Within the last decade, many of Luzon’s central provinces have garnered quite a bit of attention among travelers who enjoy the balance between majestic natural attractions and proximity to the Philippine capital. Zambales has its many coves such as Anawangin and Nagsasa while Pampanga had in the early 2000’s successfully repositioned itself from a lahar-filled disaster zone to an eco-tourism destination.
There is however, one very worthy province that seems to be constantly overlooked despite having a plethora of things to see and do. Lying midway between Manila and Ilocos and serving as a transit point for travelers going to Baguio, the large but mostly underrated province of Pangasinan seems to be out of most people’s consideration as a holiday destination. This is despite having places such as Manaoag and Hundred Islands well within most Filipinos’ sphere of awareness.
It was actually by chance that I stumbled upon Pangasinan’s many attractions. I was looking for an interesting destination not too far from Manila during the Christmas holidays but found Baguio and Ilocos overcrowded, Tagaytay booked out and Mt Pinatubo too rough for the family escapade that I was planning. I eventually settled for 3 day trip covering the provinces of Pangasinan.
Here are some of the places I discovered:
walking on water
I have long been curious about this concentration of more than a hundred islands within a small area in the Lingayen Gulf. Pictures I once saw online evoked images of a humbler El Nido/Coron/Halong Bay even though most guidebooks don’t always portray this national park in a positive light. While it’s true you won’t find pristine waters around here, the land and seascapes around the Hundred Islands National Park are undoubtedly one of Luzon’s highlights.
This island looked like a cat fish with a pretty nice cove with shallow waters and a beach that looks inviting from up at my viewing deck.
How to get there: The park, located in Alaminos City, is surprisingly easy to get to. From Lucap Wharf, boats can be easily rented to take you around the islands.
The provincial capital of Lingayen is a treasure trove for World War 2 history buffs. It was here that the Americans landed when they liberated Luzon from the Japanese. The downtown area has a distinctive American feel, with wide avenues and an imposing capitol building which is open to visitors. A former Philippine president, Fidel Ramos, was also born in this town.
spiral staircase at lingayen
The most interesting tourist attraction in Lingayen is perhaps the Provincial Capitol which is one of the most striking government buildings I have seen in the Philippines. The accommodating security guard showed us around the complex during our visit and even led us to the governor’s office for a token shot.
How to get there: Lingayen is west of Dagupan, around 30 minutes away by car.
One of the most popular places of pilgrimage in the country, Manaoag is almost synonymos to Our Lady of Manaoag, a 17th century image of the Virgin Mary carrying the Child Jesus. One can expect long queues here especially during holidays as many people going to the Ilocos Region and Baguio make a stop at this shrine due to its convenient location, just 30 to 40 minutes from the main highway.
How to get there: Exit the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX) at Urdaneta City and take the Urdaneta-Manaoag road which leads directly to the shrine.
A must-eat in the province of Pangasinan is puto which is found aplenty in the town of Calasiao. The Filipino rice cake has become quite sought after that even folks who know nothing about the town do know what Calasiao puto is and claim that puto elsewhere don’t taste like it.
Architecture buffs will also be pleased by the baroque Calasiao Church, designated as a National Cultural Treasure with its imposing facade made of brick and cement.
How to get there: Calasiao is immediately south of Dagupan with an almost indistinguishable border, around 10 minutes away by car.
This town is located at the tip of Pangasinan and is farther than Baguio from Manila but is perhaps one of the most popular tourist towns in the province. Thanks to the white sand beaches of Patar, one can easily find several resorts lining the town’s coastline. Bolinao’s attractions are mostly natural, with caves and waterfalls also dotting the townscape.
How to get there: From Manila, Bolinao is almost equidistant to Baguio. Located at the western tip of Pangasinan, you’ll need to pass by several towns around Pangasinan just to get there.
Day 1 – Bolinao Tour
Day 2 – Hundred Islands
Day 3 – Lingayen, Calasiao and Dagupan
Pangasinan Capitol in Lingayen
Dagupan River Cruise
Day 4 – Manaoag