Jun 29, 2020
The alarm goes off at 1:30 a.m. on a Saturday. Usually if I’m up at this time, it’s because I’m still prowling the bar scene. Today is different. We have a 2 a.m. meet with other people crazy enough to wake from slumber at this ungodly hour. The glaring neon lights of a 24-hour Mickey D’s jolt me to full consciousness as I meet the rest of the group, all decked out with the appropriate gear— hiking shoes, day packs and water bottles—and all surprisingly chirpy. We hop into our cars and in the dead of the night set off on the roughly two-hour drive to adjacent Rizal province.
It’s pitch black when we reached our destination at the foot of Mount Hapunang Banoi. Armed with flashlights and headlamps, we snake through a small village and start a steep climb. It rained last night and our feet sink deep into mud. The makeshift steps are mossy, wet and treacherous. Halfway into the climb, hot and humid, we pause at a rest area to take a breath. As dawn breaks, the sky slowly morphs from ominous indigo to promising periwinkle, brightening as we continue our ascent. As we scramble across jagged limestone formations the trek turns into a rock climb; gripping with gloved hands—at times for dear life—we finally reach the peak.
Nothing is more satisfying than having truly scaled a mountain. While the view of the Sierra Madre range and neighboring countryside is breathtaking, I’m just as elated at the sense of accomplishment that comes with the exercise— stepping out of my comfort zone, pushing my physical and mental boundaries, and arriving at a place of peace that only nature can bring.
When one lives in a true megalopolis like Manila, there is a desperate need to escape the urban jungle. Fortunately, just a relatively short drive away, there are hiking trails through resplendent nature that offer respite and nourishment for the mind, body and soul.
“The nature around Metro Manila is very diverse and real; just being in it immediately fills you with positive energy,” says Cody Sarreal, co-founder of local hiking outfit Trail Adventours (trailadventours.com; tours from P1,500 per person). The Manila native started hiking at the age of eight with his father and brothers, and has since scaled all of the Philippines’ main peaks. His favorite is Mount Kanlaon in the Visayas, an active volcano with “a wide-open scree trail that feels like you’re on Mars. Once you’ve reached the caldera, you can see the mouth of the volcano below, daunting and exciting.” For your next escape from the city, here are five more of his top hikes just outside of Metro Manila.
1. MOUNT NAGSASA, ZAMBALES
“Who wouldn’t love a day hike to a peak overlooking the sea?” The peak in question, known to locals as Mount Bira-Bira, is three hours from the city. It takes around four hours from base to mountaintop, but you can make it a longer summit-to-sea experience by descending to Nagsasa Cove, where you can cap off a sweaty hike with a refreshing dip in the ocean. The hike is suitable for beginners.
2. MOUNT DARAITAN, RIZAL
“If you’re up for a quick yet challenging hike, Mount Daraitan is highly recommended,” Sarreal says. Located in Tanay, Rizal, two hours from Manila, this mountain offers a scenic view of the tropical forest of the Sierra Madre and the natural architecture of its limestone boulders and white marble stones. After a challenging hike, Tinipak River at the foot of the mountain is the perfect place to cool off, as it’s considered the cleanest river in the Calabarzon Region. Great for intermediate hikers; a guide is required.
3. MOUNT PINATUBO, TARLAC
This stratovolcano had a major eruption in 1991, but is now one of the most popular day-trip destinations from Metro Manila. Its major attraction is a color-morphing crater lake that changes from green to turquoise blue depending on the weather. An adventure here starts with a 4×4 ride through lahar, or mudflow, formations, and ends with a beginner-friendly hike to the crater. Sarreal adds: “You might also have a chance to interact with the Aetas, who are known to be among the first inhabitants of the Philippines.”
4. MOUNT BATULAO, BATANGAS
Mount Batulao is one of the first mountains that opened for hiking tourism. It’s no surprise—its rolling slopes and cool weather make it easily accessible for first timers, and its 360-degree summit view gives it all-round appeal. Fun fact: the name Batulao comes from the phenomenon bato sa ilaw, which translates to ‘a light between two rocks,’ which refers to the sun setting between the two peaks of Mount Batulao, which occurs at the end of every year.
5. LAIBAN CIRCUIT, RIZAL
This destination offers a wide range of experiences, from trekking in a tropical forest to climbing along limestone rocks to dipping in waterfalls. The circuit is located in picturesque Tanay, Rizal, so you’ll want to grab this opportunity to ride on top of the jeepney during the drive to the jump-off point. “If you trek before sunrise, you’ll have the chance to catch a sea of clouds from the summit,” Sarreal says. He gives it a three out of 10 for difficulty, suitable for beginners