Travel north of Manila and explore Pampanga, the Culinary Capital of the Philippines. Find out the best time to visit, how to get there, where to stay, top things to see and activities to do, where to eat the best food, and how to plan your itinerary in this travel guide.
The Philippines is home to a variety of unique cuisine and amazing dishes. Pampanga, the Culinary Capital of the Philippines, offers not just a gastronomical adventure for a great introduction to Filipino food, but also fun outdoor activities for the family and historical sites and city attractions to visit.
Apart from the culinary heavyweights found in Pampanga, the province is famous for its theme and amusement parks such as Aqua Planet, Zoocobia Fun Zoo, and SandBox. History buffs will also enjoy exploring the Clark Museum, Nayong Pilipino, and the Museo Ning Angeles.
The Philippines is known to celebrate the longest Christmas holidays in the world, which starts in September. Local and international travelers flock to Pampanga to get a glimpse of the best and biggest parol (Christmas lanterns) during the Giant Lantern Festival.
Read on to find out everything you need to know when planning a trip to Pampanga.
Like the rest of the Philippines, Pampanga has two seasons: wet and dry. The hottest months are from March to May, the summer season. The coolest months are from December to February. It's better if you check the weather forecast before planning your visit here.
In general, it is best to travel to Pampanga during the dry and cool months, between November to February. The Giant Lantern Festival is also held during December.
If you visit during Holy Week, usually March or April, you might be able to catch the Easter crucifixion ceremonies. During this time, devotees reenact Jesus’ way to the cross, even down to literally being nailed on the cross. It’s not for the faint of heart, so best to skip it if you can’t bear to watch.
The province’s proximity to Manila makes it very accessible by car. It only takes about 2 to 3 hours by car to get to Angeles City. Numerous bus lines also pass and make stops at the City of San Fernando, Angeles City, and Mabalacat City. Another option is to fly to Pampanga via Clark. Here’s a rundown of how you can go to Pampanga.
There are no direct flights from Manila going to Clark International Airport in Pampanga so the best option is to drive or commute there.
The fastest way to drive to Pampanga is via the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), then take either the San Fernando Exit or the Angeles Exit. The San Fernando Exit will take you to the provincial capital.
You can easily spot the San Fernando Exit along NLEX, as it is near two major malls, SM City Pampanga and Robinsons Starmall Pampanga.
Further ahead is the Angeles Exit, which will take you to Angeles City and the Clark Freeport Zone. You can spot Marquee Mall along NLEX near the Angeles Exit.
Angeles City is about 90 km from Manila, and it takes about 2-3 hours by bus to get to Dau Bus Terminal in Angeles, depending on the traffic.
From the Dau Bus Terminal, you can catch a jeepney or taxi to your hotel, or to other towns and cities in Pampanga.
If you’re coming from the airport in Manila, there are Premium Point-to-Point buses servicing the NAIA-Clark International Airport route. There are pick up points in NAIA Terminal 3, Robinsons Galleria in Ortigas and TRINOMA Mall in Quezon City.
Photo by Clark International Airport
For those coming from different parts of the Philippines and other countries, Pampanga has its own international airport, Clark International Airport, making it easily accessible by air. Major airlines include Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Air Asia.
Most major airlines have direct domestic flights to Clark International Airport daily. While some flights have one stopover, flying is still a great alternative to driving. Philippine Airlines has five daily flights to Pampanga, while Cebu Pacific and Air Asia have three and one, respectively. Total flight time is about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
If you’re coming from the southern parts of the Philippines, flying straight to Clark International Airport will save you a lot of time. Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific fly four times daily to Pampanga while AirAsia flies once daily. Total travel time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.
Most major airlines from Qatar, UAE, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Singapore have international flights to Pampanga daily. If you’re coming from outside of the Philippines, we advise flying straight to Pampanga. But you can also fly to NAIA first and take a car or bus from Manila going to Pampanga.
If you brought your own vehicle, you can easily drive around. If you arrived in the province via public transportation, there are jeepneys to take you between cities and municipalities. Taxis and UV Express shuttles are also available. You can also get on the tricycles for shorter, inter-city commutes. For a hassle-free tour experience, you can also book tours with transfers.
If you're coming from Clark Airport, you can hire airport transfers or rent a car going to your hotel or for touring in Pampanga
There are many hotels and resorts in Pampanga, from luxury accommodations to family-friendly spaces to no-frills lodging. Whether you’re traveling solo, with friends, or with family, here are the top picks of Pampanga hotels for every budget:
If you’re feeling the urge to splurge, here are Pampanga’s top luxury hotels you can book into.
Photo by Midori Clark Hotel and Casino
Its strategic location inside the Clark Freeport Zone makes it accessible to restaurants, transport hubs, malls, and historic landmarks. All rooms are spacious, fully fitted, and air-conditioned; there are also PWD-friendly rooms. The hotel has a pool, casino, restaurant, spa, and a wine and cigar lounge. The hotel also offers airport transport service, free shuttle service to SM Clark, and city tour arrangement service.
Also located inside the Clark Freeport Zone, Park Inn by Radisson Clark is close to the Clark International Airport. While it is primarily a business hotel, it is also perfect for families and group travelers. Its 154 rooms and suites are designed in vibrant hues and filled with complete amenities. The hotel also has its own restaurant, lobby bar, and an adult and kiddie swimming pool.
A boutique hotel inspired by South American homes and European villas, The Mansion is a perfect home-away-from-home accommodation for families and group travelers looking to stay active even on vacation. It has spacious rooms, a restaurant and bar, two swimming pools, a poolside bar, a sundeck, playground and game rooms for kids, a jogging path, and sports fields.
There are many comfortable hotels in Pampanga that are still friendly to the budget. Check out these top choices:
Located in Balibago, Angeles City, Central Park Tower Resort can be easily spotted even at night with its distinctive blue and gold façade lights. The hotel has an in-house restaurant and café, as well as a fitness center. It also has a rooftop infinity pool, outdoor jacuzzi, and rooftop cabanas.
Photo by Prime Asia Hotel
Located in the middle of Angeles City, Prime Asia Hotel is a nice place to chill. The hotel has an in-house restaurant and bar and hosts live bands every Friday and Saturday nights. Also, it’s a short 6-minute stroll from Walking Street and other establishments.
Tucked away in a quiet and secure compound in Angeles City, Oasis Hotel offers its guest a peaceful and relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of city life. The hotel has a mini-gym, swimming pool and pool bar, and business center. The hotel also offers therapeutic massage services and complimentary shuttle services to SM City Clark and Clark International Airport.
If you are traveling on a tight budget and want to splurge on food instead, here are budget-friendly hotels that you can choose from.
Hotel America in Angeles City offers comfortable, value-for-money accommodations for travelers to Pampanga. Its claim to fame is its offer of a guaranteed full 24-hour stay so you don’t need to worry about rushing to make that 12-noon checkout time. The hotel has an in-house restaurant and coffee shop, a swimming pool, a business center and meeting facilities.
Photo by Red Planet Hotel Angeles City
Centrally located Red Planet Hotel in Angeles City is only about 6km to Clark International Airport, 6km to the nearest golf course, 3km to SM Clark, and 2km to Dau Bus Terminal. This budget hotel offers fast and free Wi-Fi, especially for those who must always stay connected.
There is something for everyone in Pampanga, and you will never run out of things to do. Here are just some of the activities you can include in your holiday:
When people think of Pampanga, they almost always associate the province with food. But Pampanga is also blessed with natural wonders.
Make sure to mark these sites on your Pampanga map: Mt. Arayat, the lone summit of Pampanga province; Mt. Pinatubo in nearby Tarlac province; Candaba Swamps and Wild Duck & Birds Sanctuary in Candaba; and Miyamit and Dara Falls in Porac.
As one of the first provinces established by the Spaniards, Pampanga boasts of a long and rich history, just waiting to be rediscovered. Start off your heritage tour with the Pamintuan Mansion in Angeles City.
This Spanish-era colonial home is where the first Philippine President, Emilio Aguinaldo, stood to celebrate the first anniversary of Philippine independence from Spain. It is now open to visitors as a museum.
Next, see the ruins of the San Fernando Train Station, which is famously remembered as the terminus of the tragic Bataan Death March in 1942. Thousands of exhausted and dying Filipino and American prisoners-of-war were loaded into box cart at this station, to be sent to Camp O’Donnell in nearby Capas, Tarlac.
Museum fans can start their exploration with the Clark Museum and the Museo Ning Angeles.
Photo by travelswithahobo.com
Filipinos love their festivals, and Pampanga has lots of big, happy festivals year-round.
At the City of San Fernando, parol-making is considered the city’s treasure and is celebrated every Christmas season in grand fashion during the Giant Lantern Festival. Marvel at the huge lanterns with intricate designs and fancy dancing lights on display.
Other notable festivals include the weeklong Sinukwan Festival in San Fernando, Pampanga that celebrates traditional Kapampangan culture and heritage.
The Makatapak Festival (“Barefoot Festival”) commemorates the journey of Bacolor natives as they displayed the spirit of bayanihan (spirit of communal unity) to escape the lahar flows brought about by the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption.
Photo by Aqua Planet
If you want to escape the heat, head to Aqua Planet with the whole family and conquer over 30 water slides and other attractions that are suitable for all ages. It also has its own restaurants, shops, and live entertainment shows so you can spend the whole day without even stepping foot out of the resort!
Fontana Leisure Parks is another popular year-round tourist attraction. It is a resort, a water park, and a sports center all rolled into one 300-hectare space. It has a wave pool, a pirate ship water feature, and a “river” that flows around the water park.
Local Kapampangan cuisine is said to be legendary and different from the other cuisines around the Philippines. According to historians, Spanish friars and sailors taught the locals how to cook Spanish dishes.
Kapampangan cuisine has a long, rich, and flavorful history that helped the province earned the title of Culinary Capital of the Philippines.
Even if many Pampanga restaurants are offering different cuisines, including Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Italian, German, and Spanish, here are some of the best Kapampangan dishes you should taste when you visit Pampanga:
Sisig is made of chopped pork ears, cheeks, and liver seasoned with calamansi (local lime), onions, chili peppers and served on a sizzling plate. Known as the Queen of Sisig, Aling Lucing’s version of the dish has become such a hit, it is now a staple at many Filipino restaurants.
Matam-ih means “delicious” in Aeta dialect., located at the Clark Freeport Zone, is one of the best Pampanga restaurants where you can get a taste of authentic Kapampangan food.
Filipino favorites such as sinigang na baboy, kare-kare, and tinola made with native chicken. Exotic, seasonal dishes such as crocodile meat, escargot, and crickets are also available for those with more adventurous palates.
The bakery opened in 2007, mainly to serve great quality German bread to the people of and visitors to Angeles City.
They bake German and other European bread, rolls, and pastries that you can take to go. They also offer a dine-in Western-style breakfast menu that you can tuck into while people watching.
Wear comfortable clothes, especially when you go on walking tours. You can also bring extra clothes with you, so you can quickly change out of your sweaty ones.
Sunblock is essential, even when it’s a cloudy day out. Also, don’t forget to bring your hats, umbrellas, sunglasses, fans, and water to beat the heat.
If you’re going on a trek to Mt. Arayat, remember to bring garden gloves to protect your hands from sharp vines and jagged rock. Also, bring your own water and trail food.
For water park trips, always bring waterproof bags to protect your gadgets and other valuables.
Bring home some Panecillos de San Nicolas, cookies made from arrowroot, sugar, coconut milk, and butter, and blessed by Catholic priests.
Because of its proximity to Manila, Pampanga is usually a long weekend destination that you can tour in just 3 days and 2 nights. Here’s a sample itinerary to help you make the most out of your long weekend in Pampanga.
06:00 AM - Departure from Cubao, Quezon City via bus
08:00 AM - ETA in Dau Bus Terminal
08:00 - 09:30 AM - Have breakfast
10:00 - 11:30 AM - Explore Clark by visiting Clark Freeport Zone, Clark Museum and many others
12:00 NN - Lunch at Matam-ih's Authentic Kapampangan Cuisine
02:00 PM - Check-in at hotel
03:00 - 06:00 PM - Visit the Pamintuan Mansion, Museo Ning Angeles, and Holy Rosary Parish Church, which are often part of a heritage tour in Angeles City
06:00 PM - Dinner at Angeles City proper
08:00 PM - Call it a day. Start bright and early the next day
06:00 AM - Join a Mt. Pinatubo tour
07:00 AM - 04:00 PM - Hop on a 4x4 jeep, and have an exciting trekking adventure in Mt. Pinatubo
04:00 - 05:00 PM - Wash up and travel back to Angeles City
06:00 PM - Dinner at Aling Lucing's Sisig. Go on a night out by visiting a few pubs
08:00 PM - Back at the hotel. Call it a day. Stat bright and early the next day
08:00 AM - Breakfast
10:00 AM - Early hotel check out
11:00 AM - 04:00 PM - Day tour at Aqua Planet
04:00 - 05:00 PM - Shopping for souvenirs
05:00 PM - Departure from Dau via bus
07:00 PM - ETA in Cubao, Quezon City
Pampanga is a quick and perfect getaway for urbanites who want to escape for the long weekend. The province’s myriad of natural and man-made tourist destinations, affordable accommodations, excellent food choices, and endless entertainment options make it a great choice for a fun trip.
Make sure to check out the many Pampanga tour options available so you can experience the best of everything in our country’s very own culinary capital!