There’s something I really like about lakes. Though they’re not as popular as beaches and waterfalls, lakes often have this quiet understated charm about them. The Philippines is home to many natural lakes which are closely related to volcanic and tectonic activity as well as artificial lakes or reservoirs that have resulted from the damming of rivers for hydroelectric activity. Aside from their recreational and aesthetic qualities, many lakes are important habitats for marine life and food sources. Other lakes play a part in water-supply, hydro-electric power or flood control. As the saying goes, “still waters run deep.”
Though some lakes are not really suitable for swimming, these serene bodies of water are ideal for for low-impact activities like fishing, boating, rafting, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. Here are just a few of the scenic lakes and reservoirs in the Philippines that I’ve personally visited (arranged by distance/accessibility from Manila).
Laguna de Bay
- Travel time from Manila: 1.5 – 2 hours
- Activities: boating, hiking (Talim Island), road trips (Laguna de Bay Loop – visit different towns around the lake), swimming not recommended
- Notable spots nearby: Kainan sa Tabing Lawa (restaurant), Farola (lighthouse) in Tanay, Pililla Windmills, Talim Island (accessible by boat ride), Churches of Laguna
Laguna de Bay is the largest lake in the Philippines located east of Metro Manila between the provinces of Laguna to the south and Rizal to the North. It is one of the primary sources of freshwater fish in Manila yet sadly, the water quality has seriously declined due to due to pollution from chemical industries, agricultural household discharges, and soil erosion from lakeside establishments. You can get a view overlooking the lake from many surrounding towns in Laguna and Rizal. We’ve also tried riding a boat on the lake itself from Binangonan Port to cross to Talim Island, located in the middle of the lake to hike up Mt. Tagapo, a hiking destination on the island.
La Mesa Dam and Reservoir, Quezon City
- Travel time from Manila: 1-1.5 hours
- Activities: mountain biking, trail running, hiking, swimming not allowed
- Notable spots nearby: La Mesa Eco Park (has a swimming pool and kiddie pool, zipline, horse back riding, trail bike, mini-archery)
La Mesa Dam and Reservoir is part of the Angat-Ipo-La Mesa water system, which supplies most of the water supply of Metro Manila. The La Mesa Watershed is located in Quezon City, the last remaining rainforest in Metro Manila. It provides a vital link to the water requirements of 12 million residents of Metro Manila considering that 1.5 million liters of water pass through this reservoir every day. The forest trails of La Mesa Nature Reserve are a top mountain biking destination in the metro and the lake is a common photo op/rest stop.
Seven Lakes of San Pablo City, Laguna
- Travel time from Manila: 2.5-3 hours
- Activities: rafting, picnics, swimming (Lake Pandin)
- Notable spots nearby: Viaje del Sol establishments, Cafe Lago (restaurant), Casa San Pablo (B & B), Sulyap Gallery Cafe & Restaurant, Patis Tito Garden Cafe, Hidden valley
San Pablo City, Laguna is home to seven crater lakes scattered about the city. The largest is Lake Sampaloc, behind San Pablo city hall which is dotted with fishpens and small cottages built on stilts. There are a number of restaurants near Lake Sampaloc where you can enjoy a good meal with a view.
The other lakes include Bunot, Palakpakin, Muhikap, Kalibato, and the twin lakes of Yambo and Pandin. In Lake Pandin, there are rafting tours aboard bamboo rafts, where you can enjoy lunch and snacks prepared by locals. The water here is also suitable for swimming.
Angat Lake, Bulacan
- Travel time from Manila: 2-3 hours
- Activities: mountain biking/motorcycling beside the lake, hiking (trails), swimming is not allowed in the dam/lake but you can swim in Bitbit River
- Notable spots nearby: Angat Rainforest and Eco-Park (planned activities include: a museum, bird/butterfly watching, camping, zipline/cable car, canopy walk and Dumagat cultural heritage Site), Bitbit River, Pinagrealan Cave, Lioness Rocks, Hilltop
Angat Dam is a concrete water reservoir embankment hydroelectric dam that supplies 90 percent of the raw water requirements for Metro Manila. The reservoir supplies about 90 percent of raw water requirements for Metro Manila through the MWSS and irrigates thousands of hectares of farmland in Bulacan and Pampanga. The dam is 131 meters high and impounds water from the Angat River which subsequently created the Angat Lake. Visitors can get a view of the dam, river and lake by visiting the Angat Rainforest and Eco-Park in Norzagaray, Bulacan, which is a good biking and motorcycling destination.
Taal Lake, Batangas
- Travel time from Manila: 3-4 hours
- Activities: boating, kayaking, SUP, trek to Taal Volcano, water sports activities including parasailing, paraw, banana boat, flyfish, etc.
- Notable spots nearby: Tagaytay, Taal Heritage Town (Talisay City), Club Balai Isabel (Talisay), Cintai Coritos (Balete, Batangas), Taal Yacht Club, lakeside resorts, Taal Volcano
Taal Lake is a freshwater lake in Batangas and the country’s third largest lake. You can get a great view from different points in Tagaytay and Cavite. Volcano island, which lies in the center of the Taal Lake contains its own smaller crater lake. Within this is an island called Vulcan’s Point. So that’s an island in the middle of a lake, in the middle of a volcano, in the middle of a bigger lake, in the middle of a bigger island (Luzon) which lies in an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. Talk about island-ception.
Caliraya Lake, Laguna
- Travel time from Manila: 3 hours
- Activities: camping, fishing, water activities, kayaking, water-biking, boating, stand-up paddleboarding, jetskis, etc.
- Notable spots nearby: Caliraya Resort Club, Calirana Resort, Japanese Garden, Lagos del Sol
Caliraya is an artificial lake situated in the towns of Lumban, Cavinti and Kalayaan in the province of Laguna. There are a number of lake resorts surrounding the shore because of the beautiful scenery and favorable climate. The lake has become a popular spot for recreational resorts that offer water sports and outdoor activities including fishing, kayaking, water-biking, boating, and stand-up paddleboarding.
- Travel time from Manila: 3-4 hours
- Activities: trekking, hike, picnics, swimming and boating not allowed anymore
- Notable spots nearby: Pinatubo Spa Town, Puning’s Hot Spring
Lake Pinatubo is the summit crater lake of Mount Pinatubo formed after its destructive eruption on June 15, 1991. The crater lake is said to be the deepest lake in the country at 600 m (2,000 ft). The lake is located near the boundaries of Pampanga, Tarlac and Zambales, roughly about 90 km (56 mi) northwest of the capital city of Manila. Swimming and boating tours are no longer allowed since they found the water to contain hazardous material.
Pantabangan Lake, Nueva Ecija
- Travel time from Manila: 4 hours
- Activities: boating, sport fishing, watch the sunset
- Notable spots nearby: Dela Merced Lakeview Resort
An earth-filled embankment in the Pampanga River located in Pantabangan in Nueva Ecija. The multi-purpose dam provides water for irrigation and hydroelectric power generation while its reservoir, Pantabangan Lake, affords flood control. The reservoir is considered one of the largest in Southeast Asia and also one of the cleanest in the Philippines. You can enjoy boating tours and try your hand at sport fishing here.
Ambuklao Dam, Benguet
- Travel time from Manila: 7.5 – 8 hours (1.5 hours from Baguio)
- Activities: fishing, boating, sightseeing, swimming not allowed
- Notable spots nearby: Jangjang Hanging Bridge, Badekbek Sulfur springs, Mt. Pulag
Ambuklao Dam is part of a hyrdroelectric facility in Brgy. Ambuklao, Bokod, Benguet. The reservoir was created by damming by the Agno River for hydroelectric power generation, flood control, and irrigation. This beautiful spot is a common stopover for those heading up to climb Mt. Pulag, Luzon’s highest peak.
Sumlang Lake, Albay
- Travel time from Manila: 10-12 hours by land trip or 1 hour flight
- Activities: boating, sightseeing, picnics
- Notable spots nearby: Camalig Church, Quitinday Green Hills, Quitinday Falls and Underground River, Natural Carpet Industries (warehouse selling woven products and designer furniture)
Sumlang Lake is a lake in the town of Camalig in Albay province where visitors go on rafting tours. Like most tourist spots in Albay, Lake Sumlang offers a beautiful vantage point for Mt. Mayon, with the volcano reflected on the lake’s smooth water during clear days (it was overcast and Mayon was not visible when we visited). Recently upgraded for tourists, rafting tours are offered with “sosyal” floating couches and seats perched on the bamboo rafts instead of just ordinary nipa-hut style rafts.
Buhi Lake, Camarines Sur
- Travel time from Manila: 12-14 hours by land or 1 hour flight + 1 hour land trip
- Activities: boating, fishing, birdwatching
- Notable spots nearby: Itbog Twin Falls, Mt. Asog, Baybay Falls
Lake Buhi is a lake found in Buhi, Camarines Sur. The lake lies in the valley formed by two ancient volcanoes, Mount Iriga (also known as Mount Asog) and Mount Malinao. The lake is famous since it is one of the few bodies of water that contains sinarapan (Mistichthys luzonensis) which is the world’s smallest commercially harvested fish.
Bulusan Lake, Sorsogon
- Travel time from Manila: 13-14 hours by land or 1 hour flight + 2-3 hours land trip
- Activities: boating, kayaking, trekking around the lake, swimming not allowed
- Notable spots nearby: Barcelona Church and Ruins, Rizal Beach in Gubat
Bulusan Lake is located inside the Bulusan Volcano Natural Park on the southeastern side of Mount Bulusan, an active volcano in Sorsogon. Guests can take a 30 minute boat tour around the lake, go kayaking, or trek through the nature trail which goes around the lake. A hanging bridge and canopy walk and floating wellness center is in the works as of May 2016. Though some locals swim and fish here, swimming is not recommended for tourists because of the fishnets in the lake.
Paoay Lake, Ilocos Norte
- Travel time from Manila: 10-12 hours by land
- Activities: stand-up paddleboarding, boating, visit museum, birdwatching
- Notable spots nearby: Malacanang ti Amianan, Paoay Sand Dunes (4x 4 and sandboarding), Paoay Church
Paoay Lake is a horseshoe-shaped lake located in Paoay, Ilocos Norte. It is the largest lake in the province of Ilocos Norte and one of the largest natural lakes in the northern Luzon region. Near its shores is the Malacañang ti Amianan or Malacañang of the North, a historical house museum built by the family of former president Ferdinand Marcos. I got to try stand-up paddleboarding here.
Kayangan Lake, Coron
- Travel time from Manila: 1 hour flight + 1 hour sea travel or 14 hours by sea
- Activities: Boating, sport fishing, swimming, snorkeling
- Notable spots nearby: Malcapuya Island, Twin Lagoon, Barracuda Lake, Sunken Japanese wrecks
Kayangan Lake is one of two lakes in Coron island (out of 8 lakes) that are open to the public (the other is Barracuda Lake). There is a steep 10-15 minute uphill climb of approximately 300 steps towards the inland lake. Midway through the climb is a view deck overlooking the lagoon. Kayangan Lake is said to be the cleanest lake in the Philippines. You can swim and snorkel here.
Lake Sebu, South Cotabato
- Travel time from Manila: 1 hour flight to General Santos + 2-3 hours land travel
- Activities: boating, eating, buying souvenirs
- Notable spots nearby: Seven Waterfalls (zipline), Punta Isla Resort
Lake Sebu is a natural lake located in the town of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato within the Alay Valley region. The Philippine government has recognized it as one of the country’s most important watersheds. Lake Sebu is one of the many bodies of water supplying irrigation to the provinces of Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato. Boating tours are offered in different resorts, where you can get your fill of different tilapia-based dishes after your tour.
Lake Holon, South Cotabato
- Travel time from Manila: 1 hour flight to General Santos + 3-4 hours land travel & hike
- Activities: trekking, boating, kayaking, lakeside camping
- Notable spots nearby: Tboli Dancing Fountain, Bakngeb River Cave, Kule Trail, Hidak Falls, Lamhaku Hot & Cold Spring
One of the most peaceful lakes I’ve been to, and one of the most challenging to get to, is Lake Holon (Lake Maughan) in South Cotabato. Nestled in the mountains in T’boli, Lake Holon is the caldera lake of Mt. Parker locally known as Melibengoy, a stratovolcano, standing 1400 MASL. Getting here requires passing through a challenging dirt trail accessible to motorcycles and 3-4 hour long hike. (More about our motorcycle ride to Lake Holon soon!)
On my bucket-list of lakes I still need to visit: (will update this list when I visit them)
- Twin Lakes of Balinsasayao and Danao, Sibulan, Negros Oriental
- Lake Apo, Valencia, Bukidnon
- Lake Danao, Ormoc, Leyte
- Lake Lanao, Lanao del Sur
- Naujan Lake, Oriental Mindoro