Otherwordly. Ethereal, Magical. Like a scene from a children’s fairy-tale storybook, the two tiers of the waterfall cascade like a white curtain into a basin of clear blue water. From where we stand, the massive boulder formations carpeted with moss, wild ferns and tiny purple flowers provide a postcard-perfect viewing deck.
Red dragonflies flit overhead while a layer of fog briefly covers the top of the mountains up above. Not visible from where I’m sitting, but just up ahead are two more layers of waterfalls and the gaping mouth of a cave. I’ve been to a lot of remote waterfalls in the Philippines but I have to say Pinipisakan Falls in San Jorge, Samar is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen in my life.
Except for locals and a few international speleologists who have gone on caving expeditions here, only a few tourists have been seen this remote paradise deep in the jungles of Samar. Even locals rarely visit it because of the perilous route. If it were more accessible, I’m sure more people would have been enticed to visit just based on seeing the photos alone. I know I was when I first saw photos of the waterfall 3 years ago during my first visit to Samar. As beautiful as the waterfall is, it’s very challenging to get to.
Our trip to the falls starts on a bus from Catbalogan City passing the town of San Jorge. From the highway, we transfer to a habal-habal for a 30-minute ride going to the village of Blanca Aurora.
The road is partially paved, but we still encounter portions of slick mud and puddles. Despite carrying 3 passengers including myself and only wearing rubber slippers, our driver manages to expertly maneuver over the road.
From the jump-off point in the village, you can walk to Blanca Aurora Falls. Because it’s more easily accessible right next to the community, this is a popular swimming spot for locals with picnic tables and cottages for rent. There’s a swimming lagoon at the top of the waterfall that guests can enjoy for just 5 pesos a head.
A couple of kids hoist one of their friends and throw him from the upper layer of the falls before jumping right in. The wide but low waterfall runs from the same river which we will be traversing upstream.
From the community, we board a narrow wooden canoe with outriggers going upstream for 2 hours. It’s a leisurely ride passing by heavily forested areas and canyons. Natural rock formations along the side of the river look like carved red bricks. At one point, a waterfall trickles down in a lazy spray from above, spilling into the river below.
There are no houses along the riverbanks except for a few wooden shanties here and there underneath the towering coconut trees. For miles, all we hear is the hum of the boat’s engine, the rhythmic buzz of insects in the trees, and the rushing river in portions when there are rapids. But mostly, the water is calm and quiet.
In some portions of the river, the water level is too shallow for the boat to pass. We have to alight so our boatmen can carry the boat against the current. We walk along the rocky riverbed as they manually push and maneuver the heavy boat over the stony riverbed.
We eventually reach a point in Blanca Aurora River known as Duro-ongan, a sandbank where a portion of the river is blocked by large boulders where boats can no longer navigate.
From here, it’s another 2 hour hike to get to our campsite through the thick limestone trail and lush forest. Sweat pours down from my forehead as we make our way. Most of the trail is under the cover of the trees, so it’s not so hot, but all I can think of is how nice it would be to take a dip in the river.
Finally, we reach our campsite. Save point! A simple hut with a row of makeshift beds made of sacks that hang from bamboo poles like stretchers has been constructed near the river a few minutes away from the waterfall. There’s a table for visitors to dine at leisure and benches made of wood. For day trip visitors to the falls, this is the point where you return by hiking the same way back.
But why travel half a day simply just to spend a few minutes at the waterfall, right? Ever since I’ve tried canyoning in different places, I’ve begun to see waterfalls in a new light. We’re staying the night, so we have more time to enjoy the place, do some canyoning and go spelunking in the cave just beyond the waterfall. Our return trip will be more leisurely as we’ll be river-canyoning and bouldering downstream to meet up where the boats are docked.
I hang up my hammock on two trees a little off from the campsite and close my eyes a bit to rest. It will take another 5-6 hours for us to explore the main passages of Sulpan Cave from Pinipisakan Falls to the exit point known as Humaket entrance and return to the campsite by nightfall. I need all the energy I can get.
* * * NEXT POST: Sulpan Cave * * *
LOCATION & HOW TO GET THERE:
The Pinipisakan Falls we visited is located in a very remote area of Brgy. Baiang, San Jorge, (Western) Samar, Philippines. This is not to be confused with the smaller Pinipisakan Falls in Las Navas, Northern Samar. Visiting this waterfall requires a permit which you have to secure from the San Jorge Municipal Office, multiple transportation changes and prior coordination with local guides from several barangays that the hiking trail and river passes through for security purposes.
For hassle-free visits, I highly recommend you book with Trexplore/Samar Outdoor Shop, a local tour operator based in Catbalogan City. Visits should be booked ahead of time to prepare necessary guides and permits. Our jump-off point was Samar Outdoor Shop HQ in Allen Avenue, Catbalogan City, Samar, Philippines. Coming from Manila, I flew to Tacloban in Leyte booked on a Traveloka Flight and took a van to Catbalogan City.
WHAT TO BRING:
Pack light. Only bring a daypack or dry bag for your gear. Bring a water container and snacks, a hat/cap/headware, sunglasses and sun screen for the hike. For safety equipment, Trexplore provides all the life vests, wetsuits, helmets, headlamps and gloves, ropes, etc. for river crossings and safety.
NOTE: It’s essential that you have a waterproof or action camera if you want to take photos because you’ll be fully submerged in water (if you go inside the cave) and going back downstream through the river. You can take photos with regular cameras during the boat ride and hiking part of the trip. Part of Trexplore’s services includes photo/video documentation. Joni usually uploads photo highlights on the Trexplore FB page and you can copy raw images & videos directly after the tour. Bring your own USB or external hard drive.
WHAT TO WEAR:
For the hike portion, you can wear outdoor clothes you don’t mind getting wet over swimwear for the trek. Leggings or dri-fit clothes are good. Wear strong hiking or trekking shoes that have good traction for the hike and bouldering on the way back. Hypothermia is possible so you will be issued wetsuits if you are going caving. You will also be issued life vests, helmets and & gloves for your safety for caving and river canyoning downstream.
Since you’ll get wet both ways, just wear the same thing going there. Bring a set of dry clothes and slippers for sleeping in the campsite or to change into after.
WHERE TO STAY & EAT:
For overnight trips, there’s a campsite near the waterfall, so no need to bring tents. Sleeping bags and malongs are helpful for keeping warm during the night. This tour includes delicious onsite camp meals for day trips and overnight trips, so you don’t have to worry about anything. I’ve joined several caving & canyoning trips with Trexplore and I’ve always been well-fed! Joni’s wife Rhine, who prepares all the food, is an amazing cook.
Compared to more easily accessible waterfalls around the province, Pinipisakan Falls is located in a wild jungle area and is rarely visited. For serious waterfalls chasers, just getting here feels like a major accomplishment in itself. If you’re just visiting the waterfalls, it’s possible to visit on a day trip. Day trip visits with Trexplore cost P5,000 (or $100) per person which includes all permits, safety gear, transportation, food (breakfast and lunch), boat rides, local porters, Trexplore Guide, Certificates and Photo/Video Documentation. A minimum of 2 people are required to organize a waterfalls tour, which can be done all year around except if weather is really bad.
If you want to combine the waterfall visit with an extreme caving experience and visit Sulpan Cave (the entrance of which is just above Pinipisakan Falls), allot two days including travel time. The two-day trip costs P10,000 or $200 per person. The cost may seem steep, but that’s because all visits here entails a lot of logistical pre-arrangements, safety equipment and manpower involved (from transportation, porters and permits). Take note that Pinipisakan entrance and falls can become dangerously flooded after heavy rain and trips may be cancelled for everyone’s safety.
For video features and detailed itineraries on what the trip here actually involves, check out the following links.
- One-day Falls Trip Itinerary (Pinipisakan Falls)
- Two-Day Falls and Cave Itinerary (Pinipisakan Falls & Sulpan Cave)
ADDRESS & CONTACT INFO:
- For inquiries on Waterfalls Tours, contact Joni Bonifacio at Trexplore the Adventure
- Address: Samar Outdoor Shop. Abesamis Store, Allen Avenue, 6700 Catbalogan Samar, Philippines.
- Contact numbers: 0919-2943865 / 09276750062.
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: https://trexplore.ph/
- Facebook: Trexplore the Adventures
NOTE: Additional photos courtesy of Joni Bonifacio of Trexplore. Lead long exposure photo captured by Gly of Chasing Potatoes.