Minalungao National Park in Nueva Ecija used to be a well-kept secret but is now gaining popularity. Its close proximity to the metro makes it a weekend destination for city-dwellers. One of the few remaining natural attractions in Central Luzon, this natural wonder is also a protected landscape by virtue of Republic Act No. 5100 in 1967. Its name “Minalungao” translates to mine of gold in caves, although gold panning has long been a restricted activity here. The landscape here boasts of sea-green waters of the Penaranda river. And towering limestone formations reminiscent of Palawan’s Twin Lagoon in Coron.
The initial plan started out as a trip down south. But due to unforeseen circumstances, the plan changed in the blink of an eye. As it almost always happens when you travel with your friends. In most cases, the unplanned meet-ups are the ones that happen. 😀
A trip to the Rice Granary Capital of the Philippines won out. Finally, we can see this treasured gem of Nueva Ecija that we have been hearing more and more about. We were also excited to try out all the activities that the park offers.
Activities as of April 2015 along the river include swimming, bamboo rafting, river cruise, picnic, zipline, cliff diving, and spelunking in dimly-lighted caves. There’s also a cross you can climb that offers you a view of the Sierra Madre range.
*Update 2016: Hanging bridge
**Note: Day tours only.
San Antonio to Minalungao
We left our friend’s house (in San Antonio, Nueva Ecija) around 9:30 AM. And plotted Minalungao National Park in Google Maps. After a bit of stop at Gapan, we drove as per Google’s directions until we reached a small town. Still seeing houses along the way, we felt assured that there would still be people to ask for directions, in case we got lost. After a few kilometers, we decided to ask a passerby if we were going in the right direction. The guy then told us that we missed the turn and we should go back and take the next street on the right after doing the U-turn. Things then went downhill from there.
Taking the car vs public transportation
Who knew that taking the public transportation to this rising tourist destination is easier than driving your own? Definitely not us. We did our research of course, but then again, with travel, you cannot control everything that can happen even if you’ve prepared for it.
Google Maps vs instinct
Well, trusting is not the correct term per se. But trusting too much. Few times we did not heed our instinct to just turn back and retrace our steps just because Google Maps said that we should take this and this turn next. We found ourselves in deserted roads, with big rocks, dusty, and filled with thorn bushes on the sides. Few times we had to go down to push the car over big rocks on the rough roads that we found ourselves in. Poor, poor car.
Finally, we gave up when we realized that we were already deep inside the mountain and that the car really couldn’t go further anymore because the road won’t let us. Somehow, with the help of many individuals we met along the road, we finally made our way to the correct road leading to the coveted destination.
TIME CHECK: 2:27 PM
Minalungao, at last!
Imagine our sigh of relief when we finally saw the sign announcing that we have truly reached Minalungao National Park. After 5 long and grueling hours!
Immediately, we made our way to the river to rent our bamboo raft. Since we already used up most of the day getting lost, we had to choose wisely how we’re going to spend our remaining time in the park. Rafting, swimming, and zip line won out. Our rented raft came with a kid guide who also was the one navigating the bamboo cottage along the river. Since the river was quite narrow, a guide is really handy to keep you from colliding with another raft, the rocks or a swimmer. The river was shallow in some parts, with the water reaching only knee-deep. Still, there are spots that can allow swimmers to dive from the rocks near the end of the river.
Be advised though, that the emerald waters turn to murky brown during the rainy season so this is best to be visited during the summer months or from November.
The towering limestone formations are definitely the highlight of this natural wonder. You can opt to explore by foot and walk along the rocks up to the cemented path, interspersed with bamboo bridges. It used to be quite tricky to walk along the rocks because of its sharp edges. But when we got here, there was already a paved path to make it easier for visitors.
We chose to skip the cave and the cross based on the blogs we read, and instead decided to try out the zip line at the last minute. I have never liked heights but since the zip line is for two people, I didn’t hesitate anymore to jump at the opportunity. The ride down to the other side gives you a picturesque view of the river and all that it has to offer.
Although promoted as an ecotourism destination, developments such as hotel, cable car, and night zoo are alleged to be in the works. Developments that I dearly hope won’t materialize as I believe that this will not complement the natural attraction and can only prove to be detrimental in the long run.
It is also quite sad to see the river dotted with a few trash here and there and even more in the cottages by the banks of the river. Although our kid guide said that the local government maintains the park weekly. I just hope that future visitors will have discipline and respect not to leave their trash lying around.
Quick Guide to Minalungao National Park
Destination: Minalungao National Park
Location: Sitio Minalungao, Barangay Pias, General Tinio, Nueva Ecija
Coordinates: 15.5167° N, 121.2333° E
Entrance Fee Php 100 (as of March 2018)
Comfort Room Php 10
Minalungao Cave Php 10
Small Bangka Php 250
Big Bangka Php 500
Cottage Php 200
Guide (by donation)
Zipline Php 100 (one way)
Floating Cottage Php 800 – 1,500 (8-10 pax)
Overnight stay at hotel Php 2,000 (4 pax)
Life vest rental Php 25
How to get here: Take a bus to Cabanatuan City from any major bus terminals in Manila. If you ride the “via SCTEX” route, get off at Cabanatuan City Terminal and transfer to another bus for Gapan.
If you choose the “via San Miguel/Bulacan” route, tell the conductor to drop you off at Tinio Street junction in Gapan and wait for a Papaya- or Gen Tinio-bound PUJs. From Gen Tinio market, you can ask for a tricycle that’ll bring you to Minalungao. Reference:
Mobile Signal: very low
Food: there are small stores near the river bank but best to bring your own food
CLAYGO (Clean As You GO) Policy!
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"I understand once again that the greatness of God always reveals itself in the simple things." – Like the flowing river, Paulo Coelho #travel #wanderlust #nofilter #thought #inspirational #quote #travelgram #latergram #traveling #traveldiaries #Minalungao #Philippines #Asia #river #rafting #sun #photo #nature #outdoors #light #explore #travelstoke #wearetravelgirls