I clearly remember how relaxed I was last year when I checked in for my flight to Butuan City. It was an early morning flight in March and I was brave enough not to wear a face mask at a height when news of COVID19 hitting the country. I brazenly walked the halls of T3 without a mask. I only felt the need to wear a mask after seeing a fellow passenger boarding the same flight and she was carrying two crisp Japan Airline Duty Free Bags. I remember thinking… “shoot, may balikbayan from Japan at baka may dala (virus)”. Who would have thought that it was the start of a grueling year that changed the world?
The COVID19 pandemic changed the landscape of our lives. It managed to stop the world and keep us all inside our homes. In doing so, a lot of travelers, like me, were all confined in our corners daydreaming about our cancelled trips and planning future ones. Experts say that it will take us years before we can go back to the pre-pandemic normal that we once got used to. It is safe to say then that the health crisis has and will change the way we travel and how we travel.
Here are some of the major changes that we can expect now that we are slowly reviving our tourism industry.
> > > Research on your destination and its local health protocols. < < <
Research is one of the skills that seasoned travelers are very good at so this part of traveling will come very easy. The way we do our research will have to expand to include local health protocols of your destination. It would be a walk in the park if you are going to just one destination but can be quite tricky if you are planning to go on a multi-destination trip. At this point, local government protocols vary from
one destination to another.
Things to check are requirements on COVID19 test, health certificate, quarantine procedures, accommodation and itinerary, and the procedures when you arrive at the destination. This will help you save on time and money once you have these additional details with you. This can help you plan out your trip better in terms of time and additional expenses.
Planning your trips is not just about researching where to go, where to eat, and what to do. Knowing the health protocols of your local destination is THE most important part of the preparations. You can check out the social media pages of your destination or our local airlines’ website for an updated list of requirements. Remember that these protocols can spell out a great vacation time for you or wasting time on quarantine.
> > > COVID19 Testing is going to be a travel requirement. < < <
Get your nose ready for the nasal swab for that COVID19 test before taking a trip. This test is going to be staple in the coming years whenever we travel. Again, different LGUs have different approaches with some asking for RTPCR tests while others are okay with Antigen testing. You would have to include this additional cost in your travel budget although there are some government agencies that offer discounted rates for local tourists.
Based from my experience, RTPCR tests are more expensive based on the schedule that you need the results. Antigen is more cost and time efficient because you get the results within the hour at a lower rate. Again, you would need to check with the LGU regarding their testing requirement because you don’t want to spend on a test that they won’t consider and acknowledge. If nasal swabs are not your thing, the Philippine Red Cross offers saliva tests which some LGUs acknowledge upon entry. The swabs take a little time to get used to but, if you are a frequent traveler, you will get accustomed to it in no time. Hahahaha! And yes, please do not be a selfish a-hole by fabricating your COVID test results. Don’t put the lives of locals at risk. This kind of action smells of cheap desperation.
> > > Register on the LGU’s Contact Tracing / Visitor Registration App < < <
I have seen different local governments launching their own contact tracing apps and, most of the time, they also require visitors to register for easier monitoring. Some of these apps serve as digital repositories of your travel documents, monitoring your entry and exit from your destination, and can also function as a contract tracing mechanism as you go around exploring. They also have updates on travel requirements so this apps or online links can be useful to local travelers even before embarking on the trip.
It is also important that we take contact tracing mechanisms seriously for our safety and the locals that we interact with during the trip. I also recommend that you have your own personal log of where you have been and who you interacted with during the day. These simple mechanisms of recording can significantly help in controlling the spread of the virus in the event of an infection. Let us be responsible travelers by proactively recording these details.
> > > Alcohol, Facemasks, and Face shields are not part of travel necessities. < < <
Apart from your OOTDs, personal accessories, and mobile phones and gadgets, these three will now form part of our travel necessities. We all know that self-discipline on personal hygiene is very important in keeping you safe from COVID19. I guess most of us may have gotten used to it already and have already created hygiene behaviors around it. What is important is that you need to pack extras for the duration of your trip. If you can bring a little more to share with the locals that would be very much appreciated.
Apart from these new travel necessities, keeping your distance when interacting with locals and fellow travelers is also a major shift in our travel behaviors. We always need to keep in mind that we might be carrying the virus so keeping our distance is our way of showing that we care and respect the people around us. These may be hard in a certain set-ups but it is best that we enjoy each other’s company with the distance. One would probably argue that you had a negative test when you arrived. That is true but what you don’t want to happen is to bring the virus home with you. If you can’t help it, keep your mask on.
> > > Get vaccinated. < < <
The best way to beat COVID19 and help us get back to the old normal is to get vaccinated. There is no known cure yet on COVID19 and our best armor against it is to get inoculated. Vaccines, whatever brand it may be, have been proven to prevent the severe cases of COVID and death. This is our best protection especially for us travelers who love to wander around where we get to interact with different people, be it locals or fellow tourists.
A lot of countries are opening their doors to tourists who are already fully vaccinated. It is the safest way that they can protect their people and keep their tourism industry afloat. I hope that we can also do the same here in the Philippines and, more importantly, I pray that you would do your part of protecting yourself and the people around you by getting vaccinated against COVID when you get to your turn. This patriotic act will save your life and will keep you safe as you go around exploring the Philippines.
We can expect these changes to stay for quite a while and there is also a huge chance that additional protocols be imposed as time goes by. As much as we hope for a uniform approach on tourism protocols, there are a lot of variations and it is best to first check with the LGU of your destination. What is very important is for travelers to respect and abide by these protocols. Please do not be a pain in the as* and act boastfully as if your presence in the area is a right. Remember that you are just a guest in their place. Also, responsible travelers do not take shortcuts especially on tests. We don’t put other people’s lives in danger.
Beating COVID19 is easy if we take on the responsibility of having the right disciplines inside and outside our homes. We need to develop the behaviors needed to lessen our chances of getting and passing on the virus. All these changes involve self-discipline and that plays a huge part in the bigger picture in controlling this pandemic. Entitlement does not have a part in this crisis and your cooperation and discipline will determine how fast we can go back to our usual way of traveling.
I don’t know if you have observed it but the heat of this year’s dry season seems to be more bearable compared to last year. I have already managed the now one-month quarantine with my ever-dependable hammock to start me up with my summer vibe. Unlike last year where my summer opener got cut short, I still have to catch the view of the beach this year.
While #NCRPlus residents are locked up inside their homes, the rest of the country have already started enjoying the sun, sand, and sea. I guess, it really boils down to the discipline of people in the midst of this pandemic. Well, that is how it is and we can only hope for a more relaxed quarantine in the coming months.
Some of us, me included, are probably back on the drawing boards for our summer plans. Hence, I decided to blog about 7 must-do dry season activities here in the Philippines. We will be going around the country to enjoy a full summer day here in Pinas!
Watch the sunrise at Binurong Point, Catanduanes
Let us start our day in the province known for its howling winds - Catanduanes. This island-province is located on the eastern side of the country and faces the Pacific Ocean. It is usually the first to be battered by typhoons coming from the Pacific hence its monicker. But the beautiful and rugged terrains of Binurong Point is a great place to catch the first rays of the rising sun.
The trek to Binurong Point takes about 30 - 40 minutes from the jump off point. It usually starts very early in the morning just in time for you to catch the beauty of the sun rising in the east. Once you get to the viewdeck, you can pick your spot and get ready to be amazed by the sun theatrics from its first morning rays to its play of golden yellow to finally bursting into full morning brightness. Expect to be awed by its beauty as you watch one of the first rays of the sun breaking out from horizon.
The sun’s early morning rays will also show you the rugged beauty of Binurong Point. You will be amazed by the views of its sloping hills meeting the waters of the Pacific. It gives you a glimpse of the rugged and pristine beauty of Catanduanes.
You can read about my Catanduanes adventures here: Howling with the Winds of Catanduanes
Watch the Blooming of the Lotus at Lake S’bu in South Cotabato
Another great morning activity is hopping on a boat and watch the blooming of the lotus at Lake S’bu. This activity offers a different kind of calmness and peace in the morning. The views of the pink lotuses against the rustic backdrop of South Cotabato make it a perfect way to start your day.
The blooming of the lotuses is an iconic tourism draw of Lake S’bu - the home of the indigenous T’boli group. To fully appreciate the view, one would need to wake up early, board a wooden canoe, and paddle through the calm
waters of the lake onto the site. The soft and warm morning rays and the cool weather completes the serene vibe of being surrounded by the beauty of the pink blooms. It is a nice way to enjoy the peace and quiet that Lake S’bu offers its guests.
But Lake S’bu is not just all about chilling and relaxing as it also has other activities that could get your adrenaline pumping. Its scenic waterfalls and its rich cultural heritage make it a unique destination that not only makes you smile but also fills your heart with pride. I seriously think that a trip to Lake S’bu should activity that every Filipino must make in his or her lifetime.
Read about my Lake S’bu travel here: Lake Bloomers of S'bu
Kayak around El Nido’s Big and Small Lagoon
El Nido is a beach paradise. The once off-beat destination, known only to adventurous travelers, has steadily captured the hearts of many until it has fully come out of its shell. Its amazing limestone formations, secluded beach spots, amazing underwater scenes, and local stories that go with these spots have easily made El Nido a favorite, not only among foreign tourists but, among local travelers.
But El Nido is not just about beach-bumming and island hopping. Paddling up on two of its most popular lagoons is one of the great way to enjoy the summer sun - the Small Lagoon and the Big Lagoon. These two major attractions in El Nido sits adjacent to each other on island of Miniloc and its names best describes its size relative to each other. The best way to explore its nooks and crannies is by paddling up aboard a kayak. The Small Lagoon can be accessed via a small rock opening while the Big Lagoon gives you a more majestic way of greeting as you wade through its wide banks on its entrance.
You can paddle around and explore the nooks and crannies of the lagoons before finding your own corner to relax and enjoy its peaceful vibe. You can also enjoy a quick and refreshing dip in its cool waters before heading back to your boat. Be conscious of the time though because once you get into the serene vibe of the lagoons, time seems to be on a standstill in El Nido.
You can read about my El Nido trip here: #ElNidoFortified
Swim with the Jellies in Surigao
We all love heading down to the beach at we have here in the Philippines. Beach is LIFE, especially during the dry season. Philippine summer is not complete without a quick beach dip!
But you can actually spice up your beach trip by going on a swim with sea creatures in the wild. You can start off with that experience with the stingless jellyfish of Sohoton in Surigao del Norte. Located at Bucas Grande Island, the sanctuary gives you the unique experience of being able to swim with the stingless jellyfish - a perfect way to get close with nature. The laidback and serene atmosphere of the sanctuary adds up to the experience of being close to nature. It makes you experience that oneness with nature.
Surigao del Norte is a destination that has something in store for any kind of traveler. From the adrenaline junkie to the nature-tripper, they got everything covered. On top of your preferred adventure, you get to enjoy that unique and warm provincial hospitality that only Surigao can offer.
Read about how I enjoyed my trip in Surigao here: #SiargaoNaNgaAngHinahanapNgPuso
Get relaxed and warmed up in Tibiao, Antique
Getting your muscles relaxed after a long day full of activities is definitely a must. Nothing beats an aromatic warm bath to slow down your day before enjoying a nice and calm evening. And the best place to get that is where the kawa bath was born - Tibiao in Antique!
Tibiao is a rustic municipality on the western coast of Panay Island. This is where the original “kawa bath” was born. The process begins with a large cauldron that is filled with water that is heated over fire. Flowers, herbs, and leaves are added as aromatics. Once ready, guests take a dip in its warm and fragrant waters to relax their body after hustling the whole day. The kawa bath is soothing for both mind and body as you get relaxed while being surrounded with nature and disconnected from the rest of the world.
The rustic mountainside of Tibiao is a perfect getaway when you want to disconnect. It allows you to unplug from your busy city life and connects you with nature to get you refreshed and energized. It makes you realize that the simple joys are the best part of living.
Read about my Tibiao adventure here: Alamat ng Gintong Takipsilim At Mainit na Kawa
Bar Hop in Lakawon Island
Imagine yourself getting onto a floating bar just to unwind as you prepare to watch the sunset. Nice, right? This is why you should not miss out Lakawon Island in Cadiz City. It has redefined bar hopping with one of the largest floating bars in the country.
Conveniently anchored a few meters from the island, the Lakawon Floating Bar is one of the major attractions of the island. The barge was redesigned into a bar complete with a bar and lounging chairs that faces the sea. You can enjoy sipping on your favorite drink and munching on your fave snack while enjoying the view of the island and the waters around it. If you want to take a quick swim, you can just jump off from the lounging chairs into the inviting waters of the island.
Lakawon Island grew out from the devastation of a typhoon. The island was, initially, popular among locals who go to there to camp out. It took a typhoon to unwrap its beauty to a larger audience and it has grown from a mere camp site to a world-class resort island.
Read about our Lakawon adventures here: Lakaw Lakawon
Watch the Sunset at San Vicente
They say that every sunset is unique and I would have to agree. I love watching the sunset more than the sunrise because it tends to be more dramatic and poetic. And one of the best spots to catch the drama of the setting sun is at Long Beach in San Vicente, Palawan.
San Vicente prides itself with having the longest white sand beach in the country, with a length of 14.7 kilometers. It faces the West Philippine Sea and is one of the best spots to watch the sunset. You will get an amazing light show as the sun sets on the horizon. The shifting colors of pink, orange, and blue hues will keep you awe. Interestingly, the beach also comes alive during that time when locals go out and enjoy the waters of the beach. You’ve got locals walking by the beach, fishermen preparing for a night’s work, kids skimboarding, and tourists enjoying the view of the day ending. All these adds to the drama of the sunset. It gives you that peaceful vibe that tomorrow is going to be another exciting day of adventures.
San Vicente is a rustic destination where you get to enjoy the bucolic life. The people are friendly, life is laidback, and there’s so much beauty around. It is very easy to fall in love with the place because, for a beach person like me, it has the recipe for a perfect beach day.
Read about my San Vicente trip here: SanVic sa Pagbabago
POST TRAVEL NOTES
The Philippines is a country that has a lot of amazing destinations. Some of these spots are enjoying its popularity, others are starting to get recognized, and there are still those that needs to be given the attention. No matter what kind of traveler you are, there will always be a Pinas destination that will be perfect to your taste. I guess with more than 7000 islands to choose from in the Philippines, one can never go wrong.
I would have to say that this new round of community quarantines can be frustrating especially for a traveler like me and on a season like this. This is the perfect time to explore and discover. But I also understand that part of being a seasoned traveler is understanding that we also have to be responsible when we go around. This is the time when being a responsible traveler matter. Traveling can wait for the safety of others, especially for those who have limited access to healthcare facilities in the province. While waiting, I choose to reminisce the fun in traveling while planning my next adventure rather than sulking and complaining. That is where the fun of traveling begins!
Intramuros is more than just a historical site. It is a standing reminder of 300 years of Spanish rule and was a mute witness as to how the Philippines was born as a republic. If the walls of the city can talk, it would have given us an animated illustration of the grandest celebrations and the horrors of destruction inside and outside its walls.
Writing about Intramuros was on point as the country is currently celebrating the Quincentennial Commemoration of the Battle of Mactan. The arrival of the Spaniards, led by Magellan, marked the start of Spanish rule in the country and the walled city was at the heart of the action during that 300-year rule. Intramuros was at the center of politics, religion, education, and commerce for three centuries and we will get to see these influences as we continue exploring Intramuros.
West Gates of Intramuros: Puerta de Postigo and Puerta de Sta. Lucia
Intramuros used to have 8 gates in the earlier days. 3 on the north, 3 on the west, 1 on the south, and 1 on the east. Only 5 of the gates remain intact today. The other three were either destroyed during World War 2 or demolished to give way to the road network going into the walled city.
Puerta de Postigo was built in 1662 and led directly to the palaces of the Gobernador and the Archbishop of Manila. The gate is historical as this was the gate where Dr. Jose Rizal walked out of Intramuros during his execution. One can see traces of foot prints that were once installed to show tourists where Rizal walked in Intramuros on his last day. The gate was now converted into a police barracks.
Not far from the Postigo gate is the Puerta de Sta. Lucia. The gate is one of the original gates of Intramuros and was built in 1603. Its side chambers were expanded in the 18th century. It is a popular entry point if you are coming from the promenade along Manila Bay.
Both gates were destroyed during World War 2 and was reconstructed during 80’s. Both gates have been re-used as security offices with the construction of the bigger gates of Intramuros.
Museo de Intramuros (San Ignacio Church)
The Museo de Intramuros is the site where the San Ignacio Church once stood. The church was completed in 1889 and was designed by the first Filipino Architect, Felix Roxas Sr. The construction of the church was coined as their “Golden Dream” but was heavily damaged during World War 2. The church burned for 4 straight days because of the local hardwood used for its construction.
The church is undergoing reconstruction and is going to be re-purposed to become the Museo de Intramuros. It will soon be the repository of historical and cultural artifacts collected through time.
Plazuela de Sta. Isabel / Memorare Manila 1945
The Plazuela de Sta. Isabel is a small park that stands on the original site of the Sta. Isabel College. Established in 1632, it is one of the oldest girl schools in the world that once catered to Spanish female orphans. It was in 1733 that it was accorded the name “Real Colegio de Sta. Isabel. However, the school building was completely destroyed during World War 2, forcing the nuns to relocate in Ermita.
A small park was created on part of the original site of the college. The Memorare Manila 1945 was installed on the plazuela that honored the lives of the civilians who died during the liberation of Manila. Over 100,000 defenseless civilians were killed at that time from the brutality of the Japanese forces and the bombardment of Allied forces. The monument stands to remember that fateful episode in Philippine history.
San Agustin Church and Museum
Among the 7 original churches inside Intramuros, the San Agustin Church was the only church that was spared from the destruction of World War 2. Completed in 1607, it is the oldest stone church in the country and it is one of the four Baroque Churches in the country that was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a historical landmark having witnessed the drafting of the terms of the Surrender of Manila to the Americans and the horrors of being a concentration camp during World War 2 where hundreds of civilian lives were slaughtered by the Japanese.
The grand architecture of San Agustin Church can be seen from both the outside and the inside of the church. Its facade is patterned to the magnificent churches built in Mexico while one would be in awe at the grand interiors of the church. From its beautifully designed navel, its baroque pulpit, and its amazing choir loft with its pipe organs, everything is a grand representation of the how religion was viewed in the past.
The adjacent convent was converted into a museum that, by far, has the most extensive historical and cultural collections that I have seen from a religious museum. It, literally, walks you through history with its wide century-old collections of religious and secular artifacts. I enjoyed looking through its collection that includes a century-old baroque altar and antique ivory images of saints. The life-size images reminded me of my lola’s collection in Ilocos. It still gives me the creeps.
The museum also gives you a glimpse on the influence that religion had in the Philippines and in the region. The museum has an extensive collection of Chinese jars and porcelains. It gives you a glimpse of their way of life with their antique collection of paintings and personal effects. It allows you access to its choir loft where you get to see a top view of the church and a face-to-face encounter with its pipe organ.
The Crypts of San Agustin is one of the main attractions in its museum. The tradition of burying the earthly remains of the dead inside the church is not new to me but I find San Agustin’s one of the most organized and extensive inside a church. Located inside one of the caverns, it is the final resting place of prominent Filipino families including that of famous Filipino painter, Juan Luna.
San Agustin Church and Museum is a must place to visit in Intramuros. I was impressed by its extensive collections that walked me through the rich history of the church and the country. Its massive hallways made me imagine how it felt to have walked through it centuries ago. A visit to this church and museum is worth the time and could actually fill in a whole blog space.
Plaza Luis Complex
Adjacent to the San Agustin Church is a complex composed of 9 replica houses that represented Spanish-period bahay-na-bato. Collectively known as Plaza Luis, the houses were built based on archived pictures and plans. The houses were built in similar fashion and use just like its old counterparts where the base is made from adobe stones and the upper floors with wood.
Walking inside the complex will give you a glimpse of how the rich lived in the old days with its beautiful house interior designs complete with a central fountain area, grand staircases, and cobble stone-lined hallways. Similar to the old days, the first floor were rented out to businesses. The topmost floors were living areas of the owners. At present, it houses a museum and function areas of restaurants.
The Plaza Luis Complex now functions as an event place with restaurants and novelty stores within the compound. The architecture and interior designs cannot be missed as it gives you that Spanish-period vibe.
Cuartel de Sta. Lucia / Gallery of Philippine Presidents
Cuartel de Sta. Lucia is the ruins of a barracks that once stood adjacent to the Puerta de Sta. Lucia. Built in 1781, it was originally referred to as the Cuartel de la Artilleria de Montana. It became the barracks of the Philippine Constabulary in 1901 before becoming the first site of the Philippine Military Academy in 1905. The structure was severely damaged during the war.
The walls of the barracks were only re-constructed part of the cuartel after the war. The inside of the barracks was converted into a park. Adjacent to its ruins is the gallery of past Philippine Presidents. The spot is a good place to relax before moving to your next Intramuros spot.
Baluarte de San Diego
The Baluarte de San Diego is one of the oldest stone fortifications in the walled city. It was completed in 1587 and faces the Manila Bay on the western side of Intramuros. The baluarte, during its heydays, had a metal casting factory. Unfortunately, the Baluarte de San Diego got damaged caused by natural and man-made calamities. It got severely damaged in the liberation of Manila and was completely restored in 1992.
The restoration of the Baluarte de San Diego created a relaxing park with a unique mix of fort ruins and manicured lawns. The spade-shaped baluarte is one of the photogenic spots in Intramuros and is a preferred location for event photography. A pictorial for a debut was ongoing when I visited the park. The geometry of the fort is a great subject or backdrop for pictures.
The fort is also a great place to enjoy the views of the Ermita skyline and the Manila Hotel. You can sit down on the fort’s walls to enjoy the warm afternoon sun and breeze. It offers a panoramic view of the golf course outside the walls against the backdrop of Manila’s skyline. A perfect way to cap of your visit at Baluarte de San Diego.
The original Puerta Real gate was first built in 1663 and was located on the present General Luna entrance of Intramuros. The gate was used by the Governor-General exclusively during state function. The old gate was destroyed during the British Invasion in 1762 and was rebuilt in its present location in 1780.
Local guides in Intramuros shares that only carriage of the rich can enter through Puerta Real in the old days. During those times, only the rich can afford to stay within the walls of Intramuros and that required a separate entrance for residents. Meanwhile, the peasants and the commoners would have to use the other gates of the walled city.
At present, Puerta Real was re-designed as an events venue for celebrations. And true to its original calling, one needs to have the money to be able to celebrate in its gardens.
Puerta del Parian
The Puerta del Parian is one of the earliest entrances in Intramuros. It was built in 1593 and was named after the Chinese community in the area of Lawton and Arroceros Park that was called “Parian de Arroceros”. The parian was the commercial center of Manila and the gate connected the community to residents of Intramuros.
The Parian gate became the official gate of the Governor-General when Puerta Real was destroyed in 1762. Just like the other gates of Intramuros, it was also severely damaged during the Liberation of Manila and its restoration was completed in 1982.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Intramuros is more than just a historical attraction in Metro Manila. It sits at the heart of the 300 years of being under the colony of Spain. It saw the joyous celebrations that brought smiles to Filipinos, the hushed words said because of the fear that colonizers held on us, and the tears that rolled from the pains of war and death. And just like its walls, it also showed us how strong Filipinos can be through the grandest of days and the darkest of nights. The Filipino spirit will keep burning.
As we face the battle against COVID19, I seriously hope that we get to see beyond our differences so we can unite and work together to win this part of our generation’s fight. This is the time that we need to get our act together and think of others more than ourselves. This is the time that we need to build the walls around us to protect us and not between us to divide us. When we do this and win, remember we can enjoy more of the Philippines safely.
You can check out my upcoming Youtube video this weekend on my channel: #ByahengOffTheGrid.
Getting there: You can take the LRT 1 and go down at the Central Station. Take the pedestrian tunnel behind the Metropolitan Manila and exit at the farthest exit. From there you can walk to the Anda gate of Intramuros.
When I first launched my #ExploreManila project years back, I did expect to learn more about Metro Manila beyond its traffic, malls, and its noise. What I did not expect was discovering history in the midst of its crowded streets and alleys. Every city had a story to share that surprised and amazed me.
The stories in my next Metro Manila spot has been written over and over in Philippine history. This is where our country started to become our own. Its walls have been a mute witness to the grandest celebrations and to painful devastations. Walking within its walls is like walking through textbooks where you get to see and feel history unfolding.
The location of Intramuros was once a pre-hispanic trading community. Its strategic location along shores where the Pasig River and Manila Bay meets made the location an ideal spot for trading. It was during the occupation of the Spaniards that the stone walls were built to protect the capital from moro pirates. The walls were completed in the 18th century, enclosing the colonial and beautiful city of Manila.
Puerta de Isabel II
The gate was the last to be built in Gate and was also part of the tranvia route. Its chambers were used as medical quarters and storehouses and remains inn the walled city and was opened in 1861. It was part of the solution to decongest the pedestrian traffic outside the Parian gate. The gate's chambers remained intact despite being damaged during World War 2.
The gate was named after Queen Isabel II, the reigning monarch at that time. Her statue now stands in front of the gate as its permanent home. It was originally installed in Plaza Aroceros and infront of Malate Church before it was installed in its present location in 1975.
Intendencia (Aduana Building)
Standing a few meters away from the Puerta de Isabel is the ruins of a Spanish-period structure - the Intendencia. The building was once the home of the Intendencia General de Hacienda (Central Administration) and the Casa de Moneda (Mint). It was designed by Tomas Cortes and the current structure is the second to be built.
Again, the Intendencia was damaged during World War 2 and was restored to house the Central Bank, the National Treasury, and the Commission on Elections. However, it was de-commissioned after a fire severely damaged it in 1979. But do not fret as efforts are on the way to restore the structure to house the National Archives of the Philippines.
Plaza Mexico is a small historical park on the northern side of Intramuros, The square is a landmark that celebrates the close relation of the Philippines and Mexico because of the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade. This unique cultural tie spans centuries and is the longest trans-Pacific trade route that has resulted to over 300 trips between the two nations.
The public square is also the site where one of the north gates of Intramuros once stood - the Puerta de Aduana. The gates were torn down by the Americans in 1903 to open an access road going to Intramuros. Interestingly, a new bridge is under construction adjacent to Plaza Mexico. The Binondo-Intramuros bridge will connect the two historical districts of the city.
Plaza de Espanya and the Old Site of the Sto. Domingo Church
Plaza de Espanya is a small triangular “square” that recognizes the deep relations between the Philippines and Spain. The park has been previously known as Plaza Aduana and Plaza de Martires before it was formally recognized as Plaza de Espanya in 1902. A statue of King Philip II was erected in 1998 to become the plaza’s centerpiece.
Right across the Plaza de Espanya is the old site of the Sto. Domingo Church. The church was one of the 7 churches located within the walls of Intramuros and was the first casualty at the start of World War 2. The church was never restored and was transferred to Quezon City. The present site is now occupied by one of the largest banking firms in the country.
Plaza de Sto. Tomas
The rectangular plaza of the Plaza de Sto. Tomas stands in remembrance where the University of Sto. Tomas was established and once stood. Established in 1611, it was first known as the Colegio de Santisimo Rosario and was elevated to a university status in 1645 as University of Sto. Tomas. The sprawling campus in Sampaloc was opened in 1927 but the WW2 damage on the original site prompted the full transfer of the university to its Sampaloc campus.
The plaza still bears the memory of the old campus with a statue replica of UST’s founder’s, Archbishop Miguel de Benavidez, as its main piece. An octagonal marker was also installed that bears the National Historical Institute marker and old pictures of the original campus. On the other side of the plaza is an obelisk that bears the name of the authors of the 1899 Malolos Constitution where 54 of them are Thomasians.
At the heart of Intramuros is Plaza Roma - a historic and sprawling public square. Originally called Plaza Mayor, it is where community events are usually held during the Spanish period, including bullfights. It was later later on converted to a public garden and, in 1824, the monument Carlos IV of Spain was installed as a tribute to him for the introduction of the smallpox vaccine in the country. It was only in 1961 that it was renamed Plaza de Roma as a gesture to the Sacred College of Cardinals after the elevation of the first Filipino cardinal.
The plaza can no longer accommodate public events in the area. It serves as a rest or viewing spot for visitors of Intramuros where you can enjoy a cold drink or a nice serving of dirty ice cream. On the left side of the plaza is the Ayuntamiento - a Spanish-period structure that is now home to the Bureau of Treasury. The Palacio del Gobernador is on the right of the plaza. It used to be the former state residence and is now home to the Commission on Election and other government offices.
The plaza is also home to Book Stop Intramuros, a book exchange project that allows you to trade your books with other readers. The design of the book swap center is eye-catching that it has become an attraction in itself. But what stands out for me is the experience of being able to swap books and help promote reading among the younger generation.
The Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, or the Manila Cathedral, is the episcopal seat of the Archbishop of Manila. It is the center of Roman Catholic faith in the Philippines and the church has been a part of Philippine history. It is one of the major attractions in the walled city.
The current structure is the 8th to be built on its present site. The previous structures were ravaged by either fire or typhoons or was heavily damaged by earthquakes. The last was totally destroyed during World War 2 and had to be re-constructed.
The massive church remains to be a crowd favorite that a belfry cafe was recently set up to accommodate guests and tourists. Its imposing facade contrasts to the serene vibe once you get inside the church. So make sure that you drop by for a short prayer at the Manila Cathedral when you explore Intramuros.
Every Filipino is familiar with Fort Santiago. We’ve read about it on textbooks and discussed it in our history class. We have probably gave it as answer to a history exam.
Fort Santiago is a small fortress located along the banks of Manila Bay. Named after St. James, the fort is an important historical site that has witnessed the cruelty of war and prison and that includes the imprisonment of Dr. Jose Rizal prior to his execution in Bagumbayan. The park has a museum dedicated to the National Hero where his memorabilias are on display. Unfortunately, the museum is still closed during my visit.
Guests are first greeted by Plaza Moriones - a sprawling open space park complete with manicured lawns, park benches, and a fountain. Flanking the plaza on both sides are ruins of old barracks with some of these structures being adaptively re-used as cafes and souvenir shops. At the center of the plaza is a dancing fountain.
Further down the park is the reconstructed gates of Fort Bonifacio. You would have to cross its narrow stone bridge to get to the actual gates. You can walk around the fort and explore its dungeons, Baluarte de Sta. Barbara, Rajah Sulayman Theater, or its walls. Fort santiago also offers an amazing view of the Pasig River and the skylines of the nearby districts of Binondo and San Nicolas. The vibe inside the fort is very relaxed and laidback in contrast to its atmosphere centuries back. Now that makes me wonder if Fort Santiago is haunted.
Fort Santiago was severely damaged after the liberation of Manila from the Japanese forces. It was declared a “Shrine of Freedom” after the war and its restoration started a few years after. The fort now stands as a bastion of Philippine history where you get to see how “living” within its walls was like.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Metro Manila is like a mystery box where one gets surprised with what one would discover. Exploring the metro got me to walkthrough stories, meet people, and discover heritage spots in places where we usually just walk by. Intramuros is a tad different because you go there bringing with you the basic knowledge of our history and you walk like you are sifting through a history book page per page.
Walking around Intramuros had my mind playing around with my imagination. I was trying to see and feel how days were like inside Intramuros centuries back. The “clip-clop” sound of the kalesa had me imagining the elegance and grand lifestyle of the Ilustrados. The amazing views along the banks of Pasig River had me asking how Binondo looked like during those days. History and imagination are perfect partners and, yes, we are just starting.
Check out the first part of my Intramuros video blog here: #ByahengOffTheGrid Intramuros
Getting there: You can take the LRT 1 and go down at the Central Station. Take the pedestrian tunnel behind the Metropolitan Manila and exit at the farthest exit. From there you can walk to the Anda gate of Intramuros.
Travel restrictions have given us limited options for travel. Although we have seen pocket destinations opening its doors, the added cost is one of the considerations that travelers need to consider when deciding where to go. It is not a surprise that popular destinations are those that are close to the metro because of the ease in restrictions, making it more economical for our traveling feet.
With nothing to do on February 14, I hauled myself out of bed to take a quick day trip to one of my travel goals this year, Pila, Laguna! Established in 1578 by Don Felizardo Rivera, the town is home to well-preserved heritage houses dating back from the Spanish and American occupation. The town gives you that old town vibe that gives you that feel of its colorful history. In fact, Pila is the only town in the Philippines that is recognized by the state and the church for its historical value. Tara, libot na tayo!
Simbahan ng Pila
The San Antonio de Padua Parish Church, more commonly called Pila Church, is the first Antonine parish church in the country and in Asia. Founded in 1578, the church was originally built in Pagalangan (now Victoria) and was home to the second printing press in the country. The church was later transferred in 1800 to its present location because flooding was a major concern in the old site.
The present-day church was completed in 1849 and followed the baroque style of architecture. The three-level facade of the church is highlighted by an image of St. Anthony at the top-most, choir-loft windows on the second level, and the images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary adjacent to the church doors. The Franciscan Seal is installed on the church’s arched doorway.
Standing adjacent to the church on the left is the octagonal bell tower of the church. The original bells of the church, the third oldest in the country, is on display at the front of the church. The bells were spared from the British when the townsfolk submerged it in Laguna de Bay. The convent sits adjacent to the right of the church which is now home of the Liceo de Pila.
The simple church interior’s centerpiece is its two-tiered retablo. An image of St. Anthony is the main highlight of the altar in honor of the saint. The church was elevated as a national shrine in 2019.
Pila Town Center
Pila is one of the few Philippine towns that has kept their Spanish-period town structure system where the plaza is at the center of the town. The sprawling park at the heart of Pila is a beauty to see and enjoy. It is a favorite spot of locals where they enjoy a lazy afternoon.
Heritage structures surround the sprawling plaza. The church, the church convent, and the municipal hall also form part of the town center. The Pila Museum is also located within the town center. Heritage houses also line the streets around the perimeter of the plaza. An old Spanish well is also located in one of the corners of the plaza.
Pila Municipal Hall
The Pila Municipal Hall is one of the heritage structures that form part of this historical town. It was built in 1931 and followed the American-period architecture. It has a small
balcony that overlooks the town plaza.
The Municipal Hall is one of the well-preserved structures within the historical district of Pila. It also serves as the center of governance of the town.
Iglesia Filipina Indepiendente Church
Located along Mabini Street is another church heritage structure - the Iglesia Filipina Indepiendente Church. The church is a local Filipinized version of the Catholic church. The structure was built in 1932 and was also dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua.
The church facade is very simple with a small belfry on its left flank. The emblem of the church is located atop its entrance. The church interior is simple highlighted by a simple altar.
Pila Ancestral Houses
The main attraction of the town of Pila are the well-preserved ancestral houses that dates back to the Spanish and American period. A portion of the town, Sta. Clara Norte, has been declared a National Historical Landmark in 2000 and has since been known as the Pila Historic Town Center. The church and the municipal hall is part of the declared historical area.
You can start your town exploration around the town plaza where you would already see a number of heritage homes that line along the streets of Rizal, Rivera, and Burzagom Streets. The Agra/Villarica Heritage House was very impressive with its bahay-na-bato design and its azotea that faces the town center. I was also impressed with the Agra-Alava heritage house on the corner of Rivera and Burzagom streets because of its beautiful staircase leading to its doors. Some of these houses were re-purposed for business with the first floor being converted into commercial spaces with minimal impact on the architecture of the house.
Pila’s heritage houses are spread out throughout Sta. Clara Norte. Take the time to walk around the town and discover the many heritage houses in Pila. The Madrigal House, built in the 1920’s, is one of the well-preserved houses a block away from the plaza. Some of the houses have shown its age like the Fuentes-Santiago house and the Angel Natividad House. Another beautifully kept house is the Clinica Napil house along Rizal Street.
Walking the streets is both nostalgic and romantic. Pila oozes with history and gives one that old town vibe during early times. I completely enjoyed going around town enjoy the beauty of the past. I was in my element the whole time that I was wandering around, wishing I could live in Pila in one of its old houses.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Walking the streets of Pila was a travel goal achieved this year. The old soul in me enjoyed the nostalgic vibe of the town. It brought me back in time and had me imagining the bucolic Laguna town life in its early years. It was great to see that the LGU and the locals have worked together to keep the pristine beauty of Pila and keeping its heritage alive for everyone to wander and experience.
The news on a more relaxed travel requirements got a warm reception from travelers like me. As an advocate of local travel, this is a good start towards moving forward and doing our part in helping revive the country’s tourism sector. This is a great time to explore the Philippines, whether it means going around your hometown or checking out the more popular Philippine destinations. Always remember to be a responsible traveler by following new normal protocols and by abiding to travel requirements of the local destination you are heading to. So, buckle up because we are now rolling.
Pila, Laguna Youtube video blog: #ByahengOffTheGrid Pila, Laguna
Getting there: You can take a Sta. Cruz, Laguna bus at PITX in Paranaque and you can ask the driver to drop you off at Pila. You can take a tricycle to the town center from the national highway. Walking is the best way to explore the town. If you are heading back to Manila, you can take a tricycle and ask to be brought to the bus stop along the highway where you can take a bus back to Manila.
Dona Remedios Trinidad is the “IT” post-lockdown destination. With its relaxed travel requirements and proximity to the metro, it was not surprising that it has become popular among seasoned travelers, bike enthusiasts, and weekend explorers. The natural beauty of the municipality caught everyone by surprise. And with a huge playground to explore, a day or two is not enough to discover and enjoy what it has to offer.
I went on a third trip to DRT because I had the opportunity to conquer one of its most-talked about attractions - Talon ni Eva. The spot caught my attention from the start and was one of the reasons why I got interested with DRT. I was told that exploring it was no joke and was said to be challenging. But that did not dampen my desire to catch its beauty.
Trail Over Land and Water
Let me be straightforward... the 2-hour trek to Talon ni Eva is physically challenging. It involves river crossing, a steep ascent, and a bit of bouldering. It can be physically exhausting but the view of Talon ni Eva is the best reward you’ll get after the two-hour traverse. I assure you that it is all worth challenging yourself.
The trail starts off with a quick and easy trek along the barangay’s dirt road where you will be treated with the rustic and rugged views of DRT. The lush greens, with a solitary kubo every now and then, will give you that relaxing and calm vibe of the province. The dirt road will lead you to a river bed where the trail runs alongside it and, at certain points, crossing the river. So expect your feet to get wet.
The most challenging part of the trail is the steep ascent to Kinailawan - the designated campsite in the area. The “paahon” is “breathtaking” in a sense that the views at the top will sweep you off your feet and, on the other end, is that it “takes your breath” because it is exhausting. It is important that you take rest stops during the climb and to just take it one step at a time to conquer this part of the trek.
Once you get to Kinailawan, the views will re-energize you. This is where I got my second wind. You can take in a longer break at the campsite while taking in the beautiful view and breathing in the fresh air. From here, the trek gets easier as you descend down the other side of the mountain through its bamboo forest. The last part of the trek will get you scrambling over rocks and boulders to get to the base of the falls.
The key here is to get good pacing through the trail. There is no need to hurry and take your time to take in and enjoy the view and the experience.
Talon Ni Eva
Talon ni Eva is the second highest waterfall in Dona Remedios Trinidad. Its water cascades at a height of 30 meters into a deep basin. Contrary to usual perception, the name Eva is the shortened version of the male name Evaristo. There are two versions as to how the waterfalls got its name. The first was that it was the name of the lumad who discovered the waterfalls. The other one is that it was the name of the man who died tragically when he fell off the cascade while showing off to the woman he loved. The second story was shared by our tour guide.
Talon ni Eva is a beautiful art piece by nature. The water cascades beautifully on the crevices of its rock surface creating small streams flowing down into its basin. The breadth of its walls is a huge canvass for the water to run over, creating this beautiful view. Our guides say that it looks more majestic when the water flows are stronger.
The water drops into a deep basin at the foot of Talon ni Eva before flowing downstream. You can enjoy a relaxing dip into its cold waters but you need to take extra precaution. Lifevests can be rented out for those who are not confident with their swimming skills. You can also rent a bamboo raft if you want to chill while gliding through its waters and get close to its cascades.
Talon ni Eva has gained traction among local travelers so expect crowds, especially during weekends. This is also where most visitors take their meals so make sure that you find your spot first before exploring. Our group had good pacing so we were one of the first groups to get to the falls and enjoyed its beauty without the crowd.
The trail heading back is a lot easier through Sapang Maltisa. It leads you downstream where you would be treated with the views of lush greens and still water pools glistening in green hues. Our guide says that this is the easier trail as the ascent back to Kailawan os gradual compared to the trail that we descended to on the way to Talon ni Eva.
We made a slight detour to a place that they call “Sliding Falls”. The secluded spot is a perfect spot to enjoy the calmness of nature without the crowd. Its main attraction is a small cascade gushing on one of the crevices of its boulders where one can slide down into its deep pool, hence, the name given by the locals. You can take a break at this spot before heading back home.
From this spot, the gradual ascent to Kalinawan begins through its picturesque bamboo forest. This part of the trail is a popular spot for pictures because of its beautifully landscaped bamboo-lined pathway. A final uphill push will get you to back to Kalinawan and finally back on the trail to the jump-off point.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Talon ni Eva was the spot that made me curious to explore Dona Remedios Trinidad. It was this same curiosity that had me exploring DRT, not just once, but thrice. In all of these travels, I always came home tired but totally amazed by the municipality’s natural beauty.
There are still a number of interesting spots to explore and discover on this side of Bulacan. One thing that came out really good during this health crisis is the discovery of these destinations after the lockdown which, on a regular day, would probably be missed out for other “fancier” destinations. Go ahead and explore your own hometowns because you just might discover the next best thing in Philippine tourism.
Watch my Talon ni Eva Youtube video blog here: #ByahengOffTheGrid Talon Ni Eva
Getting there: My trip to Talon ni Eva was organize by FB Travel Organizer - Buhay Kalye Gala. I highly recommend joining their organized trips especially if it is just you or a couple of your friends. I think you can also take a trike or habal-habal from the Poblacion to the jump off point of Talon ni Eva.
Click on the image for the link.
[5The city of Manila is getting a major facelift from Yorme creating a renewed interest to the old city. The breath of fresh air has caught everyone’s attention, even mine, that ordinary people from the metro are exploring and commending the city government’s efforts. The white sand, a new coffee place, and a newly-designed pedestrian underpass caught my eye that I chose the district of Ermita to kick-off my renewed interest to #ExploreManila!
Originally called Lagyo, the district of Ermita developed from a rural outskirt to a posh neighborhood, together with Malate, during the early 20th century. It was originally envisioned to be the home of government centers and offices. However, the liberation of Manila in World War 2 saw the heavy destruction of the district as it was caught under the crossfires and violence between Japanese and liberation forces.
The years after the war saw the re-development of Ermita but this time as a commercial hub of the city. Its grand mansions were replaced by towering concrete structures. It now serves as the home of the Philippine General Hospital, the Supreme Court of the Philippines, UP Manila, and the Philippine Normal University. But in the midst of its urban development, Ermita has kept its history alive that will give you a glimpse of its past, present, and future.
Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Guidance
The area of Lagyo was later on called “La Hermita” because a Mexican hermit once resided in the place. A hermitage was built in the area that housed the image of the Nuestra Senora de Guia, the patron saint of travelers and seafarers. The hermitage has since evolved to become the present Ermita Church.
The current structure was built in 1947 from the World War 2 ruins of the old church. The image of the “Our Lady of Guidance” was saved from the devastation when it was secured by the parish priest by putting it inside a crypt a few weeks before the liberation. The image of the Black Madonna, made from Molave, is said to be in oldest surviving Marian statue in the country.
The tranquil atmosphere and the warm breeze from Manila Bay gives the church grounds a relaxing vibe. Its simple and elegant altar catches your attention with its Marian image as its centerpiece. Its high ceilings is an attraction in itself with its artworks depicting the life of Christ.
Baywalk (White Sand)
One of the most talked about rehabilitation projects under the Duterte Administration, the white sands of the Manila Baywalk is a refreshing change of view. I have seen the numerous rehabilitation attempts on this baywalk along Roxas Boulevard, from a simple esplanade to a food and bar strip then back. This is so far the most extensive attempt to give the area a refreshed look.
Although it is still in its initial stages, the plan looks very interesting with an esplanade that juts out to the bay. This would give us another amazing view of the famous Manila sunset. The project has already rolled out and, by the way it is being rolled out, it looks promising and exciting.
Rizal Park Complex
Rizal Park is the largest historical urban park in Asia covering 58 hectares of land. The complex houses three national museums, a grandstand, an open-air theater, numerous gardens, and green open spaces. It has undergone refurbishments making it more appealing to the public.
At the heart of the park is the Rizal Monument - a monument honoring the country’s national hero. The park was his place of execution in 1896 and the monument is the final resting place of Rizal’s remains. The actual execution site of Rizal is a few meters away from the monument and it is marked by a historical marker. Behind the entrance, tableaus were installed to give its guests a depiction of the final moments of the national hero.
The sprawling park has mini-parks scattered within its complex where you can enjoy a little peace and quiet in the midst of the city buzz. At the center of the park is a beautiful lagoon that lights up at night and gives visitors a good choreographed evening show of colors, fire, and water. Further down the park is the Agrifina Circle where a skating rink once stood but was now refurbished into the Statue of the Sentinel of Freedom bearing the image of Lapu-Lapu. A relief map of the Philippines can also be found in the area.
The park is also home to the National Library and three national museums - the Planetarium, the National Museum of Anthropology, and the National Museum of Natural History. The Quirino Grandstand is part of the park complex. Traditionally, Independence Day celebrations and Inaugurations of elected-Presidents are held in the venue. Rizal Park also serves as the country’s Kilometer Zero.
Manila Ocean Park
Opened in 2008, the Manila Ocean Park is an oceanarium located behind the Quirino Grandstand. It is home to 14,000 sea creatures with 277 species endemic to South East Asia. The 3000 cubic meters of seawater used in the oceanarium come from Manila Bay which are filtered for the park’s use.
The park has seven galleries to explore and enjoy. It gives its guests a good appreciation of Ariel’s life under the sea and the beauty that go with it. Both kids and adults will be in awe watching sea creatures, from seahorses to sharks, gliding through the waters. Its main attraction is the underwater walkway where you will be surrounded by water and sea creatures. I loved that part.
Ocean Park is also the first waterpark to have a penguin facility. The park is home to Humboldt penguins and gives guests the opportunity for a face-to-face encounter with these gentle creatures. It was a cool and exciting activity getting close to these penguins. The facility has successfully bred these penguins inside Manila Ocean Park.
The Manila Ocean Park is a great destination for both kids and adults. Their galleries and the activities that they offer guarantees fun and excitement while discovering and learning something new.
The Manila Hotel is the oldest premier hotel in the country. Opened in 1912, the hotel has a unique spot in Philippine history as it served as the official residence of General MacArthur during his tenure here in the Philippines. It has served foreign dignitaries and international personalities, which include Ernest Hemingway and The Beatles, through its 109 years of operations.
The grand and luxurious lobby of the Manila Hotel is an iconic image of the hotel and it is a beauty to admire. You get that air of elegance and nostalgia as you walk around the hotel. The hotel is a Philippine icon that fuses glam and history.
Ermita is the home to the country’s 4 National Museums - the Planetarium, the National Museum of Anthropology, The National Museum of Natural History, and the National Museum of Fine Arts. With the exception of the Planetarium, the museums are housed in heritage buildings that were initially intended to be government offices. However, these heritage structures were later on repurposed to become the repository of the country’s history and culture.
The National Museum of Natural History
Located along the Agrifina Circle of the Luneta, the National Museum of Natural History opened its doors in 2018 and outlines the natural history of the Philippines. The neo-classical- design building, completed in 1940, was originally the Agriculture and Commerce Building. It was damaged during the war and was re-constructed based on its original plan. It later on became the headquarters of the Department of Tourism before it was re-purposed to become part of the National Museum Complex.
The museum walks its guests thru the rich and vibrant eco-systems of the Philippines. It showcases the biodiversity of the country in land, water, and air. The interactive exhibits introduce guests to the different wildlife endemic to the country and the environment where they thrive. The museum makes you appreciate how rich the natural resources of our country.
Two of the main attractions of the museum is the “Tree of Life” and the preserved remains of Lolong. The “Tree of Life” is the museum’s main centerpiece. Located at the atrium, the dome serves as the ceiling of the museum and the DNA structure serves as its trunk. The glass ceiling illuminates the atrium giving it a calming vibe.
The museum also serves as the home of Lolong - the world’s largest crocodile in captivity at 20 feet and 3 inches. The saltwater crocodile was caught in creek in Agusan del Sur after weeks of hunting for a crocodile suspected for a fisherman’s death. He was moved to the Bunawan Eco-park where he died 17 months after he was captured. Lolong was estimated to be 50 years old. His skeletal remains and taxidermied skin is now on display at the museum.
The National Museum for Anthropology
The National Museum of Anthropology is the museum dedicated to showcase Philippine heritage. The building was once occupied by the Department of Finance before it was repurposed to house the ethnological and archeological treasures of the country. Exploring its floors will give you a glimpse of the Filipino’s rich and colorful culture and traditions. The museum has a wide collection of artifacts from the different ethnic groups of the country. The selection includes woven clothes, ornaments, tools, weapons, and musical instruments among others that give you a glimpse of the way their way of life. You would be amazed as to how varied our local cultures are and the narratives that go with it. The exhibits make you understand how different we are from each other but, more importantly, what makes us uniquely Filipino.
Part of the exhibit are artifacts from the past that were excavated and were retrieved from the sea. The most prominent is the San Diego gallery where it gives guests a glimpse on how the Philippines were linked to the world during the galleon trades. The ship sunk off the waters near Fortune Island in Batangas in 1600 and the wreck was discovered only in 1992. 34,407 pieces of historical artifacts from China, Japan, and Mexico were recovered from the wreck.
The National Museum of Fine Arts
Standing adjacent to the National Museum of Anthropology, the National Museum of Fine Arts is the country’s repository of the visual arts of Filipino classical artists and art pieces of unnamed local artists from the Spanish-period. The building that serves as its home was once known as the Old Legislative Building that housed the Congress and Senate. The building was recognized as a “National Historical Landmark” in 2010 by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.
Juan Luna’s “Spoliarium” is the central art piece of the museum. Luna took 8 months to complete his masterpiece depicting a Roman circus with dead gladiators being dragged and stripped of their armors. The painting won a gold medal in the 1884 Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes. It is the largest painting in the Philippines and is currently on display at the museum’s main gallery.
The museum is home to a number of unknown Filipino artists from the Spanish-period. The artists’ rendition of religious images was influenced by the colonization of the country by the Spaniards. The most prominent of this art piece is the “retablo” of the San Nicolas de Tolentino in Bohol. The altar piece is considered a National Cultural Treasure.
The galleries honor Filipino artists from Hidalgo, Botong Francisco, Amorsolo, dela Rosa, and other National Artists. It also has a collection of sculptures from 19th and 20th century artists. It even has a gallery paying homage to the creativity and artistry of Dr. Jose Rizal.
Manila City Hall
The Manila City Hall is the center of the city’s governance. The building was originally intended to be part of the government complex housing national offices which explains the similarity of its design with the National Museums. It was heavily damaged during the World War 2 and was re-constructed with deviations from its original designs.
The most iconic image of the City of Manila is the clock tower of the city hall. It is the largest tower in the country standing at 100 feet. The clocks was digitalized to synchronize to the standard time of the country.
Here is another interesting trivia - the Manila City Hall, when viewed from above, is said to be a shaped like a coffin.
The Manila Underpass created a huge buzz on the internet when it was opened after it was given a facelift. The new look of the underpass is very far from the old, stinky, and dirty one that most of us would remember it to be. It took a new mayor to give it a refreshing look that it has become a tourist attraction with its new look.
The Manila Underpass was given a fresh interior look. It was cleaned and cleared to give way to a more chic looking ceiling and flooring. Its walls were mounted with lighted pictures and images of the Manila’s tourist spots and its cultural traditions. From a mere walkway, it has become an IG-worthy spot for locals and guests to enjoy.
Bonifacio and the Katipunan Monument
Another interesting and beautiful change is the refurbishing of the Bonifacio and the Katipunan Monument. The park, beside the Manila City Hall, was neglected for years and was often compared to a huge public restroom. It was cleaned and refurbished to become another popular park in the city.
The Bonifacio and the Katipunan Monument stands to honor the heroic fight of Andres Bonifacio against Spanish rule. Inaugurated in 1998, the monument features Bonifacio in a fighting stance and the depiction of the Philippine Revolution. Written behind the monument is the “Kartilya ng Katipunan”.
The park has undergone a lot of beautification. A cafe, aptly called “Kape-tolyo”, is the latest addition to the park that is creating a buzz among netizens. A monument honoring Emilio Jacinto was installed just a few meters from the cafe. A part of the Berlin Wall is encased in glass in one of the corners of the park. It was a gift to the city by Germany.
Manila Metropolitan Theater
The Manila Metropolitan Theater is a heritage structure completed in 1931 that witnessed performances from local and international celebrities. It played hosts to zarzuelas, theater productions, movie showing, live performances, and concerts. It is undergoing a major rehabilitation after years of neglect from both local and national government.
I have fond memories of the Manila Metropolitan Theater. I remember performing on its stage during my high school years as part of our activities. So, it is great to see the efforts being put in with its rehabilitation. I am sure that the much-anticipated opening of the Manila Metropolitan Theater this year is going to give the needed morale boost to the performing arts.
The sprawling plaza is a central hub between Intramuros, Binondo, Quiapo, Sta. Cruz, and Ermita as most of the access to these other districts stem from this plaza. Also known as Plaza Lawton, it is a transport hub where one can catch public transport to Cavite, Las Pinas, and other destinations south of Manila. Even during the times when the tranvia was in operation, a terminal was also located here.
The main centerpiece of the plaza is the monument of Andres Bonifacio that was installed in 1963. The monument was designed by Guillermo Tolentino to honor the hero in his birth centennial. It was also during this time that the plaza was renamed to Liwasang Bonifacio from Plaza Lawton. The square is one of the freedom parks in the country where one can hold peaceful protests without requiring permits from local authorities.
Manila Post Office
The Manila Post Office houses the main postal mail sorting and distribution in the country. The central position of the heritage building was part of the original plan where it is accessible to all road networks and the Pasig River. The present structure was a reconstruction from the original design after the original building was destroyed in the liberation of Manila.
The Philippine Postal Corporation has its home here and has undergone modernization efforts. This includes automated mail sorting systems and new postal code system for faster service delivery. The office managed to keep the old tradition of letter writing despite the advancement in communication technology.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
A fresh approach by a new mayor gave an old city a much-needed facelift that paved the way for a renewed interest from both the old and the young. It took Yorme’s political will to start cleaning up the city of Manila and work on bringing back its former glory. And it is working! Exploring Ermita got me excited at how much Manila can change under his leadership.
#ExploreManila! was a project that I started a few years back where the goal was to explore the 16 cities and lone municipality of Metro Manila. We went around to discover the beauty and history hidden in the urban jungle of the metro. However, I still have a couple of cities to cover to complete this project and that is what I hope to do this 2021. Sama ka na!
Check out my #ByahengOffTheGrid Youtube video here: #ByahengOffTheGrid Ermita
Getting there: You can take the LRT Line 1 and go down at UN Avenue or Central Station.
2021 is rolling in quite nicely with a ray of hope and excitement. We are seeing more Philippine destinations gradually opening up to travelers but still with restrictions. This is completely understandable as we are still in the middle of controlling the spread of the COVID19 virus.
Like previous years, I usually start this travel blog with a round-up on my travel goals that I have lined up for the year. This year is somewhat a continuation from 2020 as most of my goals were from my cancelled trips. I have added an activity stemming from changes that happened during lockdown.
This province located on the northeastern side of Mindanao was the destination that we missed out after the lockdown was declared last year. We had to cut short our CARAGA trip lest we would have ended up stuck in Mindanao. I am hoping that I would be able to close down the loop and discover the province’s rustic and pristine attraction.
The plan to go backpacking in Sorsogon has long been on my list and started out from
me wanting to swim with the whale sharks. Reading through Sorsogon’s tourism info got me more interested with its beach spots and old churches. Swimming with the gentle giants of the sea had become just one of the many activities that I intend to do. I hope that I can finally do it this year.
Bells of Balangiga, Samar
The return of the Balangiga’s historical bells have sparked more interest in me to visit the town. The rich and bloody history of the place during the American occupation have long given my feet the excitement to visit and explore it hallowed grounds. History is something that I love to delve in when I travel. Hence, Balangiga is an obvious destination that you will find me exploring and, hopefully, I will get to finally do it this year.
Another cancelled trip from last year was a family trip to Mindanao. Exploring this province was part of the plan and it also included the city of Zamboanga. Unfortunately, the pandemic had me pushing the trip to the 2nd quarter of this year. This trip would be the first time that I would be exploring a new destination with the family.
Davao de Oro
Davao de Oro is a new addition to my list. This rustic and rugged destination is an off beat spot in the area where its beauty is known among its locals in, those from its surrounding provinces, and those who have taken the chance to explore it. A staff of mine, who hails from the province, have sealed my deal with Davao de Oro when he shared with me some interesting destinations worth exploring.
Family and friends could vouch how much of an old soul that I am. I find beauty in history and heritage spots that give me a glimpse of our country’s colorful history. The well-preserved heritage houses of Pila has long been caught my interest. I guess I never really gave much thought about it since it is just a bus ride away. But a trip to Calamba and Los Banos last year got me into the groove to finally check out this popular heritage town.
Rizal Bike Ride
With last year’s lockdown, I got myself a bike and it did cross my mind that weekends can be interesting with bike rides around the metro. But I actually haven’t gathered enough guts to do it because of my fears of the city streets. With the streets becoming more bike friendly nowadays, I think I would finally be able to do a weekend ride in and around the metro. The bike destination of Rizal is an interesting location to start off in preparation to a Laguna de Bay loop next year. Kaya kaya?
My travel theme for this year is #2021ders. The hashtag is a play of the words “wanders”, which means to go around and explore, and “wonders”, meaning unexpectedly beautiful. This is what I hope to achieve this year - to be able to go around and explore Pinas and be unexpectedly surprised by another side of its beauty. 2021 is all about getting lost in our country’s beauty.
Philippine destinations have a lot of facets to offer to any kind of traveler. I have a long list of places that I want to explore this 2021, apart from the list I mentioned above - Barasoain, Talon ni Eva, and even Baguio. #PinasMuna will be part of my campaign this year. Again, I will continue to promote local destinations to help spur local tourism economies in the light of this pandemic. This is the time to choose to discover our very own.
2020 was not a year for travel for all of us. The COVID19 pandemic came at a time when we were just starting to pack our bags and getting ready to head out and break in to summer. In a matter of days, we had to lock up inside our homes and, for the next 10 months, had to endure keeping our feet in its place for our safety and everyone else.
Looking back at 2020 and the travel goals that I laid out at the start of the year, I partially explored only one destination that I initially intended to explore. I still vividly remember how the quarantine came around on me in the middle of the trip - the surprised feeling, the confusion, the rush, and the relief that came after. It was a flood of emotions that had me torn between heading back home versus continuing with the trip. There was that voice at the back of your head that was telling you that it’s probably not as bad as we think but there was also that gut feel that it is. In the end, the decision to fly back to Manila proved to be the best decision back then.
Things may not have been the best this 2020 but I did manage to squeeze in a few trips that gave this year a bit of spice. Let me share with you my top 3 destinations for 2020 from my meager list of trips this year.
Surigao del Sur
A majestic waterfall and an enchanting river in Surigao del Sur are my 2020 travel icons. Interestingly, I also happen to be on this trip when the community quarantine was declared and we had to cut it short just for us to get back to Manila just in time before the lockdown took effect. I remember coming back to Hinatuan after a day of exploring the two attractions when the news broke out that PRRD will address the country that evening. We had a a hunch and, in a snap, we had to change our plans.
Tinuy-an Falls is a popular spot on this side of Mindanao and was dubbed as the “Niagara Falls of the Philippines” because of the breadth of its cascade. The attraction was developed by the local government making access to it easier. The development also allowed guests to explore the cascade up close with ease and from different angles. It was a real beauty to admire that I was simply mesmerized by its beauty. I enjoyed the cold water flowing over my feet as I explored the different corners of this majestic waterfalls.
Hinatuan’s Enchanted River is a charmer. The rustic and calm ambiance of the place, matched by its natural beauty, gives the place a mystic feel. The local tale of the river adds spice to its beauty. A dip in its cool waters was an refreshing and energizing as you are surrounded by lush vegetations and serenity. It was really a unique experience in a bucolic setting.
Surigao del Sur is not just about these two iconic destinations. My visit allowed me to interact with sea creatures and get a feel of its old town vibe. Too bad that we had a health crisis that had us canceling the rest of the trip. Well, that means that is is another travel opportunity to complete the experience.
Check out my Surigao travel blog here: #CARAGALangHa: Surig-WOW-ed
Or you can also check out my Surigao adventure video blog here: #ByahengOffTheGrid CARAGA
Dona Remedios Trinidad, Bulacan
A post-quarantine trip to Dona Remedios Trinidad had me in awe of the place. I was surprised to find a ruggedly beautiful destination like this that is close to the metro and offers a lot of activities. DRT was a welcome break from the months of being quarantined at home.
Tila Pilon showcases the rugged terrains of this landlocked municipality. You get to see how blessed this province is with its natural resources and it will get you excited with the possibilities of still-to-be-discovered destinations on this side of Bulacan. The municipality is the least traveled spot in the province and it seems that there are still a lot of places to explore and discover. Now, that is really exciting.
13 Falls was another great day trip adventure that had me trekking and clambering over rocks. I realized how much I missed the outdoors and the physical activity that go with exploring a destination. With a number of cascades to choose from, you are bound to find your own spot to enjoy. Mine was a natural jacuzzi spot at Waterfall #10. This is one destination in DRT that is worth exploring. You will get a full experience of enjoying nature’s beauty while getting physically challenged.
Of course, a 13 Falls adventure is best capped off with the warm savory broth of Binalakawan of Kuya Larry from Avalon Eco-Farm. The local dish will give your taste buds the simple and unique flavor of DRT.
Check out my DRT travel blog here: Dona Remedios Trinidad Na Yan!
Or you can also check out my DRT adventure video blog here: #ByahengOffTheGrid Dona Remedios Trinidad
The political will of Yorme is giving the city of Manila a major facelift. The changes have, no doubt, sparked interest among travelers to take another look at the city. I did took on that challenge this year when I checked on what was happening on this side of the metro. The city is not about to disappoint.
An old and neglected underpass was given a major facelift and has now become a major attraction. A historical park was cleaned up and was given a fresh and hip coffee place to become a huge hit among the younger generation. I will not divulge much about my visit pending the release of my travel blog.
The old city of Manila is getting a fresh look and it is attracting a lot of travelers because of these changes. It was also good that it came in at a time when travel is limited giving the city more opportunities to be re-discovered. It just proves that with the Yorme’s political will and the current health crisis spelled out opportunities for Manila.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
We are coming out of a pandemic that paralyzed the world. Our country needs us more than ever as we recover from this crisis. We need to focus on strengthening local economies by patronizing local products, and that includes patronizing local destinations. I will always repeat the call that we go #PinasMuna. As I have said before, this is the best time to discover Philippine destinations.
As we bid goodbye to the challenging 2020, let us keep our hopes up for 2021. We all look forward to traveling more in 2021 and I hope that we put Philippine destinations as our priority for travel. Let us all contribute and work together for a stronger Philippines in the new year!
Happy New Year, ka-Viajeros!
Tourism is one of the industries that was severely affected by the COVID19 pandemic. The strict travel restrictions and the added costs that go with travel has limited the movement among those who explore. This affected thousands of lives from airline and bus company employees down to local guides and small entrepreneurs in these communities.
However, there are still opportunities to explore destinations although it is very limited. It is usually confined in provinces and regions that share the same quarantine status with minimal travel requirements. For travelers like me, this is a welcome relief from months of staying at home. This week’s travel destination gave more than just that. It was a surprise that such a place exists in the province of Bulacan! This is Dona Remedios Trinidad!
Dona Remedios Trinidad is the largest and the youngest municipality in Bulacan. Established in 1977, it covers one-third of the province’s land area that was originally from the municipalities of Angat, Norzagaray, and San Miguel. DRT’s pristine natural attractions are the least travelled destinations in province, earning it the monicker “Bulacan’s Last Frontier”.
Dona Remedios Trinidad Welcome Arch
The first to greet you once you arrive at Dona Remedios Trinidad is its welcome arch. It is one of the brief stops that is usually included in organized tours. It is a popular stop so expect crowds flocking and having their pictures taken in the area.
From this vantage point, it already gives you an idea of the municipality’s rustic and rugged vibe. The arch is located along the main road that is carved along the hillside of the municipality and runs parallel to a river. The view deck gives you a sneak peek to the rugged and still to be explored beauty of Dona Remedios Trinidad.
Tila Pilon Hills, Brgy. Kalawakan
Dubbed as Bulacan’s version of the Chocolate Hills, Tila Pilon offers a 360-degree view of DRT’s rolling terrain. The municipality sits on the southern side of the Sierra Madre mountain ranges giving it a majestic and rugged terrain to explore and enjoy. If I remember it right, the name was derived from the Spanish word “pilon” that means basin or trough. The hillside looks like an inverted pilon hence the name “Tila Pilon” or like a trough.
One needs to take a 30-minute trek to the view deck of Tila Pilon to appreciate its beauty. The trek weaves through the farmlands of DRT giving you that relaxing provincial vibe. We did our hike early in the morning and we enjoyed the cool and crisp morning whiff of the farmlands. Be aware of your surroundings during the trek and you might be able to catch a glimpse of an eagle that frequents the place.
The last stretch of the hike is a steep ascent to the view deck of the hills. On its base, you get to see the trail heading up and the famous “Tila Pilon” sign. This is one of the perfect spots to have your picture taken as you climb up the hill.
Tila Pilon offers a panoramic view of DRT’s rugged terrains. From this vantage point, you get to see the Sierra Madre mountain ranges. The view will keep you in awe as you get to enjoy the greens, breathe the crisp morning breeze, and feel the warmth of the early morning sun. It was a perfect view to admire after months of quarantine. From here, you get to hike back along an easier trail where locals have installed “photo stops” that guests can enjoy.
I highly recommend that you do the hike in the early morning or late afternoon as the view deck does not have much vegetation for cover. I think it is a good place to catch the sunrise.
Candle Monument / Mount Lumot, Brgy. Camachin
The Candle Monument stands to honor those who gave their lives during the battle against the guerrillas in 1938. The monument was designed as an obelisk with a candle flame on its top as a symbol of freedom. It was installed on the summit of Mount Lumot, the highest peak in the province.
The summit of Mount Lumot offers a panoramic view of the flat plains of Bulacan and Pampanga. You can see the clear contrast of the rugged Sierra Madre mountain ranges and the flat terrains of Central Luzon from
this vantage point. If you are lucky to have a clear day, you will be treated with a good view of Metro Manila and Mount Arayat from Bulacan’s roof.
13 Waterfalls, Brgy. Camachin
A popular day trip destination in DRT, the 13 Falls in Camachin is a waterfalls system that runs through Sapang Adarna. The “waterfalls” is actually a series of cascades that you get to enjoy as you trek up to its headwaters. The trek can be quite a challenge as it will entail river crossing, clambering up slippery rocks and muddy trails, and, at one part, bouldering so you need to make sure that you wear the right footwear.
As much as you would want to see the 13 falls, let me align the reality that there is a high chance that most of these waterfalls will go unnoticed. Why? The cascades are small that you would not even think it is a waterfall. You would actually be surprised that you missed a few along the trail. Don’t worry because it won’t dampen the experience.
Waterfalls 7 to the 13th have more noticeable cascades, compared to the first 6, and its basins are deeper making it more ideal for swimming and cliff diving. Waterfalls 7 or Adarna Falls is a favorite because of its stronger and higher drop. You can enjoy a cold dip and a water massage from the base of Adarna Falls.
Waterfalls 10 became a personal favorite because this is where I found my jacuzzi spot. I really enjoyed my “spa moment” where I laid down on a small puddle of cold water while spring water washed over me giving me a gentle massage. Waterfalls 11 and 12 was a beauty to watch. The twin cascade was majestic when viewed from the base of 11th waterfall.
Finally, Waterfall 13 boasts of a wider and deeper basin where you can enjoy a cool dip or get that adrenaline rush by jumping off its cliff. This is where most of the trekkers congregate before heading back down to the jump-off point.
Avalon Eco-farm and Resort, Brgy. Camachin
Instead of heading back down the 13 Falls trail, our group went on to visit the Avalon Eco-farm and Resort. This farm resort sits atop one of the hills in Camachin and offers a peaceful sanctuary that is close to nature. It is a campsite with basic facilities. It does not have a pool so if you are up for a swim... the 13th waterfall is just a 5-minute hike away.
But what makes this resort popular is Mang Larry’s Binalakawan. This delectable chicken broth dish is a local dish in DRT that is similar to Sinampalukang Manok. It uses the leaves of a local plant to give a sour taste for its rich broth. I really enjoyed the unique flavor of the Binalakawan and that alone made the side trip worth taking.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Mention Bulacan and the first thing that would come into mind is its historical significance and sites. It never crossed my mind that a rugged side of the province exists. Dona Remedios Trinidad gives Bulacan a different face - one that will excite a lot of local and international travelers. What makes it more exciting is that it is only a few hours from the metro. DRT is rugged, untouched, and ready to be explored and discovered.
We still have a lot of destinations to discover in the Philippines. It is amazing to explore an off-beat spot and see it get traction among travelers. Dona Remedios Trinidad is a testament that we do not need to travel very far to appreciate the rustic beauty of our country. All we need is to have an appreciative eye and a keen sense of adventure. Kaya #PinasMuna tayo! Nakabyahe ka na, nakatulong ka pa!
Getting there: Dona Remedios Trinidad is a huge area and one day is not enough to cover all of its major tourist attractions. There are a number of FB travel groups that organizes daytrip and overnight trips to DRT. I recommend World Landing Travel and Buhay Kalye Gala who organized the trips that I joined in to explore Dona Remedios Trinidad.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.