One of the most interesting aspects of travel is the study and introspection of cultures, not only of today, but those of previous periods. The underlying periods, colonial and ancient in various parts of the world, not only set the stage for what regions and peoples are, but what they have been. One such place is the Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.
Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is a heritage collection of houses in Bagac, Bataan in the Philippines. Located along the Umangol River, Las Casas Filipinas is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bataan, despite being actually a site of recreated Spanish colonial mansions that was begun in 2003.
Interestingly, Las Casas Filipinas took more than seven years to build, complete, and finally open to the public in 2010. The resultant work contains 27 mansions spread over some 400 hectares, with the site itself designed to look like an era-appropriate rendition.
Interestingly, not all of the homes are complete replica renditions, but actual rebuilds of original homes of the era that were deconstructed and carefully reconstructed – many of which coming from Manila. Its visionary, businessman and developer Jerry Acuzar, planned the site as both tribute and remembrance to this classic period in Philippines history.
This massive cultural undertaking operates like a time machine that takes you back to 18th century Philippines, and continues to expand with plans to nearly double in heritage homes. One of the most culturally rich experiences in Asia, and most certainly the Philippines, Las Casas Filipinas is one of the must-see attractions on any trip to the Philippines, and certainly to Bataan.
The houses on-site are named after the spot of either their origination or inspiration, such as Casa Binondo, one of the houses rebuilt from the Chinatown district in Manila from which is originates. Today, the houses still carry the personality and character of the spots of their origination.
Located on the beaches of Bataan, and surrounded by stunning resorts and reserves, Las Casas Filipinas is in many ways a cultural oasis in western Philippines. From Manila, the restored site is best viewed as a day trip (unless you’re staying on-site, which we’ll discuss), on the relatively short trip across Manila Bay. While there are independent methods for visiting the site, you’ll want to sign up for the Heritage Tour, which gives you guided access with tour guide, backstory, and colorful tales of the homes’ histories across the sprawling campus.
The guides are incredibly knowledgeable, and the tours come with both exterior views of the homes as well as interior.
The Heritage Tour is also affordable. While prices vary between weekdays and weekends, even the most expensive package (the weekend ticket) runs about 2,500 Philippines Pesos – or only about $47USD. This includes the walking tour, a riverboat ride that provides a stunning view of the complex, and access to the impressive Hotel de Oriente, which is located on-site.
In addition to the Heritage Tour, the included River Tour and Hotel de Oriente tours are remarkable, in their own rights.
The River Tour is immensely romantic, as you encircle the perimeter of the grounds. Perfectly crafted arches, bridges, balconies, verandas, and brick walls pass in sliding colors while the Umangol River reflects the sun, sky, and stunningness of the homes.
The Hotel de Oriente is a faithful replica of the first luxury hotel in the Binondo district in Manila. It’s truly stunning, and a popular setting for tour groups, weddings, and a host of other events with small to moderate groups.
Soon, a third tour will be added beyond the main Heritage Tour – an Art Tour that recaptures the brilliance of the art and architecture in Las Casas’, and Philippines’, past.
Getting to Las Casas is fairly straight forward – but where to actually stay?
Unlike many tourist attractions, especially one with such an interesting past, you can actually stay at Las Casas Filipinas! First, there are 217 hotel rooms available for guests, ranging from Deluxe Rooms that sleep two, to Family Rooms and Loft Suites that sleep six or more. The design of each hotel room is simply stunning, and once again at a relatively inexpensive cost – starting at about $160USD per night for the Deluxe Room.
The real treat however may run you a bit more, but is worth the expense. Most of the restored homes on the property are actually available to tourists as a room in which they can stay. These are rentable as private casas, and range in accommodation from small casas to larger group stays.
While there aren’t formal restaurants on the grounds, there are a few great places in the vicinity of the exhibit. Being that the grounds and area are a bit isolated (it’s technically located on a peninsula), the captive audience will typically pay a bit more for a meal than you might in Manila. Yet, the food is fantastic throughout the Philippines, and the areas around Las Casas de Filipinas are no different!
The most popular restaurant in the area, despite having a bit of a touristic vibe, is Fajardo’s Lagoon and Floating Restaurant, located less than a mile down-river from Las Casas. While a departure from the experience at Las Casas, this is a place with a bit more of a hair-down, relaxed energy that still serves excellent food that’s genuinely authentic to the region.
If you’re looking for a remarkably authentic cultural experience in the Philippines, make sure to visit Las Casas de Filipinas de Acuzar. The rich setting, amidst the beauty of the river and the splendor of the architecture, assures a depth for those that appreciate architecture, history, and a great story about a place, a people, and where they’ve been.