NOTE: As of July 2014, the tour operator ATV Ride Naga no longer operates.
Visitors to Naga City in Bicol often get a good dose of church-hopping, a few hours wakeboarding at CWC, and a great food trip around Naga’s many restaurants. Those who have more time usually go island-hopping around Caramoan, made famous by hit reality show Survivor.
It’s great to know that my hometown is now promoting nature adventure tours as well. During an impromptu vacation to visit my folks in Naga, I got invited to try out a tour aboard an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) courtesy of Naga Excursions, a travel agency established by tourism stakeholders in the city who work in partnership with travel and tourism operators, hotels, restaurants, transport services and others.
The meet up point was at the ATV Ride Naga terminal strategically located in the Crossroad Shell Station, Magsaysay Avenue, Naga City. When I got there, I ran into fellow Pinoy Travel Blogger (PTB) member Glen of Escape Manila, who also happened to be in Naga on the 16th day of his 50-day backpacking trip (#PHL50) around the Philippines.
We found out that ATV Ride Naga offers several half-day adventure tour packages to Mt. Isarog, which a group can avail of from either 8am-12nn or 1pm-5pm. The first option is to drive to Haciendas de Naga Adventure Park, which has a swimming wave pool complex and a golf and driving range being developed. This option is suited for families with kids. The second option is the Hotspring Tour to Panicuason Hotspring Resort and Nature Park, a resort with 4 natural hotspring pools, 2 fresh water pools, a climbing wall and a forest zipline. The third option is the Malabsay Tour, which takes guests through a jungle trail to go swimming in Malabsay Falls and Nabuntulan Falls in Mt. Isarog Natural Park.
We got the Mt. Isarog Double Treat, a whole day tour that covers Malabsay Falls and the Hotsprings, since the two destinations are relatively close each other. After a safety orientation and test drive of the ATVs in a field near the Basilica Church, we proceeded through the side streets of Naga City and rough road trails leading up to the entrance of Mt. Isarog Natural Park, roughly an hour’s drive away. The 20km route took us through off-road trails, with views of rice farms, corn fields, coconut plantations, and a scenic view of Mt. Isarog and Naga-East highlands.
I’ve been to Malabsay and Nabuntulan Falls during a previous trip with friends but I have to say, the place looks better now. Since operations were turned over to the local government, there have been more efforts to make the place more accessible to tourists and to keep the place litter-free. The last time I went here, it took a 30 minute trek from the parking area. However, on rugged vehicles like 4 x 4s, ATVs and dirtbikes, the place is just about a 5-8 minute drive from the paved road. From the entrance, it’s a short 5-minute hike down, and you’re already at the foot of Malabsay Falls.
After suffering in the sweltering heat of Manila, taking a dip in the icy cold basin at the foot of the falls was just so refreshing. The water here is so cold that locals just dip bottles of softdrinks and other beverages in the water to instantly refrigerate them. You’ll immediately get the chills and goosebumps if you just take a slow dip. My companions suggested that the best way to combat the cold was to dive off the from a spot on the rocks about 20-feet up. It didn’t look that high up until I was at the top of the stairs looking into the water below. A few locals jumped down before us from an even a higher point on the cliff just to show us how it was done. The jump was thrilling and the impact of the cold water was instant. As I emerged from the water, all I could do was sputter, swim for the rocks and scream “Ang ginaw!” and splash the rest of the people who didn’t want to jump.
There’s no bathroom facilities in the area of the falls, though there is a small shed for those who want to change into dry clothes. After chilling out (literally), we boarded the ATVs again and headed to Panicuason Hotsprings, passing by a spectacular view overlooking Naga on the way down. I remembered having to hike a long way down to the Hot Springs Resort during my previous visits several years ago. The path has now been paved into a series of steep winding roads that leads in to the resort nestled in a jungle river gorge, making it very easy for ATVs (and cars) to make their way down the route.
While the hot springs used to be the only attraction here, other new activities have recently been set up. There are now 2 ziplines (a low 100-meter long one and a pretty high 200 meter-long one), a rappelling/wall climbing facility set up by Kaddlagan Outdoor Shop (which were just launched in March 2013), air-conditioned cottages for overnight stays and even a massage area with therapists. Canopy walks are also in the works. While picnics are still the norm for big groups, there’s also a small eatery inside that serves snacks, and lunch.
Before taking a dip in the pool and having lunch, we tried the high zipline first, which required a gruelling climb up 350 steps. From the stairs, you can see how tall the jungle gorge really is. Then I got to the top and saw the really steep drop of the zipline (the launch pad of tower 2 is located on a hill, some 300 feet up). Some of us started having second thoughts about ziplining, but since we climbed all the way up, there was no turning back. It was a pretty thrilling ride down. I barely had time to admire the view of the hotsprings below and the landscape before I was jolted into reality by the zipline’s emergency brake.
After a filling lunch of fried tilapia, adobong manok and vegetables, we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the hot spring pools surrounded by riverside cottages. The different geothermal and river water pools are fed by volcanic rocks, with temperatures ranging from 20 to 39 degrees Celsius. The warm water instantly relaxed my tense muscles and I found myself wanting to doze off. At first, the 36 degree pool seemed scorching, but after a while, my body got used to the heat. As I simmered in the relaxing warmth of the pool, I couldn’t help but think how crazy it was that the temperature in Manila could sometimes be even hotter than these volcanic pools. After a very relaxing afternoon just enjoying the water, we prepared to head back to Naga.
On the way back, we made a quick stop for a bowl of steaming hot kinalas, Naga’s famous noodle soup dish which is cooked in a broth of a skinned pig’s head (which is boiled until the meat and flesh comes off, thus the name kinalas) and topped with a brown gravy-like sauce. Not a bad way to end the trip.
If you’re an adrenaline junkie or you want to experience a different side of Naga City beyond historical and religious sights and food tripping, than I recommend this ATV tour. All in all, it was a pretty intense vacation that left me plastered that night. Many thanks to ATV Ride Naga and Naga Excursions for the extreme adventure! Mabalos!
- The terminal of ATV Ride Naga is located at Crossroad Shell Station, Magsaysay Avenue, Naga City. Local: (054) 4722215. Mobile: 0919-5821236. Facebook page: ATVRideNaga
- Tour inclusions: 1 unit of ATV/person (110cc ATV semi-automatic), full tank of gas, trail guide, safety helmet, entrance fees, environmental fee (other inclusions vary per package)
- Naga Excursions. Facebook page: Naga Excursions. Website: www.nagax.com
- Haciendas de Naga Tour – P1,800 (half-day)
- Hotspring Tour – P1,650 (half-day)
- Malabsay Tour – P1,500 (half-day)
- Mt. Isarog Double Treat: Malabsay Falls & Panicuason Hotsprings – P2,650 (whole day)
- More details on the Adventure Tour Packages here.
*Additional photos (group shots and solo shots of me) courtesy of Naga Excursions and Peachez Sancho Lladoc