DUBAI: Just an hour’s drive from the hustle and bustle of Manila, the capital of the Philippines, is a paradise on the rise: Tagaytay — a city built on the ridges of south Luzon that offers scenic views of a world-famous volcanic island.
The city overlooks the Taal Lake where the famous Taal Volcano is situated. Its postcard-worthy formation is a product of 33 violent historical eruptions, but it’s still one of the busiest tourist spots in the Philippines. The locals take maximum advantage of the location by hosting numerous viewing decks, allowing visitors to fully populate their Instagram pages.
It’s hard not to fall in love with the place; the warmth of the locals blends perfectly with the cool tropical breeze that greets visitors as soon as they arrive in Tagaytay — a literal breath of fresh air when you’re coming from the urban jungle. Its close proximity to the capital has made it a staple for weekend getaways, and a destination of choice for impulsive overnight trips.
There’s no denying that Tagaytay’s reputation is built around its perfect location for the breathtaking scenery of Taal, but there’s more to this special city on the ridge than its panoramas.
There are numerous hotels around, and — naturally — the better view they have of the lake, the more expensive they get. The Taal Vista Hotel has one of the best spots on the ridge. Breakfast on the veranda is the perfect way to start a day of sightseeing.
Right next to the hotel is an amusement park called the Sky Ranch, where you could probably spend an entire day, should you wish. It has numerous restaurants, park rides, a zip line and the ‘Sky Eye’ ferris wheel, which stands 63 meters high, upping the Taal viewing experience a notch.
But visitors don’t need to book a hotel room or ride the Sky Eye to enjoy the panoramic views of the neighboring volcano. A recreational space with built-in cottages and a spacious green courtyard is available at the Picnic Grove, located at the other end of the city. The 13-hectare venue also provides a number of family friendly activities — including zip lines, a cable car, and horseback riding. The eco-trail is particularly popular with tourists, getting them even closer to nature and Tagaytay’s lush greenery.
Spanish colonization introduced Catholicism to the Philippines, and with it came countless marvelous cathedrals. Tagaytay has a few, but one always stands out for tourists — not because of its architecture, but because of the cloistered nuns based there. The nuns at the Pink Sisters Convent eschew the usual black-and-white attire, instead wearing the bright pink that has earned them their nickname.
Perhaps the most interesting historical spot in the city is the People’s Park in the Sky — an urban park that is home to an unfinished mansion, originally intended to be the place where Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos would host then-US President Ronald Reagan on his 1983 visit, which was subsequently cancelled. The scaffolding is still in place, and now serves as a monument to the “greed, excess and arrogance” (Chicago Tribune, 1986) of the conjugal dictatorship that ruled the Philippines for over 20 years.
For some excess of your own, you can visit the Acienda Designer Outlet Mall. It has its own windmill — for reasons that aren’t immediately clear.
We can’t talk about Tagaytay and not mention its food. The popular Filipino dish bulalo is a local specialty; a light-colored stew made from beef shanks and marrow bones that are boiled for hours to really extract their flavor. Usually served with steamed jasmine rice, bulalo is perfect for Tagaytay’s chilly weather.
The windswept city is a must for tourists who want to sample the natural wonders of the Philippine archipelago in the Pacific, deservedly lauded as one of the most beautiful places on earth.