After being cooped up at home for months, many of us are looking for something different to experience. A trip to the beach might be the go-to of a lot of Filipinos, but more adventurous travelers might crave more, shall we say, noteworthy itineraries.
Thankfully, the nearby province of Laguna offers attractions that might fit your unusual tastes. While it is most popularly known as Jose Rizal’s birthplace, Laguna has made a name for itself over the years with tourist destinations that would only take you two to three hours of travel from Manila.
San Pablo, Laguna
San Pablo is home to the famous Seven Lakes. The biggest of these bodies of water is Sampaloc Lake, which is located in the middle of the city. It was largely known for agriculture and fishing until the local government saw its potential for tourism and recreation in the mid-2000s.
With the Laguna Lake Development Authority and San Pablo’s Tourism Council’s supervision, this inactive volcanic maar then became a leading destination of the city.
Here, you can take a relaxing stroll around the area. You can also rent bikes for around Php 20 to 50 for the whole trip around the lake. Benches and solar lamps are present at the green mini-parks around the circumference of the 3.7km lake for when you want to stop for a quick break. If you are into watersports, you can also try boating and kayaking in Sampaloc Lake—but this is subject for approval from the LGU.
Before the pandemic, festivities were also regularly held here such as the Tilapia May Festival, Balsa Regatta race, and Diwata ng Pitong Lawa pageant. But even without these activities, a trip here is worth it for visuals alone.
Barangay Tala, Rizal, Laguna
If you love being rewarded with refreshing views of nature, you will definitely enjoy TANAW (Tayak Adventure Nature and Wildlife) Park. Located in the municipality of Rizal, this 300-hectare protected forest is managed and maintained by the local government. The recreational area covers 24-hectares of land, which includes the famous 30-foot cross in the hilltop structure called “Noah’s Ark.”
What’s great about the park is how it’s actually a collective effort of the national and local government, Rizal locals, visitors, and even private groups. According to Rhodora Isleta, Municipal Administrator of Rizal, most of the things that can be seen in TANAW Park are donations from frequent visitors who have grown to love the place.
The stone steps or slabs going up to Noah’s Ark and even the flooring at the peak is filled with names of its benefactors. Even the bike stands were donated by the bikers who frequent the park’s challenging trail.
TANAW Park’s regular hours are from 6 AM to 5 PM, great for early morning or late afternoon climbs and bike rides. A rewarding atmosphere and view await at the top, San Pablo, Laguna de Bay, and other nearby towns can be seen.
Access here costs Php 80 per head for visitors and a discounted rate of Php 30 for locals.
- Opening hours: 6 AM to 5 PM
- FB page: http://facebook.com/tanawpark
- Entrance fee: Php 80 per head for visitors and Php 30 per head for locals
Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery
Rizal Ave., Barangay Bambang, Nagcarlan, Laguna
Laguna played a big part in the Philippine revolution, and one location that was used heavily in this role is the Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery.
Built in 1845, the cemetery was meant for high-ranking individuals in society like the Gobernadorcillo and Cabeza de Barangay. It was also a secret meeting place for revolutionaries during the 1896 uprising. Before the Biak na Bato pact was signed in Bulacan, several months of negotiation took place at this underground location, solidifying its relevance to our country’s independence.
The site was declared as a historical landmark by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines in 1981.
Many spots here remain preserved, with the tiles of the small chapel above being the same ones from 1845. When you visit the site, be sure to drop by the museum to know more about the cemetery’s preservation efforts, and how history and religion play a role in the lives of Nagcarlan locals.
The Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery is open on Tuesdays to Sundays, from 9 AM to 4 PM. Entrance is free of charge, but prior to visiting, you must book online through the QR code posted on the cemetery’s official Facebook page at least two days before your intended visit. As part of health and safety protocols, make sure to come in a group of five people or fewer.
- Contact number: 0915 770 1007
- Opening hours: 9 AM to 4 PM, Tuesdays to Sundays
- FB page: http://facebook.com/mlilnofficial
- Entrance fee: None, but visitors must book 2 days prior to visit using the QR code on their FB page
Makiling Botanic Garden
College of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of the Philippines Los Baños College, Laguna
Probably the biggest land area in Los Baños is the University of the Philippines campus here, where the Makiling Botanic Garden (MBG) is located.
Originally, the botanical garden was meant to be a learning laboratory. As explained by Leilani Castillo, University Researcher and former head of the MBG, the botanical garden’s vision is “to serve and support professional instruction and research related to forestry and plant sciences.”
The place, thankfully, opened its doors to tourists and recreational activities eventually.
As a biodiversity conservation area, everything found in the botanical garden is a crucial part of the ecosystem. This will be emphasized during the orientation you will have to undergo before entering the garden.
Once inside, you’ll be surrounded by a diverse collection of plants and flowers. The MBG is particularly proud of its Dipterocarp Arboretum section. Endemic and threatened plant species like the Medinilla Magnifica or rose grape plant can also be seen here.
The peak period of the MBG is from August to October as these months are usually when schools schedule their educational field trips. By the time April and May rolls around, the visitors are usually families and friends looking for bonding activities as well as plant enthusiasts from all walks of life.
While the MBG is still closed at the moment to comply with LGU regulations, the school management is using this period to develop the area further.
- Contact number: (049) 536 2637
- Opening hours: MBG is currently closed due to the pandemic but its regular hours
- are from 8 AM to 4 PM daily, excluding holidays
- Website: http://makiling.center
- FB page: http://facebook.com/makilingbotanicgardens/
- Entrance fee: Php 60 per head for non-students and Php 45 for students and PWDs
Daang Hari Campgrounds in Esmeris Farm
Barangay Ilayang San Roque, Liliw, Laguna
If you’re searching for the backdrop of your next Instagram post, look no further than Esmeris Farm.
To reach the campgrounds, you have to go up a hill for 10 to 15 minutes, an experience in itself as you are enveloped by lush greenery all the way through. Once you reach the campgrounds, you’ll be welcomed with a refreshing view of Laguna like you’ve never seen before.
According to owner Vic Esmeris, the farm is a “stress-free zone” because of its relaxing atmosphere. The fresh air and greenery is enough to make you want to stick around for a few hours or even an overnight stay.
As an environmentalist and retired architect, “Tito Vic” (as he is fondly called) wanted to merge his profession with his love for farming. He wanted the place to be the prototype of how farm tourism can be developed in the mountains or in a secluded location.
Being a native of Liliw, Esmeris wanted to share the beauty of his town to other people, all while doing environmental conservation efforts. Aside from being a site for recreation, Esmeris Farm also produces crops like ampalaya, radish, and tomatoes, making it a local livelihood contributor.
Perhaps the most famous attraction in Esmeris Farm are their giant swings that mimic those found in Bali, Indonesia. You can also check out their viewing decks, treehouse, hammocks or invite your friends for camping. Joggers and bikers are also welcome.
The campgrounds recently opened their mini-canteen, too, so visitors can have snacks or meals while overlooking the mountains.
- Opening hours: 7 AM to 6 PM daily
- FB page: http://facebook.com/Daang.Hari.Campgrounds (rates are found here)
- Entrance fee: Php 50 per head
All tourist destinations in Laguna have health and safety protocols in place to protect locals and visitors alike. Everyone is expected to comply by wearing face masks and face shields, regularly washing their hands, and practicing physical distancing.
To check out up-to-date information regarding local destinations that are open and the safety protocols and requirements needed for each location, you may visit www.philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app at app.philippines.travel or the Google Playstore.