The travel bug strikes again, as wanderlust sets in and city-life gets tiresome. Manila is a mesh of concrete and steel, but once you get out of the city, the Philippines really does seem like paradise on Earth.
Villa Escudero is an approximate 2.5 hour drive from Manila, depending on traffic, making it a great day trip destination. Although they offer overnight lodging, a day trip is enough time to experience the river rafting, pools, museum tour and fishing.
The day started earlier than I would have liked. We left the Pasig area at 5 a.m. and reached Villa Escudero a little past 8. Day tours are reserved in advance, so we all had our bank deposit slips as proof of payment. Once you check in, walk through the privately owned museum (the taxidermy animals were a little much for me) then line up for a serenaded carabao ride to the main activity area.
The swimming pools are nice on a hot day, so we all took a quick dip before going rafting. The bamboo rafts in Villa Escudero’s man made lake seats two but can be tied together to make a raft for four. This is convenient if you have an odd number in your party, so you can form a group of three. You raft for a short scenic stretch of the river, but be careful to avoid the trees. I accidentally steered myself straight into a tree, where I imposed on uncommonly large fire ants. There was a lot of yelling.
Tip: Raft early to avoid the crowds. We went before lunch, and our group of 10 was able to raft in pairs at the same time. After lunch the line was too long to be picky.
Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is buffet style with seats by a man-made waterfall. Your feet are immersed in running water from the falls as you eat, in an unforgettably refreshing experience on a hot day.
Tip: If you don’t desperately want to sit by the waterfall, there is also a nice (and quieter) seating area towards the back, where a tiny waterfall channels the water from the eating area into a river.
After lunch we went back for a dip in the pool, enjoyed another round of rafting, caught the end of a cultural show, played on the tire swings and went fishing in the lake (there is a minimal cost for fishing).
Tip: You don’t have to wait for a slow (albeit relaxing) carabao ride back to the entrance, there are faster vehicles available if you prefer.
Villa Escudero is open to visitors from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (overnight visitors have extended access). As of 5/5/14, day tour rates range from 1,250PHP (M-Th) to 1,400PHP (F-Su). They are located in San Pablo City, click for directions. Contact them at (632) 521-0830, (632) 523-0392 or (632) 523-2944, or email them at email@example.com. The cost per person of our day trip was 1,275 with advanced booking.