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A smorgasbord of activities and attractions awaits outside Manila. Run, trek, swim, eat, bargain hunt, or hobble your way down the aisle ~ North and South Luzon will let you do all that.

WOW Philippines

private tour: Taal Volcano Crater

Taal Volcano is fast becoming a trek destination for tourists. Reputed to be the world's smallest, yet highly active, Taal Volcano, which originally towered over 18,000 feet into the sky, stands on its own island amid a landscape of ash and cinder. Scholarly texts remind us of how Taal Lake, also referred to as Lake Bonbon in the 16th century, became one of the great volcano-tectonic depressions in the world. Meaning, the lake wasn't a lake at all, but the core of the original volcano. What we have known long before as Tagaytay Ridge, however, was actually the very rim of the original volcano.

Taal offers a glimpse of the ancient past of the region, and anyone's kind of adventure begins in the boat ride to the island (or Pulo as the locals call it). In Pulo, visitors are treated to a trek full of lessons in local earth science. Large boulders abound, composed of the dark, igneous rock expelled from within Taal. Layers of scorched earth bear witness to the history of the volcano's destruction and rebirth. These features may be unusual, but the real lure of Taal is further inland, on the volcano's highest peak. Situated amidst red, oxidized soil and steaming vapor vents, the main crater lies impervious. This one blew its top in 1911, and grass has since regrown on large portions of it. Visible from its rim is the crater lake far down below. The crater in, in fact, "a diluted mixture of sulfuric acid, with elements of boron, magnesium, aluminum and sodium in salt form."

Places to See, Places to Be

private tour: tagaytay

While Tagaytay is considered as the country's second summer capital because of its cool weather, balmy winds and foggy mists all year round, it is also touted as the "Center of Spiritual Retreat." Through the years, many congregational houses and retreat centers have sprouted everywhere, a testament that religious orders seeking tranquility have found it here. To date, there are more than 45 religious houses scattered along the ridge, including retreat houses, formation houses, seminaries, and contemplative prayer houses.

Rising 2,000 feet above sea level, Tagaytay is a city virtually on top of a ridge, attracting thousands of visitors each year. It is the highest point of neighboring Cavite province, with its ridges serving as a natural view deck to the quiet majesty of Taal Volcano and the Lake. Perhaps, this may be the best place to get a postcard-pretty, panoramic view of "the-lake-within-the-island-within-the-lake."

A trip to Tagaytay is synonymous to good life: relaxation, cool clean air, peace and quiet, and abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood, and meat. While in it, just enjoy whatever you can grab, taste, and feel.

Places to See, Places to Be

Mushroom Burger, Picnic Grove Complex, People's Park (also known as "Palace in the Sky"), Residence Inn, Mahogany Market, The Flower Farm, Monasteries, Convents and Retreat Houses

private tour: taal heritage village

The elegant Philippine ancestral houses, the Basilica Minore of St. Martin de Tours, and the seemingly tranquil presence of Taal Volcano all add to the old world charm of the town of Taal and its people.

Said to be the biggest in the Orient, the monolithic structure of the Basilica Minore of St. Martin de Tours dominates the elevated plaza overlooking Taal. Apart from its basilica, Taal possesses some of the most elegant Philippine ancestral houses to be seen in the country. And the Old Taal, studded with "Spanish-style" mansions (or Bahay na Bato), is almost totally preserved.

Taal is also noted for its exquisite embroidery. The work is done with pineapple fiber, which you set out to dry on frames in front of shops around the central market.

The road to Taal circumnavigates Taal lake, offering spectacular views of the lake's amazing crater as you go. You may also want to stop and admire the mouth-watering displays of tropical fruits seen all along the roadside in Tagaytay. Mangoes, watermelons, pineapples and jackfruit thrive in this cool hilly region, known as the "fruit bowl of Manila."

Places to See, Places to Be

Escuela Pia, Our Lady of Caysasay Church, Casa Agoncillo, Residence of Marcella Agoncillo (the sewer of the first Philippine flag unfurled at the proclamation of independence on June 12, 1898.)

private tour: Hidden Valley Springs

A fascinating private resort, Hidden Valley Springs in Laguna is a tropical rainforest paradise whose natural spring pools and waterfall are surrounded by lush vegetation including approximately 153 species of plant life, giant ferns, wild orchids; and towering century-old trees like Amlang, which was reported to be more than 300 years old.

Its location is a 110-hectare under a 300-feet deep crater on the south side of Mount Makiling, an inactive volcano. The crater is believed to have been formed by a violent volcanic upheaval thousands of years ago. (Hidden Valley is wedged between Mount Makiling and Mount Banahaw). Consequently, more than a hundred natural springs of varying temperatures surfaced, composed of pure mineral waters that are said to be medicinal and rejuvenating.

Six natural pools can be enjoyed by visitors, including two shallow kiddie pools and one natural jacuzzi. Take a dip at Lover's Pool with an average temperature of 30.2-degree Celsius, the Soda and the Warm Pools with 32.3 degrees Celsius.

Best place to soak and go nature-tripping. Those who wish to spend the night over can stay in its cottages.

private tour: villa escudero

Measured rows of coconut trees welcome visitors to Quezon Province. In Tiaong, 100 kilometers south of Manila, rustling greens lead to Villa Escudero, a resort set amidst a coconut plantation. Carabao-drawn carts transport picnickers from the reception area to the man-made waterfall, where lunch is served on tables set over the flowing stream. Then it's off to the pools or to the river for a refreshing cool-down. For a dose of history, there's the Villa Escudero Museum, which houses curios, religious icons, costumes and collectibles ~ including a shrunken head the size of a fist.

Ever since the Escudero family opened a part of its 400-hectare coconut plantation to the public in 1980, Villa Escudero Plantation and Resort has remained a perennial fixture in the Philippine travel scene for its all-hours fiesta vibe. Visitors get to experience the rural fiesta at its best with a lunch buffet at Labasin Falls (while your feet soak in the cold stream), carabao and jeepney rides, a coconut harvesting demo, use of swimming pools, a tour of the rural village and museum, and the famous cultural song-and-dance show.

private tour: pagsanjan falls

It is a 3-hour drive to the countryside south of Manila to the old town of Pagsanjan, whose main attraction is its natural wonders: the stark natural beauty of the Pagsanjan River, the awe-inspiring gorge, the breathtaking roaring rapids, and the spectacular world-famous waterfalls ~ the Pagsanjan Falls.

A riverside resort provides a banca (dugout canoe) for the trip to Pagsanjan Falls. Be prepared to get wet as water runs deep and strong in the Pagsanjan River, benevolent at times but not manageable during stormy weather when rain prods white-water mass racing downstream. At the falls, you may opt to ride a bamboo raft that will take you underneath the waterfalls to experience the thunderous cascade of water. The return trip is another beguiling and thrilling experience as you “shoot the rapids” going downstream. Observe your boatmen as they skillfully maneuver the boat between rocks & boulders until you reach the calm waters of the river.

private tour: anilao dive tour

Anilao is essentially a paradise for divers and snorkelers. Barely stretching 10 square kilometers off the coast of Calumpan Peninsula, Anilao, a barangay (hamlet) in the municipality of Mabini in Batangas Province, is just a 2.5 hours drive south of Manila. Its main draw is what lies beneath the waters. Few meters off the beach, you enter a maze of coral formations that provide habitats to myriad of marine creatures exploding with life and colors. Short boat rides bring you to drop offs, pinnacles and many other types of diving environments. There are about twenty-five excellent dive sites in Anilao that you can explore. Some cater to master divers and some are suited for the diving newbie.

The northwest shore of the Calumpang Peninsula, from Anilao to Bagalangit, is lined with local resorts that cater primarily to local tourists. From these resorts, visitors can rent a boat for island hopping and visit the diving spots, coves, and islands: Sombrero, Maricaban, islands.

With its ideal location, diverse underwater vistas and selection of dive sites, Anilao has become a mecca for adventure diving enthusiasts throughout Asia and the world. Resorts and dive shops have mushroomed in the area over the years ... and only a short drive from Manila and you are there.

Places to See, Places to Be

Cathedral Rock, is the most popular site in Anilao because of its close proximity to Bagalangit shore. The site features two large boulders that form a sort of roofless amphitheater. It is called Cathedral because there is a cross in the middle; Mainit Hot Point, is intended for master divers as the waters offer rippling tides; The site is close to another Batangas attraction ~ Mainit Hot Springs. Sombrero Island has nice white sand beaches and is suitable for those interested in corals and drift diving; Ligpo Island, where divers can circumnavigate it in one go; Maricaban Island boasts of excellent diving and snorkeling spots.

private tour: mt. pinatubo

Welcome to the Philippine's great, grey landscape in the heart of Luzon. Once rumbling with hot lava, Mount Pinatubo is now an enchanting adventure destination of rough terrain and cool winds.

Rising some 1,780 meters (5,840 feet) above the plains, this huge pile of igneous earth made headlines when it erupted in 1991, burning a path of devastation throughout Central Luzon. To the locals, this meant the end of life. Tons of ash were dropped on their homes, followed by raging rivers of lahar, an avalanche of volcanic water and mud, that wiped out entire towns and villages. This pattern of destruction went on for years, making wastelands out of Pampanga, Tarlac, and Zambales. These days, however, after the volcano has quieted down and the affected provinces have strived to rebuild themselves, Mt. Pinatubo is once again a focus of attention ~ this time as an attraction for adventure seekers.

are you organizing a tour for a group of 5 or more pax?

E-mail your requirement to maniladriverguide@gmail.com and we'll send you a quote and/or customize a day tour to your specific liking.

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Faces of the Philippines