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Falling in love (with the Philippines) all over again

By BERNADETTE ROMULO PUYAT Published Feb 20, 2021 4:00 pm

Last week, I hopped on a bike for the very first time since I was a kid (funnily enough, the bike was still the same size). I was concerned that I would lose my balance at first, but the moment I got on the seat, I zipped away on two wheels like no time had passed.

As the saying goes, you never forget how to ride a bike. I’d like to extend this adage to traveling. We’ll never forget how to make new memories, even on trips we’ve taken before.

As international travel still remains uncertain, the Department of Tourism is thoroughly pushing for domestic tourism to stimulate the recovery of the industry. In partnership with the AIM Dr. Andrew L. Tan Center for Tourism and Guide to the Philippines, we recently conducted a nationwide survey on travel attitudes and behavior, given the ongoing easing of local travel restrictions.

Interestingly, the number-one reason why people have started to travel during the pandemic was “for their sanity.” Given the other options, which include “getting used to health protocols,” “less fear of the virus,” and “seeing an ad on social media that a destination has opened,” the plea for sanity tells us how much we associate traveling with our well-being.

Rather than a luxury, the freedom to move is essential to our humanity. At the very least, people need to get out of the house to avoid developing cabin fever or going stir-crazy.

Interestingly, the number one reason why people have started to travel during the pandemic was 'for their sanity.'

Starting last June, I have increasingly been getting out of Zooms and into planes, automobiles, and yes, even bikes, to be there in person. I have attended hybrid events, launches, and ceremonies, and have gone on food tours, art and history tours, and adventure tours.

This flurry of activity is all too familiar — it is my job, after all — but I can honestly say that I’m experiencing things differently now than I did circa 2020 BC (Before COVID). The time spent in community quarantine has made me appreciate all the little details I have missed or taken for granted.

The air is fresher, literally, and nothing makes me happier than seeing people smile through their masks. Many Filipinos have been feeling the same way.

Boracay and Bohol, despite being accessible only by air, have slowly been getting visitors since they reopened. Baguio, too, in spite of the strict entry protocols and requirement of tests.

I have heard that people are starting to relocate in provinces or develop their unused properties outside of town, and this makes sense, considering the unpredictability of the global situation. We’ve got mountains and beaches, dunes and lagoons. And you can visit them already: Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Batangas, Siargao, El Nido, and Coron are now open for travel.

Another key insight from the travel survey is that traveler preferences have evolved in response to what we know and believe about what is safe. Respondents’ preferred activities are held outdoors, like going to the beach, hiking, and biking.

Similarly, outdoor and well-ventilated areas are favored over confined spaces or facilities that circulate air. Travelers considered family members to be the safest people to travel with, and they also traveled close to home.

For keen travelers from Metro Manila, let me suggest a few places that check all these boxes and more:

Pinto Art Museum

Only 45 minutes from Quezon City, this Antipolo museum is the perfect “doorway” to daytrips just beyond the metro. With sprawling grounds and gardens that would be the envy of any plantita, Pinto offers a refreshing way to view contemporary Filipino art.

 The museum was named Pinto (door) by Dr. Joven Cuanang because it was envisioned to be “an opening for new possibilities and progress; opening for others to see what the Philippines is like and an opening for us to appreciate the culture of the Filipino.” In photo, author Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat and Pinto owner Dr. Joven Cuanang

Casa San Pablo

A delightful bed and breakfast in San Pablo, Laguna, where you can enjoy learning about (and eating!) coconut-based cuisine, take in the quirkiness of its restored Filipino architecture and design, and purchase folksy clay figurines depicting the local life of San Pablo.

 An Mercado Alcantara is the host of Casa San Pablo,  a  23-year-old bed-and-breakfast, built from the ground up using reclaimed materials and decorated with vintage Filipino furniture. It's already open to guests.

 The Grand Dame of Philippine Fashion Patis Tesoro is also the original plantita. She left Manila for the wide-open spaces of San Pablo, Laguna, where she spends her time gardening and working on her beautiful and artsy B&B called Patis Tito Garden Café.

 An Mercado Alcantara is also a talented artisan who crafts delightful clay figurines, or “storyteller dolls” depicting the local scenes or colorful processions of San Pablo.

Patis Tito Garden Café

Grand Dame of Philippine Fashion Patis Tesoro left Manila for the wide-open spaces of San Pablo, Laguna, to work on her beautiful and artsy B&B.

With high ceilings and classic ventanillas, a curated art gallery, and surrounded by lush greenery, the place is truly an oasis of slow living in the south.

 The three-hectare Patis Tito Garden Café houses Patis’ private home, her atelier, a gallery, and Patis Tito, a restaurant that features Patis’ own recipes using fresh produce from the permaculture farm and garden that she has lovingly cultivated for 40 years.

Masungi Georeserve

A must for nature and adventure (and Instagram) junkies. With three different trails to choose from, you can climb over spider webs, hang out on a canopy, or plant some trees for good karma.


The soul of Manila, this is one place that I will always come back to. You think you know the Walled City? Try a Bambike tour! It’s a fun and ecofriendly way to get around the premises and learn about its history. If I can do it, so can you.

Relish this time when places aren’t crowded and where you can have all our wonders almost to yourselves. It feels like witnessing our attractions open for the first time. Fall in love with the Philippines all over again.

Banner photo: Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat on a @bambike going on a two-wheeled tour around the newly-reopened Intramuros.