Because Metro Manila and many surrounding towns are highly urbanized and congested, a lot of us are always looking for easy escapes for day trips and weekend getaways. Just a couple of hours from the metro, the nearby provinces of Laguna and Quezon are good choices for those who want to experience the “simple country life.” You can spend the day in a farm or natural resorts, stay in cozy bed & breakfasts, dine in artistic and homey restaurants, and visit artist’s studios.
GETTING OUT OF MANILA
Laguna is easily accessible from Manila by two major roads: the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) and Manila East Road. If you’re driving a car or coming from areas like Alabang or Las Pinas, SLEX is the better option heading towards the western side of Laguna (Calamba, Sta. Rosa, Binan). If you’re coming from Quezon City or driving a small displacement bike not allowed on the highway, take the Manila East Road or Marilaque so you can start at the northwestern towns (Pilillia, Paete, Pagsanjan) than loop back from San Pablo City.
I tried to list the main points of interest that you can drive to on a straightforward route while avoiding traffic and without too many detours from the main roads. Either way, you can go clockwise or counter-clockwise around the towns of Laguna de Bay depending on the stops you want to take. Since you’re already in the area, you can also visit towns around Mt. Banahaw like Liliw, Nagcarlan, Majayjay, Magdalena which have beautiful churches (usually popular for Visita Iglesia near Manila during Holy Week).
Assuming you’re driving a car, you’ll be on the expressway. If you take the Sto. Tomas exit, you’ll eventually arrive at San Pablo City. Then you can make your way around counterclockwise and emerge at the backroads of Piliilla in Rizal. Alternatively, you could exit to Calamba and go to Los Banos (famous for its many hot spring resorts, the Rizal Shrine, Makiling Forest Reserve, UP Los Banos and International Rice Research Institute).
If you’re traveling with kids, Sta. Elena Fun Farm in Cabuyao, Laguna is a good destination relatively near Manila. This natural playground offers a space to escape the fast-paced world of gadgets and the city. Kids are free to run wild in open spaces and connect with animals. The Fun Farm offers party and picnic areas, pockets of natural playgrounds, zip lines, a sand box, animal feeding stations, a lagoon where you can fish, horse stables, and an amphitheater. Activities include horseback riding, carabao pulled-cart riding, fishing, row boating, and zip-line. It’s ideal for field trips, family outings and team building activities.
SAN PABLO CITY, LAGUNA
The best place to start (and stay overnight) in my opinion is San Pablo City because of its numerous artistic cafes, restaurants and bed & breakfasts along with all the modern conveniences like malls, banks, fast food joints and gas stations.
San Pablo City is known as the City of Seven Lakes, namely Lake Pandin, Lake Yambo, Lake Bunot, Lake Calibato, Lake Palakpakin, Lake Muhikap and Lake Sampaloc. The largest lake, Lake Sampaloc is the most easily accessible by vehicle, with restaurants and a park right next to it. If you have more time, one of the best nature-trip adventures you can do here is to have a feast aboard a bamboo raft and go swimming in Lake Pandin and take a short hike to Lake Yambo.
What and where to eat:
San Pablo City is known for their coconut-by products such as coconut jam, bottled spring water and native delicacies like buko pie, kesong puti, pako (ferns) salad and kulawo (grilled eggplant with burnt coconut cream).
Casa San Pablo is a quaint bed & breakfast lodging and country inn surrounded by pine trees, sprawling lawns, and flowering plants. It’s an ideal place for tourists looking for a quiet time and a change of scenery. They serve breakfast all day and Southern Tagalog delicacies. The resort is pet-friendly too!
Cafe Lago is a restaurant located along the shores of Sampaloc Lake, the largest of San Pablo’s Seven Lakes, with a view of Mt. Cristobal on the horizon. They serve a variety of home cooked Filipino favorites.
Sulyap is a restaurant and gallery cafe with a Spanish colonial era theme. They offer traditional Filipino dishes and have a gallery filled with a large collection of antiques that date back to 1800s.
Patis Tito Garden Cafe (formerly known as Kusina Salud) is an eclectic restaurant by acclaimed fashion deisgner Patis Tesoro. The resto offers slow-cooked Filipino favorites using fresh and locally sourced ingredients.
- Casa San Pablo Bed & Breakfast. Colago Avenue, Barrio San Roque, San Pablo City
- Sulyap Bed & Breakfast Casa de Obando Boutique Hotel. Cocoland Compound, Barangay Del Remedio, San Pablo City, 4000 Laguna
- Patis Tito Garden Cafe Bed & Breakfast. 285 Brgy. Sta. Cruz (Putol), San Pablo City, Laguna, (reservations only)
The town of Tiaong lies in the coconut region of Quezon. One of the most famous attractions you can find here is Villa Escudero, a coconut plantation and resort that is a top tourist destination for foreigners and balikbayans who want to experience traditional Filipino culture and heritage. Villa Escudero is most famous for its restaurant by the waterfall.
While most visitors just go here for day trips to eat in the restaurant and visit the museum, Villa Escudero is one of the few resorts in the area where you can stay overnight with a good view. Other hotels are located along the highway or town centers.
Another place you can visit in Tiaong is Ugu Bigyan Potter’s Garden, a beautifully landscaped pottery garden, art gallery, workshop studio, and reservations-only restaurant within the home of celebrated pottery artist Augusto “Ugu” Bigyan.
Tayabas is home to several tourism resorts, heritage houses, historical landmarks, rest and recreation destination and festivities. It’s also known for its lambanog (coconut arrack) and sweet food/delicacies. Graceland Estates Country Club is a good place to stop for meals or if you want to visit their deer farm.
Lucban, located at the foot of Mount Banahaw, is famous for its annual Pahiyas Festival, the Philippines’ most colorful harvest festival, celebrated every May. At this time, all the locals’ houses are decorated with agricultural products (fruits, vegetables, rice grains, rice stalks, flowers, and ferns) and colorful rice wafers, called kiping.
- Villa Escudero Plantations & Resort. Tiaong, Quezon
- Batis Aramin Resort. Brgy. Malupak, Lucban – Tayabas Rd., Lucban, Philippines, 4328
- Patio Rizal Hotel & Restaurant. 77 Quezon Avenue, Lucban, Philippines, 4328.
- Ouans the Farm Resort. KM 133 Diversion Road, Kanlurang Mayao, Lucena, Philippines, 4301
- Queen Margarette Hotel. Diversion Road, Brgy., Domoit, Lucena City, Philippines, 4301
- Grand Central Hotel. Central Commercial Center Bustamante St 4323, Candelaria, Philippines, 4323
- Nawawalang Paraiso Resort & Hotel. Barangay Camaysa Tayabas Lucban Road, Tayabas , Philippines, 4327
Hulugan Falls, a massive waterfall reachable by a 30-minute hike, is one of the newly discovered attractions in Laguna that can be found in the town of Luisiana. If you’re looking for something new to do in the vicinity during your road trip, you can skip the towns of Majayjay and Nagcarlan and pass Luisiana going back to Manila via the Manila East Road.
The Pagsanjan Stone Arch (also known as Puerto Real or Arco Real) is a historic town gate of Pagsanjan, Laguna built from 1878 to 1880. It’s located at the western entrance of the town along the National Highway leading to Rizal Street (formerly Calle Real) of the town and is one of the most easily accessible landmarks for motorists.
If you have more time, you can take a boat ride to Pagsanjan Falls (also known as Cavinti Falls), one of the most well-known waterfalls in the Philippines. This cascade is geographically located in the town of Cavinti but the most popular jump-off point, where the boating begins can be found in Pagsanjan.
You can also visit various places around Caliraya like Caliraya Lake, Lumot Lake, Japanese Garden, Bumbungan Eco-Park and more.
READ MORE: Nature Road Trip in Laguna
The town of Paete is known for their sculpting traditions, woodcarvings, papier-mache products and sweet lanzones. For a snack and coffee, pass by Kape Kesada, one of the homegrown cafes in the area along Quesada Street. You can also drop by the Baroque-style Paete Church.
Ang Buhay at Hugis sa Paete is a heritage Shop that showcases a good assortment of papier-mache crafts and different wood-items and souvenirs.
- Caliraya Resort Club. Brgy. Lewin, Lumban, Philippines, 4014
- Balay Celina Resort. Liliw-Majayjay Road , Liliw, Philippines, 4004
- CaliRana Resort in Lake Caliraya. Cavinti, Laguna.
- Villa Socorro Agri-Eco Village & Farm Resort. Baranggay Dingin, Pagsanjan, 4008 Laguna
Since you’e already passing by the area, you might as well stop by the Pilillia Wind Farm in Rizal if you haven’t been there yet.
On the way back to Manila (via the Manila East Road or Antipolo), you can also stop by for meals at Kawayan Farm, Bulawan Floating Restaurant or any of the Road Trip Restaurants along Manila East Road.
Again, these are just general suggestions focusing on the scenic countryside & most artistic spots (that I’ve personally been to) and can recommend if you’re driving on a straightforward route around Laguna and Quezon. Feel free to tweak this itinerary depending on your interests. The great thing about road trips is your itinerary is highly customizable. You can stop anywhere if you see something interesting. Just follow the road, ask around for directions or check Googlemaps if you get lost. I just hope that this compilation gives you some ideas for your next road trip getaway. Enjoy!