Pampanga is divided into 3 cities and 19 municipalities administratively, but many are too small to be handled in this guide. Some of the most prominent locations are:
- 1 San Fernando — provincial capital, known for its parols (star-shaped Christmas lanterns) and its Lenten rites involving a realistic reenactment of Jesus' crucifixion
- 2 Angeles — economic center, with a lively nightlife scene; our guide for this city includes Mabalacat, as it has Clark Freeport and the airport
- 3 Arayat
- 4 Bacolor — a town heavily affected by the mudflows from Mount Pinatubo
- 5 Guagua — the traditional commercial center of the area
- 6 Porac — a municipality at the foothills of Mount Pinatubo
Angeles is considered independent from the province, but is part of Pampanga geographically and culturally.
- 1 Eastern Pampanga — A grouping of municipalities approximately east of the Pampanga River.
- 2 Southwest Pampanga — Composed of the municipalities/towns of Bacolor, Floridablanca, Guagua, Lubao, Porac, Sasmuan, and Santa Rita.
- 3 Mount Arayat
- 4 Mount Pinatubo - Dormant volcano, noted for its 1991 eruption that caused destruction throughout the province as well as global temperature drops
Pampanga's name is derived from the Kapampangan word pampang ("riverbank"). The province is mostly flat, crossed by the eponymous Pampanga River.
Pampanga does have its colorful history, from Spanish colonization to the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. The province led the Philippine Revolution between 1896 and 1898, and its role is commemorated in the Philippine flag. Pampanga is worst affected by the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, that buried parts of the province under ash and lahar.
Clark International Airport (CRK IATA) in Angeles has flights to most domestic and international destinations, and is more convenient than Ninoy Aquino International Airport to the south. Clark Airport is well served by low cost carriers.
There are many buses passing through Pampanga, mostly headed for Ilocos, Bataan and Zambales. Most buses will stop at the major cities of Angeles or San Fernando, both having central bus stations (though some companies serving San Fernando still have their own dedicated terminals).
People in Pampanga speak Kapampangan. It looks like a divergent dialect of Tagalog to the unfamiliar, but it is more closely related to the indigenous languages in Zambales than to Tagalog. English and Tagalog is well understood. Tagalog is generally spoken in areas bordering Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, and Bataan. Native Kapampangans, however, generally speak in Tagalog to outsiders, and Kapampangan publications and signage is hard to find, except in Angeles, where it has been made an official language alongside English and Tagalog, and signs in Kapampangan are increasingly used.
- Angeles City is a thriving city often compared to the Philippine capital and largest city, Manila. The city is a booming nightlife center and tourist destination, while the adjoining Clark Freeport Zone is the site of world-class resorts, casinos, duty-free shops, and beautifully landscaped golf courses. Its capital, Balibago, is especially known for its bars and nightclubs, thus tagged the "Entertainment Capital of Central Luzon."
- City of San Fernando is known for its giant lanterns and it annually holds a "Giant Lantern Festival" in December. Among legions of Catholics, it is known for its annual re-enactment of Christ's "Crucifixion on Good Friday". Also, "Hilaga Philippines" is found here. It is a tourism village where the wealth, character, and culture of the four northern regions of Luzon are pooled to provide every visitor the virtual experience of a visit to the north.
- Mabalacat has an airfield where the first attacks by kamikaze suicide pilots were launched on 20 October 1944. Commanded by Vice-Admiral Takjuro Ohnishi, it was an attempt to destroy hundreds of ships of the Allied forces in the Pacific Ocean, killing thousands of US sailors and soldiers. "The Memorial and Kamikaze Peace Shrine" marks the site of the old runway and it is frequently visited by tourists, especially Japanese.
- Porac is known for its natural sites such as the Dara and Miyamit Falls, as well as the Porac Highlands. It is equally popular for being a lahar-stricken town brought about by the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption and subsequent flooding of rivers with lahar (a mixture of rainwater and volcanic ash and outfall) that severely eroded river banks and destroyed bridges and low-lying areas. Trekking through Porac is a way to reach Mount Pinatubo's peak, a seven-hour slog to the slopes of Mount Pinatubo via the Pasig-Potrero River in Barangay Mancatian while traversing fast streams, prolific waterfalls, and fantastic lahar landscapes.
- Arayat is known for its majestic Mt. Arayat and a natural park complete with exquisite swimming pools, spa, recreational halls, and picnic huts. One would be delighted to experience the cool breeze and natural spring water that falls from the mountain. Have an optional tour of "Mt. Arayat National Park" for a short mountain climb and swimming in natural pools.
- Candaba is known for its "Bird Watching Tour," the staging and wintering area for thousands of birds from October-April of every year and it offers the only organized bird watching tour in the region. It serves as a bird sanctuary and a haven for migratory birds, such as egrets and wild ducks during winter in China. Indigenous ones like the rare salaksak and batala are to be seen as well. Aside from bird watching, cruise down the province's river of life, the Pampanga River.
- Guagua takes its pride for having Pampanga's most beautiful church, the Betis Church, which is a fascinating work of architecture with its classic altar in antique-carved design and decor blending with religious frescoes reminiscent of neoclassical works of European art. Built in 1754, this church has impressive paintings on its ceiling and walls with fine sculpture and paintings in gold dust.
- Churches of the province. Pampanga is host to many old and beautiful churches. The oldest and largest of which is the Lubao Church, which was built in 1570 and boasts a fine altarpiece. The most beautiful, however, is the Betis Church which is often tagged as the "Sistine Chapel of the Philippines" because of its painted wall and ceilings, and its sumptuous retablo. The Bacolor Church is famous for being cut in half by the lahar flows from Mt. Pinatubo. Other notable churches include San Luis Church, Guagua Church, Sta Ana Church, Apalit Church, Arayat Church, Sta Rita Church, Angeles Church, and San Fernando Cathedral.
- Trek Mt. Pinatubo. Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991 and is now open for tourism. It has an elevation of 1,485 m (4,872 ft) and a beautiful crater lake where you can swim. This trek can be done as a day tour if you leave very early on the morning.
- Bird watching at Candaba. The best time to go bird watching is on the early morning, around five to seven in the morning when bird activity is at its peak and the heat is not intense. Late afternoons are also a good time for this. Must brings are hiking footwear and clothes, and a good pair of binoculars or telescope. The avid birdwatcher might also want to bring his or her field notebook, pencil and camera. Expect to pay a fee at the bird sanctuary of at least ₱150. Migratory birds are best seen in the marsh from November-February. The marshland is flooded during the rainy season, usually September-October, when the bird sanctuary becomes submerged and inaccessible.
Cultivated freshwater fish are a major product of Candaba. There are no restaurants in Candaba that serve them, although you can buy them at the public market and cook at home. Tilapia, mudfish or bulig, native and African catfish, kanduli, carp, and gourami can be bought fresh in the public market.
Don't forget the local buro (fermented rice and fish mixture) which goes well with the fish. A typical buro platter consists of buro sauteed with garlic and onion, roasted bulig, and fresh mustard leaves. Must-buys too are the freshwater prawns, and occasional lotus stalks which can be sauteed in garlic, onion, and tamarind sauce.
Ducks are also a big industry in the area, and their ebun buru, or salted eggs, have a delicate taste and are less salty. Eat with rice and tomatoes.
There is also an afternoon stall at the public market where you can buy ready-to-eat fried quail, which goes well with beer or wine.
Foodies looking for game bird dishes will be disappointed to know that the municipal government has banned the hunting of wild birds in the municipality.