Updated 19:26 PM PHT Wed, April 12, 2017
Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — You’re in the midst of Holy Week, wishing for a getaway, but you have no plans at all. All your friends are going to Europe, the U.S., or wherever there are greener pastures. But it’s never too late to make travel plans for a long weekend. It’s all about going to the right place at the right time, and making the most of what’s nearby. The place where you should be might be a bus ticket away, and you’ll never really know unless you get there.
From underrated gems in Manila to the beaches of the provinces, here are five easy-to-go-to, and easy-to-plan destinations for the long weekend, as recommended by four notable Filipino travelers.
“The best time to tour the streets of Manila is during Holy Week,” says Toni Potenciano, co-founder of Fly Art Productions and a creative for design studio And A Half. Citing the “Pacquiao-fight levels of traffic,” she recommends to head to Binondo, home to Chinatown. During Holy Week, most of the establishments are open, and Chinese food options are almost endless. Learn about the history of the hopia in Eng Bee Tin. Try out the famous noodles of Cafe Mezzanine. Drop by a Chinese convenient store to get a fortune cookie or two, as well as incense.
“Once you’ve had your fill of Chinese food and you want to do some sightseeing, take the jeeps that head to the Pier and get off at the Palacio del Gobernador, Intramuros,” Potenciano recommends.
For the commuter, the only drawback to traveling around Manila is that the LRT-2 trains will be closed from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday, but jeeps will still be around.
When people go to Batangas for a beach trip, they usually go to Laiya, where most of the white sand beach resorts in the area are. A good alternative to the tourist-saturated area is Calatagan, with its equally remarkable beaches. Potenciano recommends Stilts Calatagan Beach Resort as a good place to take your pets. There, the cabins stand on stilts in the water, shallow enough for small dogs to wade in.
Calatagan is also home to fishing communities in Batangas, where anyone is free to immerse and converse with the locals and learn about their way of living. If you’re lucky and if the waters are kind, you’ll get to ride a boat.
To get to the Calatagan town proper by car, just drive to SLEX, exit at Sta. Rosa, and drive toward Tagaytay. From there, head to Nasugbu until you reach the Palico Junction, and you’ll find Calatagan after passing through Lian. Ask the locals for directions to Stilts Calatagan. When you get there, try their halo-halo, Potenciano recommends as a pro-tip. For day trip and cottage rates, visit the beach resort’s website.
Mount Ulap, Baguio
“If you happen to be in Baguio for the Holy Week and you’re the hiking type, a 45-minute jeepney ride from Baguio can bring you to one of the most rewarding day hikes of Benguet: Mt. Ulap.”
Potenciano describes taking on Mt. Ulap as going “face to face with Mount Ugo-like terrain (sprawling pine forests and Cordillera mountain ranges).” Though the eco-trail in Mt. Ulap may sometimes be overcrowded due to the hoards of tourists, the hike is a good start if you’re climbing a mountain for the first time, and is worth the experience if you’re hiking with friends or family.
Interested trekkers may register for the hike through Mt. Ulap’s Facebook page. To get to the mountain, from any point in Baguio, take a cab to Jollibee-Lakundula and look for the jeeps bound for Ampucao, Itogon.
San Juan, La Union
Camille Pilar, a writer and surfer, and now a La Union local, recommends going to San Juan, La Union’s surftown. Pilar describes the place as “equally known for its waves as it was for its sunsets.” San Juan is well-suited for surfing but is also just as perfect for a mere relaxing stroll by the shore or a simple beach picnic.
San Juan is also home to many interesting multi-function spaces where one can eat, stay, surf, and indulge in a variety of activities, such as Flotsam and Jetsam, and Beach Hub. You can also get surf lessons from Elyu Classic or 4 Aces Surf School. For accommodations, you can also check out Vessel Hostel or Urbiztondo Garden.
“Getting to surftown, La Union is easy!” says Pilar. “Go to Partas Terminal in Cubao and pick any trip going North such as Abra, Candon, or Laoag. Tell the conductor you’ll go down in the ‘surfing area’ and they’ll drop you off right by Urbiztondo Beach. Be at the bus station early as long queues can form 9 p.m. onwards. If you are driving, it is best to leave Manila past 10 p.m. The NLEX-SCTEX-TPLEX route will take you to La Union in four hours or less.”
Another place perfect for surfing is Baler in Aurora. “It's surf season there now. There are waves this weekend,” says Sarie Cruz, a director at Seabiscuit Films.
“I guess what makes Baler different from [other surfing spots like Real and La Union] is the fact it's got the widest beach, so it doesn't feel as crowded as the rest of the spots.”
Baler has a lot of options, adds Cruz. “There are still affordable options to stay like Charlie Does Inn or Circle Hostel. There are also super local places like Jamjen's (for people who aren’t maarte at all). You can eat at a restaurant but there are also carinderias like Aling Irene's at El Teodoro or the rolling stores — a bunch of carinderias grouped together). There [are also] higher end places to stay like Costa Pacifica or Cote Resort.”
But Cruz’s favorite? “I always like eating at Kusina Luntian for their liempo and pako salad.”
To get to Baler, ride a Genesis Transport bus in Cubao. If you’re traveling by car, take NLEX from Balintawak and take the SCTEX exit in La Paz, Tarlac. Once you reach Cabanatuan City in Nueva Ecija, drive on the Nueva Ecija-Aurora highway until you reach the border (passing Talavera, Rizal, and Pantabangan). Before reaching Baler, you’ll pass through Maria Aurora and San Luis. The drive will take about five to six hours.