Baler – if I ask you what you would associate with this town of Aurora Philippines, I’m pretty sure you will say surf. That’s what it’s known for because it is the birth place of surfing in the Philippines. So when I packed my bags for my recent trip to Baler – that’s all I was setting out to do. For someone like me who has only previously took a one hour lesson in San Juan – surfing in the big waves of Baler can be daunting. But – heck – I promise to have fun and if I can’t be successful at surfing – I plan to lounge under the sun.
How To Get There
From Manila, you can take the Genesis Bus (or like what my friends did, they took the Joy Bus – which is Genesis’ executive coach). The bus ride is approximately six and a half hours.
If you want to drive, you can take the North Luzon Expressway all the way to SCTEX and exit on La Paz. You can drive all the way to Cabanatuan, then follow the road to Rizal Nueva Ecija – then take the Pantabangan road. Warning – Google Maps and Waze may want you to take the road through Bitukang Manok via Bongabon- DO NOT take that route. That road can be scary. There are portions of the road where you may even have to driver over streams – not a bridge over a stream – but an actual stream of water.
Where to Stay: Hotel Motel Charlie Does Inn
I read about the Hotel Motel Charlie Does Inn from a number of blogs when I was researching about Baler. Everyone said that it’s a great place to stay at and the owners and the Inn managers are a pleasure to deal with. So – no hotel receptionists to talk to. If you need something – you just talk to Alpha – the Inn’s manager – or the owners themselves.
The Inn also runs the Groundswell Cafe – which is my favorite hangout in Baler. Note that the Inn is not air conditioned. They only have fan rooms – and the rooms are actually converted truck containers. I didn’t think that I will enjoy staying in such a place – but I did. All rooms have access to a private garden – which is lovely and provides a sanctuary from the outside world.
We paid 2,400 pesos per night – there were three of us. No breakfast included.
I highly recommend checking HMCDI (wanted to type the whole name – but it’s really long 🙂 ). Oh – by the way – they are pet friendly.
Surfing in Baler
If you are visiting Baler – and you are an able bodied male or female, I encourage you to try surfing. It is fun. Sometimes scary. But did I mention it’s fun? Do I hear you say “Yes I will try surfing in Baler!”? Surf lessons go from 300 pesos to 350 pesos an hour. That includes surf rental and you can borrow a rash guard.
Now let me tell you about 7 other things that you must do in Baler.
1. Take a selfie inside the Centuries Old Balete Tree
Hop on to a tricycle and tell them that you want to see the Balete Tree in San Luis. The Balete tree is big. While taking pictures of the tree – I had wonderful visions of taking OOTD pics while I hang onto one of its branches.
But – one of the highlights – for me is entering the tree. You see – a Balete tree when it’s young grows on a host tree. Then – when the Balete’s roots reach the ground – slowly – the host tree dies. So like with this Balete tree – the inside is hollow – I’m assuming that’s where the host tree used to be.
We visited the Balete tree park in the afternoon – so we were capturing the golden light – and inside – it was just magical. Oh – BTW – entering a Balete tree is not as scary as you may think it is. If you think that Elemental creatures are abound – just say “Tabi Tabi po”. In English that means “Please get out of my way”. Which is good fair warning to the invisible spirits because – we can’t see them.
2. Watch the Sunset while hanging out at the Hanging Bridge
Why do we have a facination over hanging bridges? Is it brought about by the queasy feeling that you get while the whole bridge shakes as you walk through it? Is it the thought that any time – one of those ropes can snap and you will need to do an Indian Jones to keep yourself alive?
The Hanging Bridge of Baler provides a magnificent view of where a river meets the sea. If you are lucky – you can also catch a spectacular sunset.
On this trip, I discovered that one of my friends is actually terrified of crossing bridges. So – the major breakthrough is to watch him cross the bridge and come back. He conquered his fear. Hurray!
For me – I just took advantage of the golden glow of the sunset – to have this photo taken.
3. Hike to the Mother of All Falls in Baler (Ditumabo)
Do not believe all the reviews that you read about the trek to Ditumabo falls as an easy trek. It may not be physically challenging – but so many times while we cross streams and hop over slippery rocks – I’ve asked our guide how far away the falls is because my mind was exhausted from thinking of which path I should take to not fall flat on my face. Note – I saw people with tripods and I saw elderly people and mothers carrying their kids and people treking with their dogs – so I guess it is an easy trek for most people – not for me – who was born a klutz.
When we reached our destination – I must admit – all that work to get to the mother falls was worth it. I wish I was able to get close to the actual falls – but the water was flowing so strong that it wasn’t safe to do so. We were also unable to actually swim in the pool because the river’s current is pretty strong.
If you want to do this ( and I strongly recommend that you must ) – please be prepared to get wet and please wear comfortable shoes – and take your time. It’s ok if it takes you over an hour to get to the actual falls – the whole trail is so picturesque. It is not everyday that you get the chance to be as close as this to mother nature.
4. Get on higher Ground – Climb Ermita Hill
Ermita Hill sits 40 meters above sea level. Climb the hill and get a panoramic view of the town and the sea that provides livelihood to the Baler residents. This spot is actually the spot where a number of locals climbed to survive the tsunami of December 27, 1735. That tsunami wiped out the whole town – and the surviving residents had to build from the ground up.
Today – you can walk around the plataeu and apart from catching a glimpse of this view in my picture (which like the hanging bridge shows where the river meets the sea), you can also see other interesting sites like the Aniao islets.
There’s a small chapel – at which I stopped and said a little prayer of thanks for the great day we had touring around the beautiful town of Baler.
5. Eat Suman and Coconut Jam
Filipino delicacies are called “kakanin”. Kanin – is actually rice in Filipino and most of our delicacies are made of rice. Baler is known for their suman. Unlike the suman from the other regions, the Baler suman is made of Mountain Rice – which is why it’s color is purple not white.
I finished a dozen suman in one sitting. I’m typically not fond of suman because the common suman is not sweet. The baler suman is sweet – but even with that sweetness – I found that it’s perfect for pairing with another delicacy of Baler – the Coconut Jam (or latik).
6. Discover Diguisit Beach and the Aniao Islets
Diguisit beach provides an alternative place to stay in Baler – outside of Sabang beach. There is a resort here with a pool and a magnificent view of the Aniao Islet.
Close to the Diguisit beach is the Aniao Waterfalls. It’s a small waterfalls by the roadside. Rocks are again slippery – so you will have to be careful. It reminds me of the waterfalls in Laguna that was next to our campsite when I was a little boy scout.
Like most of the beaches in Baler – the waves are high and strong – so not sure if you’d be brave enough to swim in the waters especially since it’s surrounded by these rocky islets. But if you are looking for a lounging beach – this is the place to be.
7. Drink Coffee and Beer at Groundswell Cafe – Hangout with the Surfers and Locals
All the activities that I talked about requires you to exert some physical effort to enjoy. They’re all wonderful – but if you are looking for a place to hang out after the tiring day of climbing trees and hills, after the surfing, and after crossing hanging bridges – this is where I would recommend you to hang out. Groundswell Cafe is the cafe of Hotel Motel Charlie Does Inn.
They server great coffee. They also serve microbrews. But the best part is the fact that a lot of cool local and visitors hang out here. It is actually normal for the foreigners and the locals to just strike a conversation with you ( or maybe it’s me who strikes a conversation and they don’t look at me like I’m a big weirdo ).
Do you know where Charlie Does got it’s name? It got it from a line in the movie “Apocalypse Now”. The soldiers in the movie went surfing because they said that Charlie doesn’t surf. Charlie is their code name for the Viet Cong. The interesting thing is that when the movie crew left – they actuallly left the surf boards and those were the same surf boards that some local men of Baler used to learn how to surf – which is how surfing was born in Baler.
My friend said that Baler actually reminds her of Bali. They offer almost the same things – beach, the countryside, surfing, hiking. I’ve heard many people say that they’re addicted to Baler. To be honest – one too many times I oftern hear nowadays – forget Boracay – Baler is the place to be. I never really understood that until I actually visited Baler. There’s just something in the town’s overall vibe that makes you want to visit again.