02 May Adventure and art on a day trip from Manila
Most travellers to the Philippines know that is not wise to attempt same day connections when flying in or out of Manila. Flights are often delayed due to air traffic congestion at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), and getting between terminals is no easy task with the heavy road traffic around the airport.
So having a day in Manila on the way in and out of the country is wise planning. There are many things to do in and around the country’s largest metropolis, but few travelers ever think of day-tripping to nearby Rizal province. Rizal is the province that includes the hill country to the east of the city and there are several attractions there for both adventurers and art lovers that can easily be accomplished in a day.
Here are two highlights of Rizal province that are no more than two hours away – and a third option for the not so adventurous:
This conservation area of limestone karst scenery is situated right on the Marilaque Highway less than two hours from the centre of Metro Manila. You’ll need sturdy footwear, sunscreen and a small backpack for carrying water, trail snacks and a change of clothes. Australian travelers can check out the website of Luggage Direct for something suitable if they don’t already have a well-fitting day-pack.
The discovery trail at the Masungi Georeserve takes 3-4 hours to complete and involves climbing over the limestone formations on rope nets and ladders to protect the formations from the damage that would occur if visitors were climbing directly on the limestone.
The trail includes a long hanging bridge and several observation platforms – including one constructed from ropes that looks like a large spider’s web – from which spectacular views of the surrounding countryside can be had.
It’s an unusual trail experience but one that most visitors say is well worth experiencing. However, because groups are limited in size and have to be accompanied by a guide, it is necessary to book in advance – a week ahead is recommended. Transportation can be organised from Manila through the Masungi Georeserve but the best option is to pool resources and hire a car with a driver which in the Philippines costs only about US$40 a day (fuel excluded). For 3-4 people traveling together, that is an affordable option and enables more than one Rizal attraction to be visited in one day.
For backpackers on a budget, there are the cheaper options of taking a bus or van destined for Infanta, and getting off at the 47 km marker on the Marilaque Highway (also known locally as the Marcos Highway).
About six kilometres further along the Marilaque Highway is the turn-off to Treasure Mountain. This is an alternative option to the Masungi Georeserve for travellers who may not have the time to book in advance, or those who might find the 3-4 hours of rope-climbing trails too exhausting. Treasure Mountain does not have as expansive an area of limestone karst scenery as the Masungi Georeserve – in fact it only has a few small outcrops – but it does have even more spectacular views over the Sierra Madre mountains.
The other attraction of Treasure Mountain is the picturesque ‘sea of clouds’ that forms in the valley below the lookouts most mornings. But an early start is required to be sure of seeing this natural phenomenon because often the low cloud starts to clear after 8.00 am. But even an afternoon visit is worthwhile because Treasure Mountain offers one of the best views of the Sierra Madre close to Manila, and it doesn’t involve a lot of hiking to reach the lookouts.
The road to the Treasure Mountain campsite from the Marilaque Highway is about 2 km long. It is rough in places but passable with care by most vehicles in dry weather. In wet weather a four-wheel-drive vehicle would be necessary.
From the campsite’s parking area it is only a few hundred metres walking to lookouts from which unimpeded views of the Sierra Madre ranges can be enjoyed. There is a small café selling drinks and snacks near the car parking area. Backpackers can take the Infanta bus or van to the Treasure Mountain turn-off and then hire a tricycle to take them the rest of the way.
Pintô Art Museum
For art lovers this complex of colonial inspired buildings in Antipolo is the highlight of Rizal province’s many attractions. It can be easily visited on the way back to Manila from either the Masungi Georeserve or Treasure Mountain because it’s only about 30 minutes off the Marilaque Highway.
The Pinto Art Museum is made up of six very photogenic galleries set in landscaped tropical gardens with many indigenous and contemporary artworks on display in both the galleries and gardens. There is also an excellent restaurant serving international food, coffee and cocktails that is very popular with locals at the weekends. Note that the museum and restaurant are closed on Mondays.
It’s worth allowing two to three hours for a visit here because there are so many nooks and crannies to explore, and many visitors spend half a day just taking photographs around the gardens or relaxing over a meal on one of the outdoor patios of the restaurant.
Although the museum has only been open since 2010, it is already one of the 25 most Instagramed museums in the world. All three attractions can be easily visited in a day trip from Manila, and provide a unique opportunity to combine adventure, art and a good culinary experience in one excursion.