The Minalungao National Park in Barangay Papaya (now called General Tinio) was a predetermined destination—we’ve looked into it upon arrival in Nueva Ecija and it looked enticing. The trip to the park is long, and it involves a rough road. Prepare to leave early.
After checking out at Bill’s Inn and having our breakfast on the second day, we went to the terminal to find a jeepney bound for Papaya. Like other jeepneys in the area, this one also leaves only when full, and we met a woman who had been waiting at the terminal since 6:30 am (we arrived at around 9 am) because she missed the first trip.
We rode the jeepney and told the driver to drop us off to the area leading to Minalungao Park. And like the previous day, it didn’t take long before local passengers started chatting with us, asking us what we planned to do at Minalungao, offering some advice, and promising to help us find a tricycle driver who wouldn’t rip us off. Everyone was really nice! Some of them warned us not to swim in the river because it was dangerous and many people already drowned there. They said the place is haunted and someone (or something) there drowns people, that the river takes life, and mostly of tourists.
The jeepney driver dropped us off at a tricycle terminal in the municipality of Papaya and talked to a tricycle driver to negotiate the price for our entire trip. From the original rate of Php400 for the entire tour (waiting time included), our fellow jeepney passengers managed to convince our tricycle driver to drop the price to Php360. Yay!
Adventures in Minalungao
We boarded the tricycle and started the long travel to the park. The first part of the road was paved, and then it became rough and rugged. Some areas were so rocky that we could hear (and feel) larger rocks scraping against the undercarriage of the tricycle. In fact, I knocked my head a few times because of the unstable movement. Advice for those who are visiting the park with a car: get ready to get some mud, scrapes, and scratches on your vehicle. If you have 4×4 ride, that’s better.
Other areas were so steep that it felt like the tricycle could topple over anytime. But, the view on both sides were glorious—mountains, endless rice fields, long stretches of grassy plains. In some areas, we even came across herds of cows and goats. It was nature at its finest.
After around 30 to 45 minutes of travel, we reached the place. Development of the park back then was still in the very early stages, and it didn’t look much at first glance—there was a wide river, a floating area of land, and then a mountain across.
Three kids approached us, offering their services as tour guide. We left our things at the tricycle and carried only our important stuff and food. The kids asked us whether we wanted to see the cave first or climbed the 1000 steps to the top of the mountain.
We chose the cave but realized that the way was too steep. We’d need to climb huge rocks with no gear whatsoever, and the rocks were facing the area of the river that was forbidden for swimming because it was too deep—just one wrong move and we’d fall into the water. We learned that two men just died there the previous year, so we opted to just take pictures and try the 1000-step stairs instead.
To reach those steps, we had to cross the river and ride a canoe. The ride was a short one, but we had to pass the forbidden area in the river. It was scary, and it felt like we would go down any minute (note: prepare to get wet). We were relieved when we finally reached the foot of the mountain and started our ascent to the top.
According to our guides, the City Mayor already started work to prepare the place for tourism. Locals were hired to maintain the place, but the park was not charging fees yet since the place was not yet ready. Apparently, even at that stage, the park was already receiving a lot of visitors every day, both locals and foreigners. And according to the kids, they visit the park whenever there’s no school so that can work as tour guides—no fixed tour guide fee; they accept whatever amount the visitors can offer them.
As we neared the top of the mountain, the air became cooler. We could see everything below us, and we could also see the town proper from afar. At the top was a big cross, and there was a concrete cottage where one could rest. We stayed for a while and ate with the kids while enjoying the view, and then we went down and crossed the river back to where we came from. We were supposed to swim (and the cool water was tempting), but we decided to leave early.
We left for the town proper around 12 noon, stopped along the way to take some photos, and asked the driver to drop us off at the market. We took our lunch there, bought some longganisa, and then asked directions to the jeepney terminal. The terminal was within walking distance from the market, and we had to wait until the jeepney was in full capacity. We reached Gapan after around an hour, and then we rode a bus bound for Cubao.
Our bodies were aching because of the long and rough travels we had to go through, but it was all worth it. First unplanned trip: success!
Short Update: Minalungao Park at Present
There has been a lot of positive changes in Minalungao Park during the past few years (since we went there in 2013). The park is now officially open to the public, and there are now more activities for visitors to enjoy: bamboo rafting, ziplining, and caving (the cave is now safer to traverse because there are already stairs).
Check this out for activities you can do in Minalungao National Park: Broke Travelers