Why Pampanga is Poised to be the Next Big Thing in Tourism

There's so much to see and do in Pampanga, which has exciting new developments and old gems you shouldn't miss out on. By Shai Lagarde

Pampanga is known for its vibrant local cuisine and handicraft industry, but did you know there’s so much more to see and do here? More and more tourists have been coming in to see exciting new developments and rediscover old gems, especially since it’s only an hour or two away from TriNoMa in Quezon City. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss out on.

Plan your heritage tour

The province was founded by the Spaniards in 1571. Bacolor became the colonial capital when Manila was invaded by Great Britain in 1762. Aguinaldo made Angeles the seat of the First Philippine Republic in 1899. Rizal visited San Fernando on a train in 1892. The Death March ended in the same train station in 1942. Landscapes changed with the Pinatubo eruption in 1991, the biggest since Novarupta in 1912. With that quick history lesson, imagine how many heritage sites abound!

So make time to see centuries-old ancestral houses and structures, with architecture that can rival those of Europe, from a functional church submerged in lahar to Betis’ “Sistine Chapel of the Philippines.” This list of heritage sites should get you started. There are no official guided tours, but the locals can easily help you find your way. Your Instagram will thank you for it.

Outdoor adventures

What’s great about Pampanga is you can get away from the pollution and traffic without really missing what Manila has to offer, and have countryside adventures without traveling so far.

SandBox at Alviera is one of Pampanga’s most popular attractions. Traverse the country’s first roller coaster zipline. Ride the Philippines’ tallest Giant Swing. Test your skills on the Aerial Walk Challenge. Rappel, wall-climb, or freefall from the 5-storey Adventure Tower. Ride an ATV through Pasig-Potrero River, now a vast white sandscape. Do archery, play mini-golf, fly kites or RC planes, or go camping!

Pursuit of Passion-Pampanga

Alviera is actually a nice jump-off point since it’s near everywhere you’ll want to go. Trek 4 hours through lush greenery with local Aeta guides to reach Miyamit Falls, then swim in cool, crystal-clear waters. Side trip to Mt. Pinatubo via ATV and trek to the crater lake. Go wakeboarding at the manmade lake of Pradera Verde.

You can ride horseback along the Sacobia River at the old western-inspired El Kabayo Ranch. Go on a calesa tour to explore the valleys, or do a bonfire cook-out.

If extreme sports are more your thing, fly an Ultralight aircraft at the Angeles City Flying Club, or skydive at Tropical Asia Parachute Center. Satisfy your need for speed at the Clark International Speedway or Cope Thunder Drag Strip for drag-racing and karting.

Cultural experiences

In Pampanga, there’s almost always a festival happening somewhere. Like one in Minalin called Aguman Sanduk (Ladle Brotherhood) every January where straight men celebrate the women in their lives with a cross-dressing pageant!

February sees colorful skies over Clark with the Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Festival. Maleldo (Holy Week) in Cutud, San Fernando attracts thousands of religious devotees and fans of the macabre from all over the world to witness participants flagellated and/or nailed on the cross. June is for the Apung Iru (St. Peter) Fluvial Festival in Apalit, a parade of elaborately decorated boats down the Pampanga River.

October is a time for Music and Dancing on the Streets (Tigtigan-Terakan Keng Dalan), a massive street party in Angeles. San Fernando is brightest at Christmastime with the Giant Lantern Festival, a showcase of 20-feet parols with up to 10,000 light bulbs. There are even feasts celebrating frog dishes, eggs, and of course, sisig!

Not a fan of huge crowds? You can simply soak up the culture by touring like a local. Check out the bespoke furniture shops like Betis Crafts in Guagua, world-famous (customers include celebrities and actual royalty) for their intricate woodcarvings and exquisite designs. Head to the Divisoria-esque Apu Market in Angeles, open only on Fridays until midnight. Be sure to stop by the various museums, too—even the famous cultural park Nayong Pilipino is now in Clark.

Parks and relaxation

If you’re looking to just chill, hit any of the parks and picnic grounds in Clark: Bayanihan, Fort Stotsenburg, and Air Force City (featuring actual fighter aircrafts). For kids and kids at heart, there are theme parks like the 10-attraction Fontana Water Parks, Dinosaurs Island with animatronic dinosaurs, rides, and exhibits, Paradise Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary, and Zoocobia Park which has an aviary, fishing lagoon, and botanical and butterfly gardens. It also has the country’s only gravity car track like Sentosa Singapore’s Skyline Luge. Or just watch a movie at the Clark Drive-in Theater! With or without a car, simply bring your own food and blankets to lounge in.

For more unique ways to pamper yourself, Koreatown near Friendship Gate has several spas and acupuncture clinics quite different from typical Manila spas. Even better, rent a 4×4 at the Sapangbato Gate and off-road to Puning Hot Springs in Sapangbato, an Aeta ancestral land. It has a steaming waterfall, 11 pools of varying hotness, and one cold pool. Get buried neck-deep in therapeutic volcanic sand for your joints, or enjoy a Pinatubo exfoliating mask at the mudding area. You’ll need to do a bit of trekking to reach Puning, but the spa treatments are worth it! Bonus: you’ll pass by an Aeta village and gorgeous scenery reminiscent of Star Wars or Lord of The Rings.

Of course, near each of these stops are a bevy of culinary options beyond sisig and halo-halo—from exotic Fear Factor dishes like frogs and crickets at Everybody’s Café in San Fernando, to fusion favorites by renowned Kapampangan chefs Claude Tayag (Balé Dutung) and Sau Del Rosario (Café Fleur) in Angeles, to the array of Asian and middle-eastern restaurants around Koreatown, to the more familiar fare in shopping centers like Marquee Mall. Whatever your budget and craving, you won’t go hungry.

As it turns out, the same can be said for Pampanga itself. Whatever kind of traveler you are, there’s something here you’ll enjoy. More so if you live there, where new residential options are being developed. Highly accessible through SCTEX, Avida Settings Alviera in Alviera, Ayala Land’s mixed-use development in Porac, Pampanga, is where you can live in the midst of an urban and nature hub while being minutes away from places of work, commercial centers and other establishments.