A D-I-Y Weekend Nature Tour for Families

By Imelda Aznar

Manila Standard



The province of Laguna is the perfect destination if you want to get out of the city, but don’t have enough time to go very far. It’s just an hour-and-a-half away from Ortigas Center, and is easy to reach both by car and public transport. Laguna will give you that fresh, countryside breeze, and an innocent, provincial charm that weary travelers look for in the places they visit. If you’re looking for a summer destination for the whole family, consider Laguna. Because Laguna is one place that doesn’t run out of surprises and mysteries for every visitor.


Places to see in Los Baños

Los Baños is a lakeshore town famous for Mt. Makiling, the University of the Philippines, the famous hotsprings, the National Arts Center, and of course, buko pie! Los Baños is home to the nearest rainforest and National Park south of Metro Manila, making it an ideal destination for a weekend nature adventure.



Laguna Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. La Vista Pansol is home to the Laguna Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. Along the National Highway in Pansol, watch out for the large La Vista Pansol sign to your left after Max's Restaurant, then turn left and follow the other directional signs. The rescue center is privately run by the Feathered Friends Foundation, Wilma Ridler, and wildlife veterinarian Dr. Nielsen Donato. The Feathered Friends Foundation used to be based on Corregidor Island, and holds the distinction of being one of only two organizations in the Philippines to successfully breed the Philippine Eagle in captivity. At the center, you will find endemic species of birds, small mammals and reptiles, including raptors, wild boars, bear cats, civet cats, and macaques. The rescue center, in cooperation with the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) of the DENR, is committed to rehabilitate these confiscated or surrendered wildlife, rehabilitate them, then release them back into the Makiling National Park. The center also has a collection of exotic birds from South America, like parrots and cockatoos, that are well adapted to humans and are visitor-friendly. Entrance fee of P25 will be used to support the activities of the center. 



Magnetic Hill. This fabled spot is located along the PCARD/DOST access road (to your right along the National Highway just as you enter Los Baños). Make a full stop at the designated point, put your vehicle in neutral, release the brakes, and observe how you are “pulled up” an incline of about 100 meters.  Bring an empty tin can to try on the road, as well. Optical illusion or magnet?  Find out for yourself!



Museum of Natural History. Located within the UPLB campus, the museum houses a diverse collection of more than 300,000 Philippine animals, plants, micro-organisms and other specimens that showcase the rich biodiversity of our country. Living plants can be found in the museum's Hortorium. Open from Mondays to Fridays, 8am to 5pm.



Makiling Botanical Gardens. Marvel at centuries-old trees that tower from 30 to 40 meters high. Guests can also take their lunch or snacks in the picnic area inside the park. Afterwards, you can proceed to the Philippine Center for Raptors—a facility of the DENR and the PAWB. It is, essentially, a rescue center for Philippine birds of prey such as Serpent Eagles, Sea Hawks, Brahminy Kites, Grass Owls, Eagle Owls, and the majestic Philippine Eagle. Getting to the center is approximately a kilometer-and-a-half of hiking on a well-paved but steep trail. Kids will find the trail challenging, and the forest environment can get very humid, so bring plenty of drinking water and extra shirts for the kids. Entrance: P10.



Makiling High School for the Arts. The PCARD/DOST road will lead you inside the UPLB Campus.  Just as you reach the Jamboree Site of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines, turn right to go up to the Makiling Arts Center.  The Center continues to play host to the Makiling High School for the Arts, where national scholars from all over the Philippines are schooled. Halfway up the mountain, you will find what may be the most beautiful garden chapel in the country. The hanging roof, the giant crucifix, the fern covered pews, the panoramic view, and the surrounding forest trees create such a romantic ambience and picture perfect wedding setting. Throw a coin into the wishing well in front of the altar before you leave. Then drive further up until you reach the multi-purpose hall at the top of the mountain. This is where you’ll get the best panoramic view of Laguna Lake. From this vantage point directly overlooking the hotspring resorts of Pansol, you can see how large and expansive the lake is. On a clear day, you can even see as far as Alabang. The parks and museums of UPLB close early, so schedule your visit before 3PM. Entrance: P20.00.



Mt. Makiling. From the UPLB College of Forestry, you may choose to go on a light roadside trek up to the Flat Rocks, or further up to the volcanic mudsprings. The mudsprings is located after a 30-minute 4x4 ride up Mt. Makiling, starting from the UP College of Forestry, and a short hike from the roadside to the boiling springs. For the more adventurous, you may climb all the way up to the peaks (there are three!) of Mt. Makiling (1,090 meters elevation) where a beautiful mossy forest beckons. Just bring enough food and water, and proper gear for the day long climb.



Los Banos Square. It is a large garden plaza surrounded by food stalls selling a great variety of food and drinks at student-friendly prices. Sizzling plates and barbecues are the staple here. But you will also be surprised at exotic choices such as Thai, Arabian and Japanese food. Meals are served on garden table settings under the cool shade of large mango trees.

Discover the Forest Club


The Forest Club is a hotspring resort set on a 3-hectare nature sanctuary in Bay, a quiet town located right next to Los Baños. It is an enchanting forest created around a natural ecosystem where rare flora and fauna thrive. The Forest Club is properly equipped to accommodate family-oriented outings, business-related functions, and spiritual retreats. One of the best things about the Forest Club is its quiet, secluded privacy. The owners of the resort take great pains to articulate the rules of the place to all guests, thereby ensuring an atmosphere of solemnity and tranquility.  Additionally, the resort is strict about the number of guests who visit the place at any given time, to make sure that no over-crowding happens. 

There is a large naturally-heated pool and jacuzzi, and accommodations are very comfortable. You may stay in any of the four native cottages (maximum of 8 people per cottage) or in the family suite rooms (maximum of 20 people per suite). Reservations are made by calling Wawel Mercado at 0917-831-2583, or sending e-mail to wawelmercado@gmail.com. You may also call 6814060, e-mail info@theforestclub.com or visit www.theforestclub.com. You will be given a map, detailed directions and a menu once you book your stay.


Other Laguna towns to see

Aside from the churches of Pakil (Church of San Pedro de Alcantara, 1732), Pangil (Navidad dela Virgen Maria, 1611), Paete (St. James the Apostle Church, 1645), Pila (San Antonio de Padua Parish, 1618), and Liliw (St. John the Baptist, 16th Century), the church in Majayjay, the St. Gregory Church (1571), is also frequented by visitors and pilgrims. The town is also known for Imelda Falls (Taytay Falls to many), located at the foot of Mt. Banahaw. The site is perfect for swimming and picnics.


Pila is known as the “Vigan of the South”.  Pila’s Town Center, in fact, was declared a National Historical Landmark in 2000 because of the structures that reflect a rich architectural history. Many movies, television programs and commercials were shot amidst Pila town center’s early 20th Century scenery. The Pila Museum, located near the church, has more than 300 kinds of clay potteries and other relics (dating from as early as 12th – 13th  Century Sung Yuan Dynasty) discovered in excavations in 1967 until 1968.


Beside Pila is a small lakeshore town called Victoria, now made famous by the Amazing Race. In Victoria you will find horse-drawn carriages that enter the lake waters to pick up bags full of mollusks: feed for the thousands of balut producing ducks in the area. The diet of mollusks ensures that the eggs the ducks lay have thick, sturdy shells.


Liliw and Nagcarlan are a short side trip off the National Highway from Pila. Kampañerang Kuba fans would know that the original classic film of Ate Vi and the more recent ABS-CBN teleserye were both shot on location in the huge ancient church of Nagcarlan (Church of St. Bartholomew the Apostle, 1563).  Nagcarlan is also known for its Underground Cemetry. It is said that an underground passage, now sealed off, led all the way to Mt. Banahaw, and that the Katipuneros used the crypt to plot against the Spanish rule.


Just a bit of a warning for travelers who plan to visit or pass by Liliw: DO NOT PASS BY LILIW IF YOU HAVE WOMEN IN THE CAR AND YOU ARE SHORT ON TIME. Liliw is famous for its affordable and high-quality shoes, sandals, slippers, and bags. Shoemaking is one of the major means of livelihood for Liliw’s folks. The main street is lined with one shoe shop after another—a haven for shoe lovers and bargain-hunters!


Aside from the rapids frequented by tourists, Pagsanjan has a number of well-preserved ancestral houses, the Church of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (1688), and the famous Arco Real, built in 1878. If you have not experienced the rapids of Pagsanjan, it’s about time that you try it.  The wide river, the deep canyons, the rapids and the falls remain breathtaking to this day. Take your boat directly from the Pagsanjan Rapids Hotel—the regular boatmen of the hotel are courteous, fair and polite.


From Pagsanjan, you may drive up to Lumban to visit Lake Caliraya, a man-made lake built by the American engineers of General Electric in 1938 to provide electricity throughout the region via hydroelectric power. Caliraya is home to several beautiful lakeshore resorts such as Camp Cali, Calirana, and Lagos del Sol.  Caliraya is also home to an active windsurfing community, and is one of the best places to learn the sport.

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