The thing with Laguna is that it does none of those long, white powdery beaches. But the province, known more as the birthplace of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal, certainly makes up for what it lacks.
Laguna is so close to Metro Manila one can simply hop on to the next bus leaving for Sta. Cruz, the capital, for a quick weekend breather.
From Cubao, Quezon City, hourly bus trips from HM Transport Inc.’s terminal start as early as 3 a.m. up to
10 p.m. daily. One-way fare costs P149.50. Buses of DLTB Bus Co. leave its terminal on Gil Puyat Avenue in Manila for Laguna.
The Inquirer did a quick survey among travel bloggers, tourists and tourism officers: If you have 48 hours to travel around Laguna, where will you go?
Nature-tripping officially starts once you take the South Luzon Expressway exit toward Calamba City. A quick stop at Sta. Rosa City’s Nuvali is worth the sweat.
Nuvali, an Ayala Land estate booming with commercial and residential developments, opens Camp N, a specialized bike hub for beginners and pros. Its 2,290-hectare estate offers a tour through bird sanctuary trails and dirt roads.
Sta. Rosa is also home to Enchanted Kingdom, the first theme park in the country. Opened in 1995, Enchanted Kingdom’s popular thrill rides continue to draw at least 1.7 million guests annually.
Those up for a more “unadulterated” trail may head straight to Los Baños town. From the University of the Philippines campus, one may take off for a hike to Mt. Makiling. A tropical rainforest, Makiling’s 8.7-kilometer steep trail has become a favorite trekking destination, especially during Lent.
When in San Pablo
You can’t leave Los Baños without a box of hot buko pie or the locally made chocolate cake of Mernel’s. From Los Baños, it is about an hour’s drive to San Pablo, a bustling yet quaint city known for its seven interconnected lakes.
“We’re quite surprised that families put together their own itineraries,” said city tourism officer Donalyn Eseo.
An emerging attraction is the balsa (bamboo raft) ride on Pandin Lake. Women from the rural community drive the rafts for an hourlong tour and lead tourists to a 15-minute trek for a view of Pandin’s twin lake, the Yambo.
“It’s amazing that the women are the ones making a living while their husbands stay at home to look after the children,” said local tourist Benjie Villacruel.
The ride and freshly prepared lunch—steamed rice, tilapia, vegetable ensalada and ginataang hipong Palakpakin (shrimps from Lake Palakpakin cooked in coconut milk)—costs P360 per head.
Tourists are advised to keep their life jackets on should they give in to the tempting lake water. Just don’t look for any shower room. “That’s the exciting part—going home wet,” Eseo said.
Tourists may spend the afternoon biking (bike rentals: P30 to P50) or strolling around the 3.7-kmr circumference of Sampaloc Lake. By the lake are Cafe Lago, known for its suman latik, and Tahanan ni Aling Meding, which offers buffet meals.
At the city proper is Sulyap Gallery Cafe and bed and breakfast, offering accommodations for P1,350 to P1,500 per person.
“It’s then just a 15-minute drive to [the adjacent towns of] Nagcarlan and Liliw, where tourists can shop for uraro (arrowroot cookies) or footwear,” Eseo said.
Liliw’s Badong Footwear has become a shopping center for stylish yet low-priced slippers, while Nagcarlan’s Underground Cemetery offers a walk back to the past. Built in 1845, the Baroque-style Underground Cemetery in the village of Bambang served as the final resting place of Spanish friars and prominent ilustrados of the time.
Another weekend itinerary is Laguna’s eastern towns.
From Sta. Cruz, head to Pagsanjan, but not without a snapshot of its beautiful arch. Once you reach Our Lady of Guadalupe church, a quick turn to the right toward Luisiana town will bring you to Aling Taleng’s Halo-halo.
“It’s prepared and sweetened in a special way,” Ily Saguirre said. The family prepares halo-halo (P95 per glass) following the recipe of Aling Taleng or the late Catalina Saguirre. They have been doing this since 1933. Aling Taleng’s is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., but for big groups, preorders are advised, especially during the Holy Week.
Laguna is not only famous for its natural wonders but has also become a pilgrim destination. Among the popular Spanish churches are San Pablo’s cathedral, Majayjay’s St. Gregory Church, Magdalena church and Pakil church.
“We don’t have beaches, but we have both hot and cold water,” said Maria Soldead Lagasca of the Laguna Tourism, Culture, Arts and Trade Office. She is referring to the natural hot springs in Los Baños, and the cool rivers and falls in Cavinti and Majayjay towns.
The ice-cold water of Majayjay’s Taytay Falls has become popular among backpackers. Pangil town, on the other hand, is promoting its ecopark, where tourists can try rubber tubing in Ambon-Ambon Falls.
“It’s called ambon-ambon because when you stand below the falls, the water is like drizzle giving you a back massage,” Lagasca said.
In 2015, Lagasca said about six million local and foreign tourists visited Laguna. “What we offer them are the diverse attractions. We also have a lot of emerging destinations,” she said.
For instance, the manmade Caliraya Lake is drawing water sports enthusiasts. “We also have caving [in Cavinti], which is almost like [Palawan’s] Underground River, except that you have to walk through the mountain,” Lagasca said.
In Majayjay, Costales Nature Farms has been dubbed Laguna’s “Little Baguio.” It offers a walk through an organic farm and offers tourists chance to stay in traditional nipa huts.
“Tourists can harvest [vegetables] and we prepare the meals for them. It’s a real farm-to-plate experience,” said Kenneth de Gracia, Costales marketing manager.
Comparing it with known destinations, Lagasca said weekend getaways to Laguna are perfect for people on a tight budget. “In some (of our destinations), you can even haggle over the price,” she said.
The province is also the best option for people on a tight schedule before heading back to Metro Manila.
Suggested itineraries for a quick getaway:
- San Pablo City-Nagcarlan-Liliw tour
6 a.m. From Cubao or Buendia, take bus bound for San Pablo City or Lucena City. Tell driver to drop you off at San Pablo Medical Hospital or junction near 7-11 (Buses are only allowed to enter city center at night).
9 a.m. Visit San Pablo Cathedral (St. Paul the First Hermit)
9:30 a.m. Balsa ride in Pandin Lake. Take tricycle (special trip P60-P80) or jeepney bound for Nagcarlan (P20) and tell driver to drop you off at Pandin. Prebooking through the city tourism office (049-5621429) is encouraged. Trail is muddy during wet season.
Balsa tour takes an hour. You have an option to visit Pandin’s twin lake, Yambo, but it takes a 15-minute trek. (Tour P180, lunch P180)
Take lunch on the balsa
1 p.m. Travel back to city center. Check-in at Sulyap Bed and Breakfast or at Casa San Pablo.
3 p.m. Visit Sampaloc lake. Stroll around or rent bikes (P30-P50) at the park
4 p.m. Snack to early dinner at Tahanan ni Aling Meding or Cafe Lago, both right by the lake. Cafe Lago’s suman sa latik is a must try and you’re lucky if there is a band performing for the night.
7 p.m. Head back to hotel
8 a.m. Check out. Travel to Nagcarlan (travel time is 30 to 45 minutes)
9 a.m. Visit Nagcarlan’s Underground Cemetery in Barangay Bambang
9:30 a.m. Travel to Liliw
9:45 a.m. Shopping at Badong’s Footwear on Gat Tayaw Street
11:30 a.m. Lunch at Arabela, a local restaurant serving Italian and Filipino dishes. Pizza, pasta, steaks and desserts are a must try. (Open daily from 11:15 a.m. to 7 p.m. No reservations on weekends)
1 p.m. Travel back to San Pablo City
2 p.m. Travel back to Manila
- Sta. Cruz-Cavinti-Majayjay tour
5 a.m. From Cubao or Buendia, take bus bound for Sta. Cruz, Laguna (one-way fare costs P149.50)
7:30 a.m. From Sta. Cruz terminal, take jeepney bound for Cavinti town proper (distance 14 km, fare P25)
8:15 a.m. Take the 4×4 service to the Cathedral Cave. (Booking for 4×4 vehicles should be made at least a day ahead of the trip. Contact Ni?a 0946-124-2296 / Ulysses 0998-564-6490 of the Cavinti tourism office. Round trip costs P2,500 for 6 persons)
10 a.m. Arrive at Bumbungan Eco Park. Registration (P500 per person) and orientation for the tour in Cavinti’s Underground Cave and River
Noon Back to Cavinti town center for lunch. There are no restaurants around the area but a lot of small eateries to choose from.
1 p.m. Travel to Pagsanjan via jeepney
1:45 p.m. Arrive in Pagsanjan. Visit Pagsanjan church (Our Lady of Guadalupe church)
2 p.m. Halo-halo at Aling Taleng’s. Take your photos with the iconic Pagsanjan arch in the background.
3 p.m. Travel to Majayjay (Jeepneeys are available near Jollibee Pagsanjan)
4:15 p.m. Arrive in Majayjay. Check in at Costales Nature Farms (Barangay Gagalot) or at Hilarion’s Heritage Farm (Barangay Ilayang Banga)
8 a.m. Leave for Taytay Falls. Jeepney fare, P15 to P20
8:30 a.m. Arrive at Taytay Falls. Local government asks for a P20 donation for maintenance. Water is clearer when it’s not raining
11:30 a.m. Travel back to Costales or Hilarion’s.
Noon Lunch and check out
1 p.m. Travel to Sta. Cruz bus terminal
2 p.m. Travel back to Manila
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