The provinces to the south of Manila – Cavite, Laguna and Batangas – are prime day-trip territory, easy to get to and rich in attractions. The star is Lake Taal, a mesmerizing volcanic lake with its own mini volcanic island in the centre, but there are plenty of less visited natural wonders that provide a break from the city; you can ride down the river to the Pagsanjan Falls, soak in the Laguna hot springs or clamber up forested Mount Makiling for scintillating views. Divers should check out Anilao for the best reef action near the capital.
The region also serves up a healthy dose of history. The romantic houses where national heroes Emilio Aguinaldo and José Rizal were born have been preserved as museums, Paete has retained its woodworking heritage and Taal itself is one of the most beautiful colonial towns in the Philippines. Lastly, many Manileños come here just to eat; buko pie is an especially prized treat made in Laguna.
Getting around the area is straightforward by bus, though you’ll save a lot of time with a car. The easiest places to reach by public transport are the attractions to the south of Laguna de Bay, though Batangas City and Tagaytay are also well served by buses.Read More
Pagsanjan and the falls
Pagsanjan and the falls
Serving as the capital of Laguna province from 1688 to 1858, the town of PAGSANJAN lies 101km from Manila and is home to a few old wooden houses, an unusually ornamental stone gate – or Puerta Real – and a pretty Romanesque church. The gate sits on the road to Santa Cruz (Rizal St) and was completed in 1880, while Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, dating from 1690 but remodelled in the nineteenth century, is at the end of Rizal Street. The town’s main claim to fame these days is as the staging point for the dazzling Pagsanjan Falls, chosen by Francis Ford Coppola as the location for the final scenes in Apocalypse Now in 1975. Most tourists come not for the Hollywood nostalgia value, however, but to take one of the popular bangka trips down the fourteen rapids of the Bombongan River. The rapids are at their most thrilling in the wet season; during the dry season the ride is more sedate. You don’t need to be especially daring to do the trip, though you will get wet, so bring a change of clothes. All ticket sales are supervised by the local tourism office in the municipal building (daily 8am–5pm; t049/808-3544) in the centre of town, opposite the church; ignore touts who try and sell tickets on the street. Most visitors pay P1000 for the ride; boats leave from the bridge behind the building.
It usually takes around 45 minutes to shoot 5.38km through the dramatic gorge; when you get closer to the actual 30m-high falls, you can ride a bamboo raft (balsa) to go directly below the cascade into the cavern known as Devil’s Cave, another thirty minutes or so (this is an additional P250 per head).
The compact and breezy city of TAGAYTAY, 55km south of Manila, sits on a dramatic 600-metre-high ridge overlooking Lake Taal and the volcano, a magical location that serves as the gateway to the lake area. The ridge road (known as Aguinaldo Highway west of the central Rotunda) can become very congested, particularly on weekends and holidays when the crowds can be overwhelming, but you still might consider spending the night to enjoy those entrancing vistas. Most day-trippers enjoy the views from the Tagaytay Picnic Grove a ridge-top park 5km east of the Rotunda. Further along, around 7.5km east of the Rotunda, the People’s Park in the Sky is the highest point in the area (750m) offering magnificent panoramas of the lake, the sea, Laguna de Bay and the smog that hangs over Manila to the north. It’s topped by a collection of abandoned concrete buildings which are a bit of an eyesore; until they are redeveloped, the only other attraction up here is the modest Shrine of our Lady, Mother of Fair Love, constructed in 2003.
Lake Taal and Talisay
Lake Taal and Talisay
The country’s third largest lake, awe-inspiring LAKE TAAL sits in a caldera below Tagaytay, formed by huge eruptions between 500,000 and 100,000 years ago. The active Taal Volcano, which is responsible for the lake’s sulphuric content, lies in the centre of the lake, on Volcano Island. The volcano last erupted in 1965 without causing major damage, but when it blew its top in 1754, thousands died and the town of Taal was destroyed; it was rebuilt in a new location on safer ground an hour by road from Tagaytay to the southwest of the lake. Before 1754 the lake was actually part of Balayan Bay, but the eruption sealed it from the sea, eventually leading to its waters becoming non-saline.
The departure point for trips across the lake to the volcano is the small town of TALISAY on the lake’s northern shore, some 4km southeast of Tagaytay; this is a much more typical Filipino settlement, with a bustling market, fishermen doubling as tourist guides and nary a fast-food chain in sight. You can arrange a bangka and a guide at the waterfront market in town. (Taal Lake Yacht Club is a dependable choice). Hiring a bangka to take you out to the island will cost around P1500 if you arrange it independently, plus another P700 or so for a guide to take you up to the volcano. You can ride a horse up to the top for an additional P850 – most tourists do this because of the heat. If you’re staying the night by the lake, your hotel can arrange all this for you, with food and refreshments included, typically for P2000–3000.
With an early start, you can climb to either the new crater or the old crater (which has 2km-wide Crater Lake inside it) and be back in Talisay in time for lunch (the old crater takes around thirty minutes depending on fitness level). There isn’t much shade on the volcano, so don’t go without sunblock, a good hat and plenty of water. On the island itself is a basic restaurant, vendors selling overpriced drinks and a small information office where you must pay an entry fee of P50.
If you want to spend more time on the water, make for the Taal Lake Yacht Club (about 1km east of Talisay; t043/773-0192, wwww.sailing.org.ph/tlyc/), where you can rent sailboats (Toppers from P1200/day) and kayaks (P750/day).
The town of TAAL, 130km south of Manila and a further 10km south of the lake, is one of the best preserved colonial enclaves in the Philippines and one of the few places you can get a real sense of its Spanish past. Founded in 1572 by Augustinians, it was moved to this location (and away from the deadly Taal volcano) in 1755 and today boasts a superb collection of endearingly weathered Spanish colonial architecture and bahay na bató-style homes, as well as one of the finest basilicas in Luzon.
Taal’s compact centre is easy to explore on foot, but if it’s too hot you can easily hire a tricycle to whisk you around (P100–120 depending on how many sights and hours you take). On the northern side of the plaza lies the elegantly weathered bulk of the Basilica of St Martin de Tours, said to be the biggest church in Southeast Asia, its facade visibly cracked, peeling and studded with clumps of weeds. The present church, built in 1856, has a magnificent interior and is often jam-packed for masses throughout the day. Taal is a major pilgrimage site thanks to an aged pinewood image of the Virgin Mary known as Our Lady of Caysasay (only 20cm high). The statue is said to have been fished out of the Pansipit River in 1603; it was lost then found again in a freshwater spring. The Chapel of Caysasay, located on the banks of the river on the edge of town, is a beautiful coral-hewn chapel where the image is transferred from its shrine in the basilica every Thursday and returned on Saturday afternoon. The ruined Twin Wishing Wells of Santa Lucia, a short walk from the chapel, are still reputed to have miraculous healing powers. Locals will point you in the right direction.
Several of the town’s Spanish-era buildings are open to the public. The Leon Apacible Historic Landmark along M.N. Agoncillo Street is the ancestral home of Leon Apacible (1861–1901), lawyer and Filipino revolutionary. It has the best-preserved interior in town, and although remodelled several times, the wide, highly buffed narra floorboards, as well as the wide sweeping staircase (with its curved balustrade) are still original. The sliding doors and oriel windows betray American Art Deco influence while the transom filigree, featuring swirling chrysanthemums is Chinese style.
Some 140km south of Manila, the resort of ANILAO (the name refers both to the village and the 13km peninsula beyond it) is primarily a diving destination, popular with city folk at weekends, when the area can get a little busy. During the week it’s much more peaceful and you can often negotiate a discount on your accommodation. The best time for diving is March through June; there’s little point in coming just for the beach.
To reach Anilao by public transport, take a bus to Batangas City and then a jeepney west to Mabini or the wharf at Anilao village, then continue by tricycle along the coastal road to your resort. Most accommodation is on the road beyond the wharf at Anilao, along the west coast of the Calumpan peninsula.