By Charles E. Buban Philippine Daily Inquirer November 29,2017
THOSE SOLO long drives, highway trips with family members or friends, beautiful scenes that cross their way while driving, wonderful stopover experiences—these are some of those moments that create memories that never fade.
Indeed, nothing beats a really good drive. It may be because of its transformative nature or its ability to open up all kinds of possibilities. Whatever the reasons may be, driving is much more than getting to the destination.
To mark the 32nd anniversary of the newspaper, Inquirer Motoring collated 32 destinations that would make for most rewarding and memorable road trip.
So open up your Waze or grab a copy of an updated road atlas, and experience one of the best reasons to leave your driveway.
If you live in Metro Manila and want good views and awesome mountain drive experience, here are some destinations:
1. Baguio City
An all-time favorite place to go to enjoy cool weather, spectacular scenery, and great dining experience. This city 240 kilometers away from Metro Manila, offers breathtaking views along the way especially when you reach the town of Sison.
2. Sagada, Mountain Province
While Baguio is a nice place to escape to, you may want to consider driving 80 kilometers more, to the town of Sagada.
A peaceful escape from city life, Sagada does not just offer cool climate and great dining experience but also hosts of other activities such as camping, mountain biking, trekking, and spelunking.
The real challenge, however, is going there as there are lots of uphill climbs; twisty, unpaved, dirt roads; and occasional falling rocks.
3. Halsema Highway (Benguet-Mountain Province Road)
The drive is the journey itself: traversing this 150-kilometer stretch of road—the country’s highest road system (highest point is in the municipality of Atok, Benguet at 2,260 meters above sea level)—takes you from Baguio City to the municipality of Bontoc, Mountain Province.
Along the way you could make several stops to enjoy spectacular panorama of lush mountains, vegetable farms on steep mountain slopes, view of the Ambuklao Dam, meandering rivers, enchanting sight of fog enveloping slopes and vignettes of countryside living.
What you shouldn’t miss on this road: the and clouds rolling over the mountain range, especially in the morning and late afternoon.
However, if you’re taking on this challenge, make sure to bring a vehicle with lots of ground clearance and ample torque.
4. Bontoc, Mountain Province
With its cool climate, secluded rice terraces and waterfalls, it would be unfortunate to just pass this town on your way to Sagada.
The drive is really long—at least nine hours to cover the 580 km distance via Maharlika Highway-Isabela-Kalinga route.
5. Batad, Ifugao
This isolated enclave, 370 kilometers away from Metro Manila, is among the most exhilarating destinations of Ifugao province (Banaue, Mayoyao and Kiangan are on this list).
6. Tanay, Rizal
You will definitely enjoy off-road driving in Sapang Bato in Angeles, Pampanga (toward Pinatubo) but this area in Daraitan is just a short drive away from Metro Manila and offers an equally challenging river crossings.
Be also prepared to negotiate muddy or boulder-filled trails.
If you prefer surrounding yourself with sand and sea:
7. San Antonio, Zambales
Zambales is the perfect destination for you if you prefer a few hours’ drive from Metro Manila. The road is great, thanks to the North Luzon Expressway and Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway.
The town of San Antonio is home to some of the best coves in Luzon. Anawangin Cove may be a popular choice, but one should also try reaching the coves of Talisayen, Nagsasa, Pundaquit (and nearby Camara and Capones Islands), and Silanguin Cove.
On your way to these coves, make sure to take a lookout of the beautiful mountain range that embraces the roads of this province.
8. San Narciso, Zambales
Crystal Beach in San Narciso, Zambales is perhaps the nearest surf spot from Metro Manila. (The other spots are already in the province of La Union, which around 200 km away.)
Beginners would appreciate the waves since they are not too big and the bottom is sandy and free of rocks that would cushion you should you get wiped out while trying to balance on the surf board.
9. Freeport Zone, Zambales
Located in Camayan Wharf inside Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Camayan Beach is just about a three-hour drive from Metro Manila.
Apart from enjoying the beach or diving among shipwrecks, other activities that may be enjoyed here include kayaking into the mangrove forest.
10. San Juan, Batangas
Just 130 km from Metro Manila via the South Luzon Expressway and the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road Tollway, San Juan offers some of the best accommodation, fine sands, and calmer waters.
11. Baler, Quezon
The capital town of Aurora province located 230 kilometers from Metro Manila, is regarded as the “birthplace of surfing in the Philippines.”
But this laid-back coastal town is more than a surfing paradise, as one could also arrange a tour around Baler to see the historic Baler Church (where the last Spanish soldiers held out after American forces landed in Manila Bay), the ancestral homes of Donya Aurora Quezon, wife of President Manuel Luis Quezon; the isolated Dicasalarin Cove, Ermita Hill, which served as refuge to survivors of the great tsunami of 1735, Diguisit Falls, which supplied water to the entire town, and a number of other picturesque views.
From Metro Manila one could use the NLEx and SCTEx then proceed to Cabanatuan City and the Nueva Ecija-Aurora highway.
From the border of Aurora province, the drive will pass by the towns of Maria Aurora, San Luis before reaching Baler.
12. Poro Point, San Fernando City in La Union
The province of La Union may be known for beaches with excellent surfing waves. However, there’s more to discover in this province facing the West Philippine Sea.
Thunderbird Resorts Poro Point is definitely on top of this list. The resort is modeled after Santorini Island in the Aegean Sea off Greece.
With a casino, golf course, a pool, poolside bar and very comfortable common areas for sitting, meeting other guests and lunging in total Greek style, this resort is the perfect setting for a romantic getaway or that much needed “break” from ultra busy life of Metro Manila.
If you prefer historical landmarks, consider:
13. Taal, Batangas
Batangas may be famous for beaches, but there’s one town that’s often overlooked because of its location.
More than its popular namesake volcano, the secluded town of Taal showcases the towering Basilica de San Martin de Tours, the largest Catholic church in Asia and declared a National Shrine on Jan. 16, 1974.
The town also boasts of numerous ancestral houses that offer a priceless glimpse into our Spanish colonial past.
The town of Taal was founded in 1572 and was originally located in the southwestern shore of Taal lake.
But after a disastrous eruption in 1754 that lasted 200 days (from May 15 to Dec. 1, 1754), the whole town was forced to move farther south into a safer elevated location.
14. Vigan, Ilocos Sur
If you’re looking for a long drive, say, over 400 km, then a trip to Vigan, a UNESCO-declared World Heritage Site, is perfect.
Vigan is the most intact example in Asia of a planned Spanish colonial town, established in the 16th century.
15. Currimao, Ilocos Norte
Since you’re already in Vigan, why not drive 100 km more to the coastal town of Currimao and visit Sitio Remedios, a heritage village built by Dr. Joven Cuanang, one of the country’s top neurologists, art collector, curator and philanthropist.
Sitio Remedios, located in Barangay Victoria, recreates an Ilocano village typical of the mid 50s.
The houses and buildings are made of vintage bricks and wood salvaged from mid-century structures mostly sourced from numerous towns of Ilocos Norte.
Interestingly, the houses were constructed by workers from the towns where the house materials were sourced.
16. Bagac, Bataan
Just 150 km drive from Metro Manila is Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, an open-air museum and heritage park where property developer Jose Acuzar built a collection of restored Spanish-Filipino houses to showcase the best of Filipino heritage and culture.
The only property in the Philippines to be part of Historic Hotels Worldwide, Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar serves as a bridge between the rich history of the Spanish colonial era and the contemporary luxury and comfort of a modern hotel.
Should you just want a short drive from Metro Manila, consider:
17. Tagaytay City, Cavite
If you’re just eyeing a relatively short drive, Tagaytay is truly the place to be.
With a good number of great dining destinations and cafés, hotels, shopping areas, you won’t have a hard time finding a great place to unwind with either your family or friends.
The volcano, the lake, mountains and hills serving as an excellent backdrop for the city will never fail to amaze any road trip enthusiasts.
18. Baras, Rizal
For those looking for a short drive to a one-of-a-kind nature trip, the Masungi Georeserve in Baras, Rizal is an interesting choice.
Masungi Georeserve is a conservation area and a rustic rock garden tucked in the rainforests of Rizal.
Going further, the picturesque views along the winding Marcos Highway is a huge plus.
19. Luisiana, Laguna
From Sta. Cruz town in Laguna, head toward the town of Luisiana and then to San Salvador where you will discover great must-see attractions, Hulugan Falls, Talay Falls and Hidden Falls.
Each waterfall would take 30 minutes to reach and you will need to register first (at Captain’s House where you could also park your vehicle) in order to get a guide, which is most appropriate.
20. General Tinio, Nueva Ecija
Located at the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range in the town of General Tiñio, Nueva Ecija, a drive here will only take roughly about five hours if you will be coming from Metro Manila.
The jagged and towering limestone cliffs flaking Peñaranda River create an impressive sight.
For those who are less adventurous, one could just dip into the emerald colored waters or ride bamboo raft.
For the more adventurous, there is a small cave within the park where one can enjoy caving for a few minutes.
Be sure to drive a vehicle with lots of ground clearance as some portions of going to General Tino is extremely rough. Once there, head to the parking area right next to the picnic grounds.
21. Lucban and Sariaya, Quezon
These are two of the best places to view old churches and houses that date back to Spanish colonial times.
Visit the San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Parish Church (Lucban Church), which was initially established in 1593, reconstructed in 1738 and renovated by the Philippine Historical Commission in 1966.
A trip to Sariaya, on the other hand, will remind you of the region’s vibrant past with many ancestral homes built by copra barons, including Gov. Natalio Marquez mansion, which is perhaps the most beautiful with its castle-like exterior and spires. Andres Luna de San Pedro, son of Juan Luna, designed the house.
For hikers, both beginners and experts, here are some suggestions:
22. Nasugbu, Batangas
Just 3 to 4 hours away from Metro Manila is Mount Batulao, tagged as one of the most famous hiking destinations for beginners and enthusiasts alike.
It offers a magnificent view of provinces of Batangas and Cavite.
To get here, take the route going to Batangas then turn left and enter KC Hillcrest Golf Course. A few minute drive will take you to the jump off point.
After an exhausting climb, why not head to the nearby Caleruega Church, probably the most popular wedding chapel in the area.
23. San Jose, Tarlac
If you are looking for an all-in-one destination for outdoor adventure, then Tarlac Recreational Park is a perfect destination, thanks to its sprawling sports and adventure park (spanning 78 hectares) that feature an Olympic-size swimming pool, football field, athletics oval and race track as well as various outdoor activities like zip lining, camping, kayaking, fishing, mountain biking, air soft games, and off-road rides aboard ATVs or dune buggies.
24. Balamban, Cebu
Formerly called Canso X, Foressa Trails in Barangay Cansomoroy in Balamban is developed for nature lovers and adventure seekers, offering hiking, biking, and camping facilities.
This new hike-and-trail facility is part of AboitizLand’s 257-hectare Foressa Mountain Town development.
From Cebu City, the drive takes less than two hours via Transcentral Highway.
If you love a very, very long drive, experience:
25. Bulosan, Sorsogon
This town located at the southeastern end of Luzon is almost 600 km from Metro Manila, so driving time usually takes between 10 and 12 hours.
Better leave Metro Manila in the evening in order to avoid the traffic buildup from Santo Tomas, Batangas to Lucena City, Quezon.
On your way to Sorsogon, why not schedule several worthwhile stopovers that should include a visit to the Pililla Windmills in Laguna.
Choose to take the spectacular Old zigzag Road (Bitukang Manok) in Atimonan, Quezon, then take a rest at Brgy. Rosario, Gumaca, Quezon.
Consider taking the more scenic Tiwi-Sangay Road after making a major stop in Naga City.
Once in Sorsogon, you have several choices: head to the town of Donsol to enjoy diving with the whale sharks; go surfing in Gubat; or explore Bulusan Volcano Natural Park to enjoy the calm waters of Lake Bulusan, the dense forest that surrounds the whole park, as well as explore several waterfalls and springs including Palogtoc Falls, Bayugin Falls, and Masacrot Spring.
26. Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte
By the time you reach Pannzian Beach at the northern tip of Luzon, you have already covered around 600 km.
This is the perfect place to get “off the grid” considering this area and the resort located here offer no televisions and have a very weak mobile phone signal (radio programs here would probably be coming from Taiwan).
What is available, however are sumptuous homegrown and organic dishes, as well as local wine.
From here, you could always go westward to explore the attractions offered in the nearby towns of Bacarra, Pasuquin, Burgos, Bangui (must see are the 20 70-meter high wind mills), and the town of Pagudpud where some of the more famous resorts are located.
27. Sta. Ana, Cagayan
Another worthwhile road trip is to take the 650-km drive to this town located at the northeastern most tip of Luzon (via Maharlika Highway).
Dubbed as the “Game Fishing Mecca of the Philippines,” this town annually holds a competition participated in by local and foreign aficionados.
Other must-see places here are Anguib Cove, and the nearby islands including the picturesque Palaui Island and famous its lighthouse.
28. Bolinao, Pangasinan
If Hundred Islands National Park in Alaminos is too crowded for you, why not drive 40 km more to the town of Bolinao, which is also famous for its pristine beaches, fresh sea food offerings, enchanting caves, and lighthouse.
If you are not in a hurry to go to Boracay, and have all the time to explore Panay Island’s other spectacular places, there are several routes suggested that all begins in Iloilo City.
29. The 277-kilometer stretch that traverses the province of Iloilo and Antique. Stops should include one at the historic Miagao Church, dine at the RML Manokan Haus Kamayan Restaurant (don’t forget to order a bucket of fresh oysters), a visit to Barangay Bagtason in Bugasong to observe some of the native Patadyong being weaved, or if you still feel adventurous, head to Mount Madia-as in Culasi and Bugang to experience eco river cruise.
This is one side trip that should not be missed as it offers one that rare experience of entering a largely pristine forest covered with row upon row of towering trees.
30. The 221-kilometer road trip via Passi City where one could have lunch at the Sampaguita Gardens in New Washington, Aklan and visit some Ati-Atihan and Piña villages.
This route also passes by Mambusao where Quipot Cave could be found (located in Barangay Burias mambusao).
A similar yet longer trip is the 365-kilometer route that goes to Iloilo East Coast-Capiz Road and passes the town of Barotac Viejo, Roxas City and Kalibo.
Other notable long drives to consider are:
31. Buda Highway
The 260-kilometer drive from Cagayan de Oro City to Davao City via the Davao-Bukidnon (Buda) highway offers not only spectacular views but also challenging twisty curves (in the area of Barrio San Miguel approaching the town of Manolo Fortich, Maloko and before Kisolon).
Along the way, why not make a rest stop to enjoy the view of the majestic Mangima Canyon in Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon and at the Eagle’s Ridge Rest House in Toril, Davao City.
32. Palawan road network
The 600-km road system that spans the length of this province—from El Nido on the northeastern tip to Bataraza on the southwestern tip—offers spectacular views.
But one has to start in the middle of the island province where Puerto Princesa is located.
Here one could first visit the Crocodile Farm, Iwahig Penal Colony (where over a thousand low-security inmates continue to live and work around a central village square and farms).
Afterward, head to the opposite side of the city toward Barangay Sabang where the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is just several kilometers away.