|Southern Luzon, Batangas|
|Southern Luzon, Batangas|
Southern LuzonThe area of Luzon immediately south of Manila encompasses some of the country's most popular tourist destinations - as well as a number of undeveloped provinces that few tourists take time to see. The province of Batangas, two hours south of Manila by road, contains the most popular tourist attractions and beaches around Manila and has a number of good resorts and hotels that get busy at weekends with trippers coming down from the capital. The two main destinations here are the area around Taal Lake and its volcano, and an area further south known as Anilao, where there's some excellent scuba diving.
A lengthy trip by road from the capital, the southern part of Quezon province hasn't anything rivalling either the beautiful beaches of the Visayas and Palawan or the interesting tribal communities of the far north and Mindanao. It's best known for the colourful annual Pahiyas festival, celebrated mostly in the town of Lucban, but also in many other towns and barangays. Quezon also offers access to the southern flank of Mount Banahaw, a revered dormant volcano that presents one of the toughest but most rewarding climbs in the country. The province is linked by ferry to the island of Marinduque, which is the place to sample barrio life in its purest form, untouched by mass tourism and with none of the unfettered development that has encroached on provinces closer to Manila. Marinduque also has some lovely, unspoiled coast and cheap resorts, and is known for its annual Easter festival, the Moriones, one of the biggest and most colourful in the country.
The region south of Quezon is technically called Region V, but is known to Filipinos as Bicol (or Bicolandia or South Luzon), a narrow finger of land whose southern tip is close to the Visayan island of Samar. Bicol is a raw and exotic part of the country, full of exciting opportunities to get off the beaten track and see the rural Philippines without the distraction of shopping malls and luxury resorts. Most visitors to the region head straight for the most alluring sight, Mount Mayon, an immense active volcano near Legaspi. Bicol also has a number of other wilderness areas offering some adventurous trekking and climbing, while further south, off the coast of Donsol in Sorsogon province is the best place in the country to spot whale sharks.
Batangas province is served by frequent buses from Manila and makes a feasible overnight destination or even a day-trip, though that would require a very early start to make it worthwhile. There are also regular, if not quite so frequent, buses through Quezon and Bicol, though if you're heading for Legaspi it's worth flying - this can save up to ten hours on the road journey.
Batangas province has some impressive natural attractions, most notably Taal Lake and the small, active Taal Volcano at its centre. Nearby Taal Town retains some of the period atmosphere of Spanish colonization, while on the southeastern shore of Taal Lake is Mount Maculot, one of the best easy climbs in the Philippines. In the southwest there are also beach resorts at Nasugbu and Anilao, the latter offering terrific scuba diving.
There are signs that the provincial capital, BATANGAS CITY, is springing into life, with a new pier and talk of numerous industrial zones. Its only significance for most visitors is as a transit point on the journey to Puerto Galera on Mindoro (see p. 209). BLTB buses to Batangas City leave from Pasay in Manila (P120), going first to the ferry pier (ferry tickets can be bought in the terminal building; ferry schedules are on t043/723 8245) and then to the bus terminal in J. P. Rizal Avenue, near the cathedral. Numerous buses wait at the pier for the trip to Manila; try to take a direct bus marked for Pasay - some buses go through the barrios, making it a long journey - so either ask the driver what route he's taking or look out for the "Direcho" sign in the window. Among the ferry companies represented in Batangas City are Viva Shipping Lines (t043/723 1422) and Montenegro Lines (t043/723 8294).
Be careful on buses heading to and from the ferry terminal, which are sometimes the focus of petty thieves who target tourists, adroitly slitting open your bag with a sharp knife, taking a few belongings and then getting off the bus before you realize what's happened. If you get stuck overnight in Batangas you can take your pick from a number of poorly maintained flophouses, or try the rather better Avenue Pension House (t043/725 3720; 3) at 30 J. P. Rizal Avenue. There's also a Days Hotel (t043/980 7321; 6) in the Pallocan suburb on the northern outskirts of the city; the rooms are good, but the hotel is a twenty-minute drive from the city so you'll need to take a hotel taxi from here to the pier. If you're arriving by bus from the north, ask the driver to let you off on the main road near the hotel and get a tricycle the rest of the way; arriving at the pier, you'll need to head into the centre, then get a jeepney for Pallocan from J. P. Rizal Avenue.
The closest beaches and scuba diving to Manila are in Batangas, mostly around Nasugbu on the west coast and the barangay of Anilao on Janao Bay, 20km west of Batangas City. Nasugbu is a slightly shorter journey, and boasts a handful of good, established beach resorts where accommodation is inexpensive and the atmosphere is relaxed. However, the diving here is nowhere near as good as it is at Anilao, where you can charter a banca to take you out to offshore islands such as Sombrero, Culebra and Bunny, offering good snorkelling and diving as well as many small, sandy coves on which to relax. The beach at Anilao itself is stony but clean, and for accommodation there are more than a dozen resorts stretched along the coast to the west.
Article & Photo Source: The Rough Guide to The Philippines (written and researched by David Dalton)