Craving for a summer adventure but you only have 2 days to spare? In this post, I will share to you how me and my 3 seafarer friends Jim, Sarah and Chelle journeyed in Minalungao National Park in Nueva Ecija and the “Batanes of the East” in Dingalan, Aurora for 2 days with a budget of Php 2000 per head.
Day 1 MINALUNGAO NATIONAL PARK
Minalungao National Park is a gem tucked in the countryside of Nueva Ecija, Central Luzon. From Cubao, ride a bus going to Cabanatuan, and alight at Gapan. From Gapan, you will be welcomed by the tricycle drivers who will offer you a ride to Minalungao. Bargain hard because they tend to overcharge. For our group of 4, we were able to hire a trike for 700 two way, which means the driver had to stay in Minalungao to wait for us to finish. The trike ride is an hour.
Minalungao Tour Guides
Upon reaching Minalungao, you might be approached by local guides, just as Kristoffer, our guide, approached us. Actually, I have searched prior that guides are not required. But since we want to save time from asking around, we hired this 18-year-old boy. He helped us take pictures and led us to where we wanted to go. It’s also encouraging to have someone jump first in the fast current river when you are scared to try at first. He also helped us with our things by securing our big bags in his house just near the shower area.
There are no fixed guide rates but the usual is 200 for a group.However, we felt generous and gave him more, so he could also have lunch with us. This is entirely up to your group.
- Hike the 1000 steps to the grotto
- Cliff jumping
- River floating
There are 2 things that will first catch your attention upon arriving at the park: The hanging bridge and the pretty rafts, so let’s settle what you gotta do with them first. The hanging bridge leads to the path to the thousand steps. I suggest you go there first thing while the sun’s heat is not very intense yet. Take as many photos as you want. After the steps, you can cross back the hanging bridge to the cave and river on the other side. As for the rafts, you may be at first thrilled to hire one, but for us, it was not worth the 700 pesos rental fee, because it would only serve as your cottage. It wouldn’t take you too far in the river, as I originally thought. So instead of hiring one, just take pictures with it and move on. You won’t really need it. Now that’s settled, you can move on to the 1000 steps.
1000 Steps to the Grotto
We first hiked up the 1000 step stairs to the grotto to warm up for the day. There was really nothing up there except the cross and a little viewpoint. But for me, the hike up was very enjoyable since you can hear the birds and the sound of the leaves dancing to the wind, while the sun intensifies the heat your body produces from fighting the gravity. It was also peaceful up there, you can have a quick meditation or prayer.
Upon going down, we went straight to the cave. Originally, we wanted to try zipline for 100/pax, which is pretty cheap. But when we saw how short the line is, we decided to skip it. The cave is also a quick one, but you have to have flashlight going there. I believe it’s impossible to get lost inside as well, just incase you decided to skip on hiring a guide.
River Floating and Cliff Jumping
After the cave, we finally dipped into the river, which is the much-awaited activity for us. We jumped from the big rock and let ourselves be drawn by the river’s strong current. We rented the life vest for 25 per head, since swimming without vests is prohibited. There’s a life guard that will call your attention if you swim without one. The water is so refreshing, and it was so fun just letting yourself be brought by the currents. 🙂
- Half day here is recommended. You will be finished with the activities as early as lunch time. Leave the park by 1pm so you can reach the next destination early.
- Although you can skip hiring a guide, I suggest you take one, especially if your group is big. It serves as help for these local boys, and it saves you time finding your way.
- It’s more convenient to wear sandals instead of shoes because of the water activities.
Day 1.5 “Batanes of the East” Dinagalan, Aurora
The next part of this trip is Dingalan, Aurora, where the landscapes resemble the views in Batanes, hence “Batanes of the East.” It lies facing the deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. Although tourism in this area has started to boom already, it’s still undoubtedly less compared to other popular beach spots in the Philippines.
Best time to visit Dingalan
Since one of the main activities in Dingalan aside from hiking up to the view deck and the lighthouse is to do a boat trip to Lanao cave and Suwa rock formation, the best time to visit there would be during summer, when the waves of the Pacific are calmer. When the waves are big, you will not be allowed to swim inside the cave. If you can, visit during the weekdays since tourists start to crowd White Beach during weekdays.
Travel from Minalungao to Dingalan
After your adventure in Minalungao, by 1 pm, ride the hired tricycle and head back to Gapan to ride the bus to Cabanatuan Central Terminal where you can ride the van to Dingalan, before riding a tricycke to Dingalan Feeder Port. Since it was a Wednesday, our group had to wait for one hour for the van to be filled. This caused our itinerary to be ruined, arriving 1.5 hours later than expected. We originally were planned to walk to White Beach from Feeder Port instead of hiring a boat for 800 pesos but since we arrived at the port at 6pm, the tourism did not allow us to walk anymore for our own safety. Good thing we got a favor from a local who allowed us to hitch her boat for only 200. There should be no problem with the van during weekends when tourists pour in, it’s usually faster to get filled.
A tour guide is required in Dingalan, and you can secure one from the Feeder Port, where you will also pay Php 50 for the Environmental Fee. I am very blessed to be in contact with probably the best tour guide in Dingalan, Kuya Albert who did more than just taking us to the destinations we wanted to visit. He helped us a lot, and made our tour more enjoyable and affordable. 🙂 He took care of arranging the boat, finding an accommodation, and even cooking for us! He also has a treasury of jokes and mind puzzles to keep you entertained while camping or hiking. I highly suggest you book him if you are traveling to Dingalan. Contact Kuya Albert at 09074362908. Ask him also about the Aunt Suzzie joke, I gave him that! Lol.
Guide fee is usually 200 per location you want to visit. We paid him 1000 since he took us to 5 spots: White beach, Batanes of the East view point, Lighthouse, Lamao Cave and Suha rock formation with deathpool. We don’t regret paying this because he really did more than his job. 🙂
Where to Stay
You have 2 options on where to stay. Option 1 is in Brgy Paltic where the Feeder Port is. Stay here if you prefer a nice bed and toilet, or if you arrived at the area after sunset since boat trips are not allowed once it is dark. There is a homestay there called Shalom just across the port. The rate is 300/pax in a shared dorm, and there are also private rooms available.
Option 2 is in White Beach, where there are a number of resorts to stay in. This is recommended if you plan to watch the sunrise in the Batanes of the East viewdeck. This means you will wake up early the next morning and start the 30-minute hike from White Beach.
Upon arriving at White Beach, Kuya Albert brought us to Ate Lourdes and Kuya Buboy’s resort, where we opted to rent the tree house for 1200 (discounted from 1500) instead of doing our original plan to camp, since the cost is just similar. Following are the rates:
1500 per room good for 6-7 pax (the room only has 1 big bed bunk (papag) where you all will sleep together)
1500 tree house (1 room good for 3, with veranda)
200/head camping fee if you have your own tent (+ 400 if you will rent the tent good for 4 pax)
If you don’t like the place, there are other resorts in White Beach where you can stay. Just ask your guide about it.
We didn’t really swim at White Beach because we were only there to sleep, so we can wake up the next day for sunrise at the view deck. My friends had a good time with Kuya Albert and his jokes over a bottle of Emperador, while I enjoyed resting in my hammock at the treehouse.
Day 2 Exploring Dingalan
Things to visit/do:
- Batanes of the East
- Lamao cave (only if the waves are calm)
- Suwa rock formation
- Death pool
- Zipline (only during summer, like April)
- Tanawan Falls (at Brgy Paltic)
Batanes of the East
The next morning we woke up at 4:30 am to the view of the full moon, and started trekking at 5am to the viewdeck also known as “Batanes of the East.” The trail was only 30 minutes and fairly easy because we had a good weather. If it’s raining, it would be muddy and slippery. While waiting for the sunrise, I just marveled at the beauty that surrounded me, and the sound of the roaring seas and wind.
After getting satisfied with the our photos, we headed to the trail for the lighthouse, another 30 minute hike. You cannot really climb up the lighthouse. Just take photos at the foot of it. We actually found it boring, because the lighthouse isn’t as magnificent close-up, as it is when viewing from afar. It is still worth the short hike though. 🙂 We then headed back to our accommodation at White Beach and had breakfast, before checking out to proceed to our boat tour.
Boat Trip to Lamao Cave and Suwa Rock Formation with Dead pool
Bringing our backpacks with us, we boarded the boat and proceeded to Matawe area, where we hope to swim inside Lamao Cave and the deadpool. the ride was really fun, with the bumpy waves of the blue sea, splashes of water, and remarkable land and rock formations on the left side. Life vests are mandatory and are provided by the boatmen. We cruised the Pacific Ocean, marveling at the little caves and waves crashing the rocks. Upon arriving at Lamao cave though, the waves were high, so we were not able to swim. We just took pictures.
We headed straight then to the Suwa rock formations, which we hiked to get to the deadpool. Walking here felt like walking in another dimension, with nothing but tall intimidating rocks on one side, and angry waves on another side. There were 2 deadpools in the area but unfortunately, the first one was dirty so we just headed to the second one: a perfect pool to swim and jump! We spend a good amount of time here before we headed back to the feeder port to wash up and have lunch.
Day 1 MINALUNGAO NATIONAL PARK
0300 Meet up in Five Star Cubao. Board bus to Cabanatuan
0530 ETA Gapan Puregold. Breakfast
0615 Board the tricycle to Minalungao National Park
0730 ETA Minalungao National Park. Start Activities.
1300 Depart for Dingalan. Ride the tricycle back to Gapan.
1400 ETA Gapan. Ride bus to Cabanatuan Central Terminal.
1500 ETA Cabanatuan Central Terminal. Ride the van to Dingalan.
1700 ETA Dingalan Van terminal. Ride the tricycle to Feeder Port
17:10 ETA Feeder Port. Ride the boat (15 mins) or walk (45 mins to 1 hr) to White Beach
1800 ETA White Beach
1800 onwards – Set camp/ check in. Dinner. Socials.
Day 2 DINGALAN ADVENTURE
0430 Call time
0500 Start hike to Dingalan Of The East viewpoint
0530 ETA at viewpoint. Wait for sunrise. Photo ops.
0700 Start trek to Lighthouse
0730 Arrival at Lighthouse. Photo Ops.
0800 Trek back to white beach
0830 Arrival at White Beach. Breakfast. Check out.
0930 Check out.
0930-1200 Boat trip. Lamao Cave. Suwa rock formation with deadpool.
1200 Back to Feeder port to shower and have lunch.
1330 Ride van back to Cabanatuan Central Termina
1530 Ride bus back to Manila
2100 ETA Manila
Here’s the breakdown of expenses based on 4 pax
Part 1 Minalungao National Park
150 1way Bus from Cubao to Gapan
25 Goto breakfast
700/4 = 175each 2way tricycle from Gapan to Minalungao and back
100 Minalungao Entrance Fee
300/4 = 75 guide fee (optional)
65 Lunch (chicken bbq with rice)
Note that we skipped renting the raft, which is 700 good for 8 pax.
Part 2 Dingalan
50 Bus to Cabanatuan Central Terminal
120 Van to Dingalan. (This is usually just 100, but since we didn’t want to wait any longer for the van to be filled, we paid extra for the empty seats)
20 Tricycle to Feeder Port
50 Environmental Fee
200/4 = 50 Boat to White beach (optional, you can trek for an about an hour). Disclaimer: We originally planned to just walk to white beach but since we arrived late, the tourism did not allow us to walk in the dark due to safety. Fortunately, there was a local who owns a boat who allowed us to hitch for only 200. the original rate is 800 per boat good for 8 pax. Be prepared to pay 800 per boat if you’re planning to ride one.
1200/4 = 300 Treehouse accommodation at Ate Lourdes’ homestay by the beach. This is also discounted since it was a weekday and there was no other guest.
600/4 = 150 Boat trip to Lamao cave and Suwa rock formation with deadpool, ending in Feeder port.
Disclaimer: Again, this rate is not regular since we only paid 200 for the boat from feeder to White Beach. Regular boat tour rate is only 500 good for up to 15 pax.
1000/4 = 250 Guide fee
80 Lunch with Halohalo
10 Donation for shower
20 Trike to Van Terminal
100 Van to Cabanatuan Central Terminal
200 Bus back to Manila
TOTAL Php 1970
– We brought food for dinner on Day 1. We also bought some food supply like rice, longanisa but it’s not include in the budget breakdown.
– This was possible because we got discounts on boats and accommodation. However, since it’s already summer, I doubt that discounts will still be given because there will be more tourists. Therefore, prepare a budget of around 2500 per head.
Doing a 2D 1N DIY trip in Minalungao and Dingalan is fairly easy, although some planning is required, and following the time is vital. It’s also a little bit of a hassle to commute… Imagine a total of 8 hours in the bus, 4 hours in the van and more than 2 hours in the tricycle! You may also join organized events such as ours for a less hassle trip.
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Photo Credits to my friends Jim Chelle and Sarah.