Laguna: In Our Crosshairs for a Quick Getaway

This province is a no-brainer any time we want a quick and easy break away from the concrete jungle of Metro Manila. With its picturesque waterfalls, hot and cold springs, scenic lakes and historic spots, Laguna is a veritable plethora of natural, cultural and historical gems.

Western Laguna

view of Dampalit Falls from downstream
Dampalit Falls can dry up during the summer months

The towns of western Laguna lie on the southern shores of Laguna de Bay, the largest freshwater lake in the country. Because of its proximity to Metro Manila this area has seen rapid urbanization although there are still pockets where nature has been preserved. An example is Los Baños, a town known for its hot springs along with nearby Calamba, but which also has the Makiling Rainforest Park. Seven years ago we discovered that there is a waterfall tucked away inside a forest at the Mt. Makiling Nature Reserve: the Dampalit Falls.

Eastern Laguna

the San Antonio de Padua de Pila Church and National Shrine
The San Antonio de Padua de Pila Church and National Shrine in Pila town

Along the road from Los Baños to Santa Cruz is the town of Pila with its ancestral houses. This town was declared a National Historic Landmark last 2000 by the National Historical Institute of the Philippines, one of only 4 places in the country to receive this distinction. Head to the town plaza to see the parish church of San Antonio de Padua de Pila. Surrounding the town plaza are 36 preserved late 19th to early 20th century houses.

the Alava Ancestral House, Pila
The Alava Ancestral House in Pila

Just past Santa Cruz is the town of Pagsanjan of the “shooting the rapids” fame. Here tourists can take a boat ride along the Bumbungan River before entering a forest-fringed canyon where the ride takes on a frenetic pace. The ride ends at the iconic Cavinti Falls, known for a long time as Pagsanjan Falls. This waterfall lies within the town of Cavinti, hence the change in name.

Cavinti is not as urbanized as the other western Laguna towns and a large part of it is forested and contains several natural attractions, some of which have only started popping up on the tourism radar in recent years. Among them is the Cavinti Underground River and Caves Complex and its stunning rock formations (there are more than a hundred caves in the area), the Cansuso Falls and the Sumucab Twin Falls, a remote but beautiful waterfall reachable by a moderately long hike.

Bumbungan Eco Park waterfalls
The man-made waterfall at Bumbungan Eco Park, Cavinti

A manmade attraction in Cavinti is the Bumbungan Eco-Park formed by the construction of a dam and spillway across the Bumbungan River creating a waterfall in the process. Another manmade attraction is Lumot Lake, created when the Lumot River was dammed to function as an auxiliary reservoir for the Caliraya Dam.

Lumot Lake, Cavinti, viewed from the Lumban-Caliraya-Cavinti Road
Lumot Lake viewed from the Lumban-Caliraya-Cavinti Road

The Towns at the Foot of Mount Banahaw

4 of the Seven Lakes in San Pablo, Laguna
Clockwise from Top Left: Lake Mohikap, Lake Bunot, Lake Pandin and Lake Yambo

Moving south from Laguna de Bay and towards Batangas and Quezon provinces, the scenery shifts from lowland lakeshore towns to wooded and hilly municipalities at the foot of Mounts Banahaw and San Cristobal. San Pablo City, one of the oldest in the country, is a major commercial center this side of Laguna. This city is also famous for its Seven Lakes, namely Lakes Sampaloc, Pandin, Yambo, Bunot, Calibato, Mohikap and Palakpakin.

Bunga Falls, Nagcarlan, Laguna
Bunga Falls, Nagcarlan

Along the road to Lucban, Quezon from San Pablo is the town of Nagcarlan. Used as a jump-off point to several peaks in the area by trekkers, Nagcarlan is home to many mountain spring resorts. However, the most attractive destinations in town for us are Bunga Falls and the Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery. Lake Yambo, one of the Seven Lakes can also be reached via a road in this town.

the San Juan Bautista Church and slippers at a shop in Liliw
Left: the San Juan Bautista Church; Right: inside one of the footwear shops in Liliw

After Nagcarlan is the quaint town of Liliw. This town used to be popular for its cold springs but in recent years it has emerged as the Tsinelas Capital of the country for its footwear industry. So if looking for cheap but attractive and well-made slippers and other footwear this is the place to be. As visitors shop at Liliw they can catch a break to visit the beautiful red brick San Juan Bautista Church or the many old houses along Gat Tayaw Street. And dine at two of the best restaurants in these parts: Chef Mau Restaurant and Arabela Italian Restaurant.

Eggplant Parmigiana and Penne Arrabiata
Pasta dishes at Liliw’s Arabela Italian Restaurant
Blueberry Cheesecake and Strawberry and Mango Cheesecake
Cheesecakes at Arabela restaurant

The last town after Liliw and just before the crossing to Lukban in Quezon province is the town of Majayjay. There are 2 popular waterfalls here: Taytay Falls and Bukal Falls (known as Kilangin Falls to those from Liliw). Both waterfalls may be reached via moderate hikes. Majayjay also has its share of spring resorts, the most popular being Dalitiwan Resort. If touring the town be sure to also check out San Gregorio Magno Parish Church in the town plaza and Samkara Restaurant and Garden Resort on the road to Lukban.

Taytay Falls and Bukal Falls and Stream in Majayjay, Laguna
The most popular tourist spots at Majayjay: Taytay Falls and Bukal Falls

Sandwiched between Majayjay and the town of Cavinti is Luisiana. This hilly town used to be an unheard-of destination until less than 5 years ago when it suddenly burst into the scene. Turns out that this quiet municipality is home to at least a dozen major waterfalls – a waterfalls paradise nestling in the backwoods of the province. For the moment, only 4 of these falls are accessible, the others still tucked inside the town’s forests. The most popular and the biggest of these is Hulugan Falls. The others are Aliw, Talay and Hidden Falls, all accessible via moderate hikes. Here’s hoping that more of Luisiana’s waterfalls will be accessible while their pristine nature is also left untarnished.

Aliw Falls view on a recent visit
Luisiana’s Aliw Falls after heavy rains

Laguna’s Northeastern Towns

Between the shores of Laguna de Bay and the Sierra Madre range in Quezon are towns in Laguna’s northeastern corner that feature more natural attractions. Coming from Metro Manila we normally take the Marilaque (Manila-Rizal-Laguna-Quezon) Highway from Marikina City to reach these towns. Located at the fringes of the Sierra Madre, these municipalities boast numerous waterfalls and other nature destinations.

Pakil, Laguna farm scene with Laguna de Bay in the background
View of Laguna de Bay from Pangil

After Pililla, the last town in Rizal province before Laguna, are the quiet towns of Pangil, Mabitac/Santa Maria, Famy and Siniloan. Besides scenic views of Laguna de Bay and the surrounding rice fields, Pangil has the aptly named Buntot Palos Falls while Mabitac or Santa Maria has its Three Falls. But if the towns near Mt. Banahaw have Luisiana as its showcase for waterfalls, these northeastern towns have Siniloan and its numerous cascades. Again most of the waterfalls here are located deep inside the surrounding forests and hills and, in many cases, it requires some serious trekking to see them.

Tulay na Bato Falls in Siniloan, Laguna
Tulay na Bato, Siniloan

Mt. Romelo in Siniloan has at least four waterfalls that are accessible: Buruwisan Falls, Lanzones Falls, Batya-batya Falls and Sampaloc Falls. It will take at least 2 hours of hiking to reach Buruwisan, the most accessible of the waterfalls in Mt. Romelo but the mountain trek is supposed to be relatively easy and one for mountain-climbing beginners. Also in Siniloan and not too far from the road that leads to Real, Quezon are the waterfalls of Tulay na Bato, Hagdang Bato and Kalawang. Locals say that there are other even bigger waterfalls deep inside the forests that are not that accessible for the moment.

fifth waterfall and catch basin, Kalayaan Twin Falls
One of the 6 waterfalls at Kalayaan

Just past Siniloan is the town of Kalayaan – site of the Kalayaan Twin Falls. The town is also the location of the Kalayaan Power Plant. Adjacent Lumban town is home to the Caliraya Dam which provides water for this power plant and the reservoir created by the dam: Lake Caliraya. This lake is a popular venue for largemouth bass fishing and other watersports plus other outdoor recreational activities. In the past the resorts in and around Lake Caliraya have been our favorite venues for conferences, trainings and retreats. Lumban has long been famous for its centuries-old hand embroidery. Fashion designers go all the way to this town to get intricately embroidered jusi or piña fabrics for native barong Tagalogs and gowns.

Caliraya Lake viewed from the road
Lake Caliraya in Lumban used to be a favorite venue for conferences

Handicrafts abound in this province and Paete, the last town on our list, is a good example. Known for woodcarving and papier mache art, Paete has widely exported its craft; its woodcarvings are known worldwide and after a visit to some of their shops it was not hard for us to see why. The Saint James the Apostle Parish church, the Tatlong Krus (Three Crosses) on a hill overlooking Laguna de Bay and Matabungka Falls are among the notable spots in town.

When this extended quarantine is over and travel is again allowed – and if we’re confident doing so is safe – we’re looking to Laguna as one of the places for a quick one-day visit just to satisfy our wanderlust in the short-term. And from the places we noted above there is no shortage of destinations to choose from.

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