Two towering limestone chiseled by the flowing Peñaranda River in the middle, Minalungao National Park in Nueva Ecija reminded me of my Canyoneering trip in Cebu. Yet, I quickly realized that it was a different kind of adventure – serene, laid-back, and family-centered. It is something close to home.
How To Get To Minalungao National Park, Nueva Ecija
The sun was already peering through the horizon, painting a golden hue all over the rice fields of Nueva Ecija when we reached Minalungao National Park situated in the Municipality of General Tinio. As locals of the province, we started our journey at the break of dawn, and it took us one and a half hour via private transport.
- From Manila take NLEX
- Take Sta. Rita Exit and follow MacArthur Highway (AH26) until reaching Gapan City
- In Gapan City, ask locals on the different available Minalungao Trails
- Traverse Minalungao Trail until reaching Minalungao National Park
- Ride Cabanatuan-bound bus in Cubao (i.e. Five Star Bus, Baliwag Transit, ES Transport)
- Get off at Gapan City
- Hire a tricycle to bring you to Minalungao National Park
Note: Make sure to NOT ride a Cabanatuan-bound bus via SCTEX because these buses does not ply through Gapan City
Our early morning arrival was greeted by the serenity of the place. Hours before the downpour of local tourists. We rented a bamboo raft and ate our breakfast on the middle of the river. Our simple meal tasting better as we enjoyed it while being awe-struck by the sheer height and beauty of the limestone walls.
After eating breakfast, we decided to explore one of the many caves mentioned by the local guide. The cave’s entrance was on top of one of the limestone walls. It was easily accessible as concrete steps were already made; my mother, who’s 50 years old, had reached the entrance after a couple of short breaks to catch her breath. The cave was similar to the Lumiang and Sumaguing Caves of Sagada, Mountain Province. We – being majorly comprised by those who were in their late 40s to early 50s – decided not to do the cave exploration. We decided to swim instead and enjoy the beauty below.
Things To Do In Minalungao National Park, Nueva Ecija
When we reached the river from our visit to the cave, the park was already bustling with tourists – easily on the thousands. The Peñaranda River which we virtually owned less than an hour before was now sprawled by close to fifty bamboo rafts rented by families, extended families, friends, schoolmates, officemates, and god-knows-what-other-groups.
Don’t get me wrong. Yes, it was crowded but greater than that, it imbued a homey feeling: seeing the families enjoying, the deafening noise of sisters chatting after being long separated by time, and the children having the time of their life, water splashing and their laughter. Hell! I, myself, enjoyed – more than I expected – my stay in Minalungao National Park.
Aside from exploring numerous caves, there are loads of other things to do in Minalungao National Park:
- Swimming (of course!): you can jump out of your raft and swim on the river. Just be careful, the river has uneven depth and strong undercurrent. The reason, I think, why it was known to take many lives before it became a popular local tourist destination
- Rafting: for those who didn’t rent their own bamboo raft, there were rafts that do tours through the river.
- Zip-line: there’s a zipline smack on top of the river! For a minimal fee, you can try it. I did not.
- Hanging Bridge: a hanging bridge was also built on the entryway just before the two limestone. It gives another perspective of appreciating the park.
- Cliff Diving (my favorite!): there are many diving/jumping spots throughout the span of the river. Just ask the local guides for the safe spot. Alternatively, look where the local kids were jumping. [side note: I tried jumping on top of a boulder in the middle of the river. It took me 10 full-minutes to calm my shaking knees and do the jump, but it was awesome!]
After enjoying the water and the peace and harmony, after some photo ops, and after breathing-in the familial that Minalungao National Park offered, we departed. We spent only three hours in the park but it was eternal, it gave me the moments I so cherished, the moment with my mother – with my family. Soon, I had to be back on the island, but this short escapade was something I will treasure.
Photos courtesy of Ameer Nalundasan