Right at the doorsteps of Manila and perched at the southern end of the Sierra Madre, Rizal holds many secret natural and cultural treasures- from its beautiful waterfalls and stunning rock formations, Spanish colonial churches to thousands of years old artworks and a passionate dedication to arts- truly a surprise treat for travelers who often overlook this wonder of a province.
Just 20 kilometers east of Manila is the Province of Rizal – so close that it is often dismissed by a lot if not most of the travelers as another surrogate to the capital city. In part, this is true- for the cities and towns that are close to the metropolis, one wonders where Manila ends and where the province of Rizal begins as the outskirts of Rizal are heavily industrialized and commercial in nature and seem to be an extension of Manila thus creating an impression that Rizal has nothing to offer but just another industrial suburb of Manila. And, man, that statement could have never been so absolutely wrong.
Photo by Spumpie
Rizal began as a territory when the provinces of Tondo and Laguna were created by the Spanish government with the towns of Pasig and Parañaque (now part of Metro Manila), Taytay and Cainta- bustling towns during the Spanish colonial era with a decidedly cosmopolitan mix already, intermarriages between the Tagalogs, the Chinese and Arabs were prevalent long before Spain came to colonize these shores. Encomiendas were established with Moron (Morong), Passi (Pasig), Taitay (Taytay) and Tagui (Taguig-now part of Metro Manila) under their respective jurisdictions under the provinces of Tondo and La Laguna. In the succeeding years, further political subdivisions were dissolved and created with the town of Morong eventually becaming the capital of La Laguna and then later changed into a Distrito Politico-Militar de Morong. During the tenure of the revolutionary government of General Emilio Aguinaldo, who also served as the Philippines’ first Philippine President, Mariquina (Marikina) became the capital of the Province of Manila.
After all these confusing fusions and dissections of Manila, on 11 June 1901 the province of Rizal (named after the Philippine National Hero Jose Rizal as suggested by Dr. Trinidad Hermenegildo Pardo de Tavera- a creole and derided as one of the first American “buttkissers”, who’s Parisian house at one time received Jose Rizal and other prominent Filipino intellectuals and revolutionists in Europe) was finally created by virtue of Act No. 137 by the first Philippine Commission (was acting as the unicameral legislative body for Luzon at that time) headed by United States of America President William Howard Taft and composed of Commissioners Luke E. Wright, Henry C. Ide, Bernard Moses and Dean C, Worcester during a meeting at the Pasig Catholic Church and with 221 delegates in attendance through a heated debate.
Originally composed of 26 towns (most of which are now part of Metro Manila), the former dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 824 took away the 12 towns of Rizal namely the towns of Las Piñas, Makati, Taguig, Pateros, Mandaluyong, San Juan, Malabon, Navotas, Muntinlupa, Parañaque, Pasig and Marikina to merge them with the newly-created Metro Manila leaving Rizal with the remaining 14 towns.
Right now, Rizal is bordered by Metro Manila to the west, with the impressive rugged mountains of Sierra Madre and the province of Quezon to the east, Bulacan to the north and the Laguna and the Laguna de Bay – one of the largest freshwater basins in Asia-Pacific, to the south. This diverse geography now plays host to a kaleidoscope of spectacular natural wonders. Although struggling between sounding too cliché and its rather charmless concrete view decks and an obvious but seemingly manageable trash situation, the waterfalls of Hinulugang Taktak in Antipolo- a popular tourist destination for Manila-folk in the past, is unarguably stunning in its own right and probably the closest waterfall you can ever get to from Manila. There is a minimal entrance fee, one can reach it by a tricycle and it is pretty close to the important pilgrimage church of Antipolo – the Antipolo Domed Cathedral. The cathedral is home to Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage (brought to Antipolo on November 26, 1626 by Archbishop Michael O’Doherty) whose apparent miraculous image sailed back and forth between Manila and Acapulco eight times- not an easy feat since the waters of the Pacific could be treacherous and unforgiving to the galleons with the oceanic storms, pirate attacks and British and Dutch blockades eyeing to seize the Philippines that time. Of course we now know that the British succeeded in occupying Luzon from 1762-1764 (although Philippine History books seem to skim through this bit of history). By the end of the occupation, British Indian troops called the Sepoys mutinied and decided to live, intermarry with the locals and settle in the town of Cainta, thus, it is not a wonder that you would see descendants of people in Cainta have Indian facial features and there is cuisine influenced by their Indian ancestry. During the Lenten Season, scores of pilgrims and devotees flock to Antipolo Church, walking all the way from Manila barefoot. Do not be surprised to see people around early morning during the week of Easter walking barefoot on Manila’s main drag- EDSA, chances are they are headed to Antipolo for this annual sojourn.
Photo by Dave Ryan Buaron
Aside from the newish-looking Antipolo Cathedral, Antipolo also boasts of another very romantic looking church of Boso-boso (Nuestra Señora de la Anunciata- Our Lady of the Annunciation) which was established as a church mission by the Jesuits in the 17th century. The church was destroyed by an earthquake on 18 June 1880, and almost got buried underwater when a dam project in 1930 was proposed. The church was vacated. Fortunately the project did not push through and the church was saved. While it narrowly escaped by being drowned, the church was not immune to fire. It was burned down in 1943 during the height of World War II and eventually turned into a ruin. In 1995, its devotees finally rebuilt the church in its original state. Antipolo is also known for its dramatic, sweeping views of the Manila skyline. There are restaurants that sit on its ridges overlooking the sprawling megalopolis we call Metro Manila. Pretty good views I say. During early mornings, watch as the dawn breaks, watch the bed of clouds and fog creep in and hug the ridges of Antipolo.
Other historically and architecturally significant churches would be the churches of Baras, Tanay and Morong. The Saint Jerome Church of Morong was built by Chinese artisians in 1615 with stone and mortars with the distinct architecture that reflects Chinese touches on Baroque style as the two Chinese lion sculptures stands guard at its entrance and the feng shui symbolism of the octagonal bell tower. The church was also the site of a fierce gun battle between the Filipino revolutionists Katipuneros and the Spanish Guardia Civils during the latter part of the 19th century as its walls bear pockmarks and bullet-scarring. The Tanay Church meanwhile boasts of beautiful and ornate retablos (altars) and the 14 ‘Via Crucis’ or Stations of the Cross curved in bas relief of wood. The church was the first that was made of stone in Tanay and was first built in 1680 in what is now the present location of Tanay Park. The current church was rebuilt in 1773 and completed ten years later. Tanay Church is the best example of early Renaissance Architecture in the Philippines and is famed for being one of the very few churches in the country that features Rococo Artwork, a popular style during the 18th Century characterized by curves and goldleaf. Saint Joseph Church of Baras, another fine example of Baroque Architecture, meanwhile was built in 1686 and like the churches of Boso-boso, Tanay, and Morong have the same romantic feel. The altar and its lectern were constructed with stones that were unearthed beneath the site of the church.
Photo by Spumpie
Aside from the more famous Hinulugang Taktak, Rizal also has another two beautiful waterfalls- Daranak Falls and Batlag Falls of Tanay. Daranak is owned by the provincial government of Rizal and there is a minimal fee of PhP20 per person to enter, and compared with the Hinulugang Taktak in Antipolo is a little bit cleaner. During the rainy season, these two falls gush ebullient cascades of water which is made quite mesmerizing by the fact that these beautiful waterfalls are so close to Manila! Batlag Falls (Entrance fee- PhP50 per person), which is further up from Daranak and is privately owned by the Felix Family (and reportedly Philippine boxer Manny Pacquiao offered to buy the entire estate for PhP90 Million- the family refused) is even better and even cleaner than Daranak. Batlag Falls is actually composed by two waterfalls each looking like a bridal veil. Both falls were refreshing and beautiful although it is constantly being threatened by the stupidity of some of its visitors – since picnicking is allowed, some visitors are insensitive and dumb enough to leave some of their trash around. Good thing the trash situation at these waterfalls is manageable and hopefully it will not reach alarming levels. At Batlag Falls we even saw someone etched their name on one of the stones! I wish that the local government of Rizal and the town of Tanay would do something to preserve the beauty of these places – which incidentally are used frequently by Filipino filmmakers to shoot some of its fight scenes. For fans of Philippine Cinema, are you familiar with the requisite scene where our hero jumps off from the top of the waterfall? You guessed it right, it was all filmed here. There are some small huts available for rent, but the main falls area of Daranak itself closes at 5PM. In Taytay, there is a smaller and apparently harder to reach waterfall, the Tres Escalon Waterfalls as well as the Maharlika Falls.
Photo from Official Website of the Provincial Government of Rizal
For mountaineers or just fans of beautiful rock formations, one is stunned by the numerous colossal rock formations of Mount Masungi covering hundreds of hectares. In some areas, at certain times of the year, with the right angle of sunlight and viewed from the top, the formations looked like tall spires of orangey-colored rocks that look like a fusion of the limestone karsts of Palawan and the vermillion colored rocks of the Grand Canyon of the United States of America. At the very least, the formations are an impressive sight to behold that seemingly go on for miles with its spiky tops poking through its thick vegetation. The Masungi Park and the Daraetan River of Tanay which are both located at the Sierra Madre Mountain Ranges are a hiker’s paradise with their countless caves (check out the newly-opened Sungib Cave with an apparently navigable river inside) and natural springs. The Daraetan River, awarded as one of the cleanest rivers in the Philippines and where Tanay River originates, has splendid naturally sculptured marble formations that look like they have been chiseled or blasted by a machine (sometimes known as Tinipak na Bato – Chiseled Rock) – a favored place for fans of 4×4 drive and trekkers. You may find caverns in this area where you can enter and paddle a canoe if you wish to go exploring (find a reliable local to guide you in this case).
For spelunking fans, Calinawan Cave is spelunking fastfood – quick, easy and value-added. Used to be a meeting place of Katipuneros of the region where differences were talked over and threshed out (thus Calinawan – “to make clear”) and subsequently became one of the staging posts of Philippine revolutionists against the Spaniards, Americans and the Japanese occupiers. Sadly, some idiots have vandalized the walls of this cave with graffiti (Yes, we now know your name is Ken!), it is not too late though if the locals in the area start cleaning up the walls and preserving the area. A guide is required for a minimal fee- you may buy candles from the small store outside the cave or you may just bring your torch/flashlight with you. The spelunking takes probably about 20 minutes maximum and with the slippery mud, you may want to take appropriate footwear with you, a helmet won’t be so bad either.
Whilst in Tanay, you may want to visit the former Philippine President Joseph Estrada’s rest house which is now converted into a museum and some sort of a zoo. The former President was overthrown during massive protests in the wake of failed impeachment proceedings against the former President’s alleged involvement in the illegal numbers game called jueteng in 2001. Estrada was then placed under what was then called “rest house arrest” in his 15 hectare property in Tanay where he was detained for 6 and a half years. There’s a vegetable garden and a menagerie of ducks, pigs, chickens, horses, swans and ostriches as well as an old chapel and a Muslim-inspired pavilion called the Maranao Village where he entertained guests. He also had a marble tomb constructed for his future use. There is a minimal entrance fee required.
Meanwhile in the town of Rodriguez (formerly called Montalban) you would be able to find Mountain of White Rocks (two white rock mountains of boulders with a very steep gorge in between) that look like a mountain split into two. According to a famous Philippine legend, mythical strong man Bernardo Carpio had an extraordinary strength, strong enough to split the mountain in his time. On the Montalban Gorge, white rocks and boulders are scattered along the river banks. Also found in Rodriguez is the Pamitinan Cave, an important historical site where Andres Bonifacio, the founder of the revolutionary group Katipunan along with 8 other Katipuneros declared independence from Spain in 12 April 1895, a year before the Philippine revolution officially started. The cave still bears the Bonifacio inscription: “Viva La Independencia Filipinas”.
The town of Cardona on the other hand plays host to an interesting geological site, the Cardona Rock Garden- big boulders of rocks cascading. Cardona also serves a jump-off point to the dagger-shaped Talim Island in Laguna de Bay.
Between the Angono and Binangonan boundary, National Artist, acclaimed muralist and Angono native Carlos “Botong” Francisco discovered 127 drawings of animal and human figures engraved in the rock surface along with fragments of earthenware, shells and obsidian flakes carbon dated to circa 3000 B.C. and what has come to be known as the Angono Petroglyphs, a cultural heritage site certified by the National Museum (there is a branch of the National Museum onsite). The site was discovered in 1965 and the Angono Petroglyphs represent the oldest known Filipino relic and artwork. The Angono Petroglyphs have been included in the World Inventory of Rock Art under the support of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) and International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and declared as a National Cultural Treasure by virtue of Presidential Decree 260 and in 1996, it was nominated as one of the ‘100 Most Endangered Sites of the World’ under the World Monument Watch List. Entrance is free, and the site is just before the swanky Thunderbird Resort, there is a small sign that says Angono Petroglyphs, turn right and you will see an old warehouse, follow the dirt road to the right and then when you see the tunnel drilled through a mountain, you may either walk straight through it or ride a tricycle or you may drive your car.
Photo by Dave Ryan Buaron
With the discovery of the ancient drawings, the town of Angono solidified its reputation of being the Cradle of Philippine Art. Angono is a proud home to artist families where a visit to the Blanco Family Museum (Ibañez Streetemail@example.com) on Angono Town is a must- whose museum houses the paintings of the entire family from the youngest (7 Children- all painters) to the patriarch of the family. Some of the paintings can be so detailed that they almost look like photographs and their recurring themes are the travels of the family as well as the pastoral scenes of Angono and Laguna de Bay. Unfortunately some of these paintings were stolen and have yet to be found. Indeed, the museum is extraordinary in how so much talent can be found in just a single family. Museum Hours- : 9-11am, 1-5pm everyday with minimal fee which includes a guided tour. Another must visit place in Angono is the old, and preserved studio of famed Philippine muralist and National Artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco (The Second Gallery, Doña Aurora Street/+63.917.9531104/www.secondgallery.blogspot.com) who was known for his historical pieces and being one of the first Filipino modernists along with Victorio C. Edades and Galo Ocampo (known as the Triumvirate amongst the local art circles) – a rebellion from another National Artist Fernando Amorsolo which is more known for his romanticist works of Philippine scenes. His works include the Bayanihan, Blood Compact, First Mass at Limasawa, The Martyrdom of Rizal, Magpupukot, Fiesta, The Invasion of Limahong, Muslim Bethrotal, Sandugo and Portrait of Purita. These murals have been replicated in bas reliefs on the street where the former master lived. Botong Francisco’s grandson Totong, a visual artist in his own right now maintains a gallery of his own attached to his gramps’ restored studio. Buzz in, they are usually open even during Sundays, entrance is free. A visit to Angono would not be complete without dropping by Toti Argana’s workplace on Manila East Road corner Don Benito Street. Argana is a known Higante maker- giant papier mache human figures that are usually paraded around town during the Higantes Festival celebrated every November 23rd.
Photo by Dave Ryan Buaron
Why Not Go
Rizal does not have any white sandy beaches as the only shoreline that it has is found along the coast of Laguna de Bay.
Perfect for quick weekend getaways, Rizal offers a good number of natural, cultural and historical attractions. Most likely you will be the only foreigner traipsing in its waterfalls as this province is pretty much shunned by most Filipino and foreign travelers- for whatever reason, your guess is as good as mine. Hey, even a certain “well-established” travel guide skipped the entire province altogether!
Best Time to Visit
The best time to go and check Rizal is during the drier months and during the summer months, however, rainy season is the best time to check out the waterfalls as there should be more water and the waterfalls will be lovelier. Check the local weather with the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical & Astronomical Services Administration (www.pagasa.dost.gov.ph) for weather forecasts.
There are a lot of places to stay in Rizal from budget inns to posh resorts. Our personal favorite would be Thunderbird Resorts (http://www.thunderbirdresorts.com/info/philippines/en/resorts.rizal.aspx) on the boundaries of Binangonan and Angono towns and about 45 minute drive from Manila. The resort is a swanky retreat perched 210 feet above sea level with spectacular and panoramic views of one of the largest lake in Southeast Asia. Currently its international hotel has 43 beautifully appointed rooms, themed restaurants (Vegas Buffet, Pool Bar, Cabana Bar and Nueva Laguna- the only Mediterranean-inspired restaurant in the area) and of course for the region’s high rollers- their very own playground- an international casino. The resort also offers access to an 18-hole, all-weather, championship golf course designed by the renowned developer IMG.
Photo credit Thunderbird Resorts
What we love about the rooms- they are just spacious, and tastefully decorated with subtle Filipino touches and the view from the balcony on the second floor is just gorgeous (one can see as far away as the cities and towns down on the other side of Laguna de Bay). Just be careful with the balcony door latches, we were almost locked out of our room when the latch locked from the inside.
Ryan: One of the managers of Thunderbird Resorts told me yesterday (3rd August 2009) that he will have the Engineering Team looked into the problem of the room in question and will have the matters resolved as soon as possible.
Thunderbird Resorts are very close to the Angono Petroglyphs and about 10-15 minutes away from the main town of Angono which is famed for its art scene and the Higantest Festival.
For other budgets, you may want to check out the hotels in Antipolo (it is better that you base yourselves there as it is pretty convenient to launch trips to other parts of Rizal through Antipolo).
Where & What to Eat
There are a lot of places to eat in Rizal and a wide variety too. The most popular probably would be the Sanrok sa Kamalig Restaurant and Function House (691- 5647) in Morong and its branch in Tanay- Basnigan sa Kamalig Seafood & Saro-saro sa Kamalig Restaurant (639-0403/654- 4822), all located along the highway and a very convenient stop-over for travelers around Rizal especially those checking out the sights of Morong and Tanay. The restaurant specializes in yummy Filipino dishes with Asian cuisine techniques like its own versions of Bulalo (cow’s bone marrow soup with vegetables), Bicol Express (pork in spicy coconut milk) and many others. The restaurant is owned by Mr. Raffy Reyes, himself one of the active civic and church leaders in Tanay and is also considering in promoting Tanay as a tourist destination in its own right. It was also through Mr. Reyes’ and his daughter, my friend Carina’s assistance that we were able to go around and see the beautiful sights of Tanay by lending us their pickup and the services of their very knowledgeable driver who filled us in with the bits and pieces of trivia about Tanay.
In Angono, Balaw Balaw (651 0110) stands out. It doubles as a restaurant that specializes in exotic cuisine and an art gallery at the same time. Balaw Balaw refers to fermented shrimp paste mixed with rice gruel and angkak, a reddish herb. The restaurant serves deer meat, frogs’ legs, python adobo-style, and duck adobo. The restaurant used to serve wild boar until the Environment Department called its attention.
The Pool Bar of Thunderbird Resort has a pretty damn excellent view of the gorgeous Laguna de Bay, the golf course and the mountainside. Try their Thunder Burger, their own take on the classic favorite. They are open weekdays from 10AM to 10PM and 8AM-12MN during weekends and holidays. Sizzling off-the grill specialties every Thursday from 6PM to 10PM until Sundays from 11AM to 12MN.
Other stuff that you should not miss in Rizal? Cashews of Antipolo City (you can get them outside Antipolo Church in a covered court area) and of course, the popular fried itik (duck).
Rizal nightlife is best enjoyed in the ridges of Antipolo viewing Manila from a distance. Due to its close proximity to Manila, Rizal has wide array of entertainment from the resorts that dot the province. Others might prefer camping out in Daraetan River if you plan to rough it out.
My to do List
1. Take a dip at the Daranak and Batlag Falls.*
2. Check out the churches of Tanay, Baras, Morong and Antipolo.**
3. Do spelunking at Calinawan and Sungib Caves.**
4. Trek the Daraetan River, navigate the caverns and check out Tinipak na Bato.*
5. Try Rizal’s fried itik.*
6. Visit the museums of Angono.**
7. Marvel at the 5000 year old Angono Petroglyphs.*
8. See the rock formations of Mount Masungi.*
9. Have a drink at one of Antipolo viewpoints and see the lights of Manila from the distance.**
10. Take in the beautiful scenery of Laguna de Bay.*
* – Highly Recommended
**- Recommended by Locals
Photo by Dave Ryan Buaron
Stay Away From
1. Mosquitoes! – just bring bug repellent to be sure
2. Dust Mites. – bring Lysol with you, if you think the hotel room is oldish and not cleaned properly.
3. UV rays – Apply ample sun protection and sunglasses. Ilocos can be pretty humid and searing hot when the sun is out.
4. Dehydration- bring and drink heaps of water!
There are jeepneys plying from Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong that go through the different towns of Rizal- whether Antipolo, Morong, Angono, Tanay and others. Travel time should be around 45 minutes and an hour depending on the traffic situation and your final destination (Tanay takes about 2 hours by jeepney and costs about PhP50-55 Pesos). There are jeepneys between towns, so it wouldn’t be too hard getting to different towns. For those with private vehicles, the most convenient way is get a road map of Rizal beforehand. The locals are generally helpful in pointing you to the places that you need to go. To go through the waterfalls of Tanay and other areas, you may rent a tricycle to take you and back (PhP400 from Tanay Town Proper to Daranak Falls and back) which is a little too pricey, and a bit unreliable. There are rarely any tricycles coming from Daranak. Your best bet is to take a car or van if you want get off and head towards the unbeaten path. Some roads can be pretty bad- like the one going to Calinawan Cave (there are nary any street signs at all and there are a lot of twists and turns in an area with very thick undergrowth. You may want to check with a local before heading out there. Rizal on its own doesn’t have very convenient tourist information centers- you have better chances of knowing a particular tourist spot by asking tricycle or jeepney drivers in the area which we practically did.
Ryan supports socially and environmentally responsible and sustainable tourism, as well as the promotion of the Philippines as an alternative Asian tourist destination.
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