Villa Escudero is one of the oldest and most famous resorts in the Philippines. This coconut plantation and resort in Tiaong, Quezon has been around for decades, having opened to the public in the 1980s. It’s a top tourist destination for foreigners and balikbayans who want to experience traditional Filipino culture and heritage. I’ve always been curious about the place because of its famous restaurant by the waterfalls, but I never got around to checking it out during previous road trips to and from Bicol because of time constraints.
Last week, I got invited to stay overnight for the 27th Anniversary of the Villa Escudero Folkloric Group which coincided with Buwan ng Wika. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that aside from dining at the foot of the waterfall, there’s a lot of other things you can do here on a day trip or weekend getaway. For history buffs, it’s a good place to get acquainted with Filipino culture and traditions, through the museum, cultural shows and heritage houses.
For outdoor enthusiasts, Villa Escudero offers a tranquil getaway from the city, where you can commune with nature, and enjoy recreational activities like rafting, fishing, swimming, biking and bird watching. For those who want to know more, here’s a travel guide to help you plan your trip.
Villa Escudero Plantations and Resort is located in Tiaong, Quezon, which is roughly 2 – 3 hours South of Manila by private car or public transportation (depending on the traffic).
It’s surprisingly easy to get there by public transport.
- Just ride any bus bound for Lucena, Quezon. There are stations in Kamias, Ali Mall, Pasay.
- I recommend riding from the Cubao Araneta Busport, which provides hassle-free ticketing and a comfortable waiting lounge with WiFi. Our fare cost P158.00 per person one-way on an air-conditioned bus (Lucena Lines). Travel time was 2.5 hours on a weekday.
- Tell the driver to drop you off at Tiaong, Quezon.
- Get off at the Quezon/Laguna boundary (right after the welcome arch).
- There are tricycles stationed right beside a waiting shed which can take you in. You can also walk if you want since it’s only 1km to get to the entrance.
- If you have prior arrangements, you will be picked up by Villa Escudero’s service, a vintage BLTB open air bus.
By private vehicle:
- By private car, take the South superhighway and exit at 50A (Lucena, Legaspi, Batangas exit).
- Turn left at the Sto. Tomas junction.
- Head straight down, by-passing the town of Alaminos and San Pablo City proper.
- Slow down upon seeing Quezon arch and turn left immediately after.
- You can also get here by traversing the Laguna backroads, though travel time will be longer.
If you don’t have your own private vehicle, you can make use of Villa Escudero’s 24 hour shuttle service. They have a BLTB vintage bus, e-jeepneys, carabao carts (powered by hydraulics) and vans, which guests use to visit the various sites.
For those who know how to bike, Villa Escudero has bicycles for rent for P100/hour. This includes vintage bikes, folding, MTB & bikes with sidecars (for families traveling with kids). You can also bring your own bicycle.
All the accommodations in Villa Escudero make use of indigenous materials and are designed to maximize natural ventilation. My roommate and I were booked in the longhouse, which has rustic apartment-style units. The room had high ceilings, one queen-sized bed and a cute loft area with several mattresses on the floor, so it could accommodate up to six guests. I thought it would be hot at night since the rooms didn’t have air-conditioning, but it was surprisingly cool and well-ventilated with the use of electric fans.
Villa Escudero also has air-conditioned Executive Suites, Riverside Units (aircon and non-aircon) and a Presidential Suite. If you’re staying with a family or large group, I recommend the riverside units, so you can enjoy the view of the river from your room. Each unit has this open air veranda and living room area with hammocks.
WHAT TO DO IN VILLA ESCUDERO / ACTIVITIES:
The Labasin Waterfalls Restaurant is one of the center-pieces of Villa Escudero. Guests can enjoy a traditional Filipino buffet lunch, kamayan style, while soaking their feet in shallow running water of the man-made falls.
Lunchtime can get quite crowded with tourists especially during weekends, but it’s just one of those things you have to experience. If you’re just eating, you won’t get totally wet except for your ankles and legs. You can also cool down at the falls. Just be careful because some portions are slippery because of naturally growing moss.
NOTE: It was crowded when we had lunch there and very hard to take uncluttered photos, so we returned the next morning before breakfast purely for pictorial purposes.
Go bamboo rafting
All day tour guests can try rafting on native bamboo rafts along the Labasin Lake, a a narrow reservoir created by the hydroelectric dam right above the waterfall. This scenic lake gives a great view of Mt. Banahaw and Mt. San Cristobal, two mountains with lots of mystical legends attached to them.
The lake is 30-feet deep and swimming is not allowed for safety reasons. During our chats with our hosts, we heard many interesting stories about the lake, which is believed to be a gateway for diwatas (fairies) and spirits. Bamboo rafting is only allowed from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.
One of the newer attractions at Villa Escudero are their three swimming pools, including an infinity pool and an adult only pool located above with jacuzzi tubs. Note: Only those wearing proper swimming attire will be allowed to use the pool, and the adult pool is only for those 18 and above.
There’s also a swimming pool for children with a mini playground and waterslides.
You can also go fishing, bird-watching in the resort or just enjoy the view. There are lots of statues depicting Filipino traditions and culture scattered about the resort for photo ops.
Learn more about Filipino culture and dances
For foreign guests and balikbayans, one of the highlights is the Philippine Experience Show featuring tribal and traditional dances choreographed by National Artist Ramon Obusan, along with live music and costumes. Most Pinoys are familiar with dances like Pandanggo sa Ilaw (Dance of lights) and Tinikling, but I was surprised at how varied the performances were, since they showcased cultures and rituals from Luzon to Mindanao.
In celebration of Buwan ng Wika and 27th Anniversary of the Villa Escudero Folkloric Group, a longer cultural show was held when we visited, including a few dances drawing from forgotten traditions. The show normally lasts 1 hour and 15 minutes. Performances are only held from Thursday – Sunday during peak seasons and weekends only during the low season.
Visit the Museum
The Escudero Private Museum, which looks like a church from the outside, houses one of the largest private antiquity collections in the country. This is one of the most overwhelming museums I’ve been to. It contains a massive and very varied collection of artifacts, including church relics, traditional costumes, paintings, a taxidermy collection (preserved animals including a Tamaraw and Philippine Eagle), and much more.
Look out for the painting of Jesus Christ made entirely of miniature text from the Bible’s New Testament. Taking photos and videos is not allowed inside the museum.
Tour around the Heritage Houses
Before our visit to the museum, we had a rare chance to visit the private mansion of Don Conrado Escudero who amiably toured us around himself. His home offered a peek back to the colonial era and old rich grandeur. I think we all got a sensory overload from the vast collections filling every available space. I was amazed at the number of priceless artifacts here including a solid marble table from Carara, Italy.
We also toured the Casa Consuelo house museum, owned by Don Esteban Gomez and Doña Josefa Pamintuan de Gomez of Pampanga, which was brought -piece by piece – and reconstructed in Quezon.
WHAT / WHERE TO EAT IN VILLA ESCUDERO:
The highlight of day tour visits in kamayan-style buffet dining beside Labasin Waterfalls Restaurant. The buffet lunch is made up of typical Filipino dishes like adobo, kaldereta, inihaw na liempo and isda, ginataang gulay, ensaladang talong with bagoong, banana cue and fresh fruits. You eat on plates lined with banana leaves with your bare hands. Softdrinks and fresh coconut juice can be ordered for an extra fee.
For Pinoys used to this kind of fare, the food may seem a bit ordinary. But the experience is more about enjoying nature and the refreshing feeling of soaking your feet in water while eating rather than the food. It’s a fun and unique experience if you’re traveling with foreigners, city folk or kids who haven’t ever experienced picnicking by a waterfall.
They only serve lunch here (no dinner or breakfast), and close the area at 5pm. It’s better if you make prior reservations for your group for day tours and lunch. Walk-ins are allowed, but they prioritize guests with reservations and they might run out of tables.
Coco Pavilion is the largest restaurant in Villa Escudero. It’s right next to the lake, and is where cultural shows are held. We had two dinners, a snack, and a great breakfast buffet of farm fresh specialties here. Since Villa Escudero is located within a coconut plantation, lots of dishes make use of coconut and coconut milk.
We got to sample some of the delicious dishes and specialties prepared by Executive Chef Cocoy Ventura including Adobong Batangan (pork belly braised in vinegar, garlic and annatto), kulawong talong (grilled eggplant with burnt coconut cream), Ginataang Manok (chicken stewed in coconut milk) and Pancit Buco (with noodles using fresh strips of young coconut meat).
For buffet breakfast, there was local longganiza, fried fish from Bolinao and Carabao’s milk from Magadalena to pair with Tsokolate-eh (tablea) and coffee. I really liked the kesong puti and sampinit jelly, a fresh preserve made from wild raspberries harvested from the mountains of Quezon.
We also sampled their halo-halo for dessert while watching the cultural show.
Indigo Cafe is a more intimate venue good for small groups who want a private dining space. We had one lunch here and had the chance to interview Don Conrado Escudero over merienda.
The outdoor patio at Indigo Cafe offers a stunning view of the river. For merienda there was turon, diniguan, puto, and guinimus, which was beautifully presented.
Villa Escudero also has a poolside bar that serves alcoholic drinks like beer. The bar carries bottles of Destileria Limtuaco’s beautifully packaged Philippine craft spirits or distilled beverages including Manille Liquer de Calamansi and Liquer de Dalandan (flavored with native citrus fruits: calamansi and dalandan), Amadeo Coffee Liquer (made from homegrown coffee beans from Cavite and rum), Intramuros Liquer de Cacao (made from 100% roasted cacao) and Paradise Mango Rum (made form renowned Philippine mangoes and premium aged rum).
Before we left, Chef Cocoy made sure we also got to sample some of the delicious homemade ice cream and sorbet, including Sampinit Ice Cream (made from wild raspberries) and Mantecado Ice Cream, which was so creamy and sinfully good, that we ended up having more than we should have.
WHO SHOULD CHECK IN:
Villa Escudero Plantations & Resort is ideal for balikbayans, expats, and foreign tourists looking for a rustic getaway near Manila. If you’re having a Filipiniana-themed wedding or debut, Villa Escudero offers a lot of potential spots for pictorials. They have special pre-nup packages for couples and their photography crew. They also hold weddings and receptions here, since there’s a chapel within the premises.
We were told that some families from different barangays opt to hold celebrations here during fiestas, so that friends and relatives can enjoy the bonding time together without the hosts/locals not having to prepare food. It’s also good for families with young kids and grand clan reunions and special events.
If you don’t want to spend for an overnight stay, Villa Escudero is also ideal for a quick day tour from Manila. It’s popular for school field trips and local tourists or barkadas looking for a unique nature trip getaway. The day tour includes lunch at the falls and access to recreational facilities and museum.
Thank you to Villa Escudero Plantations & Resort for hosting our stay!
ADDRESS AND CONTACT INFO: