82 kilometers from Metro Manila is a glistening body of water that would make the perfect backdrop for a sweeping romantic movie. It’s no surprise that Sampalok Lake in San Pablo, Laguna was the first stop of the Philippine Tour Operators Association (PHILTOA) Southern Tagalog Caravan – a three-day sightseeing and food tour showcasing the best Laguna has to offer. The tour took place last May but its jam-packed itinerary is something anyone with a driver’s license and a sense of adventure can easily replicate.
Stop #1 San Pablo, Laguna
As mentioned earlier, the ultimate Laguna road trip must begin with a sunrise viewing at Sampalok Lake. With its crystal clear water strewn with lilies and wooden rafts, expect to take loads of selfies and landscape photos while marveling at this natural wonder.
After the photo session, guides recommend traveling a short distance to the rustic Casa San Pablo for a traditional 7 Lakes Breakfast. The 7 Lakes Breakfast consists of pinaete or shrimp paste cooked in coconut cream, dried biya from Laguna de Bay, longganisa, a salted egg and tomato salad, plus garlic rice. If this hearty meal isn’t enough you, you can wash it down with some piping hot tsokolate with pinipig.
San Pablo was well known for its coconut plantations, so be sure to bring home or at least sample the town’s various panatapik or coconut based desserts. If you’re in luck the staff of Casa San Pablo may even show you the raw fruit in its various stages.
Stop #2 Victoria, Laguna
The next stop on the ultimate Laguna road trip is a place some people may already be familiar with. Aside from being featured on the reality TV show “The Amazing Race”, the town of Victoria is also famous for being the home of the best balut in Laguna. There are many brands of duck eggs for sale here but guides swear by the products of Itlog ni Kuya. This comes as no surprise as the farm and factory of Itlog ni Kuya is based within the municipality.
Stop #3 Pila, Laguna
Around 6 kilometers away from Victoria is Pila, a quaint space seemingly frozen in time. Declared a national historical landmark by the National Historical Institute (NHI), the town’s colonial style buildings and architecture offer a glimpse of what life was like decades in the past. One can spend hours exploring the ins and outs of Pila’s well-preserved heritage houses.
With regard to dining, locals in the past and present enjoy celebrating special occasions by feasting on a boodle fight highlighting hometown delicacies such as ginataang hipon, sinukmani or a localized version of biko, and puto pila. According to guides, the best puto pila comes from Lucing’s Puto, a small hole in the wall bakery near the town’s center.
Stop #4 Nagcarlan, Laguna
After sightseeing in Pila, it’s highly recommended to make a quick stop in the town of Nagcarlan, to visit the Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery. The cemetery was established during the Spanish occupation to bury prominent figures and serves as a precious link to our colonial past.
Beside the Underground Cemetery, are local food stores where visitors can snack on a local delicacy called minudong gulay. This twist on the traditional menudo dish makes use of vegetables, coconut milk, and peanuts instead of the usual meat and tomato sauce ingredients.
Stop# 5 Liliw, Laguna
Half an hour away from Nagcarlan is Liliw also known as the Footwear Capital of Laguna. Liliw is famous for its tsinelas festival and if you walk around the town, you’ll find vestiges of the fiesta in the form of oversized shoes and slipper decorating various stalls. Guides claim that a lot of the footwear sold in Manila are made in Liliw, so if you’re into shoes and discounts, now is the perfect time to do some serious shopping.
Stop #6 Majayjay, Laguna
No Filipino road trip is complete without a stop at a church or cathedral and Majayjay’s 17th century St. Gregory, The Great Parish Church is a sight to behold. A favorite location for period films and TV shows, this imposing stone structure is the perfect pit stop for those in need of a spiritual break.
Stop #7 Costales Nature Farm
The final destination of the ultimate Laguna road trip is Costales Nature Farms. Costales Farms is a land-to-table agricultural concept developed to support local farmers. It also doubles as an eco-friendly hotel and restaurant that which only serves fresh organic produce and ingredients.
When guests are done relaxing in their villas, they are encouraged to explore the property’s various sites including the vast vegetable nursery, rabbit farm, poultry cage, and fish pen. Each site serves as proof that Laguna espouses sustainable and eco-friendly farming. As an added bonus, visitors can even request to catch fish and pick their own vegetables for the full rural living experience.
As extensive as this itinerary may seem, there are still so many sights, sounds, and tastes to explore in the province of Laguna and the rest of the Tagalog region. Hopefully, this will encourage more people to pack their bags and take that road trip down south. It’s definitely worth the mileage.
The Southern Tagalog Kulinarya Caravan is organized by Philippine Tour Operators Association (PHILTOA); it is one of the many Caravan Programs it will be offering at The 28th Philippine Travel Mart on September 1 to 3, 2017. For more information, visit www.philtoa.com.