Luzon, where Metro Manila is situated, is the largest island. Because of its solid mass and the availability of roads and infrastructure, Metro Manila's environs and the many provinces a few hours' drive away are perfect weekend getaways. An overland tour is the most insightful way of getting to know Luzon.

North of Manila lies the mountain haven of Baguio, its crisp, cool air redolent with the scent of pines and flowers. Near this summer capital are the strawberry fields and vegetable farms of Bontoc and the Trinidad Valley, and the splendor of the Banaue Rice Terraces, dubbed the eighth wonder of the world.

Lining the northern coasts are the provinces of La Union, its winding beaches lined with tiny resorts and fishing villages, Pangasinan, with its wondrous Hundred Islands, and sleepy, rustic Ilocos. The Old World unfolds dreamily in Vigan, a town of Baroque churches, horse-drawn carriages and Antillan houses.

Surrounding Metro Manila are provinces of specific interest such as Pampanga, the culinary capital of Luzon; Bulacan, known for its colorful fiestas and home-made sweets; and the artists' towns of Rizal. Moving down south from Manila, the coastal road winds through the historic towns and hundred and one resorts of Cavite. Across the Bay looms the island fortress of Corregidor, a tribute to the last bastion of freedom in the Pacific during World War II.

Further south, the breathtaking length of Tagaytay Ridge affords a view of the world's smallest active volcano, TaaI-a volcano within a lake within another volcano. In the towns of Laguna, artists' communities embrace tradition and religiosity under the shadow of the mystic Sierra Madre ranges. Waterfalls, hot healing springs and a general abundance of water resources characterize these fertile plains which circle Laguna de Bay, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia.

Ragged southern coasts make Batangas province a diver's paradise. Sheltered coves and coral islets harbor divesites with stunning underwater vistas. Due west are the coconut plantations of Quezon, where folk festivals are enacted with ritualistic pageantry. Extending southeast along this land of plenty is Albay and its Mayon Volcano, magnificent with its near-perfect cone.

On the other side of Luzon, an island extends across the South China Sea towards the Philippine Deep-Palawan, the last frontier. Explore the subterranean caverns of St. Paul's Underground River, dive the depths of Tubbataha Marine Reserve or go on an African safari on the island sanctuary of Calauit.

West of Palawan in the South China Sea is a cluster of 53 tiny coral islands, islets, reefs, shoals and cays known as the Spratleys. Scattered over an area of about 61,876 square miles, these islands are said to be rich in oil and other mineral deposits, and are being claimed by Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines. The Philippines occupies eight islands -- Pag-asa, Kota, Panata, Parola, Patag, Lawak and Rizal-known collectively as the Kalayaan Group.

( © 1996) Produced by Filweb for the Department of Tourism, San Francisco

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