The Pampanga Rundown
Some two decades after the cataclysmic eruption of Mount Pinatubo, Central Luzon and the province of Pampanga still reel from aftershocks. Though the death toll in 1991 was relatively low, thanks to a timely mass evacuation of tens of thousands of area residents, harvests in the indispensable agricultural zone have yet to return to pre-Pinatubo yields and every rainy season since, rivers of debris deluge the province. No small wonder; not since Krakatoa in 1883 had a volcano made such a forceful local and planet-wide impression (the initial ash plume was 7 km high and the subsequent drop in global temperature was half a degree Celsius). Everyone, even outside the realm of vulcanology, knows the name Pinatubo now. Few take the time, however, to consider Central Luzon’s resilience and resurrection, in spite of the odds.
As monumental as Metro Manila is, with some 11 million people, the Greater Manila Area engulfs most of Central Luzon and takes in more than 20 million people. The megalopolis includes a number of once-homogeneous rural enclaves like Pampanga. From national parks to Kapampangan culture, venerable festivals to pilgrimage-worthy cuisine, the province has inimitable charm that unfolds in humble spurts.
As a transit jump-off to the National Capital Region of the Philippines, Pampanga is a province to consider. The City of San Fernando is famously known as the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines” and hosts a number of festive events throughout the year. The provincial polestar of Angeles City is a nightlife, restaurant and entertainment hub with a new redevelopment star in the Clark Freeport Zone. Aside from Mount Pinatubo, natural points of interest like Mount Arayat National Park and Candaba Swamp captivate and enthrall.
Pampanga’s Top 10
10. Candaba Swamp and Bird Sanctuary is a brilliant haven for migratory avian life.
5. Fort Stotsenburg is a prominent relic of the Second World War in Angeles City.
9. Mount Arayat National Park protects a mystical stratovolcano.
4. Church of San Vicente Ferrer is a major focal point of civic activity in San Fernando.
8. Augusto P. Hizon House is the best landmark in a vital ensemble of heritage architecture in the City of San Fernando.
3. Metropolitan Cathedral of San Fernando, as the seat of the Archdiocese of San Fernando, serves a population of 5 million Catholics.
7. Dara Falls is the Pagsanjan of Pampanga.
2. San Fernando Archdiocesan Museum and Archives contains impressive and priceless religious antiques and artefacts from Pampanga’s past.
6. Kapampangan/Clark Museum displays some wonderful exhibits on the cultural and ethnological heritage of the province.
1. Mount Pinatubo become somewhat of a morbid, popular tourist attraction after one of the most destructive volcanic eruptions in 1991.
- Mabalacat – An airfield where the first kamikaze suicide pilots launched in World War II and attacked Pearl Harbor.
- Betis Church – The oldest church in Pampanga, it was designed in the Neoclassic style found in Europe.
- Fort Stotsenburg – The location of the Philippine cavalry regiment in WWII and built by the Americans in 1902.
- Dayrit-Cuyugan House – A heritage house that is an excellent example of the American colonial architecture in the Philippines.
- San Fernando Railway Station – One of the two stations used by the Philippine National Railways.
Pampanga Art & Culture
- Hilaga Philippines – A tourism village that displays the cultures, character and wealth of the northern regions.
- Clark Museum – Chronicles the history of the town of Clark when the American soldiers changed this area to a military base.
- Pampanga Museum – Learn all about the culture of the area with special changing exhibits.
- Culinary Museum – Located in Angeles, the culinary museum contains a collection of culinary books and magazines and a venue for cooking demonstrations.
- Archdiocese Museum and Archives – Contains works of art and antiques that date from the 17th century.
- SM City – A large shopping mall in Pampanga.
- Nepo Mall – A mall that contains many department stores, real estate offices, banks and fast-food outlets.
- Mheas Custom Woodcraft – A specialty store that offers wooden souvenirs and handicrafts from fine wood.
- Asialuxe – A shop that offers a range of mother of pearl products.
- Edelweiss Delicatessen – Provides a variety of foodstuffs from around the world.
Gay & Lesbian Pampanga
- Manila Film Centre – Enjoy nightly transgender performances at this film centre.
- El Notre – A gay-friendly bar in Pampanga that mainly has acoustic performances and free karaoke.
- Che’lu – A mixed bar catering to private parties.
- Bed – A two-floor disco with a wild party atmosphere.
- Aura Sing-Along & Comedy – A gay-friendly bar that welcomes everyone and offers food at excellent prices.
- Cong Dadong Dam – A dam in Arayat that releases water to irrigate the farmlands.
- Dara Falls – Famous falls in the region that are a major tourist attraction.
- Mt. Arayat National Park – A beautiful national park in Pampanga with natural pools open for swimming and excellent spots for short mountain climbs.
- Scenic Candaba Swamps and Wild Duck & Birds Sanctuary – The best bird-watching spot in the winter, as thousands of birds stop in the area.
- Munoz Park – A natural park in the Minalin district that offers outdoor fun for the entire family.
- Follow the seven-hour track through Porac to reach the peak of Mount Pinatubo.
- Spend time playing your sport of choice at the Bren Z Guiao Sports Complex.
- Enjoy a round of golf at the Clearwater Resort and Country Club.
- Take time to go around the oval at the Bulaon Resettlement Octagonal Park.
- Watch a football match at the Angeles City Sports Stadium.
Pampanga is one of the most diminutive provinces in the Philippines in total area but with 2 million people, ranks in the top 10 in the most important category. Kapampangan (Capampan͠gan) is the dominant ethnolinguistic group though visitors will likely detect as much Tagalog and English.
The City of Angeles is home to over 315,000 people and serves as the central commercial, entertainment and financial hub of Pampanga. Most visitors to the province stay in Angeles.
Clark Freeport Zone, in Angeles, is a manifest effort by the national government to mimic the apparent success of other “special economic zones” in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. The redevelopment project of Clark Air Base had a precedent on Filipino soil, however, in Subic Bay Freeport Zone in the Central Luzon province of Zambales. The ultimate goal, still very much in the works, is to convert the area into a desirable commercial, leisure, tourism and high-tech IT and logistics hub.
City of San Fernando is the capital of Pampanga and the administrative nexus of Central Luzon. The city is home to close to 275,000 people and points of interest like Paskuhan Village, the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Fernando and a prominent Heritage District.
Mabalacat City is the “third city” of Pampanga, with 205,000 people. The majority of Clark is in Mabalacat proper.
Bacolor is a small municipality with a famous 16th century church in San Guillermo Parish.
Mexico, a municipality of 100,000 plus people, was the first capital of Pampanga in 1571.
Floridablanca is the rice basket of the province and was hit particularly hard by Pinatubo in 1991. The municipality has a population of 105,000.
Lubao is a big municipality of 150,000 people on Manila Bay and a major agricultural region. Home of San Agustin Church, the oldest church in Pampanga.
Apalit municipality holds a huge religious procession (Apung Iru) every June 28, 29 and 30..
Minalin may be the “Egg Basket of Luzon” but the municipality is much more eminent for a New Year’s parade wherein area males cross-dress and prance through town on lavish floats.
Candaba is a popular Pampanga destination because of vast swamp and farmland.
Pampanga Eat & Drink
Pampanga is a foremost culinary capital of the Philippines, most notably as a vital cradle of agriculture and Kapampangan culture.
VFW (Santol Road, Angeles City) is a modest diner with good, reliable basics.
Siam House (550C Don Juico Avenue, Angeles City) is a safe bet for a good pad thai fix.
Herbs and Greens (MacArthur Highway, Angeles City) is a rare, all-organic and veg-friendly restaurant.
Cottage Kitchen Cafe (582 Don Juico Avenue, Angeles City) impersonates a Southern BBQ joint with effective results.
Kabigting’s Halo Halo (Marquee Mall, San Fernando) dispenses the Filipino national dessert with inventive flair.
Maremmano (804 Malabanas Road, Angeles City) is a pizza and pasta trattoria-style restaurant.
Riang Cafe (588 Don Juico Avenue, Angeles City) is a popular breakfast and lunch spot with Indian and Western fare.
Ikabud (Rictofin Road, Angeles City) is a veritable Kapampangan kitchen, with unfussy takes on classics like sisig.
Zapata’s Cantina Mexicana (50 Don Meliton Avenue, Angeles City) is far from authentic for anyone who has been to Oaxaca or Puebla but doles out decent, generous tacos and nachos nonetheless.
Al Bacio (442 21st Street, Angeles City) serves fine, often elegant, Italian cuisine.
Pampanga is a province of festivals. From austere Catholic rituals to traditional Kapampangan celebrations, the Central Luzon hot spot teems with colourful events throughout the year.
Good Friday Lenten Rite in San Pedro Cutud is the most famous, infamous and controversial religious rite in the Philippines. The annual passion play in the barangay of San Pedro, City of San Fernando, removes the usual suspension of disbelief and features actual flagellation, self-mutilation and crucifixions, all with complicit participants. The spectacle is unusual, even in a bastion of Catholic faith as staunch, dramatic and theatrical as the Philippines, and draws occasional atypical criticism from the Vatican.
Giant Lantern Festival is a resplendent bash in the City of San Fernando held one week before Christmas and a pillar event behind the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines” tag.
San Fernando City Fiesta is a major show of civic pride and pageantry every May 30.
Piestang Tugak San Fernando Frog Festival aims to commemorate a vital Kapampangan culinary cog: the frog. A good time to be in Pampanga and a bad time to be an amphibian in the province.
Sinukwan Festival is a week-long Kapampangan street party and cultural revival of sorts in San Fernando in early December.
Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta hovers over Clark Air Base in Angeles City in Janaury and February.
Sisig Festival commemorates a staple Pampanga dish every December. Angeles City is the “Sisig Capital of the Philippines”, after all.
Tigtigan Terakan Keng Dalan is a music and dance street party held every Friday and Saturday throughout the month of October in Angeles City.
When To Go
The two distinct seasons that characterise the tropical rainforest climate of Central Luzon provide a simple out for those that abhor heavy rain: come from November to April, when Pampanga is relatively dry. Visit from May to October at your peril, however. Tropical cyclones and depressions trigger more than just floods, landslides and property damage in Luzon. Lahars, or mudflows, descend from Mount Pinatubo and cause significant damage in one of the more unfortunate remnants of the 1991 eruption. In other words, do not trifle with the Pacific typhoon season.
Although the temperature range in Angeles City seldom wavers below 70°F (21°C) or above 93°F (34°C) March and April do swelter and December, January and February feature cooler conditions, on average. When intolerable humidity strikes, duck into an SM Supermall.
What To Miss
The best advice for prospective visitors to Pampanga is to not attempt a solo trek on Mount Pinatubo. The infamously volatile volcano is temperamental enough with a competent guide, let alone without one. Plenty of incompetent guides will, inevitably, eagerly offer their services as well, so be vigilant on and off the mountain.
Transport quagmires are ceaseless in the Philippines and Pampanga is no exception. While vehicular congestion is not completely insufferable, travellers consistently gripe about tricycle and taxi scams and dubious drivers. Jeepney exhaust is all part of the experience.
Pampanga is not free from cheesy malls and second-rate amusement and water parks. These diversions, while not inherently harmful, can detract from the province’s legacy of national parks and Kapampangan culture.
For rapid access to Angeles City, San Fernando and the rest of Pampanga, most visitors hop on a bus, hire a taxi or drive from Metro Manila via the EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue/Highway 54) and NLEX (North Luzon Expressway). Good time is approximately 2 hours.
You can, alternatively, fly to Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark Special Economic Zone, Angeles City from the likes of Caticlan (Boracay), Cebu, Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul-Incheon, Bangkok-Suvarnabhumi, Macau, Hong Kong, Singapore. The Pampanga hub serves as a sporadic alternative to Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay, Metro Manila.
A provincial bus network provides access to major and minor towns and points of interest throughout Pampanga. The Dau Bus Terminal in Mabalacat City is a vital transport node. The usual mix of taxis, jeepneys and tricycle offer convenient point A to B access within Angeles City, Clark, San Fernando et al. Car hire in Pampanga is affordable and roads less of a hassle to navigate than in chaotic Metro Manila.
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