Unlike in the United States or Europe, traveling by road in the Philippines won’t get you from one end to the other. Comprised of over 7,000 islands, travellers usually have to take planes or ferries to travel around the Philippines. But there is one island, the biggest in the country, that’s fantastic for long-haul drives – the main island of Luzon. With fantastic provinces all across the island and scenic views along the way, Luzon will quench your thirst for open road adventures.
A longtime favorite among Filipinos is the cool, pine-scented escape of Baguio. Roughly four to five hours from Manila, Baguio sits within the extensive Cordillera mountains, giving it the temperate weather locals love to escape to, especially at the height of summer. Here, visitors relax at luxuriously cozy The Manor, roam the massive and historical Camp John Hay grounds, visit the various parks like Burnham and Wright, and get cultural at the BenCab Museum. The drive en route to Baguio is also beautiful, shifting from carabaos and rice paddies to lush, green mountains. But this also means that drivers should be prepared for steep, snaking roads and the possibility of fog and minimal visibility.
For traveling foodies, the province of Pampanga should be at the top of the list. Kapampangans (the people of Pampanga) are nationally recognized for their culinary knack. Just an hour’s drive (traffic permitting) from Manila, road-trippers can savor Kapampampangan cuisine, with dishes like sisig (sizzling pig’s face) and stuffed frogs.
Private dining and degustation-type restos have been opening up too, giving people a new way of experiencing Kapampangan food. In Denlim’s Kitchen, Chef Dennis Lim hosts private, by-reservation-only dinners in a rustic kitchen-dining area that allows his guests an up-close, behind-the-scenes look at the feast to be laid before them.
Another foodie favorite is Bale Dutung, which offers a variety of delicious degustation menus, one of which is named after American chef and traveling TV host Anthony Bourdain, who dined at the establishment in 2008.
For a roadtrip that ends with some much needed R&R, good food, and spectacular views, the city of Tagaytay is some two hours south of Manila. This city’s a popular weekend getaway for Metro dwellers due to its proximity, cooler climate, and much more relaxed atmosphere.
Enjoy sipping coffee with a view at Bag of Beans, then delight your tastebuds at the Antonio chain of restaurants. There’s Breakfast at Antonio’s for mornings, beautiful Balay Dako for lunch and afternoon drinks, and Antonio’s Restaurant for a more refined, fine dining evening meal.
For complete rest and self-pampering, hidden within the city is the Nurture Wellness Village, offering a full range of spa treatments and lovely rooms to spend the night.
If you’ve got more time on your hands, brave the long journey and head roughly ten hours north of Metro Manila to the province of Ilocos. Once here, drive from Ilocos Sur (south) to Ilocos Norte (north), stopping through Vigan, Laoag, and Pagudpud. The city of Vigan draws tourists with its charming architecture, preserved from Spanish colonial times. Walk down cobblestoned Calle Crisologo and take a kalesa (horse-drawn calash) tour around the city’s sights. Vigan can be well enjoyed in a day.
After, ride up to Ilocos Norte and visit its many beautiful historical sights, like Paoay Church. For a shot of adrenaline, spend a morning at the sand dunes, on sand boards and 4x4s. For something truly spectacular, ride horses over to the white coastal limestone of the Kapurpurawan Rock Formation. Finally, continue on to Pagudpud, the northernmost tip of mainland Luzon.
Don’t forget to enjoy Ilocano cuisine throughout the journey. Fuel up with longganisa, pinakbet, bagnet, and of course, Ilocos empanada.
The province of Rizal is the perfect roadtrip destination for adventurers in love with the great outdoors. Just a two to three hour drive from Manila, Rizal has various rivers, mountains, caves, and waterfalls, making it a hiker favorite. Among its most beautiful natural gems are Mount Daraitan, the Tinipak River (recognized as the cleanest in the region), Daranak Falls, and Batlag Falls.
A new popular spot in the area is the Masungi Georeserve, an outdoor adventurer’s playground. The 1,600-hectare conservation area has a trail set within limestone peaks, caves, and lush rainforests. Adventure lovers will get a kick out of its rope courses and hanging bridges, which also make for fantastic viewing points.
Batangas has always been a popular weekend getaway for Manileños because of its beaches, and due to the fact that it’s only two to three hours from Manila. Those taking a break from busy city life can escape to Laiya Beach, Fortune Island, and the other beaches of Nasugbu. People also come to dive in the barangay (small district) of Anilao, considered one of the best diving spots in the country.
For trekkers who prefer mountains to sea, Batangas is a solid roadtrip destination, with mountains like Batulao, Maculot, Daguldol, and Gulugod Baboy. Another hike for the bucket list is up the active Taal Volcano. This fascinating volcano has a lake at its crater, which contains a tiny islet within. Making it even more complex, the whole volcano is nestled within a greater lake. This hike is definitely one for the books.