1. Lake Apo
The highland province of Bukidnon in the southern island of Mindanao is beloved for its countryside charms and wealth of scenic natural wonders, among which is Lake Apo. This impressive crater lake is found in Valencia City in the heart of the province.
Though located in Bukidnon’s busiest city, Lake Apo lies on the outskirts of Valencia, some 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) from the población, the city proper. Accordingly, its secluded location, ensconced within a hilly and wooded area elevated 640 meters (2,100 feet) above sea level, affords it a tranquil ambiance and a mild climate.
Lake Apo is nearly circular in shape, fairly wide, with an estimated surface area of 24 hectares (59 acres). It has an average depth of 17 m (56 ft), though at its deepest is reckoned to be 26 m (85 ft). The lake is ringed by a rolling landscape of gentle hills and knolls, along whose slopes flourish trees, bushes, grasses, and all manner of vegetation. The lake’s glassy surface is equally verdant, upon which idly float rafts and cottages fashioned from bamboo.
Lake Apo, doubtless among the most scenic lakes in the Philippines, is renowned as one of the top tourist destinations in Bukidnon, drawing visitors weary of the chaos of the city and seeking refuge in nature. Despite its fame, however, the lake’s natural state and serene setting have been largely preserved.
Tourists can rent bamboo rafts and cottages and idly glide along the lake’s placid, emerald waters while breathing in the pleasant and peaceful scenery. They can also kayak, jet ski, or fish. Those who prefer to admire the lake from afar, meanwhile, may stay on the grassy shore, which is furnished with wooden picnic tables and benches.
2. Lakes Balinsasayao and Danao
PROVINCE: Negros Oriental
On the southeastern end of the Visayan island of Negros, in the province of Negros Oriental, lie the famed Lakes Balinsasayao and Danao. These lakes occupy two craters nestled within a green hollow, elevated nearly 1,000 m (3,281 ft) above sea level, and hemmed in on all sides by the lofty ranges of Guintabon, Guinsayawan, and Kabalin-an.
The twin freshwater lakes lie side by side, separated by a narrow ridge 20 m (66 ft) wide. Lake Balinsasayao, the larger of the two, spans 76 ha (190 ac), and at its deepest point is 90 m (300 ft). The lake is named after the balinsasayaw, or swiftlets, that thrive in the area.
The smaller Lake Danao measures 30 ha (74 ac) wide and reaches a maximum depth of 58 m (190 ft). Its name is derived from danaw, the local word for ‘lake’.
Hills and heights draped in greenery encircle Balinsasayao and Danao, matching the emerald hue of the still and pensive lakewaters. A deep silence, and the fresh scent of the forest, pervade the air over two of the most scenic lakes in the Philippines.
The lakes and the surrounding rainforests form the Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park, an expansive protected area encompassing 8,016 ha (19,808 ac). The Natural Park houses a vast biodiversity, of which many species are rare and endemic.
Plant life is prolific, ranging from creeping vines, wild orchids, giant ferns, to towering trees. Foremost among the latter is the almaciga, the tallest tree in the Philippines, which can reach a height of 60 m (197 ft).
Local avifauna include the rare Negros bleeding-heart, Visayan wrinkled hornbill, Japanese night heron, spotted imperial pigeon, and the Philippine cockatoo, making for a unique birdwatching experience. Resident mammals include the Philippine spotted deer, Visayan warty pig, Visayan leopard cat, Philippine tube-nosed fruit bat, and the giant golden-crowned flying fox.
The Natural Park has facilities for visitors, including a restaurant and a souvenir shop. Either lake may be reached via hiking trails. Guided boat tours are offered on Lake Balinsasayao, although kayaks are also available for rent for those wishing to paddle by themselves across the lake. Fishing is allowed.
3. Barracuda Lake
Palawan is long regarded as the Philippines’ Last Frontier. This archipelagic province, encompassing the long and narrow Palawan Island and the surrounding 1,780 islands and islets, holds some of the country’s most spectacular and sought-after sights.
On Palawan’s northern reaches lies Coron, a sprawling archipelagic town made up of the eastern half of Busuanga Island, all of Coron Island, and about 50 surrounding islets. Coron is among the premier tourist draws in Palawan, and indeed anywhere in the Philippines. Many of the town’s most well-known tourist spots are found on Coron Island, notably Barracuda Lake and Kayangan Lake, two of the most scenic lakes in the Philippines.
Barracuda Lake is an inland brackish lake that lies almost hidden within the limestone cliffs and crags on the northwestern shore of Coron Island. It is one of the two lakes in Coron Island that are open to the public (the other being Kayangan Lake), though the island holds many more lakes. Barracuda Lake, which is named after the barracudas that inhabit its depths, is known to the locals as Luluyuan Lake.
The remarkable and spectacular beauty of Barracuda Lake immediately earns it renown among the most scenic lakes in the Philippines. Its pellucid surface is a resplendent fresco of gemstone colors – jade, teal, turquoise, aquamarine, emerald, and sapphire. Rising above the crystalline waters is a veritable wall of sheer limestone cliffs, all dark and lofty, all clad and crowned in verdure, all seemingly standing guard over the majestic lake.
Though the surface of the lake is scenic as can be, what lie beneath its waters are even more remarkable. Indeed, Barracuda Lake is one of the most famed dive sites in the Philippines owing to its surprising underwater features, not least a sensational thermocline and a halocline.
After all, Barracuda Lake is not truly brackish. It is freshwater with saltwater underneath. And where the cooler freshwater meets the warmer saltwater, thermoclines and haloclines form.
The first few layers of the lake are freshwater, but 4 m (13 ft) down, the saltwater portion begins, and the lake’s halocline – the layer where waters of two distinctly different salinity levels meet – becomes visible, marked by gray and black lines running through the water.
Meanwhile, the lake’s thermocline – the layer where waters of two distinctly different temperatures meet – occur 14 m (46 ft) below the surface. Divers crossing the thermocline will feel the temperature soar from the surface’s 28°C (82.4°F) to a hot 38°C (100.4°F). Fortunately, the temperature returns to a cooler level near the bottom. Additionally, at 35 m (115 ft) deep, the waters change from a crystal blue color to a brownish hue.
The bottom of Barracuda Lake – 40 m (131 ft) from the surface – is akin to the lunar landscape, albeit covered with soft and silky sands, and here divers take their time and relish the alien surrounding. Because of the lake’s unusual environment, marine life is not especially numerous, consisting mostly of shrimps, crayfish, rabbitfish, snappers, groupers, catfish, other creatures that have found their way from the neighboring sea, and of course, the barracudas that have lent their name to one of the most scenic lakes in the Philippines.
4. Lake Buhi
PROVINCE: Camarines Sur
In the province of Camarines Sur on the southeastern end of Luzon lies Lake Buhi, a vast but fairly shallow freshwater lake. It encompasses an impressive area of around 18,000 ha (44,479 ac), but reaches only an average depth of 8 m (26 ft) and a maximum depth of no more than 12 m (39 ft). It is fed by the Buhi and Iriga Rivers, and drained by the Tabao River.
Lake Buhi fills a wide, green valley walled to the west by the massive figure of Mount Iriga, sometimes known as Mount Asog; to south by a gently rolling landscape; to the southeast by the towering form of Mount Malinao; and to the east and north by a sprawling mass of high hills and ridges – all of which are heavily mantled with forest greenery. But closer to the shoreline are fertile fields and farms, and bustling villages with piers and docks. The surrounding scenery lends the lake a most picturesque look that merits it a sure spot among the most scenic lakes in the Philippines.
But it is not the lake’s scenic beauty that has earned it recognition. Indeed, Lake Buhi is famed foremost because it is one of the few homes of the sinarapan (Mistichthys luzonensis), the world’s smallest commercially-harvested food fish. Apart from the sinarapan, which is found only in the Philippines, the lake is also populated by other commercially important fish species such as the dalag (striped snakehead), hito (catfish), carp, and tilapia.
Aside from supplying the local populace with food and livelihood, Lake Buhi is also the main source of water supply for the power and irrigation needs of the surrounding towns.
Meanwhile, the forest around the lake is host to a remarkable variety of wildlife, ranging from colorful birds such as the Philippine hanging parrot, Philippine pygmy woodpecker, and the black-naped monarch; to reptiles such as skinks and flying lizards, and mammals including civets and monkeys.
5. Lake Bulusan
On the southeastern end of the island of Luzon, in the province of Sorsogon towers Mount Bulusan, an active volcano raised 1,565 m (5,135 ft) above sea level. Having erupted 15 times since 1885, Bulusan is the fourth most active volcano in the Philippines. While its full wrath is yet to be seen, there is no doubting Bulusan’s violent temperament, which has occasioned a number of small-scale eruptions and earthquakes in recent years.
Along Bulusan’s heels, however, is a scene of perfect calm and repose, a stark contrast to the volcano’s anger and turbulence. On the mountain’s southeastern flank lies the vast expanse of Lake Bulusan, measuring 27.6 ha (68 ac) wide and 21 m (69 ft) deep. The surface of this silent, emerald-hued lake is seldom disturbed, and startlingly mirrorlike, upon which is reflected the encircling lush landscape. A mild climate and a profound stillness complete the lake’s peaceful aura.
The rainforests around Lake Bulusan are home to red lauan, molave, and innumerable tropical trees, along with giant ferns, vivid orchids, and other tropical flora. Local fauna is equally vibrant. Colorful birds, among which are the Philippine hawk-eagle, flame-breasted fruit-dove, and the Philippine eagle-owl, paint the sky in a myriad of hues. Brilliant kingfishers swiftly skim over the lake’s surface, while Philippine ducks glide idly by. From jungle perch, dusky sleeper, spotfin river goby, to tilapia, the lake itself is rich with aquatic wildlife, which often grows to enormous proportions.
Lake Bulusan, indeed one of the most scenic lakes in the Philippines, lies at the heart of the Bulusan Volcano National Park, of which it is the primary draw. Its serene and tranquil setting and pristine state invite nature-lovers from all over. Around the lake winds a hiking trail, while colorful kayaks and canoes are available for rent to tourists wishing to row across the lake. For those who have brought their own fishing gear, the fish in the lake is plentiful and free.
6. Burnham Lake
PROVINCE: Baguio City
The City of Baguio is a chartered and highly urbanized city nestled in the Cordilleras, elevated 1,540 m (5,050 ft) above sea level. Its high elevation affords it a cool climate not unlike those of temperate countries, earning it the nickname Summer Capital of the Philippines. Its altitude is also ideal for the growth of pine trees, from which the city derived its other moniker, City of Pines.
Owing to its pine forests, cold mountain climate, and wealth of sights and attractions, Baguio City is a veritable resort city and ranks among the top tourist draws in the Philippines. Doubtless the most iconic attraction in the city is the century-old Burnham Park. Officially the Burnham Park Reservation, this historic urban park is built in the middle of the city and was originally designed by the famed American architect Daniel Burnham himself (who also designed the layout of the city), thus the park’s name.
The park’s main feature is Burnham Lake, a rectangular manmade lagoon situated at the center portion of the park. True to its original name as the City Pond, this century-old artificial lake is indeed no larger than a pond, scarcely spanning 2 ha (5 ac) in area, and plumbs no more than 3 m (10 ft).
Despite its minuscule size, however, Burnham Lake is one of the most sought-after and certainly among the most scenic lakes in the Philippines. An observation deck extends from the western shoreline of the lake, affording a commanding view of the entire lake. Along the northern and southern sides are built wooden docks and piers where boats in diverse designs, shapes, and hues are rented out to tourists desiring to row across the lake
Surrounding Burnham Lake are trimmed hedgerows and manicured flower beds where sunflowers, roses, marigolds, scarlet sage, daisies, hollyhocks, and other flowering plants flaunt their splendid and colorful blossoms. Benguet pines, pink showers, African tulip trees, agohos, and alders (alnus) march in ranks around the lake, their overhanging boughs and branches reaching towards the very waters. Paved pathways, concrete benches, and grassy lawns and picnic grounds complete the spectacular scenery around the lake.
At night, streetlamps illuminate the lake in warm and vivid hues of orange and gold. In the early morning hours, mist shrouds the lake, lending an ethereal look to the dark waters.
7. Lake Danao
Concealed within the forested highlands of western Leyte Island is Lake Danao, an immense lake extending over an area of 148 ha (370 ac) and reaching an average depth of 80 m (260 ft). The shape of the lake, when viewed from above, is said to resemble that of a guitar or a violin.
Far removed from the frenzy and furor of the city, Lake Danao is a veritable retreat for those wishing to commune with Nature. The greenness of the lakewaters is rivaled only by the lushness of the emerald environs. The encircling verdant mountains, which in the late afternoon are often shrouded in mist, provide welcome seclusion. Save only for the occasional cries of doves and pigeons, and the calls of hornbills, the silence of the surrounding forests is absolute.
Lake Danao is situated 650 m (2,130 ft) above sea level, and this fairly high altitude renders the local climate mild and cool, a welcome respite from the heat of the lowlands. The clean waters of the lake are equally cold and refreshing, inviting weary travelers for a swim.
Overlooking the lake is a concrete observation deck, which affords viewers truly picturesque views of one of the most scenic lakes in the Philippines. Fringing the shoreline are wooden docks, where floating rafts and cottages wrought of wood and bamboo, as well as canoes and kayaks, may be rented by those wishing to witness the beauty of the lake up close.
Lake Danao is the focal point of the Lake Danao Natural Park, a protected area encompassing 2,193 ha (5,420 ac), within which is the Amandiwin mountain range. The lake supplies potable water and irrigation to a number of neighboring towns and villages.
8. Lake Duminagat
PROVINCE: Misamis Occidental
Straddling the provinces of Misamis Occidental, Zamboanga del Norte, and Zamboanga del Sur in Mindanao is the Malindang Mountain Range, a small, closely-serried mass of peaks and ridges arrayed along a north-south direction. The Malindang range is one of the shorter mountain ranges anywhere in the Philippines, though it is by no means less important. For the range serves as a haven to countless species of rare and diverse flora and fauna, home indeed to some of the country’s richest and wildest ecosystems.
Not only that, the range is also known for its wealth of marvelous sceneries and dramatic landscapes. Indeed, within the largely-uncharted expanse of the Malindang range are towering peaks, volcanic structures, high rock walls, deep canyons and ravines, vast swaths of virgin forests, sulfurous hot springs, thundering waterfalls, and even a lone lake known as Lake Duminagat.
Lake Duminagat is a crater lake nestled high within a mountain adjacent to North Peak, one of the more prominent peaks of the Malindang range. This small and almost circular freshwater lake has an area no wider than 8 ha (19.8 ac). It has a mean depth of only around 12 m (39 ft), thought at its deepest point it reaches nearly 21 m (69 ft). The lake has no inlet nor an outlet; it is fed solely by rainwater, which in this area falls abundantly throughout the year.
Travelers who have seen Lake Duminagat will swiftly regard it as one of the most scenic lakes in the Philippines, but more often they will remark about its utterly mystical appearance. Its dark surface is smooth and still, wearing an almost brooding countenance. Around the lake stands a ring of mountains, not unlike silent, stern sentinels risen out of long-forgotten legends, clad with wild forests and green woods, and crowned with unfading mist and fog.
The Subanon tribal folk who dwell around the shores of Duminagat revere the lake as a hallowed place, whose waters are imbued with healing powers, so that whoever drinks from it, or bathes in it, is immediately cured of all bodily wounds and illnesses, and, some even believe, cleansed of sins!
9. Lake Holon
PROVINCE: South Cotabato
Towering over the hinterlands of South Cotabato, in the island of Mindanao, is the 1,824 m (5,984 ft) high Mount Parker. This stratovolcano, locally known as Mount Melibengoy, is an imposing forest-clad edifice. Though impressive in itself, what makes the mountain even more sought-after is the wondrous secret it harbors within its summit.
For almost crowning Mount Parker is a massive caldera spanning 2.9 km (1.8 mi) wide and rimmed with steep and jagged walls, the aftermath of the mountain’s eruption in 1641. And within this gaping maw hides an unlikely treasure – the mystical Lake Holon.
Lake Holon, sometimes known as Lake Maughan, irrefutably figures at the top of the list of the most scenic lakes in the Philippines. Its 304 ha (751 ac) expanse of crystal clear water is hemmed in by the precipitous caldera rim swathed in verdure and rising hundreds of meters into the sky. Its mirrorlike surface, which changes hue from turquoise to deeper shades of blue, lie silent and still, seldom distraught. In this almost enchanted realm, peace is breathed in like air.
The name of the lake translates to ‘deep water’ in the language of the T’boli tribes who dwell around the lake and within the mountain. And deep indeed is Lake Holon, whose crystalline waters plumb to depths yet unfathomed, further adding to the spellbinding charm of the scenery.
Elevated around 1,400 m (4,593 ft) above sea level, the climate around the lake is cold, and the mountain air is bracing. The lakewaters are startlingly cool, and of such purity that only recently Holon has been regarded among the cleanest inland bodies of water in the Philippines.
Lake Holon is reachable via two mountain trails, the Kule trail and the Salacafe trail. The Kule trail is far more challenging, but makes up for it with more picturesque views of the lake along the way. A vast grassy flatland fringing one side of Lake Holon serves as a campsite where visitors can pitch their tents. Canoes and kayaks can be rented by those who want to venture across the water. Fishing is permitted.
Mount Parker and Lake Holon are held as sacred grounds by the T’boli ethnic tribes, who, in conjunction with the local government, close the mountain and the lake to tourists for a few months almost annually to enable the natural environment to heal and be restored.
10. Kayangan Lake
Eastwards of Barracuda Lake, across a long and narrow ridge bedecked with greenery, lies its more popular sister, Kayangan Lake. This sprawling expanse of brackish water, some 15 m (49 ft) deep, is settled inland within a wall of towering karst limestone cliffs overhung by dense vegetation.
Kayangan Lake is without doubt the most sought-after tourist destination in all of Coron. Its impressive and awe-inspiring beauty is legendary, readily meriting it a place among the most scenic lakes in the Philippines, and even across the world. Like that of Barracuda Lake, its spectacular turquoise and jade surface is a veritable mirror, reflecting the lush landscape around its edges.
And with waters of such clarity as to afford visibility to depths of 10 m (33 ft), Kayangan is often extolled as the cleanest and clearest lake in the Philippines, and perhaps in Asia as well. Indeed, even without snorkeling or diving gear, the depths of the lake are readily visible from the surface, revealing a remarkable underwater landscape studded with fascinating rock formations and a wealth of marine life in colorful display.
Kayangan Lake is accessible from the población, the town proper of Coron in the eastern half of Busuanga Island. From the harbors that lie there, motorized outrigger boats laden with tourists cross the waters of Coron Bay, and dock on a scenic and sheltered cove on the northwestern shore of Coron Island. This cove, complete with sparkling turquoise waters and towering karst cliffs, is exceedingly picturesque that it is often wrongly identified as Kayangan Lake. A walkway and staircase climb up and through the limestone cliff walls, to a view deck at the top overlooking the scenic cove below, and finally descend to the real Kayangan Lake on the other side.
Upon reaching the lake, there are numerous pleasurable activities for tourists to delight in. Swimming in the turquoise crystalline waters is one. Snorkeling to witness the amazing underwater vista and colorful marine life is another. Freediving and scuba diving yield even more stunning scenes below the surface. There are also floating bamboo rafts manned by local guides that are available for rent. Or simply sitting on the wooden platform built on the northern side of the lake while admiring the beauty of one of the most scenic lakes in the Philippines is already worthwhile in itself.
11. Lake Mainit
PROVINCE: Surigao del Norte, Agusan del Norte
Lake Mainit is an exceedingly deep and vast inland body of water situated between the provinces of Surigao del Norte and Agusan del Norte on the northeastern end of the island of Mindanao. A surface area of 17,430 ha (42,848 ac) makes Mainit the fourth largest lake in the Philippines, and a maximum depth of 223 m (732 ft) makes it the deepest lake anywhere in the country.
Lake Mainit is also one of the most scenic lakes in the Philippines. Its waters are clean and clear, and arrayed all along its coasts are fishing villages. On its western shoreline rises a rugged wall of forested mountains and hills, while on the eastern side stretches flatlands encompassing rice paddies, corn fields, and banana plantations. Through these countryside plains runs the Pan-Philippine Highway, the country’s longest highway, and all who pass by this way are feted with picturesque views of the broad lake.
Fed by 28 tributaries, this massive expanse of water shaped akin to an inverted teardrop (some say a pear) is host to a rich biodiversity. The woods and forests skirting the lake are the realms of narra (Philippine mahogany), molave, toog (Philippine rosewood), kamagong, mangkono, and malabayabas (Philippine teak). On the outer waters flourish water hyacinths and lotuses, through which wild ducks serenely glide. Overhead fly the Mindanao scops owl, Mindanao forest kingfisher, and the white-bellied sea eagle. The lake is populated by numerous fishes, with vast stocks of the commercially important gourami, dalag (striped snakehead), and tilapia.
12. Lakes Pandin and Yambo
Amidst the clamor and commotion of the urban jungle that is San Pablo, there still remains a few places in the city where peace and solitude within Mother Nature’s tender embrace may be found. Among those places are Lakes Pandin and Yambo.
Pandin and Yambo are twin crater lakes lying alongside one another, bisected by a narrow and wooded ridge. Lake Pandin, the smaller of the two, spans an area of 20.5 ha (51 ac) and at its deepest point plumbs 63 m (207 ft). Its expanse of clear, greenish waters is surrounded by an equally green landscape of hillocks and knolls dense with tropical vegetation.
Tours aboard thatched huts built atop floating bamboo rafts are offered at Lake Pandin, complete with a sumptuous lunch of native delicacies and fish caught fresh from the lake. The temperate lakewaters are ideal for swimming, though only on designated spots.
Tourists wishing to see Pandin’s twin are ferried across the lake and into the opposite shore. There, they can disembark and take a short hike through the hilly and forested land barrier to reach Lake Yambo.
Lake Yambo, which lies immediately north of Pandin, is slightly larger than its twin, covering an area of 28.5 ha (70 ac). Like Pandin, Yambo’s waters are of an emerald hue, and similarly skirted by countryside greenery. The lake is ideal for swimming, and its shores are perfect for picnics.
Lakes Pandin and Yambo are two of the seven crater lakes scattered around San Pablo, which have given the city the moniker City of Seven Lakes. Westwards of the twin lakes is Lake Palakpakin; to the northwest lies Lake Muhicap; to the south, Lake Kalibato; and further to the southwest, Lakes Sampaloc and Bunot. Of these seven lakes, Pandin and Yambo are regarded as the most beautiful, earning them well-deserved niches among the most scenic lakes in the Philippines.
13. Lake Pinatubo
On the trijunction of the provinces of Pampanga, Tarlac, and Zambales rears Mount Pinatubo, an active stratovolcano with an infamous name and a haunting past. Pinatubo earned worldwide notoriety for its cataclysmic eruption in 1991.
Before then, the mountain lay dormant for nearly 500 years, forest-clad, obscure, and rather unremarkable despite standing 1,745 m (5,725 ft) above sea level. All that changed when Pinatubo awoke in anger. Its eruption devastated the surrounding lands and was felt worldwide. It was the second-largest terrestrial eruption of the 20th century and by far the largest eruption to affect a densely populated area.
The climactic eruption obliterated Pinatubo’s original summit, effectively reducing the volcano’s height to 1,486 m (4,875 ft). The collapsed summit was replaced by a 2.5 km (1.6 mi) diameter caldera, which had since then filled with rainwater, forming a 183 ha (450 ac) wide lake now known as Lake Pinatubo.
Nowhere in the wondrous beauty of present-day Lake Pinatubo could the exceeding violence that had created it be descried. The lakewaters, which are of a most striking turquoise color, lie innocently still, mirrorlike, and remarkably enchanting. The encircling mountain walls are clad with lush verdure, belying the desolation and ruin wrought on these parts only a few decades ago.
Indeed, the same eruption that had wrought exceeding chaos and devastation had also created one of the most scenic lakes in the Philippines, and in turn made Mount Pinatubo an iconic tourist destination. Vast numbers of sightseers troop to the volcano to visit the turquoise hued-summit crater lake. The indigenous tribes and other local folk who have fled Pinatubo at the height of its rage have since then returned, and some are now making a living from the profitable tourism that the fateful eruption inadvertently caused.
14. Sampaloc Lake
If the Twin Lakes of Pandin and Yambo are the most beautiful of the seven lakes of San Pablo City, then Sampaloc Lake is the largest and undoubtedly the most popular. It lies southwest of the twin lakes, well within the center of the city. It encompasses a surface area of around 104 ha (260 ac), and has an average depth of 10 m (33 ft), though at its deepest point reaches 27 m (89 ft). Like the rest of the lakes of San Pablo, Sampaloc Lake is a crater lake; it fills an old volcanic maar.
From the lake, the mighty figure of Mount Makiling can be beheld to the northwest; and to the southeast, the massive form of Mount San Cristobal and behind it, the even larger mass of Mount Banahaw. The lake is skirted by a road interspersed with several viewing decks and platforms, and close by, a small park. Near the shoreline float numerous wooden fish pens and cages, and many wooden cottages, among a riotous mass of water hyacinths and water lilies. Further out into the lake are boats silently gliding across the lacustrine surface.
Despite being surrounded on all sides by a veritable urban jungle, Sampaloc Lake still retains a hint of natural beauty – only a lamentable shadow of its grandeur in days when it was not yet beleaguered by human encroachment, maybe, but still enough to merit it a place among the most scenic lakes in the Philippines.
15. Lake Sebu
PROVINCE: South Cotabato
In the highlands of South Cotabato, in the island of Mindanao, lies yet another of the most scenic lakes in the Philippines. Cradled in the upper reaches of the fertile Allah Valley is the serene and tranquil Lake Sebu, an inland body of water with a breadth of 354 ha (875 ac) and a maximum depth of 34 m (112 ft).
Lake Sebu is renowned for its breathtaking beauty and crystalline waters. Adorning the lake’s mirrorlike surface are assemblages of lotus flowers in lovely hues of pink, magenta, and fuchsia, which in the misty morning hours spread forth their blossoms. Through these veritable carpet of flowers, dugout canoes silently drift. Bright white herons and egrets and brilliant kingfishers glide over the lake, along with swallows and kites, and the rare Philippine cockatoo venturing outside its forest home.
An array of mountains and foothills, all swathed with forests, march in ranks around Lake Sebu and into the distance, creating a secluded and reposeful milieu. Owing to a lofty surface elevation of 1,000 m (3,281 ft) above sea level, the air over the reflective lake is noticeably cool, and the climate is pleasant.
Lake Sebu is not only one of the most scenic lakes in the Philippines; it is also among the most important. The people residing in the villages dotting the shoreline, which together form the town bearing the lake’s name, rely on the lake for their livelihoods. The surrounding lands are cultivated for agriculture, while fish, notably tilapia, are grown within the lakewaters, hence the presence of numerous fish cages fashioned from bamboo floating all over Lake Sebu.
Lake Sebu also serves among the country’s most vital watersheds, supplying irrigation to the many towns and villages of South Cotabato and the neighboring province of Sultan Kudarat. The lake and the surrounding rainforests are home to many endemic – and sadly, endangered – floral and faunal species.
Lake Sebu and the adjoining lands fall within the ancestral domain of the indigenous Ubo and T’boli tribes, the traditional dwellers of the lake. The women of the T’boli people are known as the Dream Weavers owing to their famed T’nalak cloth, which is hand-woven from abaca fibers and whose intricate and imaginative patterns are inspired by the weavers’ very dreams.
16. Sumlang Lake
Almost in the midst of the province of Albay, on the southeastern end of the island of Luzon, stands one of the world’s most iconic volcanoes – majestic Mayon. This active stratovolcano is renowned worldwide as the most perfectly formed volcano because of its perfectly symmetrical conical shape.
Rising to an imposing height of 2,462 m (8,077 ft), Mayon towers above everything else in Albay, and indeed in the encompassing Bicol Region. Its unsurpassed loftiness renders the volcano visible – and easily recognizable – for kilometers around. Thus, regardless of the place it is viewed from, and no matter the angle or position it is photographed from, Mayon’s grandeur is undeniable.
However, there still remains a few choice spots where the views of Mayon are simply unrivaled. Among them is Sumlang Lake. This small lake, only slightly larger than a pond and scarcely spanning 14 ha (35 ac), lies south of the volcano. But despite its small breadth, Sumlang is swiftly gaining popularity on account of the fact that this little basin of water affords some of the best views of Mayon. Moreover, the glittering surface of the lake perfectly reflects the entirety of the so-called perfect cone.
Before Sumlang joined the list of the most scenic lakes in the Philippines, however, it was only pool of filthy water, rank with water lilies, and very much overlooked. But a community-led effort to clean the local lake revealed its erstwhile unnoticed beauty – and profitable potential.
Because of its advantageous location and picturesque views, the lake has been unabashedly transformed into a tourist destination. Bamboo rafts and abaca chairs float on the lake’s surface, available for rent to tourists seeking for the perfect photograph with Mayon in the backdrop. Canoe and kayak rentals are also offered. The lake is well-stocked with dalag (striped snakehead), tilapia, and carp, all free for the taking.
Apart from spectacular views of Mayon, tourists are also feted with scenes of pastoral living. After all, Sumlang Lake is surrounded by countryside greenery – rice paddies, coconut groves, and pasturelands, and here and there are farmers plying their trade in the fields, carabaos (water buffalos) wallowing in the mud, and local fishers catching dinner from the lake.
17. Lake Venado
In the southerly island of Mindanao, between the provinces of Cotabato and Davao del Sur sits venerable Apo, the Grandfather of Philippine Mountains, and the highest point in all the country. This potentially-active stratovolcano rises 2,956 m (9,698 ft) above sea level, affording an unrivaled view of the surrounding lands.
Apo’s renown as the country’s highest peak renders it the pinnacle of mountaineering experience in the Philippines. But apart from the feat of conquering this imposing edifice, mountaineers are also drawn to Apo to witness its rich and diverse array of landscapes – luxuriant rainforests, mossy swamps, verdant grasslands, rocky terrains, unearthly volcanic structures, and most notably, four impressive lakes.
The most famed of these lakes is Lake Venado, a beautiful expanse of crystal clear water contained within one of Apo’s ancient craters. The lake lies on a wide plateau more than halfway through the mountain, surrounded by grassy flatlands, and further off, by woods and forests.
The first Spanish conquistadores who ascended Apo named the lake venado, the Spanish word for ‘deer’, owing to the lake’s deer-like shape. To local folk, however, the lake is known by another name – Linaw, or ‘clear’, a reference to the lake’s crystalline waters upon which is perfectly mirrored the summit of Apo.
Venado is not only among the most scenic lakes in the Philippines; it is also among the highest. Indeed, Venado is regarded as the second highest lake in the country, with an estimated surface elevation of 2,194 m (7,200 ft) above sea level. Owing to its altitude, the waters of this 6 m (20 ft) deep lake is icy cold, and the pervading mountain air is brisk and cool.
Venado is an endorheic lake, with no outflow to other external bodies of water, such as rivers and seas. During the dry months, evaporation takes its toll, draining as much as two-thirds of the lake’s size.
Because of Venado’s expedient location, welcoming terrain, and scenic views, mountaineers set up camp around its shores before either continuing the assault to Apo’s summit, or descending back to the base camp.
18. Taal Lake
In the province of Batangas, on the southern end of the island of Luzon, lies Taal Lake, the third largest lake in the Philippines encompassing an area of 23,420 ha (57,872 ac). The depths of this freshwater lake range from 100 m (330 ft) to 172 m (564 ft).
The waters of Taal Lake fill an ancient caldera of Taal Volcano, a remarkably low volcano with an elevation of only 311 m (1,020 ft) above sea level. Taal Volcano’s short stature, however, belies its exceedingly violent disposition. Having had 34 recorded eruptions since 1572, it is the second most active volcano in the country, and is the world’s smallest active volcano.
Taal is classified as a complex volcano and fittingly so, too. After all, its geologic structure is certainly a perplexing one. To begin with, Taal is found on the island of Luzon, which is within the Philippine Sea. Nestled within Taal is the freshwater Taal Lake. Within Taal Lake rises Volcano Island, a 2,300 ha (5.683 ac) volcanic island where most of the historic eruptions of the volcano have occurred.
Now, within Volcano Island is a crater lake 2 km (1.24 mi) wide and 20 m (66 ft) deep, referred to only as the Main Crater Lake or sometimes, Yellow Lake. In the middle of this lake juts Vulcan Point, a small rocky island said to be the remnant of the old crater floor that is now surrounded by the crater lake.
Thus, Taal Volcano has an island (Vulcan Point) within a lake (Main Crater Lake), that is on an island (Volcano Island) within a lake (Taal Lake), that is on an island (Luzon) within the sea (Philippine Sea).
Taal’s curious formation, however, is part of its endearing appeal, as evidenced by the numerous tourists who flock to the lake and volcano to marvel at their unique and intricate beauty. Indeed, Taal Lake (and Volcano), as one of the most scenic lakes in the Philippines, affords some of the most iconic views of the Philippines, especially when seen from the highland city of Tagaytay in the neighboring province of Cavite.
Tours of Taal Lake and Volcano are offered. Tourists are ferried by outrigger boats across the freshwater lake and onto Volcano Island. From there, they must then ascend, on foot or on horseback, through either of the several trails that lead to the volcanic rim overlooking the Main Crater Lake. Throughout their ascent and descent of the mountain, visitors are feted with stunning views of Taal Lake and its surroundings.