Before this heritage tour, if you have asked me a week ago what I thought of Pampanga, I would have simply said that I know about their delicious processed meat products –
Hello, Pampanga’s Best Tocino!
From my experience with this heritage tour, I’ve listed reasons as to why I think you should consider adding Pampanga to your PH bucketlist:
1. Pampanga is only about an hour away from Manila
Via private car, the travel from Manila to Pampanga was a breeze: hassle-free and traffic-free thanks to SCTEX. It didn’t even take us a full hour.
This makes it a great choice for those who are looking for a quick escape from the Metro.
How to get to Pampanga thru public tranport:
- Go to the Victory Liner bus station in Cubao
- Take a bus going to Olongapo
- Asked to be dropped of at SM San Fernando
- Tip: Reserve your bus tickets online via the Victory Liner Website
- Here’s a screenshot of the schedule (may vary depending on your departure date):
2. Fascnating Churches
If you’ve been following this blog for a long time (hey, thanks), you know that I am extremely interested in old churches because 1. they have beautiful architecture and 2. they have withstood the test of time.
Pampanga is home to two of the most interesting ones. Bear with me because I can’t describe them without mentioning their histories.
One is the San Guillermo Parish Church, also known as the Bacolor Church because it is named after San Guillermo who is the patron saint of Bacolor, Pampanga.
But it is most famously known as The Sunken Church of Bacolor.
With the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991, half the church was buried by lahar.
As per the Wikipedia page dedicated to it : “After the volcanic eruption, the town’s people painstakingly excavated the altar and the retablo and relocated it under the dome in order for the tall wooden retablo to fit. The retablos niches are filled with centuries old statues which were saved from destruction of the lahar.”
This is how it looks now:
The entrance to the church that we see today actually used to be the choir area located above the sanctuary.
The historical place now houses a museum proudly telling its story through pictures.
Another church on the list is the St. James the Apostle Parish Church of Betis Guagua, more commonly known simply as Betis Church.
It is also dubbed as The Sistine Chapel of the Philippines.
This is because the interior of the church, like that of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, was handpainted tediously. This was dome by the painter Isidoro C. Soto.
Above image taken from Google Maps via Edgar Santos
Like the Bacolor Chuch, Betis also had seen its fare share of ruin (through a raging fire – twice!) and transformation. It is now considered a National Cultural Treasure.
3. Christmas Lanterns
Pampanga, dubbed as the Philippine’s Christmas Capital, got this nickname due to it being a province of artisans – most prominently, parol (christmas lantern) makers.
Though the tour, we were able to meet prominent lantern makers and they educated us of the history, tradition, and basics of lantern making.
November is a great time to visit them as the MVPs of lantern making are preparing for the Annual Giant Lantern Festival during this time and you may see their work in progress. The said festival/competition will take place on Dec. 15 this year.
A giant lantern in its final stages of construction
You could also buy a parol to take home for yourself during this part of the tour.
I wrote a separate post about the Giant Lantern Festival and the passionate crafsmen behind it here:
4. Learn a whole lot about history and heritage
Part of the heritage tour is to stroll along San Fernando’s Heritage District.
Much like Vigan and Taal Heritage Town, San Fernando has excellently preserved some of their most historical buildings and houses.
This includes Heroe’s Hall and the City Hall of San Fernando, Lazatin House, Consunji House, and more. (See all of the sites, along with their histories, here.)
My favorite part is our brief stop at the Old San Fernando Train Station which is now a museum and monument dedicated to the fallen soldiers during the 1943 Bataan Death March where approximately 18,000 Filipino and American soldiers died from the war.
DOT’s heritage tour representative for Pampanga, James Santiago, did an amazing job at explaining the history of the place and its involvement during the war era (not gonna spoil it for you).
By the end of his discussion, along with the ambiance of the train museum, it was like I was truly transported back in time.
I realized how chaotic war is and how we should truly honor those who had no choice but to endure it.
Fortunately, the Pampanga Heritage Tour is not complete without the “food” portion: eating at Mila’s Tokwa’t Baboy at Sisig. And as the name suggests, we tried their specialty dishes: tokwa’t baboy and sisig *surprise, surprise*.
Honestly, in a regular day, you won’t find me ordering these two dishes because I find them to have a weird texture – too soggy for my taste. But I liked these ones by Mila’s because they made the sisig crispy and the tofu fried.
Not a food critic but basically, I’m telling you that the dishes are good and you should try it.
I hope I could try some more, maybe next time. Let me know in the comments what Kapampangan specialty you would recommend.
Interested in joining a Pampanga Heritage tour? Reach out to the official Pampanga-based tour operator partner, M.A.G Travel and Tours, below:
- (02) 359 8699 / (02) 499 5193
- 0917 631 1549
- 0920 117 2333
- 0923 425 0888
Catch Ligligan Parul (Giant Lantern Festival) on December 15 at the City of San Fernando, Pampanga. ♡
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