Looking For Short Road Trip Ideas Outside Manila? Try These 3 Provinces.

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When planning your next weekend gateway, instead of the usual trip ideas like Boracay, Cebu or Davao, why not look to the north?

Unlike these southern destinations where you usually need to fly, many northern places are all reachable by car. No need to deal with all the airport hassles like long check-in lines, even longer security lines, and last-minute delayed or canceled flights.

Here are three provinces you can visit that are only a 3-4 hour drive from Metro Manila.

Tarlac

Monasterio de Tarlac

A relaxing view awaits people who visit the famous Monasterio de Tarlac. Pilgrims all over the Philippines flock to San Jose, Tarlac to get a chance to get near a fascinating relic: a piece of the wooden cross that Jesus was crucified on.

According to history, it is believed that Saint Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, excavated relics of the True Cross when she was in Jerusalem.

One of the relics found its way to the Philippines and is now being taken care of the Servants of the Risen Christ Monastic Community. Kept safely inside a silver chest decorated with different Christian symbols, some pilgrims have experienced miracles occurring after touching the chest.

Pilgrims are only allowed to touch the chest every day after the 10:30 AM mass. Except on Thursdays.

After visiting the chapel, the monastery also has a breathtaking view of the mountain range in Tarlac. A 35 ft. statue of the Risen Christ embraces the view, welcoming travelers to the monastery.

The 35 ft. statue of the Risen Christ

The 35 ft. statue of the Risen Christ

Located on top of a mountain, getting there involves taking a long uphill road that leads to the monastery. So unless you’ve touched the silver chest in the past, be sure to check your car’s brakes before and after visiting the place.

How to Get There

Take NLEX-SCTEX, exit at Hacienda Luisita going towards McArthur Highway. Turn right and proceed north towards Tarlac City proper. Upon reaching SOGO Hotel, take a left turn to the bypass road and then follow the road leading towards the Tarlac-Pangasinan route via Romulo Highway. When you reach Brgy. Tibag junction after passing Agana Bridge, turn left and then follow the road leading to the monastery.

Monasterio de Tarlac

Mount of Resurrection, Eco-Tourism Park, San Jose, Tarlac

+63 045 493-3002

Holy Mass Schedule: 10:00 AM except Thursday, Sunday at 10:30 AM and 3:00 PM
monasterio-de-tarlac.weebly.com

Tarlac Recreational Park

Tarlac itself is one big sandbox of various outdoor activities. Tarlac Recreational Park is a 78-hectare land that has rugged trails for mountain bikes and dune buggies, an Olympic-sized pool, a lagoon for kayaking, swimming pools, and a multi-use field.

You need at least a whole day to fully enjoy all the amenities of the park. The dune buggy is a favorite of mine since it allows everyone to unleash their inner beast on the trails. Although limited to 20 minutes, the ride felt like it lasted forever since you get to shred through almost half of the park area.

Tarlac Recreational Park

Dune buggy at Tarlac Recreational Park | Photo by Martin San Diego

If you’re going to try the dune buggy, I highly recommend wearing a face mask and sunglasses to protect your face and eyes against the elements. The trail is full of sand, soil and dust.If you ride during the wet season, you’ll get a free mud bath. But mud’s great for the skin right?

While there are certain parts dedicated to the dune buggies, most parts of the trail are shared with mountain bikers. Be aware of your surroundings to avoid collisions or accidents.

For less adventurous folks, there is kayaking and pools where you can relax. You can also do some fishing in the beautiful lagoon of the park.

Soon, the place will have go-karts for rent! The track looks promising when I checked it out a couple of days ago. Local race fans will have a nearby place to spend their entire day beating their fastest lap time.

How to Get There

  • From NLEX and SCTEX, take the Luisita exit and then follow the road leading to McArthur Highway.
  • Once you’ve reached Motorway Tarlac, you’ll see a Mercury Drug in between the two roads.
  • Take the left road (Zamora St.) and then turn left on Romulo Blvd.
  • After crossing the bridge above Tarlac River, turn left on Tibag Barangay Rd.
  • Once you’re on Tibag Baragay Rd., take the first left. Continue for about 2-3 more kilometers and you’ll see signs leading to Tarlac Recreational Park.

Tarlac Recreational Park

Eco-Adventure Tourism Area, Tibag Barangay Rd., San Jose, Tarlac

+63 998 354-4261 / +63 999 885-3981
tarlac-recreational-park.com/

Kart City

Who would’ve thought that there’s a modern go-kart race track in the heart of Tarlac City?

People often overlook the place since it’s right in front of the well-lit facade of SM City Tarlac. Mr. Pio Arugay, one of the founders of the place gave us a short intro of Kart City.

Kart City Tarlac

Well-lit race track of Kart City

Kart City was built because of Pio’s passion for karting and racing. Founded in 2003, the place was steadily enhanced over the years making it now one of the greatest-looking attractions in Tarlac City.

Everyone will enjoy the karting here since the track can be rearranged for different variations. On some days, the track is arranged to cater to professionals. But on most days, wide turns and long straight tracks are used so that kart noobs can enjoy the ride.

An orientation will be given to help avoid accidents on the track. Obviously, ramming or bumping into another kart is not allowed (these aren’t bumper cars!).

After wearing my helmet, I was told to avoid touching the engine on the right side of the kart, just behind my arm. The engine heats up pretty fast so try to keep in mind that you have an extremely hot metal plate near your arm. Focus on steering the wheel and you’ll be fine.

When I tried it a couple of days ago, the track was about 2 kilometers long, configured to have some sharp turns, a lot of wide turns, and one long section. It was still a noob-friendly track since most in our group were first-timers, and they were able to fully enjoy the track.

Kart City Tarlac

Kart City | Photo by Martin San Diego

The rate for the karts is ₱200 per 5 min. It might seem really short but once you’re on the track, roaring your engine and burning rubber on every tight turn you take, you’ll realize that you’ve spent the best ₱200 in your life.

The karts can go as fast as 80 km/h (50 mph) so responsible driving (or racing) is a must!

Pio mentioned that beginners usually finish 4-5 laps under 5 min. I was able to do 8 laps in 5 min.

I personally recommend going during the evening. The track is very well-lit at night. And there’s nothing more fun than beating others while having a cool breeze of air hit your entire body.

Kart City is kiddie-friendly also as they now have a small track and smaller (and slower) karts for kids!

The place is perfect for the whole barkada since there are dining places just beside the race track. You can order beer after racing and gloat about your fastest lap time.

Chaps Cafe and Diner is located on the premises and their panizzas are perfect for a post-race meal. I personally enjoyed their four cheese pizza..

How to Get There

  • From NLEX – SCTEX, take the Luisita exit and take the road leading to McArthur Highway.
  • Kart City is located right in front of SM City Tarlac. A small passageway on your right will lead you to the main gates of Kart City.

Kart City

McArthur Highway (infront of SM City Tarlac), Tarlac City, Tarlac

+63 45 493-2155 / +63 45 491-4053

Open from Monday to Friday 3:00 PM to 12:00 AM and Saturday to Sunday 10:00AM – 2:00 AM

Zambales

Crystal Beach

Surfing has easily become one of the most popular water sports in the Philippines. People often flock to popular surf spots such as Baler, La Union and Siargao.

If these places are too far for you, consider Crystal Beach in San Narciso, Zambales. As the nearest surf spot from the metro, you get to hop on your surfboard in no time as it’s only about 3 hours away from Metro Manila.

Crystal Beach is perfect for surf noobs since the waves are not too big. And since the sand is clear of debris, getting wiped out won’t be too much of a problem since you’ll fall on a pillow of  shallow dark sand.

Crystal Beach Zambales

Surfing in Crystal Beach Zambales

I had the chance to try surfing a couple of days ago and was initially, very skeptical. I thought it’d be something like sandboarding where you just go with the flow.

But after the orientation done on the beach. I realized that it was going to be nothing like sandboarding. The surf instructors of Crystal Beach were very nice and very eager to teach their students how to surf. My instructor, Adonis, who happens to be a fellow Pangasinense, taught me all the basic stuff like using the proper form and how to wipe out properly.

As a surf noob, the first couple of wipeouts were scary since I was afraid of hitting something under the water. Nose diving is considered as one of the most dangerous ways of wiping out and guess what? It happened to me on my second try!

Nose diving is dangerous since not only do you get sucked up by the waves, but there’s a huge possibility of getting hit by the tail end of your surfboard. We were asked to cover our heads with our arms when we wipe out. As a noob, this was my golden rule.

With few concrete structures in the area,  the beach itself is unspoiled. The beach front has small wooden cottages, perfect for resting and compliments the theme of Crystal Beach which is “natural and homey.”

The surf instructors are very friendly so I’d suggest asking them for a couple of tips when you surf here. For absolute beginners, Quiksilver Surf School can help you catch your first wave.

Crystal Beach Zambales

Learning how to surf at Crystal Beach | Photo by Martin San Diego

For only ₱400, you’ll be kept under a surf instructor’s wing for about an hour. Board rental is included.

If you just want to rent a board, it’s ₱200 per hour.

Make sure to check out the rates of their packages here. Reach them at +63 917 545 2791 and start planning your first surf trip! 🙂

How to Get There

  • From SCTEX, take the route going to Subic/SBMA.
  • After the SBMA tollgate, take a right going to Rizal Highway.
  • Drive along Rizal Highway until you reach its end and then turn left towards the tollgate of Olongapo City
  • Turn right on Canal St. and then after passing through the town of Castillejos and San Marcelino, head to the town of San Narciso.
  • When you reach the San Narciso town hall, turn left and you should see road signs going to Crystal Beach.

Crystal Beach Resort

Brgy. La Paz, San Narciso, Zambales

+63 917 545-2791
crystalbeach.com.ph/

Capones Vista Resort

In San Antonio, Zambales, lies one of the most famous islands in Luzon: Capones Island.

An island tour can be arranged by visiting any of the resorts that line Pundaquit Beach. Consider booking through Capones Vista Resort as they have one of the best-looking views of Camara Island.

From Capones Vista Resort, getting to Capones Island involves a 30-min boat ride. The waves are not that big but expect random water splashes. Make sure that you leave anything that you don’t want to get wet back at the resort.

Due to the huge and sharp rocks, our banca couldn’t reach the shore. All of us had to get off the boat and walk on the slippery rocks underneath the sea. It was kind of dangerous since I was only wearing regular slippers. A hard and fast wave hit me and next thing I knew, one of my slippers was floating beside me.

Capones Island Zambales

Breathtaking view of the cove in Capones Island | Photo by Martin San Diego

Once you reach the shore, you’ll notice a long stair-like structure. Climbing the stairs will lead you to a cliff-like area of the island where you can see the awesome view of the sea and the rocky cove you just came from. After taking a breather, taking the short trail on your right will lead you to the entrance of the Capones Lighthouse.

The lighthouse was built by the Spaniards in 1890 to guide ships entering Subic Bay. The massive concrete foundation of the lighthouse is still intact but most of the structure shows heavy deterioration.

To get to the view deck or “catwalk,” you take a rusty spiral staircase. Given that this lighthouse has been around for over a century, climbing the stairs is obviously not recommended.

I had a YOLO moment and climbed it anyway. I eventually found myself also climbing a steel ladder to get to the view deck.

Once you’re on the view deck, you’ll get to see a Batanes-like view of the island and the blue sea. The cool sea breeze and majestic view of the sea will make you wonder why some people still prefer checking out other countries. We have some of the greatest attractions in the world!

Capones Island in Zambales

Capones Vista Resort, Zambales

The island tour and boat ride will cost you around ₱300 per person. Booking through a resort might be easier since they have all the contacts of the banca operators that roam the whole stretch of Pundaquit beach.

How to Get There

  • From NLEX – SCTEX, exit at Subic.
  • When you reach the Kalaklan gate, follow the highway up to San Marcelino where the road will fork.
  • Take the road on the left going to San Antonio.
  • From the town proper, turn left and when you see Zambales Bank, follow the arrows that’ll lead you to Capones Vista Resort.

Capones Vista Resort

Brgy. Pundaquit, San Antonio, Zambales

+63 47 603-1382
caponesvista.com

The Lighthouse Marina Resort

If you’re looking for one place to crash in Subic, look no further than The Lighthouse Marina Resort.

The resort has got to be the most distinct looking among the other local hotels and resorts because of its lighthouse. Lighthouse Marina together with Networx Jetsports, the provider of the water rides that we used, gave us an enjoyable afternoon.

I’m not really a fan of any sport or activity that involves getting wet. But after that hot afternoon, everything changed.

I wanted to try the jet ski first but was lured by the cool-looking bandwagon. It’s like a Flying Fish that doesn’t fly. The first few parts of the ride were just okay. I think the guy pulling us with his jet ski read my thoughts and started doing sharp turns. This made the bandwagon ride rough and of course, fun! I was standing on the bandwagon so I had to hold on for dear life.

The Lighthouse Marina Subic

Riding the Bandwagon at The Lighthouse Marina Resort | Photo by Martin San Diego

Others can also try the banana boat ride or enjoy the view of Subic Bay by parasailing. They also have kayaks to use if you just want to stay close and maybe give your arm and back muscles a nice workout. I personally recommend kayaking so that you’ll have something to do while waiting for your turn on other water activities.

Some of the rides are subject to availability so I recommend first calling either The Lighthouse Marina Resort or Networx Jetsports.

How to Get There

  • From NLEX – SCTEX, exit at Subic.
  • Take Rizal Highway and when you reach Harbor Point, take Manila Ave. on your left and then turn right to Waterfront Rd.
  • When you reach the end of the road, The Lighthouse Marina Resort should be on your left.

The Lighthouse Marina Resort

Moonbay Marina Complex, Waterfront Rd., CBD, Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Zambales

+63 47 252-5000

lighthousesubic.com

Networx Jetsports

+63 47 252-9978

networxjetsports.com

Camayan Beach Resort

The resort is just 2 hours away from Manila, making it one of the most accessible resorts in Zambales. Camayan Beach Resort is known to have one of the best beaches in Subic.

It’s surrounded by rainforest and a clear aqua-blue reef. The resort is also just a couple minutes away from popular tourist attractions such as Ocean Adventure, Zoobic Safari, and Subic Tree Top Adventure.

A lot of water activities can be done at the resort such as snorkeling on the reef, kayaking through the mangroves, or battling a buddy on “Water Gladiator.”

Camayan Beach Resort Subic

Getting ready to kayak at Camayan Beach Resort | Photo by Martin San Diego

Unlike bancas and other motorized boats, kayaking is a serene way of getting around. It was my preferred mode of water transportation since you get to set your own pace.

After about 15-20 minutes of paddling, a relaxing atmosphere awaits you as you’ll be surrounded by mangroves, which serves as nurseries for fishes.

Camayan Resort Subic

Kayaking in Camayan Beach Resort | Photo by Martin San Diego

The water inside the mangroves is peaceful, making paddling easy and effortless. The passages are kind of narrow though so kayak control is very important.

Camayan Beach Resort Mangroves

Mangroves at the Camayan Beach Resort | Photo by Martin San Diego

Kayaking back to the resort is a bit tougher because you’ll be going against the water current. Make sure you take a break first before heading back.

I was actually surprised to know that there are other fun activities that you can do in Subic. I didn’t know that kayaking could be so fun! If I only had a kayak and if there was only a nice lagoon in Metro Manila, I’d be kayaking 3 to 5 times a week!

The resort also offers diving sessions such as shipwreck dives and marine life dives. Aside from the water activities, Camayan Beach Resort also has other attractions or activities that will keep tourists occupied such as beach volleyball, beach soccer, billiards, and karaoke.

How to Get There

  • From SCTEX, take the Subic exit.
  • Take Rizal Highway and then at the first intersection, turn left to get to Argonaut Highway.
  • Reach the end of Argonaut Highway and then continue on Corregidor Rd.
  • Continue driving along Corregidor Rd. for about 7 km (4.3 miles).
  • When you reach the 4-way intersection, turn right to get to Ilanin Rd.
  • Reaching the end of Ilanin Rd. will show the gates of Camayan Beach Resort.

Camayan Beach Resort

Camayan Wharf, West Ilanin Forest Area, Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Zambales

+63 47 252-8000 / +63 908 887-0369

camayanbeachresort.com

Whiterock Waterpark and Beach Hotel

I had the chance to stay at Whiterock Beach Hotel and I must say, they have one of the nicest rooms in Subic, compared to the others I’ve tried. Expect a very warm welcome when you get to the resort. Trying different activities all in one day take its toll on your body but with everyone else greeting you with big smiles on their faces, the pain easily goes away.

Whiterock Waterpark and Beach Hotel

Whiterock Waterpark and Beach Hotel

Whiterock’s own beach is over 300 meters (1,000 ft) long, making it perfect for recreational water activities such as jetskiing, kayaking, and snorkeling.

Our group got the chance to try their new rooms, which were literally near the beachfront. The room is very spacious and each room has its own jacuzzi.

If you ever get tired of water sports, you can try playing beach volleyball and soccer. If you want a more relaxing activity, zip lining will give you a bird’s eye view of the resort. The adventurous ones can rappel down from their huge towers.

But if you can’t get enough of water, Whiterock boasts lots of swimming pools, wave pools, and water slides.

How to Get There

  • From SCTEX, take the Subic exit.
  • Drive along Rizal Highway and when you reach Harbor Point, turn left to Manila Ave.
  • When you reach the end of Manila Ave., turn right to get on Dewey Ave.
  • Reach the end of Dewey Ave. and then turn left to the National Highway.
  • Drive along the highway for about 8 to 10 kilometers (5-6 miles).
  • After the Total Gas Station, turn left and you should see road signs leading to Whiterock Waterpark and Beach Hotel.

Whiterock Waterpark and Beach Hotel

Matain, Subic, Zambales

+63 47 232-2857 / +63 922 813-3630

whiterock.com.ph

Pampanga

SandBox by Alviera

Situated in Porac, Pampanga, SandBox by Alviera is a getaway for family and friends who are looking for exciting outdoor activities.

The place has multiple attractions like the country’s tallest swing, Giant Swing, to Asia’s first roller coaster zipline, Avatar One.

Rollercoaster Zipline at SandBox by Alviera

Asia’s first roller coaster zipline, Avatar One at SandBox by Alviera

People who like to challenge themselves can also try the Aerial Walk, a rope adventure course that’ll force you to make good use of your balance, creativeness, agility, speed, and flexibility.

For the more adventurous folks, SandBox’s Adventure Tower offers wall climbing, free falling, and rappelling.

I tried wall climbing and was able to finish it. It was really tiring since it’s been a while since I had to use all my arm muscles. It’s a fun activity though especially if you’re really competitive.

For mountain bikers,, the place has a 9 km (5.6 mile) trail. The trail was developed by both Alviera and Columbia Sportswear, a great addition to the place since biking is one of the healthiest and coolest ways to get around.

SandBox also offers ATV rides that pass through rough terrain, rivers, mountains and forests. Riding ATVs is a great way to explore the outdoors since you get to drive on any terrain without really worrying about damaging the vehicle. Rides are done in groups so the ATV instructors are the ones who set the pace of the ride.

ATV Ride at SandBox by Alviera

ATV Ride at SandBox by Alviera | Photo by Martin San Diego

Less active guests can also enjoy the place’s mini golf or even the playground with their kids or younger siblings.

Outdoor archery is the newest activity in SandBox. For just ₱400 per hour, you’ll be coached by experienced archery instructors and be oriented about the do’s and don’ts in archery. Kids are also encouraged to try archery as it helps improve their concentration.

Archery at SandBox by Alviera

Archery at SandBox by Alviera

Porac is worth checking out if you’re looking for unique outdoor thrills.

How to Get There

  • From SCTEX, take the Porac exit.
  • Continue to drive along Porac Access Rd. and then take the first left.
  • You should see road signs leading to SandBox by Alviera.

SandBox by Alviera

Sapang UWAK Rd., Porac, Pampanga

+63 936 988-6023

alviera.ph/sandbox

Clark Deca Wakeboard Park

Aside from surfing, wakeboarding is another popular water sport in the Philippines. The sport attracts thrill-seekers who wish to experience water skiing and surfing all in one activity.

The sport is not reliant on specific water or weather conditions, making it the most versatile activity among water sports. Unless you’re wakeboarding in the sea, you can wakeboard during any time of the year by visiting wakeboard parks.

Clark Deca Wakeboard Park is just 2 hours away from Metro Manila, making it the go-to place for people who live in the northern part of the metro for their wakeboarding fix.

Clark Deca Wakeboard Park

Clark Deca Wakeboard Park

The park itself is very noob friendly as the place has two man-made lakes: one for noobs and one for more experienced riders. The park relies on cables to pull riders, making it better for guests since they can just keep on trying without waiting for a motorboat to come back to pull them.

For just ₱400, you get to try the sport for two hours, which includes coaching from the park’s experienced riders, a helmet, a life vest and a beginner’s board.

I’ve tried wakeboarding a couple of times here in Clark Deca Wakeboard Park and enjoyed every minute of it. Trying it for the first time was tough because it took me 8 attempts to be able to finish one straight line without falling.

The park’s instructors are very patient. I asked a lot of questions about my stance, form technique. They gave me tips tailored to the specific physical capabilities of my body.

How to Get There

  • From SCTEX, take the Clark South Exit.
  • Drive along DMIA Gateway and then turn left to Manila Gateway.
  • Once you reach the end, turn left to get on Manuel A. Roxas Highway.
  • Exit Clark at Friendship Gate and then continue taking the road.
  • When you reach the end of the road, make a right to get on Jose P. Laurel Ave.
  • Drive along Jose P. Laurel Ave. for about 2 to 3 kilometers (~2 miles).
  • When you see the sign of Clark Deca Wakeboard Park, turn left.
  • The wakeboard park will be on your left.

Clark Deca Wakeboard Park

JP Laurel St., Brgy. Margot, Angeles, Pampanga

+63 905 330-1013 / +63 918 459-8488

Open everyday from 9:30 AM until 5:30 PM

decawakeboardpark.com

I was able to check out the places above as a participant of “Lakbay Norte,” a tour organized by the North Philippines Visitors Bureau to help promote tourism in North Luzon.

This trip wouldn’t be possible without the help of Manila North Tollways Corporation (MNTC), North Philippines Visitors Bureau, Victory Liner, Tarlac Conventions and Visitors Bureau, Subic Bay HATS & Visitors Board, and the Greater Clark Conventions and Visitors Bureau.

I’d also like to thank Aquino Center Museum for the educational tour, Terrase Cafe for the great lunch, VES Food Resorts and Villas for our accommodation in Tarlac, JSJ Goat Farm for the tour and for letting us try goat milk, WIN Animal Rescue Center for educating us about the wildlife in Subic, Casa San Miguel for our dinner in Zambales, Bel Posto Ristorante for our lunch, and Matam-ih for the great dinner in Angeles, Pampanga.

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About Author

Roegan Taron

A thrill-seeker who enjoys the great outdoors and loves to ride his mountain bike whenever he can, wherever he can. A non-believer of what sunblock lotion can do for the skin.

  • Vice Liberty Andreas

    No love for laguna and cavite?

    • Vice Liberty Andreas

      For the record, batangas is much more closer than zambales

      Batangas: (107.2 km) via S Luzon Expy and Southern Tagalog Arterial Rd.

      Zambales: (225.9 km) via N Luzon Expy

      if zambales is considered near. then
      Gumaca, Quezon Province is even closer! (193.4 km) via Pan – Philippine Hwy

    • There’s not much to offer for now, from Cavite’s side..apart from Tagaytay…there’s a small falls/swimming resort in Indang..but i’ve yet to check it.

      Marine Base Ternate, is also a great tourist spot..you only have to follow military requirements to get inside the facility.

      • HeyThereWhatsUp

        But I think you should be fair. but maybe you dont know much about south. for wake boarding there is Nuvali. hehe.

        • Nuvali is part of Laguna, Sta Rosa to be exact.

  • noelpogi

    Why not try Tanay, Rizal. There the Mt. Daraitan and Tinipak River.

    • Pak u

      yuck Tanay.! So Corrupt Fckin government..!

      • noelpogi

        Fck Phase, the way I see it, you haven’t been there so shut you mouth. And the issue is places and not politics.

    • Jack

      We been there. Its an awesome place to visit.

  • Mr. Taron, I’d like to ask something of you more discreetly (Business). Can you message me on FB? William James Asberry Thank you! Enjoyed the site!

  • Shyne Sovery

    Experience affordable Anawangin Cove & Nagsasa Cove tours with island hopping, trekking, boat transfer and camping supply starting @P599/pax.- Cut agency/coordinator rates! DIRECT RESORT OWNERS 09298422127 – 09754891998