Exploring Luzon Island, Philippines

Our travels across Philippines finally started!

The Philippines have been on our bucket list for some time now, so when we finally landed here we were truly excited. Plus we were coming from cold weather, so we were thrilled to spend 45 days in the heat!

Before hand we had not planned much. We only bought the flights to move around some of the islands we wanted to visit. Usually we do everything last minutes, but we knew we were coming during one of their main holidays: Christmas! Filipinos feel very strongly for Christmas, the many that work all around the world come back home for a month or so, to be with their loved ones! We wanted to make sure we would not have any issues getting on planes during this time. As for places to stay, we weren’t that concerned, although I must admit we did have some problems, due to the holiday season.

The Philippines, is an archipelagic country, situated in the western Pacific Ocean. It consists of about 7,641 islands. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to see them all, however we tried to explore as many as we could! First stop of of our Philippines exploration was Manila on Luzon Island and a small part of the north.


Manila was a bit overwhelming. We aren’t city people and this is a huge one! Traffic is one of the biggest issues. It can take you hours to cross from one side to the other of the city. As soon as we got there, all we wanted to do was stay in our hotel and why not enjoy the pool! 

A photo of us in the pool in Manila
The pool was more appealing than exploring the busy city

We eventually did venture out only to discover that we were surrounded by malls!!!! Anything we wanted to do we could easily walk through them to get to. If you are a city person and a mall person this is your place, if not, you might not want to prolong your stay too long! 

We took advantage of this stop to go to the movies, do some Christmas shopping and mani-pedi for me and Emma.

Road crossing
A street crossing between malls, no need to try to cross on the road!

But how do you decide where to stay in such a huge city? I had looked up “best neighborhoods in Manila”. Makati always came up, so it was an easy choice!

As for exploring the city. Of course there are historical sites to see, but the prospect of sitting in traffic with 3 kids wasn’t appealing. We opted for making it fun for them, and why not taking it slow.

Where did we stay: Ascott Makati, this hotel offers serviced apartments, spacious and with kitchen, washer and dryer. So we could finally cook our own meals and wash all our clothes. It is connected directly with Glorietta Mall so you can easily go grocery shopping. The room had breakfast included and it was absolutely delicious!


After a few days in the city, it was time to get out of the hustle and bustle! We rented a car and drove up to the City of Baguio. This is in the mountainous area of the Northern part of Luzon island. When the United States occupied the Philippines in 1898 after the Spanish-American war, it was elected to be the Summer Capital of the Philippines, due to its cool climate since it is located approximately 4,810 feet (1,470 meters) above mean sea level.

welcome to the summer capital
Summer Capital of the Philippines

The drive to Baguio is pretty long. It mostly depends on the traffic you find getting out of Manila, it can take up to 4 hours! However in order to get there you have to drive up the mountain and depending on how many trucks you find in front of you, it may take a while!

We came here mainly to visit Mass’s friend. So although we did enjoy a bit of cooler weather, our main goal was to get to the beach. During our short visit we went for a beautiful hike in a pine tree forest. In fact Baguio is abundant with pine trees, it is nicknamed the City of Pines.

pine forest
Pine tree forest

We also spent a morning with the locals enjoying Burnham Park, a historic urban park located in the downtown area. The park is named after Daniel Hudson Burnham, an American architect and urban planner. He was also the one who laid the plans and design for Baguio City.

bike racing
Cosimo, Emma and Luca ready for a race!

The most famous activity in the park is “biking”, we could not get our kids off of them! There is also a manmade lake that you can navigate with little boats that you can rent at each corner of the lake. Check out our video to see our morning at the park!


San Fernando

We came to the Philippines for the beaches, so we were ready to head back down after a few days in the mountains!

Luca and Emma on the beach

San Fernando is a little town on the coast on the South China Sea. We stayed at a resort on the beach and just enjoyed the heat, the pool and the beach. Combined with a little Jet Ski adventure!

For all the surfers out there, just a few kilometers up the way you will find San Juan Beach. Every local advised us to go there because of its big waves. We did stop by and although the waves looked good, it felt like the most crowded beach of the area. There were a lot of people trying to surf and it just didn’t feel as fun, with one on top of the other! So we simply stayed on our beach with no waves.

San Juan Beach
San Juan Beach

Where did we stay: Aureo La Union, this is a nice hotel directly on the beach. The rooms are spacious and you can pick if you want to have pool view or beach view. With 3 kids, the pool was our happy place daily!

Santa Maria

We didn’t have many days to explore the northern part of the island. There is no real highway, just a road that goes through every village, making the drive long and a bit stressful. We decided to go up to Nalvo Beach in Santa Maria and stay there for a few days.

Luca on Nalvo beach
Luca enjoying the water at Nalvo beach

During our stay here, we enjoyed the huge empty beach, specially since our house had direct access! We also drove around the nearby villages, to enjoy the Christmas home made decor on the streets and just see different point of views of the sea.

pinsal waterfall
Pinsal Waterfall

Just 20 minutes away from our airbnb was a beautiful waterfall. We paid a very small fee to get in the parking lot. Then you can hire a little wood boat to take you to the waterfall or you can hike just 10 minutes. You can actually go to the base or go all the way up to the top. We arrived in the late afternoon, so we decided to stay in the lower section. We met some locals, we did not speak the same language, however we still managed to interact! We swam, laughed, played and and jumped in the water with them. It was an unforgettable afternoon!

Where did we stay: Gerd’s Hideaway Beach House, this house is on Nalvo Beach, you have direct access and also a cabana on the beach. It is inexpensive, clean and very spacious.

Vigan City

An hour north of santa Maria is Vigan City. This is the best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia.

streets of vigan
Vigan City

You can visit the city by riding a kalesa for only 150 pesos. They will take you in the main spots in about an hour and if you are lucky and find someone who speaks english you can also get a a bit more information.

Next Stop

After 2 weeks on Luzon Island it was time for our next Island where we were going to spend our Christmas and New Years……

Click here to see more posts of our travels around Philippines!!!


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