The sudden announcement of a 4-day weekend due to to ASEAN summit was such a pleasant surprise for me. I immediately thought of where I can spend it but I had limited budget at the time. After much thought, I decided to go somewhere near Manila for a day tour and spend the rest of the long weekend relaxing at home.
Good thing the boyfriend was game when I suggested that we go check out Minalungao National Park for a day. We have never been there before, so naturally we were both excited to see the place.
How to get there:
We arrived at Five Star’s bus terminal at 4 AM. We underestimated the long weekend rush so we had to wait for a bus to Gapan for over an hour. We also checked the other bus terminal along EDSA, but the lines to Gapan were longer there. It was pure luck when an empty Cisco bus to Gapan arrived and we were the first one to get on it.
The fare Php 150 each. After paying the conductor, we slept for the whole 3 hours of the journey to Gapan.
Our Tour Guide:
Visitors to Minalungao National Park don’t really need a guide, but we opted for guides because we wanted a hassle-free trip and we wanted to do all the activities in the park. While searching for information about Minalungao, I stumbled upon the Facebook page of Sir Darine. He comes highly recommended by travel bloggers and visitors of Minalungao.
I sent a message on Facebook inquiring about the tour packages and I chose to avail the complete package for Php 999 per person. This included:
- Transportation – Gapan-Minalungao National Park-Gapan
- Entrance fee
- Registration fee
- Life vest
- Complete tour of Minalungao
- Services of a tour guide
- Toilet & shower fees
- Rental of a floating cottage – if there are 3 or more people availing the package
When we came, Sir Darine had to take care of another group of visitors so he assigned Sir Kim to us. I loved the practice of Sir Darine and his group prior to our arrival. They were in constant communication with us since the night before our visit to confirm our departure from Manila, where we were, where to alight in Gapan and other useful tips for us 🙂
From Gapan, it was another hour to Minalungao National Park via tricycle. It was long but good thing we stopped halfway to eat some breakfast.
Things to do in Minalungao National Park:
- Cross the hanging bridge. The bridge offers a view of Minalungao National Park in all its beauty so this is a must do. Crossing the bridge is really unavoidable since this leads to the hotel, the 1000 Steps to the shrine and the zipline.
- Go up 1000 steps to see the shrine. This was such a big challenge for my knees. LOL. Sir Kim reminded us to buy water for our trek to the top. I was appreciative of this because the sun was already shining brightly. There wasn’t even a cool breeze in the summit. The shrine at the very end of the 1000 steps was a good place to meditate, pray and take in the view. But the other visitors were so loud and rowdy while taking their selfies.
- Explore the caves. It took us less than 10 minutes to explore the entirety of the caves in Minalungao. I wished that I could have stayed inside longer because it was so cool but there was a long line of visitors waiting for their turn in the caves.
- Rent a kayak. Visitors can rent a kayak for Php 200 per hour. Renters should leave their IDs at the shop and they can claim it at the end of the hour. Our relationship almost ended because of this. LOL. Boyfriend and I spent almost half the time arguing over how to properly row and navigate the kayak. In the end, I just let him steer for the 2 of us. 😀
- Rent a floating cottage. For those wanting to rent a floating cottage a take a cruise along Penaranda River, it’s best to arrive early in the morning so you can have the best location for swimming. I wanted to go on a floating cottage even if it was just the 2 of us, but Sir Kim discouraged us. Aside from the long lines of people wanting to rent a cottage, the river was already crowded that maneuvering it along the river would be next to impossible. Hence, we rented a kayak instead.
- Swim! We looked for the shallower part of the river for swimming. The water was clean and clear, but not really refreshing. I was expecting the water to be cool but it was in fact, warm 😦
- Go on a food trip. I was surprised to discover that there were a lot of restaurants and stall in the park offering different food and snacks. Boyfriend and I chose to try the different snacks when we got tired of swimming. Also the lunch prepared for us was very delicious ❤
- Ride the zipline. We opted not to do this since we convinced ourselves that the view is just the same from the hanging bridge. There were many people who rode this throughout the day though. The rate for a 2-way zipline ride is Php 200.
When it was time to go, I lined up at the shower rooms to take a bath and freshen up. The line was already long and I prepared myself for a long wait. Imagine our dismay when we discovered that the shower stalls didn’t have any running water. The only source of water was a hose filling up a drum in the middle of the stalls. The contents of the drum was eventually all used up by the ladies who showered earlier and the water pressure on the hose was so pitiful that it took 10 minutes to fill up 1 small bucket. When it was finally my turn, the water stopped coming out 😦 But I remember that there was a faucet outside the shower rooms and I got water from there. I was able to carefully take a shower with only a bucket of water.
After shopping for souvenirs, Sir Kim took us to the bus stop where we would be waiting for a ride back to Manila.
I definitely think it is possible to visit Minalungao National Park from Manila with less than Php 1000. But because we availed the services of a guide, we spent more than that:
|150||Bus to Gapan|
|50||Snacks and water|
|150||Bus to Manila|
I cannot deny that Minalungao National Park is a sight to behold. It took my breath away when I was finally able to see it in person. The pictures I saw on the internet justify the real thing.
However, I was a bit disappointed with how the park is being handled. The first thing I noticed is that there are too many establishments being built around the park. These structures are disturbing (if they haven’t already) the landscape and the natural rock formations in the park. There are too many restaurants, souvenir shops and soon a few hotels that made me feel like Minalungao is fast becoming a commercial hub.
Swimming in the Penaranda River is a bit dangerous as there are too many floating cottages servicing visitors. There is no place to swim freely. It’s so easy to bump into a floating cottage or kayak if you forget for even just a minute.
And whoever manages the park should be more strict in reminding visitors to properly manage their trash. Visitors are allowed to eat in the floating cottages. However, it doesn’t mean that plastic cups, fruit peelings and water bottles should be thrown carelessly on the river. The same strict implementation should apply with defacing the stones in the park. I saw countless vandalism on the stones throughout the park. *sigh*
Lastly, I hope something is being done with the shower facilities in the park. The visitors are not expecting a 5-star establishment. Just ample running water is enough.
I heard one of the guests say that while Minalungao National Park has been attracting a lot of attention because it was recently featured in a lot of TV programs, something should be done about protecting the park first. Not how to make more money off of the people who visit. I wholeheartedly agreed with her.