BALER ON A BUDGET: Travel Guide & Itinerary 2017

Every traveler goes through a series of awakenings. The first is usually the moment when it dawns on them that they are born to wander.

Mine happened in Baler. I was a high school sophomore, attending a Boy Scout Regional Jamboree held in Aurora, which was part of Region IV-A at the time. I spent over 16 hours in a packed chartered jeepney from Batangas to Baler, my long-distance travel debut. With eyes wide open and heart full of awe, I saw Aurora as a wonderland. Our camp was set up in a clearing by the stream, in between a lush forest and an ivory coast. Over a few days, we saw our first waterfall, and enjoyed fine beaches and mountaineering trails. I was never the same again.

     

It’s because of this that I did not want to return to Aurora — it’s the fear of shattering a perfect image I painted in my head when I was a kid. I was afraid that, like most good things in life, Baler too has changed and it would not be the same place that I carefully guarded in my juvenile recollections. I was 13 years old then. I’m 31 now. It’s been 18 long years.

But the time to return has come.

 

Understanding Baler

It all started when, all of a sudden, we felt a strong desire to learn how to surf. It’s something that we had never tried before, even though we had been to a number of surfing havens around the world. Pagudpud is too far. La Union, we had just visited a few months before. Scanning the map for somewhere close, Baler was naturally brought up. For the past several years, Baler has been synonymous with surfing.

A lot has changed since my visit as a kid. First, travel time is much shorter and comfortable. From Manila, Baler can now be reached after only a 5-6-hour drive on generally paved roads. The province has also been moved from the jurisdiction of Region IV-A (Southern Tagalog) to Region III (Central Luzon).

It’s a small town whose recorded history can be traced back to 1609 when it was founded by Franciscan missionaries. When we were talking to locals, we noticed that they put Ermita Hill in such high regard. Our surfing instructor pointed to it proudly a few times during the session. The caretaker of the hotel where we were staying encouraged us to see it too. It wasn’t until we were there that we finally understood the significance of the place. In 1735, a tsunami ravaged the town and killed thousands. Only six families, who were able to run to the top of Ermita Hill, survived. Our guide shared that most of the population can trace their roots to any of the six families.

Today, although Baler is much more connected to the rest of the world, it remains a small town. It is the capital of Aurora but it is not a city, so don’t expect the capricious comforts or whims you’re used to in the metro. Life here is still simple and pretty laid-back.

  • Language: Tagalog mostly. But there are a few Ilocano speakers. English is widely understood.
  • Currency: Philippine peso (PhP). PhP100 = USD2, EUR 1.65, KRW 22000, JPY218
  • Mode of payment: Cash. There are a few ATMs in town so it would be best to have cash before your visit.

 

How to Get to Baler from Manila

The easiest way to reach Baler is by bus. There are direct buses available from Cubao in Quezon City. You have two options:

Image courtesy of Genesis Transport Service Inc.
  • GENESIS BUS. The cheap option. Your typical air-conditioned bus that makes a few stops throughout the trip. Travel time: 6-7 hours. Fare: P550.
  • JOYBUS. The comfortable option. A non-stop bus service with more comfortable seats, much bigger legroom, blankets, pillows, and even snacks. Travel time: 5-6 hours. Fare: P750.

But there’s an even cheaper option. You can travel to Cabanatuan by bus (Another option is to travel to Cabanatuan by bus (P185) and then by van to Baler (P220).

 

Where to Stay in Baler

First things first: If you’re visiting on a weekend or holiday (especially in summer), you might want to book way in advance. Baler is small and rooms can sell out easily on peak dates.

The two properties below are the highest-rated on Traveloka (based on both Traveloka scores and TripAdvisor ratings).

Budget Option: Smart Beach House

Smart Beach House, a beachfront property, has air-conditioned rooms that are good for 4pax for only P2700 per night. That’s only P675 per person.

Smart Beach House

Check Rates & Availability

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Splurge Option: Costa Pacifica

If you have more moolah (money), Costa Pacifica is a great choice. It boasts excellent amenities like free wifi and a pool facing the beach. Room for 2 is at around P6350 per night.

Costa Pacifica

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Photos above were provided by the resorts via Traveloka.

 

Search for more: Baler Hotels

 
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How to Get Around Baler

If you have your own car, it will be very easy to explore Baler. The roads are mostly paved, and tourist attractions are not that far apart. If you want, you can just hire a guide to give you directions and more local insights about each stop. Guide fee: P500.

Otherwise, you have four options.

    By van. P2500 per day. Good for up to 10 pax.
    By tricycle. Full day tour, P800 per day. Half-day tour, P300. Up to 3 pax.
    By bicycle. Mountain bike rental, P300 per day or P35 per hour.
    By motorcycle. Cheapest motorbike rental we found, P800 per day. Not sure if there are lower options.

Note that these rates don’t include entrance and parking fees, which we will indicate in the “Places to Visit” section below.

For short distances, you may travel by tricycle for only P10-P20 per person, depending on the distance.

 

Places to Visit in Baler

With the exception of Ampere Beach, all these can be visited by taking a tricycle or van tour. If your hotel is close to Sabang Beach, you can skip this and just enjoy the beach another day since it’s near anyway.

If you’re on a tricycle tour, you will need to transfer to habal-habal to get to Dicasalarin Cove or PAGASA Viewpoint because the road is too steep for trikes. Make sure you make prior arrangements.

Sabang Beach

Sabang Beach, the most accessible swimming and surfing spot in Baler. The water here is shallow but the swell strong, which makes it an ideal place to learn to surf. Here are the rates:
Surfboard rental + instructor fee: P350 per hour
Surfboard rental only: P200 per hour or P800 per day

You may contact our surfing instructor who was very patient with us during our session. Here are his details:

  • Ian: 09281850211

 

Ditumabo Mother Falls

Located in San Luis. Will require a 20-minute hike. There are food stalls (selling hotdogs, kwek-kwek, lumpia, banana cue, camote cue, etc) along the trail. You can grab a quick breakfast here on your way back. If you can, visit in the early morning to avoid the crowd.

Note: Some people will tell you that vans and cars are not allowed to go to the start of the trail, and only tricycles can take you there (P200 roundtrip). That’s NOT TRUE. Private cars can go.

Entrance Fee: P30 per person
Parking Fee: P30 per vehicle
Tour Guide Fee: P200 per guide

 

Diguisit Falls

A quick, easy climb is required. But it can get slippery in the afternoon, when drenched guests have wetted the trail.

Entrance Fee: FREE
Cottage Rental: P200

 

Aniao Rock Formations and Lukso-lukso Islets

Aka Diguisit Islets. A handful of picturesque islets peppering the rocky coast near Diguisit Falls.

Entrance Fee: P20 per head

 

600-Year Old Balete Tree

A ginormous banyan tree. You can also go inside it for a fee.

Entrance Fee: P15
Parking Fee: P10 per vehicle
If you want to go inside the tree: P10

 

Ermita Hill

Where the six families who survived the tsunami ran to. From here, you can enjoy a great view of Baler town and Sabang Beach and other surrounding areas. The entrance fee goes to the scholarship of several students at a nearby college.

Entrance Fee: P15
Parking Fee: P10

 

Dicasalarin Cove

A private beach tucked neatly behind the hills of Baler. If you plan on visiting, you will have to register beforehand at Costa Pacifica. (The two properties are owned by the same owner.) If you want to maximize your stay here, we recommend dedicating an entire morning.

Again, tricycles can’t access this because the road is too steep so you might want to pre-arrange a habal-habal ride to take you to Dicasalarin from the trike dropoff point. Your tricycle driver likely knows someone.

Opening hours: 8am-5pm
Entrance Fee: P300 (P100 for Costa Pacifica guests)
Habal-habal ride: P200-P300 roundtrip

 

Other Baler Tourist Spots:

  • Ampere Beach
  • PAGASA Viewpoint
  • Baler Museum
  • Aurora House
  • Baler Church
  • Hanging Bridge

 

Where to Eat in Baler

The three food places that stood out for us are: Kublai, Bayler View, and Dialyn.

Kubli Bistro. A newly opened restaurant in Poblacion. Without a doubt, it is here that we had our best dining experience in town. The food is delish, the place clean, the servings humongous, and the service impeccable. They are proudest of their kubli rice (P345), but it was just okay. But we absolutely loved everything else we tried. Order their barbeque skewers (P275), sisig a la bopes (P230), buffalo wings (P285), and adwas iced tea (P65). Every serving is good for around 3 pax.

Bayler View. A simple open-air restaurant by the beach. Their menu is loaded with Pinoy and western options. Judging from the tables during our visit, Pinoy spaghetti is a favorite. But we loved their perfectly cooked Buttered Chicken, despite being too sweet for my taste.

Dialyn’s Bakeshop. An iconic establishment in Baler famous for their brazo de mercedes, yema swirl, asado buns, and more.

 

Sample Baler Itinerary with Expenses Breakdown

Here’s a sample Baler weekend itinerary (3 days, 2 nights). You can tweak this to fit your needs and preferences.

Note that the costs indicated here are per person. However, this itinerary assumes you’re a group of 4, splitting the bill. The cost per stop covers the entrance fee, parking fee, and guide fee (if applicable). For the breakdown, just check out at the “Places to Visit” section above.

Since there are 4 in the group and a tricycle can accomodate only 3, charter 2 tricycles so everyone’s comfortable.

Day 1: DICASALARIN + SURFING
01:30 am – ETD Genesis Bus Cubao – P550
08:00 am – ETA Baler
08:30 am – Early hotel check in or baggage drop
09:00 am – Start Tricycle Tour – P250 (P500/2 pax)
09:30 am – Transfer to habal-habal – P150 (P300/2 pax)
09:40 am – Dicasalarin Cove – P300 + P50 parking
11:40 am – Aniao Rock Formations – P20
12:00 pm – Diguisit Falls – FREE
01:00 pm – Lunch at Poblacion (end tour)
02:00 pm – Back at hotel, rest
03:30 pm – Surf time at Sabang Beach!
05:30 pm – Watch sunset
06:10 pm – Freshen up at hotel
07:30 pm – Dinner at Bayler – P200
10:00 pm – Lights out

Day 2: DITUMABO FALLS + TOWN TOUR
07:00 am – Start tricycle tour – P250 (P500/2pax)
07:30 am – Ditumabo Falls – P95 per person (parking, guide, entrance)
09:30 am – Balete Park – P30
10:30 am – Continue tour: see other stops
12:30 pm – Lunch at Kubli Bistro (end tour) – P250
02:00 pm – Back at hotel, check out
03:30 pm – Joybus to Manila – P750

If you’re a group of 4 and you stay in a quad room at Smart Beach House, each of you should prepare around P3800. If you want to surf, add P200 per hour for the board rental.

If you have your own ride and you have a P2500 budget for gas and toll fees (divided by 4 pax), the same itinerary will set you back P2400 per person.

You can still reduce the cost by doing the following:

  • Eat at cheaper eateries. The sample itinerary above urges you to eat at Bayler View or Kubli Bistro, but there are much cheaper food places around town. P100 should be more than enough for a decent meal.
  • Wrap up your tour early so you could catch the 2pm Genesis bus to Manila instead of taking the Joybus. It will save you P200.
  • As mentioned, the cost will drop significantly if you have your own ride and your group is bigger. This way you have more to split the gas and toll expenses with.

This travel guide is a work in progress. We’ll be updating this when we remember something and every time we return. If you have more to add, let us know in the comments section below.


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