Pampanga Travel Guide: Sinukwan Festival + San Fernando Tour - The Filipino Rambler


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Monday, December 23, 2019

Pampanga Travel Guide: Sinukwan Festival + San Fernando Tour

Pampanga is a province in Central Luzon teeming with cultural heritage, history, superb culinary expertise and adventure. It is just over an hour drive from Manila and is definitely an ideal place for a quick getaway from the metro. The best time to visit Pampanga is during December because of the Giant Lantern Parade. I was once again back in this historic province to witness Sinukwan Festival in San Fernando.

It was a Saturday and we had to leave early to catch the Street Dance Competition of the Sinukwan Festival. Along with other blogger friends, we boarded a bus at Victory Liner in Monumento around 6.30am. A little before 8am and we were at San Fernando already. TIP: Make sure you ride the 'Express' bus because it has lesser stops.


By 8am, we were already at the Capitolio- the seat of government of the province of Pampanga. It was a very festive atmosphere- the delegates in their colorful costumes and the drums playing sure had me dancing at my feet already.

And while most of the festivals in our country are a celebration of our religious devotion (like the Ati-atihan Festival), Sinukwan Festival memorializes Aring Sinukwan, an ancient mythical god and epitome of Kapampangan culture. It is a week long celebration capped by a grand street parade with contingents dancing to the tune of the folk song 'Atin Cu Pung Singsing'.

The contingents are mostly elementary and high school students. We had a great time during the parade. The heart-thumping beat of the drums made us want to weave with the delegates and dance (and do baton twirling). The delegates at the parade were so game in posing for photos and despite the sunny weather, everyone were all smiles.

After the parade, the delegates headed to the Capitol grounds for the street dance. The 5 groups for the Level 2 category were beyond amazing. The vivid and radiant costumes, the synchronized choreography plus the fun factor- you can tell they have come well-prepared. I wasn't expecting like it really and I was impressed.

The street dance competition was the culminating activity of the Sinukwan Festival. For more photos of the Sinukwan Festival, CLICK HERE. 


While it is my first time to have joined the merry celebration of the Sinukwan Festival in San Fernando, it is not my first time to visit this beautiful town. It is nice to know that there are still a lot of things I can discover and experience. Here are some of the things you can do when in San Fernando. (Also Read: 6 Things To Do In Pampanga)


While waiting for the Sinukwan parade, we have decided to have breakfast first at The Heritage Cafe. This local diner serves hot and cold beverages, frappes and smoothies, breakfast and light meals. (Also Read: Pampanga Food Crawl--5 Places To Eat In Pampanga)

I'm a coffee person and a so a hot glass (P110) was mandatory. I also had their classic tapa (P170) and their tuna sandwich (P140). Other comfort breakfast meals like Tocino, longganisa and bangus belly can also be ordered. I mean, who doesn't like 'silog' for breakfast? I'm a big fan of tuna sandwich, and theirs delivered. I wish I even took some to munch while on the van. Lol.

Don't forget to try their nachos (P235), too. The serving's so generous, it's good for sharing.

The Heritage Cafe
Consunji Street, 2000 San Fernando, Pampanga


It's my second time to visit the San Fernando Train Station. The said train station was inaugurated on February 23, 1892 as part of the Bagbag-Mabalacat stretch of the Manila-Dagupan Railway System. Our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal disembarked from this station on June 27, 1892 to visit friends in Bacolor and San Fernando to possibly recruit them to join La Liga Filipina.

During the World War II Death March in April 1942, it was the ending point of the 102 kilometer-long walk from Bataan to San Fernando  by Filipino, American and European prisoners of war.

Inside are statues depicting the Death March; on one corner is Dr. Jose Rizal. There are also photos and some exhibits of the things during WWII. 


photo: Rus David

As we were waiting for the Sinukwan Festival  delegates parade, my eyes caught a very elegant house. Right in front where we were standing is the Hizon-Singian House (so have I read in a marker). Built in 1870, one can still notice how regal the house is. It is just one of the many mansions that one can have a glimpse at the San Fernando Heritage District. The best way to tour the site is by riding in a calesa or horse-drawn carriage.

It was indeed a unique experience to be able to ride a calesa. It's the original GRAB ride of our lolo's and lola's. I have always endeared to experience riding a calesa and it was a check in my bucket list here at San Fernando. For just P250, one will have an hour ride already and see heritage houses like the Lazatin House, Consunji House, Tabacalera House, Hizon-Ocampo House, Augusto Hizon House, Hizon-Paras House and Henson-Hizon House.

Most of the mansions are not open for public, as there are families and care takers who are residing. But yeah, I was able to get inside the Hizon-Ocampo House. The gates were open, as if it was inviting us to come inside. I'm not saying you do the same though- please request to come in should you see anyone from there. Just even the staircase, it was jaw-dropping already. It's obvious it has survived many years already, but one can not unsee its original design and intricacies.


Cheese bread at LBS Bakeshop

After the wonderful calesa ride, we dropped by LBS Bakeshop and Kitchenette for some freshly- baked cheese bread and a cold coffee jelly. Just some stones throw away from there is their market or the 'palengke'.

The palengke is where most of home supplies are bought. Food, toiletries, school and office supplies, clothes- they have it here. Looking for wedding gown? You don't have to travel to Divisoria to scout for one because they have it here.

During our 'palengke' tour, we were introduced to 'nganga'. It's from a leaf combined with things I have already forgotten (sorry), and is chewed, like an old-school cigarette. I have seen this mostly in Bontoc and Benguet, but I had no idea they're actually chewing a leaf.  

We also stopped by a stall that sells dried fish. Of course, we feasted on some native merienda- my first time to have tried monggo turon.


Indeed, Pampanga does not have beaches to die for or take pride in many nature-wonders. But if there's one thing that this province can be truly proud about, it's their food. Pampanga is known as the Culinary Capital of the Philippines. If you wish to immerse in authentic Kapampangan dishes, Bale Capampangan had you covered. (Also Read: Yu Fu In Yakiniku and Japanese Restaurant in Pampanga)

There's a variety of dishes and anyone will not leave famished for sure. Upon entrance, guests are welcomed by the buffet table. The aroma and colors sure had me salivating already. I mean, who can resist sisig, kare-kare, lengua and lechon kawali? If you're looking for something healthier then there's crispy kangkong, ampalaya and cucumber ensalada, fresh green salad, pako and grilled talong. Don't miss their shrimp tempura, grilled tilapia and fish escabeche too! For dessert, create your own halo-halo or go heavier with guinataang mais and minatamis na saging. It was my first time to try Arobung Balut - and it wasn't bad at all!

It's Eat All You Can at Bale Capampangan. It is open everyday from 11am- 9pm.

Mondays-Fridays Lunch: P395; Dinner P345
Saturdays and Sundays Lunch: P475; Dinner P395
Children 3ft-4ft: P225; below 3ft- FREE

Bale Capampangan
Km 69 Mc Arthur Hway Dolores San Fernando, Pampanga 


Filipinos are known to celebrate Christmas holidays the longest- that starting from September. But at RolRen's- it is Christmas the whole year round! Pampanga is known in 3 things: the City of Lanterns, Christmas Capital of the Philippines and Home of the Giant Lanterns. RolRen's Lanterns happen to be one of the largest suppliers of Parol in the whole country. Their products have become so well-known that they have reached market in Canada, US and other European countries.

It is my second time to have visited RolRen's. In this visit, it was great to have heard how the Capampangans used to celebrate Christmas as shared by Sir Rolando Quiambao (the 'Rol' in RolRen). He narrated how everyone prepared for Christmas then back when he was a child and how things have progressed and changed through the passing of years.

Trivia: The earliest photo of Christmas lantern in a street scene in San Fernando was taken on December 26, 1909. This photo can be found at the Luther Parker Collection.

We learned about their traditional Simbang Gabi, processions and how the lanterns in Pampanga evolved. Hearing his stories was like a walk back in time. This is what I like about the Capampangans- the elderly, most specially, knows their culture and heritage very well and really lives up to their legacy. I remember when I first met Chef Claude Tayag at his restaurant Bale Dutung- not only were we served great food, we also learned a lot about their food history from him. The 'kwentuhan' was as sumptuous as his meals.

Sir Rolando is writing about a book about the Capampangan Christmas and history.We were privileged to have heard an excerpt of his writings in Capampangan dialect. I look forward to the day when his book will be finally published. I'm sure the younger Capampangans (and other Filipinos, too) would love to know 'their' story.

Did you know that after the Mount Pinatubo eruption, the city mayor commissioned Sir Rolando to adorn their lamp posts with parol? For the Pampanguenos, the 'parols' were their symbol of hope.

If you're looking for colorful and good-quality lanterns, visit RolRen's.


If you are a lover of arts and paintings, then a visit to the Pintahanan Art Gallery is a must. Pintahanan is a combination of two words- Pinta or to paint and Tahanan or Home. Sir Erwin Dayrit, a PWD, is the man behind Pintahanan.

What's fascinating about Sir Erwin is that despite his disability, his enthusiasm and determination are greater, as shown from his works. During the time we were there, he was at the middle of finishing another art work, using pens as medium. Yes, ball point pen- some of it are pens that only cost five pesos. Looking at it, it's hard to imagine it was done from pen- it was so alive!

You might be familiar with him because his life was featured before at GMA's Magpakailanman. Sir Erwin Dayrit was conferred the Outstanding Fernandino Award for the Arts in 2011. His works has also won in local and national competitions.

Truly, he is an inspiration. Nothing is impossible in achieving one's dream as long as you have your whole heart in it.

St. Agustin Village, San Agustin, San Fernando, Pampanga


Unfortunately, I won't be able to witness the opening of the Giant Lantern Festival this year. I really hope I will be able to see it next year. But yeah, we dropped by the Heroes Hall and feasted our eyes at the colorful Christmas display.

I'm not really sure if they change their theme every year, but this year, the displays depicted the traditional Filipino Christmas celebration. You see families visiting the church, there are men holding parol in a procession, there's a group preparing food and grilling lechon. By the time it reached dark, locals started to flock taking photos by the displays.

Don't forget to get yourself some bibingka and puto bumbong, too! A lot of food stalls are in the area.

Lazatin Blvd, San Fernando, Pampanga


Via Commute

There are buses in Cubao and Monumento that go every hour to San Fernando.
For this trip, we boarded Victory Liner in Monumento. Bus fare is at P105.

Please check the schedule of buses in their website.

Via Private Car

From Quezon City

  • Take Mindanao Avenue to NLEX Segment 8.1/C-5in Novaliches, Valenzuela
  • Follow NLEx/E1/R-8 to San Fernando. Take exit 65from NLEx/E1/R-8
  • Follow Jose Abad Santos Ave to MacArthur Hwy/Manila N Rd/R-9
From Monumento

  • Get on NLEx/Pan-Philippine Hwy/AH26/E1/R-8 in A. Bonifacio, Quezon City from Epifanio de los Santos Ave/C-4
  • Follow E1/R-8 to San Fernando. Take exit 65 from E1/R-8
  • Follow Jose Abad Santos Ave to MacArthur Hwy/Manila N Rd/R-9
From Clark Freeport

  • Take Manuel L Quezon Ave to Claro M Recto Hwy
  • Take Fil-Am Friendship Hwy to MacArthur Hwy/Manila N Rd/R-9 in San Fernando

Thank you to my travel blogger friend Armela of Around The Metro Ph and Pampanga Digital Influencers for inviting me once again in Pampanga.

Great thanks, too, to the San Fernando City Tourism office for showing us around. Dakal a salamat, Miss Bads Tapnio and Miss Louise for keeping our company. 


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