Top 15 Holy Week Retreats in the Philippines

March 31, 2015

Being a predominantly Catholic country, Filipinos can do such profound gestures to show their intense devotion to their religion. As such, the Holy Week, which ends with the Easter Sunday, is the perfect time not just to strengthen one’s faith but also – for foreigners and non-Christians – to witness how Filipinos really observe this religious holiday.

Looking for the perfect place to experience a memorable Holy Week getaway in the Philippines? Make sure to check out these suggestions.

The best Holy Week retreats in Luzon

1. Maleldo in Pangasinan

The Maleldo – or Holy Week in Pangasinan dialect – is perhaps the most graphic of all Filipino practices during Lenten Season. Not for the faint-hearted, the Maleldo showcases flagellants who would whip and bleed themselves or even get nailed on the cross as an act of penance for their sins. Nevertheless, it's a great Holy Week destination in the Philippines that will give you a deep insight of the country's culture and religious traditions.

2. Timbak Summit Calvary in Benguet

More inclined to the adventurous traveler, the peak at Mt. Timbak offers a great view of the plains. The peak is also where three crosses stand – called a mini-calvary – where Catholics can strengthen their faith. Trust me, it is truly a terrific place to visit during the Holy Week.

3. Senakulo in Cainta, Rizal

The Senakulo is the depiction of the events in the Bible related to the life, suffering and death of Jesus Christ. During this show in Cainta, Rizal, people’s faith is not only strengthened, but their appreciation and awareness for their culture is also heightened, thanks to this traditional form of Filipino art.

4. Good Friday Processions in Baliuag, Bulacan

The procession of statues of saints in Baliuag has become a yearly tradition wherein 96 floats line up the streets. Although it has earned some negative publicity over the years (each float is owned by a wealthy family, thus the reason behind its lavish designs), the procession still continues to draw in both local and foreign  tourists.

5. Banahaw in Quezon

Even with the suspension of hiking activities up Mt. Banahaw due to pollution, it didn't stop the religious (sometimes member of cults) to head on over, albeit illegally, to this “holy mountain”.

6. Arayat in Pampanga

Just like Mt. Banahaw, Mt. Arayat is also a popular destination for Catholics during the Holy Week. This time around, the religious try to reenact Jesus’ life up in the mountains. A huge statue of a crucified Jesus Christ could also be found about a kilometer into the trail.

7. Moriones Festival in Marinduque

A more enjoyable way to join the Holy Week activities in the Philippines is to see the Moriones Festival, where locals don costumes of Roman soldiers to depict the story of the Passion of Christ. The colorful yet solemn rituals in this festival are mostly made up of farmers and fishermen who would practice it as an act of penance and as a way of thanksgiving as well. As far as I’m concerned, it is by far the ultimate Holy Week experience in the Philippines.

The top Holy Week experiences in Visayas

8. Visita Iglesia in Bohol

Even though many of Bohol’s old limestone churches were partially damaged or fully destroyed during the 7.2-magnitude earthquake in 2013, this didn't waver the Catholics’ faith in any fashion. As such, you can join the pious in visiting the remains (or the reconstruction) of these old churches and show appreciation for its religious and cultural heritage. Plus, the island of Bohol boasts a warm tropical climate and a laid-back charm that will give you a quintessential solemn Holy Week feel in the Philippines.

9. Folk Healing Festival in Siquijor

Since 2010, the mystical island of Siquijor draws in curious visitors who witness the Healing Festival. Despite its seemingly pagan roots, people are still drawn into the festival, in which spectators get to see healers use tree barks and herbs to promote natural healing at the Bandilaan Mountain View Park.

10. Balaan Bukid, Iloilo

Not only does the Balaan Bukid have the 14 Stations of the Cross and the Chapel of Ave Maria, reaching its peak provides that sense of serenity and calmness making it a go-to destination for Catholic pilgrims.

11. Via Crucis in Baybay, Leyte

As a display of faith, Catholics in Baybay, Leyte walk a 4km trail up the mountains in slippers or sandals for the annual Via Crusis or Way of the Cross on Good Friday.

12. Monastery of the Holy Eucharist in Cebu

This monastery stands in grandeur up a mountain in Simala, Sibonga. It is continuously flocked by tourists and Catholics not just on the Holy Week, but even in ordinary days when the strength of prayers and wishes needs to be multiplied a hundredfold.

Memorable Holy Week getaways in Mindanao 

13. Christ of the Divine Mercy in Misamis Oriental

This 15.24-meter Catholic monument located in El Salvador, Misamis Oriental was completed back in 2008 and has been a popular pilgrimage site for many Catholic devotees.

14. Old Vulcan in Camiguin

The Old Volcano is just one of seven volcanoes located on this little island. The walkway in Mt. Old Vulcan, which is dotted with 14 life-sized Stations of the Cross, becomes flocked by tourists and pilgrims during the Holy Week to celebrate the Panaad Festival.

15. Monastery of Transfiguration in Bukidnon

This beautiful church in Malaybalay City is not just a top choice when it comes to church weddings but is also popular among Catholics who wish to witness religious rites during the Holy Week.

Travel planning tips for the Holy Week

Travel light  

Try to the limit the things you will be carrying with you, when you travel during the Holy Week in the Philippines. If possible, just carry one back that weighs no more than 20 pounds. You won’t need a lot of stuff, anyway, and your Lenten retreat only lasts a few days.

What to wear and bring

In the Philippines, the Holy Week is usually one of the hottest times of the year, with temperatures that could go as high as 38 degrees Celsius. That’s why people traveling during the Holy Week in the Philippines should wear light clothes like walking shorts, pants as well as shirts with breathable fabrics. Ladies should wear a hat to protect their skin and face from the scorching heat of the sun. A pair of UV sunglasses can also be beneficial. Lastly, wear a pair of comfortable sandals or sneakers, especially if you plan to walk often or travel to the countryside.

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Pam Baroro
Pam is a millennial mom who loves to explore the outdoors to camp/hike/trek/backpack with her partner and their 3-year-old daughter. She also moonlights as a freelance writer, blogger and ghostwriter. Check out their family travel blog at Hey, Miss Adventures!
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