It is fair to say that most people in Manila don’t like to travel too far because of the traffic. That is a shame because it is places like this, here at the Biak Na Bato National Park, where you will find the payoff. As you lay beneath cool mountain waters the frustration of commuter life washes away easing your aching muscles and calming your overactive mind.
Biak Na Bato National Park is located eighty kilometers from Manila, on a mountain gorge in the Sierra Madre mountain range, San Miguel, Bulacan. It is known for its limestone cliffs that rise out of the rocky ground creating a maze of caves, caverns and rock walls for the more adventurous to explore. For the rest of us, the mountain waters rush through crags and crannies creating small rapids and deep pools, just perfect for a hot afternoon swim. The park is easy to get to and once there you will find guides waiting to assist, should you wish to head into the wilderness exploring.
The decision to visit the national park was a last minute one. We hastily threw together a picnic, grabbed our bathers, a few towels and water bottles as we ran out the door to beat the traffic. The drive out to Biak Na Bato took about three hours. If you follow Waze you should find it without any problem, except for that one direction that took us down a dead-end road, although SB said I did not know how to follow Waze to which I answered that Waze ought to *&$%#@! Our driver clicked his tongue and shook his head at me. However, we got there in the end and on arrival to the car park we saw a big flowing river and a tall bridge to walk across. Locals were washing their clothes downstream and children swam near the bridge, using it as a jump-off point. It looked pretty awesome.
We walked across the large bridge, politely turning down offers to hang by a wire and tightrope across the rapids – for fun… and found a picnic area where the guides were hanging out. We did not want a guide, nor to hang out in that area so instead walked off to one side and climbed over some rocks until we found an area near a deep pool where we could stay for a while.
We sat on towels eating our picnic on the rocks, before making a quick change into our bathers. Then it was straight into the water, which was exactly as you would imagine it to be. Mountain water is cool, clean and refreshing on your hot, clammy skin. As you float around in the water you hear the soft sound of water running through your fingers. Then you stare up at the surrounding cliffs and all the while your mind is just blown away by the beauty and simplicity presented before you. What traffic you wonder, who cares about three hours in a car now…this is totally where I need to be.
The river bed was made up of small colourful rocks and the children and I lay on our tummies in the shallow collecting a vast array to bring home and add to our jar of memory-keepers. A bit of pink, orange, turquoise and green to brighten our home.
Two young local boys were hanging around in the water, watching us with curiosity. They climbed up a tall boulder and took turns jumping off into the deep. BB watched with wide eyes and looked at me longingly. ‘I want to do that’ he said and reluctantly I agreed. The water was really deep, too deep to stand at the landing point and so without language between them, the local boys showed BB how to climb up the boulder, and how to jump off. After the first jump, BB was hooked and my heart was pounding, as only a mother’s can. Over and over he climbed up and jumped off, taking turns with his new friends. SB gave it a go too. Little FB said she wanted to do it and SB and I in unison said ‘NO! One day when you are a bit bigger…’ ‘Hey! Let’s be mermaids instead’ I said to distract her from the unfairness of life as a four-year-old.
This very unplanned trip became a wonderful afternoon. We were so excited to find this beautiful place which despite the locals using as their wash basin, was largely unpolluted, clean and well maintained. We did not make the most of our time there, and we should have planned it better. I guess that just means we need to go back again one day.
Where: Biak Na Bato National Park, San Miguel Bulacan. Take the NLEX and use Waze or Google Maps to direct you. It gets confusing driving through Bulacan however you can always stop and ask the locals if you feel you are getting a bit lost.
Cost: Our research found there was a fee to enter and obviously, you would pay for guides. However, on the day we went we did not pay anything. I think that was someone’s oversight.
What to take: Sunblock, hats, good walking and climbing shoes if you want to explore a bit. Bathers for a swim – they are a must, the water is clear, cool and really refreshing. Pack a picnic, there isn’t much out there to eat, also take a lot of water. You will find sari-saris on the way out selling fruit and drinks but it is pretty far from the nearest Maccas.Worth the extra mention: The traffic. Our visit was just before Christmas so traffic was a whole lot heavier however, we left around 4.30pm and we got home after 9pm. If you do not enjoy being stuck in traffic then just be aware that this could happen. Make the most of your day and leave early in the morning to make best use of your time. Be sure to change into dry clothes before you leave so you are comfortable, and pack up your car with enough toys, food and music to manage your time in the traffic.
Worth the extra mention: The traffic. Our visit was just before Christmas so traffic was a whole lot heavier however, we left around 4.30pm and we got home after 9pm. If you do not enjoy being stuck in traffic then just be aware that this could happen. Make the most of your day and leave early in the morning to make best use of your time. Be sure to change into dry clothes before you leave so you are comfortable, and pack up your car with enough toys, food and music to manage your time in the traffic.