A Visit to Minalungao National Park in Nueva Ecija

Barangay Pias, General Tinio , Nueva Ecija province -Philippines

Lakad Pamana , Tropang Gala and the author organized a tour last April 9 at the Minalungao National Park  sometimes spelled Minalongao . The visit is timely , because it is the peak of summer season and tourists numbers are high.

After we toured the old ancestral houses of Gapan . We left the place at around past 10:30am on our way to the site. It was about 18 kilometers kilometers and took us about  1 hour and 20 minutes when we arrived near Minalungao National Park . General Tinio used to be called Papaya because of the number of papaya plantations , locals would still refer the place until now.

Minalungao National Park and Peñaranda River ( Photo courtesy of Ms. Lea Barcinal ) 

We arrived past 12:00 noon and the van was charged Php 30.00 which was manned by children . Then, there is another sentry point where we were charge again Php 40.00 per head . Some of the participants try to haggle the price down, All their efforts came in vain since it fell on deaf ears.  We were given tickets which were also surrendered at the parking area, so we do not know who printed the tickets if it was DENR or local officials. We have to wait for some cars/ vans to move before we can get a decent parking space.  The cellphone signal is weak because of the surrounding mountains are blocking the signal .  The local barangay is not responsible for any damage or whatever valuables you may loose inside your car, try to park cautiously .

rock formations

One of our companion/ blogger friend Mr. Dennis Dy Kho predaking168.blogspot had already visited the  national park several years ago ( 8 years ago).  He told us, that it used to be rustic and very few people would visit the place even at the height of summer months. Now  – There are huge number of visitors coming from different areas .

public comfort room , – they charge Php 10.00 per head

It is a  protected area located in Barangay Pias , within the municipality  of General Tino , Nueva Ecija  in Central Luzon . The park covers an area of 2,018 hectares. centered along the scenic Peñaranda River bordered on both sides by up to 16-meter high limestone walls in the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountain range. It was established in 1967 by virtue of Republic Act No. 5100. There are still some local birds , macaques and  monitor lizards which can be spotted .

bamboo raft

One can choose different kinds of outdoor activities from river cruising , picnic by the river , renting a place with videoke , swimming, spelunking, nature and bird watching , hiking on top of the cross or just simply enjoying the wonders of mother nature .

bamboo rafts and floating cottages for rent

Remember to bring extra cash , renting a cottage can range from Php 200 small ones to Php 3,000 ( with videoke facilities and good for 30 pax)  . Bamboo raft would cost another Php 250 small ones and between Php 800 to Php 1,500 for large ones ( group of 4 to 10 people ) depending on the capacity of the bamboo raft ( without cottage and with cottage ). the small cottages beside the river are usually packed with people.

newly built picnic pavilion with newly planted fox tail palms

There were newly planted fox-tail palms within the picnic pavilion area. We just left to wonder ‘why’ they landscaped the place with non-endemic and non-indigenous plant species. They should have consulted with DENR or the local government should had an idea on what plant species  can be planted within the park premises. BUT based on what we saw, the park is getting overly developed and commercialized.

newly built building on the right side

We also saw newly paved cemented walkways or pathways within limestone rocks and multi-story building which  will soon open as hotel/ visitor center. One does not need a degree on environmental preservation to see the impact on one’s ecology.  I must agree with everyone’s observation that the newly constructed building is indeed an eyesore .

buffet lunch

 There are some eateries selling grilled food and home style meal, But we availed the catering services of Arki’s Tambayan . We were able to rent-out a cottage and our lunch menu consists of grilled liempo, boneless bangus, buttered prawns, steam okra, chicharon, grilled stuffed squid, korean style fried rice, ordinary rice, tofu sisig , creamy sisig , boiled peanuts, binurong isda – fermented fish with side drinks of fresh water melon juice or lemon with cucumber juice. There is also dessert of pastillas de leche from San Miguel , Bulacan and fresh slices of watermelon and cantaloupe

L-R Mr. Micheal Candelaria , .Mr. Andrew Cua together with Mr.Marlou Madrid 12 years-old  and Niko C. Resilva 11 years -old

A local guide is readily available around the area, even kids can be your guide and our guides were two local kids aged 11 and 12 years-old . The young tour guides aged between 10 to 17 years-old are sometimes called part-timers , Since they are only available during summer time , whenever there are no classes and they are not allowed to guide people on difficult terrain.   There are also much older tour guides for hire  .  You have a choice to see the entire national park by foot or by boat. We opt to hike around the cave network and climb the cross.  It was almost 2:30pm when we started our journey to the cave system. We told our young guides to take us to the most common pathway , since there are different entry and exit points and we told them that we also have some middle -aged participants .

  man-made graffiti on the cave

We did some personal interviews to know more about our young tour guides. The story is almost the same as the kids from Malangaan Cave  in San Rafael, Bulacan. They just want to learn a little extra money for their families and some cash for their ‘ baon ‘ allowance in school. This is also the chance to earn a little bit from the tourists.  What is good about the two kids that we met is that they are still going to school and wanted to finish . They are also helping their families by augmenting their income.

cave entrance with signage

vandalism of the cave walls ,  garbage ,  introduction / planting of non-native plant species are the most evident realities that can can encounter when you visit this place. So please try to bring black disposal plastic bags and properly dispose your garbage .

Mr. Niko C. Resilva – pointing one of the cave entrance

 We tried to pool our individual donations into a small envelope so that the small token amount can be shared between the two guides. If you ever try to encounter these two kids , do not hesitate to give them some cash and even foods.

hanging bridge

It was past 3:30pm when we finished spelunking and nature trek, some of the participants went back to the cottage and ate some fresh fruits like watermelon and cantaloupe melon, While we tried to cross the hanging bridge which connects the rocky trail on our way to the cross .

cement staircase going to the cross and grotto

Since it was still very hot , the trek going up is not easy and we saw a lot of people going down without finishing the 947 steps . It took us 30 minutes to 45 minutes to climb the cemented stairs . Planting native trees and native plants within these areas seems to be quite feasible .

Missionary Innyoung ” Ester” Choi memorial marker December 16, 1959 to April 13, 2012

We only stopped over and pay our tribute to Missionary Innyoung ” Ester”  Choi memorial marker where her remain is enshrined . Locals said that her ministry had help to construct cement staircase and cross on top of the mountain . Aside from different philanthropic works that her group did within the community .

group photo- courtesy of Ms. Leilani Concepcion

Mr. Igor Golubez ,Mr. Philip Reyes, Mr. Dennis Maristany , Mr. Micheal Candelaria were among the first people from to reach the cross .They were the first to cross the hanging bridge and proceeded with the hike going to the summit .  We were left waiting for several minutes .

cross on top of the hill

Mr. Andrew Cua ( Tralulu Travel)  and the author finally reached the summit about 5 to 10 minutes after the first group and then Ms. Leilani Concepcion followed us. We decided to take a group photo of the ones who reached the summit .

I bought 2  bottled 375ml water to quench my thirst . It cost Php 25.00 per bottle on the summit.

group photo at the summit- photo by Ms. Leilani Concepcion

We also saw the group of Mr. Jhone Gorme and Ms. Rheeza Hernandez on our way down . Almost everyone took the great climb. We finally left the place at around past 5:30pm just in time after the sunset .

How to Travel to Minalungao National Park

1.) If you can muster to gather between 10 to 15 people, try to rent a van or a Nissan Urvan going to Minalungao National Park – during this time of the year , It is better to leave Metro Manila before dawn preferably around 3:00am to 4:00am- Travel time is faster going to Minalungao between 4 to 41/2 hours from Quezon City  . You can share the cost between the group of friends or co-workers. ( I think , This is more economical and faster way to reach the place ) the only difference is just a few hundred of pesos.

2.) Take a bus bound Gapan/Cabanatuan. Available bus companies from Cubao/Pasay or Cubao like Five Star, ES Transport, Baliwag Transit . Travel time may take from 2-3 hours. Try to get the earliest time schedule around 4:00am in Cubao. Php 150 fare

3.) From Gapan City , you can have two options

(A) ride a jeep bound to General Tinio formerly known as Papaya ( jeepney fare cost between Php 25 to Php 35 )  and then from city proper ride a trike going to park (Php50 each according to the tricycle operator around the park)

(B) rent a trike from Gapan to Minalungao National Park. Estimate travel time is 1-1.5 hours (Php500-700 per tricycle depending on your haggling skills). This option is hassle free because you knew that there will be a tricycle waiting for you if you want to go back to city in anytime you want.

Travel Tips:

1.) Try to visit the park during weekdays – We already see the large volume of people when we visited the park on saturday . You can encounter parking problems, lack of cottages and even long lines at the bathroom.

2.) Try to go there during the start of the dry season – around late November to middle of June – The river and some parts of the cave system can get flooded and very muddy .

3.) If you can bring foods , try to bring food and even water , sometimes water can be quite expensive at the park. Try to bring spare change or loose change for tips.

4.) It is advisable to bring an SUV , Van or Nissan Urvan if you are a big group. The road is still passable during dry season.

5.) If you lived within Metro Manila- try to leave as early as possible , There are traffic choke -up point in Mindanao Avenue exit, Balintawak  exit, Bocaue exit,Malinta exit  Candaba, San Miguel , Gapan .

Note: All photos are from the author except those with photo courtesy- Those are owned by the participants who joined the tour and thus permission were sought to use their photos for this blog.

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