People from the south. This is what we were called in the past. We were the people from Bacoor, Las Pinas and Muntinlupa. We would spend hours commuting or driving to schools or to places of work in the north. People from the north hardly went to the south.
But this soon changed. First, there was Alabang, where a complete community of residential spaces and commercial establishments was built. Then came Santa Rosa, where huge industrial parks rose from old sugarcane land. Suddenly, an entirely new city saw development with all the amenities of a modern metropolis. And people from the north now have reasons to drive south.
This going south actually started in the early days of Spanish colonization. Juan Miguel de Salcedo sailed south via Laguna de Bay and discovered the settlements of native people in a place called “Tabuco,” covering the now nearby towns of Binan and Cabuyao. Today’s Santa Rosa was actually a barrio of Binan called Bukol (meaning “elevated”). Santa Rosa, which was named after the first Latin American saint, Santa Rosa de Lima of Peru, became autonomous in 1792.
During Spanish time, the people of Santa Rosa were mostly fishermen who relied on the lake for bountiful harvest. The Nuvali area was mostly grassland then, which was later on planted to sugarcane during the 1800s.
After the Second World War, this once sleepy town started its transformation into a progressive southern corridor. When the South Luzon Expressway was opened in the 1980s, Santa Rosa’s vast expanse of land attracted many business enterprises looking for places to build their factories. It started with Filipinas Systhetic, Coca Cola Bottling and then, finally, in the 1990s, the Ayalas built one of the biggest techno-parks in the Philippines. This was followed by the opening of the Santa Rosa-Tagaytay road in the mid-1990s, which created the need for the people working at techno-park, the new residents of the city and those people driving to Tagaytay for a place to shop and dine and be entertained. This paved the way for the construction of Paseo de Santo Rosa, Enchanted Kingdom, Nuvali, Solenad and Vista Mall, which now cater to the discerning taste of the growing middle-class population.
With this new world-class city, the people of Santa Rosa see no reason to leave south. It’s the people of the north who are heading south to find out what’s in there.
How to get there
From Manila, Santa Rosa can easily be accessed by South Luzon Expressway. It is designated as Exit 38 (meaning 38 kilometers from Manila).
Santa Rosa is divided into two sides, with the expressway as the reference point. The old Santa Rosa is located on the east side. From the exit, turn left to Balibago, continue driving and then turn right to Balibago Complex (also the central terminal for all buses going to Manila), and then turn left, cross the old highway, and then enter the narrow road that heads straight to old Poblacion.
For the new Santa Rosa, turn right to Santa Rosa-Tagaytay Road. The new commercial hub composed of Paseo, Nuvali, Solenad and Vista Mall is just 6 kilometers away.
What to see, what to do
The best time to visit Santa Rosa is during the Christmas season. It is the time when the whole Paseo to Nuvali area is decorated for the season, southern-style.
Among the highlights is Nuvali’s Magical Field of Lights, featuring a spectacular sound and lights show of thousands of tulip bud lights that change color. In Solenad, there is a giant Christmas tree filled with LED lights, and scattered around the mall’s garden are several lighted figures made into the shape of a reindeer. Inside Vista Mall is Santa Claus cabin where children can sit on the lap of Santa and make a wish. Not to be outdone is Nuvali’s garden park, which is now decorated with hundreds of poinsettias.
What is Christmas without shopping? The whole Paseo complex is filled with designer outlets. Grab a pair of shoes or a new dress from well-known brands for over half the price. Or, get some good bargains at the night bazaar in front of Vista Mall.
Of course, the old Poblacion will not be outdone during this season. The City Plaza, where the tallest pylon in the Philippines is located, is now decorated with a giant Christmas tree and a life-sized Belen. At the back of the plaza is the Santa Rosa de Lima church, which was built from adobe and bricks in 1796. On the left side of the church is the old municipal building built in 1828, and now houses the city’s museum. Around Poblacion are the heritage houses of Santa Rosa’s old rich like the Zavallas, Tiongcos and Arambulos.
But there’s one landmark that was actually built in 1792 to welcome visitors to Santa Rosa. It was the original Bantayang Bato, which was later refitted in 1925. This is the Santa Rosa Arch that was patterned after Arc de Triomphe of Paris. It now stands in front of the public market.
For ultimate holiday entertainment, visit the Enchanted Kingdom in Balibago.
Where to stay, where to eat
There are plenty of options if you wish to stay in Santa Rosa. Hotels like Seda Nuvali, Technopark Hotel, Microtel and El Cielito offer family-style accommodations. There are also many lodging options for vacation houses around Santa Rosa thru AirBnb.
Santa Rosa is a foodie’s paradise. There are over a hundred restaurants to choose from. Among my favorites are Kanin Club for crispy dinuguan, LZM for bulalo, All4u for affordable Korean buffet, Ippon Yari for authentic Japanese food and Blue Corner at Paseo Market for sisig.
But for the best Christmas treat, try the puto bumbong and bibingka sold outside the Santa Rosa Church during Misa de Gallo. They are enough reasons to drive south for Christmas.