Best Holy Week Destinations in the Philippines

Since the Spanish colonization, Catholicism has been a great influence on the country’s culture and identity. Today, the Philippines is the third-largest Catholic country in the world, with approximately 80% of its population identifying with their Catholic faith.

One of the observances Catholics participate in is Lent, also called Lenten Season or Holy Week. Lent is a time of reflection, penance, fasting, and prayer, commemorating the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry.

The Holy Week officially begins on holy Monday, followed by holy Tuesday – but many consider Ash Wednesday as start day for the Holy Week, ending on Holy Saturday. It is considered a period of spiritual preparation leading up to Easter Sunday morning, the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What is Holy Week?

The final week of Lent is called Holy Week, which encompasses a series of sacred days: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Black Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, commemorating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where crowds greeted him with palm branches. Many churches hold special processions and services where palm leaves are blessed and distributed to the faithful. This is called “palaspas” in the Philippines.

Good Friday is perhaps the most solemn day of Holy Week, as it commemorates Christ’s crucifixion and death.

The Holy Eucharist is typically offered during solemn liturgies and Masses
The Holy Eucharist is typically offered during solemn liturgies and Masses

Lenten rites

Some holy week traditions that Filipinos participate in during this day are Stations of the Cross and Penetensiya or Pasan Krus. These are said to be acts of physical penance, such as walking barefoot, carrying crosses, or self-flagellation, as a way of expressing sorrow for their sins and identifying with the suffering of Christ.

Then, Black Saturday is a day of quiet reflection and anticipation, while Easter Sunday joyously celebrates the resurrection of Christ, symbolizing hope and renewal.

Throughout Holy Week, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is also emphasized, as Catholics honor her role in the life and ministry of Jesus, culminating in the celebration of the risen Christ on Easter Sunday.

During Holy Week, Filipinos show their devotion to their Catholic faith by involving themselves in several religious activity and practice visita Iglesia. Within this revered days, people attend masses or visit their parish church, religious shrines, and some even pilgrimage sites, like the Holy Land.

Others attend festivities related to the season. One of these is Marinduque’s Moriones Festival. Held annually, the religious festival features “Moriones,” men and women penitents in costume and masks depicting Roman soldiers. They hold a somber procession around the town’s cobblestone streets for seven days in search of Saint Longinus, a blind Roman centurion as they re-enact his life.

Since you are already in the area, a quick trip to the Boac cathedral

Aside from the traditions Filipinos participate in during the final week of Lent, because it is a long weekend, most people plan to spend Holy Week in the Philippines traveling and spending time with their families.

Some people want to travel close to nature to experience a peaceful retreat. Here, they spend vacations to enjoy a breath of fresh air. With the Holy Week vacation drawing near, people look forward to this time off with their families.

If you do not have any plans for Holy Week, here are some of our recommended destinations for you and your family this Lenten season.

Top Lenten Season Retreat Spots in the Philippines to Visit this Holy Week

With the long list of famous provincial retreat spots you can consider on your long weekend, here are the five most visited cities in the Philippines during long weekends.

You can make it your summer trip, visit several tourist destination and beautiful beaches, and sample local food. Include in your plans several activities relate to the season like holy treks, healing sessions, visits to some of the biggest church in the city or province you plan on spending vacation.

The richest cultural heritage site, Cebu

Visit Cebu: Religious heritage sites and century-old churches

Pandanon Island | Image taken by Ryan Yoo, from Unsplash

When it comes to Lenten Season, Cebu comes first as one of the popular destinations. This is mainly because the province has several religious heritage sites and century old churches.

Some examples are the historical churches like Simala Church in Sibonga Town (famously known for its castle-like façade and its miraculous events) and the Santo Niño Basilica Church in Cebu City, the oldest Roman Catholic Church in the country.

In addition to its renowned churches, the historic city of Cebu is known for its stunning beach getaways. From the captivating shores of Bantayan Island in the northern region to the pristine sands of Lambug Beach in Badian in the southwestern part, the city offers a plethora of beach destination.

The best island escapade, Palawan

A paradise to unwind and reflect

El Nido, Palawan | Image taken by Eibner Saliba, from Unsplash

Another popular retreat spot in the Visayas region is the island province of Palawan. Dubbed as the best island in the world, Palawan is undoubtedly a majestic place for a quick escape from reality.

For those searching for laid-back relaxation at the beach, embark on a tranquil tour in El Nido at the northernmost tip of mainland Palawan.

Amidst these breathtaking natural wonders, one can effortlessly find moments of tranquility, offering a perfect opportunity to unwind and reflect.

For those looking for a thrilling adventure, some activities you can do are diving and cave exploration. For great diving spots, head out to Coron in the northern part of Palawan.

This place is widely famous for its shipwrecks during World War II, fresh lagoons, bright coral reefs, and dynamic marine life. For cave exploration, among the notable caverns in the area is the Puerto Princesa Underground River, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.

The all-around island getaway, Pangasinan

Home of the Pilgrimage Island

Hundred Islands | Image taken by jules a., from Unsplash

Heading out to the Luzon region, Pangasinan is one of the favorite retreat spots for a thrilling escape. Approximately a 4-hour drive away from Manila, Pangasinan invites visitors to explore its natural wonders and embrace the spirit of exploration and discovery.

From the exhilarating experiences of island-hopping and snorkeling to the adrenaline rush of cliff jumping, Pangasinan presents a diverse array of outdoor activities that cater to every adventurer’s whim.

Famous for having more than one hundred paradises, the Hundred Islands National Park in Alaminos boasts 124 islands scattered along the Lingayen Gulf.

One of its attractions is the 56-foot Christ the Savior statue situated on top of the Pilgrimage Island, formerly called Martha Island. There are 263 steps to reach the top and enjoy the vast horizon of the nearby islets in the area.

Having more than 100 islands in one place, Pangasinan offers unlimited fun and relaxing activities for its visitors.

The summer hotspot haven, Baguio

Beautiful lake in Burnham Park | Image taken by Daryl Enriquez, from Unsplash

Philippines’ Notre Dame of Paris

Just a little farther than Pangasinan, Baguio is about 5 hours away from Manila by car.

Moving on to the Philippines’ summer capital, Baguio has been the go-to destination of many people, especially during summer. It is a favorite destination among tourists because of its cool weather, scenic views, and strawberry farms.

A popular toursit spot in Baguio is the Baguio Cathedral, often likened to the Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris. It is a must-visit destination for those planning to participate in Visita Iglesia.

The go-to summer-winter destination, Tagaytay

Perfect place for a quick retreat

People’s Park in the Sky | Image taken by chan lee, from Unsplash

If you are looking a nearer, less congested alternative for Baguio, head on to Tagaytay. You can enjoy the same cold breezy weather and majestic mountain views it offers, similar to Baguio. This place is a lot closer to Metro Manila, which is only 2 hours away by car.

Tagaytay is perfect for adventure seekers who want to trek the Taal Volcano’s crater and delight in its surreal view in person.

Most people from the metro visit this province for a quick retreat to have a soothing and pleasant trip. 

Visita Iglesia: Churches to Visit Along the Way

Visita Iglesia is a cherished tradition in the Philippines during the Holy Week. It involves visiting and praying on at least seven churches, typically done on Maundy Thursday.

Since you are already on a retreat, you should visit churches along the way to complete the holy week tradition called Visita Iglesia.

There are several churches worth visiting in the Philippines, but here are some of the top famous churches you can visit:

Quiapo Church (Manila)

Quiapo Church, officially known as the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, is a renowned Catholic church located in Quiapo, Manila.

It houses the revered image of the Black Nazarene. It is particularly crowded during the annual Feast of the Black Nazarene, held every January 9, where devotees participate in a procession to honor the image.

Manila Cathedral (Manila)

The Manila Cathedral is an iconic symbol of faith in the heart of Manila. It has a distinct Neo-Romanesque architecture, showing how this church witnessed centuries of history and played a pivotal role in the country’s religious and cultural landscape.

Miagao Church (Iloilo)

Known as the Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva, Miagao Church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Miagao, Iloilo.

Built in 1786, the church served as a fortress against Moro raiders during the Spanish colonial period. It has a unique structure, featuring a blend of Baroque and native Filipino architectural styles.

Since you are already in Iloilo, try visiting other churches like the famed Molo church.

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