Perhaps the most important island in the Philippines is Luzon. This island is home to the nation’s capitol, Manila, the nation’s major airport, Ninoy Aquino International, and the major economical hubs.
It’s no surprise then to learn that in 2015, Luzon’s massive population ranked it the 4th most populous island in the world and is expected to surpass the population of Great Brittan in just a few years.
While most travelers hit the Manila airport and jump directly on another plane to one of the tourist islands, not many choose the Luzon roads less traveled- but they should. Once you make your way outside of the bustling city of Manila and head to the coast, you’ll find an unexpected world of full of small villages, serene beaches, unexplored jungles, and a handful of islands most travelers have never even heard of. Pepper amongst the natural beauty of Luzon are memorials, museums, and culture throwbacks to the rich history of the Philippines.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Luzon:
1. Batad Rice Terraces
A visit to Batad will be a completely opposite experience to your visit to Manila. Instead of crowded streets and towering skyscrapers, you can expect green rice terraces set in a village with a population that only manages to reach about 1,500 people.
Take a morning hike up the hills and look down into a tapered valley with immaculately designed rice terraces glowing with green vegetation as far as you can see. There are quaint wooden houses scattered around these terraces where the farmers and their families live.
While you’re here, you can stay with a family for a homestay opportunity and hike to a nearby waterfall with a friendly guide. See a side of the Philippines through the eyes of the people who life and thrive here.
2. Ta’al Volcano in Tagaytay City
Just three hours away from Manila is the wondrous city of Tagaytay, home to Ta’al Volcano.
This active volcano has experienced over 30 eruptions in recent history and still puffs out smoke to this day. But that isn’t actually what makes Ta’al so unique.
From the naked eye, you can see that Ta’al Volcano sits in the middle of a lake. Pretty cool. But look a little closer at the mouth of Ta’al Volcano and you’ll see that the mouth holds a lake, as well. Look even closer and you’ll see that the lake inside of the volcano’s mouth has yet another island.
Did you catch all that? You might have to visit for yourself to get the picture.
3. WWII Era Corregidor Island
Just because you don’t have much time to spend on Luzon doesn’t mean that you can’t get out and explore. From Manila, you can take a guided tour to historical island or Corregidor.
This little island was once a notorious battleground during WWII between the Americans, Japanese, and Filipino troops. The conflicts left behind relics and reminders of these trying times that now serve as educational props.
Primarily, this island served as a fortress whose skeleton still remains. You’ll also visit the light hours, military barracks, and hear stories from your guide.
During your tour, you’ll also be treated to some bird watching and a traditional Filipino lunch.
4. Swimming in Pagupud
From Manila, you can reach the northern Luzon town of Pagupud by either flying into Laoag City airport or taking a 12-hour over night bus.
When you reach Pagupud, there will be lots of pristine swimming opportunities waiting to greet you! One of the most beautiful beaches in the area is Maira-ira Beach. This beach is home to the popular Blue Lagoon where turquoise water and shallow depths make for the perfect way to spend the day.
You’ll find plenty of cute little restaurants along the beach that offer a variety of fare and plenty of cold beer.
5. Private Getaway on Magalawa Island
Looking for a luxurious get away near Luzon? Magalawa Island has got what you’re looking for.
This small island is inhabited by just one resort called Armada Resort. This resort came to existence as a way to funnel in just the right amount of tourism to the island and to stimulate its economy.
What does that mean for you? That means that you will be one of the very few guests on this island and will receive top-class service. This also means that the beaches, water, and nature are totally unspoiled and have not been ruined by development!
6. Explore Mt. Mayon in Legazpi
Mayon Volcano National Park is a breathtaking experience full of adventure and exploration.
There are many ways to get up close and personal with Mt. Mayon including a hike around it’s base with bright green plains, rice fields, clean creeks, and rushing rivers. There are tons of trails to hike with varying levels of difficulty and observation decks that give you amazing views of the surrounding valley.
For a more heart-pounding adventure, sign up for an ATV tour or a mountain biking tour with guides who know where to find the best views.
You can also climb up nearby Lignon Hill Nature Park where you can take a 320-meter zip line down with incredible views of the mountain by your side.
7. Hanging Coffins in Sagada
There is a strange tradition in the town of Sagada where instead of burying their coffins in the ground, they attach them to the sides of cliffs where they remain on display forever. This tradition gives off an eerie vampire feel but actually is just a way to get their loved ones closer to heaven.
Outside of this odd attraction, visitors enjoy trekking in the forest, hiking to waterfalls, rappelling and spelunking down cliffs, exploring caves, and enjoying the scenery in this mountainous village. Sagada is certainly an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise.
8. Stay in the Village of Adams
In the northern province of Ilcos Norte lies a small, isolated village called Adams. The village population is just over 1,000 people, almost all of which are farmers and fishermen. These gentle people warmly open their homes to the few tourists that come to visit and provide homestay opportunities.
When you stay in Adams you can look forward to trying their local specialty, tropical wine, and dining on fresh fish raised in their tilapia farm. But the real joy of staying in Adams is the ability to chase waterfalls all day.
There are 18 waterfalls in Adams with beautiful nature hikes and charming hanging bridges to cross on your journey. A local guide will be happy to take you.
9. Spanish Colonial Town of Vigan
Ever wanted to take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage down cobblestone streets between tall Spanish colonial buildings? Now’s your chance- and in the Philippines of all places!
Vigan, located in northern Luzon, used to serve as the unofficial political capitol during the 1950’s Spanish occupation, hence the throwback to Spanish colonial times.
Vigan’s infrastructure has been well preserved from Spanish times. Go shopping in the Mestizo District where you can buy hand-rolled cigars. Visit Plaza Salcedo, the site of the public hanging of a resistance leader or Plaza Burgos to try some Spanish empanadas.
10. Hike around Subic
Located in the Zambales province of Luzon is Subic. This coastal town used to be home to a US Naval base and is still used as a port today. However, that’s not what draws in waves of tourists. Rather, it’s the Pamulaklakin Forest.
Nature lovers come to explore the Pamulaklakin trails where they can adventure through the rainforest along rivers, over rolling green hills and under hundred-year-old trees. The vegetation includes tropical flowers and indigenous plants. Better yet, the trees are filled with singing birds of all kinds that play melodies while you walk.
There are trails for every level including hikes that last 30 minutes and some that can stretch up to 3 hours.
11. Visit Burias Island
One moment you’ll feel like you are on a castaway island with only white sand beaches and crystal clear water at your feet. The next you’ll be in a cozy municipality scattered with guesthouses restaurants, and a bit of souvenir shopping. You really get the best of both worlds on this island off the coast of Luzon.
Burias Island has a couple of smaller islands scattered around which make for a fantastic day of island-hopping. Hire a local boat that will take you to deserted islands with out-of-this-world stunning beaches and strange rock formations.
To get there, use the town of Pasacao as your jumping off point. From there, you’ll take a two-hour boat to Burias Island and your adventure will begin.
12. Art in Island in Manila
Add some dimension to your travel photos- literally.
Art in Island is a 3D art gallery where you make each piece come to life. Get creative while posing on top of a birthday cake, inside the mouth of a shark, or off catching some killer waves on your surfboard. There are tons of scenes to choose from as it is the biggest 3D art gallery in all of Asia with the highest quantity of paintings!
This is a fantastic art museum and gallery for families. Kids find each and every scene to be hilarious and it’s a great opportunity to capture some family-friendly photos for the ages.
13. Eat Traditional Dishes
As Luzon is home to dozens of booming cities with lots of workers that come from all over the country, you can expect to find the best dishes to represent every corner of the Philippines.
In every city you visit, follow the office workers to lunch! You’ll often find food stalls with plastic chairs and tables are the most crowded around noon. These kinds of restaurants often offer authentic dishes out of giant pots. Point to what ever you’d like and fill up your plate with a little bit of everything.
Some traditional dishes to try in the Philippines are deep fried egg rolls called Lumpia, chicken vermicelli noodle soup called Chicken Sotanghon, and for a snack, deep-fried pork skin called Chicaron.
14. Mount Isarog National Park
Imagine if the movie ‘The Lion King’ was set a tropical region with rice fields, rainforests, and mountains instead of the desert. Where you could stand atop a hill and see as far as the sun touches with clear blue skies against emerald green landscape. Mount Isarog National Park is just that gorgeous.
This thriving natural environment is home to plenty of endemic animal species such as the Isarog Shrew rat, the Isarog Cloud Frog, and the ultra-rare Mt. Isarog Forest Skink found only in this region.
Hike, bike, and climb around the national park where you can visit hot springs and cold springs, waterfalls, and get in touch with your wild side.
15. Roam the National Museum in Manila
The history of the Philippines, Luzon Island in particular, is one filled with twists, turns, and shocking upsets that have all contributed to the rich culture it carries today.
At the grand National Museum, you can catch a glimpse into what this country and its people have endured and overcome in the past few centuries.
As you wander from case to case and exhibit to exhibit, you’ll see paintings depicting the Japanese arrival in World War II and learn about the Spanish occupation via artifacts and sculptures.
The National Museum also pays tribute to the beauty of its people and culture via pottery, hand drawn pictures, and more.