Sometimes, we tend to take places in our backyard for granted. The nearer a destination is from where we live, the less it is on our tourist radar. For instance, Art’s hometown is Binangonan, but for some reason, we’ve both never been to Mt. Tagapo, a mountain that falls under the jurisdiction of the towns of Binangonan and Cardona in Rizal province (though it’s only accessible from the Binangonan side). Mt. Tagapo, referred to by locals as Susong Dalaga, is located in the middle of Laguna de Bay, the largest lake in the Philippines. The first weekend of the year seemed like a good time as any to scale a mountain, so we we decided to finally head there.
Mt. Tagapo has an elevation of 438 m (1,437 ft) is the highest point of Talim Island. Pinoy Mountaineer, our resource for all things hiking-related, ranks Mt. Tagapo as a minor climb, with a difficulty of 2/9, and a trail class of 1-2. The major jump-off point to get to Mt. Tagapo is in Brgy. Janosa, reachable by a 1-1.5 hour boat ride from Binangonan, Rizal. With its accessibility, relatively easy slope and panoramic views of the lake and surrounding towns, the hike is pretty rewarding. If you’re looking for a beginner-friendly day (or half-day) hike relatively near the metro, this is a good option.
We had planned to wake up early for a morning hike, but being the procrastinators that we are, it was already 10-ish am by the time we arrived in Binangongan from Quezon City. After parking at Art’s parents house, we had brunch and then walked to the port. There are regular boat rides from Binangonan to various villages on Talim Island, but the boats only leave once they’ve gathered enough passengers. It took about an hour or so for the boat to fill up. Aside from the local passengers, the boats usually carry a whole range of goods from concrete hollow blocks and beds made of bamboo to passenger motorcycles.
The boat ride was slow and pleasant. On the way to Talim Island, we passed rural scenes of huts on stilts, fish pens and small fishing villages along Laguna de Bay. However, it did take longer than expected due to the waiting time and numerous stops at various barangays. TRIVIA: Talim Island was featured in Ishmael Bernal’s 1976 film Nunal sa Tubig (Mole in the Water), a dystopian vision of the island which tackles how fisherfolk are affected by progress and pollution from nearby industries.
Finally at around noon, we arrived at Brgy. Janosa where we were greeted at the port by one of the guides. A local system was established a couple of years ago to cater to all the hikers. Local barangay officials rotate duties as climbing guides and for extra income. Though hiring guides is not mandatory, it’s highly recommended for those who are not familiar with the terrain.
After paying P20/head and signing in the logbook at the office next to the church, we made our way up the mountain with our guide Jojo. According to him, most people can reach the summit at a very leisurely pace in 2 hours including all the rest and photo stops. Meanwhile, fast hikers can easily climb up in 45 minutes to 1 hour.
The elevation of the terrain was gradual and not too difficult to hike on. From the alleys between a small community, we walked along a dry riverbed leading up to the mountain. The main marker along the route included a shady sampaloc tree, a large mango tree and an intersection in the trail where you’re supposed to turn left. We stopped several times during the hike to take photos of the path as well as the view of the skyline of Makati from afar. Despite the strong breeze during the boat ride, the whole forested path felt quite humid. Good thing, most of the trail was covered in shade, so it wasn’t too bad. However, I’ve heard it can be very hot during summer months.
Once we reached a tunnel of bamboo, our guide told us that we were nearing the summit. We encountered a few other hikers on their way down, including groups with children, which signifies how beginner-friendly the hike is. After hiking some more, we eventually reached the camping grounds with a clear view of the grassy summit, which looked straight out of a Windows XP screensaver.
Since the direct trail was already visible from where we were and there was no chance of getting lost, our guide requested to stay in the base camp to rest. There was a small group there doing on an overnight hike, napping on sleeping bags and hammocks. From the campsite, the last ascent to the summit took 15 minutes or less passing through tall grass. We encountered a couple of hikers on their way down and ended up having the peak all to ourselves!
After the relatively humid climb, it was as if someone had turned on a gigantic electric fan on full blast and set it to “howling winds” level. We must have spent about an hour just savoring the summit, marveling at the 360-degree panoramic view. In the distance you can see the urban sprawl of Makati and Ortigas and the peak of Mt. Sembrano, and numerous fishpens.
We started our descent at around 2:00 pm, passing by for our guide at the base camp. The hike down was much faster, and we reached the jump-off point at around 3:00 pm. I thought we would be able to catch an early boat back to Binangonan, but there was only one more boat trip left, which was scheduled to arrive at around 5:30 pm.
While waiting for the boat to arrive, we ended up killing time at the base camp, a shed constructed for hikers, where we chatted with other guides over instant noodles and beer. Art, who had biked around Talim Island before, was interested if any bikers had tried biking down the mountain itself. Because of the rocky terrain and elevation during the hike itself, we assessed that most of the trail was pretty unrideable. We found out that some bikers who visited previously, took the time to haul their bikes up the mountain for the photo ops. So it is possible to bring up bikes, but be warned that you’ll be pushing it most of the way up and down. Others who bike around the island, opt to leave their bicycles locked in the base camp shed before they hike up. So, a bike + hike trip here is possible.
While waiting for the boat to arrive, I took some shots of the sunset. With the birds flying over the fishpens and houses on stilts, it was a pretty spectacular sunset. Hiking up Mt. Tagapo may not be a hardcore multi-day hike in an exotic location, but it’s just as worthy of being visited. Definitely, a great way to start the year.
TRAVEL TIPS & USEFUL INFO:
- Things to bring: Hat or skin protection, water, trail snacks, lunch (if you plan to camp). You can buy supplies in the sari-sari store at the jump-off point before you hike up.
- Cost of fare in passenger boat from Binangonan port to Brgy. Janosa is P30/head.
- Though the hike is doable for a half-day trip, you may experience delays and long waiting times because of the limited boat trips to and from Talim Island.
- Guide fee is P300 per group.
- For a detailed guide, itinerary & other vital information to hiking Mt. Tagapo, check out this guide by Pinoy Mountaineer.