Ever wonder why every time you drive to San Pablo, you always see the sign “City of Seven Lakes”? It may not be as important now, but in the past, these seven lakes offered a place for people to live and for culture to flourish.
San Pablo’s overabundance of lakes are maar craters formed by phreatomagmatic eruptions, when ground water meets hot magma pushing up near the surface. Its higher elevation on the slope of Mount Marayap (“native lemons grow”) and rich soil provided abundant harvests for its early settlers.
Originally named Sampalok, San Pablo was first discovered by Captain Juan de Salcedo, whose troop arrived in this upland village by the lakes in 1571, and where he found a flourishing trade among the natives. In 1586, a makeshift church of light materials was constructed by the Augustinians in honor of San Pablo de los Montes, and by 1599 a mission convent was built next to the church.
In 1647, Sampalok was converted into a municipality, and its name was changed to San Pablo de los Montes. Originally part of the province of Laguna, it was annexed to the province of Batangas in 1756, before it was returned to Laguna in 1848.
The present church was built in 1714. According to art historians, the Augustinians started with the construction of the facade and the bell-tower “to impress the parishioners with the massiveness of the church.” Between 1737 and 1783, the Augustinian mission turned San Pablo into one of the richest and most progressive towns at the time.
San Pablo continued to thrive as the center of trade for copra from Laguna and Tayabas, sugar cane and coffee beans from Batangas, and abaca from Bicol. During the end of the Spanish era, the illustrados of Laguna built their houses along streets surrounding the church. During the American occupation, the town gained better access to international trade, and by 1926 started its campaign for independence from the province of Laguna. Finally, in 1940, by virtue of Commonwealth Act No. 520, San Pablo became one of the first charter cities in the Philippines.
How to get there
San Pablo City is 84km away from Manila. For those with private vehicles, the best way is to drive south by South Luzon Expressway, then continue to the SLEX Extension, then exit at Santo Tomas. Continue driving on the national highway via Alaminos before reaching San Pablo. Another alternative is to exit at Calamba, continue to Los Baños, turn right after Bay, then continue driving through Calauan before finally reaching San Pablo.
Driving to the seven lakes are also easier now as there are road signs that lead to each lake. However, if everything fails, rely on your car’s navigation system as most GPS devices these days contain location maps of the lakes.
Where to go, what to do
Worth either as a day trip or as a weekend adventure is the exploration of the seven lakes. Start with the twin lakes of Pandin and Yambo. The entry point is in Barangay Santo Angel. The trek to the first lake of Pandin takes about 15 minutes. Yambo can be accessed from Pandin. The Samahang Mangingisda sa Lawa ng Pandin offers a day tour to the two lakes. The tour costs P360 per person inclusive of lunch, the use of a bamboo raft and a local guide.
The picturesque Lake Kalibato can be accessed also from Santo Angel at the end of the zigzag road near the boundary of Rizal town. From there, the trail leads to a small water stream to the gully, which serves as the entrance to the lake. After a 15-minute trek, visitors are rewarded with the sight of Lake Kalibato framed by the view of the mystical Mount Banahaw and Mount Cristobal.
The lakes of Palakpakin and Mohicap are both located beside the interior roads of San Pablo. From Santo Angel, take the barangay road of San Lorenzo to reach San Buenaventura. Lake Palakpakin is at its closest at the small concrete bridge in San Buenaventura. About a kilometer away is Lake Mohicap. To reach this lake, park at an old chapel in Santa Catalina, and then climb to the series of stairways leading to the pathway to Lake Mohicap. At 14 hectares, Mohicap is the smallest among the lakes.
Lake Bunot is located less than 3km from the city center, this lake can be accessed through the Sabang Road.
The largest of the seven lakes—Sampaloc—has now regained its grandeur as the king of all the lakes through a continuous program of conservation activities.
Sampaloc Lake is where the people of San Pablo City wake up in the morning to do their exercises, and close the night with a cold bottle of beer while enjoying the cool air coming from the lake. It is where the young hang out to savor the tasty fare of ihaw-ihaw favorites and fresh buko juice as the sun sets over the lake.
Aside from the seven lakes, there are other attractions in San Pablo. Start with the San Pablo church. Its facade is of the neo-classic style, with Doric coupled columns. Its four-story octagonal bell tower is crowned by a balustraded pointed roof. Inside the church, the main altar piece is made of first-class wood and adorned by several well-carved images of saints.
Where to stay, what to eat
Villa Escudero, Casa San Pablo, Tahanan Ni Aling Meding and Sulyap Gallery give visitors the chance to relieve the grandeur of living southern-style if you wish to stay overnight in San Pablo.
San Pablo is also the best place to sample traditional Tagalog comfort food in garden setting. But for the more adventurous type, the cholesterol-rich Bat and Balls soup and the Goto Mami near the train station are the must-try items, especially since most of the carinderias are located right next to funeral parlors.
This is San Pablo City with its seven lakes. It allows you to rest your weary body and nourish your soul.