While the Philippines is known for it’s beautiful islands and underwater sea life, it can often be crowded and commercialized. Many travelers these days are looking for quieter places to spend their weekends which is why Zambales is perfect for that!
Whether you are locals from Manila looking for a weekend getaway or you’re foreign tourists, if you want a chill place to kick back, do some surfing, camping and island hopping then keep reading.
This guide will go through all of the major areas of Zambales including some of my favorite hidden spots too.
Zambales is just 3-4 hours north of Manila on the west side of the Philippines just near Angeles/Clark city. It’s really a prime location as it’s still within a reasonable driving distance from the city.
Zambales region covers 1,408 square miles and includes 14 total municipalities with Iba city as the region capital. As you can see from the map above it covers a long section of the shoreline which makes it a prime location for resorts for relaxing or surfing.
Although Iba is the capital city in the region, Olongapo is the largest city with Subic coming in second. Although these two cities are the biggest, I will not spend much time on them below as I am primarily focusing this guide on tourist spots.
How to get there?
Getting to Zambales is easy and cheap! Here’s the overview including links to bus schedules/tickets:
- First step is to head to any Victory Liner terminal in either Cubao, Pasay, Caloocan, or Sampaloc. All of these are within Metro Manila. I highly suggest the Cubao station as it’s easiest to get to and is right next to the highway heading north.
- Your destination city will be Iba which costs P250 (about $5 USD). While you can take the bus going to Olongapo, you’ll just have to switch buses in Olongapo to go to Iba again.
- You can always check the schedules at the Victory Liner website here. If you want to book your tickets in advance, you can also do that on the same site.
A few notes before you head to Zambales:
- Zambales is a big area and there will be food all over the place so no need to bring food along with you except snacks.
- Often the bus going to Iba will stop in Olongapo for 15 minutes or so to drop off some passengers and pick up new ones. This is normal. Just jump off and get a snack and bathroom break.
- There are no stopovers except in Olongapo.
- If you’re going through Olongapo/Subic on a Friday evening or Sunday night, expect it will take two hours to get through due to the high traffic volume.
Foreigner note: The Cubao bus terminal may look scary, but dont worry it’s pretty safe there. They have security guys all over 🙂
What to do in Zambales:
Zambales is quite large so i’ll break this down into a few buckets based on location and go through the highlights of each:
These are also in order as you go through Zambales coming from Olongapo going north up the coast.
Once you get out of Subic and start heading into Zambales further you’ll first hit San Antonio. If you’re headed to Casa San Miguel, Pundaquit, or Anawangin, you’ll want to get down in San Antonio once you see the 7Eleven store.
From San Antonio you can take a tricycle to get around easily. You’ll see these sitting next to 7Eleven if you are unsure where to grab one. Most commonly you’ll be headed to Pundaquit which is a small fishing village about 5 minutes from San Antonio and costs P60 to get there.
Pundaquit used to be a fishing village but over the past decade the locals converted most of their fishing vessels to tourism boats and now guide tourists to the coves which cannot be accessed by land and the islands nearby. A really great boat man in Pundaquit is Kuya Kulot which you can contact him on his Facebook here. If you didn’t get in contact ahead, just ask any local there for Kulot and they all know him.
From Pundaquit by boat you can go to the following amazing cove/islands:
- Anawangin Cove
- Nagsasa Cove
- Capones and Camara Islands
- Silanguin Cove
- Talisayin Cove
Pundaquit is also home to a really cute place called Ohana Art Cafe. The place has a super hippy vibe, chill environment, a fish spa for your feet (for free) and really amazing food! A definite must see place when you pass through.
Casa San Miguel
Over the years as San Antonio developed due to the surge in tourism, it also wanted to ensure culture and arts thrived in the area. This is part of the reason why Casa San Miguel has been revitalized.
Originally built in 1921 on a beautiful mango plantation, it has been expanded and renovated as an art museum and a well known music school specializing in violin. The beautiful art throughout the building is amazing to see along with the sound of violins screeching through the halls (lets give leeway to the kids who are still learning).
Casa San Miguel also has many rooms to rent for 2 or 4 persons, a beautiful restaurant and bar, and outdoor fountain. If you are looking for a getaway from the city that is both relaxing and artistic (Perfect if you’re having writers block!), this is definitely a place you should check out.
Check out the full guide to Casa San Miguel Here: Casa San Miguel Artist Retreat Guide
Although there are many coves in Zambales, I wanted to highlight one for you as it’s one of the most famous in the region. Anawangin is a remote cove surrounded by mountains on all sides. While it is accessible by land, it takes about 4-6 hours hike over Mt. Pundaquit. It is suggested to take the boat from Pundaquit which costs P1000 (about $20 USD) and can hold up to 4 passengers (P250 each).
There are no hotels here but there are some decent Kubo style accommodations. Most people traveling to Anawangin go to enjoy the camping lifestyle. Not only does it have great camping, but it has a beautiful beach front and a nearby cliff to hike up to get an awesome panoramic photo of the cove.
It costs just P300 for tent rentals which you can have the boat bring for you or rent when you get there. You’ll want to bring your own food and supplies for cooking with a fire when you go here or bring food that doesn’t require cooking. While there is a little bit of food available for sale, you shouldn’t rely on this and should definitely come prepared.
Also as the most important note to all you social media addicts – there is no electricity or signal in Anawangin. Your cell phone is for taking photos only here. Bring a book! 🙂
You can see the full guide to Anawangin here: Anawangin travel guide
San Narciso/Crystal Beach
San Narciso is the next city north of San Antonio that you’ll come across and you’ll know it right away because of it’s beautiful archway just next to the road that leads into a plaza surrounded by 2 churches. It’s an old town and it has a really nice charm.
The most common place to visit here is Crystal Beach Resort. It started out as a little camp site on the beach and turned into this enormous campground sprawling many acres and is a bit of a party beach resort now. It has multiple camping areas either near the beach or in the forest and also has rooms to rent in either kubo or resort style.
On the beachfront you’ll see right away a large open building which is where you can get food and drinks and often they hold weddings and other events in. They rent tents including pillows and blankets and they’ll set it up for you.
Crystal Beach Resort also has a nightly campfire with a musician. It is very well known for it’s beach activities including frisbee and volleyball. If you’re looking for a place that’s large enough to be both peaceful and lively at the same time, then check out this place!
And for my final and favorite place in all of Zambales, San Felipe. As you enter San Felipe you’ll see a plaza with a 7Eleven and a market. That’s your sign to get down from the bus. While San Felipe doesn’t have much to do except shop at the market, just nearby is Liwa which is a 10 minute tricycle ride from the town and costs P60.
Liwa is considered a surf community and is designed as such. Most resorts in Liwa are small with a few kubo style buildings. There are only 2 small restaurants here, but Mommy Phoebe’s is definitely the best. The overall area is extremely quiet and the sunsets are absolutely beautiful.
When visiting Liwa it’s important to know that it’s a very clean community. The residents here take pride in making sure they leave no trace of trash anywhere they go. This is one of the reasons I like Liwa so much is that they make a conscious effort to respect the environment.
There are quite a few great places to stay but my favorites is Circle Hostel, The Glamp (glamorous camping), and Sunny Side Up. While it’s best to book ahead, there is usually always a place to stay when visiting Liwa year round.
There is no ATM in Liwa, so be sure to withdraw ahead. There is also limited cell signal (which I love disconnecting!) in Liwa so be prepared for that as well.
Check our the full guide to the best surf community in the Philippines here: Philippines Best Surf Community- Liwa, Zambales.
– -Zambales – –
That wraps up the overview of Zambales. If you have favorite places in Zambales that I didn’t talk about, it might be that I didn’t go there yet and I’d love to! Leave your suggested Zambales favorites in the comments below and I’ll try to check it out soon!
Keep traveling and head to Zambales as your next destination soon!