The town of Nagcarlan is said to be named after old woman named Ana Kalang or Nana Kalang. Ana Kalang was known for her generosity and kindness, and she was well loved not only by the locals but by the Spaniards as well.
The town is considered to be one of the original settlements in the old province of Bay. It is strategically located in between the lake (Laguna de Bay) and the lower slopes of Mount Banahaw. It is actually an important upland location for growing rice and corn, and fruit-bearing trees like lanzones and rambutan.
The Franciscan Order missionaries brought Christianity in 1578 and paved the way for Nagcarlan to formally become a town in 1583. The first church was built by Fr. Cristobal Torres in 1752, while the construction of the Underground Cemetery started in 1851 under Fr. Vicente Velloc.
It is located about 100 kilometers from Manila, and can be accessed either via San Pablo or Santa Cruz. At a higher elevation, it enjoys a cooler climate even during summer. It is surrounded by several baby mountains called Atimla, Nagcarlan, Bayaquitos, Mabilog, Lansay and Mauban, and several tributaries connected to Yambo Lake and Talahibing River that irrigates the rich soil of Nagcarlan.
Nagcarlan is still primarily an agricultural town, with a good portion of its land planted with upland crops and rice. It is also one of the biggest sources of lanzones in Laguna, and is famous for having the best “uraro” bread from the “uraro” root crop. It still has no big time fastfood stores or supermarket, and in case you need anything, you have to head immediately to its lively public market that is located right next to the church. Dining is limited to a panciteria (small restaurant that serves pancit or noodles and other dishes) inside the gas station in front of the Underground Cemetery. Otherwise you have to make do with the affordable meals at the carinderias |(small local eateries) right next to the market. Don’t attempt to ask for plastic bags to carry your purchases, because you won’t get any: Nagcarlan was among the first localities to ban the use of plastic bags.
How to get there
Nagcarlan can be accessed either via San Pablo or Santa Cruz. There are regular buses in Buendia (Pasay City), Lawton (Manila), Cubao (Quezon City) and Alabang (Muntinlupa City) that go to either destination. Travel time is around two hours. From Santa Cruz or San Pablo, there are jeepneys that go directly to Nagcalan. Travel time is about 30 minutes
Those with private vehicle can drive south via South Luzon Expressway (SLEX). Those going via San Pablo can continue via SLEX Extension, and then exit from Santo Tomas. From there, continue drive to Alaminos, then San Pablo, then Rizal and finally, Nagcarlan. Those taking the Calamba road must turn left after the exit, then continue drive via Los Banos, Bay and Victoria. At the Victoria junction, turn right to Nagcarlan.
What to see, what to do
Nagcarlan’s best known attraction is still the Underground Cemetery. This one of its kind cemetery in the Philippines, where there are 240 niches laying above ground and 36 niches underground. Members of the town’s elite were buried underground below the funeral chapel. It is said that the underground cemetery was used by the Katipuneros to hold their secret meetings. The cemetery is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday, 8:30 am to 5 pm.
Another interesting attraction is the San Bartolome Apostol Church. Located on an elevated ground overlooking the rest of the town, the 18th century church built by the Franciscans has an elegant stone and red clay façade with an imposing bell-tower on the right and an attractive convento on the left. The parish officials still allow visitors to climb up to the top of the bell tower to see where Anne Curtis shot most of her scenes in the famous TV series “Kampanerang Kuba.”
Along Rizal Avenue, leading from the market to the municipio still stands many old Art Deco buildings built during the 1920s to the 1930s. The presence of many narrow three-story buildings where the ground floors are rented out to commercial establishments in Nagcarlan is an indication that the town may have played the role of the central trading center early in the previous century.
There are also many natural attractions within Nagcarlan. The little known Bunga Falls is a favorite getaway among the locals, while the hidden Yambo Lake can be accessed through the back roads going to Calauan. The “baby” mountains can be climbed in a day, but be sure to get the assistance of a local guide as the trails are usually covered with vegetation.
With its rich soil and always bountiful harvests, it is but appropriate that local residents pay tribute to nature’s muse: Ana Kalang. Originally held every October, during the season of lanzones, it is now being held every April when the harvest of summer fruits and crops is at its fullest.
Started in 1987 as an agro-industrial fair to showcase the local products of Nagcarlan, it quickly evolved into a five-day folk festival of food exhibits, arts and crafts display, street dancing and beauty pageants. The highlight of the festival is the display of several 10-foot tall statues of Ana Kalang (called locally as ‘kalang-kalang’) made from indigenous materials and decorated with fresh flowers and fruits. It has become a tradition among different barangays to put up their best ‘kalang-kalang’ for the big prize from the local government.
Where to stay, what to eat
Nagcarlan is famous for its many river resorts like Villa Sylvia, Villa Gregoria and Villa Lorenza. While most of them are visited by out-of-towners to enjoy their cold spring waters, it is also possible to stay there overnight.
There are no big name restaurants in Nagcarlan. Local food and kakanins (rice cake) are available in the local market, especially during the Sunday market day. Best pasalubong items are “uraro” bread and the local suman and kalamay. From August to October, the sweetest, the freshest, and the best-priced lanzones and rambutan are available at the public market.
But for those who wish to try the many varieties of food that the town offers must attend the Ana Kalang Festival this April. Be adventurous and try everything at the trade fair. After all, it is all part of the charm of visiting a small town like Nagcarlan.