It has been a while since I visited San Pablo City in Laguna... "years" is the more appropriate word to use. The city was on my bucketlist from last year but I did not manage to cross it off from my list. The city has a special place in my heart as my roots from my grandmother side hails from the city. I still remember the times when I use to accompany my mommy lola to visit distant relatives when she was still strong enough to visit Manila from Cagayan de Oro.
It was also during these visits that I started reading about San Pablo City.
The city is nestled along the foothills of Mount Makiling, Mount Banahaw, and the Sierra Madre Mountain Range giving it a cool climate. It is a major area for trade, commerce, and education in the province of Laguna and it has a strong showing to become an eco-tourism destination for the province.
San Pablo City has been dubbed as the "City of Seven Lakes" owing to the presence of seven lakes within its territory. These lakes are said to be volcanic craters formed by phreatic eruptions that formed shallow depressions that was later filled up with rainwater. Having 7 of these lakes in one area was one for the books and it grabbed my interest.
The plan to visit the 7 Lakes of San Pablo has been on my list for the longest time. I tried to do it before but only ended up visiting two - Sampalok Lake and Palakpakin Lake (I realized the name of the second lake only on my last visit). I had an invitation from fellow IG friends to join them last year but I had prior commitments that did not allow me to join them. After seeing pictures of the lakes and doing my research on DIY trips to these lakes, I packed my bag to kick off my 15 on 2015 project.
Welcome to San Pablo City!
Gloomy skies greeted me as I stepped off the bus in San Pablo City. It was enough to get me into thinking whether to go on with the plan or just head back to Manila as some part of the trip will include a decent time of trekking - then I realized I had the wrong pair of shoes on! It did not help that a typhoon was also expected to hit land that afternoon. But I was already there and I was looking for an adventure, right?
Lawa ng Sampalok
Sampalok Lake is the most accessible among the 7 lakes as it is right at the heart of the city. Local folklore said that there was once a large tamarind tree that grew in the area and was owned by an old woman. One day, a fairy, dressed as an old man, approached the old woman to ask for the tamarind fruit to help cure his ailing son. Instead of getting help from the old woman, she sent her dogs to attack the old man. That same night, rain poured incessantly and flooded the whole orchard to what would become the largest lake among the seven.
Sampalok Lake is within the vicinity of the city and can be accessed by any mode of transportation. The city developed it as a promenade area where one can enjoy the breathtaking view of the lake with Mount Banahaw in the background. However, development has also spurred business establishments and fishpens in the area which may be polluting the lake.
I have seen Sampalok Lake before and there is no doubt about its beauty. The cool weather and its amazing landscape is enough to give you that relaxing feel. I know that I can always head back to this place for some peace and quiet.
Getting there: You can take a tricycle from the bus stop to bring you directly to Sampalok Lake. Fare is at Php40 for the tricycle ride.
Lawa ng Bunot
Located in Brgy. Concepcion, Bunot Lake is known for its tilapia. It is also said to be a convenient spot for those intending to go on a picnic. However, my experience in getting there proved to be quite a challenge. As I was dropped off on the road, I had to ask around as to how I can get a good view of the lake. The area that I was in was already populated and I needed to ask permission from home owners to enter their backyards to get a view of the lake.
My initial search brought me straight to the edge of Bunot Lake, with permission from the backyard owners. This gave me a face-to-face encounter with the lake and its interaction with the residents along its bank. One of the residents suggested that I also check out a spot, a few meters away, where I can have a better view of the lake and it did have a great panoramic view of the lake with Mount Banahaw at the background, minus the dog barking behind me.
The view along the banks of Bunot Lake was beautiful. Mount Banahaw was prominent from a distance. It was unfortunate though that I came in on a cloudy day but I can imagine how the view would look like on a sunny day. I also noticed the proliferation of fish pens in the lake that means that breeding Tilapia is the main source of livelihood for the families around the lake.
Lake Bunot did not look like it was clean though. As per my observation, I have questions as to how the waste management is being done by the communities around Bunot Lake. This is the main challenge of the local government, not only for Lake Bunot, but for all the seven lakes.
Getting there: From Sampalok Lake, you can take a tricycle to bring you to Bunot Lake. Fare is at Php50.
Lawa ng Kalibato
Having a total area of 42 hectares, Lake Kalibato is recorded to be the deepest among the six lakes, the survey did not include Lake Muhikap as its depth bears no record as of yet. The lake supplies fish and aquatic plants to San Pablo and its surrounding areas.
During my visit, a resident showed me the area where tilapia was being cultured. The area was separate from the lake and was connected to a stream that empties into the Kalibato. I asked why it was upstream rather than on the lake and I was informed that sulphur content in the lake was high and will cause a fish kill hence the need to isolate the school.
The 20-minute trek to Kalibato was a bit nerve-wracking because a recent landslide covered the original trail. I was nervous that with the strong winds and the rain might trigger another landslide but I was able to get through and back from Kalibato safely. I guess this is part of my fears as a solo traveller.
I would consider Kalibato Lake as my top choice among the seven as its beauty exudes peace and tranquillity. The atmosphere is very open and yet it is still serene. It was blissful that you just want to stay a little longer to enjoy the peace of mind that it gives. I find it ideal destination for those who are soul searching.
Getting there: One can walk to the highway from Bunot Beach and take the jeep heading to Nagcarlan. Ask the driver to drop you off at the dirt road to Kalibato Lake. From the drop off point, you need to trek for about 20 minutes through a trail. You can ask locals to give you directions. The trail is relatively easy. Jeepney fare is at Php15.
Lawa ng Pandin
The twin lakes of Pandin and Yambu follow second as a destination after Sampalok Lake. Local residents have taken on the opportunity to maximize the attention that these lakes are getting by providing tourist services.
Lake Pandin is ideal for those who want to enjoy a meal aboard a balsa and swim in its waters. The marine life and the surrounding vegetation in its 25-hectare area is also said to be rich. Local folklore claims that the twin lakes were named after two lovers – Pandin and Yambu.
Pandin has a very peaceful atmosphere however it is more commercialized and has a more tourist feel compared to the other lakes. The fees on taking the balsa ride or the meals can be quite steep if you are traveling alone. I would recommend that you visit Pandin and Yambu with a group of friends to make it more economical.
Interestingly, the majority of the locals who paddle the makeshift “balsa” are the women of the community. Visitors can enjoy the breeze and calm of Pandin Lake as they paddle to the jump-off point for Yambu Lake. You can either enjoy the view or enjoy a meal with friends while traversing the lake. You can also take a dip in its cool waters if still waters don’t scare you.
And just right before you head back to the shore, make sure that you drop by the grotto that the residents have constructed. You should also try to drink from the freshwater spring near the grotto.
Getting there: From Kalibato Lake, you need to trek back to the highway then take a jeep heading back to San Pablo City. Ask the driver to drop you off at the jump-off point of Pandin Lake. Fare is at Php8.
Lawa ng Yambu
Separated from Pandin Lake by a small ridge, the easiest way to access Yambu Lake is by taking a balsa across Pandin Lake and take a very short hike to the top of the ridge where you can have a great view of Yambu Lake.
Yambu Lake is the other half of Pandin in the folklore. Similarly, the waters of Yambu Lake is also ideal for swimming. Other blogs have indicated that one can also access the viewing point of Yambu Lake by hiking through the ridge. The hike will take more time and can be a challenge physically. As I was pressed for time and weather was also not permitting, I decided to go the easier way by balsa.
The view from the ridge was amazing with Mount Mabilog at the background. I was not able to get further down its banks as the trail was slippery and the guide cautioned me not to do so. It was from the guide that I also learned that the lake can also be accessed through Nagcarlan but one would need to have a private vehicle if they intend to take that route.
Getting there: One can hike along the ridge but one would need a guide to do it. The hike can be a challenge physically. An easier but a bit pricey option is taking the balsa across Pandin Lake. Your haggling skills will be challenged here. It is also best that you do it as a group rather than a solo traveller.
Lawa ng Palakpakin
It was not my first time in Lake Palakpakin as I visited it before during my initial attempts to conquer the lakes of San Pablo. But the lake drastically changed from the last time that I saw it. Lake Palakpakin, just like the other lakes, is a livelihood source from tilapia and carps that residents culture in fishpens and fishcages.
Among all the lakes of San Pablo, Palakpakin Lake was the least impressive. It had no vantage point for viewing except for a small bridge along the road. The tricycle driver also mentioned that the lake is connected to a canal and it may be one of the reasons why the river is not at its prime.
Getting there: One can walk to the tricycle station from the jump off point of Pandin Lake. It is about a five-minute walk towards the direction of San Pablo. One can then hire a tricyle to Palakpakin Lake, Mohikap Lake, and then back to the city center. Tricycle fare at Php150.
Lawa ng Mohikap
Tucked away from the city is another impressive lake with an amazing view that photographers who love reflection shot will definitely fall in love with. Lake Mohikap is a serene place that can provide some peace and quiet for those who are looking for one. However, one also needs to seek permission from land owners to be able to see the lake up close. I presume that most of the lots surrounding the lake are privately owned. I was lucky that the tricycle driver that I was with know some of the folks in the area so I did not have a hard time seeking their permission. I guess some of them are already accustomed to visitors asking permission to enter their premises to access the lake.
Lake Mohikap is a bit smaller hence you would really feel a bit cramped in space especially after you have seen the first 6 lakes. The lake exudes an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity. The water is still and placid. Local children in the area share the belief that the waters of Mohikap will make a person float if you fall into it. One girl even said that a sibling fell into its waters but the lake made her sibling float.
Interestingly, Lake Mohikap is also a major source of water for San Pablo.
Side Trip: San Pablo Cathedral (Cathedral Parish of Saint Paul the First Hermit)
Before I headed back to Manila, I dropped by the San Pablo Cathedral. The foundations of the current structure were first laid in 1680. The church was completed in 1721. It was heavily damaged during the liberation of the Philippines and its restoration was completed in 1954. An estimated 2 million parishioners are under its care.
The wide and high ceiling interiors of the church give it an open feel. The altar is highlighted by a simple retablo with the image of Jesus Christ on the cross.
The simple façade of the church will catch one’s attention as the church is the city’s centrepiece.
Post Travel Notes
As I headed back to Manila, three things stood out for me on this trip.
The seven lakes of San Pablo is a tourism opportunity for the city. I have read that local groups of the city have initiated efforts to promote these attractions but I think a more concrete plan to develop these lakes as an attraction is needed. The local government needs to involve the community, similar to that in Pandin Lake. They need to make the community realize the role that it plays in the sustainability of these natural wonder and the opportunities that it presents to the members of the community. The local government also needs to take initiatives on how to keep the pristine beauty and cleanliness of these lakes.
Again, what is needed are concrete plans for the development and sustainability of these tourism spots for benefit of the communities around it.
Getting there: Going to San Pablo City is easy. One can take a Lucena-bound bus and you can ask to be dropped off in San Pablo City. Fare is at Php135, one way from Cubao.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.