Manila is hot. Actually to say it’s “hot” is a massive understatement. There’s a reason that Filipinos go to extraordinary efforts to avoid the sun as if they’ll melt. It’s probably because you may actually melt. The heat, humidity and pollution combine to shroud Manila in a daily, dense sticky fog that has sweat trickling down the back of your neck as soon as you just think about gong outside. Being on almost the same latitude as Bangkok, Manila’s heat should be respected as such.
So, it makes sense that you’d want to escape this heat right? Well, yes. That’s why ‘malling’ is a verb in the Philippines. If you’re stuck in the capital, only malls offer respite from the crippling heat as they pump cool AC air through tiled plazas of shoppers and giggling school kids. But… what if you want to escape the heat a natural way? Well, you head to the Tagaytay Highlands.
I’ve lived in Manila for a year now and in that whole time, I’ve stopped to put a jacket on once. That time was last weekend, riding a motorbike through Tagaytay.
Yet, Tagaytay is not just about escaping the heat. It’s an enchanting mountaintop oasis that overlooks an ancient crater lake and active volcano. Many cities in the world have highland areas. In Sydney it’s the Blue Mountains, in Mumbai it’s Lonavala, and in Manila it’s Tagaytay. The town is lined with ‘restos’ – bar and restaurants – that are ‘overlooking’ the incredible view. It really is a complete escape from concrete Manila yet it’s only 2 hours drive.
What to do
Eat and Drink
A good starting point in Tagaytay is the Starbucks on the main road. Here you’ll find many bars, restaurants and mime artists. Yes that’s what I said… Mime… They freak my sister-in-law out like clowns disturb Kramer from Seinfeld, but they’re actually very good… Why they setup in the open space around Starbucks is anyone’s guess… But this is THE mime hotspot of the Philippines. If you’re not in to mime, you can at least grab a beer and something to eat while looking out at the incredible Taal Volcano.
Of course there are many other restos in Tagaytay. Another place I’d recommend is ‘Buongiorno’ Restaurant which is in a beautiful cluster of fairy-light-filled trees at ‘Cliff House’. This is a nice place to walk around and has many restaurants and cafes. The pasta and pizza at Buongiorno is sensational.
If you’re still not sure, just turn left at the main roundabout when coming into Tagaytay and follow the road along the mountain ridge and stop when you see something you fancy. Be warned that, despite Tagaytay’s tranquil vibe, the traffic is still horrendous. On a weekend, moving a few hundred metres along the main road can be a half hour ordeal.
Trek (or ride a small weird horse) up to Taal Volcano
Hiking to the top of Taal Volcano offers incredible views of a bright green/blue crater lake that is completely surreal. To get there, you need to descend from Tagaytay taking the main windy road down from the main roundabout to Taal lake in Talisay. It’s about 20 minutes drive from Tagaytay down to the bottom. As you turn to head down, there’s touts at the main roundabout who will offer you boats and ‘tours’… Politely decline this. The more people involved in booking your boat to Taal, the more you’ll pay… Common sense. When we reached the bottom, we pulled into one of the many lakeside places with signs offering boats to Taal. At first they asked 2000 pesos but, when we went to drive off, it became 1,500 pesos for a boat that carries about 6 people.
When you reach the island the volcano’s on, the sales pitch continues with everything on offer from water to horses and dust masks because, well, it’s ‘dusty’… We declined to take a horse and instead walked the ~6km to the top. If I went back… I’d jump on a weird horse instead. I’m an animal lover so I was concerned about the size and how the animal’s were treated. I also need exercise so figured I’d walk. However, after seeing how the locals respect and look after the horses, I’d be more inclined to save my calf muscles and rely on a super-fit horse instead.
At the top, the view is incredible and you literally pass many smoldering rocks from flowing lava on your way up.
People’s Park in the Sky
People’s park is THE place to watch the sunset and offers incredible views out of the surrounding provinces. Make sure you look up what time sunset is and get yourself to People’s Park as the gates close after sunset.
Tagaytay is one easily accessible day trip from Manila that will help heal your heat assaulted soul. If you want to stay overnight or have a romantic night away, there’s plenty of hotels to stay at along the mountain ridge. After sunset, the stars emerge as the highlands delve into a cool, crisp darkness where you can appreciate the quiet.