As we celebrate the month of Independence, we head to famous and little known nooks in the country inviting you to start your own all-Filipino adventure.
Written by Steph Puyod
Photos Courtesy of Therese Alonzo, Richelle Bautista, Renz Bulseco, Mia Catedrilla, Lourdes Edig, Jean Palma, Steph Puyod, Cena Rubis, OMG Archives
Explore a wilder side of Nueva Ecija
Behind Nueva Ecija’s sprawling rice fields and quaint towns lies a spot for the nature-loving and brave of heart. Minalungao National Park is a protected area along the Sierra Madre mountain range that features a calmly flowing river lined by limestones that take your breath away. There are bamboo rafts to take you for a relaxing drift downstream. If you’re more on the daring side, you can opt to scale the gigantic boulders. Further satisfy your thirst for adventure by exploring the caves along the way. After a morning spent hiking, spelunking or basking under the sun, freshen up with an invigorating dip. The guide will let you know where the water is shallow enough to wade in.
Reacquaint yourself with history at Intramuros
For a lot of us, history lessons fade from our minds after long nights spent memorizing people, dates and events. Touring Intramuros will bring back these long forgotten facts and figures from the grade school. As the command center of the Spanish rule, the Walled City serves as home to centuries-old government offices and universities, a lot of which still stand or are in use today. Hire a kalesa or a horse-drawn carriage to show you the colonial buildings and period churches. For a different spin, you can join a bamboo bike tour, breaking a sweat while rediscovering the past.
Meet the artisans of Paete and Angono
Laguna and Rizal boast two cultural hotspots in the country—the carving capital that is Paete and the art capital called Angono. Paete has long made a name for its religious wood sculptures, carved by artisans who have inherited the technique and talent from their forefathers. You’ll enjoy walking through the little streets and finding stores packed with life-sized saints, miniature boatmen and eccentric masks.
Art enthusiasts will also love strolling around Angono, where galleries are plenty and street art means murals and sculptures. Aside from being the hometown of National Artists Carlos “Botong” Francisco and Lucio San Pedro, the town further establishes itself as a seat of art with its many painters, sculptors, musicians and transmedia artists. Blanco Family Museum and Nemiranda Art House are among the top attractions. For a quirky lunch, you can also drop by Balaw-balaw Specialty Restaurant and dine under the watch of its papier-mâché masks.
Catch the sunset at San Juanico Bridge
Known as the longest bridge in the Philippines, San Juanico Bridge broke ground for providing an easier way to cross Samar and Leyte. But more than an engineering feat, it also offers sunset (or sunrise) views that will make you stop and marvel at the beauty of nature. There are even plans for offering sunset cruises through the strait—perfect for shutterbugs who want to include this striking, red structure along with the backdrop.
As you explore the two islands, grab the chance to see the Samar’s oddly shaped islets strewn across the Marabut coastline. Or head over to Leyte’s Kalanggaman Island and enjoy its pristine perfection: crystal blue waters, powder-white sand and a perfectly photogenic sandbar.
Embark on a journey of faith in Cebu
At Cebu where the country’s first Catholic baptism was held, churches abound and tell of Filipino heritage. Embark on a journey of faith, starting off at Basilica Minore del Santo Niño. It’s considered as the country’s oldest Catholic Church and known for its statuette of baby Jesus and the Sinulog festival. As you go on your adventure, you’ll discover a variation of architectural styles (from the stone-clad Nuestra Señora de la Inmaculada church to the Byzantine-inspired Santo Tomas de Villanueva Parish and the castle-like Simala Church). Also eye-catching are their artworks inside—a miscellany of frescoes, stained windows and sculptures.
Showing a different glimpse of faith in the Philippines, the Cebu Taoist Temple stands as an impressive travel hub and, more importantly, a significant place of worship, built by the island’s large Chinese community.
Interact with Wildlife in Panglao
If you’re searching for things to do around Bohol, try hopping over to next-door Panglao Island, where you get to see and interact with loveable critters. The fun starts a little after the break of dawn when you can spot dolphins while riding a boat off Doljo Beach. Encounter more of that rich marine life underwater by signing up with one of the diving centers in the island. Spend the afternoon at Tarsier Botanika, which has an aviary that comes to life with the flight and chatter of different birds. Meanwhile, sunsets are best spent among the lush greenery of Mangrove Forest and its own winged visitors.
Cool off at Surigao del Sur
Most know Surigao as a surfing hotspot, but travel down south (in Surigao del Sur, specifically) and you’ll experience equally refreshing water wonderlands. In the morning, you can swim in the Enchanted River of Hinatuan, which entrances people with its not-so-typical jewel-toned waters. Some parts run deep—an astonishing estimate of 80 feet—the reason for its mesmerizing color. For a hearty meal, there are nearby stores that cook seafood, best devoured in one of the resort’s huts.
End the day basking at the glory of Tinuy-an Falls. This Bislig City jewel stands out with its three levels and impressive width (the widest in Mindanao). You can admire it from afar or under its misty curtains. A raft can bring you to the other side for a soothing water massage! If you have the time, ask a guide to take you to the top level. It will be quite a slippery hike, but the view of the rocks and rapids makes up for it.
Gear up for a wild ride in Davao
There’s so much to do in Davao City, owing to its sweeping coastlines and bordering mountains. Adrenaline junkies will never feel out of place, be it on water or up in the air. There’s the day-long white water rafting ride on Davao River. Hearts will race and arms will paddle sore as you navigate through its rushing rapids. Meanwhile, Eden Nature Park dares you to conquer your fear of heights with activities like the Skycycle and Skyswing. (You can try the Indiana Jones for warm up). Or if you want a taste of both the sea and sky, take a quick boat ride to nearby Samal Island and try parasailing at Paradise Island Park and Beach Resort.
Witness Zamboanga City in full color
This bustling city offers a visual treat with its miscellany of vintas, intricate fabrics and 600 species of orchids. You immediately feel the cheerful vibe right from the streets, where vinta-inspired décor adorn lampposts and buildings. The Yakan Cultural Village is a great cultural stop for colorful take-home gifts. (The indigent tribe of Yakan is revered for their beautifully patterned fabrics.) But if you’re pressed for time, you’ll find a lot of ethnic knickknacks in Canelar Barter Trade.
Travel tip: While in this southwestern gem, keep an eye out for its flourishing flora, especially the Cherry Tree! After all, Zamboanga isn’t named Land of Flowers for nothing.