More than a year spent in quarantine has allowed many of us to think beyond ourselves to the world around us. There is more to life than just our own needs and desires, and connecting to something higher has become a goal of many.

With local tourism starting to pick up again, there are those looking for more than just a fun weekend. Many are thinking of ways to venture out safely and make a big, positive impact at the same time. Call it traveling with a purpose if you will.

If you are one such person, we suggest taking a short drive to Quezon. The province has a number of activities that allow you to do more than just have a good time. Here are four immersive vacations spots that can add purpose to your travels:

Protect the environment at Bangkong Kahoy Valley Nature Retreat 
Barangay. Kinabuhayan, Dolores, Quezon

Bangkong Kahoy’s main campsite boasts a 360-degree view of the verdant Banahaw forest. Photo by SinoPinas courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Set within the protected area of Mounts Banahaw and San Cristobal, Bangkong Kahoy is an ecological sanctuary open to anyone looking to commune with nature. It houses self-cooling stone cottages, open-air cabins, and campgrounds surrounded by trees. Here, you can stay and learn about the importance of preserving the country’s rich and unique biodiversity.

Environmentalist Dion Pullan, who considers himself a caretaker, curates an immersive tour for guests to appreciate and understand the rich flora and fauna around them. Here you can engage with bright turquoise jade vines, meet centuries-old trees, and hear stories about the rare whiskered pitta, which are all endemic to Luzon’s tropical forests.

Pullan always ends his tours with a strong message of green responsibility and sustainable living, and will urge to help spread the word.

Other outdoor activities include hiking and trekking, bird viewing and photography, raspberry picking, and horseback riding. It also has several vantage points to view the verdant landscape of the Banahaw ridge.

While you can cook your own meals, their restaurant serves delicious all-organic food and vegan options with locally grown ingredients.

Experience farm life at Lukong Valley Farm
Sitio Lukong, Barangay Pinagdanlayan, Dolores, Quezon

Dragon fruit pick-and-pay event is one of the farm’s popular activities during the harvest season. Photo by SinoPinas courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

This five-acre farmland is for those looking to experience something new. Also located at Mount Banahaw foothills, it promises a holistic agrarian life, where you can learn the basics of organic farming, livestock care, and cultivating your own food.

Here you can join guided tours, learn more about permaculture and attend demos on sustainable farming practices. Attractions vary from chicken farm to goat pastures to greenhouses of different herbs and vegetables.

A typical morning in Lukong Valley Farm involves getting your hands dirty, planting vegetable seedlings, chasing chickens, milking cows, and tending to the goats. Bring the kids during the harvest season and have fun picking various fruits and vegetables for lunch or dinner.

Dining at the farm’s restaurant is also an option if you want more time for activities. They are best known for kulawo, ensaladang pako, and spicy turon. 

You can also stay at any of their adorable hilltop cabins with balconies that overlook their dragon fruit orchard. The cabins are stocked with books, game boards, musical instruments, and even a karaoke machine.

Support local communities at BIPCO Mangrove Forest Ecological Park
Barangay Binonoan, Infanta, Quezon

This one-hour scenic boat ride provides an immersive overview of the protected mangrove sanctuary. Photo by SinoPinas courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

About a hundred hectares of abandoned ponds are now home to lush mangrove forests, thanks to the efforts of the Binonoan Producers Cooperative (BIPCO). This is a group of local lambanog producers in Barangay Binonoan in the municipality of Infanta. With a strong commitment to protecting their town from devastating storm surges and typhoons, the group has been continuously restoring the once depleting mangrove forest for almost 10 years now. And the result of their action can be clearly seen in the return of abundant wildlife in the area.

This protected mangrove forest is now inhabited by thousands of migratory fruit bats as well as hundreds of different bird species, including herons, egrets, and hawks. There are also occasional sightings of reticulated pythons.

The BIPCO Mangrove ECO Park offers eco-conscious and educational boat tours along its scenic waterways while appreciating a view of the Sierra Madre range. A pitstop at the floating bamboo cottages will give you a close view of the fruit bats hanging upside down from the mangrove branches.

Visitors will also learn more about protecting the mangrove sanctuary in one of their floating classrooms, followed by a sumptuous lunch prepared by the BIPCO ladies. Try the Infanta version of sinantol, ginataang kuhol, and suman.

This nature retreat hopes to become a full-pledged ecotourism site where guests can soon camp overnight. BIPCO is also looking into offering volunteering opportunities where interested visitors can become champions of protecting the mangrove forest.

Participating in the tour directly benefits BIPCO members who work as boat operators, guides, cooks, and storytellers.

Pray for healing at Kamay ni Hesus
Brgy. Tinamnan, Lucban Quezon

Kamay ni Hesus shrine peaks at around three million visitors during the Holy Week. Photo by SinoPinas courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Known to millions of devotees across the country, the Kamay ni Hesus Shrine in Lucban is a spiritual sanctuary for people in need of healing. According to Fr. Joey Faller, a healing priest, people flock to the sacred grounds to repent, seek God’s presence, and pray for relief from illnesses.

Built through donations, the tranquil shrine sits on a five-hectare property dotted with cement statues of Catholic saints, the Virgin Mary, angels, and scenes from the Bible. The main highlight is the 50-foot-tall concrete image of the Risen Christ, and many believers climb more than 300 steps to reach the statue’s base.

It is believed that whoever finishes the steps will be blessed with healing and protection. Fr. Faller stresses, however, that while simple faith has the power to heal, pilgrims should also recognize the importance of celebrating the Eucharist and communing with God through deep prayers.

The shrine is home to serene gardens, a healing church, and several parks for worship. It also has a replica of Noah’s ark built for prayer and meditation, as well as a 21-room retreat house. A small restaurant is also located inside the ark where you can partake of healthy dishes or Lucban delicacies.

Travel safely! 

All tourist destinations in Quezon have health and safety regulations in place to protect locals and visitors. Everyone is encouraged to wear face masks and shields, wash their hands often, and maintain proper physical distance.

Visit www.philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app on app.philippines.travel or on Google Playstore for the most up-to-date information about re-opened local destinations as well as the safety protocols and requirements needed for each location.