Do you have a few days to spend in Manila with no itinerary? Would you prefer to stay near Manila rather than waste time and money flying? Are you simply fed up of Manila’s chaos?!
If you’re in Manila and none of the cultural city activities appeal to you, my honest recommendation would be to head out into the nearby wilds! Don't miss out on Luzon's much-overlooked beautiful natural landscapes.
There are some world class, world famous oceans, beaches and volcanoes only 1 to 5 hours away from Manila. (Depending on traffic, of course.)
Between you and I, Manila is not my favourite place in the Philippines. The traffic jams and pollution frustrated me to no end when I was working there daily. How did I keep sane, you ask? Weekend escapes kept me sane!
I've picked out my top 5 favourite weekend getaways near Manila, which I have visited time and time again. To get there, you can drive, carpool, rent a car with a driver, hop on a cheap and cheerful bus, or take a van shuttle.
1. Tagaytay (Taal Volcano), Batangas
Around 2 hours away from Manila (traffic depending), Tagaytay and the stunning Taal Lake is a beautifully hilly holiday escape in the Cavite district.
Tagaytay is known for its wooden crafts, sweet local pineapples, delicious coffee, breezy mountainous air, cooler temperatures, and – best of all – Taal Volcano Island, the world’s smallest active volcano, surrounded by Taal Lake. It is utterly, fabulously gorgeous.
Because of its proximity to the capital, Tagaytay is a very popular weekend destination for those based in Manila. Sometimes it can get downright crowded in peak season and on Saturdays. But it’s always worth it for those insane lake views.
I recommend hiring a boat or Taal tour, and hiking up the mountain (about 1-1.5 hours on foot - I don't condone using the horses!) to see some exquisite views and smell the eggy sulphur in the crater! I'd also do this in monsoon season or before noon before the sun breaks. You can get dehydrated very quickly if it's hot!
2. Anilao, Mabini, Batangas
Batangas, where Tagaytay is situated, is a gorgeous province filled with world-class marine life. Anilao is a 2 to 3 hour drive from Manila, situated along the coastline curve.
Scuba divers and snorkelers, this one’s for you. I spent almost every other weekend in Anilao after passing my scuba diving licenses – and for good reason. Beautiful weather, crystal clear water, insane sunsets.
Anilao, about a 2 to 4 hour drive from Manila, is famous especially for its macro marine life. There are all sorts of snorkelling and diving spots – Cathedral, Casino, Tinggloy, Mabini – in the area accessible by boat. You’ll see turtles, clownfish and more.
If you don’t dive or swim, that’s fine. There are PLENTY of other places in the region to explore – including hills for hiking and beautiful mountain chalets, such as Cortija del Charro, a private safari lodge with a pool at the top of a mountain, overlooking the sea.
(If you’re going to Anilao, I recommend Acacia Resort – that’s where I stayed every time with Manila Dive Academy. Great food, great views, great hospitality. Unfortunately branches of their acacia tree got damaged in a recent storm.)
3. Subic Bay, Zambales
About 3 to 6 hours from Manila, Subic (a former US naval base) is a coastal area in Zambales province.
Zambales is full of mountains, islands and the famous Mount Pinatubo volcano. Subic Bay, a beautiful picturesque bay of water in the heart of Zambales, has everything a family or person could want in a weekend getaway: nature, water, and plenty of opportunities for adventurous activities.
Under no circumstances do I condone beautiful wild marine animals locked up in a park for profit – but there’s Subic Ocean Adventure Park where you can watch dolphin shows, swim and dive with dolphins, see all kinds of baby dolphins, sharks, turtles, and more. It kinda sucks because these beautiful creatures are right beside the ocean.
Last year, I took a friend horse riding in Subic at the beautifully maintained El Kabayo stables, then we rented kayaks (specifically, we did the Mangrove Reef kayaking tour) from Camayan Beach Resort, which offers paddleboarding too.
We got to kayak into gorgeous wild mangroves, peer down into a shipwreck, and then – AND THEN – as the sun was setting, we paddled next to the dolphin enclosure and watched baby dolphins flipping out of the water during sunset. IT. WAS. AMAZING.
Highly recommend Subic. Island hopping around Zambales is great too. Just less convenient.
4. Baler, Aurora
Baler, famous for being the birthplace of Philippine surf culture, is a 3 to 5 hour drive from Manila, perfect for some seaside rest and relaxation.
Surfer, non-surfer, general human. There's so much in Baler for you to do. There are a handful of resorts, hotels and hostels and a super strong entrepreneurial culture of local shops cropping up in Baler.
Baler is seriously chilled, and all the locals are lovely. You can rent surfboards, have surf lessons on the cheap, rent a scooter, check out some nearby waterfalls, hike a hill, climb a century-old Balete tree, and just chill out beach-side.
There are beautiful mangroves around there and lots of ‘hidden jewels’ of nature waiting to be explored. Plus, the misty golden morning sunrise is, genuinely, something out of this world. Go, go, go.
5. Baguio, Benguet
Baguio, a breezy and artsy mountain town in the northern Philippines, is a popular holiday and resort destination 3 to 4 hours away from Manila.
Baguio is highly popular during summer season because of its cooler weather. It’s also the main rest stop for travellers heading up to rice terrace heaven in Sagada, Banaue, and Kalinga, about 8 to 10 hours away from Manila.
Despite getting more commercialised and traffic clogged, Baguio remains famous for its cultural scene.
Baguio has vintage clothing bazaars, a night market selling all sorts of weird and wonderful local delicacies, horse riding, strawberry picking, art museums, golf and spa resorts such as Baguio Country Club and Camp John Hay, and Good Shepherd Convent, a mountain convent that produces its local range of jams and spreads.
My mum’s family used to own a cabin here and they’d holiday there frequently. Sadly, they sold the cabin, but the good memories live on. There’s plenty to do here!
There are no doubt many other places to escape near Manila, and I may put together a more comprehensive list in future – but these would be my top 5 escapes. Number 6 on the list would include La Union Beach, San Juan and number 7 would be Pundaquit Beach, Zambales.
All of these trips can be done either on a shoestring budget, or in luxury style. That's my favourite thing about the Philippines: the country caters to everyone and anyone.
Do you have any other recommendations?
Mel left London to chase summer around the world, one country at a time. She loves the ocean, writing postcards, and solo exploration. Travel with her on Instagram.