Quezon Province: Destinations at Metro Manila’s Doorstep

Quezon used to be one of the provinces that were last on our list of tour destinations close to Metro Manila. Sure there were beaches all over the place and some hilly or mountainous areas but the few rare occasions when we visited left us feeling unimpressed about the province. Time, however, would prove us wrong.

a beach in Padre Burgos town, Quezon
A beach at Padre Burgos town, Quezon

Real

Several years ago we were surprised to learn that the shortest route to the Pacific Ocean from Metro Manila was through the northern towns of Laguna and into the town of Real. The raging swells of the Pacific had begun to make this town a surfing magnet even back then. And while Real’s beaches might not be white, the turquoise waters and the rocky, rugged coastline gave it a beauty all its own.

Balagbag Falls showing both first and second tiers
Balagbag Falls in Barangay Malapad, Real, Quezon

Inland are several pristine waterfalls, most of them tucked away in lush jungle foliage, feeding into fast-moving rivers where white water rafting is now being offered to visitors. There are three waterfalls, however, that are just a short walk away from the main roads that pass through town: Balagbag Falls, Nonok Falls and Cawayan Falls.

Nonok Falls
Nonok Falls

Balagbag Falls is the tallest among the three with a 100 feet drop divided into two tiers. It’s just a short walk from the Real-Mauban Road. Just a kilometer south along this road is the entrance to Nonok Falls (sometimes called Lunok Falls), which is shorter than Balagbag at 10 meters but is surrounded by beautifully chiseled rock formations. Its catch basin is also bigger than Balagbag’s and more favorable for swimming. We have yet to see Cawayan Falls but learned that it is composed of a series of 6 small cascades with the first waterfall an easy walk from the Real-Infanta Road.

colorful groupers at one of the seafood stalls in Tignoan, Real, Quezon
Groupers of various colors at the seafood market in Tignoan, Real.

A favorite pit stop at Real is the seafood market at Tignoan, along the highway to Infanta. You can shop for fresh catch at the various stalls here then have them cooked at one of the nearby stalls, dampa-style.

Padre Burgos

We’ve always assumed all the beaches in Quezon had either brown or gray sand and were plain-looking for the most part. That perception changed in 2011 when we visited this town at the base of the Bondoc Peninsula. Although it might be almost 4 hours away from Manila, Padre Burgos has the white sand beaches of Damplitan Island and Lipata.

Dampalitan Beach in Padre Burgos
Approaching a beach on Dampalitan Island

Dampalitan Island is less than 15 minutes by boat from the Quezon mainland and has a white sand beach set against a backdrop of coconut palms and evergreen trees. To the east of Dampalitan – actually an extension of it – is Mangayao Island and its Eco-Agri Tourism Park, an area of mangroves on a white sand beach.

mangroves on a beach at Mangayao Island
Mangroves on a beach at Mangayao Island

Just west of Dampalitan is Pagbilao Chica Island. It’s not really an island but an extension of the larger Pagbilao Grande Island and connected by a short isthmus to the latter. Barangay Lipata occupies most of Pagbilao Chica Island and includes a few white sand beaches including the beach occupied by Borawan Island Resort. This popular beach resort has creamy beige sand dominated by towering karst formations. In 2011 when we first visited this beach, we were practically the only boatload of visitors. That changed five years later on our next visit when we encountered a sizable weekday crowd on Borawan’s shores.

the quiet northern beach of Borawan
The quiet northern section of Borawan

Pagbilao

West of Lipata and Pagbilao Chica Island is the latter’s bigger sister, Pagbilao Grande Island, a part of the municipality of Pagbilao. There are a number of white sand coves and beaches on this island’s southern shores but the most scenic and most popular is Putting Buhangin Beach with the adjoining Kuwebang Lampas. The latter is a small cave on the southern end of the beach that opens up to the sea on the other side.

Lazy Afternooon
Puting Buhangin Beach in Pagbilao

Inland, Pagbilao has several cascades including Malicboy and Katapang Falls. One may also take time to visit Quezon National Park with its giant trees and several bird species. This park is serviced by well-established trails so hiking should be a breeze here.

Kwebang Lampas back in 2011
Kwebang Lampas

Mauban

Another previously unknown town, Mauban got its share of tourist attention because of an island that lies just off the waters of Lamon Bay: Cagbalete. This island gained fame for the low tide phenomenon on its eastern shores where the sea retreats as far back as a kilometer, exposing a wide swath of the white beach with its beautiful pattern of sand ripples.

the Yang-In Sandbar at low tide
Sand ripples at the Yang-In sandbar at Cagbalete Island’s northwestern side

But there’s an even longer section of white sand beach that gets exposed during low tide – as much as 3 kilometers according to some locals – on the northwestern side of Cagbalete. Known as the Yang-In Sandbar (although it’s technically not a sandbar), this area also resembles a vast swimming pool during high tide when the whole place is filled with shallow, crystal-clear water.

swimming at the Yang-In sandbar at high tide
High tide turns the Yang-in sandbar into a giant swimming pool

Mauban is more than Cagbalete, however. Aside from the heritage houses, there are forests and waterfalls not too far from the city center. Locals say there are as many as 20 although only 3 or 4 are accessible at the moment including Dahoyhoy Falls, Hagdan-Hagdan Falls and Bisibis Falls.

Dahoyhoy Falls in Mauban, Quezon
Dahoyhoy Falls

Tiaong and Lucban

These two towns were actually the first places we visited in the province with the exception of Lucena, the biggest city in Quezon. We often drop by Tiaong, where Villa Escudero is located, to visit Nina’s uncle and aunt who have built a retirement home at Hacienda Escudero. Tiaong is also the site of Ugu Bigyan’s Pottery Garden where we got to view his impressive pottery work and beautiful garden at least 3 times. Not too far from the town center is peaceful Lake Tikub, a nearly circular crater lake surrounded by a lush forested area.

pottery craft and decorations on display
Ugu Bigyan’s pottery and other art works on display

Lukban is of course famous for its Pahiyas Festival and although we weren’t able to drop in on the town during this festive occasion, two previous visits allowed us to sample Lukban’s famous longganisa and pansit habhab.

nearing sunset at Cagbalete Island's southeastern side
Sunset at Cagbalete Island

Our Quezon Bucket List

Quezon is a large province and there are many more destinations we are eagerly waiting to visit. Most of these, however, are already far from Manila, needing more than 4 hours to get there.

Hangga Falls (Maapon Falls), Sampaloc is a beautiful, multi-tiered falls near the Sampaloc-Lukban boundary. One has to hike for 1.5 hours to get here. It’s still relatively unknown and seldom visited.

The Polilio Group of Islands lies off the coast of Real and Infanta and consists of 27 remote, unspoiled islands of deserted white sand beaches, pristine waters containing colorful marine species and virgin forests.

Located southeast of Polilio is Jomalig Island with the stunning golden sand beaches of Salibungot and Kanaway among others. One has to travel by boat for at least 6 hours from the port at Real to get here.

Balesin Island won’t pass as a shoestring traveler-friendly destination because of its private resort that won’t allow visits by people other than their guests. Still we believe it is worth mentioning for its beautiful white sand beaches.

Pulong Pasig is another white sand island with a long sandbar and crystal-clear waters. It is located in Calauag, the last town in Quezon on the main highway going to Camarines Norte. Coming from Metro Manila, this means 5-7 hours of land travel plus 2 hours by boat from the port of Calauag.

Adorned with fine white sand beaches, clear waters and lush mangroves, Alibijaban Island in San Andres town at the tip of the Bondoc Peninsula is the farthest destination in Quezon if you’re coming from Metro Manila (300 kilometers +). But the island’s beauty and laid-back vibes should make the long trip worthwhile. Some visitors use Alibijaban as the jump-off point for a tour of the islands off San Pascual, Burias Island in Masbate.

Two other towns in Quezon’s Bondoc Peninsula are worth mentioning here: San Narciso with its pristine beaches and rock formations and caves and San Francisco where Tigbi Falls is located.

There’s a lot more destinations in this province that we haven’t mentioned here but all these just goes to show how much we’ve seriously underestimated this province’s tourism potential just more than a decade ago.

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