In 2016, I made plans to go backpacking around Laguna. I was interested with its interesting mix of history and nature. I was able to visit different spots in Laguna but in bits and pieces. One thing that I realized was that Laguna is a large region that three days is not enough to explore its beauty.
Laguna is popular for being the birthplace of the country's national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, and a favorite destination for team building activities or family reunions because of its string of resorts that is in close proximity to Manila. But this province that lies southeast of Manila is a melting pot of history and nature's bounty - a good combination for would-be explorers to start their travel adventures.
I have visited some parts of Laguna in the past and the opportunity to explore more of its tourist spots, given the chance, is an opportunity that I woud not miss. So when the opportunity to go on a day trip around Majayjay and Liliw came up, it was a chance I dare not miss.
Majayjay is a municipality located at the foot of Mount Banahaw. The town was once known as Malay Barangay and was famous among high profile families during the Spanish period because of its scenery. Who would not be mesmerized by it with four rivers flowing through Majayjay?
At the heart of the town of Majayjay is the Saint Gregory the Great Parish Church, one of the oldest Catholic churches in the country.The church was buit in 1575 through forced labor. It now stands as a mute witness to Majayjay's rich and colorful past.
The unassuming facade of the Majayjay Church evokes the simplicity of the town. The adjacent belfry dominates the rural skyline of Majayjay so locating the church is quite easy. The retablo-like design of its exterior clearly shows the age of the church.
The very first thing that will strike you when you enter the church is its elegantly designed retablo. It is the centerpiece of the church. The intricate interior of the church is a complete contrast to its exterior. The real beauty of the church lies within its walls.
Do make sure that you knock on the front doors of the Majayjay Church and make a wish just before you leave, if you are a first time visitor.
You can call it Majayjay Falls, Taytay Falls, or Imelda Falls but whatever name you opt to call it - the two-story high waterfall is a beauty to reckon. Majayjay Falls sits in the midst of lush greenery that complements its natural charm. Interestingly, former First Lady Imelda Marcos once took the lead in the efforts to promote this tourist spot in Majayjay.
One needs to traverse a cemented pathway to get to Majayjay Falls. We enjoyed the 800-meter walk to the base of the falls surrounded by lush greeneries that also protected us from the heat of the sun. Springwater runs adjacent to the pathway so when you feel that you need to cool down, you can freely soak your feet for an immediate cool respite.
As we got closer to the falls, I noticed that tourist facilities are readiy available but do not expect much from these facilities as most of them are not that properly managed. I also noticed that they also allow camping in the area. There are a lot of nooks and crannies where you can safely camp out.
A catch basin was installed at the foot of Majayjay Falls to create a pool from the water that cascades down the falls. This is the area where visitors can take a quick dip into its cold waters. In our case, no one wanted to take a dip so we simply opted to just soak our tired feet into the icy waters of Majayjay Falls.
Liliw Shoe Industry
Mention "Liliw, Laguna" and the first thing that would come to mind are shoes and sandals. The municipality of Liliw is a competent rival of Marikina City for its footwear industry. It is known as the “Tsinelas Capital of Laguna” so you will definitely get treated with a lot of choices from the rows of its footwear shops.
We did enjoy hopping from one shop to another. Two things that you need to bring with you when you visit Liliw – you need to have the patience as you have to go through a number of shops to get to your perfect pair and size of footwear. You also need to have control as there are a lot of footwear to choose from that are affordable that you might end up bringing home a lot.
Too bad though that we got engrossed with the shopping part that we never did get to explore Liliw more intimately. Nevertheless, it was a fun experience to go around shopping and do not forget to also buy “pako” or edible ferns for your salad before leaving.
It was around 2pm when we got to San Pablo City. It was raining along the way so we had to navigate slowly through slippery trails to our last stop – Pandin Lake in San Pablo City.
Pandin Lake is one of the seven lakes of San Pablo City. Local folklore say that Pandin was once a beautiful girl who was cursed to never set her foot on land or vanish from the face of the earth. She has remained steadfast to this arrangement until he met a handsome guy named Yambu. To cut the story short, Yambu convinced Pandin to step down from her hut and as soon as her feet touched the ground, both lovers were turned into San Pablo’s twin lakes.
You can read more about San Pablo’s 7 lakes here.
Our visit this time around was going to be something different. We wanted to try lunching out aboard the rafts while cruising Lake Pandin – a source of livelihood for locals living in the area. The rate was a bit pricey, though, but we came there for the experience so we gave it a go.
With a treat of Pako Salad, Inihaw na Liempo, Inihaw na Tilapia, Fish Omelette, and Rice, our raft started cruising across the lake. We enjoyed the meal in between jokes and stories while the rain steadily fell around us. Every now and then, we asked our boatman questions about the lake and their way of life.
Our “bangkero” steadily positioned our raft by the side of the lake where we had the chance to jump into the warm waters of Pandin Lake. The waters are deep so wearing a life vest is a requirement. They have also installed a swing by the lake for everyone to enjoy but you just got to wait for your raft’s turn for its access. The funny thing was that the lake waters are so deep that you do not get to see anything underwater. We were joking around that there was probably something underneath that we dare not come face-to-face with. We have enjoyed swimming by the beach but swimming by the lake is a totally different experience.
Post Travel Notes
As our raft slowly glided through the still-waters of Lake Pandin, I was completely captivated by the hues of the sun setting on the horizon. We were lucky that the rains stopped at a perfect time for us to enjoy our cruise back to the shore and just simply enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of Laguna.
I still have a lot of spots to cover in Laguna. The road trip that I had just clearly shows that trips get to be more fun when you have a bunch of crazies around. You just got to have a great destination, a plan to get there, and a bunch of wacky antics that will keep you all awake throughout the trip. Of course, that changes when you are driving and you are all on your way home.
Laguna is a great place to start your adventures if you are just starting your travel journals. It is quite easy to get to and have a lot of exciting destinations and activities that you can enjoy.
Getting There: It is quite easy to get to Laguna as there are a lot of buses that ply the route to Laguna passes through it. You can take a Lucena-bound bus and asked to be dropped off in San Pablo City. From the Jollibee drop-off point, you can then ask the driver to take you to the jeepneys bound for Majayjay or Liliw.
It takes an old-soul to fall in love with the quirks and chaos of Quiapo.
This is what I found out after I made a short and meaningful walk around this old district in the City of Manila, two days early of its famed celebration of the Feast of the Black Nazarene. My schedule framed well as the district was bustling with festivities and activities in line with the grand procession.
Quiapo is one of the oldest districts of Manila and is often referred to as downtown Manila. Its name was derived from the name "kiyapo", a water cabbage that was commonly found in the waterways in the area. It was once the center of activities of the affluent Filipino families which explains the proliferation of heritage houses within its grounds. At present, Quiapo still buzzes with economic activities but with less stellar compared to its early days.
Join me as I discover and explore the romance of Quiapo!
San Sebastian Church
Standing majestically with its twin spirals reaching up to the afternoon Manila sky, the San Sebastian is the only steel church in the Philippines. It is also known as the Basilica Menor de San Sebastian and serves as the home of the Augustinian Recollects. It is admired for its gothic architectural design with its steel vaulting and openwork towers.
Completed in 1891, the San Sebastian Church is the iconic structure that stands out in the skyline of Quiapo. It is a majestic site to see in the midst of the crowded and busy streets of the district. It is an imposing exterior that demands guests to make a stop just to view its beauty.
It seems that I got transported to a different time when I entered the church. Its unique design and towering pillars gave me a European church vibe. It differs from the usual church design that I commonly see during my trips. It made me think why it was only now that I visited the church. There are a lot to admire in the church – its stained glass windows and its altar designed like a smaller version of the church.
Casa Consulado (San Sebastian Street)
At the back of the San Sebastian Church is where you will find the Casa Consulado, also called Iturralde Mansion. The house was designed using the bahay-na-bato architectural style, popular during the 1920s, and utilized stones, bricks, and wood materials. It was served as the Consulate House of Manaco in the country after the appointment of Dr. Augusto Alvaro Iturralde as Monaco’s Honorary Consul.
The house has maintained its charm despite the changes that it has undergone. It still evokes its historical feel as I admired it from the street. The house shows its age, not only because of its post-Spanish period design, but also because of the wear and tear that the house had experienced through the years. Similar to many heritage houses that I have seen and visited in my past trips, a lot of heritage houses needs the attention of local governments for its preservation.
Bilibid Viejo Street
Chaotically fun, walking along Bilibid Viejo Street was a delight as I watched the preparation for the Feast of the Black Nazarene. All my apprehensions about walking the streets of Quiapo diminished with the festive mood of devotees.
Bilibid Viejo is a street that runs along the side of San Sebastian Church. The street is marked with a mix of heritage houses and modern structures. It is quite unfortunate though that some of these houses, although still in use, have been left to deteriorate. Bilibid Viejo Street reminds me a lot of the streets of Silay except that Silay was able to preserve its old houses.
I think that if the local government of Manila is able to restore these houses then we might have a cultural heritage treasure right at the heart of Metro Manila.
Quiapo Pagoda (Bilibid Viejo Street)
Further down along Bilibid Viejo Street and right through a small “eskinita” is another heritage find – the Quiapo Pagoda. Commissioned by Mariano Ocampo, the house was completed in 1941 and was inspired by Japanese architecture. It is a three-story structure that was built by reinforced concrete that it became a shelter during air raids. Its main highlight is a seven-story tower “Japanese” tower that juts out of Quiapo’s skyline.
Finding the Pagoda can be quite a challenge because towering modern structures have dwarfed its imposing tower. Residents in the area are familiar with the mansion that when I asked around, they were able to direct me to the side street leading to it. The landmark is the encased Black Nazarene image at the corner of the side street.
I was amazed at the sight of the Quiapo Pagoda and its towers were a unique feature of the Quiapo skyline. Unfortunately, the house has deteriorated through the years. It would be great to see this unique heritage structure that has withstood World War 2, restored to its original glory.
Hidalgo Street Heritage Houses
Heading back to San Sebastian, you can turn right at Hidalgo Street – another street in Quiapo peppered with heritage houses. It was formerly known as Calle San Sebastian and it is the street that links San Sebastian Church and Quiapo Church. The San Sebastian side is dotted with heritage houses while the Quiapo Church side is more popularly known as a photographer’s haven.
Unlike Bilibid Viejo, Hidalgo Street has a mix of well-preserved and deteriorating heritage houses. A number of houses on this street have the National Historical Institute’s sign that recognizes its historical value.
Some of the mansions that you find in the area are:
Genato House – this elegant mansion owned by Ramon Genato was once the gathering place of Manila’s high society. Parties and special occasions were common activities in this house.
Zaragoza House – there are no exact date as to when the house was built but it was the home of the prominent Zaragoza clan. The house was designed in aristocratic Filipino design.
Padilla House – the house is one of the oldest houses in the area. It has been restored by the present generation of the Padilla’s and converted it into an arthouse.
Paterno House – built in the 1850s, the house is one of the oldest houses in the area and is known for its central courtyard.
Zamora House – right across the Paterno House is the Zamora House. It was the home of the famous pharmacist, Manuel Zamora, who is known for the supplement “Tiki-Tiki”.
The Teotico-Crespo House, more popularly known as Boix House, sits inconspicuously in the more chaotic area of Quiapo. Initial research about the house show that the house was submitted for construction in 1895 by Marciano Teotico and is popular for its Flowers in Trellis architecture. Former President Manuel Roxas is believed to have stayed in the Boix House when he was still in law school and was one of the structures that survived the slaughter of World War 2.
Currently, the ownership of the house was given to the Society of Jesus after the Boix family donated it to the organization. The structure has deteriorated through the years. Had it not been for pictures that I have seen on the internet, I wouldn’t recognize it. It is good to hear that it is being lobbied for restoration as it badly needs one.
The Bahay Nakpil-Bautista is the most popular heritage house in Quiapo. Situated just beside the Boix House, it was the home of prominent Philippine Revolution personalities – Dr. Ariston Bautista-Lin, Gregoria de Jesus, Julio Nakpil, and Francisco Nakpil. The house was known as the “Tahanan ng mge Katipunero” as manys secret revolutionary meetings were held here apart from being the home of historic figures. At present, it is a well-preserved heritage house/museum where the personal things of its previous residents are on display.
Visiting the Bahay Nakpil-Bautista was definitely the highlight of my walk along the streets of Quiapo. I gathered new information about history as I was guided by Eme, one of the volunteers at the museum, along the hallowed halls of the house. I learned interesting facts about life in Quiapo during its heydays like the San Sebastian Church was the church for the rich while the nearby Quiapo Church was for the poor.
The house is the repository of the valued belongings of its previous residents that gives you a glimpse of their life as revolutionaries, artists, and jewel-maker. It introduces you to all the family members and their contributions to Philippine society. It transports you to show you how they dine, how they went with their daily business dealings, the family’s love for the arts, and even to the time when Oriang would seat by the window to watch the Manila Bay sunset at a time when Quiapo was not yet crowded.
The house is not just a museum but is also a civic center where upcoming artists are given the opportunity to showcase their talents. Bahay Nakpil-Bautista is a MUST to visit when you find yourself exploring Quiapo.
The Quezon Bridge is a bridge that spans across the Pasig River and connects the districts of Malate and Quiapo. It was constructed in 1939 in Art Deco style and replaced the Puente Colgante.
But what makes the bridge interesting, apart from its design, is that under the bridge on the side of Quiapo is where you will find ambulant vendors that sell Philippine handicrafts at a really good price. This is a great place to visit if you are looking for lamps made from Capiz Shells, bead curtains, woodworks, and even costumes, from Filipiniana to the outrageous ones. The best part of it is that you can get it at a very good price depending on your haggling skills.
Plaza Miranda is a public square that is considered to be the center of Quiapo. It is a popular venue for political discourse and was the site of the Plaza Miranda bombing in 1971 when two hand grenades were hurled at a political rally. The political attack claimed the lives of nine people. It has gone through a major facelift in 2000 that gave it a more modern look. At present, it is a Freedom Park where people can peacefully gather in protest.
Plaza Miranda is a mirage of different people and different colors. It is a place that is always bustling with activities and people from all walks of life. This is where you can find local fortune-tellers who can give you a preview of your future for a minimal fee. This is also the place to go if you are looking for Pinoy talisman and lucky amulets and charms.
Simbahan ng Quiapo
When you talk about Quiapo, the church is the first thing that would come into mind is the Simbahan ng Quiapo or the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene. It is the centerpiece of Quiapo and serves as the main venue of the annual celebration of the Feast of the Black Nazarene every January 9.
The current structure of the Simbahan ng Quiapo was built in 1933 and it followed the design by National Artist Juan Nakpil. The Baroque architecture of the church, together with its twin belfry towers, stands out amidst the chaos and bustle of the district. It does look like a refuge for those seeking solace from the noise of the city.
I found the interior of the church very appealing with its wide and simple navel. The simple design directs your attention to the altar that houses the image of the Black Nazarene that is believed to have healing powers. The very same image attracts hundreds of devotees annually who brave the huge crowds just to touch the image during the procession.
Just right by the side entrance of the church stands the image of Saint John the Baptist. An interesting trivia of the church is that the original patron saint was St. John the Baptist and it was only in 1988 that it was conferred as a Minor Basilica honouring the Black Nazarene as its patron saint.
Post Travel Notes
Going around Quiapo may not exactly be the ideal "day trip" for some travelers BUT the place in itself is rich in history and chaotic charm. It takes a special eye and interest to appreciate Quiapo. Some may appreciate Quiapo for its simple economy and yet there are those that will love it for its rich history.
Metro Manila, highlighting Quiapo, has its own heritage areas that can be comparable to that of Silay in Negros. Quiapo does not only have one or two but has numerous old houses that spans decades, and even centuries, to form its own heritage district. The biggest challenge though is for the local government to recognize and step up its efforts to preserve these historical treasures from further urban decay. This would not only be a good pull for tourism but will also be a huge step towards making the younger generation feel proud of our rich history and culture.
Getting There: Going to Quiapo is relatively easy as most public utility jeeps from the south or the north ply the routes that pass by Quiapo. One can also take the LRT Purple Line and go down at Legarda Station to start of their exploration at San Sebastian Church. One may also opt to take the LRT Yellow Line and go down at Carriedo Station and walk towards Quiapo Church as their starting point of their visit.
*”Explore Manila!” is a personal weekend project that I am doing with the objective of going around the cities of Metro Manila to discover its beauty and rich history. I started the project in 2015 and, after a year of hiatus, I am bringing it back to explore the still unexplored areas of Metro Manila. If you are interested to joining these simple explorations, please feel free to email or message me so I can inform you of the next location and schedule.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.