Minalungao National Park is one of the underrated destinations near Metro Manila. Ironic as it may seem, but we knew so little about it before we got to the place. When my travel buddies asked me what to expect from the National Park, all I could say was — There are limestones, a river, and maybe a bit of trekking.
When we arrived at the National Park, we were dumbfounded by its beauty. Only then did we realize that the National Park couldn’t be simply described in just a few words.
Finding the nearby Paradise
Minalungao National Park is located at Nueva Ecija, a province in Central Luzon, Philippines. It is part of General Tinio township (also known as Papaya) and is a 3 – 4 hour ride from Metro Manila. There were thirteen of us, and we just thought it would be more practical to take a van getting there.
However, if you’ll have to backpack your way there, you’ll have to ride a bus in Metro Manila to Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija. Then ask the bus operator to drop you off at Gapan. From there, take a jeepney to General Tinio. Thereafter, you can hire a tricycle to bring you to the Park. Roughly, it will cost you PhP 1,000 – 2,000 per person to go there and back to Manila.
It is also best that you arrive in Minalungao at around 8:00 AM, at the latest, for the following reasons:
1. The bamboo rafts which will also serve as your cottage afloat the river, are quite limited in number;
2. The river can only accommodate few rafts so if you arrive later in the day, there’s a big chance that you will no longer find a good spot to park your balsa (raft); and
3. You would want to enjoy the place before other tourists arrive. Minalungao has started to get attention from local travelers and tourists would now frequent the place especially on weekends and holidays.
Activities in Minalungao National Park
It might be a small place, but it is jam-packed with a number of activities that you will definitely enjoy. Wearing boardies, trekking sandals and a comfortable shirt is highly recommended since the adventures in store for the tourists will involve a fair amount of walking and swimming.
Once you get to the Park, it’s best to hire a local guide who can assist you as you go through your activities. They don’t have standard rates yet, but be considerate of them and pay a reasonable amount.
Wondering what you could do in Minalungao? Here are our top experiences in Minalungao National Park:
1. Ride a balsa (bamboo raft)
This one is a must not only for the sake of experience but because the same balsa will serve as your cottage for your entire stay in Minalungao. It was our first time to ride one, and it was indeed relaxing and fun.
The bamboo rafts can accommodate up to 9 individuals; however, if your group is composed of more than nine, it is recommended that you get what the locals call back-to-back which means they’d attach an extension (an extra balsa) to the big bamboo raft you rented.
Cost: PhP 500 per bamboo raft for the whole day. The back-to-back upgrade is an additional PhP 200 – 300.
2. Take a dip
Its shallow river and the cold water is more than enough to refresh anyone from the scorching heat of the sun. Another fun thing to do while enjoying the water is to just sit on the river bed and let the current slowly drift you away. Just be prepared to walk or swim back against the current.
Cost: You could take a dip anytime once you get there and have paid the corresponding one-time environmental fee
3. Take the 1000-step challenge
The National Park is surrounded by mountains and hills, in which you can find the 1000-step staircase leading to a cross atop. The hill will give you a 360° view of the mountainous region of Nueva Ecija. If you have a drone, might as well fly it too especially while the sun is either rising or setting.
Cost: Zero cost but maybe it will take gazillion calories off you
4. Thrilling activities
Minalungao has caves that you could also explore, and are definitely worth your time. The caves aren’t as big as compared to the famous spelunking destinations of the Archipelago. But they are very much suitable for first-timers to experience.
The National Park has a hanging bridge and also a short zip line that people could enjoy for themselves. The zip line will cost PhP 100 (one-way) to PhP 150 (back and forth).
5. Simply admire & enjoy the paradise
If you don’t feel like doing anything adventurous, then you can simply enjoy the Paradise while your feet are underwater, bask in the sun, breathe fresh air, and admire the beauty of nature.
It would be nice too if you have fun-loving people to keep you company throughout the trip. Not to mention, it will also keep the costs to a minimum per person.
Important Tips and Reminders
1. Take care of your belongings – You could always leave your things on the bamboo raft and ask your guide to take care of them for you. However, still bring your important belongings with you all the time.
2. Bring packed lunch – There are few stores that offer food in the National Park. Bring lots of water, too.
3. Visit during the summer season – It is not advisable to visit Minalungao during the rainy season. The river could become murky and the current may not be as safe for people who don’t know how to swim.
4. Watch over your children – If you’re coming with kids, make sure to watch over them, always. The river’s water may be shallow but it sometimes carries a strong current that may pose danger to anyone. Not just to kids.
5. Leave no trace behind – Minalungao is one of nature’s gift to the Philippines. Make sure to not leave your trash anywhere, avoid vandalism, and as much as possible, avoid cooking on the river.
The Paradise is at Risk
The Minalungao National Park is a paradise on Earth. Its beauty, by far, is the best that we’ve seen in person. However, the same paradise is now at risk because of several factors. Like any other tourist spots, whether it’s a National Park, a mountain trail, or any natural destination in the Philippines, we are gravely disappointed with the lack of discipline amongst most of the travelers.
The Park, if you’ll look at it in pictures and videos, looks perfect and immaculate. But the moment you look at it in every corner and every spot, human traces can be seen. Pieces of litter are floating on the water and the caves are turned into trash bins. It was definitely heartbreaking.
Having seen the National Park in its (almost) full glory, we still couldn’t find the right words to describe how beautiful Minalungao is. We’re resorting to photography to somehow communicate to everyone that Minalungao National Park is one of the best places to be in if you want to experience a nature trip. But if all the risk factors remain unmonitored, thus endangering the Nature Park, then we can surely expect that the fame, beauty and glory of Minalungao would soon be a thing of the past.
Truly, the best way to enjoy its splendour is to experience it for yourself, and what’s worse that could happen is when all that’s left are nothing but words of tale about it leaving the next generation without the same privilege to see it for themselves. It’s high time that we conserve our natural wonders so that the next batch of tourists can still enjoy them, and maybe they can find the right words to perfectly describe the gem, that is Minalungao National Park.