Pagsanjan Falls

Canoeing in Pagsanjan

The sole reason to come to Pagsanjan is for the river trip to Pagsanjan Falls, where some of the final scenes of Francis Ford Coppola’s epic Vietnam War movie Apocalypse Now were filmed. Two hard-working bangcero (boaters) paddle you upriver for 1½ hours through a dramatic gorge hemmed by towering cliffs and vegetation to the small but powerful falls.

At the top, the bangcero will take you under the 10m-high falls on a bamboo raft into the 'Devil's Cave', an exhilarating and unnerving moment as you pass directly through its high-pressure cascade.

On the return journey you let the water do the work on the fast and exciting downstream adventure. The height of the wet season (August to October) is the best time to ride the rapids. Timing is everything: towards the end of the dry season the low water level means there's more dragging over boulders than riding rapids; if the water level is too high, you may not be able to go all the way to the falls. At any time of year it’s best to avoid weekends, as half of Manila seems to descend on Pagsanjan. Bring a plastic bag for your camera, and prepare to get wet.

To arrange your falls trip, secure a canoe (P1250 per person) from the tourist office in the centre of town next to the plaza. A minimum of two people is required (boats fit three passengers); if you're travelling solo the tourist office will do its best to pair you with another (or you can pay double). Only bangcero licensed and employed by the town government are allowed to operate boats, so be wary of the touts that stand along the highway offering boat trips to arriving tourists. Riverside guesthouses and resorts such as La Vista will also organise a boat for you for an extra fee, with the advantage that they'll pick you up.

It's customary and expected to tip your bangcero; P100 per person is suggested.