It was time for another weekend day trip road trip!
My friend Rian and I dove deep into Google’s pool of suggestions that are not so far from Manila. We wanted a place where we could relax and enjoy nature since we were both sick—nothing too adventurous and exhausting. Nature is our cure.
After hours of researching, we stumbled upon a little paradise hidden in Nueva Ecija called Minalungao and right away, we packed our bags and started driving. It’s a 5-hour drive going there.
Our rest stop was in Angeles, Pampanga, half way to Nueva Ecija. We had brunch at Copung-Copung Grill, where you can enjoy your meal in your own little dining hut.
Rian and I tend to over-order food so it was no surprise that our table got filled with food good for five. We had more than enough take away food for our river adventure!
How to get to Minalungao?
Head to Gapan first. Coming from Manila, it takes 3-4 hours to get there. From Angeles, it took us 2 hours.
From Gapan, drive for another hour going to PAPAYA (a.k.a General Tinio), Nueva Ecija and the Minalungao Park will be around the corner (finally!) —let the signs guide you AND do ask the locals for directions, especially the tricycle drivers. That helped us BIG TIME.
The path going to the park is a dirt road so get ready for a bumpy ride!
AND WE MADE IT!
MINALUNGAO NATIONAL PARK
is a 2,018-hectare land in the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountain range. The Peñaranda River passes through 16-meter high limestone walls.
I’ve never been to El Nido, Palawan nor Phuket but I’d imagine that this beauty can be comparable to those places..only it’s a river.
There is an entrance fee of 30 pesos per person and 50 pesos for the car. It’s easy to spot kids there volunteering to be your tour guide. There’s no tour guide fee but tip generously.
You have to pick a way to go around the park—by foot or by raft.
By raft, of course! We were already tired from driving and we were also sick so it was definitely time to relax!
Since all the cottage rafts were being used, we decided to just get the normal raft worth 250 pesos. You can rent it for the whole day or for as long as you like.
Two other kids decided to join our raft and be our extra tour guides.
Drifitng along the vividly emerald river on a bamboo raft surrounded by beautiful off-white rock formations and only a handful of people around, it was the ideal escape to nature and the unspoilt environment of the park made it perfect.
It was hard to relax with the our 3 kid guides arguing with each other, cursing at each other, and then playing. Rian and I felt like their chaperones. We just tolerated it anyway since they were nice to us and they were fun to watch when playing.
The kids brought us to a cave.
After a 10-minute raft ride, we were dropped off to the side of the wall for a short hike to the cave.
Bring a flashlight or use your cellphone’s light. It’s pitch black inside and it’s not a walk in the park too!
Be prepared to hop from one rock to another, climb up and down, crawl, and walk inside the cave.
Be careful not to trip or miss a step because there are sharp rocks too and holes you can fall in. There are no safety equipment, procedures, and emergency kits when going around the cave so explore at your own risk.
Other than that, enjoy it. The cave is beautiful!
Back in daylight, we hiked down the wall and back to the river. We asked where we could hangout and the kids pointed at the huge white rock–our own rock! It was by the rapid too so our view was more than we asked for.
Since we had lots of take away food from Angeles, Rian and I had a little picnic on our rock.
There are no food stalls there so bring your own food. However, there’s a small store at the drop-off where you can buy drinks, chips, and souvenirs. Just remember to bring your trash with you.
The clear water looked very inviting so with our full stomachs, we jumped right in! Since we were by the rapid, the current was strong enough to drift us away so fast and over hundreds of rocks. Yup, it was a bruise fest!
It was close to sunset already and we were running out of time.
We were once again left with 2 choices—to check out the man-made cross on top (which also means that we would have to climb a 1,000-step staircase) or to check out the new cave.
The new cave, of course! Nature over man-made!
The new cave was only discovered 2 months ago (January 2015) and it can be entered from the top of the limestone wall. There’s a staircase going to the cave and the entrance is just a small hole with a metal ladder already set up for guests to enter.
This cave is more dangerous because the path descends. You would have to be more cautious when navigating through this cave because falls are more likely to happen than trips—and again, there’s no medical team to help.
It is, however, one of the most beautiful caves I have ever seen.
The Stalagmites and the Stalactites inside the cave add a shimmering touch when light hits their surface. You know it’s newly discovered by how “raw” it feels like while exploring inside—as if you were the one who discover it! It’s not yet damaged or made tourist-friendly, which is good because it is preserved as it is. We even saw human bones inside!!
As soon as we exited the new cave, it was sunset.
We went to our raft again and floated with the sunset. This time, I asked the kids to give us a moment of silence. Sunsets are precious to me. We finally had our rest and relaxation…up until we reached another rock formation where we could go cliff diving!
And so we did!
It was already getting dark and there are no lights on the dirt road going back to the city so it was time to call it a day.
There is a proper shower area near the stores that you can use for 10 pesos.
So fresh and so clean, it was time to head back to Manila!