37 Not-so-Secret Getaways

Bernard Supetran

With the lowering of Covid-19 threat and reopening of tourism in all the provinces, happy days are here again for day trippers and travel bugs who want continue scouring the archipelago’s nooks and crannies.

“Revenge travel” which we have been using in the past two years is already as archaic as a Shakespearean phrase. Travel is back in our DNA, and no longer an act of revenge to make up for the lost time due to the fluctuating quarantine and alert level classifications.

Below are 37 gorgeous getaways, many of which are not-so-secret, familiar, easily accessible and safe. But perhaps due to so many considerations, real or imagined, they seem to be a world away and will remain in our bucket list a little longer.

  1. Abra. Despite being rocked by two powerful earthquakes this year which destroyed many of its heritage structures, true blue adventurers keep flocking to the province to venture into Kaparkan Falls in Tineg. With a height of about 1,000 meters, this terraced waterfall cascades into several small basins where you can dip in its icy water. Tucked in the interiors of the province, this natural wonder is reachable only by a 4 x 4 vehicle.

2. Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya. Travelers along the Cagayan Valley Road know this town for its mealstop restaurants, pasalubong stores and clean toilets. But unknown to many, it is also home to an exciting ATV adventure along the Sta Fe River and offroad barangays. If you’re planning to hang out a little longer, you can feast on a hearty lunch at  Paradise Agri Tourism Farm, grab a snack RVS Skyview and Nature Farms, and hit the sack at Casa De Española.

Aritao ATV Adventure

3. Basilan. Don’t let its reputation precede the true image of this enigmatic island province just an hour away by boat from Zamboanga City. Newbies who want a calibrated risk can limit their movement around the capital city of Isabela and the neighboring city of Lamitan, cradle of the exotic Yakan tribe. A must-see is Maniwaya Island in Isabela and Bulingan Falls in Lamitan, which are among the most mesmerizing bodies of water you will see.

4. Burauen. Some 57 kms south of Tacloban City is this emerging hotspot which underwent a meticulous ecotourism master plan in recent years. It centerpiece is the Mahagnao Volcano Natural Park, a 635-hectare upland reserve with the Mahagnao Lake as recreational hub for rafting, kayaking, as well as welcome and lunch area. A nearby vegetable farm is the starting point for the 1-hour Tanguile Trail forest bathing. The family-friendly trail is an easy trek into a forest with century-old trees woods where guests will shut themselves off from the outside world and maximize the five senses to commune with Mother Nature.

5. Buruanga. The old mother town of Boracay, this obscure municipality on the western edge of Aklan once became a hotspot because of a jumping cliff, which was a popular sidetrip about a decade ago. With quaint and low-density beach resorts sprouting, the town is recreating the 1980s rustic charm of the island with the powdery sand, minus the madding crowd.

6. Biliran. Connected to Leyte by a bridge, this island province is a wondrous waterworld with its numerous waterfalls, powdery-sand beaches, islets, dive sites and mountains. Among the must-sees are the Shifting Sandbar at Higatangan Island, Ulan-Ulan Falls, Agta Beach, and Sambawan Island.

7. Bondoc Peninsula. Despite its relative proximity to the metropolis, this enigmatic southeastern part of Quezon is still largely unexplored. Embraced by Tayabas Bay and Ragay Gulf, and dissected by the new Lopez-Catanauan Road, its coastal towns will surprise you with less-crowded beaches, idyllic islets, farm and garden-themed resorts, and heritage structures, particularly in the old provincial capital of Unisan.

Club Tara Resort

8. Bucas Grande Island.  The smaller but equally exciting half of Siargao archipelago, this island municipality is like a mini version of Palawan with its limestone cliffs, subterranean pools, natural lagoons, hilltop viewpoints and hidden coves, most notably Sohoton Cove. Known officially as Socorro town, it can be accessed via the ports of Dapa in Siargao or Hayanggabon port Claver, Surigao del Norte. For a consummate getaway, stay at the Bali-inspired Club Tara Resort which shuts you out of the outside world with nature’s loving embrace.

9. Camalig, Albay. A rustic highway town known for its decrepit ancestral houses, it has become the new viewpoint to the perfect-cone Mayon Volcano because of its farm-themed establishments which also provide a myriad of family-oriented recreation. The best spot for volcano-gazing is at Sumlang Lake where you can take a balsa ride and kayak at a lagoon, feast on tasty native dishes, celebrate special events, laze in its campsite and resort, shop abaca novelty items, and play around with your pets.

10. Camaligan. Not too long ago, this is a sleepy fishing village in Camarines Sur just at the doorstep of urbanized Naga City. Night life began to liven up when the local government beautified and rehabilitated the town’s riverwalk, put in place a Golden Gate-inspired hanging bridge, and began running a one-hour boat cruise patterned after the popular Loboc River in Bohol.

Sunlight Eco Tourism Island Resort

12. Culion. Overshadowed by its sought-after neighboring towns of Coron and Busuanga, this island town in the Calamian Group is no more the leper colony of the olden days. It boasts of Sunlight Eco Tourism Island Resort, a luxury hotel which is akin to the villas of stilts of Maldives, talcum sand islets, gin-clear water, American-era historical edifices, and dive sites.

13. Dapitan City. When Dr. Jose Rizal was exiled by Spain here for 4 years, it was a forlorn coastal town in northern Zamboanga which would have tested the national hero’s mental health. 130 years later, you would love being banished here for life with the eclectic charm of the so-called Shrine City which bears Rizal’s legacy, the sleepy shores of a fishing village, and an emerging urban hub. But the best part is the sprawling southern paradise of Dakak Park and Beach Resort which has the Villa Angelina Luxury Suites and a new Greg Norman-designed 18-hole golf course, and the world-class Glorious Fantasyland theme park.

Golf in Dakak

14. Dona Remedios Trinidad (DRT). What used to be an obscure town just a few years back is now a nature and adventure getaway just 2 hours north of Manila. Named after the mother of the current presidential mother, DRT is the biggest but most remote and least populous municipality of Bulacan. If you are into trekking uphill trails, caving, chasing waterfalls, mountain biking, river rapid crossing, and other physical activities, DRT is the place to be.

15. Davao Occidental. If you think you have visited all the provinces, here’s a new one you have to tick with its separation from Davao del Sur. Hugging the infinite coast of Davao Gulf, it is a frontier are in the region, just as it was 500 years ago when Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition made its last two stops before heading for its destination in Maluku, Indonesia.

16. Davao De Oro. The rebranded Compostela Valley province, it is proving its worth as “fields of gold” with its natural attributes such as lakes, waterfalls, caves, mountains, springs and indigenous peoples communities. It takes pride in being home to the luxury Dusit Thani Lubi Plantation Resort at Kopiat Island in Mabini town.

17. Davao del Sur. Davao City’s neighbor, this under-the-radar province has one of the challenging trails to Mt. Apo, the country’s highest mountain. You can just just also gaze at the majestic peak at Digos City’s upland villages in Kapatagan and engage in highland recreation and immerse with the Mandaya tribes. Beach bums will delight at the Passig Islet Aqua Eco Park which is just a swimming distance away from Sta. Cruz town proper. 

18. Ifugao. Aside from the iconic Banaue Rice Terraces captured in the P 1,000.00 bill, this highland province has more astounding “stairways to heaven” tucked in the towns of Hungduan, Mayoyao and Kiangan, which are all inscribed in the elite Unesco World Heritage List. These rice terraces are also historic, having been sites of important World War battles and events, including the capture of Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita.

Lakawon Island Resort

19. Lakawon Island. An island resort off Cadiz City, Negros Occidental, it was a sensation for party habitues with the Tawhay Floating Bar. Badly beaten by the pandemic and typhoons, the tropical hideaway just recently reopened its suite rooms to lure again beach bums who love the Boracay-type vibe, with just the right number of people frolicking in the water and basking in the sun.

20. Loon, Bohol. A bucolic town 25 kms from Tagbilaran City, it is the proverbial “big surprise in a small package” with its new parish church built from the earthquake rubble, patches of powdery beaches, and cozy resorts. Must-visits are Vita Isola Leisure Farm with its farm-to-table dining and countryside-themed lodging, and Cabilao Island which has some of the most astounding dive sites in the Visayas.

The Good Food Farm

21. Magdalena. Tucked in the interiors of Laguna, it has earned the moniker of being a “little Hollywood” of sort because of many movies filmed here due to the postcard-pretty town square. A new compelling reason to visit is the newly-opened The Good Food Farm, an emerging integrated farm by Rise Against Hunger Philippines which is also a private resort and special events place. Its centerpiece are the three tropical-themed cabanas called Lusviminda which represents Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

22. Maragondon. This remote town of Cavite hogged the headlines more than a century ago when Katipunan founder Andres Bonifacio was tried and executed here by the men of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. Today, continues to be in the news with its exciting natural adventures—Pantihan Falls and the bamboo raft cruise along the Inuquit River, one of the country’s cleanest inland bodies of water.  

23. Marinduque. The geodetic center of the archipelago based on the 2011 Luzon Datum, this heart-shaped island province beckons visitors drive around and dip in the beaches and hot springs, visit the gardens and farms, climb the mountains, hop around Tres Marias and Maniwaya islands, and marvel at the repurposed unique ancestral homes. The best time to go is during Holy Week for the age-old Moriones Festival, one of the country’s oldest Lenten traditions.

24. Pamplona. Many call it Negros Oriental’s “summer capital” and rightly so because of its altitude which lends in a relatively cool weather. The upland town has tree-canopied highways, touristic farms, and roadside restaurants topped by Café Alicia which has a boutique container van resort, panoramic chapel, hanging bridge, and swimming pool. Another hilltop playground is the 18-hole championship course Negros International Golf and Country Club.

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25. Quirino. Tucked inside Cagayan Valley’s main artery, the province just recently celebrated its golden founding year which should have been held in 2021. As it reopens to tourism, it unveiled its “Basket of Happiness” tour circuit which anchored on five natural and man-made destinations which are ready to receive visitors again. It can be easily accessed via Isabela or the more scenic roads along the Pacific seaboard in Aurora.

26. Romblon. Known for its vast marble industry, this archipelagic province has some of the most stunning and best-kept beaches, sandbars and islands, Spanish-era churches, technically-difficult mountain trails, and other land and water bodies. Tablas is its main and most populous island which hosts the airport, tourist establishments, and major seaport which connects to Batangas City and Caticlan.

27. Samal Island. Separated from Davao City by a strait in the Davao Gulf, this is officially known as the Island Garden City of Samal (Igacos) which belongs to Davao Del Norte. This 301-sq km island is home to the region’s best dive resorts and beach getaways, among them Pearl Farm and Playa Azalea. A multi-billion peso bridge will be built soon to connect it to the mainland.

28. Sarangani. In the blue corner, this “millennial” province is aspiring to be a pound-for-pound champ in its own right much like its famed Fighting Senator. It has an arsenal of power punches with its beaches, paragliding, diving, watersports, and cultural sites. It just turned 30 years old, but actually packs an ancient history with the 2,000-year anthropomorphic man unearthed in its caves in Maitum town.

29. Sicogon. One of the earliest poster images and hideaways of the rich and famous, this island in northern Iloilo is reclaiming its glory days of old with its relaunch under Ayala Land as an eco-tourism estate. It has earth-friendly star-rated lodgings Balay Kogon and Huni Resorts, boutique shops and tourist services. It can be accessed through its own airport with regular AirSwift flights, or commercial flights via Roxas or Iloilo cities.

30. Siquijor. A compact island province still wrapped with the air of mystery, it is reputed for the age-old practice of healing, witchcraft, and other mystical traditions. Reachable by fast-craft or Ro-Ro ships via Dumaguete, it has some of the not-so-secret white sands, dive sites and mountains which many are still hesitant to explore.

31. Sta. Barbara. It’s a pity that the aerial gateway to Iloilo is often glossed over by travelers rushing to get to the city and the rest of the province. As a result, they miss the historic church where the Philippine flag was first waved in the Visayas in November, 1898, the Centennial Museum and the Gen. Martin Delgado monument. They also fail to hit the scenic but challenging fairways of the 115-year old Iloilo Golf and Country Club, the country’s oldest golf course.

32. Sultan Kudarat. Don’t let the fierce-sounding name scare you, as it is among the most peaceful province in Mindanao. Just an hour away from the Gen. Santos City airport, its must-sees are the Baras Bird Sanctuary in Tacurong, Lagbasan Cave in Sen. Ninoy Aquino, the beaches and dive sites of Kalamansig, and the palatial provincial capitol in Isulan.

33. Tawi-Tawi. The archipelago’s southernmost province, it is also dubbed as the “Edge of Paradise” and is closer to Sabah, Malaysia than Manila. Perhaps one of the most peaceful in the Bangsamoro Region, its virgin beaches and islands have long been known to many travelers who are still summoning their determination to finally set foot in this last frontier.

34. Tingloy. Known mostly to scuba divers in the Anilao area, this is the only island town in Batangas province reachable through the ports in Mabini town. With a laid-back ambiance, this is the closest you can get to basic island living with most parts in its raw charm. Its islands—Caban and Sombrero—are favorites for island hopping in Balayan Bay.

Alvarez Park Café

35. Valenzuela. For an out-of-town ambiance within the megacity, this industrial city in north metro has managed to retain its rural allure in some parts. Bgy. Tagalag is a frequented spot which is dotted by fishing village-themed dining spots, most notably Alvarez Park Café which has a floating restaurant. Soon to rise in the old town proper is the Dr. Pio Valenzuela Museum, which is built in honor of the hero the city was named after.

36. Zambales. Situated just outside the Subic Freeport, Magalawa Island in Palauig, Zambales experienced a phenomenal growth during the pandemic with the construction of cozy lodgings which is geared towards surfing, glamping, beach yoga, kayaking, island-hopping, ATV rides and other close-to-nature adventures.

Magalawa Island in Palauig, Zambales

37. Zamboanga Sibugay. This 21-years old province hardly appears on the traveler’s radar despite its plethora of divine natural endowments. With Ipil as provincial capital, it can be reached via the airports of Zamboanga or Pagadian cities. Foray into this frontier soon and you might just have a beguiling beach unto yourself.