• Rizna Mutmainah

Fast 5: Day trips and weekenders beyond Manila

Manila is not vanilla. It’s not everyone’s favourite flavour. It’s more like spicy jalapeño with a jumble of fusion flavours thrown together in a bowl and set on fire. Ahem. Which can get a little hardcore at times, so you might prefer to have an escape plan to re-attain your Zen once you’ve broken the city limits. In just two hours or so, you can discover places that make the big city feel like a million miles away. From panoramic views of volcanoes and rock formations to ancestral houses and church replicas, here are the best places to visit when you’re looking to go beyond Manila.

Masungi Georeserve

1. Nature walk and Rock it at Masungi Georeserve

Be one with nature at the Masungi Georeserve in the lush rainforests of Rizal, just two hours away from the city. Rise to the sky or keep your feet on the ground when you explore the fascinating rock formations and lush forestry with a guided trail that includes rope courses. You can walk atop the rainforest on hanging bridges or chill above the treetops in a giant rope hammock, which I am noting down on my must-do list as we speak. The georeserve aims to sustainably protect the rocks, flora and fauna within it, allowing you to connect with nature and feel good about bringing your tourist dollars to the right place, too.

Taal Lake

2. Step up your Insta-game at Tagaytay

A city that’s brimming with nature and full of Instagram-worthy views? Yes please! Its cool climate and panoramic views over Lake Taal and Taal volcano combine to make Tagaytay one of the most gobsmackingly picturesque cities to visit. In just 2.5 hours you can see one of the most active volcanos in the Philippines – but, if you’re not the type to flirt with danger, there’s also plenty of much less incendiary outdoor parks, restaurants and shopping centres you can visit and still get a cool view.

Hotel Oriente at Las Casas Filipinas

3. Relive Old Manila’s glory days at Las Casas Filipinas De Acuzar

In under four hours west of Manila, you can transport yourself back in time to experience the feel of Old Manila and see a rather gorgeous collection of restored Spanish-Filipino houses. Located across the bay in Bagac, Bataan, the variety of classic architecture, impressive landscapes and stunning waterworks make it easy to immerse yourself in history and get a few chills up your spine. Filipino history has been fairly tumultuous over the centuries, but, as a local told me on my recent visit: “The Americans brought concrete – but the Spanish brought architecture”.

4. Calm body and mind at The Farm at San Benito

Find that long-lost inner peace and treat yourself at one of the top health and wellness resort destinations in the world – so they tell me. The Farm at San Benito offers exclusive amenities and holistic programs including meditation sessions, Pilates and spa treatments. In the two hours it takes to travel here from metro Manila, you can feel the air freshen around you, the traffic dissipate and the majestic mountains rise up from the horizon, surrounding you with stunning views and the pristine, uplifting energy that radiates around the property.

Mt Pinatubo

5. Trek or treat: Mount Pinatubo’s Puning Hot Spring and Sand Spa

A three to four-hour trek is not everyone’s cup of tea, but the incredible views across the turquoise waters of Mount Pinatubo’s Crater Lake make it more than worth it. You can explore incredible landscapes and see remnants from the second-largest volcanic eruption on a 4x4 ride to the lahar (volcanic debris) field. But that’s not all it has to offer! On the other side of Mount Pinatubo lies the Puning Hot Spring and Sand Spa, featuring a terrace of pools fed by the natural thermal spring water from the Sacobia River. There’s also a volcanic sand spa awaiting your trek-sore muscles. They’ll even bury your body in heated sand at the spa, a remedy known to relieve any muscle or arthritic pain. It actually sounds quite wonderful – I’m thinking the weighted blanket feeling times a thousand! Mount Pinatubo is located within 2.5 hours’ drive from the city, too. A stretch for a daytrip – much more relaxing as a weekender.

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