Summer is fast approaching and the best way to enjoy it here in the country is to have it spend in 3S: Sun. Sand. Sea. And for us Metro dwellers, the farther the better, but it should not compromise safety, adventure, and fun. Looking for your next summer destination isn’t that hard though, we have 7641 islands to choose from, about 2000 of which are inhabited and the rest, on naming spree. That’s definitely beyond your usual travel list, right? And my goal this summer? 5S. Sun. Sea. Sand. Summer. Surfing! Alright, I know what you are thinking, yes, Let’s say yes to Baler, shall we?
The historic town of Baler is the birthplace of surfing in the Philippines anyway. But more than its glorified surfing waves, Baler is a town abundant in natural wonders; water falls, beaches and reefs. it’s an all-in-one destination for nature trippers, serious foodies, zealous surfing enthusiast, and all that is in between. The natural attractions it offer are definitely a must see.
The popularity of its main attraction, the powerful pacific waves caressing the long-stretched gray sandy shoreline of Sabang started its global fame when Apocalypse Now, an epic war film directed by Francis Ford Copolla in 1979 considered as one of the greatest movies of all time, was filmed here. Since then, surfing enthusiasts around the world flocked to this remote town 231 km north-east of Manila.
The town of Baler (originally named Kinagunasan ) was founded in 1609 and its first inhabitants were the Angara, Bitong, Carrasco and Lumasac family. By 1737, Franciscan priests had established a barangay form of government in the area. A revolutionary government took over Baler from 1898 to 1901.
Legend has it that the name of the town was originated from the native word BALID, the dialect of the AETAS, which meant “ a place to come home to” but historically speaking, the name was given and defined in VOCABULARIO DE LA LENGUA TAGALA published in 1754, from BALOD which is literally a LARGE MOUNTAIN DOVE or the Paloma Montes that are abundant in the area.
The town of Baler is also remembered as the last bastion of the Spanish empire in the country (surrendered on July 2, 1899) concluded in the long and bloody epic of the siege of Baler. The award winning movie bearing the town’s name focused its scope in the lasts days of the siege, spotlighted on the lives of the remaining Spanish resistance soldiers inside the historic Baler Church.
Alright, enough of the introduction, let’s get to it!
We rode a Genesis bus in Cubao around 11pm, fare at P450 per person and arrived at the bus terminal by 6am. We flagged a tricycle driver rallied on the sidewalk near the bus terminal and we directed him to to the transient house (pre-booked by our friend who works as a doctor in Maria Aurora) near the Sabang beachfront but the trycke driver offered us an irresistible tour package. And Since Kuya Andy is nice and well informed about the interesting history of his town that he shared during our short ride, we nodded with his offer.
Make sure though to ask an accredited tricycle driver/tour guide (you will notice their sample tour package displayed inside the tricycle, with accreditation from the local government. Our guide told us that there are still a lot of colorum (Illegal) drivers who offer tour packages, so make sure to keep that information handy for your own safety. ) They will take you around Baler’s famous key sites and nearby landmarks for a reasonable price. Usual price is around 800php- 900php and can accommodate up to 4 person per tricycle. We got ours at 700php, great deal still!
Since we already made an arrangement with kuya Andy for our Baler tour, we decided to do the surfing lessons the next day, it’s past 10am already and it’s not advisable to do surfing on mid-day especially for non-surfers. Like us, admittedly.
*Start really early to enjoy those spots.*
The roaring pacific waves overlooking the great Sierra Madre mountain range.
We went to Sabang beach which is just a few blocks away from where we are staying to check the famous Pacific waves that put Baler in the tourism map. The gray sandy shoreline was already crowded as early as 8am by surfing enthusiasts so we decided to just roam along the beach and checked the menus being served in the restaurants/ eateries nearby. Buton Street (the street parallel to the shoreline) is lined up with several restaurants and transient houses/hotels so you won’t have a hard time getting a place to stay in, make sure though to bring cash as most of the establishments only offer cash transaction. Accommodations near the beachfront provide food, relaxation, and respite for swimmers and surfers alike and most beachfront resorts and hotels offer surfing board rental and tutorial. Standard rate is 350php per hour for surfboard use and surfing lesson is already included.
Kuya Andy hitched us around 10:30 am and immediately went off on our first stop, the Millennium Tree in Maria Aurora.
The 600 year-old Balete tree (Ficus Balete Merr) is the biggest in Asia standing proud at 65 meters tall and has a crown diameter of no more than 60 meters, and is located in brgy. Quirino, Maria Aurora. Imagine the tree being encircled by 60 grown men holding each other at arm’s length, that’s how wide the trunk is!
Inside the Banyan Tree’s trunk.
There is a CCTV installed inside the tree to monitor the number of visitors exploring inside.
On for our next stop, the majestic Ditumabo Falls, hailed as the biggest in the four water falls located in the province, hence it is locally known as the Mother Falls located in the quiet town of San Luis in Aurora.
The Majestic Ditumabo Falls in all its rain-like glory.
From the Millennium tree plaza in Maria Aurora, we went back to the road off San Luis, traversing Diteki bridge serving as a white canvas surrounded with beautiful burst of palette blue sky and green lushes. We set off next to Ditumabo bridge to register and find a local guide to lead us to the trail. Our local guide mentioned that before, tricycle drivers and private tour guides accompany the guests all through the trek, but there was a tragedy happened along the trail few years back and the main cause was negligence on the guide’s part, hence the local unit prohibited the tour since then. The local government advocated a project to provide livelihood and opportunity for the locals to earn income while boosting the local tourism scene in the province, primarily the Ditumabo falls, knowing that the best people to guide the visitors are the locals themselves.
Take time to snap a photo with this big rock signage. Ask your local guide where this rock can be found as we didn’t even notice this one along the way.
There is a 30Php environmental fee/ entrance fee per person and there are also few stalls at the foot of the trail that you might consider checking first as the trek can last for 30- 45 minutes going there depending on your pace. They sell hotdogs on stick, refreshments like Buko juice, and they even serve Unli- Lugaw (unlimited serving of rice porridge), that’s interesting! Now here are some of the photos taken along trek:
You have to endure (or enjoy) another 1.3 -kilometer uphill hike with multiple river-crossing and boulder-hopping. it’s leisure and refreshing time anyway all through out the trail.
The freezing cold water will energize you along the way.
Since it generates hydrokinetic energy through its powerful and intense streams and water falls,(San Luis Mini-Hydro Power Plant started its operation In 2011) expect that you will encounter cables, pipelines and concrete pathways on your way to the pool basin.
Towering at 140 ft. high, the freezing clear water of Ditumabo Falls forcefully gushes endlessly among countless rocks and pebbles, enticing you to dive in at the pool-like basin. Make sure to bring waterproof camera and protection as the rumbling waters from the falls sprayed mist of rain-like water in all direction that will put your photography skills to the test. The lens on my camera was already foggy because of the mist so make sure to take care of your gadgets.
After taking a refreshing knee-high water action from the trek, we then moved to our next destination, the Instagram-worthy Hanging bridge in brgy. Zabali.
Picturesque scenery viewed at the back of the tricycle on the way to the Hanging Bridge.
Also one of the most beautiful man-made structure in Baler, the rickety hanging bridge located in Brgy. Zabali that traverses Tibag- Sabang river. Just a tip, one of the best souvenir shops in Baler (based on my taste in the T-shirt/ souvenir design and the variety of products being offered.) can be found at the endpoint of Zabali road near the bridge so make sure to shop around and haggle to score Aurora-made products. )
After taking a lot of photos at the Hanging bridge, and we mean a lot of photos, we went back on the national road to visit the picture-perfect Diguisit beach and its stellar rock formation.
The breathtaking Aniao Islets along Diguisit beach.
White sand, seashells and crushed corals are found along the stretch of Diguisit beach.
The cascading waters of Diguisit Falls.
Diguisit Water Falls.
This is it, Diguisit! The multi-cascading falls is ready to refresh you and the catch? It’s hustle-free to get there because it can be found along the coastal road going to Sabang Beach. The Diguisit falls was the source of water of the residents during the American regime.
Dimadimalangat islet viewed from Ermita Hill.
Tromba Marina Sculpture
The TROMBA MARINA (which means tidal wave in Spanish) sculpture was installed to memorialize the devastating event of December 27, 1735, a tidal surge and flash flood that wiped out the original settlement of Baler. It’s located at the foot of Ermita Hill where the townspeople climbed to safety.
Nemi Merinda made this monument to honor the families who survived the tidal surge. Then a new community sprung into what is now the Poblacion of Baler and left ”Kinagunasan”, the place of devastation.
“Sometime in 1735, at two o’clock in the morning a phenomenal tidal wave washed away the old town of Baler. A tide rose at such a velocity that within a few hours even the terrain where the town existed had also disappeared. Fray Jose de San Rafael, OFM, the parish priest of Casiguran was on vacation in Baler when the event took place. He was among the survivors who made their way up the hill of Point Baja (Ermita) by swimming. He narrated that at about two o’clock in the morning of December 27, 1735, the sacristan major of the convent called his attention to the rising tidal wave engulfing the town. It was weird occurrence for there was no sign or manifestation of impending bad weather. The previous night was clear and starry. Neither were the towns of Casiguran, the mission of Dipaculao and the hamlet of Dingalan affected regardless of the fact that these places were located along the same shorelines. The records on Tromba Marina mentioned a number of families who survived foremost of which were the Angara, Bihasa, Bitong, Carrasco, Ferreras, Lumasac and Poblete. The old folks referred to the devastated town as the KINAGUNASAN.” – http://baler.gov.ph/services/for-visitors/tourist-attractions/
And that ends our day tour in Baler and surrounding towns. We went back to our transient place, bid our goodbyes to Kuya Andy as he made this learning spree truly enjoyable and safe for us. He gave his calling card for future travel reference. We freshen up and roam along Sabang Beach till sundown and took our dinner at Paddle Out on Labasin St. We ordered spicy Bibimbap and inihaw na Salmon, enjoyed the chilling sea breeze after and watched the all-flaring stars, thinking if they are also gazing us back, and yes, we call it a day. Day 1 done, excited for day number two!
(to be continued..)
**Watch out for the next post about the Downtown Baler(Poblacion area tour) and other adventures we did on our second and third day in Baler! Till then:)**
Some of the photos taken inside the 4-star hotel Costa Pacifica in Baler, Aurora.
Municipal Tourism Office
2nd Floor Executive Building
Municipal Building, Baler, Aurora
Mobile No. 09289637668
Provincial Tourism Office
Provincial Capitol Compound
Brgy. Suklayin, Baler, Aurora 3200
TOWN FIESTA : August 19 – Birth Anniversary of President Manuel Luis Quezon
PATRONAL FIESTA : August 19 – Feast Day of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
How to get there:
Baler is 231kms (144 miles) away from Manila with an estimated travel time of 4-7 hours and serves as the business center of the province.
Genesis Transport Buses with terminals in Manila and Cubao offer daily morning trips to Baler. Travel time is approximately 4-6 hours.
For commuters, provincial buses are available, with routes Manila to Baler or Manila to Cabanatuan, and then change to Baler-bound buses.