UPDATE: After a temporary closure, Canyoneering in Cebu has resumed operations again starting September 1, 2016 according to tour operator Kawasan Canyoneering
Canyoneering seems to be one of the most popular activities to do in South Cebu these days. While the naturally beautiful Kawasan Falls has been drawing tourists for years, the whole area has become even more popular ever since canyoneering tours were introduced. The extreme sport also known as canyoning involves walking, scrambling, climbing, jumping, rappelling and swimming through a river either upstream or downstream. It’s one of the most fun and unique outdoor activities you can do in Cebu.
If I hadn’t visited Kawasan Falls years ago, I would have thought that all the photos circulating on social media sites were over-filtered. There’s an almost CGI video game-like quality about the mysterious ravines and stunning blue river streams leading to the waterfalls. Just check out how clean and blue the water is! It looks just too good to be true. Thankfully, it isn’t.
Last February, I booked a tour with Kawasan Canyoneering, a reputable agency with headquarters in Matutinao Beach Resort. I was traveling solo, so I joined a group of 5 friends who were also availing of the tour. Kawasan Canyoneering provides safety equipment including the life vest, helmet and accredited tour guides for every group. The downstream route through Kanlaob River starting from Alegria to Kawasan Falls in Badian is not technical and is very beginner-friendly. Our lead guide Marvin and sweeper James made sure that everyone had a great time, while keeping us all safe. They also managed to take really cool photos and videos of our experience while doing it.
From Matutinao, we rode a habal-habal (2 passengers plus driver per motorcycle taxi) to the starting point in the neighboring town of Alegria, passing scenic mountain roads and a bit of rough roads. From there, we traversed downstream Kanlaob River, emerging in Badian and the picturesque Kawasan Falls. It was an awesome action-packed afternoon that involved jumping from heights of 15 to 50 feet high, sliding down pools, treading, swimming, scrambling over boulders and rocks, hiking through the trails beside the riverbed and enjoying the beauty of nature at its finest. I could give you a detailed description of the tour, but it’s really better if you experience it yourself. So here instead are some photo and video highlights and tips to help you plan your own trip.
Kawasan Falls is located in the mountains of Barangay Matutinao in Badian, South Cebu in the Philippines. Badian is located roughly 100 kms southwest of Cebu City, about 2 hours away by private vehicle and 3 hours by public vehicle from Cebu City. Coming from Cebu City, it’s the next town after Moalboal, which is known for its dive sites and beaches. From Badian, you can take a habal-habal ride to Dalaguete, where Osmena Peak* is located.
HOW TO GET THERE:
- From Cebu City, go to the South Bus Terminal.
- Ride the Bato via Barili Bus. The fare is P120 (non-aircon) – P147 (aircon) per person (one-way). Travel time is around 3 hours. The earliest trip is around 4AM and last trip is around 6PM. The bus departs every 30 minutes.
- Tell the conductor to drop you off in Badian. Kawasan Canyoneering’s headquarters, Matutinao Beach Resort, is right across the church.
- Note: Do NOT ride the bus Bato via Oslob. It will not pass by Badian.
- When going back to Cebu City, just cross the street from Matutinao Beach Resort and ride a Ceres Bus back to the South Bus Terminal.
From the highway, the entrance to Kawasan Falls is visible and you can walk to the main waterfall and climb up to the second level of the waterfalls. The first waterfall is 1.5 km away through a dirt access road. If you don’t want to walk, there are habal-habal drivers stationed near the main road. After Canyoneering, if you’re too tired or in a hurry to get back, you can ride near the main waterfall going back to the resort or main road. Fare is P50 per person.
WHAT TO WEAR:
It’s best to wear fitted swimwear and a rashguard for this activity. It also helps to wear cycling shorts or leggings under board shorts because the outer layer of clothes can get snagged on rocks or torn from sliding down. While some women like to do the activity while just wearing bikinis, there have been incidents when they lost their clothing. During our tour, 2 of my companions tore their shorts, which led our guides to remove their own shirts so they could wrap the shirts around their waists.
For footwear, wear outdoor sandals with secure straps and good traction. Do not wear rubber slippers because you could easily lose these. Watershoes can be very slippery on the rocks and dirt trails, but are generally ok. I spotted other people wearing rubber shoes and sneakers.
WHAT TO BRING:
Bring a waterproof action camera or GoPro. I normally hate selfie sticks, but it was very useful for taking footage. Bring a dry bag and other gadgets only if absolutely necessary. There are areas where you can take photos with your phone, but generally you need both hands for climbing and you’ll be in the water 90% of the time. It’s a hassle to take out phones to take photos. My companions who brought their smartphones in dry bags were not able to use it until the end of the tour.
Do NOT bring an SLR because you’ll just keep worrying about it getting wet. The dry bags are often just tossed into the water before jumping in, so make sure you’re using a sturdy full waterproof bag that won’t leak. There’s a danger of gadgets getting wet if you use only cheap dry bags or bags labelled water-resistant or splash-proof.
You will be issued a life vest and helmet, which you need to wear for the duration of the activity except the last (optional) jump. The life vest has a zippered pocket, where you will keep a bottle of water and packaged snack food. You might also want to bring small bills wrapped in plastic in case you get extra hungry.
WHERE TO STAY & EAT:
You’ll probably get hungry during or after the activity. Halfway in the trail at one of the higher jumps, vendors have set up kiosks selling BBQ, hotdogs, drinks and other snacks on the rocks. There are also stores selling food and picnic huts right beside the main level of the waterfall where you end your adventure. I personally think the structures are an eyesore, and would have preferred that the area be kept as natural as possible, but there’s no denying that business is booming for the enterprising locals. Many of them descend through steep rocks just to bring down the food and set up here.
If you want a place to stay the night before or after Canyoneering, Matutinao Beach Resort in Barangay Matutinao, Badian, South Cebu is a good choice. The resort is conveniently located right along highway on a beachfront property. You can easily get here and back to Cebu City via the Ceres bus. They have aircon, non-aircon rooms (currently under renovation) and tents for rent. You can also have breakfast and lunch here.
READ MORE: Matutinao Beach Resort in Cebu
RATES: (UPDATED as of Sept 2016)
During my visit (February 2016), Kawasan Canyoneering’s package was P1,200 per person. Effective September 1, 2016, the official rate for Canyoneering + Kawasan falls is now P1,500 per person (regardless of nationality). This is inclusive of life vest, safety helmet, all government fees, aqua shoes, ride to the jump-off station, tour guide fees, light snacks, bamboo rafting at Kawasan Falls and recovery meals (lunch)
TRAVEL TIPS & USEFUL INFO:
- Weekends can be chaotic, so it’s much better if you plan your trip on a weekday, so you can enjoy the experience more. I went on a Friday, and the crowds were manageable.
- You need to reserve slots beforehand especially during peak season.
- The activity takes 4-5 hours, but can take longer because of the choke points where people in front of you are afraid to jump in the water.
- You will need to jump into water from heights of 15 to 30 feet high. The first jump is required, while the other higher jumps are optional. You can walk to the side of the trails or go to rocks that offer lower jump-off points.
- Near the end of the route, there’s an optional 50-foot jump that requires a running jump off the platform. This was the only portion where I hesitated, but I managed to do it with no problem. It’s awesome, by the way 🙂
- Don’t overthink when it’s your turn. Just jump.
- Listen to your guides and don’t stray away from the group, no matter how tempting it can be.
- Like all destinations that have become suddenly popular, there’s a bad side to the tourism boom. There have been cases of vandalism, trash left behind, and man-made structures put in place to make it easier for tourists to access. Practice the Leave no trace principles when you visit.
- As of March 2016, new moves are being made to regulate tours in the area because of the mushrooming of unaccredited operators and environmental concerns.
- According to news reports, a new ordinance will be limiting the number of people who can avail of the canyoneering activity per day. According to the ordinance, only 75 guests are allowed from Tuesday to Friday while 150 persons during Saturday, Sunday, and holidays. No tours will not be allowed on Mondays. The standard rate is being pegged at P1,500 each for five guests.
Thank you to Kawasan Canyoneering guides Marvin and James and my companions Angela, Ivy, Pax, Apple and Heizel for the videos and photos!
ADDRESS & CONTACT INFO:
Kawasan Canyoneering headquarters is Matutinao Beach Resort, Badian, Cebu.