The provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon—collectively known as Calabarzon—are some of the most geographically diverse regions in the country. And they’re now in the spotlight as Metro Manila residents are looking for nearby destinations that offer sun and sea.
Spanning more than 16,000 square kilometers, Calabarzon is bordered by Manila Bay in the west, Metro Manila, Bulacan, and Aurora in the north, Bicol in the east, and the Isla Verde Passage in the south. Each province in the region is composed of different environments ranging from low coastal areas to rugged, mountainous ones.
This explains why, during the weekends, thousands of travelers flock to Tagaytay, hike the mountains of Rizal, frolic on the beaches of Batangas, and feast on the culinary delights of Quezon.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) aims to deepen this connection with Calabarzon through the “Philippine Experience: Culture, Heritage, and the Arts Caravan” (PEP). PEP is one of the flagship projects of the DOT and aims to make tourism a reliable pillar for economic growth built on the strength of the country’s unique history, diverse cultures and heritage, and the world-renowned Filipino hospitality.
DOT Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco sees the Philippine Experience as a “window to the heart and soul of the Philippines.” She adds, “There are countless reasons to fall in love with the Philippines, and Calabarzon encapsulates them all. Tourists visiting the region will be captivated by breathtaking natural landscapes, vibrant cultural heritage, and distinct delectable cuisine. And the genuine warmth and hospitality of its people.”
A diplomatic experience
The DOT patterned the project after Cebu’s Suroy Suroy Sugbo, which showcases the province’s cultural sites, festivals, delicacies and products. Through its Calabarzon regional office, the tourism department held a three-day curated trip from September 30 to October 2.
They invited members of the diplomatic corps from the embassies of Japan, China, Indonesia and India—countries that are the biggest markets for Calabarzon. There were also guests from media, travel and tourism stakeholders, and delegates from other government agencies.
According to Regional Director Marites T. Castro, Calabarzon recorded 4,234,071 overnight tourists from January to June, higher by 12.97% from the same period last year. The region also recorded 57,543,260 same-day arrivals, higher by 129.18 percent in 2022.
Day 1: History and celebration
The journey started with the history of the Philippines’ first president, Emilio Aguinaldo. The house, still fronting the iconic veranda where President Aguinaldo read the Declaration of Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898, has preserved relics of the Spanish occupation and early American colonization.
After participants gathered at the raising of the Philippine flag in the historical house, they were treated to a traditional Magdalo breakfast consisting of salsa, tapa, tinapang sardinas, tortang itlog with burong mustasa, and kesong puti.
For the next stop, the group went to Bacoor to celebrate the city’s 352nd founding anniversary through the Bakood Festival. Declared as the Marching Band Capital of the Philippines, the festival celebrates its rich musical heritage and is the birthplace of the oldest living marching bands in the country.
About 47 marching bands from all over the country showcased their colors, music and choreography which delighted the guests as well as thousands of residents at the Bacoor Oval Track and Field.
After the festivities, guests were taken to the charming heritage town of Taal, where the largest Roman Catholic church in Asia, the Minor Basilica of Saint Martin of Tours, left guests awestruck with its majestic vista accented by sunset hues for a picturesque view of the town. Aside from the church, the town is known for its well-preserved heritage houses which are common backdrops to historical movie scenes.
The immersive tour of PEP continued with an enlightening showcase of its famous products, the balisong (pocket knife), and the panutsa (brown sugar candy), Batangas’ most cherished products. The guide gave a demonstration on how Batangueños play with the balisong while artisans guide the guests the process in making the panutsa.
According to Secretary Frasco, The Philippine Experience aims to give guests an opportunity to see and feel the many reasons to love the Philippines.
“From the church to the heritage houses to the needlework and embroidery of the ladies that made the barongs, to the delicious food, the peanut brittle, the merienda, these details that you have gotten to know about Taal are precisely the reason why we have staged the Philippine Experience,” Frasco enthused.
Day 2: Cuisine and culture
The thriving coconut industry in Laguna took the spotlight where participants enjoyed an interactive cooking tour at Casa San Pablo. Known as the “Tree of Life,” the coconut’s potential has been harnessed extensively in Laguna to produce a variety of products, ranging from wine and vinegar to sweet delicacies and culinary dishes.
After that, the delegates were taken to Tiaong, Quezon, where they would experience traditional provincial life in a hacienda in Villa Escudero. Villa Escudero Plantations was founded in 1872 by Don Plácido Escudero and his wife, Doña Claudia Marasigan.
Originally a sugar cane plantation, the crop was converted to coconut by their son, Don Arsenio Escudero, in the early 1900s. Currently, the plantation is run by the Villas Escudero Foundation as a tourist attraction where visitors can go on engaging activities like carabao riding, lunch by a man-made waterfall, and cultural shows prepared by the employees of the Villa Escudero Foundation.
The 800-hectare plantation and resort has a reputation for showcasing for the Philippines’ rich cultural heritage, offering a captivating glimpse of the country’s history, cuisine, dress, customs, and natural beauty.
The cultural show is an absolute must-see attraction when visiting the plantation, as it offers an enthralling and unforgettable experience. This captivating spectacle features a mesmerizing display of traditional folk dances, performed with grace and passion by the talented resort employees and their children.
This extraordinary performance is a testament to the rich cultural heritage of the region and has been painstakingly recreated under the artistic guidance of the late National Artist for Dance Ramon Obusan. Renowned for his contributions to the cultural landscape of the Philippines, Ramon Obusan’s involvement in crafting this show ensures that it embodies authenticity and excellence.
In the day’s final activity, the delegates were taken to the Quezon Provincial Capitol to officially welcome them to Quezon, followed by the much-awaited fashion and cultural show. Tagayan is a traditional indigenous custom where visitors are offered shot glasses of the famed coconut wine, Lambanog, as a heartfelt welcome aimed at nurturing friendship, diplomacy, and camaraderie among those who venture to Quezon.
With everyone clad in their best Filipiniana attire, the evening concluded as Quezonian models flaunted intricate and elaborate Filipiniana gowns and modern Barong Tagalog by fashion designers from the region. It was an unforgettable night of celebration of everything “Quezon” as merchants also provided a sampling of their tourism products in the dinner.
Day 3: Carving and crafting
The third and final day brought participants closer to nature with an exhilarating “shoot the rapids” adventure at the Pagsanjan Gorge National Park. Here, PEP attendees boarded the small canoe-like boats and treated themselves to a visual feast of nature’s wonders surrounding them.
After a one-hour canoe ride, guests were then invited to ride a raft leading up to the Cavinti Falls where many enjoyed seconds after a “hard massage” under the waterfalls.
The journey continued to Paete, Laguna, known as the “Art Capital of Laguna” and the “Carving Capital of the Philippines.” Participants witnessed the meticulous craftsmanship of skilled Paete craftsmen as they demonstrated their wood-crafting prowess. The delegates were given a history lesson in Paete Church, known for its huge and exquisite collection of images depicting the Passion of Christ, its century-old paintings, and wooden images of saints.
In its last stop, the delegates were taken to the small embroidery town of Lumban, Laguna. A cultural performance by the town’s youth narrated the story and livelihood of Lumban. The town is known for its rich embroidery industry, famous for intricate designs of the Filipiniana and barong tagalog. These traditional Filipino garments are crafted and handmade by talented local artisans located in the town’s “barong avenue.”
To wrap up the three-day tour, a dinner program was held at Ted’s Kitchen in Santa Cruz, Laguna, the birthplace of kesong puti (white cheese). This dinner featured a delectable array of native dishes from Laguna, providing the perfect conclusion to the PEP Calabarzon journey.
Minister and Consul-General of the Embassy of Japan Hanada Takahiro said, “I am thoroughly enjoying the Philippine experience. The people here are very warm and friendly. Calabarzon boasts many beautiful and interesting places, and it is rich in culture. But what I appreciate most is the hospitality of the Filipino people.”
Likewise, India’s Political Attaché Shikha Kumari added, “I think all the places are very good, especially the churches. The food is also good, but what I love the most is the love of the Filipinos and the hospitality they provide.”
This leg of the Philippine Experience caravan gave a preview of how tourists—local and foreign—can fall in love and be captivated by the charm of Calabarzon (and the Philippines, too!). There is no other experience elsewhere in the world that has all these mixes, making it not only memorable but truly one for the books.
“The Philippine Experience is one of DOT’s proudest endeavors, highlighting not only the region’s best offerings, but also the province’s rich cultures and our greatest asset, the Filipino people. We extend this invitation for everyone- Filipinos and foreigners alike, to experience our country region by region; marvel at our sounds, sights, gastronomy, heritage and culture, and the plethora of reasons to love the Philippines!” concludes tourism chief Frasco.