Somewhere in the middle of the week….
Me: Let’s check out Bulacan.
Charles: What do you see there?
Me: I don’t know much about it really.
Charles: Cool, Bulacan it is then
This was basically the conversation that led us driving to Bulacan one lazy weekend while looking for a place to explore outside Manila. We invited one of Charles’ friends from work who was visiting their Manila office and off we went looking for a bit of adventure.
Bulacan isn’t a major tourist destination but it has its fair share of sights and events that have carved its name into Philippine history. The impressive Barasoin Church in the town of Malolos is designated as the seat of the First Philippine Republic, but for me it was the Fertility Rites in the town of Obando that had piqued my curiosity to visit it.
Apparently, this is the place to visit for childless couples, singles looking for soulmates and farmers praying for a bountiful harvest. However it wasn’t the right time of the year for this and I doubted my travel companions would be so excited by dancing with the hope of being rewarded with a baby, so we ended up driving to Biak na Bato National Park for a nature trip.
Biak na Bato National Park is one of the country’s ecological and historical treasures encompassing the southern edge of the Sierra Madre range situated a few kilometers from San Miguel Bulacan. Its name literally translates as “split boulders” taken from its unique rocky environment and caves.
The 2,100 hectare national park offers various ecological attractions including winding streams, waterfalls, thick forests and hundreds of caves which made it a suitable hideout for General Emilio Aguinaldo and other revolutionary fighters during the Spanish War.
Today Biak na Bato National Park has become a popular tourist destination attracting families who are looking for a refreshing summer retreat as well as busloads of students getting hands-on lessons on Philippine history.
I reckon exploring Emilio Aguinaldo’s hideout and the labyrinth of caves and rivers where our very own revolutionary soldiers once walked is rather more meaningful and engaging for students than the typical rote memorization of dates and names lifted from the textbooks.
The park also offers some pleasant hiking trails, waterfalls and hundreds of caves to explore – more than enough to satisfy a day’s worth of exploration for those with an adventurous spirit. There are some interesting rock formations, trails leading to small rivers, green forests and hanging bridges (which were used by young daredevils as platform for jumping into the water during our visit).
The park has somewhat lost some its wilderness feel – the once impregnable natural fortress that provided refuge to our freedom fighters is now quite accessible from the main town of San Miguel. In fact it has become a bit too touristy for the tastes of my two travel buddies, who shun away from guided tours unless really necessary.
There were rows of souvenir shops, food stalls and street vendors fronting the entrance of the park. But it was more the various fees they charge that kind of overwhelmed them before they could even enter the park. There’s parking fee of course, a toilet fee every time you go (different for number 1 and 2) and a compulsory guide fee.
For them it wasn’t about being a cheapskate but having the freedom to explore around on their own. The trails are paved and well marked and they didn’t have any plan of venturing further inside unfamiliar caves without the right equipment and guidance of an expert. We just really wanted to explore the park under our own steam.
After listening to two uncooperative parties, (two foreigners not wanting a guide and a local trying to get them pay for one) we ended up not getting one but were off limits to enter the caves. But after awhile, we found ourselves scrambling down a few caves located further away from the crowds and the prying eyes of the irate park attendant.
It was a particularly hot summer weekend so I wasn’t surprised to see how packed the park was. There was one little kid who followed us around and served as our unofficial guide. Some of the caverns were pretty easy to explore so we found ourselves inside tiptoeing on a pile of guano and wading through the shallow waters. We didn’t pass up the chance of clambering over some big boulders and getting a bit of a view from the top.
After emerging from one of the caves, raucous cheers from excited spectators brought all of us to the source of the commotion. Some of the boys were having the time of their life jumping into the water from the hanging bridge. I guess boys will always be boys and before I knew it two crazy foreigners jumped from the bridge as well which had caused quite a stir prompting the park attendant to ban anyone from jumping again.
I could imagine it would be more fun exploring further away from the crowd and checking out the network of caves. It doubles your chances of seeing endemic species like cloud rat, wild pigs, bats and other endangered fauna. On a less busier times, a visit to Biak na Bato National Park would probably be more pleasant and relaxing.
How to Get to Biak na Bato
Take the bus from SM North in Quezon City en route to San Miguel Bulacan and ask the driver to let you off at the park entrance. You may also rent a private van or FX from here and be prepared to pay up to P2000.