Baler, the capital town of Aurora Province, is a haven for surfers. This laid-back coastal town in the North is known primarily for its killer waves. Numerous surf shops are situated along Sabang beach catering to novice and the seasoned surfers. Baler also has a rich history, being the backdrop of the infamous Siege of Baler, a battle of the Philippine Revolution and concurrently the Spanish–American War and the Philippine–American War.
Another claim to fame of Baler is that the 1979 war film Apocalypse Now, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Marlon Brando, Robert Duvali and Martin Sheen, was filmed in Baler and at Baler Bay. The film actually gave birth to the surfing culture in Baler. When filming finished, some crew members left their surfboards behind, and locals learned to ride the waves.
Aside from the great surf spots, Baler also offers some great land-based attractions nearby. Though most tourists come for the surf, Baler and surrounding towns have plenty to offer in terms of historical and cultural sights, natural attractions and food adventures.
WHERE EXACTLY IS BALER:
Baler is a second-class municipality in the province of Aurora, Philippines. It is located around 230 kilometers northeast of Manila via a mountain pass accessible by bus and private vehicle. Aurora is a long province facing the Philippine sea, and bordered by the provinces of Quirino, Nueva Vizcaya, Nueva Ecija and Bulacan.
HOW TO GET THERE:
From Manila, travel time to Baler is roughly 5 to 6 hours. If you’re taking public transportation, the most direct way to get there is via the Joy Bus of Genesis Transport. You can also reach Baler via Victory Liner bus to Cabanatuan. From there, you’ll have to transfer to a van or another bus to bring you to Baler.
By car or private vehicle:
From Manila, enter the North Expressway at Balintawak and exit at SCTEX (entry at LaPaz, Tarlac toll gate). From there, follow the highway leading to Aliaga and to Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija. From Cabanatuan City Proper, take the Nueva Ecija-Aurora highway, passing thru the towns of Talavera , Rizal, and Pantabangan until you reach the Aurora border, then thru the towns of Maria Aurora, San Luis, and finally, Baler.
Genesis Transport Bus provides a direct route to Baler from Metro Manila. According to their website schedule, there are trips starting from 3:00 am to 7:00 am with 1 hour intervals. The bus ride could take about six hours and fare costs about P500. Their terminal is located along EDSA in Pasay City and Cubao. Alternatively, you can take any bus which goes to Cabanatuan and than transfer to a public utility van heading for Baler at the terminal. Last trip of vans depends on numbers of passengers. Van travel time is 2.5 hours.
The Genesis Transport Service recently unveiled a new line and now offers a more comfortable option via their executive coach called Joy Bus. For a fare of P700+, you get to travel in style and with NO STOPOVERS. The Joy Bus has an onboard comfort room, free snacks served by a bus stewardess, free wifi, blanket & pillow and a good morning kit. Schedule is 12MN and 4:30AM. Travel Time: 5-6 hours Non-Stop, To book, you can call Genesis at (02) 709-0545 / (02) 709-0544 / (02) 441-6834. The terminal to Baler is along the Northbound lane of Edsa near Cubao.
Note: rates are subject to change
Bicycle: Baler is a great destination for bikers. Mountain bikes can be rented in shops and guesthouses for P300/day. You can easily go around the main tourist sights around town on bikes.
Motorbike: If you want to cover more ground and explore further destinations (like the Millennium Tree and Dicasalarin Cove), it’s better to rent a motorbike. Motorbikes (mostly semi-automatic XRMs and full manual motorbikes) are widely available in Sabang beach, costing P500-P800/day depending on the model. There are also a few automatic scooters for rent. Both bicycles and motorbikes are available for rent at Pajaroja Lodge along Sabang Beach.
Tricycle: Tricycle drivers double as tour guides in Baler and offer trike tours to the main destinations around Baler including: Baler Church, Dona Aurora House, Museo de Baler, Ermita Hill, Diguisit Falls, Aniao Islet on Diguisit Beach, Hanging Bridge, Millennium Tree, and Mother Falls. Trike tours cost P500 (half day) – P800/whole day (good for up to 3 people) depending on the destinations to be visited.
TIP: If you want a shortcut from Sabang Beach to Cemento Beach, you can ride a boat at T. Molina Street. From there, you will emerge at Castillo, a road leading out to Ermita Hill. Boat ride takes less than 5 minutes and fare costs P5 per person. This cuts travel time by 30-45 mins.
WHERE TO GO/WHAT TO DO:
Go Surfing on Sabang Beach
With its long stretch of sandy shoreline and soft and shallow oceanbed, Sabang Beach in Baler is an ideal place for those who want to learn to surf. There are lots of surf shops along the beach including Charlie Does Surf School and Michael’s Surf Shop wher eyou can hire surfing instructors and rent surf boards. While the waves are best during peak surfing season from September to February, you can still catch some baby waves right near the shore all year around.
Surfing lessons with instructors cost P350-400/hour. If you don’t need an instructor, surf board rentals cost just P200/hour, P400/half-day and P800-1000 for whole day rentals. If you want bigger waves, you’ll need to rent a motorized banca to reach different surfing spots.
Explore Baler by Bike
For short tours, you can easily bike to the main tourist spots around town. For a more scenic ride, check out the road from Sabang to Diguisit Beach, where you can pass Ermita Hill, Diguisit Falls, and a nice coastal road with good views. The road going up to the PAG-ASA Weather Station and Dicasalarin Cove is a sheer test of endurance.
Visit Historic Spots
There are lots of historic places of interest around Baler including the Baler Church, the Quezon Memorial Park (the birthplace of the late president Manuel L. Quezon), and the Dona Aurora Aragon Quezon House, a house rebuilt in honor of the wife of the late Commonwealth president.
Visit the Museo de Baler
The Museo de Baler is a small museum near that houses artifacts and paintings of historical information on Aurora Province. RATE: P30/pax. Museum hours: 8:00 am-noon & 1:00 -5:00 pm
Hike up Ermita Hill
Ermita Hill is situated in Mt. Dibudalan at Sitio Dicaloyungan, Barangay Zabali. From the top of the hill, you can get a view of Baler Bay, Dima-Dimalangat and Aniao Islets.
Visit Diguisit Beach, Waterfalls & Rock Formations
Aside from Sabang Beach, Diguisit Beach is another surf spot in Baler. Diguisit is situated on the Baler Bay along Cemento Beach. The beach here features a lot pf rock formations including Aniao islets.
Cross the Hanging Bridge
The Tibag-Sabang hanging bridge is a rickety bridge patched together from rusty wire, weathered planks of wood and fragile bamboo railings. The bridge has since undergone some improvements since I last visited.
Hike and Swim at Ditumabo Falls
San Luis, a neighboring town of Baler is the jump off point for a hike to the Mother Falls, also known as Ditumabo Waterfalls. To get here, one must hike up a trail of rocks and pebbles, muddy footpaths, wade through streams, and clamber over slippery rocks in multiple river crossings. Because of a typhoon that hit in 2015, the trail has changed a bit.
The 4-kilometer long hike can take about 30 minutes to an hour depending on your pace.
Climb up the “Millennium Tree”
The “Millennium Tree” in the town of Maria Aurora is a gigantic balete tree towering more than five stories high. Said to be 600-years old, this tree is the largest tree of its kind in Asia. Through the years, the trees roots have grown above ground and in various sections of the trunk. Locals and visitors can easily climb inside through a hollow opening and up the tree’s massive roots.
WHAT/WHERE TO EAT IN BALER:
There are lots of places to eat in Baler especially in Sabang Beach. One of the most popular places is Baler’s Surfer’s Grill, where meat is grilled under the hood of a VW Beetle.
Beach House, the in-house restaurant of Costa Pacifica has an extensive menu with some dishes infused with local flavors and specialties. I really liked the Baler Longganisa and Grilled Seafood with veggies.
For those on a budget, the Rolling Stores, small eateries near the museum and plaza offer home-cooked and affordable tapsilog-type meals and local specialties.
Gillian’s Snackhouse, near the rolling stores serves delicious Halo-Halo.
While native sticky rice cakes are common around the Philippines, the Suman de Baler is unique because it’s made of locally grown purple sticky rice. The suman is naturally sweet, so there’s no need to dip it in sugar. Though it’s light, a few pieces can be very filling.
Are you a beer lover? Good news because there’s now craft beer in Baler! Charlie Does Cafe right behind Costa Pacifica serves their own microbrewed beer called Baler Brew (which uses wild honey) as well as craft beers like Summer Sessions from Craftpoint and Tropic Haze and Midnight Blur from Nipa Brew. They serve good cakes and snacks too.
WHERE TO STAY IN BALER:
Costa Pacifica on Sabang Beach is a new resort destination that offers 106 rooms and suites. Their luxury facilities include an outdoor pool, gym, kids’ nook and gift shop. There is also an events venue hall that can seat 200 persons called The Pavilion. The resort is ideal for weekend surfers, couples’, meetings and convention groups, special interest groups, and tourists from Asian and European region looking for new destinations.
For backpackers and budget travelers, there are more affordable guesthouses and inns right along the beach. Charlie Does Hostel, right behind Costa Pacifica, offers beds for P500 a night. Walk around and you’ll be sure to find accommodations to fit your budget. Other popular hotels including Pacific Waves Inn, Bahia de Baler, Bay’s Inn and Aliya Surf Camp.
For those who want to camp out, Baywalk Tent City and Cottages in front of Sabang Beach offers basic accommodations. They have a few simple open air huts where you can lay mats/sleeping bags or hang hammocks (P500/night).
For those who want to rent tents from them, it will cost P150/head. If you bring your own tent, the fee is P100/head. There are several basic outdoor public restrooms near the camping grounds.
WHAT TO BUY IN BALER:
- Handwoven crafts: including keychains in the shape of surfboards are sold in Aurora Aragon house.
- Typical souvenirs like postcards, keychains & magnets are sold in the sari-sari stores by the beach.
- There’s a good selection of Baler t-shirts, native delicacies and woven products (fans, wallets, baskets, etc.) at the Baler Pasalubong Center beside the bus terminal.
Be sure to take home Nanay Pacing’s Homemade Peanut Butter, which is one of the best types of peanut butter I’ve ever tasted. Jars of these are available at Brgy. 05, T. Molina Street, Baler, Aurora and in Costa Pacifica’s gift shop
MORE PHOTOS HERE: Trip Highlights: Baler, Aurora
NOTE: Information for this travel guide was compiled from two separate trips to Baler in July 2013 and March 2016. Special thanks to JourneyingJames Tours (Baler Dos) and Freewaters (#FeelsGood Media Launch).