Historic and old Nueva Ecija is a tourism gem waiting to be discovered, poised to take its place among popular leisure destinations north of Metro Manila as the country’s tourism sector emerges from its pandemic-induced slumber.
For those who hardly ventured out of the metropolis these past 20 months or so, they may be pleasantly surprised to find out that Nueva Ecija has become an even shorter drive through the ever-widening North Luzon Expressway (Nlex) system. The anticipation of what Nueva Ecija now has to offer to lockdown-weary families and groups of friends is definitely uplifting, even savory, as they cruise by green fields and wide-open spaces along the way.
Provincial Tourism Officer Atty. Jomar San Pedro said Nueva Ecija has in fact anticipated the birth of a more vibrant tourism sector. Last year, the province launched its “Nueva Ecija, Never ending” campaign in the hopes that tourism will finally take off as health protocols relax.
Nlex’s Lakbay Norte campaign recommends Cuyapo as the first Nueva Ecija town to visit. There, the stunning 10-hectare Colosboa Hills await. This tourist attraction opened in 2019 but, before it really took off, the pandemic struck, making Colosboa Hills a near-exclusive playground of the locals. Now, it is more than ready to welcome mountain bikers and nature lovers from all over with its 3-kilometer loop trail for intermediate cyclists. The local government said it plans to create more trails for beginners and advance bikers and to organize events once the town opens up to tourists. Future plans also include a giant swing, a giant spider web and a zip line.
Nearby is Argamosa Farm, a breathtaking 5-hectare property which promises to be every plant enthusiast’s dream destination. Beautiful flora abound in its wide lush gardens, with pathways that lead to different clusters. Each pocket garden has its own gazebo with different themes. The gazebos and guest villas in the farm are built with natural materials to better protect guests from the heat. The farm’s owners embrace the farm-to-table concept and the food they serve is grown organically. They also source produce from small farmers nearby as a way of giving back to the community.
Two hours away from the Metro via Nlex-SCTEx is Guimba’s tranquil Natividad Farmhouse. Despite its proximity to a national highway, the farm embraces guests with its calm, peaceful vibe. A relaxing dip or lounge by the pool may just be the ticket on a humid day. Kids can play and run around the well-maintained and tree-lined field as sheep graze nearby. Guests are welcome to bring and cook their own food. They can also camp and build a bonfire at night.
Also in Guimba is Myriad Farms perfect for those who go for a more rustic and authentic rural experience. It is an accredited learning site for agriculture as well as a farmer field school, and an agri-farm tourism camp. It provides visitors a real taste of farm life, especially those who wish to get down, dirty and, ultimately, fulfilled. Here, guests learn about rice production, organic farming and different aspects of food production first hand.
Myriad, Natividad, Argamosa and even Colosboa Hills are just examples of what San Pedro describes as farming-led Nueva Ecija tourism drive, capitalizing on the province’s reputation as the Philippine rice granary. San Pedro adds farm tourism has been a growing concept in recent years and believes Filipinos are very much ready to learn about and appreciate the country’s breadbaskets. Introducing farming as a tourism concept to younger generations is just about ready to take off, he says.
But Nueva Ecija is not just about farming and gentle trails. A comparatively large province, it is bound by the Sierra Madre, Caraballo and Cordillera mountain ranges to its east, north and northwest respectively.
In Pantabangan, the Forest Garden resort sits nestled and overlooking the Sierra Madre mountain range. Forest Garden features view decks with art installations for Instagram-worthy shots. For guests who want to stay overnight, the resort has bohemian-styled tents. On some mornings, guests wake up to a sea of clouds beneath their perch.
Nearby Farmridge by Desmond Farm overlooks Pantabangan Lake and is framed by panoramic views of the Sierra Madre. Quaint hilltop cabins made with natural materials and huge glass windows welcome the outside in. Guests can also enjoy sitting on the outdoor deck or lounging by the pool while soaking in the enthralling view. Farmridge is representative of the many and diverse arrows in Nueva Ecija Tourism’s full quiver. Guests can participate in chocolate production at the farm’s cacao plantation a short drive away.
Landlocked, Nueva Ecija’s tourism officials took stock of what their beloved province has to offer tourists. The country’s rice granary offers rural serenity, an understated natural beauty and a farm lifestyle that is increasingly becoming popular around the world—at Metro Manila’s doorstep.
Images courtesy of Edna C. Villanueva ad Desmond Farms and Edna C. Villanueva