It’s a humbling feeling to be right smack in the face of a waterfall, descending down its surface with just a rope supporting you. Admiring a waterfall from afar is one thing. But canyoning or canyoneering, the extreme sport of going down natural rock formations and canyons offers a heightened experience.
For adrenaline-junkies looking for something new, canyoning offers an action-packed adventure with lots of activities all rolled into one. For mountaineers who like nature trails, accessing the sites often involves hiking through virgin forests and scrambling through rocks and boulders amidst spectacular scenery. There’s the fun factor of sliding down natural waterslides. Similar to rock climbing, your focus is put to the test whenever you rappel down with the full force of the cascade pummeling down on you. Then there’s that adrenaline rush and intense feeling of satisfaction of overcoming your fears whenever you have to cliff-dive or jump down from dizzying heights into icy cold basins below.
Canyoning and waterfalls rappeling is still a growing sport in the country. I only know of a handful of places where it’s being offered in the Philippines, though I’m sure more areas will be developed in the years to come. The most famous (and beginner-friendly) destination is Kawasan Waterfalls in Cebu. Ever since the extreme activity was introduced there, tourists have been coming in hordes, that the local government was forced to temporarily close operations in order for the river to heal. But there are other places in the country where you can try it out. Canyoning in Sampao River downstream to Ulan-Ulan Falls in Biliran, a province in Eastern Visayas that was formerly part of Leyte, has been one of the most intense and technical canyoneering experiences I’ve tried in the country.
First of all, it requires a two-hour hike to reach the jump-off point where you start rappelling, sliding and jumping downstream. Then there’s the scenery. You pass at least 15 waterfalls, pristine river streams and gorges. While canyoning in in Cebu involves mostly just jumping and sliding, Biliran has that added element of waterfalls rappelling down in some of the more difficult sections where jumping would be too dangerous. The grand finale requires you to go down the majestic Ulan-Ulan Falls, which is estimated to be over 100 feet high! Don’t expect any BBQ joint anywhere along the trail. Biliran is still a raw, rugged and uncommercialized destination, and I hope it stays that way.
But don’t just take my word for it. Canyoning is best experienced for yourself. For those interested to try it out, here are some basics you should know.
Canyoning in Biliran is done in the pristine natural rivers and gorges in Sampao River in Barangay Sampao in Almeria. Biliran is an island province in the Eastern Visayas region of the Philippines. It’s located less than a kilometer north of the island of Leyte. There’s a bridge that connects the province of Biliran to Leyte. Its capital is the town of Naval on the western coast of the island.
HOW TO GET THERE:
- For those coming from Manila, the nearest entry point is Tacloban in Leyte.
- From the Tacloban airport, ride a jeep to the downtown area, then ride a Grand Tours Van (P130) to Naval town proper. Travel time is about 2.5 hrs.
- Alternatively, Cebu is the nearest international airport. From Cebu City, fast crafts are available to Ormoc City in Leyte. Travel time is roughly 3 hours. From Ormoc, you can take a shuttle van directly to Naval. Travel time is about 1.5 hours.
- From Naval, take a habal-habal ride to the town of Almeria, about 40 minutes away.
All tours should be booked ahead of time to prepare necessary guides, permits and equipment. For canyoneering tours contact Trexplore Adventures at Biliran Outdoor Shop at Vicentillo Street, Naval, Biliran, Philippines. They will arrange the transportation (jeep) required to get to the jump-off point. From the road where you leave your vehicle and register, it’s a two-hour uphill hike to get to the area where you start canyoning. Hey, no one said this was going to be easy. That’s why this is called “extreme canyoning.” But with views like this, getting there is an adventure in itself.
WHAT TO WEAR:
For the hike going there, you can wear outdoor clothes you don’t mind getting wet over swimwear. Leggings and rash guards or dri-fit ashirts are recommended. Wear strong climbing or trekking shoes with good traction or river sandals to protect your feet. The rocks and trails can be very slippery so rubber slippers are not really recommended. The water is pretty cold in and prolonged exposure can cause hypothermia, so you will be issued proper wetsuits for your safety. Life vests, helmets, gloves, harnesses with the proper carabiners for rappelling will also be provided.
WHAT TO BRING:
Pack light! Bring only small packs or dry bags, hat, cap, sunglasses, sun screen and a water bottle. Trexplore provides all the wetsuits, harnesses, helmets and other gear to all guests and brings along local porters to carry the stuff.
Photo by Chasing Potatoes using a Huawei P9 smartphone which has a built-in silky water effect! No need to bring an SLR when you can take shots like this.
You will be spending 90% of your time in the water, so bringing an SLR and tripod may be difficult if you just want to enjoy the activity. If you do bring one, be sure to have a proper dry bag for all your gadgets. Part of Trexplore’s services includes photo documentation with a handy waterproof point-and-shoot camera (most of the photos I used in this post were part of their photo documentation).
Cavemaster Joni Bonifacio of Trexplore
My companions and I just used our smartphones and a mini-tripod (which can be put in a waterproof case carried by the guide) and GoPros for this. If you’re after high quality photos and have an SLR with you, you can pass the porter’s route so your gadgets don’t get wet.
WHERE TO STAY & EAT:
All Trexplore tours include delicious onsite camp meals, so everything is hassle-free. The lechon manok, which we had for our boodle-style picnic lunch during our canyoneering trip is a local specialty.
For groups, the best option to stay in Almeria before or after the activity is Coco Grove / Talahid Beach Resort, a pleasant and quiet beachfront establishment along the coast of Almeria. I stayed in a fan cottage room (P350/night) which was spacious and comfortable, with its own detached bathroom and yard right outside. Aircon rooms are also available for P1000/night (good for 2).
Trexplore has several options for canyoning with different rates depending on whether you want it to include waterfalls rappelling and the difficulty level (beginner, advanced, extreme). All packages include: Complete set of top-quality canyoning equipment (e.g. wet suit, harness, PFD, helmet, etc.), transportation to Sampao River and back, guides, porters, lunch, certificates and photo documentation (bring your own USB or storage device).
- Discovery Canyoning (no rappelling passing 9 waterfalls) – P1,500 per person
- Adventure Canyoning (with rappelling passing 12 waterfalls) – P3,000 per person
- Extreme Canyoning (with rappelling passing 15+ waterfalls) – P3,500 per person
For full details, check this post. Rates are subject to change without prior notice. For booking, you need to pay 50% advance payment (non refundable). Trexplore has another extreme canyoneering site in Biliran leading to Saob Falls in Brgy. Balaquid, Cabucgayan that costs P5,000 per person but I haven’t tried this yet.
TRAVEL TIPS & USEFUL INFO:
- You need to reserve slots and make arangements beforehand. A minimum of 2 people are required to organize a canyoning trip.
- Trexplore can accommodate only a maximum of 10 persons per day.
- The activity can be done all year around unless weather is realy bad.
- The activity will take the whole day because of the travel time. If you’re in a large group or take too long, not everyone will have the chance to do the finale rappelling down at Ulan-Ulan Falls.
- This activity, while extreme in nature, can be done by anyone from as young as 8 years old and above, as long as they are physically and mentally fit
- Don’t overthink when it’s your turn. Just jump.
- Listen to your guides and don’t stray away from the group.
- For other activities to do in Biliran, check out my previous blogpost: Travel Guide: Biliran
Video courtesy of Chasing Potatoes