AROUND MANILA 

The island of Luzon has Manila at its heart, and the Capital is surrounded by several volcanoes, of which the most famous is Mount Pinatubo, which became global news when it erupted in 1991, fatefully and catastrophically coinciding with a Typhoon, which caused deadly volcanic mudslides and utterly devastated the surrounding area.

Crater Lake, Mount Pinatubo, Luzon, Philippines

Today, you can climb the still active volcano from Santa Juliana and visit its crater lake. Nearby, to the east, another volcano, Mount Arayat, is a dormant alternative. 

To the south of Mount Pinatubo, the Bataan Peninsula is the site of the famous Second World War Bataan Death March, commemorated at the Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valour) site on Mount Samat. Nearby Subic Bay is a focal point for scuba divers, who can explore the wartime maritime wrecks of the USS New York and other ships scuttled to prevent Japanese capture in 1941. 

South of the Bataan Peninsula, the island of Corregidor is also a historic wartime site, sitting in Manila Bay and an easy day trip from the Capital, featuring General MacArthur’s Headquarters, barracks, gun batteries and a museum. 

If the wartime wrecks aren’t your kind of diving, Anilao, to the south of the Capital, is the Philippines original recreational dive destination, and is home to some very good dive sites situated in the bay beyond. 

Nearby Lake Taal provides the awesome spectacle of Volcano Island, jutting out from the lake’s surface, the largest of its conical craters within itself containing its own lake and small island. 

Taal Crater Lake, Luzon, Philippines

Taal Lake itself is formed within a massive caldera comprised of 47 craters and 35 volcanic cones and is still active, with awesome destructive potential. 

To the east of Taal Lake, another volcano, Mount Banahaw is a site of pilgrimage, regarded as the dwelling place of many spirits, including that of national hero Jose Rizal, making it the focus of attention for many indigenous cults. At a height of 2,177 metres (7,142 feet), the mountain is a popular trek, rewarding with a descent into its 600 metre (1,968 feet) dormant crater. 

Just a little north of Mount Banahaw, is Laguna de Bay, Luzon’s largest lake, to the east of which sits Pagsanjan Gorge National Park, the focal point of canoe trips through the gorge up to Magdapio falls and a modern ‘pilgrimage’ site for fans of the film ‘Apocalypse Now’ as the enigmatic site of Kurtz’s compound, though you won't find here the enigmatic stone head that appears in the final sequence which is spliced in from Angkor in Cambodia.

NORTHERN LUZON 

To the west of Mount Pinatubo, there are a number of beach resorts around the town of Iba, but the best beaches here are found a little further up the coast near Santa Cruz, with offshore Pulpot, Hermana Menor, and Hermana Mayor Islands having lovely white beaches worth visiting if you’re in the vicinity. 

North of the Mount Pinatubo area, Lingayen Gulf, on Luzon’s west coast, is the location of the amphibious Japanese and latterly American counter landings during the Second World War. The Lingayen Gulf War Museum in Lingayen Town commemorates the liberating American landings.

Within the bay, Hundred Islands National Park is a popular visitor attraction, with some good beaches and diving opportunities, though much of the coral has unfortunately been destroyed by shortsighted fishing practices. On the western coastal edge of the bay, Bolinar and Patar have a few good beaches between them.  

A little way up the coast, San Fernando (La Union) is a surfing Mecca during the winter months, renowned for the consistency of its waves.

Ricefields at Banaue, Cordillera, Luzon, Philippines

Inland from the beach, the upland area known as the Cordillera begins, just north of Ambuklao Lake, above which Kabayan sits in a mountainous area of picturesque rice terraces, part of Mount Pulag National Park, famous for its Timbac Mummy Caves, where you can explore the mummification processes of the local Ibaloi people. The park is also a good spot for trekking up to and around the mountain.

Ifugao Tribal Totems, Cordillera, Luzon, Philippines

Trekking is the main activity further up the Cordillera, especially in the old headhunting areas of Kalinga and Banaue, where you can experience the famously tattooed native cultures. The amazing craftsmanship of the Ifugao people’s rice terraces at Banaue have earned UNESCO World Heritage status. Another good trekking location renowned for its rice terraces is Sagada, also known for its hanging coffins practices. 

Hanging Coffins, Corillera, Luzon, Philippines

Back on the west coast, Vigan is another delightful UNESCO World Heritage site and is the best-preserved example of a Spanish colonial township, sitting within the heart of the modern cacophony of the city. A horse-drawn tour of its cobbled streets, courtyards and balconied mansions is the traditional way to imbibe its characterful commingled Spanish and Chinese charm.

Vigan, Luzon, Philippines

On the far northern coast of Luzon, Pagudpud’s three white sand beaches set against the shimmering South China Sea are a beautiful place to escape from the hectic world of Filipino daily life and indulge in swimming, snorkelling, and even surfing. Other activities found here are mountain biking and trekking to the Bangui Bay Windmills, Kabigan Falls and Cape Bojeador Lighthouse. 

Offshore from the northern tip of Luzon are the Babuyan Islands, where you can go whale watching, and even further beyond the horizon, the remote Batanes, the most developed of which is Batan Island and its White Beach, while neighbouring Sabtang Island also has some very fine beaches and more authentic local culture. 

Travelling southward from Luzon’s tip, Tuguegarao city is the base for explorations into the local caves, of which there are over three hundred, the most notable of which are the seven chambered Callao Cave, Sierra Cave and, for serious experienced cavers only, Odessa Cave. The area is also good for rafting. 

Further south, Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park is a huge forested wilderness, home to many of the Philippines’ most endangered creatures and a virtually uninhabited paradise for guided trekking. 

Further south yet, Baler is also a prized destination for ‘Apocalypse Now’ devotees, as the site of the famous cinematic surfing scene, standing in for a surf-break in Vietnam, but paradoxically the surf here is generally diminutive, and likely to disappoint. 

SOUTHERN LUZON 

The numerous volcanic mountains are the main attraction for many in the southern reaches of Luzon, the most prominent of which are Mount Lubo, Mount Asog, Mount Isarog, Mount Triga, Mount Bulusan and the beautifully photogenic Mount Mayon.

Mount Mayon, Luzon, Philippines

Mount Isarog National Park is the gateway to the dormant volcano’s summit at 1,966 metres (6,450 feet). In the park, a welcome break from trekking is provided by the cooling pool at Malabsay Falls. Another opportunity for a dip is available at Mount Isarog Hot Springs. 

Mount Mayon, at 2,462 metres (8,077 feet), is the defining volcano of the Philippines, the conical perfection and perpetual plume of which seduces its way through countless camera shutters.  

Climbing this active volcano is popular, but can be a risky enterprise beyond 1,800 metres after which the inhalation of gases becomes a serious concern. The volcano is the most active of all the Philippines volcanoes and among the world’s most dangerous, which for some only adds to its seductive appeal.  

Mount Bulusan is the island’s southernmost volcano and is the central feature of a national park of the same name, with the mountain’s four craters and four hot springs, Lake Bulusan, Lake Aguinay and the pool at Palogtoc Falls the main features to explore.

The Caramoan Peninsula, north of mount Isarog is a beautifully scenic area with some very fine coastal beaches, even more of which can be found among the delightful litter of offshore islands, which could happily keep the beachcomber and snorkeler busy for far more time than they are ever likely to have free.

Offshore from the eastern edge of the Caramoan Peninsula, the larger Island of Catanduanes is most visited for the renowned Majestics surfing break to be found on its east coast at Pururan Bay, with the surf at its very best between August and October.

snorkelling with Whale Sharks, Luzon, Philippines

The south coast town of Donsal is a magnet for the much sought after experience of snorkelling among the beautifully serene Whale Sharks, which congregate here between November and June, with the population at its maximum between March and April, when a sighting of these gentle giants is virtually guaranteed.

Manta Ray, Luzon, Philippines 

Across the water, near the island of Ticao, is the Manta Bowl, a world famous dive site, where you can witness not only Whale Sharks but also the awesomely elegant Giant Mantas as they gather at this cleaning station, serviced by the ever obliging wrasse cleaner fish.

 

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