Travel

Drive, Don't Fly: Here are the Best Road Trips Near Manila

All you need is gas money and a car (or truck) to hit these Instagram-worthy locations.
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With the threat of COVID-19 still in the air, a lot of people are hesitant to book a flight, much less board an airplane.

But picking up from what a doctor recently said to the media, the virus shouldn’t stop you from enjoying life. But don’t be careless. Go to the movies, eat out, and definitely plan your summer getaway. Just remember to wash your hands always or if that’s not possible, use isopropyl alcohol that’s at least 70 percent solution to disinfect your hands after touching surfaces in common areas. And avoid touching your face, and that includes picking your nose.

So tune up the car, get a selfie stick, and pack your bags because we have more than a handful of great road trips near Manila for you to see and experience. Best of all, none of these require a plane ticket.

Photo by WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.
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1| Pampanga

Just two hours away from Metro Manila is Puning Hot Spring and Restaurant in Sitio Target, Brgy., Sapang Bato, Angeles. It’s a magnificent place tucked behind the ridges that make up Mount Pinatubo.

The first stop is the registration area, which also happens to be the final stop (where lunch or very late lunch, depending on your schedule, is served). Here you can leave your valuables in a locker, should you choose to, before boarding an off-road vehicle.

Even if you drove there in a 4x4 pickup truck, for safety, the property will insist that you use theirs to get around, and rightfully so. You’ll be driving over rocky terrain, lahar beds, and streams at a relatively fast pace because you’ll sink if you slow down. You may not want to subject your own vehicle to all that.

Station 1 is the hot springs, which is the farthest point from the registration area. It’s built on a promontory so you’re walking up or down to any of the 12 pools heated by thermal springs to find the one whose temperature (ranges between 40° to 70° Celsius) suits your preference.

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You’ll disrobe in Station 2 to wear spa attire for two treatments. First is the volcanic sand spa, where your whole body gets buried under hot sand while a trainer gives you a bare foot massage. In other words, she’s walking over the sand you’re buried in. The flyer says this detoxifies the body and enhances blood circulation. You’re done after 10 minutes and going straight to a mud pack session. Therapists put treated mud on your whole body, including the face, which helps cool your body down while the magnesium, potassium chloride, and calcium in the mud improves cell regeneration, balances the hormones, and stimulates the lymph glands.

Trust me, after the pool, the sand spa and mud pack, you’re ready to head back for a hearty meal.

Photo by WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.
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2| Morong, Bataan

Landrina Escape in The Strand Subdivision is a little more than three hours away from the metro. You’ll take NLEX, SCTEX, and then from Subic skirt the Bataan National Park, driving by the coastline until you reach the property.

On the way you’ll already get great mountain views, a lot of lush greens and fresh air, and beautiful farmland views. That’s already an eyeful but it doesn’t compare to what’s waiting for you at the venue.               

Inspired by houses in the Hamptons (imagine that house in the movie Something’s Gotta Give starring Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, and Keanu Reeves, and you’re already there), it’s picture-perfect from the house’s exterior design to the furniture, décor, appointments, even down to the handles and knobs.

The villa has its own private plunge pool but if you prefer the beach, it’s just a two-minute walk away.

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It has a movie and TV series library but if you prefer your own Netflix selection, there’s Wifi as well.

If you just want to chill with your Spotify playlist, listen to your music inside the house or by the pool because it’s also setup with outdoor speakers.

There a fully-equipped kitchen if you want to whip up a feast but if you just want to lounge around and do nothing, the property can help coordinate with local caterers so you can just get you food delivered.

Photo by FLICKR/ Jun's World.
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3| Baguio

Places to stay in Baguio are aplenty with rates ranging from super affordable to I’ll-have-to-save-up-for-this. Go AirBnB if you’re on a budget, but if it’s anniversary celebration or for some special occasion, I highly suggest The Manor.

For places to visit, let’s start with the eats.

Lemon and Olives Greek Taverna is a must for lunch, especially because of the view. It is located at 26 Outlook Drive, very near Baguio Country Club. Personally, I don’t know which is better, the food, ambiance, or the view. Don’t leave without ordering the Baklava Cheesecake.

Cafe Adriana by Hill Station in Outlook Drive. A reservation is advised here but the food, as it is by Hill Station, is absolutely great. It sits at the ground floor of a building but since the whole thing is built on the side of a mountain, like most structures in Baguio, the veranda view is amazing. Must try is the Paella Valencia and/or Negra and Adobong Manok.

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Foggy Mountain Cookhouse at 172 St. Joseph Street, San Carlos Heights, Purok 24. The place is basically a house owned by the cook himself, the very accommodating Chef Babes. Tables are very limited so a reservation is a must. You must tell Chef Babes your headcount a few days before going because the food is bought and prepared just hours before you arrive. It’s some 30 minutes from Camp John Hay, and that’s quite a drive already by Baguio standards, but it’s worth every bite. Smaller cars (sedan, crossovers) would be ideal to take there because the roads are narrow getting up to the property and parking is scarce. You must try the porchetta, pan-fried salmon, and oven-roasted whole chicken.

Canto Bogchi Joint along 25 Kisad Road. A queue starts forming close to major meal times (lunch and dinner) so try going during off-peak hours if you hate lining up. Parking is also hard so come early or you’ll park a little farther away should you come at a busy time. The ribs, burger, and pizza are their bestsellers.

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Other notable places are Forest House (for cake and coffee), Amare La Cucina (for pizza, what else), and Hill Station at Casa Vallejo.

There’s no shortage of sights to see in Baguio.

For artsy-fartsy stuff, check out the BenCab Museum on Kilometer 6, Asin Road, Tuba. There you’ll see murals, paintings, statues, and carved works depicting mostly the life and traditions of the people of Cordillera. If you’re feeling a little kinky, there’s a special section for adults filled with more sensual art. Hungry? Check out the café at the ground floor, which leads to a beautiful garden with views of the hilly countryside.

First-timers must check out Mines View Park, of course. Get a customary photo with the large St. Bernard and, while you’re there, take a side trip to Good Shepherd for your ube jams and whatnot.

Also visit the Baguio Botanical Garden. See a variety of flora and rent the traditional Ifugao costume (and you can even opt to go totally butt-naked) for the perfect profile pic.

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If you’re into ukay-ukay, there are a lot of places to check out but you must not leave without going to the Baguio Night Market that opens at 9 p.m. along Harrison Road.

Photo by WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.

4| Tanay, Rizal

About an hour’s drive from Ortigas, Masungi Georeserve is a conservation area declared by the Department of Natural Resources (DENR) as a Strict Nature Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary. Its natural beauty is highlighted by limestone peaks, steep slopes, and lush mountain forests. Visitors can hike along various trails using rope courses and hanging bridges, some of which lead to suspended nets that provide a spectacular bird’s eye view of the Sierra Madre mountain range and Laguna de Bay.

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Tinipak River is some ways away despite being in Tanay. You’ll first drive some three hours to Barangay Daraitan, then take a 20-minute tricycle ride plus a short hike to get to Tinipak River. But wow, is it worth it! The white rock face along the side of the river and the boulders in it are simply gorgeous and is enhanced further by the turquoise blue waters below and the lush green vegetation above. After soaking that in, head down to the underground cave where you’ll do some more soaking when you get to the underground waterfall.

Photo by WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.
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5| Batangas

This province is known for its many beaches, especially around the Nasugbu, Laiya, and Anilao areas.

The resorts around Nasugbu are generally newer and larger, some are exclusive to members, while others are not. If it’s your first time in the area, try Pico de Loro. You’ll get a wrist tag after checking in. It designates whether you’re a member or not because there are members-only pools and beachfront in the property. Non-members stay at the Pico Sands Hotel while members and their guests are lodged in their residential units built around the four-hectare saltwater man-made lagoon This place offers a lot of activities. There are courts for badminton, basketball and volleyball, and even tennis. You can kayak, pony ride, dive, ride a boat, or even hike.

Acuatico Beach Resort in Laiya looks big in photos but is actually a quaint little resort that’s perfect if you hate seeing really large crowds when you’re on vacation. It only has 41 rooms and offers a spa, game room (for adults), play room (for kids), and a gym.

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If you’re into diving, there is no shortage of places and resorts to check out in Anilao, a marine protected sanctuary. Best time to go diving is between April to May.

6| Laguna

Lake Caliraya was created after a dam was constructed so hydroelectric power could be generated for Southern Luzon. Aside from electricity, it also produced livelihood for the nearby communities by way of tourism. Various resorts cropped up and gained popularity in the early 80s. Enjoy beach-type activities, plus hiking, biking, trekking, and even horseback riding.

Pagsanjan Falls, as one of the most famous waterfalls in the country, is a must-visit, if you’ve never been. You can either hike from Cavinti, Laguna to get there or do what everyone does, which is to take a boat ride from any of the resorts along Bumbungan and Balanac Rivers.

This list is by no means complete and we're sure some of you have been on some other great road trips near Manila. Put those down in the comments section so we can all get to see these amazing, but drivable, places in Luzon.

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Before you head out though, make sure your car or truck is in absolute tip-top shape because some of these drives are going to be stressful for your vehicle. Then there’s the hot summer sun that’s going to tax the engine too. If you don’t know where to start, check out this guide.

Have fun, drive safe, and tag us in the photos!

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Eric Tipan
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