Situated in the Central Luzon region of the Philippines, Bataan is definitely a tourist friendly province. Its capital is the City of Balanga, which is an award-winning city in terms of good governance and health initiatives. Bataan may not be a popular travel destination as Boracay and Palawan but it has a very powerful history and rich culture which should cater to all-around travelers. Besides, it is located just 3 hours away from Manila which makes it a perfect weekend getaway.
Bataan’s rich history with its role during the Japanese occupation is well represented in some of the tourist sites around the province. These landmarks depict the bravely of the Filipinos and Americans who fought for the Philippines during World War II. Aside from history, the province is gifted with wonderful seas and mountains and will satisfy not only historians but people from all walks of life, especially nature lovers. So let’s start our tour of Bataan.
Leave as early as 4:00 AM from Manila to avoid traffic. Start your experience at the Bataan Tourism Center (BTC), the tourism information hub of the Province of Bataan. It houses the Provincial Tourism Office, an Exhibit Hall, Audio Visual Room and Pasalubong Center offering the finest products, handicrafts, and delicacies of the province. Situated along the Roman Superhighway, City of Balanga, BTC will guide you through your adventure to Bataan.
1. Visit the Shrine of Valor (Dambana ng Kagitingan) atop Mt. Samat in Diwa, Pilar
The sentinel of Bataan, this shrine complex consists of a Colonnade and a large Memorial Cross, and a war museum. The park was commissioned by then-President Ferdinand Marcos, for the 25th Anniversary of World War II. The white Memorial Cross stands as a remembrance of the heroic stand and sacrifices of the soldiers who fought and loss their lives in the Battle of Bataan.
The war museum has a big collection of paintings and armaments used by the Filipino, American, and Japanese forces during the battle.
There is an elevator ride to the top of the cross. From the colonnade and the cross, you can see a panoramic view of Bataan, Corregidor Island and even the City of Manila on a clear day.
The 6.5 km uphill road up to the shrine is a sight to behold as well. The road is lined with huge trees and thick vegetation but is well-paved. There are wild monkeys and birds that are inhabitants of the forest. Those who are adventurous may opt to climb on foot from the foot of the mountain, but this is a long and arduous climb only for the strong and hardy.
2. Zipline down the mountain
From Mt. Samat, a perfect side trip for the adventurous is the Treetop Adventure. The 540 meter long zip ride lasts 40 to 45 seconds and costs around Php500.00. There are also other obstacles such as hanging bridge, rope and other outdoor activities.
The small park includes the Dunsulan Falls which is at the foot of the mountain. While not as extravagant as other falls and not good for swimming, it has its own charm and a perfect photo op.
3. Find a peaceful retreat at the Lady of the Pillar Parish Church in Pilar
On the way down from Mt. Samat is Pilar town proper, one of the oldest towns in Bataan. There are many old churches in Bataan and one of them is located in this town.
Our Lady of the Pillar Parish Church (Nuestra Seῆora del Pilar) has an interesting story behind its well-preserved-structure. The construction of the church begun in 1834 after a storm led the Spaniards to this place. The courage of the natives and their faith in Our Lady of the Pillar prompted the Spaniards to dedicate the place to her.
The belfry of the church is located atop the main façade. Today, the church is one of the much visited destinations for local pilgrims and tourists and celebrate its feast day every 12 of October.
There is another Our Lady of the Pillar Church in the town of Morong, Bataan.
4. Head back to the City of Balanga and relax at Vista Mall
After the hectic pace of the morning, its time to have lunch and do a little shopping. Located at Roman Superhighway, Vista Mall is 10-hectare of modern design and tenant mix. This mall houses signature brands, a huge furniture shop, toys, supermarket, modern cinemas, restaurants, and an expansive area for exhibits, cultural and other entertainment shows.
Aside from the traditional fast food chains, restaurants in the mall offer all kinds of cuisine both local and international.
Enjoy the cool surroundings before heading to your next destination.
5. Soak more history at the Bataan World War II Museum
Located behind the public elementary school in Talisay, Balanga City, is the Bataan World War II Museum. It is the only war museum in Bataan that was built as a tribute to the heroes of Bataan world war. There is a diorama of the Bataan Death March inside the museum.
At the back of the school compound is a life-size marker of the spot where Maj. Gen. Edward King signed the instrument of surrender to Japan on April 9, 1942.
You must also see the Torture Chamber that was used by the Japanese during the war. Although padlocked, you can peep inside this creepy room which was preserved and practically untouched through a small window. The museum is open from 9AM – 4PM Mondays to Saturdays (except holidays) for a fee of Php 50 for regular visitors.
6. Be with nature at the Balanga Wetland and Nature Park
The Balanga Wetland and Nature Park, commonly known as Tortugas Bay Park is a popular destination for bird watching. The first wetland and nature park in the country, the park hosts thousands of migratory birds during the season. There are view decks around the park for visitors to have a safe and meaningful encounter with the birds.
Although the migratory season is during the months of November to April, there are several birds who made this park their sanctuary. The best times to see them are early in the morning and late in the afternoon (near sunset) when they feed.
Enjoy the sunset at the park then head back to the town proper.
7. Enjoy the sights at Plaza Mayor de Ciudad De Balanga
Bataan may paint of a sleepy, idyllic backwater sights, but its capital, Balanga City, portrays a different picture. Combining old world charm and twenty-first century characteristics, like its own Starbucks, for example, the magnificent Plaza Mayor de Ciudad de Balanga, is a sight not to be missed. The town plaza resembles the plazas in Europe with the façade of the buildings inspired by Spanish colonial architecture. Here you will find the City Hall, the Plaza Hotel Balanga, and Galeria Victoria, a shopping mall, and the Balanga Cathedral.
Located in the middle of the city proper, the Balanga Cathedral was established in April 1, 1741. Formerly known as Diocesan Shrine and Cathedral Parish of St. Joseph, it is the seat of the Diocese of Balanga which comprises the entire province of Bataan.
During the Japanese invasion, the cathedral was used as an artillery emplacement to bombard the Filipino and American forces in Mt. Samat where the troops made their last stand. It was later renovated by the first bishop of the Diocese, Celso Guevarra, DD, and made its patron saint, St. Joseph.
Across the church are the City Plaza, The Plaza Hotel and Galleria Victoria which is a shopping mall. Check in at the Plaza Hotel, a charming boutique hotel that combines the modern with the quaint. There are many restaurants and shops surrounding the plaza where you can spend your free time. Drop by Stregato Gelateria for a bite to eat, or head down for dinner at The Beanery.
Whether daytime or nighttime, the plaza is a beautiful site. But it comes to life especially at night, with a spectacle of lights and dancing fountains that is framed by the magnificent façade of the surrounding buildings.
Enjoy the rest of your first day in Bataan soaking in this sight!
After breakfast, you can start your second day in Bataan by heading back on the road to Bagac, the largest municipality in Bataan. You can start as early as you can to enjoy your day tour to your next destination.
8. Take a quick photo and pay respects at the Zero Kilometer Death March Marker in Bagac
The Zero KM Death March Marker is where the POWs started their first steps that would take them from their march from Bataan to San Fernando, Pampanga.
There are actually two zero markers, this one in Bagac and another one in Mariveles. During the Death March, the soldiers were split into two groups, which is how the march started at two places at the same time. The march would take the lives of over 10,000 men.
9. Stop by and take photos at the Philippine-Japanese Friendship Tower
Less than 700 feet from the zero marker is the Philippine-Japanese Friendship Tower. Inaugurated back in April 8, 1975, the tower symbolizes the rekindled friendly relations between the Philippines and Japan after World War II. The site is located at the junction of the Gov. Linao National Road and the road to Bagac town proper.
10. Immerse in heritage at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar
An open-air museum and heritage park in Bagac, Bataan, there are 30 heritage houses within the park. Owned by Jose “Gerry” Acuzar, he started to rebuild Spanish colonial-era mansions in 2003. By 2010, the heritage park which resembled a period settlement was opened to public.
Each heritage house was chosen based on their historical, cultural, and architectural value. The houses, which are often stone houses (stone foundations for the first floor and wood on the second floor) were carefully dismantled in situ brick by brick, numbered, transplanted from around the Philippines, to the park in Bagac where they were reassembled and restored. Woodwork and bricks for the missing parts were replicated to resemble the original structure.
Aside from being picturesque, the 400 hectares resort has everything one could ask for – accommodations, a pool, private beach, spa, restaurants, gaming center, conference and banquet facilities, cultural shows and a heritage tour.
Dubbed as the country’s first and only heritage resort by the sea, Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar will take you back to the 18th century Philippines.
BACK TO MANILA
From here, you can either continue to Morong or head back to the City of Balanga. If you continue, stop by the Pawikan Conservation Center, visit the Our Lady of the Pillar Church in Morong, stop for lunch at the famous Vietnamese restaurant, Aling Loleng’s Hu tieu-an, and use the SBMA Morong Road, take the SCTEX and NLEX to Manila.
BACK TO BALANGA CITY
If you decide to head back to the city, buy the local food products available at the city’s Central Market, such as smoked fish (tinapa), sun dried herring (tuyo), and shrimp paste (bagoong), and cashew nuts, and araro cookies before heading to your next destination. If you are not choosy, you may want to eat an early lunch at the Food Court in the market which offers traditional home-cooked food.
11. On to Abucay for more history
The Saint Dominic De Guzman Church, also known as Abucay Church, is a 17th century Baroque church founded by the Dominican Missionary Friars in 1588 and is dedicated to Saint Dominic of Guzman. The church was witness to the massacre of hundreds of Filipinos and Spaniards by the Dutch invaders in June 23, 1647. This church history was inscribed on a historical marker installed by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines in 1939.
The church also housed one of the earliest printing presses in the Philippines, established in 1608 by Father Francisco Blancas de San Jose, OP, and Tomas Pinpin, who used the facility to print books in Spanish and Tagalog.
12. Relax at Vista Tala Resort and Recreational Park in Orani before heading back to Manila
Vista Tala Resort and Recreational Park is a mountainside resort located in the quaint village called Tala, Orani. Decked with villas and a beautiful cliffside pool overlooking a view of the lush mountains and trees, enjoy this tropical luxury in this resort which is unparallel with other resorts for many years to come. This is an experience that will cap your tour of Bataan.
If you include this resort in your itinerary, information is available in their website. You may opt to stay for another day at this resort or take the day tour which is also available.
From Orani, you can continue your travel to Hermosa and Dinalupihan and take NLEX for your return to Manila.