Craving For A Different Kind of Adventure? These Pampanga Hiking Trails Are What You Need
So you've had your fill of pretty beaches, city staycations, and afternoons spent by the poolside and are looking for a whole new way to make memories this summer. Before your inner wanderer rushes into panic mode over running out of options, worry not—we got you.
This is the Philippines, after all—a tropical country bursting with literally thousands of places to explore, each beautiful in their own way and patiently waiting for experience-hungry travelers to discover them. This year, why not consider kissing the sky hello—on a hiking trip, that is.
If you have yet to experience the unique combo of solitude, physical achievement, mental willpower, and the feeling of oneness with the great outdoors that regular hikers know all too well, let us be the first to tell you that you're missing out.
There's just something about detaching from life as we know it—bustling sights and sounds, smart devices in hand, tons of people everywhere—on a hike and realizing that the world can be a completely different place when we focus on only the crunching of the earth beneath our feet, the rustling of greens around us, the sailing of white, puffy clouds above, the rhythm of our breathing.
It's one of the handful of (positive) addictions we'll encourage you to develop: a love of nature, and wanting to get up close and personal with it.
Now if that's something that appeals to you—and really, it should—we've got an adventure all planned out for you, and best of all, it's one that something both expert and novice hikers can enjoy together.
For your first ever (or next!) hiking trip, turn your attention to Clark, Pampanga, a well-known destination that's indeed home to more things other than tax-free shopping and nearby beach resorts.
Once there, we'd love for you to discover two hiking trails: the beginner-friendly Mt. Balakbak, and the river-traversing trek to Haduan Falls. Both are breathtaking, yet different every way.
Here's what you need to know and be prepared with for the journeys:
Don't be surprised if you're woken up hours before dawn to begin this hike—that's really how it works! The goal is to be up and about before dawn, first and foremost to avoid the searing heat when the sun has risen and secondly, to be able to enjoy the sunrise on the summit.
When it comes to Mt. Balakbak, know that it's a relatively easy trail to climb; despite being a mostly upward path, its slopes are gentle and there is more than one plateau where you can stop, catch your breath, and hydrate. Similarly, its path is well-defined and free of obstructions, so there's virtually no potential of wandering off into the wrong direction or getting into dangerous situations.
While you're at it, don't forget to look around, too. The way to the top is picturesque and gets better as the sun starts to peak from behind surrounding ridges. Rice paddies, mountainsides in lush shades of green, and songbirds are aplenty, and it's a sensory experience that'll reach its peak once you get to the top.
Mt. Balakbak's summit is subtle and still, but scenic nonetheless. Grass as tall as your hips and wild flowers frame the vista that'll likely be painted in pink, lavander, and violet at dawn. Enjoy it, take it all in, and feel the sense of accomplishment about being where you are.
Expect to be able to finish this hike in an hour, tops (even for beginners). It's the perfect introduction to the rewarding hobby of hiking!
Freshwater sites can be just as alluring as oceanside spots if you gave them a chance. One visit to Haduan Falls and you'll quickly understand what we mean.
The Haduan Falls, once a well-kept secret by Pampanga's indigenous communities, are loved by most for its icy cool waters, but for passionate hikers, they find that the trek there is just as enjoyable as reaching the destination.
However, take note that the Haduan Falls hike is much more challenging that that of Mt. Balakbak's; it definitely requires more stamina and physical coordination as you will, quite literally, be walking in a river without a definite path and filled with slippery stones and boulders. (And for that reason, this trip is only available during the day; traversing this path is discouraged, and almost impossible, without sunlight).
Switching between strolling on leaf-lined river banks and carefully balancing your steps as you hop from one mossy rock to another is ultimately what you'll be doing before you hit the falls, and of course, on the way back. Though not the most difficult path there is, this trek is still not for the faint of heart.
You'll certainly feel like you're exploring unchartered territory like explorers of days gone by have. A jungle-like setting will surround you in all directions, complete with thick bamboo, sizeable dragonflies, and darting fish to greet you with every splashing step you make.
It's alright to take it slow to avoid missteps; always remember that a rule of thumb is safety over speed in any outdoor adventure. (And just like Mt. Balakbak, rest sites are available for those who wish to take a seat before continuing).
Upon reaching the falls, you won't only feel a sense of pride, but a desire to take a dip in the clear waters, too! And yes, swimming in the pool that surrounds the falls is permitted, the once hidden place making a lovely background for a photo opt.
With a steady pace, a trip to and from Haduan Falls takes two to three hours to accomplish.
What you'll need
Before you get overexcited about the possibilities these hikes hold, make sure you're ready with the gear needed as hiking is unlike other more relaxed vacations; you'll need to have specific items on hand and you cannot afford to leave them behind, no matter what!
A water canister
We know you know the need to have enough water with you on a hike, so forgive us for stating the obvious! No matter how fit or experience you are with the activity, staying hydrated is a must. It's recommended to have liter of water with you for these hikes.
A functional hat and durable sunglasses
On hikes, they're not just fashion accessories, but necesseties. Because you'll be under the sun for the most part of your hikes and finding shade along the way is difficult, you don't want to come home with burnt skin or strained eyes. (In conjuction with this, sunscreen is also a must-have!)
More than clothing, the right footwear is what you really need to take care of on a hike. Depending on the difficulty of the trails, you might need a pair of hiking-specific shoes. For Mt. Balakbak, a pair of running shoes that give ample heel and ankle support is recommended (no sprains, please!), while aqua shoes or rubber sandals specifically designed for aquatic trekking is the way to go.
The perfect pack
And we don't just mean the perfect travel group to bring with you. We mean the perfect backpack that's both cute and functional, and for trips to Mt. Balakbak and Haduan Falls, we've gone one in mind: Adventure-ready bags by a sweet little brand called Doughnut that seriously get the job done no matter where you go.
Fashionable, multi-functional, lightweight, water proof, easy to care for, decked out with lots of compartments, and roomy—we wouldn't have our hiking bags any other way. (And in case you hadn't been told yet, a great bag is essential on a hike; you want to be concentrating on what's going on around you, and not discomfort in your shoulders on your back caused by an improper pack).
Having experienced the craftsmanship of the Hong Kong-based brand's products firsthand, we cannot overemphasize how fitting they are for all your summer outdoor adventures.
The fact that they come in a dizzying array of colors and designs from classic black, navy and gray to playful mustard yellow, aquamarine, old rose, and two-tone creations makes them even better; we highly recommend them as they're wearable even when the summer is over and we all return to city living.
Think about discovering the brand that's just arrived on Philippine shores the same way as discovering the joys of hiking for the first time; they do go hand-in-hand, and we encourage you to learn more about both this summer!
Doughnut bags are available at Ayala Malls the 30th, Alabang Town Center, Glorietta, Robinsons Place Manila, SM Mall of Asia, Trinoma, UP Town Center, and on doughnutphilippines.com.
Images from @doughnutphilippines