There's something inherently mystical about mountains. Maybe it's the way they tower majestically over the plains. Maybe it's the long, arduous journey that climbers take to reach the summit. Or maybe it's the wide, unexplored frontiers that span a mountain's surface.
At any rate, mountains are popular destinations for Filipinos during Holy Week. Of the Philippines' countless mountains, here are 4 of the must-visit pilgrimage sites come Semana Santa.
Location: Pampanga (border of Arayat and Magalang)
Despite having only its southern half in the town of Arayat (and the northern half in Magalang), the mountain and the town share the same name. Situated 10 and 16 miles to the east of Angeles City and Mt. Pinatubo, respectively, Mt. Arayat is considered an extinct stratovolcano. It has no recorded eruptions in recent history, although scientists date its last activity to the Holocene epoch.
Legend has it that Arayat is home to a being named Sinukuan. Depending on which version of the tale you hear, Sinukuan is either a beautiful diwata (Filipino version of a fairy/minor goddess) or a rival of Apu Namalyari from Mt. Pinatubo. The latter version is said to reside at the White Rock — a lava dome — and bathe at the waterfalls of Ayala in Magalang.
Today, locals and tourists flock to the sacred places where Sinukuan allegedly lives. You can also climb the trail from Mt. Arayat National Park to the Southern Peak, where you can have amazing views of the Pampanga River and Central Luzon as a whole.
Location: Border of Lucban, Quezon and Majayjay, Laguna
Rising 2,158 meters (1,080 feet) above the ground, Mt. Banahaw is the tallest mountain in the CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon) region. It's an active, complex volcano, with three peaks towering over the border of the Laguna and Quezon provinces, and is called "Holy Mountain" for a reason.
According to the locals, Banahaw is strewn with holy sites — springs, caves, boulders — whose locations were revealed to a man named Agripino Lontoc by the Santong Boses (Holy Voices). Ever since, the mountain became a traditional pilgrimage site for locals, as well as outsiders looking for a place to trek and hike.
Unfortunately, as of this writing, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has suspended all hiking activities on Banahaw due to the excessive amount of trash left behind by climbers. Still, you can view the mountain from afar, and feel its sacred aura washing over you.
Location: Siquijor Island
At 557 meters (1827 feet) above sea level, Mt. Bandilaan is the highest peak on the island of Siquijor. Naturally, its height makes it a popular destination for hikers and mountaineers. However, height isn't the only remarkable thing about Mt. Bandilaan.
Every Holy Week, the island's healers climb the mountain to gather herbs and other ingredients for their healing potions. That's because the herbs are said to be at their most potent during Holy Week, so if you want to see a mananambal in action, Semana Santa is the best time to visit Siquijor.
Aside from the mountain itself, you can also visit other tourist destinations such as the Our Lady of Lourdes shrine, the Stations of the Cross, the Bandilaan Butterfly Range and Breeding Farm, and many other spots that showcase the beauty of Siquijor's natural landscape.
Location: Los Baños, Laguna
Although Makiling has no recorded eruptions in human history, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) still detects signs of volcanic activity on the mountain, such as hot springs and mud springs. Aside from being a dormant volcano, Makiling is also said to be the home of the most famous diwata in Philippine mythology — Maria (or Mariang) Makiling.
Many versions of Maria's story exist. Some say that Maria used to turn ginger into gold, until greedy villagers who abused her power forced her to stop. Others say that Maria fell in love with a mortal man, but when the man married someone else, she became so angry that she refused to show herself to the locals. All the stories agree on a couple of things: (1) Maria was a woman of incomparable beauty; and (2) Maria was the guardian of the mountain named after her.
These days, the mountain isn't the only point of interest in the area. You can also visit the National Arts Center at the foot of Mt. Makiling, the Pook ni Maria Makiling near the National Arts Center, and the University of the Philippines' Los Baños campus. Or you can scale the mountain's 1,090 meter (3,580 feet) height, have a breathtaking view of Laguna province, and perhaps see Maria in the flesh.
Whether you prefer the journey over the destination, or the destination over the journey, these mountains will surely captivate you. Schedule a trip to them this Holy Week, and let us know of your experiences in the comments.