WITH THE START of the long hot summer, Metro Manila’s footloose travelers need not look far — just north of the metropolis is Zambales, which offers a mixture of culture, adventure and nature.
Boasting of a 177-kilometer coastline facing the South China Sea, it is a sought-after getaway for its fine sand beaches, with nearly all points offering a beach and sunset view.
At the fringes of Subic Bay are the hidden coves of Sampaloc, Silangin and Nagsasa which are accessible only by boat or by long and winding foot trails.
Off San Antonio town are the islands of Camara and Capones which is known for its hilltop lighthouse which has guided passing Spanish galleons and merchant ships.
The pine-tree lined Anawangin Cove is a campers’ haven because of secluded location and back-to-basics ambiance.
Zambales takes pride in its lush underwater world ideal for snorkeling such as the Taklobo Farm and Marine Conservation Park at San Salvador Island in Masinloc where one can find coral gardens and giant clams.
Magalawa Island in Palauig, and the adjacent San Salvador and Bakala sandbar in Masinloc offer everything from mangrove forests to giant clams.
In the northernmost town of Sta. Cruz, the sister islands of Hermana Mayor and Hermana Menor beckon with their powdery sand and crystalline waters. The latter island has a long sandbar and an underwater world which is a sanctuary to lush coral tables teeming with aquatic life.
As one of the first provinces organized by the Spanish friars, Zambales is dotted with heritage churches and ancestral homes, attesting to its storied past.
Topping its list are postcard-pretty Spanish-era churches such as those in Botolan, Iba, Sta. Cruz and Masinloc. The coral stone St. Andrew Church in Masinloc has been declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum and recently underwent a face-lift to restore its colonial glory.
At the President Ramon Magsaysay House in Castillejos one finds preserved the memorabilia of the late president, including his famed vintage Cadillac.
Visitors can make the rounds and take snapshots of the old stone houses built in the classic bahay na bato style which have withstood the ravages of time.
Soon to open is the Museo de Iba at the newly restored Roque del Fierro Trinidad Heritage House, which will serve as the town’s repository of history.
For a dose of classical music, chill out at Casa San Miguel, the art community of renowned violinist Alfonso “Coke” Bolipata, located in the heart of San Antonio’s mango orchards.
Enjoy the summer-time concerts and exhibits at the annual Pundaquit Festival or get a glimpse of Zamabales’ checkered past at the Museum of Community Heritage which chronicles local ethnography and archaeological finds.
For a dash of indigenous culture, immerse yourself with the nomadic Aeta communities and learn from their way of life.
Ride the waves at the San Narciso and San Antonio surfing sites or skimboard along Iba’s seven-kilometer beachfront, dubbed as Luzon’s “beach capital.” These waters are friendly to surfing and skimboarding newbies.
One can also kayak at Uacon Lake, Uacon Cove, or Potipot Island just a few minutes across the way. The more agile paddlers can kayak on both bodies of water through a tranquil river channel.
Mountaineers and trekkers can scale the 2,037-meter Mount Tapulao in Palauig, passing through various ecosystems on the way to the top.
Or criss-cross the offroad trails aboard 4×4 jeeps near the foot of scenic Zambales Ranges.
And whether one is swimming, listening to music, or climbing a mountain, there are few things that go better with all these activities than the province’s mangoes, reputedly among the sweetest in the world.
The Province is one of the country’s top producers of the national fruit, with an annual yield of 15,046,770 kilograms, harvested from the 428,637 mango trees spread out in 7,500 hectares of plantation.
And there is no better time for this feast of the senses than this summer when the best mangoes are ready for the picking.