The community quarantine of Luzon was something that everyone was caught... hmm... surprised. I was in the middle of my CARAGA backpacking trip when the announcement came through and, an hour after that, I was already booked for my flight back to Manila. I had to cut short the trip and return 3 days earlier lest I be stranded in Mindanao. Nevertheless, we were lucky that the first three days of our CARAGA adventure were filled with spontaneous runs to the iconic spots of the region.
The CARAGA Administrative Region was created in 1995 under the Ramos administration comprising of the provinces of Dinagat Island, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Agusan del Norte, and Agusan del Sur. With a rich collection of natural attractions and a colorful history and culture, the region is slowly creating its own niche in Philippine tourism. It was no longer just about Siargao, Tinuy-an Falls, or the Enchanted River. The region is packed with a lot of amazing attractions that, to this day, remains rustic and untouched by commercialization.
In the BEGA-ning
The nature of the backpacking trip was evident as soon as I stepped out of the Butuan Airport tarmac. I was literally feeling my way around Butuan city using google map. The city serves as the main gateway of the region. I realized that this was, so far, the most spontaneous trip that I have ever taken. I had no realized plans and all I had was a base itinerary of what attractions to check out in the next 6 days.
After a jeepney ride, a tricycle ride, and a 2-hour bus ride, we found ourselves at the Awa Crossing in Agusan del Sur. This was our first stop for this trip.
Agusan del Sur is a landlocked province rich in natural resources. The province is home to the Agusan Marshland, one of the ecologically significant wetlands in the country, where Lolong, the largest crocodile in the Philippines, was captured. Its rustic attractions, hidden deep in its mountains and forests, are still in its early stages of development compared to its neighboring provinces.
It took us another 30-minutes via habal-habal to get to the jump-off point of Bega Falls, one of the rising attractions of Agusan del Sur. The park, situated in the hinterlands of the municipality of Prosperidad, is about 18 kilometers from Awa Junction. Access is through paved roads so getting to the park is easy. Upon payment of the entrance fees, guests are given a short orientation on the park’s do’s and dont’s before being allowed to enter the Bega Park and Tropical Resort premises.
One needs to traverse down 396 concrete steps to get to the base of the falls. Bega Falls is situated within the 290-hectare locally declared protected area. Its waterfall system is the main centerpiece of the park with 4 major cascades and 12 miniature falls. Tourist facilities were constructed to accommodate day and overnight guests however the maintenance of the facility is an issue that needs to be addressed.
The 2nd waterfall is the first to greet you at its base. It is a beauty on its own with its single cascade into a pool of emerald green waters. It is surrounded by greens giving it a more subtle and relaxing appeal compared to the other cascades. There are picnic facilities in the area and we were lucky that there were only a few guests so we had an unobstructed view of the falls.
Getting to the first falls of Bega requires a short hike through its reserve. The trail starts of as a cemented pathway and then shifts into a dirt trail. We caught a glimpse of another cascade along the way. It was slightly bigger compared to the second. It actually looked like a miniature of the first waterfall.
The first cascade of Bega Falls is a real beauty! It stands majestically with its breadth and height that dwarfs the other cascades. It looked as if it was the matriarch of the waterfalls system. The water cascades into three streams over its rock surface into a pool at its base. A smaller version with four streams stands adjacent to the main cascade.
Luck was on outside when we visited Bega Falls as there were only a few guests in the park. We had an unadulterated view of the falls for hours from different angles. The cool waters were a relief after a three-hour trip just to get an amazing view of Bega Falls. I’d probably opt to go for a intimate face-to-face interaction with Bega Falls aboard a raft next time.
Eats Stop: Tikyo, Prosperidad
Finding our way through the town center of Prosperidad, we stumbled upon a small restaurant two streets away from the bus station - Tikyo. The quaint restaurant is very cozy and stands out for its concept and design. You seldom find this kind of restaurants in small towns of the Philippines. It was a welcome relief for tired and hungry backpackers.
Tikyo has a wide selection of meals to choose from. They have budget meals and they also have a menus that are good for sharing. We shared a meal of lechon kawali and sinigang na isda and it didn’t disappoint. I loved the fish soup because it reminded me of my summer vacations at my grandparents’ place in Cagayan de Oro.
Tikyo is a must-place to have a meal or two when you find yourself in Prosperidad in Agusan del Sur.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
After the huffing and puffing of hiking up the steep stairs back to our habal-habal, I was happy that I caught a glimpse of Bega Falls in its early stages of development as a tourist attraction of Agusan del Sur. Admiring the unadulterated view is going to be a treasured memory. There is a huge chance that, when I make a visit in the future, the view may be the same but the experience may differ
The opportunity to see emerging destinations in its rawness is a prized experience for travelers. Agusan del Sur is one destination that is worth exploring at this time. It offers an amazing experience of communing with nature complete with its rustic ambiance. I just hope that the LGU will be able to sustainably develop Agusan del Sur’s attractions with its old charm intact.
Getting there: Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific have regular flights to Butuan City from Manila and Cebu. From the Bancasi Airport, take a taxi and jeep to the bus station for buses and vans departing for Davao City. Ask the driver to drop you off at Awa Junction (approximately 2 hours from Butuan City) where you can take a habal-habal to Bega Falls. Habal-habal fare is Php150.
Fog slowly rolled in to cover the view of the vibrant valley bustling in Sunday activity below. The valley is the municipality of La Trinidad that has long been living under the shadows of the more popular city of Baguio. Most of the time, its strawberry farm is often mistaken as part of the city of pines. It is only now that La Trinidad is getting out of its shell to offer an eco-tourism experience that stands as its very own.
At the forefront of these eco-tourism drive is the Mount Kalugong Cultural Village. The cultural village is nestled atop a mountain that boasts of a panoramic view of the valley of La Trinidad. The place tries to give its visitors a unique experience with its local culture fused with its natural beauty.
Mount Kalugong is one destination where a perfect day is defined by relaxing under the shade of pine tree covers. The cool mountain wind and the rustling sound of pine needles are sensory experiences that you will enjoy at the cultural village. Communing with nature under the comfort of the forest cover is a rewarding experience.
There are a number of activities that you can enjoy under the shade of its Mount Kalugong’s forest cover. There are swings that you can hop on and enjoy a break from adult stuff. You can share stories while having a picnic or over a meal from AJ Food Hauz, the village’s resident restaurant. A must try is their liempo meal. Or you can just simply go around and explore the nooks and crannies of the village that displays the Cordilleran culture.
Mount Kalugong also offers overnight accommodations for those intending to spend a cold night at the village. You can try out their local huts, camp out in a tent, or go glamping the Cordillera way.
Mount Kalugong’s peak is a unique spot that has an amazing 360-degree view of the La Trinidad valley. It has three view decks that you can explore and enjoy.
The northern view of La Trinidad can be viewed atop its highest point. A 3-minute uphill hike will bring you to a forest opening where it gives you a panoramic view of northern La Trinidad and the mountain ranges of the Cordillera. This is also a good spot where you can have a picnic with family and friends. Just keep your kids away from the edges.
Then there is the rockies side that faces towards Mount Yangbew. From this vantage point, you get to see the sloping hills of La Trinidad. Watch your steps though when navigating through the limestone rock formations as it can a bit tricky and the stones are sharp. But this vantage point gives the most relaxing view of the surrounding hills.
One of the amazing features of Mount Kalugong are its limestone rock formations. Located at the northern part of the village, the limestone formations are a beauty to admire. It reminded me of the formations found in Sagada and El Nido. Only this time, it offers a panoramic view of La Trinidad as the municipality buzzes into Sunday afternoon action. My personal favorite is a formation that I dubbed “Kalugong Rock Dinosaur”. The formation looks like a small Tyrannosaurus Rex giving La Trinidad a huge roar.
The view decks are definitely worth exploring but extra precaution needs to be practiced. It will require a lot of balancing and you also need to watch out for its sharp edges.
Warming Up with Coffee
As the fog started rolling in and blocking the view of the valley, we headed to the Mount Kalugong Kape-An. This small cozy mountain cafe is the best way to cap off your Mount Kalugong experience.
The cafe is an attraction in itself with its collection of just about anything related to coffee. From coffee drips to coffee presses, the owners have a very nice collection on display. You can order a cup of hot coffee and a slice of pastries to warm you up before heading back to the city.
The mountain cabin is warm and cozy exuding that Cordilleran feel of living on the mountains. It also has a makeshift view deck where you can catch a perfect view of La Trinidad on a clear day.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
“Kalugong” is a local term that means hat and Mount Kalugong got its name because its peak is shaped as such. At a height of 1472 meters, it amazes its guests with its unique limestone formations while giving them a commanding view of La Trinidad. These attractions make Mount Kalugong Cultural Village a perfect spot to relax, unwind, and commune with nature.
As we find more Filipinos exploring local destinations, we find more local government units discovering their own brand of tourism. This move opens these spots to new opportunities that give its communities another stream of revenue for its residents. Hopefully, we will be seeing more La Trinidads who will break out from the shadows and give us a new kind of travel adventure.
Getting there: Victory Liner, Genesis Bus, Dagupan Bus, and Solid North have regular daily trips to Baguio City. You can then take a cab to the Baguio City Hall where you can take a jeep for Camp Dangwa. Ask the driver to drop you off at the Benguet Memorial Chapel in Upper Tomay. From the drop-off point, it will be another 30 – 40 minutes of uphill trek to Mount Kalugong Cultural Village.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.