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Whether it’s for the long weekend or just a quick breather from the bustling city life (and the stressful lockdowns), here are some interesting places—from north to south—that are worth driving to.

1. Nueva Ecija

Travel time: Approximately three hours from Manila

More than being the Rice Granary of the Philippines for its vast farmlands and rice fields, this province is home to beautiful scenery, both natural and manmade. Check out the Minalungao National Park, a protected area located in the municipality of General Tinio. The 2,018-hectare park is centred along the scenic Peñaranda River sandwiched by up to 16-metre-high limestone walls at the foot of the majestic Sierra Madre mountain range. Driving another hour or two further north will lead you to the Pantabangan Dam, another point of interest in the province. While its main purpose is to provide irrigation and hydroelectric power generation as well as flood control, the Pantabangan lake's crystalline water glistens on a sunny day. For those who love hiking, there is the Paasa Peak in Mount Kemalugong in the town of Laur, which is said to be the province’s highest peak and popular for its sea of clouds that can rival that of Kiltepan in Sagada, Mountain Province.

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2. Pila, Laguna

Travel time: Approximately three hours from Manila

A short drive passing through the towns of Calamba, Los Baños, Bay, Calauang and Victoria, which fringe the Laguna de Bay, will lead you to the quaint town of Pila in Laguna. It is known for its well-preserved houses that date back to the Spanish colonial period and the town plaza, both of which were declared a National Historial Landmark in 2000 by the National Historical Institute of the Philippines. Another popular spot is the centuries-old Saint Anthony of Padua Parish Church, the first Antonine church in the Philippines, which stands on the lands of Don Felizardo Pivera, the recognised founder of Pila. His descendants include the town’s prominent families surnamed Rivera, Relova, Agra and Alava. Just a few steps away from the church is the Escuela Pia (Pila Museum), which houses the first Tagalog-Spanish dictionary Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala, published by Tomas Pinpin, the Prince of Filipino Printers. The museum also exhibits original artefacts such as gold jewellery, as well as clay and porcelain pieces of pottery found at Pila’s original settlement site. These artefacts prove that the town has long been recognised as a centre of culture and trade even before the Spanish colonisation. While you can visit Pila any time of the year, the best time to go here is during the last Sunday of May when the Pileños hold the annual Flores de Mayo in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

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3. Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur

Travel time: Approximately 10-12 hours from Manila

If you are game to drive further away from Manila, fasten your seatbelt and be ready to explore these two charming provinces in the north. Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur both recently reopened its borders to tourists while still strictly implementing safety and health protocols. You can start your journey from the northernmost part of Ilocos Norte where you can find the famous white-sand beach of Pagudpud and the Dos Hermanos islets, a flourishing surf destination. The Bangui Windmills and the Paoay Sand Dunes are always a must in every Ilocos trip, as well as a visit to the spectacular Kapurpurawan Rock Formation in Burgos. For the more daring, hop on a boat for a day tour of the uninhabited Badoc Island where you can find some peace and quiet.

Down south, Ilocos Sur is popular for its row of well-preserved houses built during the Spanish era, which lines the cobblestone street named Calle Crisologo. There are also museums and churches worth visiting here. To complete the experience, park your car and ride a horsedrawn carriage just like how the Ilocanos would travel around town in the old days.  

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4. Rizal

Travel time: Approximately two to three hours from Manila

From art to nature and adventure, Rizal has it all. Satisfy your artistic eye at Pinto Art Museum, an exhibition space that showcases contemporary art in Antipolo City. It was founded by Dr Joven Cuanang, a neurologist and patron of the arts who is also the man behind the heritage village resort, Sitio Remedios in Currimao, Ilocos Norte. Speaking of art, one of the least popular yet truly a National Cultural Treasure in Rizal is the Angono-Binangonan Petroglyphs, which houses some of the oldest known artwork in the Philippines. Here you can find engraved figures that date back to the late Neolithic period. If a nature-trip is your thing, there are refreshing falls and rivers to explore and if you are game for some adventure, go to the Masungi Georeserve, an award-winning conservation project tucked in the rainforests of Rizal. The trails and activities here are exhilarating! There’s also the Pililla Wind Farm, which has windmills as beautiful as the ones in Bangui, Ilocos Norte.

Read also: 7 Interesting Museums In The Philippines You Should Visit

5. Taal, Batangas

Travel time: Approximately two hours from Manila

Going to the heritage town of Taal is like travelling back in time. The most visited spot here is the Basilica de San Martin de Tours—the largest Roman Catholic church in the Philippines and in Asia—designed by the Spanish architect Don Luciano Oliver. Declared a national shrine in 1974, the church features baroque details, case in point: the façade that resembles St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Another church to visit is the miraculous Shrine of the Our Lady of Caysasay, a sub-parish built by the Augustinians in 1620. There are also old houses to visit such as the ancestral bahay na bato (a house made of coral stone mixed with egg whites) of the first Filipino diplomat, Don Felipe Agoncillo and his wife Dona Marcela Agoncillo, the mother of the Philippine flag. Just reopened in October, the Galleria Taal also known as the Camera Museum is ready to welcome guests again to showcase an expansive collection of rare Philippine photos (including the only known existing photograph of Dr Jose Rizal’s execution) and vintage cameras.

Read also: Tatler Guide to Baroque Churches in the Philippines

6. Dingalan and Baler, Aurora

Travel time: Approximately six hours from Manila

This coastal province is popular for its surfing spots, picturesque coves and historical sites. Among the famous surf destinations here are Sabang Beach, Cemento Beach, Charlie’s Point and Lindy’s Point, where both local and international surfing competitions are held. Another must-visit is the secluded Dicasalarin Cove, which boasts azure waters and alluring rock formations. It is also home to the Artist Village where you can marvel at the exemplary works of local artisans.

A budding tourist destination in Aurora is the town of Dingalan. Dubbed as the “Batanes of the East”,  it offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Madre mountain range. Points of interest include the Lamao Caves, the intertidal Matawe Beach and the Dingalan Lighthouse.

7. San Miguel, San Rafael and Norzagaray, Bulacan

Travel time: Approximately two hours from Manila

Known for river adventures, trekking and spelunking, Bulacan is definitely a place to consider for a quick escape from the madness of the city. In Norzagaray, hikers frequent the Lioness and Rhino limestone rock formations for its unique form, while those who are fond of water activities opt for Bakas River, an understated albeit equally beautiful river dotted by picture-perfect rock formations. San Miguel, however, offers attractions such as The Cabin and Mt Manalmon aside from the old-time favourite Biak-na-Bato National Park. San Rafael, on the other hand, is among the firsts to curate a river adventure tour in the area.

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8. Baguio

Travel time: Approximately five hours from Manila

Baguio just recently opened its borders to tourists following the months-long lockdown due to the pandemic. By this time, you are for sure missing the Summer Capital already especially its scenic winding roads and the cool mountain breeze. Whether you are into arts, food or nature, the City of Pines definitely has something for you. While you are welcome to revisit old-time favourite spots such as the Burnham Park, Tam-awan Village and the BenCab Museum, you may want to continue driving further up to pick strawberries by the farm or marvel at the Colors of StoBoSa, a community artwork and a locally recognised tourist attraction in the town of La Trinidad. 

The city is known for its strict safety and health protocols so make sure to follow all the requirements imposed by the local government when you go. 

Read also: Travelling In The New Normal: Highlights from DOT’s Recent Visit To Baguio City




9. Bataan

Travel time: Approximately three hours from Manila

Driving through the scenic roads leading to the town of Bagac in Bataan is an experience in itself. On one side you will see verdant hills and on the other, a glimpse of Manila Bay. Relive the past and head to Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, a heritage site that showcases Jose Acuzar’s collection of restored Spanish-Filipino houses from all over the Philippines, which were transported and rebuilt piece by piece and plank by plank. Be a haciendero for a day and tour around on a horse carriage or cruise the river through a fluvial stroll that resembles the gondola rides of Venice.

Besides Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, you can also enjoy the drive to the Mt Samat Shrine or Dambana ng Kagitingan, a tribute to the heroism and bravery of Filipino and American soldiers who offered their lives to defend our freedom and democracy from invading Japanese forces during World War II. Bataan is also famous for the Five Fingers coves and the sandy beaches of Mariveles and Morong.

Read also: Must-Visit Historical Sites and Shrines


10. Pampanga

Travel time: Approximately two to three hours from Manila

More than being the Culinary Capital of the Philippines, Pampanga is also home to many points of interest such as old churches, exhilarating adventures and many more. Among the towns widely affected by the lahar flow from Mt Pinatubo in 1995 following the volcano's eruption in 1991 is Bacolor, where many houses and infrastructure were buried, including the San Guillermo Parish Church. Only half of the original facade of the Baroque-style church can be seen today. After the volcanic eruption, the town's people worked together to excavate the altar and the retablo, which they relocated under the dome. 

If you have more time, continue driving towards the town of Lubao and enjoy a sumptuous meal at Prado Farms, an expansive property owned by the Gutierrez family that is popular for its hacienda-style Capampangan meals. If your tummy still has space, visit the home of Atching Lilian Borromeo (by appointment only), Pampanga's food historian, and indulge in authentic Capampangan cuisine that might include some of the most exotic finds you might not have heard of yet. Do pass by San Fernando's culinary gem--Everybody's Cafe--and take delight in the crowd-favourite murcon and sisig.

You may also challenge yourselves with the adrenaline-inducing activities at Alviera's SandBox, a two-hectare adventure destination with a unique selection of facilities that include Asia’s first roller coaster zip line and the tallest giant swing in the Philippines.

In light of the pandemic, please check which destinations are open prior to your trip. You may check the Philippines Travel Advisory by clicking here. Make sure to check the minimum health and safety requirements for tourists of the destinations you are interested in before you go. Have a safe trip everyone! 

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