Are you a nature lover looking for a weekend trip that’s only a 2-hour drive away from Manila? Then you should consider visiting San Pablo City, one of the oldest cities in the Philippines. Located in the southern part of Laguna, it’s also known as the “City of Seven Lakes.”
One thing most people don’t know about these lakes is that they’re actually “maar lakes” or crater lakes. A maar lake is formed when hot magma from underneath comes into contact with groundwater and then forms a vertical steam explosion! After the eruption, it forms a crater that’s then filled with either groundwater or rainwater, turning it into a shallow lake.
For these seven lakes, it was Mt. San Cristobal’s lava that came into contact with groundwater. This means that these lakes are of volcanic nature!
Here’s an image to help visualize how that happened:
San Pablo may be a small city but with its seven maar lakes, there’s more than enough things to do to last a weekend.
1. Explore the seven lakes of San Pablo.
This one is pretty obvious. What’s a visit to San Pablo City without checking out its seven lakes! Get your checklist ready and try to see all of them: Sampaloc, Mohicap, Palakpakin, Calibato, Bunot and the twin lakes of Pandin and Yambo.
Sampaloc Lake is the largest and the most accessible from the city proper. A popular tourist spot, it is also home to an abundance of freshwater fish like tilapia and big head carp.
Pandin Lake, San Pablo, Laguna | Photo by Stephen Craton
Calibato Lake, on the other hand, is secluded and is by far the most serene, while Bunot Lake stands beside a residential area.
2. Bike around Sampaloc Lake.
Not only is Sampaloc Lake most popular among all seven lakes, it is also just a five-minute walk from the main avenue. The lake’s circumference is about 3.7 km (2.3 miles) and is best appreciated by riding a bike. Bikes are available for rent at only ₱20 for every thirty minutes.
3. Admire the San Pablo Cathedral and the surrounding old structures.
Just like in many old towns, the 200-year-old cathedral is a town landmark. Originally built by theAugustinians, the San Pablo Cathedral is easily seen from Colago Avenue and is surrounded by several old structures such as old houses and the town library.
4. Go on a food trip!
While it’s not known to many, San Pablo City offers a number of dining places. You can choose from street foods to the usual Filipino food fare.
If you’re budget conscious, food stalls from isaw to hotdog-on-stick to gulaman to the usual junk food, are located just along the lakeshore of Sampaloc Lake.
If you want to sit down and enjoy your meal after biking around Sampaloc Lake, have your snack or merienda at Cafe Lago. Cafe Lago is a small restaurant serving breakfast,
Located just past the food stalls, Cafe Lago is a small restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The place is almost deserted in the morning and is more beautiful and cozier at night.
Another cafe you can check out is Si Christina. Located along Colago Avenue near the church, Si Christina is the perfect stop for those who have a sweet tooth.
This small cafe offers a variety of dishes but their specialties are cakes and pastries.
5. Discover the nearby towns of Nagcarlan and Liliw.
Pay the historical Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery a visit. A beautiful example of Spanish colonial architecture, it is the only underground cemetery you’ll find in the Philippines. The graveyard is located 4.5m (15 feet) beneath the church.
While there are no famous people buried here (it became the burial ground for some wealthy Catholic families), what makes it truly historical is the fact that it used to be the secret meeting place of the Katipuneros during the Filipino-American war in 1896!
Then, during the Second World War, it served as a shelter for Filipino guerillas.
After seeing the Underground Cemetery, visit Bunga Falls and then go shoe-shopping at the quaint town of Liliw. Both Nagcarlan and Liliw are accessible from San Pablo City with just one jeepney ride.
Where to Stay in San Pablo City, Laguna
San Pablo City can be explored in a day but if you’d like to stay overnight, there are a variety of nice places to choose from.
Sulyap Bed & Breakfast
Located in Cocoland Compound in Brgy. Del Remedios, this quaint inn has an outdoor pool, in-house restaurant, and an antique museum. A hearty breakfast is served complimentary. The hotel rooms are reconstructed homes salvaged from total destruction from the provinces of Quezon, Batangas and Bulacan.
Tahanan ni Aling Meding
Fronting the Sampaloc Lake with the perfect view of Mt. Cristobal, this hotel is the former vacation home of the Borja family of San Pablo. The hotel is elevated, has a pool and a spacious roof deck. Breakfast is inclusive of the room rate.
Casa San Pablo
More known for being an events place, Casa San Pablo is a lovely place to spend the night. Each uniquely designed, stand-alone room cater to couples, single travelers and big groups alike.
Sanctuario de San Pablo
One of the most expensive resorts in the area, Sanctuario de San Pablo is a Bali-inspired hotel tucked along the national highway in Brgy. San Francisco, Calihan. Spacious and serene, this lovely resort has a big parking space, spa amenities, large outdoor pool and a restaurant which is open to both hotel guests and visitors alike.
Spacious and serene, this lovely resort has a big parking space, spa amenities, large outdoor pool and a restaurant which is open to both hotel guests and visitors alike.
A & P Suites and Inn
Perfect for budget travelers, a double fan room starts at about ₱500 with a shared bathroom. This nice inn is found at the intersection near Puregold market.
How to Get to San Pablo City, Laguna
Ride Lucena-bound buses from Manila. Alight at the San Pablo Medical Center and ride a jeepney towards San Pablo City proper (₱8). Tricycles are not hard to find and are the main mode of transportation.
You can also drive or rent a private car to take you to San Pablo City. Travel time ranges between 2-3 hours, depending on traffic.