes and salad at The Pit Stop in Guimaras.
Our Lady of the Philippines Trappist Monastery
The Our Lady of the Phillipines Trappist Monastery is another popular spot in Guimaras. Established in 1972, it is home to 35 monks and is the only Trappist Monastery in the Philippines. The monastery makes and sells local goods from the produce that they harvest in the monastery.
The sprawling grounds of the monastery is very calming. You can visit the church and offer a prayer of thanksgiving. There are also prayer and meditation spots where you can enjoy the tranquility that the monastery has to offer. You can then cap off your visit by shopping for the souvenirs and produce at their shop.
Guisi Lighthouse and Beach
The Guisi Lighthouse is probably my favorite spot in Guimaras. This Spanish-period lighthouse never failed to give me that thrill and excitement with exploring it even if this was my second time visiting the place. I guess my interest and fascination with local history have always kept a hold on me.
The Guisi Lighthouse is an 18th-century lighthouse built to guide ships traversing the Panay Channel. The old octagonal lighthouse stands at a height of 17.5 meters with a keeper’s house made of stone. The Spanish structure is now in ruins with the lighthouse still standing but all rusty. I remember climbing up the old lighthouse and getting awed by the view from its decks.
The lighthouse in ruins gave it a more dramatic vibe in pictures. We were lucky that our guide was creative enough to choreograph our poses for our photos. We enjoyed the views and the story that go with the place. I just hope that they can take on a more proactive approach in the preservation of the Guisi Lighthouse.
Natago Beach and Floating Cottage
Guimaras is also an island that is blessed with beautiful beach spots that make it a good weekend or day beach destination. We did not miss out on this and we hired a boatman for a quick beach escape. Weekends in the province is not complete without a saltwater dip.
Natago Beach is a secluded beach spot that we enjoyed for its cream-colored sand and rock formations. The beach can be reached via a 20-minute boat ride from Alibuhod Beach. You can walk around the sprawling resort grounds before settling in along the shaded part of the shoreline to enjoy the beach.
We had a great time getting our dose of the sun, sand, and sea at Nagtago Beach even if it was only a few hours. We were treated to the wonderful views of Guimaras’ rugged shoreline before we capped off our day adventure with a quick snack at one of the floating cottages on Santa Ana Bay.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Family trips, planned or spontaneous, create opportunities where you get to enjoy exploring destinations and bonding with family members. It creates great memories that the everyone gets to share and reminisce through the years. The destination may be varied but the shared memories stay with everyone.
This pandemic hit us hard and I am pretty sure that we had family travel plans that were shelved until better days come. But that should not stop us from creating new memories. A quick trip to a nearby park, movie binging together, or quality family time while dining out can make new ones. This is actually the best time to create these new memories. We all need it. Everyone does. Be creative in finding new spots within the neighborhood. Remember, the destination does not make the lasting memory, the shared experience does.
Getting there: The gateway to Guimaras Island is the City of Iloilo. There are regular flights to Iloilo from major Philippine cities. Once you are in Iloilo, you can proceed to the port of Ortiz where you can take a 20-minute ride via a pump boat to Jordan in Guimaras. There are guides available at the port of Jordan.
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Today marks the second time that NCR goes on the strictest quarantine classification in the Philippines. The next two-weeks will be a complete shutdown of the country’s biggest metro effectively halting its businesses and confining its residents inside their homes. The hard lockdown would also mean that only authorized individuals are allowed to go in and out of Metro Manila.
Unlike last year where I spent more than half of the year locked down in Metro Manila, this year I am locked down in Baguio City. Thanks to a bout with dengue a few weeks back that I got locked out in a city with a more relaxed quarantine classification. The latest update had me thinking that, if I were to be quarantined out of Manila, what Philippine destination would I like to be locked in? Here are my top 7 preferred destinations to be locked in.
The northernmost province of the Philippines is probably on everyone’s travel bucket list. The picturesque views are enough to make you want to visit Batanes. But more than its rustic beauty, its rich culture and laidback community life make Batanes a perfect location to spend a lockdown.
Batanes’ land and seascape is hands down one of the most beautiful in the country. I have always described it like a scene from a movie set. It is breathtaking and will hold you in awe for its ethereal beauty. If you know how to bike or drive a motorcycle, it would be an advantage for you because you can take the time discovering each destination while on “hiatus”.
There is a lot to see and experience in Batanes. It is laid back and rustic.
I guess the best “lockdown” asset of Batanes is its homey and warm community vibe. Everybody was friendly and was wearing a smile. Locals make you feel that you are part of the community. I enjoyed going around Basco on a bike because it felt like you’re biking around your village. Getting locked down in Batanes makes you feel that you never left home.
Read my three-part blog on Batanes here: Batanes (Part 1) / Batanes (Part 2) / Batanes (Part 3)
Dona Remedios Trinidad, Bulacan
If I were to get “stuck” in Dona Remedios Trinidad, I would want a bike to be quarantined with me. This would allow me to ride and discover the hidden wonders of this municipality in Bulacan. I get to enjoy exploring and enjoying the laidback vibe of the place.
Dona RemediosTrinidad is this pandemic's biggest revelation.
DRT came out as a winner during this pandemic because it rose to fame when the first strict lockdown was lifted. Who would have thought that Bulacan has a rugged beauty on its eastern borders? Its unassuming but beautiful destinations, laidback vibe, and proximity to the metro made it one of the biggest discoveries during the course of the pandemic. It is still a new destination with a lot to discover.
Dona Remedios Trinidad is a good destination to escape the metro. The laidback vibe gives you a relaxing vibe to enjoy the lockdown without losing out on enjoying the outdoors. You can plan out days where you can bike out, explore, and discover its nature trails and attractions. You are guaranteed to have your days busy exploring.
Read the three blogs about DRT here: Tila Pilon Hills and 13 Falls / Talon ni Eva
San Vicente, Palawan
The beach is probably the most attractive destination to be locked out for me as I am a beach bummer. Hence, it won’t be a surprise that a beach destination like San Vicente is on my list. This beach destination is getting a lot of attention and development but it has managed to keep its rustic provincial vibe.
San Vicente is just one of the many destinations to explore in Palawan. It boasts of the longest white sand beach in the country spanning 14 kilometers from end to end. It also has a lot of beach spots, islands, and inland natural attractions to discover. You get to enjoy a variety of activities and attractions that you wouldn’t mind getting “quarantined” here.
You get to enjoy the simple beach life on this side of Palawan.
Having a beach accessible to you during a lockdown is a very good idea and having 14 kilometers of white sand to enjoy is not bad at all. It would be nice waking up and enjoying a cup of coffee by the beach. I wouldn’t be missing out on the beach and working from the beach would be awesome. I get to enjoy the rural ambiance of San Vicente while enjoying its popular beach strip.
Read my 2-part San Vicente blog here: San Vicente (Part 1) / San Vicente (Part 2)
Tibiao is famous for having pioneered the infamous kawa bath. This unique way of bathing will have you enjoying a warm dip in a kawa or a large wok. Heated through wood fire with leaves and flowers as aromatics, it is a nice experience as you enjoy the relaxing dip surrounded by nature.
I loved the simple and rugged living in Tibiao.
Staying in Tibiao is living the provincial life in its true sense. I stayed in a bahay-kubo in a secluded area along its hillside. The only sounds that you will hear at night are the sound of crickets, the river water flowing, and the occasional sound of the tuko. It was Philippine rural living at its finest.
I have said it before and I will say it again, Tibiao is a perfect destination to disconnect with the fast-paced urban life. The place makes you appreciate simple living and that most things that we have are actually privileges rather than needs. When things get monotonous, you can choose to explore the many natural wonders of Tibiao or enjoy an afternoon of splashing around the river. You get to enjoy a full day passing by that you realize that the best things in life are indeed free.
Read about my Tibiao experience here: Tibiao
The island-province of Guimaras is another destination that is worthy of more attention. It is an island that will keep you entertained throughout the lockdown because of its numerous attractions, both natural and man-made. It is laidback where you will get to enjoy rustic living with the occasional island exploration.
Guimaras is an island that can be reached via a 20-minute boat ride from the city of Iloilo. It is popular for having the sweetest mango variant in the country and the fruit is the province’s primary tourism draw. The island is also a popular beach destination in the region with its pocket beach spots around Guimaras.
Guimaras Island can keep you busy discovering its spots while locked out.
The pocket beach spots make Guimaras a good location to be locked down. The beach strips are easy escapes when things get monotonous and you get to variety of these to explore. The history buff in me will also enjoy the colorful story of Guimaras’ past. Not to mention, enjoying the delectable mango dishes that locals have prepared using the sweetest tasting mangoes of the province.
Read about my 2-part blog on Guimaras here: Guimaras (Part 1) / Guimaras (Part 2)
Siargao is one of my favorite island destinations in the country. I simply love its tropical and community vibe that you get when you walk around town. Interestingly, it has maintained its rustic feel despite the attention and interest that it is getting from local and international tourists.
Siargao is an island of adventure and I love it!
This tear-shape island on the eastern side of Mindanao is THE surfing capital of the country. Surfing is the main tourism draw of the island and most of its guests come here to try out this adrenaline-pumping activity. So you can expect to spend some time at Cloud Nine where you are either enjoying the views of surfers doing their thing or you are riding the waves.
Siargao’s vibe is different and unique. It is a top Philippine destination and yet it has maintained its rural vibe. You get to enjoy the simple provincial life without losing touch on the fun and vibrant nightlife. The island is more than a surfing spot because you can go around and explore its popular and hidden attractions. If I get locked down in Siargao, I would probably end up learning how to ride a motorcycle and the waves of Siargao.
Read about my 2-part blog on Siargao: Siargao (Part 1) / Siargao (Part 2)
I fell in love with Lake Sebu after I visited it in 2019. It was a place that I would not have any qualms visiting again anytime. I loved the subtleness and bucolic life of the T’boli - the richness of their culture and colorful traditions. Lake S’bu is a verdant destination where you get to enjoy their simple ways of living in the midst of its natural beauty.
Located in South Cotabato, Lake S’bu is the ancestral domain of the T’boli tribe of Mindanao. Lake Sebu is at the heart of its tourism draw and the lake is popular for the magical blooming of its lotuses. The place is also blessed with natural attractions that one can explore and enjoy. It is a destination that gives you a perfect mix of Philippine culture and beauty.
The T'boli culture is worth learning and immersing while in Lake Sebu.
Time slows down at Lake Sebu. Its vibe, their way of life, and its natural beauty will make you enjoy getting locked out of Manila. You can slowly take each day learning something new about our culture or exploring the natural beauty of the place. By the time you wind back to the metro, you are coming back with a new appreciation of Philippine culture and beauty.
Read about my Lake Sebu travel here: Lake Sebu
POST TRAVEL NOTES
I know that most of us have grown impatient with this new round of community quarantine mandates. It has restricted our movements and, for some of us, hoped that we were in a place with a more relaxed restriction. I was fortunate that a bout with dengue in mid-July locked me out of Manila and I am sitting this quarantine out in Baguio. This was the very reason why I thought about writing down this blog. I know that we all miss going places so let us visit these places virtually.
Most of us are finding these restrictions difficult. I feel the same way. There are some restrictions that I find unnecessary but I find this current one imperative. Let us all sit this through safely so we can get to travel safely in the future. While we are still waiting inside our homes, let us share our travel memories virtually so we can inspire others through these challenging times.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.