Nature-Based Destinations, from Metro Manila by Car
It’s too easy to peg Manila as the focal point of Luzon.
After all, thanks to the flow of people coming to the busy capital, Luzon isn’t just the country’s biggest island, it’s also the most densely populated (over 50% of the country). Manila alone has a population of more than 12 million people.
But that doesn’t mean the crowded city is all there is.
Luzon is also home to mountain ranges, waterfalls, and more beaches than you can count. The island’s topography is so rich and varied (urban jungle is just one of them) that all it takes is a weekend and way to get going.
There are so many natural attractions in Luzon, including valuable protected areas and heritage sites, that some people travel from across the world to see.
Fortunately, for most Filipinos, they’re only a road trip away. And the trip is sometimes as good as the destination.
Minalungao National Park
Location: Brgy. Pias, General Tinio, Nueva Ecija
Minalungao National Park is a 2,000-hectare natural park at the foothills of the Sierra Mountain Range. It’s also a nationally protected area, home to the famed Peñaranda River. The river presents as a long stretch of nearly-emerald green water with towering rock formations.
There are activities that call out specifically to adventure junkies: spelunking, bamboo rafting, hiking. On weekdays, when the crowds are gone, this place will make you forget you are even on the same island as Manila.
How’s the drive? It takes about 3 to 5 hours depending on your pace and the traffic. From the Pan-Philippine Highway, there will be 2-3 routes you can pass to reach Minalungao. Take the Candaba-San Miguel Road passing by towns of Candaba and San Miguel. Continue until you reach Bucana, Gapan.
There are multiple roads heading to Minalungao National Park from Gapan. It’s best to ask a local what’s the best route upon reaching Gapan. The fastest route leading to the park can get rough and muddy, so others take the long way where it’s mostly paved.
Get in touch with their local tourism office for more details
Visit the Minalungao National Park page
Call (056) 606 3352; (044) 958 2874
Batad Rice Terraces
Location: Batad Rice Terraces, Banaue, Ifugao
One of the five clusters of rice terraces in Ifugao inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list, Batad Rice Terraces is located in a small, remote town in Northern Luzon, housing fewer than 1,500 people. Thousands of tourists travel to see the amphitheater of rice terraces, even traveling by foot to see this marvel, the true age of which is highly-debated!
Apart from walking along the terraces themselves, you can trek to Tappiya Falls, Mount Amuyao and taste their local delicacy, pinikpikan.
How’s the drive? From Manila, it’s an 8- or 9-hour drive to Banaue. Batad is another 18km away from Banaue town proper.
This trip is not for amateur drivers. It is also possible to commute: If you take the bus to Banaue, you can take a jeepney to Batad, stationed in front of the town’s public market, which has trips scheduled in the morning (9:00 AM) or the afternoon (3:00 PM). Travel time from Batad is 45 minutes. That’s when the trek to the village begins.
This trip is not meant for a single day! We recommend heading to Batad Top Viewpoint Homestay and Restaurant; it offers an unobstructed view of the Amphitheater Rice Terraces. You can also opt to stay in Ramon's Native Homestay, where you can stay in a native Ifugao hut!
Visit Ramon’s Native Homestay for info on homestay and trekking rates
Call 0917 182 5973
Location: Botolan, Zambales
People will never forget June 15, 1991, when this volcano erupted, with the death toll up to 700+, and leaving 200,000+ people homeless. It was the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century: discharging millions of tons of sulfur dioxide into the air, some even reaching nearby countries in Asia.
These days, it sits quietly though still active, and tourism in the area is at a high. A crater lake was formed after the 1991 eruption; now, it's a sight to behold.
Tourists can trek the volcano, ride 4x4’s, and support the livelihood of the Aetas living there. Effective regulations have been taken to protect this site, but visitors must be ready before taking on a trek. Swimming, kayaking, and generally hanging out near the water is currently not advisable (according to Department of Tourism) due to harmful substances found in the lake.
If you want a more cultural experience, pass by the Capas Shine or the Japanese Tunnels and Caves.
How’s the drive? It’s an easy 3 to 4-hour drive getting to the area. But the crater will be accessible via a 4x4 ride, plus a few hours of trekking. The 4x4 jeep drops you off at the foot of Mount Pinatubo’s crater, about three kilometers away from the crater lake. Depending on the weather, the lahar can change its landscape so there might be times that the 4x4’s cannot be utilized for it.
Get in touch with Trekking Pinatubo for info on travel packages
Call 0920 547 2178, 0906 331 8782
Location: Albay, Bicol Region
In the town of Legazpi, Albay, lies the most active volcano in the country, Magayon, more commonly known as Mayon. A photo of Mayon can probably be found in every postcard stand, but seeing it in person is worth the trip—if her perfect cone is willing to come out and see you.
It’s considered the world’s most perfectly formed volcano due to its symmetry: formed by layers of lava flows from past eruptions.
Mayon has an elevation of 2,400+ MASL, and a rugged and varied terrain (forest, grassland, rocky desert), making it a choice for mountain climbers to conquer.
Thanks to the eruption in 1814, what was formerly the Cagsawa Church is now in ruins, but also a popular site; lava flowed through the town, burying the church. You can still see the belfry.
Spicy food is a favorite here, so be prepared when you sample the local delicacies. Try their pinangat or bicol express; both are spicy, but cooked in coconut milk. For dessert, keeping in theme, there’s chili ice cream.
How’s the drive? Getting there takes 11-12 hours if you drive straight to Albay. The roads are paved for the most part since you’ll mainly take the Pan Philippine Highway—but the scenery is great! Once you’re in Bicol, there are several alternate routes to take going to Albay, but the highway is the safest. It’s recommended to start your Bicol road trip at 11:00 PM-12:00 MN so you can get there by lunch time!
Get in touch with Trail Adventours for info on hiking package
Call 0917 811 6654; 0998 588 7611
Masungi Georeserve (Rizal)
Location: Kilometer 47 Marcos Highway, Baras, Rizal
Masungi Georeserve is known to most for its picturesque views and plenitude of limestone karst. An internationally-acclaimed reserve in the heart of Baras, Rizal, it’s the only privately-protected park in this list, run by individuals who have an intense commitment to environment and conservation.
Masungi is also a sanctuary for its wildlife and plant species; Masungi works with the local communities so that they can work together to conserve the site and protect these resources.
Highlights include their Discovery Trail which allows guests to go through a 3-4 hour guided trek, coming close with the karst formations. The Legacy Trail is a more immersive way of exploring the park: it includes tree-nurturing, minalot meals, relaxing in ropeways and floating huts among the last pine stands in the vicinity. Their Silayan Restaurant, which is open for private events, offers a Filipino menu made from produce sourced from the nearby communities.
How’s the drive? Great! It’s a quick drive from the city, which makes this the most accessible destination. It is so accessible that it’s almost hard to believe all this greenery exists so close to Quezon City—which you can see from one of its viewpoints.
Go to Masungi Georeserve’s website to request a visit
Call 0908 888 7002, 0995 186 9911