GOING GRASSROOTS: A ROAD TRIP GUIDE TO THE PHILIPPINES
When 2020 started, no one had the slightest inkling that quarantine measures would soon be implemented and turn out to be the longest one in the whole of human history! All in an effort to contain the COVID-19 virus.
To the disappointment of wanderlusts, international and local travel bans came with these restrictions. Thankfully, quarantine measures are starting to ease up; and before you know it, your next road trip around the Philippines may come sooner than you think.
After having been cooped up indoors for so long, it’s no surprise if you would want to go on an all-out, grand adventure to the farthest reaches of the country. What better way to go exploring than to take a random road trip?
As Boracay’s task force expressed that they’re eyeing a reopening of the island to foreign tourists by the end of October 2020, why not hop on a van and travel by car from Manila to Boracay? Or, if that’s too far of an option for you, then how about considering a weekend trip to the surf town of La Union that, along with the provinces of Baguio, Ilocos Sur, and Ilocos Norte, announced a reopening to local tourists by September 21, 2020?
No? Well, no worries. With this guide, you won’t be running out of options on where to go for a road trip in the Philippines.
The new normal of travel
Nowadays, when you say ‘random road trip,’ it’s no longer the same as the pre-pandemic days when you just had to pack your things and hop on a midnight bus going anywhere. After all, this pandemic has underscored what’s lacking, in terms of observing health and safety measures with how people conduct various types of activities.
Considering the minimum health standards that need to be observed by everyone, how you plan for vacations after the pandemic will never be the same as before.
So keep in mind that as you read through this guide on road trips in the Philippines, there is a minimum number of health protocols that need to be observed anytime, anywhere.
That said, below is your ultimate guide to road trips from north to south of the Philippines:
Whether you’re looking to conquer summits or just chill on the beach, North Luzon offers a ton of adventures that wanderlusts, like you, have been yearning for during quarantine. Up north exists one of the best places in the country where you can catch some waves as well as one of the tallest mountains in the country, Mt. Pulag.
Also known as ‘The Culinary Capital of the Philippines’, Pampanga is a destination all foodies should go to. Apart from its delectable dishes, this province is also a haven for nature and sports adventurists. Being the destination on this list that’s closest to Manila, Pampanga is the best place to go to for a quick day hike or out-of-town food trip.
What to do in Pampanga
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- Explore nature
- For lovers of nature and the great outdoors, Pampanga is home to the majestic Mt. Pinatubo Crater Lake where tours are made more adventurous, as you traverse the lake’s rocky paths with a 4 x 4 truck! Before the grandeur of the Crater Lake and its sulfurous waters overcome you, you will first get to enjoy a rugged ride while marveling at the lahar-laden trail.
- On the other hand, if you’re more the type who loves long walks and hiking, then Mt. Arayat is another nature tour you can go on while in Pampanga. Enjoy a meditative yet challenging hike up through its forests. At the summit, nourish your tummy and soul when you take your lunch while taking in the majestic view of Central Luzon.
- Test your fitness level
- Pampanga’s nature tourist spots aren’t the only places where you can challenge your physical prowess. Rather, you can visit sports activity parks such as the Sandbox’s obstacle courses. Or, perhaps, learn how to wakeboard at the Deca Wake Park and the Pradera Verde Wake Park.
- Chow down
- In Pampanga, visitors never pass up the chance to explore the tastes of the country’s culinary capital. If you have an adventurous palate, then make sure to try the signature Kapampangan dishes.
- Influenced by flavorful Spanish, Chinese, Mexican, and Malay tastes, Pampanga’s cuisine is a real gastronomic treat, especially at four of the most recommended dining establishments in Pampanga.
Below is a sample itinerary famous among foodies:
|6:00 AM - 7:00 AM||Breakfast|
|7:00 AM - 4:00 PM||A 4 x 4 jeep trek up Mt. Pinatubo|
|4:00 PM - 5:00 PM||Wash up and travel back to Angeles City|
|6:00 PM - 7:00 PM||Dinner at Aling Lucing's Sisig,then prepare for a night of pub crawling|
|6:00 PM - 8:00 PM||Or, call it a day and head back to your hotel|
In terms of surfing in the Philippines, Zambales has to be the most underrated spot for the best waves and most vibrant communities. Offering a grassroots experience of the surfing culture, visitors of the town’s beaches will enjoy a beach camping experience, whether to surf or simply to catch a glimpse of the magnificent Milky Way at night.
What to do in Zambales
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- Go island hopping
- Zambales is a common weekend getaway destination in the Philippines because you’re not just limited to one beach to spend your mini-vacation on. In Zambales, you can go island hopping along the beautiful beaches of Anawangin or Nagsasa Cove, Capones, and Camara Island.
- Visit the Inflatable Water Park
- If you’re taking the kids with you or want the child in you to have fun, visit Zambales’ Inflatable Island which hosts the Philippines' first floating water park.
- When the pandemic is over, be sure to include this park in your travel itinerary. Be warned, though, that you will have to use some strength to climb up the inflatable park when you slide or jump down.
- Surf in San Narciso
- San Narciso, Zambales is a favorite surf spot of surfers of all levels. The best time to visit this place is between May to October, if you’d like to catch bigger waves. There are instructors there who offer beginner lessons, as well.
- Camp out on the Beach
- Pitch a tent by the shore in one of the Zambales islands. If you're not sure if you’d want to do this for the rest of your stay, check out from your hotel at least a day early then camp on your last day before you leave. Alternatively, you could also camp out at the beginning of your trip.
For the adventurous nature lover, below is a suggested itinerary:
|7:00 AM - 7:30 AM||Breakfast|
|8:00 AM - 9:00 AM||Visit Anawangin Cove and go island hopping|
|9:00 AM - 10:00 AM||Swimming at the beach (Part 1)|
|10:00 AM - 11:00 AM||Light trek on the hills|
|11:00 AM - 12:00 PM||Travel to Capones Island|
|12:00 PM - 1:00 PM||Lunch|
|1:00 PM - 2:00 PM||Visit the Capones Lighthouse|
|2:00 PM - 3:00 PM||Head to Nagsasa Cove|
|3:00 PM - 4:00 PM||Swimming (Part 2)|
|4:30 PM - 5:30 PM||Travel back to the hotel|
|6:00 PM - 7:00 PM||Dinner|
|11:00 PM - 2:00 AM||Stargazing|
3. La Union
This surfers’ paradise is one destination popular with tourists near and far. With a bustling and friendly surfing community and modern dining and entertainment establishments, La Union lends a balanced vibe of urban and beachside living.
Start the day surfing then cap it off by partying at the famous Flotsam & Jetsam Artist Beach Hostel.
What to do in La Union
Photo courtesy of Marvin Meyer via Unsplash
- Go surfing
- Your La Union trip will not be complete if you don’t surf--or at least try to. Being among the best capitals--if not the best--surf capital of the Philippines, La Union is home to hundreds of surf instructors, and has the cleanest wells brought in by the West Philippine Sea.
- If you’ve never surfed before, sign up for a one-hour surf lesson with a professional instructor for only PhP500. This rate includes surfboard rental.
- However, if you’re a seasoned surfer with your own surfboard, you can also hire a professional instructor for an hour, if you simply want their company. The rate would be lower, too.
- Bonus tip: Finding it hard to catch the waves together with the weekend crowd? Ask your instructor to take you to the less-crowded German Sunset, keeping in mind that they don’t do short sessions there. So you’ll have to sign up for at least a two-hour session. If you’re with someone, you can split the cost and the session time.
- Trek to and swim in the Tangadan Falls
- If water sports aren’t your thing, you can go trekking, instead. La Union houses the majestic Tangadan Falls where visitors can cliff jump or swim in the cool mountain waters. To get there, you’ll need to hire a tour guide who will take you to the jump-off point of the mini-hike.
- The trek up to the Tangadan Falls is about an hour-long on a mostly flat trail; so it’s really beginner-friendly. Be mindful of your basic hiking practices for safety.
- Pick grapes at the La Union Grape Farm
- This is one of the lesser-known activities in this road-trip destination. Located in Bauang, La Union, the La Union Grape Farm offers the experience of tending a vineyard. The best time to go there to pick grapes is between March and May.
- To get there from San Juan, take a jeepney ride to San Fernando and ask the driver to drop you off at the Bauang jeepney terminal. The fare should cost around PhP11.00. From the terminal, hire a tricycle and instruct the driver to take you to any of La Union’s popular grape farms such as Gapuz Grape Farm, Mangguera Grape Farm, Lomboy Grape Farm, or Calica Grape Farm.
- The one-way fare is about PhP100. For your convenience, you can also request the driver to wait for you until you finish with your grape picking session, as the distance of the grape farms from the town proper can make it hard to book a trip back.
- Do the rounds of buzzing food establishments
- Would you like to discover the tastes of La Union? A food trip around La Union will prove far from boring for your palate. As a popular destination for metro dwellers, some metro-borne restaurateurs have expanded their businesses there, introducing to the province modern and trendy flavors.
- Head over to the Flotsam & Jetsam Artist Beach Hostel and have some of their delicious grilled cheese sandwiches, or to the many other dining and cafe establishments found in The Great Northwest.
- How about a grassroots food trip? If you’re not up for a food experience in the province’s metro, go to the San Fernando Night Market, instead, for a truly local food experience of La Union--and for affordable prices, at that!
- Party hop with the locals
- Evenings in La Union are also far from being boring. If anything, their nightlife is the reason some people make the weekly exodus to San Juan. The drinking culture and party-hopping in La Union take on a sort of fused experience of beach partying and Poblacion crawls. La Union’s undeniably unique charm, though, is the fact that you can party and get to know the friendly local surf instructors.
Below is a basic itinerary you can follow if you’d like to get a good, first impression of La Union. This will help you understand what hooks visitors and keeps them coming back for more.
|7:00 AM - 8:00 AM||Breakfast|
|8:00 AM - 8:30 AM||Get a jeepney ride to San Gabriel from Urbiztondo|
|8:30 AM - 9:00 AM||Hire a tricycle that will take you to the jump-off point of the Tangadan Falls trek|
|9:00 AM - 11:30 AM||Arrival at the Tangadan Falls; enjoy a few hours of cliff jumping, swimming, and taking photos|
|11:30 AM - 12:00 PM||Travel back to Urbiztondo for lunch|
|12:00 PM - 1:00 PM||Lunch|
|1:00 PM - 4:00 PM||Free time; explore San Juan’s food establishments|
|4:00 PM - 6:00 PM||Surf at San Juan’s beachfront or at the German Sunset|
Being a few hours away from Manila and a hub of a number of hole-in-the-wall restaurants, Tagaytay has become one of the top road trip destinations in the Philippines. When it comes to weekend getaways, it’s almost always the top-of-mind of metro dwellers, as it’s only a few hours of drive or bus ride.
Whether it’s discovering restaurants or basking in the view of Taal Volcano -- with a hot cup of coffee in hand -- you can definitely consider Tagaytay as a quick getaway where you can relax away from Metro Manila but without having to travel too far. Cozy up in a warm scarf or a jacket, and take in the views and fresh air of this popular weekend road trip destination.
What to do in Tagaytay
Photo courtesy of Melissa Pascua via Pexels
- Enjoy a view of Taal Volcano
- A trip to Tagaytay will not be the same without enjoying a breathtaking view of Taal Volcano. In fact, most restaurants and cafes in Tagaytay are situated around this volcano, to offer diners a clear view. Simply put, Tagaytay is synonymous with Taal Volcano. So don’t pass up the chance to marvel at this natural wonder or to take photos of it as your background.
- Visit the Sky Ranch
- This destination is ideal for families with kids--or kids at heart! Sky Ranch is a theme park that offers fun and thrilling rides for all ages in Tagaytay. As a mixed-use park, it also has a number of food and beverage establishments where you can dine and bond with your travel buds. Ride the zipline, or enjoy a better view of Taal Volcano on the ferris wheel.
- Ride a horse at the Picnic Grove
- Before the Sky Ranch even existed, this was the go-to destination for family activities in Tagaytay. To date, the Picnic Grove is still a favorite among visitors of all ages, as it offers a comforting picnic experience surrounded by nature. If you’re looking for more intimate moments with your loved ones, head to this grove.
- On top of picnics, horseback riding is another popular attraction at this tourist spot. For a very affordable rate, you can take a slow ride on a pony assisted by a guide.
- See the Puzzle Mansion
- The Puzzle Mansion is another Tagaytay attraction that never fails to pique the interest of tourists with more eccentric tastes. On second thought, who wouldn’t become curious over a diverse collection of 1,028 completed puzzles? Simply inspecting them is exactly what’s enjoyable about the Puzzle Mansion!
Below is an itinerary that will get you through enjoying delicious dishes while marveling at Taal Volcano, then take you to a mind-enriching museum tour:
|6:30 AM- 7:30 AM||Breakfast at the Bag of Beans|
|7:30 AM - 8:30 AM||Travel to Picnic Grove|
|8:30 AM - 9:00 AM||Go horseback riding|
|9:00 AM - 10:00 AM||Enjoy a morning picnic and take pictures for keepsakes!|
|10:00 AM - 11:00 AM||Travel to Puzzle Mansion|
|11:00 AM - 12:00 PM||Take a tour of Puzzle Mansion|
|12:00 PM- 1:00 PM||Lunch at Josephine’s Restaurant|
|1:00 PM - 2:00 PM||Travel to the Sky Ranch|
|2:00 PM - 6:00 PM||Enjoy a fun-filled afternoon going around and taking a ride on the amusement park attractions|
|6:00 PM- 7:00 PM||Travel to Balay Dako for dinner|
|7:00 PM - 8:00 PM||Enjoy a piping hot bowl of bulalo at Balay Dako|
|8:00 PM||Travel back to the hotel|
Farther down south and with borders lining the western coast of the Philippines, Batangas is a destination for beach lovers. In Batangas, there are a number of popular beaches, like Nasugbu, Calatagan, and Anilao to visit if you’re looking for some ocean therapy. Other than its well-known beaches, Batangas is also a hotspot of cultural trips and mountain adventures. This province boasts of 70 mountains, 10 of which are among the most popular hiking spots in the Philippines.
What to do in Batangas
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- Eat hot lomi
- Wouldn’t it be the perfect way to wind down from your long trip, to eat a piping hot bowl of Batangas lomi? This noodle dish that’s unique to Batangas is one that your mothers or grandmothers probably tried to replicate and serve you when you were younger. Try the real thing at any karinderya in Batangas, and you’ll immediately taste the difference.
- Visit the shrine of Padre Pio
- While there is a chapel of Padre Pio in Bagumbayan, Quezon City, some people still make the journey to visit the bigger St. Padre Pio Shrine in Batangas. If you’re looking to integrate a religious aspect into your trip, this is the place to visit. Padre Pio is the patron saint of stress relief, which may be helpful to you, depending on your personal beliefs.
- Go scuba diving in Anilao
- Scuba diving, as extreme as it may sound, it is actually a beginner-friendly sport. In Anilao, many people learn to become divemasters. With its coral-rich and calm waters, it’ll be easy to learn scuba diving, even if you don’t know how to swim. Learn at the Anilao Scuba Diving Center which also offers lodging if you are looking to gain an extensive learning experience.
- Enjoy the calm waters of Calatagan
- Being sheltered from the currents coming in from the Pacific Ocean and the West Philippine Sea, the waters along the coast of Calatagan are often quite calm. Beach lovers appreciate this because it allows them to just casually splash around near the shoreline. To some, it allows them to practice their open-water swimming techniques.
- Other activities that you can engage in--thanks to these calm waters and high winds--are kiteboarding and banana boat rides.
- Meditate on a mountain
- Do you know that some mountain hike trails end by the shore of a beach? The trail from Mt. Hugom is one of these. Since this trail can be easily accomplished within a few hours, you can still take a side trip to the beaches of Laiya, Batangas after the hike.
- Speaking of hiking, Batangas is home to numerous mountains that are easy to ascent. If you’re looking for a major experience in hiking, consider taking on the mountains of Batangas.
This hiking itinerary to Mt. Hugom in Batangas suggested below by Pinoy Mountaineer will show you how you can hike up the mountain and take that beachside trip, all within a day:
|4:00 AM - 6:30 AM||Bus ride bound for San Juan, Batangas|
|6:30 AM - 7:00 AM||Arrival in San Juan; get a jeepney ride going to Barangay Hugom|
|7:00 AM - 7:30 AM||Hire guides and register for the hike in Barangay Hugom|
|7:30 AM - 8:30 AM||Start of hike|
|8:30 AM - 9:15 AM||Arrival at the talahib interlude; take a short rest|
|9:15 AM - 11:00 AM||Resume the trek so you can arrive at the summit in time for lunch|
|11:00 AM - 12:00 PM||Break for lunch and prepare for the descent|
|12:00 PM - 3:00 PM||Begin to descend the mountain and arrive at the jumpoff point by 3:00 PM to wash up|
|3:00 PM - 3:30 PM||Merienda and wash up before traveling back to San Juan by jeep|
|3:30 PM - 4:30 PM||Take a jeepney ride to Laiya Beach and arrive in time to book a hotel and enjoy the view of the sunset|
Although uncommon, you can travel to the Philippines’ world-renowned island paradise by land. This guide will teach you how to get there by car or by commute.
What to do in Boracay
Photo courtesy of Laurentiu Morariu via Unsplash
- Enjoy resort-style pampering
- After a back-breaking drive or commute you would want to just take a day to relax and rejuvenate at your accommodations. Any number of resorts will offer the basic amenities for relaxation. But setting itself apart from the usual experience is Alta Vista Boracay. Sequestered in a private part of the island, this enclave of resort homes provides a serene relaxing experience.
- Go island hopping
- Island hopping will prove to be a refreshing break from months-long of viewing the four corners of your room. Reignite the thrill of adventure in you, and hop from one island to the next near and around Boracay.
- Scuba dive into the deep
- Or how about a good dive into the deep and marvel at how full of life the waters of the Philippines are? At Boracay, you can go on a scuba diving session and reacquaint yourself with various, teeming species of marine life there exist in Boracay’s waters.
- Parasail into the sunset
- Take an exhilarating ride into the sunset on a parasail. As one of the top 10 things to do in Boracay, you can’t miss out on parasailing. To add a more dramatic appeal to flying over the waters of Boracay, plan it around the late afternoon, and feel as if you’re riding into the setting sun.
- Cliff dive
- Jump for joy from the freedom of being out of the four walls of your room and cliff dive into turquoise waters. If you’re a bold adrenaline junkie, cliff-diving at Ariel’s Point is something that will definitely get your blood rushing after months of quarantine.
- Party the night away
- When you’re done with the trips, side trips, and all there is to do in the waters of Boracay, the only things left is to party the night away. The drinks, music, socializing, and dancing with people in Boracay’s party scene would be the perfect way to chase away the isolation blues. So before you head back to Alta Vista De Boracay and switch the lights off, go out and enjoy a drink or two in the company of good friends and strangers.
Are your feet getting itchy and can’t sit still in one place for too long? The itinerary below will get you hopping from one place to another until you get your fill of moving around:
|09:30 AM - 10:30 AM||Wake up bright and early for breakfast|
|10:30 AM - 11:00 AM||Book an island hopping tour with any of the tour guides on the beach strip.|
|11:00 AM - 11:30 AM||Depart for the island hopping tour|
|11:30 AM - 12:00 PM||Arrive at the lunch spot for a break|
|12:00 PM - 1:00 PM||Break for lunch|
|1:00 PM - 2:30 PM||Resume island hopping tour|
|02:30 PM - 3:00 PM||Travel back to the hotel|
|3:00 PM - 05:30 PM||Travel to the White Beach, in time for sunset viewing on a paraw|
|6:00 PM - 7:00 PM||Dinner|
|07:00 PM - 1:00 AM||Pub Crawl the beaches|
|1:00 AM- 2:00 AM||Travel back to the hotel|
If the prolonged quarantine left you with deep hunger for an extensive adventure, drive off to the southernmost reaches of the Philippines. Mindanao, however far it may be, can be reached by land or by sea. Read on for a road trip guide to the King City of the South.
Photo courtesy of Nicole Richstein via Unsplash
- Enjoy some delicacies
- After that long journey, wind down, and stretch your back and legs at a restaurant and enjoy a hearty meal.
- As a nation that absolutely delights in eating, you can expect Davao to have its own unique flavors that will translate into a delightful gastronomic treat. Fill up your tummy and relax at any of the 10 best restaurants in Davao City before or after you settle down at your hotel.
- Visit the Philippine Eagle Center
- Get to know an integral part of the Philippine culture by visiting the Philippine Eagle Center. Learn a lesson or two about this majestic bird of prey unique to the country. And while you’re at it, discover how you can help support the preservation of eagles as endangered species.
- Hop to Samal Island
- Davao City is also in close proximity to beautiful beaches such as Mati. If you’re up for another boat ride, go on an island hopping tour of Samal Island.
- Hike on Mt. Apo
- Are you a hardcore mountaineer? If so, why not take a long hike up the highest point in the Philippines, also known as Mt. Apo?
- Before you can do so, however, you’ll need to acquire medical and mountaineering certifications, first, since going up Mt. Apo is considered a major climb and is near an active volcano.
- Being accompanied by professional guides and being equipped with specific types of gear are also mandatory for hiking Mt. Apo. To help you prepare for this, hire only seasoned travel-and-tour guides for your climb.
If hiking up an active volcano is too extreme for you, below is a suggested itinerary of chill, aquatic activities:
|7:00 AM - 8:00 AM||Breakfast|
|8:00 AM - 9:00 AM||Depart from Davao City to start your tour|
|9:00 AM - 10:00 AM||Tour around Samal Island and Malipano Island|
|10:00 AM - 11:00 AM||Transfer to and tour around Diaz Island and Dela Paz Island|
|11:00 AM - 12:00 PM||Tour rounds at Taklobo Sanctuary and Starfish Sanctuary|
|12:00 PM - 1:00 PM||Lunch on the boat|
|1:00 PM - 3:00 PM||Snorkeling at the Samal Coral Garden|
|3:00 PM - 5:00 PM||Travel back to Davao City and to your hotel|
|6:00 PM - 7:00 PM||Dinner|
|7:00 PM - 8:00 PM||Explore Davao City|
Remember that the most memorable adventures are always just a single step away from the fear you feel before taking it. Road trips, as grassroots as they are, can be full of surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant. The experience and all the feelings that come with it will be valuable to you, just the same.
For your journey, make sure to prepare for anything. Focus on the good that you witness and the people you meet along the way or travel with as invaluable companions. When it’s time to settle back home, your body tired from traveling, these memories will make your adventure far more meaningful, reminding you how beautiful life is, pre- or post-COVID-19.