Sep 3, 2012 9:47:08 AM
Island adventures in the Philippines
The Philippines are justifiably known for their beaches, but the country isn’t just about finding an isolated patch of sand and sinking into a sun-kissed stupor. The 7000-plus islands of the Philippines offer an array of more adventurous pursuits that can raise any adrenaline junkie’s pulse. Here are a half-dozen ideas to find the right island for your adventure.
Luzon for mountain biking
The terrain varies widely on the Philippines’ massive main island. A string of volcanoes in the southeast Bicol region tempts climbers, tasty surf breaks massage both coasts, and the Chico River in the northern Cordillera Mountains boasts the country’s best kayaking and whitewater rafting.
Crisscrossed by a network of rugged, scarcely trafficked dirt roads, the Cordillera are also perfect for mountain bike touring. You’ll pass beneath some of the country’s highest peaks, follow precarious ridges high above raging rivers like the Chico, and get up close and personal with emerald-green rice terraces. You can camp along rivers by night or bunk up with welcoming hill tribe families. Chill out for a few days in hippie haven Sagada (elev 1500m), the jump-off point for some epic single- and double-track day rides, and the base for www.luzonoutdoors.com, which can help with tours and/or equipment.
Samar for spelunking
Any mention of the island of Samar is usually preceded by the word ‘rugged’. Surfers speak in awe of the barely accessible waves on the east coast, while the dense interior forests provide a rare chance to spot the Philippines’ national bird, the endangered Philippine Eagle. But caving is by far the biggest draw.
The tours run by Trexplore (www.trexplore.webs.com) out of Catbalogan will blow you away. Don your full-body canvas spelunking suit and helmet equipped with a calcium-carbide gas lamp, and follow Trexplore leader Joni Bonifacio into the abyss. For the next five hours you’ll be swimming through underground streams, plunging through karst tunnels, and slithering under low-hanging stalactites. It’s the ultimate Indiana Jones adventure. Multi-day underground odysseys are also available.
Mindoro for diving
The Philippines are well known as a top-class dive destination, but the country’s best scuba spot is somewhat off the radar of the average visitor. That would be Apo Reef, a glorious, mostly sunken atoll just two hours off the west coast of Mindoro.
While most of the Philippines is known for its colourful macro (small) sea life, Apo Reef is a smorgasbord of both macro life and larger creatures. On some dives you might lose count of how many sharks, rays and sea turtles you spot. For years it was difficult to access Apo Reef because of poor roads leading to the main jumping-off town, Sablayan. Now smooth highways and improved flight connections from Manila to nearby San Juan mean you can depart Manila in the morning and be on the reef by midday with Apo Reef Club (www.aporeefclub.com), an hour north of San Juan.
Mindanao for whitewater rafting
While some parts of Mindanao are no-go zones because of safety concerns, the northern part of the Philippines’ largest island is considered safe – not to mention scenically splendid and ripe for adventure.
While the big rapids are in North Luzon, the rafting window up there is short. In the northern Mindanao city of Cagayan de Oro, you can raft the Cagayan River year-round on rapids that can reach Class IV. It’s equal parts thrilling and scenic, and longer trips involve a lunch and hang-out time with your uber-cool Filipino rafting guides - Kagay CDO Rafting (www.cdorafting-map.com) is one of several operators. From Cagayan de Oro you are just a couple of hours by boat to another adventure wonderland, volcano-studded Camiguin Island.
Panay for trekking
The island of Panay is best-known as the home of the crown jewel of Philippine tourism: Boracay. While Boracay is lovely, it’s a hotspot for package tourists. Escape the mobs by making the short trip over to Antique Province in northwest Panay, where a brooding mountain range rises straight from the sea. The highest peak is Mt Madjaas (2117).
One route up Mt Madjaas is positively beastly – a seven- or eight-hour grunt basically straight up. Easier routes do exist, and along the way you’ll traverse old-growth forest and plenty of waterfalls. Secure a guide and permit from the municipal hall in Culasi before setting off. Katahum Tours (www.katahum.com) in Tibiao can help with logistics and organises other adventures in the region.
Palawan for sea kayaking
Palawan is best known for the spectacular limestone formations of Bacuit Bay off El Nido, but several hours north of El Nido by boat is the adventure paradise of Coron. Scuba divers flock to the area to explore several-dozen WWII wrecks in Coron Bay off Busuanga Island. The bay is dotted with idyllic islands that provide shelter and good camping spots, not to mention some of the best snorkelling in the Philippines. Sea kayakers can spend up to a week hopping around the islands here, fishing for their food and basking in the serene aura of isolation. Tribal Adventures (www.tribaladventures.com) has quality kayaks and can tailor a trip to your tastes and skill level.
Want even more adventures in the Philippines? Read on:
- The best beaches of the Philippines
- The Philippines beyond the beaches
- The Philippines: books to read before you go
Want more of the Philippines’ gem-like islands? Find out about the undiscovered jewel of the Philippines over on BBC Travel.