by Julia Escaño
The weekend is coming, and you have nothing planned. Maybe your bones are still a little sore from that climb you did last weekend. But there’s the undeniable travel itch, and you just have to get out there and do something. You want to travel, but hopefully somewhere not too far it will take up your whole weekend again.
We get it. Wanderlust on a time budget is a thing, and we’ve got you covered.
Bataan province is a promising destination for culture and history enthusiasts. The best thing is that it’s only 2 hours from Manila — easily accessible by bus or car! Between shrines, memorials, and beautifully preserved colonial architecture, there is so much to see and do here to foster national appreciation.
If you’ve only got a day for exploration, make every minute count with this handpicked selection of things to do in the country’s cultural and historical mecca. You can kiss your travel itch goodbye for now.
In the morning: Get in touch with history in Mt. Samat National Shrine
Start your morning with a solemn but exhilarating bird’s eye view of Bataan’s hills and rice terraces at Mt. Samat Shrine. A scenic drive to the top will take you to the iconic Dambana ng Kagitingan, or Shrine of Valor. It is a beautiful memorial to the heroes who defended the country during World War II. It consists of the 30-meter high Memorial Cross and the Colonnade. The Memorial Cross is a towering structure that features bas-reliefs of battle scenes at the base. The Colonnade, meanwhile, serves as a small museum commemorating the Battle of Bataan. It houses work by national artist Napoleon Abueva, as well as other remarkable local craftsmen.
After lunch: Commemorate our heroes at the Zero Kilometer Death March Marker
The Zero Kilometer Death March Marker is small and unimposing. It may even be quite inconspicuous from the road, but it represents something far larger than itself. It is a remembrance of one of the darkest times in our country’s history. At the same time, it is a reminder of the resilience and endurance of our heroes. A quick stop here is enough to feel the magnitude of what the marker symbolizes and to pay respects to the men who fought valiantly, not only to defend the city itself but also the nation.
By mid-afternoon: Walk down memory lane in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar
Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar has been dubbed a “living museum.” It is styled as a heritage town in Bagac with colonial houses relocated from all over the country and rebuilt from the original piece by piece. Walking down its cobblestone streets, looking up at Spanish-era lampposts and visiting its many buildings feels like being suddenly transported back two centuries. It offers an experience unlike any other, even in authentic heritage towns, because of the scale and constancy of the structures inside. Enjoy Las Casas Filipinas by joining a 3-hour heritage tour, which includes a guided visit and different meal options. Time your visit here at sunset to get a glimpse of the exquisite architecture bathed in golden hour light.
Evening-time: Soak in the culture at Balanga’s city center
Finish the day with a relaxing stroll around Balanga City’s Plaza de Mayor. The town square of Bataan’s capital comes to life at night as city lights fill the streets with a laid-back vibe. Enjoy the well-preserved architecture of St. Joseph’s Cathedral and the city hall, which look like snippets from an old European town. Get hypnotized by the lighted water fountains bordering the plaza, which add another dimension to the colorful tableau. Cafes and restaurants line the streets, where you can grab a bite while taking in the city’s atmosphere. Small shops can also be found all over the square for little mementos of your visit. The plaza itself gives a feeling of what our cities could have looked like had we taken care of our heritage buildings. It is a breath of fresh air and a testament to what a little cultural appreciation can achieve.
Before you go: Get a fascinating tour around the country’s only nuclear power plant
To ensure an explosive (pun intended) end to your day trip, visit the decommissioned nuclear power plant in Morong. The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was constructed in 1976 and slated to begin operations in 1986 when it was mothballed by the government. These days, it opens its doors once more as a tourist attraction. Seeing the building alone is quite an experience. Its thick, massive concrete walls are like nothing else in the country. Inside, the abandoned control room and nuclear reactor amidst the maze of sectors and hallways are eerie and fascinating at the same time. It fires up the imagination, as well as raises many questions. Tours to the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant can be arranged through your hotel. Walk-ins are not allowed since the plant grounds are still heavily-guarded private property.