The region of Central Luzon is known as ‘The Rice Granary of the Philippines’ and its history and culture revolves around agricultural practices and products. Two of its provinces, Tarlac and Nueva Ecija, have tourist destinations that highlight the rich history and heritage of the region along with natural attractions.
Nueva Ecija is known as the agricultural haven of Central Luzon and is also referred to as The Rice Bowl of the Philippines.
Its fertile lands drew Spanish colonizers to settle in the province, bringing with them their religious practices. This led to unique traditions such as the Taong Putik Festival in the town of Aliaga. During this time, mud-covered devotees walk the streets begging for alms as St. John the Baptist was said to have done before.
There are also choreographed penitential rites held during the Lenten Season in Puncan, one of the oldest towns in the province. From the roads, the Nueva Ecija countryside has farmlands that stretch far into the horizon. Travelers can venture into majestic natural sites such as the Minalungao National Park and the Pantabangan Campsite near the Pantabangan Dam.
Historic Tarlac is known as the Melting Pot of Luzon, as it is home to four distinct ethnolinguistic groups: Tagalogs, Pampangos, Ilocanos, and Pangasinenses.
This has resulted in a rich food culture with dishes that cater to a wide range of palates, using fresh produce that are widely available in its vast plantations. Aside from the natural parks and falls that abound in the province, a must-visit is the Capas National Shrine that honors those who valiantly gave their lives in the name of freedom during World War 2.
Here are some of the sites that you can visit in Nueva Ecija and Tarlac to experience history, nature, and culture.
With its old-world ambience set within a heritage house, Hapag Vincentico’s is a family restaurant that offers a Filipino-style dining experience.
House specialties include Binagoongan Crispy Pata, Kare-Kare, Longganisa Fried Rice, Sinigang na Hito, and, for a sweet snack, Carioca or fried dough. You can savor your meal among antiques, giving the feel of dining at a place where time stands still.
To immerse in more of Nueva Ecija’s history, visit Gapan. The town was established in 1595 as one of the first pueblos of Pampanga and is one of the oldest in the country.
Here, you can marvel at the baroque architecture of the oldest and biggest church in the province, the Parish of the Three Kings. This was built in the 1800s by Augustinian friars, and has become a pilgrimage site for devotees of the Three Kings and the Divina Pastora.
In the street adjacent to the church, you can find a row of well-kept ancestral houses, in architectural styles that were typical for the landed class during the Spanish Era.
A night market called Tagpuan sa Lumang Gapan has been established by the local government to offer everyone a street food experience within a plaza-like atmosphere. Benches set up to accommodate diners are lit by lanterns hung on a giant tree and street lights with a baroque design.
A short trek through the verdant eco-park in the town of Gabaldon leads to the falls that shares its name. Its water flows from the Sierra Madre Mountains above it.
Aside from offering a cool dip from the hike on a trail that includes a river crossing and a picturesque bamboo bridge, the crystal-clear spring water from the falls is said to be clean enough for drinking.
Another Sierra Madre site to explore is the Dupinga River, a cold-water basin surrounded by verdant mountains.
There are huts built by the community of Dumagats who inhabit the area, where visitors can enjoy leisurely meals and even stretch out on a hammock that overlooks the wonderful vista provided by nature. The water is clean and ice cold, with boulders jutting out from the deeper parts of the river.
The area is a rustic eco-adventure: visitors need to bring their picnic fare and definitely make sure that they leave behind no litter.
When in Tarlac, travelers can take a ‘Roman holiday’ at Goshen Resort, a 4-hectare property whose name was taken from the Bible and has a Roman theme.
Here, travelers can find an impressive Colosseum-like structure that is flanked by Romanesque statues and other European-inspired architecture that make up its accommodations and café. The property has a farm area that brings visitors closer to nature.
For a safe journey through these two beautiful provinces, all tourist destinations have health and safety protocols in place to protect locals and visitors alike. Everyone is expected to comply by wearing face masks, 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, check the Travel Philippines app at app.philippines.travel, or download it from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store.