One of the most popular weekend and holiday destinations for those living in Manila and a must-see for World War II history buffs, the province of Bataan has only quite recently entered the mainstream, thanks to new investment in hospitality and recreation.
I remember Bataan from when we used to venture out some 20 to 25 years back to Montemar Beach Club, one of the more decent beaches within a 2.5 hour radius from Metro Manila. I had not been back to Bataan until this year to check out some interesting restoration of heritage architecture in some places. Here were some of the places I discovered:
the plaza mayor of balanga
Relatively off the tourist radar, the capital of Bataan is only starting to emerge as a travel destination. After some refurbishment, the plaza mayor (town square) of Balanga reopened last year to much fanfare. It’s very Hispanic in style. Personally, it evoked images of the plaza in Salamanca, Spain. If there is a title for the most impressive plaza in the Philippines, it would most likely go to Balanga, Bataan.
another view of the plaza mayor
The best time to see the plaza mayor of Balanga is probably in the late afternoon just when the sun is setting. The best viewing spot is from the rooftop of The Plaza Hotel Balanga, which in itself is a key component of the plaza, along with the Balanga Cathedral and the Galeria Victoria mall. And while you’re at it, why not enjoy a drink from the rooftop bar?
mount samat shrine
A landmark on the road from Balanga to Bagac is the Mount Samat National Shrine or Dambana ng Kagitingan. The shrine consists of a monument and museum, where some interesting World War 2 artifacts are on display. There is also a large cross which has a viewing deck at the cross’ arms. To get there, we had to climb a series of steps from the monument to the base of the cross. From the base, an elevator took us up to the viewing deck. Entrance fee to the shrine is Php 20 per person as of this writing (2015).
the view from las casas
Boasting some decent beaches that don’t require a flight or an overly long road trip from Manila, Bagac is perhaps the most “touristy” town in Bataan. At first glance, this sleepy seaside town doesn’t seem to get much action. But there are two key resorts here. First is Montemar Beach Club, a resort that’s remained relevant in over two decades thanks to proximity to Manila.
Then there’s Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar which brands itself as a resort. But I wouldn’t necessarily call it one. More in keeping with a theme park, Las Casas is an interesting study on the preservation of heritage architecture. Opinion on this resort has been divided. There are the staunch preservationists who are aghast over the way the colonial buildings are transplanted from all over the Philippines and then there are the visitors who are mostly impressed by what they see. So far, it’s got the seal of approval of APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) since they held one of their summits there.
one of the heritage houses at las casas
The sprawling complex is literally made up of dozens of heritage houses, many of which are open for overnight stays. It’s easy to spend a day here just exploring the buildings. Tours are held every hour – the only time when visitors can enter some of the more famous houses. Other than that, the property extends all the way to the beach which is decent enough for a swim.
Through public transport, Bataan is a comfortable bus ride away. From the Five Star bus terminal in Cubao, buses depart for Balanga, Bataan. Trip cost is Php 200. Buses also ply the Balanga to Bagac route.
Other places to visit in Bataan:
- Balanga City Wetland and Nature Park
- Philippine-Japan Friendship Tower, in Bagac
- Zero Kilometer Bataan Death March Marker, in Bagac
- Pawikan Festival in Morong (held every late November)
Where to stay in Bataan: