When it comes to weekend destinations, Laguna is one of the most accessible provinces near Metro Manila. Most people driving cars usually approach the province from SLEX on the way to urbanized cities like Santa Rosa, Los Banos and Calamba. But from the Manila East Road, you can avoid traffic and traverse easily through the more laid-back towns on the Eastern side of the province.
The Laguna Loop is a pretty good road trip destination. While Laguna is known more for its historical and cultural attractions, there are a lot of resorts in the province, as well as hot springs, lakes, and waterfalls. I personally prefer the Manila East route because it’s more scenic compared to the highway. Since the province surrounds the entire southern shores of Laguna de Bay, the largest lake in the country, you get an overlooking view of lake from many vantage points and you get to pass through these small, historic towns. You can easily adjust your itinerary depending on the stops you’re interested in.
- Visita Iglesia (Visit 7 Historic churches or Pilgrimage Sites)
- Seven Lakes of San Pablo, Laguna (Visit all seven lakes and go rafting)
- Food, Art & Culture Tour (Visit various Viaje del Sol establishments)
- Pasalubong Road Trip (go souvenir shopping for unique products in each town like slippers in Liliw, handcarved crafts in Paete and embroidery in Lumban)
- Food Trip (hunt for the best places to eat or sample local delicacies in each town)
If you have just a half-day or whole day to spare, here are a few recommendations of sights you can visit on a “nature road trip” on the Eastern side of Laguna.
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.
If you want to enjoy a full weekend, you could opt to stay overnight in one of the many resorts here. I recommend CaliRana Resort, a family friendly private resort accessible by a 30-minute motorboat ride from the ferry station. There’s a smaller lake called Lumot Lake or Sierra Lake right next to Caliraya that is less developed, though both lakes are popular for watersports and largemouth bass fishing.
Bumbungan River Eco-Park
Along the road in Cavinti, you can pass by Bumbungan River Eco-Park. This small man-made waterfall is situated in Brgy. Tibatib, Cavinti, Laguna. The water that flows here is connected to the famous Pagsanjan Falls. It’s become an affordable swimming hole for those who want to cool down. If you don’t have time to swim, you can still get a view of the cascades from the highway at the Cavinti Bridge.
Another interesting stop near Caliraya Lake is the Japanese Garden, a memorial park built by the Japanese government in the 1970s to commemorate Japanese soldiers who died during the World War II. According to folk legends, it’s the burial site of General Yamashita of the Yamashita treasure fame. There’s an elevated portion in the garden with a shrine/altar made of marble, where Japanese visitors offer prayers and gifts to the spirits of dead soldiers.
While it’s a memorial park, the Japanese Garden is open to the public for a nominal fee of P20 per head. You can have picnics on the spacious grounds, climb up one hundred steps to get an overlooking view of Lake Caliraya or just enjoy the refreshing scenery around the grounds. The whole place is sort of run-down, but it’s a quiet and peaceful spot for families to enjoy weekends. We noticed some families picnicking and camping as well as couples taking pre-nup type pictorials. There’s a small convenience store by the entrance selling drinks and chips, but there’s no real place to eat here. If you’re planning to have a picnic, bring your own food, and please refrain from littering.
Hillside Kitchenette in Lumban
There are many road trip restaurants along Manila East Road where you can eat early on in the ride including Bulawan Floating Restaurant, Kawayan Farm in Pililla or Kota Paradiso in Mabitac. In Pagsanjan, the top choice would be Calle Arco. I got attracted to a sign along the highway advertising Crispy Pata, Sisig & other Filipino fare when we were driving in Barangay Lewin in Lumban, so we decided to stop here and try it out.
Hillside Kitchenette is an open-air stopover restaurant with a nice view overlooking Laguna de Bay. You can eat in the main resto which can seat large groups, or one of several private huts. The resto has parking right in front and across the street, clean restrooms and free WiFi.
Pagsanjan Falls / Cavinti Falls
The first time I visited Pagsanjan years ago, we visited Pagsanjan Falls, one of the most famous waterfalls in the country. Locals now refer to it as Cavinti Falls (or Magdapio Falls), as the well-known cascade is actually located in the town of Cavinti, roughly 3.2 Kilometers away from the boundaries of Cavinti and Pagsanjan. However, the most popular jump off point, where boating begins is in Pagsanjan. To get there, two boatmen have to “shoot the rapids” and control the boat upstream. It’s a 17-km boat ride, passing through gorges and smaller waterfalls.
Alternatively, you can reach the waterfall from the top by a hike and vertical rappelling down a semi-caged steel ladder from Cavinti. You’ll emerge at the same spot where boatmen park the boats right next to the falls. Once you reach Pagsanjan Falls, you can ride a balsa (raft) pulled by boatmen to enter the small “Devil’s Cave” hidden behind the waterfall.
Pagsanjan Stone Arch
For those who don’t have time to visit the waterfall itself, the most accessible landmark along the road would be the Pagsanjan Stone Arch or Arco Real, a historic town gate of Pagsanjan, Laguna built from 1878 to 1880 under the supervision of Fray Cipriano Bac. The arch is located at the western entrance of the town along the National Highway. The Pagsanjan arch has three Roman arches or gates made of adobe stones cemented together using lime and carabao’s milk. On top of the arch is the Royal coat-of-arms of Spain guarded by two Castillan lions. You can also visit the Pagsanjan Church nearby.
If you get hungry or thirsty on the way there and back, there are a lot of roadside stalls selling fresh coconut juice and buko pie, a pastry filled with young coconut and pudding. Buko pie is a delicacy of Laguna, so first-time visitors will want to try it (or take home some for pasalubong). It’s kind of hard to take home if you’re driving a motorcycle though.
Pililla Wind Farm (in Rizal)
On the way back, we made a detour through the Pilillia Wind Farm and exited via the backroad leading to Marilaque to avoid the traffic in Antipolo. I’ve gone on countless rides through the Rizal Wind Farm, which is now a very popular destination for mountain bikers and motorcycle riders. It’s pretty nice at sunset though. If you haven’t visited this area, it’s worth passing through. There’s no entrance fee. Expect some rough gravel and muddy roads if you’re exiting via the shortcut (only recommended for mountain bikes, tricycles, motorcycles and 4 x 4 vehicles; not sedans). You’ll emerge at the Marifanta Highway near Sampaloc Inn. If you prefer to drive on pavement, you could also just backtrack and pass the same route going home.
ROUTE: Quezon City-Marikina-Antipolo-Teresa-Baras-Tanay-Pilillia-Famy-Siniloan-Pangil-Pakil-Paete-Kalayaan-Lumban-Caliraya-Pagsanjan (122 km to Pagsanjan Arch)
GOING BACK: Pagsanjan-Lumban-Paete-Pakil-Pangil-Siniloan-Famy-Pilillia — backroad to Sampaloc Inn and R6 – Tanay-Baras-Antipolo-Marikina-Quezon City (105 km)
- Japanese Garden: Entrance is P20/head. You can bring food for picnics. There’s a higher rate if you’re doing pre-nup pictorials and bringing professional equipment.
- Bumbungan Eco-Park. Entrance Fee is P10/head for day tours and P20/head for overnights stays. Nipa Hut cottages for rent are available for P150/cottage.
- Pagsanjan / Cavinti Falls Boat Ride. Standard boat fare for “Shooting the Rapids” costs P1,250 per person which includes the bamboo raft ride, life vests, entrance fees and the use of washrooms. Make sure you only hire boatmen from the Tourism Office.
- Pagsanjan / Cavinti Falls Hiking. For those who plan to hike to the Waterfall, your jump-off point will be Pueblo El Salvador Nature Park and Picnic Grove in Brgy Tibatib. Entrance fee is P270/per person, which includes a tour guide to the waterfalls, bamboo raft ride, life vests, safety harness, and the use of washrooms.
- Piliilla Wind Farm in Rizal. No entrance fee.