by Julia Escaño
It’s the weekend, and there is another mega sale in one – or God forbid, all – of the city’s many malls. You can already imagine the traffic that is going to lock the city down. The thought alone is stressful enough. So what better way is there to deal with Manila’s chaos than not having to deal with it at all? Perhaps this is the perfect excuse to head out of town for the weekend to properly unwind.
There are vast options for weekend destinations near Manila that you can reach by bus. Whether you decide to go north or south, there are beautiful outdoor destinations, cultural sites, and (best of all) delicious local flavors to enjoy. If a quick trip for a breath of fresh air sounds appealing, check out these awesome spots waiting just around the corner.
Angeles & Magalang, Pampanga
Start with a memorable meal at Bale Dutung
Start the weekend right with a 10+-course degustation by Chef Claude Tayag at his homey Angeles space called Bale Dutung. Chef Claude is most known for hosting Anthony Bourdain on his first visit to the Philippines. Now, part of the menus offered at Bale Dutung are the dishes Chef Claude prepared for Anthony Bourdain himself. Also offered are courses highlighting lechon, Kapampangan specialties, and Christmas dishes. The well-paced degustation is a whole day affair, starting at lunch until mid-afternoon.
Wind down with some R&R at Abe’s Farm
As if your day hasn’t been indulgent enough, Abe’s Farm is the perfect place to get away from it all. Luxuriate in their spa treatments and massage services, stroll in their beautifully manicured grounds, and (if you still have space for it) enjoy the delectable, nutritious dishes at their restaurant. While you get pampered, the kids can enjoy the pool and various ball courts. Finally, stretch your legs after a long, “hard” day at any of their huts, suites, and well-appointed rooms.
Finish it off with family fun at Zoocobia Fun Zoo
Here’s something more exciting for the whole family. Have close encounters with beautiful tropical birds, learn about locally endemic animals, or go on a gravity car for a boost of adrenaline. Zoocobia’s “Zooc” is patterned after the Skyline Luge in Sentosa, Singapore and makes for one thrilling ride. You can also take your family on the giant slides or get lost together in the Maze. As one of the weekend destinations you can reach by bus, Pampanga has it all: great food, family fun, and the perfect escape!
San Felipe, Zambales
Nature Trip at Anghalo Falls
If you’re looking for easy but outdoorsy weekend destinations near Manila that you can reach by bus, this outdoorsman’s heaven may just have what you need. For a chill hike with a high reward, check out Anghalo Falls in Liw-Liwa. There are two ways to get to the falls: the wider and shorter trail; and the more exciting one lined with tall grass and sometimes flooded by the next stream. At the end are the gushing waters of the falls and the cool, blue pool perfect for swimming in after breaking a sweat.
Recharge at Mommy Phoebe’s Place
San Felipe is most famous for its surf, but it’s also gaining repute for its vibe and atmosphere. One such legend in this town is Mommy Phoebe’s Place. It started as a hole-in-the-wall cafeteria years ago and has evolved into a San Felipe staple. It is now frequented by surfers, boarders, sightseers, and passersby alike. After your hike, it’s the perfect spot to refuel with yummy comfort food prepared by Mommy Phoebe herself.
Hang loose at Circle Hostel
Rest your tired soles (pun intended!) after a day on your feet at Circle Hostel Zambales. It’s a cozy and casual joint where guests chill out and hang out while surfing their days away. What makes Circle Hostel unique are the hammocks where guests can stretch out and sleep. Just imagine the cool sea breeze as you swing lazily into slumber. After a good night’s rest, you can spend the day riding the waves and getting stoked with the hostel’s experienced staff. It’s the perfect weekend destination if you’re looking for some good vibes.
Go with the flow at Flow House Manila
Flow House is a fast-growing international chain famous for their Flow Rider. It looks like a slide and a wave pool combined and has water flow mimicking that of surf breaks. It’s a controlled surfing machine perfect for those who want to get a taste of riding the waves in a safe environment. Spend a day on your board at Flow House Manila mastering your balance, perfecting your stance, and getting your stoke on.
Cool down at Digman Halo-halo
There are a hundred thousand versions of halo-halo out there, but consensus has it that Digman’s is one of the best around. It has been around since 1969 and continues to make waves to this day. They are so popular, in fact, that even personalities and celebrities visit the small, unassuming restaurant for their specialty. Be ready when you visit though because, on any given day, Digman’s can be filled to the brim, just like their refreshing concoctions.
Get in touch with the past at Bahay na Tisa
The Bahay na Tisa has been dubbed as the “First Malacañan.” Before Emilio Aguinaldo transferred to Malolos, Bulacan, the seat of power was right in this house. It was originally owned by Juanito and Candida Cuenca and was used by Aguinaldo for the first 3 months of his presidency. It is widely believed that the first draft of the Philippine Constitution was written here with Apolinario Mabini. At present, the house serves as the residence of the Cuencas’ descendants while remaining one of Bacoor’s most beloved heritage sites.
Inject some sweetness at Milea Bee Farm
Expand your horizons in this Lipa City bee farm. At Milea, you can participate in lectures about anything and everything bees and watch their dynamics firsthand during a tour of the farm. Fresh lunch prepared by the small staff is also served for everyone to enjoy. The passionate owners entertain guests themselves to add a more personal touch to the experience. Weekend destinations you can reach by bus are hardly ever this unique and educational! Just be sure to make reservations ahead of time as visits have to be confirmed in advance.
Go on a historical city tour
Lipa has a rich and vibrant history. Walk around the city center and admire many well-preserved structures from Spanish times all the way to the post-war years. You can visit Casa de Segunda, the well-preserved mansion of Jose Rizal’s first love. The Museo ng Katipunan meanwhile houses original memorabilia including one of the Katipunan’s blood-stained flags. The San Sebastian Cathedral is also a must-see for history buffs, for its 18th Century architecture. Finally, the Peace Tower is a post-WWII commemoration of our friendship with Japan.
Meditate at the miraculous Mt. Carmel Church
If you are religious, a visit at the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church is the perfect round-out for a weekend in Lipa. This church built right after WWII is famous for 2 supposed miracles that occurred here within days of each other. First was the apparition of the Virgin Mary to Carmelite novice Teresita Castillo as Mary Mediatrix of All Grace. A few days later, a mysterious shower of rose petals occurred. Thanks to these, Mt. Carmel is a popular spot for the faithful to connect with their spirituality.
Near the National Highway, Laguna
Rough it out at Hulugan Falls
Looking for adventurous weekend destinations near Manila that you can reach by bus? A few hours from Manila (plus a muddy 45-minute hike) is the Hulugan Falls. It’s a towering marvel at an estimated 234 ft. tall, with the water stream cascading forcefully down. Its fresh mountain waters are perfect for a dip after a long hike. There are no facilities like picnic cottages around, so for nature lovers who like their outdoors untouched, this is the perfect starting point.
Recharge at Kape Kesada Art Gallery and Café
About 45 minutes from Hulugan Falls, in the town of Paete, is this quaint art gallery cum café. The rustic café carries a variety of blends and creates coffee concoctions fit for even the most refined caffeine junkies. They also serve light snacks, all of which you can enjoy amidst the colorful local art displayed. If you’re lucky, you can even get a short guided tour of the place from the resident curator. Paete is also a great pit stop for the night before another adventure the next day.
Comfortable adventure at Panguil River Eco Park
For an outdoor experience without the inconveniences, check out Panguil River Eco Park. It features a scenic jungle trek to Ambon-ambon Falls where fresh mountain water for swimming and wading awaits. You can also try going on a balsa to cross to the falls or go tubing down the river. Once it’s rest time, cottages for rent line the way where you and your group can rest and relaxation. Overnight stays and camping are also allowed in the park for corresponding fees.