One thing we’ve learned during this year of quarantine is appreciating the beauty of places not too far from the metro. Our preference is for off-the-beaten-path destinations which often suggests travel to remote places far from home. But in recent years we’ve discovered offbeat spots in neighboring areas which we’ve been revisiting recently even as travel restrictions are easing up very slowly.
When lockdown protocols were slightly eased in Metro Manila and its nearby provinces late this year our instincts told us to drive for the highlands of Tagaytay in Cavite province where we could enjoy a scenic view of Taal Lake and Volcano while enjoying a meal in the city’s many dining places. Unfortunately a thick fog completely blocked our view so we had to be content with dining minus the scenery in one of the many restaurants along the ridge facing the lake.
We would usually have coffee and dessert at one of the Bag of Beans branches overlooking Taal Volcano but decided to hightail it to a lesser-visited town less than 30 minutes away: Amadeo. Although not as popular with tourists, this municipality is well-known as the main supplier of coffee beans for Manila’s cafes, hence its moniker as the “Coffee Capital of the Philippines.”
A scenic spot we would often visit in Amadeo is the Balite Falls, but it was still closed to guests when we dropped by. Our drive to Amadeo was not wasted however, as we had coffee and dessert at Café Amadeo and got to buy ground coffee and delicacies.
A few weeks later we drove with friends to Cavite’s northern coast. The beaches that line this area up to Naic town have been well-known for decades as the nearest beaches to Metro Manila so we weren’t particularly attracted to them. However, we later found out that beyond Naic, in the towns of Ternate and Maragondon are lesser-known but more pristine beaches.
What probably made these beaches not as well-known as the beaches further east is the fact they weren’t really that accessible until the construction of the Nasugbu-Ternate Highway that passes through the hilly and forested Mount Palay-Palay National Park. The construction of this highway and the Kaybiang Tunnel that slices through one of the hills in the area shortened the travel to Nasugbu in Batangas by about 2 hours. However, it seems that not too many people are familiar with this route.
Whenever we drive down this road to Ternate we would often stop for coffee and snacks or sometimes late breakfast at the Mountain Brew Coffee Shop situated along the highway. This coffee shop offers panoramic views of the coast, making it a perfect stopover on the drive south.
We’ve started exploring this part of Cavite – its western/northwestern coast – only in the past 2 years despite it being a mere 1.5 hours away from home in moderate traffic. We’ve been at Ternate’s Puerto Azul Beach & Country Club and Caylabne Bay Resort 12 years ago but it was a much longer drive with the highway yet to be completed. During our latest drive here we stopped at a few viewpoints along the coast and realized the local authorities have established concrete structures for visitors.
Puerto Azul and Caylabne Bay are exclusively for members and their guests but we later discovered that there are other beaches in the area. Two years ago we visited visit Katungkulan Beach inside Camp Gregorio Lim, a Philippine Marines base in these parts. This beach has fine, cream colored sand mixed with grey sand particles and just right for swimming. On the way to this beach we encountered macaques and wild boars along the road, reminders that this area is part of a national park.
Further south is Patungan Cove, a lively beach cove with light brown sand that seems to be popular with locals and which we visited 2 years back. The beach is kept clean and has the hills of Maragondon as a scenic background. Boatmen along the road near Patungan Cove will also invite you to tour some of the white sand coves of Maragondon and Nasugbu (unfortunately some of them are now privately-owned and off-limits to visitors). During our visit a few weeks ago we were surprised to learn that boats are now offering trips to these coves again, albeit with some restrictions.
Further inland at Maragondon are some relatively obscure destinations that we also explored 2 years ago. The Pantihan or Balayungan Falls is a light-volume waterfall that drops down over a small river gorge with interesting rock formations.
For history buffs Maragondon town proper offers the Bonifacio Trial House, a historic house and museum that served as a military court for the trial of Andres Bonifacio in 1897. Andres Bonifacio and his brother were subsequently executed – still a controversial topic today – in nearby Mt. Nagpatong. The Andres Bonifacio Shrine and Eco-Tourism Park now stands at Mt. Nagpatong.
More undiscovered destinations in Cavite kept popping up on the tour radar during the past several months as travelers are forced to keep within the Southern Luzon area for the moment. Last March and just before the quarantine went into effect in the country, we joined the Hot Air Balloon Festival at the San Lazaro Leisure Park in Carmona.
As this pandemic and the consequential quarantine moves into 2021 we try to make the most of our situation by appreciating travel spots we have previously overlooked. It’s one of the ways to help us remain positive in an uncertain and distressing time.