When it comes to traveling for good food, Pampanga is the go-to province for adventurous gourmands. Pampanguenos are proud of their rich culinary heritage, with delicious dishes that are cooked slowly until they burst with flavor.
Pampanga is also known as a green destination, with natural attractions that range from Mt. Arayat to the wetlands of Candaba. History buffs will likewise enjoy a trip to the centuries-old churches and interacting with the indigenous Aeta.
There are also more contemporary attractions, with economic activity in the area spurred by the development of New Clark City. There, a world-class international airport awaits to welcome local and foreign visitors.
Here are some of the sights, sounds, and tastes that you can experience on a trip to this exciting province.
Sasmuan Coastal Wetlands Area
Birdwatchers and environmentalists can have a field day at the Sasmuan Coastal Wetlands. The mudflats, mangroves, and riverine habitats serve as pitstops for migratory birds on their path through the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.
Around 80,000 migratory birds have been spotted at the wetlands and 63 species of birds inhabit the area, including endangered species such as the Spotted Greenshank, Black-faced Spoonbill, and Far Eastern Curlew.
The site also hosts mangrove zones that provide shelter for juvenile species of fish, molluscs, and other marine and estuarine species. Visitors can book boat rides and go fishing at the wetlands.
The town of Betis is known for their artisans who produce intricate wood carvings. Their handiwork is on full display at the Betis Church, with its carved wooden doors serving as “portals to paradise” to the striking Baroque church.
Its interiors are a feast for the eyes; with paintings and statues of saints and scenes from the Bible. Akin to the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, there is also a ceiling mural created by Simon Flores.
The church was originally built around 1660 out of wood and stucco, with improvements made through the years to make it sturdier. Its bell tower has been around since the 18th century. Outside, you can still find the artesian well dug by Fr. Manuel Camanes in the 19th Century to provide potable water for Betis and other nearby towns.
Bandilla Handmade Guitars
The street called San Antonio in Guagua, Pampanga is known for its guitar-making industry, with craftsmen creating musical instruments that can even be customized.
At Bandilla Handmade Guitars, guests can take a tour of their workshop to watch their luthiers shape and string their guitars, ukuleles and rondalla instruments. Established in 1946, the shop produces about 100 instruments per month.
Koyang Mario Restaurant
Experience hometown Kapampangan cuisine at Koyang Mario in the town of Guagua. The restaurant’s recipes were handed down through generations of the Lapid family, and the dishes are served at their homey space surrounded by capiz windows and woodwork lattices.
Pinoy classics like chicharon, a dip made with crab fat or taba ng talangka, and meal companions such as atchara or pickled vegetables and buro or fermented rice are favorites. A must-try is the lechon pugon that is cooked in a wood-fired brick oven to produce a crunchy golden skin.
A spin-off from the popular Apag Marangle restaurant in Pampanga, Cusina Manuela is known for its signature empanadas with delectable fillings such as sisig, ham and cheese, humba, pisto, and chicken. The savory treats by Chef Cherry Pasion-Tan make great pasalubong or take-out treats for loved ones.
Bacolor is one of the oldest towns in the Philippines. Its church was first built in 1576 by Augustinian friars . An earthquake destroyed the church in 1880, and it was rebuilt in 1886-87, serving the town for more than a century before being partially submerged in lahar after the 1991 Pinatubo eruption.
Fortunately, the altars and statues were saved from lahar along with its colonial-era bells. Although half-submerged, the church stands as a place of worship and symbol of the community’s unwavering faith and resilience in the face of calamities.
This dining spot is named as such, because it was a “neutral ground” during Liberation Time. Filipinos, Japanese, and Americans can drop by to enjoy their simple fare of Pancit Luglug or Mami.
By 1967, they opened a bigger eatery at San Fernando, adding a wider array of Kapampangan dishes that are presented turo-turo style, with some dishes available ala carte from a menu. Among the exotic must-tries are kamaru (fried field cricket), betute (fried frog), and pindang damulag (marinated carabao beef).
They are also among the first Kapampangan restaurants to offer tsokolate de batirol handmade from cocoa beans and peanuts, and they have tocino and longganisa as dining and take-home treats. Third generation owner Poch Jorolan maintains the quality of the dishes they have served through the years with the same dedication to honest-to-goodness Kapampangan flair.
New Clark City (include the new Clark International Airport)
A former American military base, the sprawling development has been transformed into a vibrant metropolis in Central Luzon. It has commercial areas, stadiums, and an international airport that serves as a gateway to the North.
The airport is a marvel in itself, with modern architecture that is inspired by the slopes of Mt. Arayat and the Filipino Christmas lantern. It is designed to offer fast, safe, and efficient air travel services such as contactless self-check-in and bag drop, advanced docking guidance system, and even contactless ordering for pre-flight dining.
A leisurely day trip from Manila brings travelers to Clark’s adventure zones with activities that include horseback-riding, riding on ATV trails that go around abandoned American-era bunkers, an international-level speedway where enthusiasts like to hold two and four-wheel racing events, and facilities for archery and gun shooting.
My Lola Nor’s Meryendahan
Chef Elsa Yabut established My Lola Nor’s Meryendahan after being inspired in the kitchen by her mother, fondly known as Lola Nor.
The recipes for their specialties such as tidtad puto, kare-kare, putung babi, okoy, pancit luglug, fresh lumpia, and tsokolate de batirol are from Lola Nor, and their ingredients are only sourced from trusted suppliers to give a consistent homegrown goodness that is a trademark of Kapampangan cooking.
To get a taste of Aeta culture and hospitality, visit Matam-ih in Mabalacat. The restaurant’s name means delicious in Aeta language. It shines a spotlight on their indigenous culture, with Aeta staff from Capas, Tarlac providing the tableside service and entertainment.
Visitors are regaled with activities such as archery exhibitions or adiu-adiu, dugang ni kapalaran or wheel of fate, as they enjoy exotic dishes labeled in Aeta language such as crocodile sisig, ostrich bistek, fried rabbit and fried catfish. More familiar Filipino dishes are also available such as pork, chicken, and seafood at the restaurant’s grilling section.
A taste of the old and the new
Experience all the wonders Pampanga has in store with its culinary attractions, history and heritage spots, and exciting new adventure destinations.
The province is included in the Department of Tourism’s Slow Food Slow Travel Caravan, where tourists may take their time to savor its local heritage on a plate. It is also a destination in the Department’s Farm, Food, and Pilgrimage circuit which highlights destinations through a holistic inter-province food trip together with neighboring Tarlac.
To enjoy your travel safely, it is advised to follow the health protocols that are put in place to protect both tourists and the locals of each destination. Everyone is expected to comply by wearing face masks, regularly washing their hands, and practicing physical distancing.
For up-to-date information regarding local destinations that are open and the safety protocols and requirements needed, please visit www.philippines.travel/safetrip, check the Travel Philippines app at app.philippines.travel, or download it from the Google Play or Apple Store.