“WHAT?!” It was my initial reaction when I first learned how much I would have to spend in Villa Escudero for a day trip to the famous Waterfalls Restaurant. Well, you might be asking how much it actually cost, it costs Php 1,150 (roughly $25.00). Now, you might be thinking that I overreacted (which I actually did) since it may not really be that expensive for some. However, I have my reasons to be thrifty, especially that the holiday season has just ended. Thus, I assumed and found the planned trip overrated. But since we already have committed to going with our friends, we pushed through nonetheless.
Part of the reason why I overreacted is the fact that I did not do enough research on the location and what it offers. So I’m writing this blog now and I hope that this will enlighten anyone who wants to pay a visit to Villa Escudero.
Villa Escudero is located in San Pablo, Laguna, although some may argue that it is already part of Quezon Province, which can be partially true, too. Villa Escudero Plantation is at the boundary of Laguna and Quezon and given the relatively vast-sized plantation, I wouldn’t be surprised if some part of it is still under Laguna’s jurisdiction and maybe (just maybe) it also crosses the Quezon Province’s. It is around two to three-hour drive from Metro Manila if you are to take a private ride. If you’d be commuting, then you would have to take a JAC Bus in Buendia heading to Lucena, then just tell the bus driver that you need to go to Villa Escudero.
We arrived at Villa Escudero at around 9:30 in the morning, and I must warn that the entrance of the Villa did not do justice (at all) on what it has to offer inside. We received a warm welcome from their staff dressed in traditional Filipino costumes who promptly offered us welcome drinks which are indeed very welcoming and likewise refreshing.
Being a photographer and having a drone at my back, the first question I asked was about the photography regulations inside the property. Well, photography is not allowed in some areas, and flying an aerial camera is strictly prohibited (Boo!).
After paying the day-trip entrance of PhP 1,150 with a heavy heart (partly because at that time, I’d still find it a bit expensive for a mere buffet lunch at the Falls, or so I thought, and also because I couldn’t fly Peter Delta to take aerial shots), we started our tour.
Activities in Villa Escudero
1. AERA Museum – From afar, and also based on how the facade of the museum looks like, you would think it’s the Villa’s church. Truth is, it is the Villa Escudero Museum and the structure itself is a replica of an old church in Intramuros. Upon entry, you’ll be surprised by how massive the collections the Escudero Family has amassed over the years. Their collections include sculptures of Saints in their full regalia (their carriages included), ancient jars, prehistoric pieces of jewellery and tools, taxidermies of different insects and other animals (which I find creepy but interesting nevertheless), and cultural costumes from different countries. There are even collections of warrior clothes and fossils found from different locations around the world.
Taking photos are strictly prohibited inside the museum, which is somehow okay since you’ll have less time snapping photos and more time to really appreciate the art and artefact on display.
2. Carabao Ride – Filipino culture and agriculture is mostly associated with farming and when we talk about farming, carabaos (water buffaloes) will always remain part of the picture. It wasn’t a surprise at all that they use the gentle giants to pull carriages that can carry 7 – 10 individuals to the next activity and destination. The ride was made extra special with Villa Escudero Staff serenading the passengers with traditional Filipino songs accompanied with guitar music.
The carabaos are tamed and tidy so you can enjoy the slow ride alongside good Filipino music.
Though it may have sounded like that the ride is just like the traditional carabao rides you’ll see/have in rural areas, the actual carriage is made of steel including the seats themselves. However, I must say that the experience is still quite awesome.
3. Labasin Waterfalls Restaurant – This restaurant is the main reason why we wanted to visit Villa Escudero in the first place. Labasin Waterfalls Restaurant has been featured on several travel websites around the globe due to the unique dining experience that it offers. The restaurant is beside a man-made waterfall and yes, the tables are just beside the waterfalls where you can enjoy dining while enjoying the sound and the view of the curtain of water falling just a meter or two away from you. Your feet will be soaked in the cold water of the falls as you enjoy eating Filipino food buffet-style using your bare hands. It is truly a unique experience and definitely worth a try.
Of course, Filipinos (me included) love bathing in any body of water available and I didn’t dare miss the opportunity of getting wet in the famous restaurant despite the fact that I don’t have spare clothes. I still took a dip, and have myself refreshed.
The waterfalls, as I’ve mentioned above, is man-made. The water actually comes from Labasin Dam that generates electricity for the Villa. Still fun, nonetheless.
Bring spare clothes, once you’re there, you can’t just resist to get wet and experience the waterfalls.
Don’t miss to try their banana cue (skewered-deep-fried–sugar-coated-banana….yum!!). I ate around 6-7 sticks.
Take photos! If you don’t have a camera, you can let their resident photographers take your picture. Your pictures will be waiting for you near the front-desk upon check out and you can take them home for just Php 150.00/print-out copy.
Their Lunch Buffet starts at 11:00 AM. It would be best to call for a reservation, especially if you plan to visit over the weekend. Those who have reservations get to be served first at 11:00 AM, while walk-ins may have to wait for about two hours or so.
4. Villa Escudero Cultural Show – I thought that the Waterfalls Restaurant is already the highlight of our tour. But I was wrong. The cultural show, in my opinion, is the highlight of our tour in Villa Escudero. It showcased the rich cultural dances from different ethnic tribes in the Philippines. Complete with costumes and props, they proved – not just to the foreigners who witnessed the show but also to the Filipinos – how rich the Filipino Culture is. You might be asking who the dancers are. They are the talented Villa Escudero employees from different departments!
Each cultural dance represents an era in the Philippines’ history, all contributing to the Philippines that we know of today. They started with one of the Philippines own local tribes – the Igorots who live in the northern part of the country. Our origin is partly Malay too, and that explains how some local tribes managed to have sultanates. The country was also colonised by Spaniards for 333 years (if my memory serves me well), before Americans conquered the country and defended the Archipelago as one of its colonies from the Japanese Empire. Given all these historical milestones, you could imagine how rich the culture of our Country should be and is, and you could also imagine how fun and colourful the cultural dances we have. (My travel video for this tour will be posted real soon on my Facebook Page!)
The show starts at 2:00 PM. However, I highly recommend that you go there 30 minutes prior so you can reserve front row seats.
There’s food that can be ordered while waiting for the show to start or during the show. I highly recommend that you try their biko or sweet rice cake. It’s the most delicious “sweet rice cake” I’ve ever tasted, I must say!
5. Bamboo Rafting – If you visit the Villa, you might as well try this activity. I haven’t tried paddling before, so I was really excited to try it. But after five minutes or so, I already felt tired paddling against the water. Haha! There should be at least two passengers riding the bamboo raft and you can use the rafts as long as you can depending on your stamina.
For safety reasons, you have to wear a life vest.
The river/dam doesn’t really smell that great, especially in some seasons. However, the smell is tolerable.
I finally came to terms with Villa Escudero, and the fee that I paid is truly worth it. I never imagined that it would be that fun and refreshing. The Villa also did spectacular job introducing everyone to the rich Filipino Culture, by infusing both various influences of different cultures across the globe, and the colourful traditions and heritage we have as one nation. The Plantation and all activities it can offer truly did justice to every penny that I spent, and you will have to spare, in visiting this place. There may be some other magnificent villas anywhere in the world, but Villa Escudero is definitely extraordinary and beyond compare!