2020 was not a year for travel for all of us. The COVID19 pandemic came at a time when we were just starting to pack our bags and getting ready to head out and break in to summer. In a matter of days, we had to lock up inside our homes and, for the next 10 months, had to endure keeping our feet in its place for our safety and everyone else.
Looking back at 2020 and the travel goals that I laid out at the start of the year, I partially explored only one destination that I initially intended to explore. I still vividly remember how the quarantine came around on me in the middle of the trip - the surprised feeling, the confusion, the rush, and the relief that came after. It was a flood of emotions that had me torn between heading back home versus continuing with the trip. There was that voice at the back of your head that was telling you that it’s probably not as bad as we think but there was also that gut feel that it is. In the end, the decision to fly back to Manila proved to be the best decision back then.
Things may not have been the best this 2020 but I did manage to squeeze in a few trips that gave this year a bit of spice. Let me share with you my top 3 destinations for 2020 from my meager list of trips this year.
Surigao del Sur
A majestic waterfall and an enchanting river in Surigao del Sur are my 2020 travel icons. Interestingly, I also happen to be on this trip when the community quarantine was declared and we had to cut it short just for us to get back to Manila just in time before the lockdown took effect. I remember coming back to Hinatuan after a day of exploring the two attractions when the news broke out that PRRD will address the country that evening. We had a a hunch and, in a snap, we had to change our plans.
Tinuy-an Falls is a popular spot on this side of Mindanao and was dubbed as the “Niagara Falls of the Philippines” because of the breadth of its cascade. The attraction was developed by the local government making access to it easier. The development also allowed guests to explore the cascade up close with ease and from different angles. It was a real beauty to admire that I was simply mesmerized by its beauty. I enjoyed the cold water flowing over my feet as I explored the different corners of this majestic waterfalls.
Hinatuan’s Enchanted River is a charmer. The rustic and calm ambiance of the place, matched by its natural beauty, gives the place a mystic feel. The local tale of the river adds spice to its beauty. A dip in its cool waters was an refreshing and energizing as you are surrounded by lush vegetations and serenity. It was really a unique experience in a bucolic setting.
Surigao del Sur is not just about these two iconic destinations. My visit allowed me to interact with sea creatures and get a feel of its old town vibe. Too bad that we had a health crisis that had us canceling the rest of the trip. Well, that means that is is another travel opportunity to complete the experience.
Check out my Surigao travel blog here: #CARAGALangHa: Surig-WOW-ed
Or you can also check out my Surigao adventure video blog here: #ByahengOffTheGrid CARAGA
Dona Remedios Trinidad, Bulacan
A post-quarantine trip to Dona Remedios Trinidad had me in awe of the place. I was surprised to find a ruggedly beautiful destination like this that is close to the metro and offers a lot of activities. DRT was a welcome break from the months of being quarantined at home.
Tila Pilon showcases the rugged terrains of this landlocked municipality. You get to see how blessed this province is with its natural resources and it will get you excited with the possibilities of still-to-be-discovered destinations on this side of Bulacan. The municipality is the least traveled spot in the province and it seems that there are still a lot of places to explore and discover. Now, that is really exciting.
13 Falls was another great day trip adventure that had me trekking and clambering over rocks. I realized how much I missed the outdoors and the physical activity that go with exploring a destination. With a number of cascades to choose from, you are bound to find your own spot to enjoy. Mine was a natural jacuzzi spot at Waterfall #10. This is one destination in DRT that is worth exploring. You will get a full experience of enjoying nature’s beauty while getting physically challenged.
Of course, a 13 Falls adventure is best capped off with the warm savory broth of Binalakawan of Kuya Larry from Avalon Eco-Farm. The local dish will give your taste buds the simple and unique flavor of DRT.
Check out my DRT travel blog here: Dona Remedios Trinidad Na Yan!
Or you can also check out my DRT adventure video blog here: #ByahengOffTheGrid Dona Remedios Trinidad
The political will of Yorme is giving the city of Manila a major facelift. The changes have, no doubt, sparked interest among travelers to take another look at the city. I did took on that challenge this year when I checked on what was happening on this side of the metro. The city is not about to disappoint.
An old and neglected underpass was given a major facelift and has now become a major attraction. A historical park was cleaned up and was given a fresh and hip coffee place to become a huge hit among the younger generation. I will not divulge much about my visit pending the release of my travel blog.
The old city of Manila is getting a fresh look and it is attracting a lot of travelers because of these changes. It was also good that it came in at a time when travel is limited giving the city more opportunities to be re-discovered. It just proves that with the Yorme’s political will and the current health crisis spelled out opportunities for Manila.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
We are coming out of a pandemic that paralyzed the world. Our country needs us more than ever as we recover from this crisis. We need to focus on strengthening local economies by patronizing local products, and that includes patronizing local destinations. I will always repeat the call that we go #PinasMuna. As I have said before, this is the best time to discover Philippine destinations.
As we bid goodbye to the challenging 2020, let us keep our hopes up for 2021. We all look forward to traveling more in 2021 and I hope that we put Philippine destinations as our priority for travel. Let us all contribute and work together for a stronger Philippines in the new year!
Happy New Year, ka-Viajeros!
Tourism is one of the industries that was severely affected by the COVID19 pandemic. The strict travel restrictions and the added costs that go with travel has limited the movement among those who explore. This affected thousands of lives from airline and bus company employees down to local guides and small entrepreneurs in these communities.
However, there are still opportunities to explore destinations although it is very limited. It is usually confined in provinces and regions that share the same quarantine status with minimal travel requirements. For travelers like me, this is a welcome relief from months of staying at home. This week’s travel destination gave more than just that. It was a surprise that such a place exists in the province of Bulacan! This is Dona Remedios Trinidad!
Dona Remedios Trinidad is the largest and the youngest municipality in Bulacan. Established in 1977, it covers one-third of the province’s land area that was originally from the municipalities of Angat, Norzagaray, and San Miguel. DRT’s pristine natural attractions are the least travelled destinations in province, earning it the monicker “Bulacan’s Last Frontier”.
Dona Remedios Trinidad Welcome Arch
The first to greet you once you arrive at Dona Remedios Trinidad is its welcome arch. It is one of the brief stops that is usually included in organized tours. It is a popular stop so expect crowds flocking and having their pictures taken in the area.
From this vantage point, it already gives you an idea of the municipality’s rustic and rugged vibe. The arch is located along the main road that is carved along the hillside of the municipality and runs parallel to a river. The view deck gives you a sneak peek to the rugged and still to be explored beauty of Dona Remedios Trinidad.
Tila Pilon Hills, Brgy. Kalawakan
Dubbed as Bulacan’s version of the Chocolate Hills, Tila Pilon offers a 360-degree view of DRT’s rolling terrain. The municipality sits on the southern side of the Sierra Madre mountain ranges giving it a majestic and rugged terrain to explore and enjoy. If I remember it right, the name was derived from the Spanish word “pilon” that means basin or trough. The hillside looks like an inverted pilon hence the name “Tila Pilon” or like a trough.
One needs to take a 30-minute trek to the view deck of Tila Pilon to appreciate its beauty. The trek weaves through the farmlands of DRT giving you that relaxing provincial vibe. We did our hike early in the morning and we enjoyed the cool and crisp morning whiff of the farmlands. Be aware of your surroundings during the trek and you might be able to catch a glimpse of an eagle that frequents the place.
The last stretch of the hike is a steep ascent to the view deck of the hills. On its base, you get to see the trail heading up and the famous “Tila Pilon” sign. This is one of the perfect spots to have your picture taken as you climb up the hill.
Tila Pilon offers a panoramic view of DRT’s rugged terrains. From this vantage point, you get to see the Sierra Madre mountain ranges. The view will keep you in awe as you get to enjoy the greens, breathe the crisp morning breeze, and feel the warmth of the early morning sun. It was a perfect view to admire after months of quarantine. From here, you get to hike back along an easier trail where locals have installed “photo stops” that guests can enjoy.
I highly recommend that you do the hike in the early morning or late afternoon as the view deck does not have much vegetation for cover. I think it is a good place to catch the sunrise.
Candle Monument / Mount Lumot, Brgy. Camachin
The Candle Monument stands to honor those who gave their lives during the battle against the guerrillas in 1938. The monument was designed as an obelisk with a candle flame on its top as a symbol of freedom. It was installed on the summit of Mount Lumot, the highest peak in the province.
The summit of Mount Lumot offers a panoramic view of the flat plains of Bulacan and Pampanga. You can see the clear contrast of the rugged Sierra Madre mountain ranges and the flat terrains of Central Luzon from
this vantage point. If you are lucky to have a clear day, you will be treated with a good view of Metro Manila and Mount Arayat from Bulacan’s roof.
13 Waterfalls, Brgy. Camachin
A popular day trip destination in DRT, the 13 Falls in Camachin is a waterfalls system that runs through Sapang Adarna. The “waterfalls” is actually a series of cascades that you get to enjoy as you trek up to its headwaters. The trek can be quite a challenge as it will entail river crossing, clambering up slippery rocks and muddy trails, and, at one part, bouldering so you need to make sure that you wear the right footwear.
As much as you would want to see the 13 falls, let me align the reality that there is a high chance that most of these waterfalls will go unnoticed. Why? The cascades are small that you would not even think it is a waterfall. You would actually be surprised that you missed a few along the trail. Don’t worry because it won’t dampen the experience.
Waterfalls 7 to the 13th have more noticeable cascades, compared to the first 6, and its basins are deeper making it more ideal for swimming and cliff diving. Waterfalls 7 or Adarna Falls is a favorite because of its stronger and higher drop. You can enjoy a cold dip and a water massage from the base of Adarna Falls.
Waterfalls 10 became a personal favorite because this is where I found my jacuzzi spot. I really enjoyed my “spa moment” where I laid down on a small puddle of cold water while spring water washed over me giving me a gentle massage. Waterfalls 11 and 12 was a beauty to watch. The twin cascade was majestic when viewed from the base of 11th waterfall.
Finally, Waterfall 13 boasts of a wider and deeper basin where you can enjoy a cool dip or get that adrenaline rush by jumping off its cliff. This is where most of the trekkers congregate before heading back down to the jump-off point.
Avalon Eco-farm and Resort, Brgy. Camachin
Instead of heading back down the 13 Falls trail, our group went on to visit the Avalon Eco-farm and Resort. This farm resort sits atop one of the hills in Camachin and offers a peaceful sanctuary that is close to nature. It is a campsite with basic facilities. It does not have a pool so if you are up for a swim... the 13th waterfall is just a 5-minute hike away.
But what makes this resort popular is Mang Larry’s Binalakawan. This delectable chicken broth dish is a local dish in DRT that is similar to Sinampalukang Manok. It uses the leaves of a local plant to give a sour taste for its rich broth. I really enjoyed the unique flavor of the Binalakawan and that alone made the side trip worth taking.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Mention Bulacan and the first thing that would come into mind is its historical significance and sites. It never crossed my mind that a rugged side of the province exists. Dona Remedios Trinidad gives Bulacan a different face - one that will excite a lot of local and international travelers. What makes it more exciting is that it is only a few hours from the metro. DRT is rugged, untouched, and ready to be explored and discovered.
We still have a lot of destinations to discover in the Philippines. It is amazing to explore an off-beat spot and see it get traction among travelers. Dona Remedios Trinidad is a testament that we do not need to travel very far to appreciate the rustic beauty of our country. All we need is to have an appreciative eye and a keen sense of adventure. Kaya #PinasMuna tayo! Nakabyahe ka na, nakatulong ka pa!
Getting there: Dona Remedios Trinidad is a huge area and one day is not enough to cover all of its major tourist attractions. There are a number of FB travel groups that organizes daytrip and overnight trips to DRT. I recommend World Landing Travel and Buhay Kalye Gala who organized the trips that I joined in to explore Dona Remedios Trinidad.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.