Location: Sitio Minalungao, Brgy. Pias, General Tinio, Nueva Ecija, Philippines
MINALUNGAO NATIONAL PARK BEYOND ITS INVITING PRISTINE WATERS
The crystal clear emerald waters of Peňaranda River in Minalungao National Park
Minalungao National Park has given me something beyond my expectation. Why? because it has been branded as good for swimming and its towering karts rock formation where families can enjoy the place with the kids, but being there personally I enjoyed many activities which I will enumerate later.
My early morning experience after an overnight tent soundly sleep
As a background, this park is a protected area of the Philippines by virtue of the Republic Act No. 5100, a legislation took effect in 1967. It covers an area of 2,018 hectares with its dominant features being identified with the charming beauty of Peňaranda River outlined on both sides with 16-meter high limestone rock formations which nestles at the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountain range.
Capturing the empty "balsas" or bamboo rafts docked near the riverbank
Our trip heading to this place started with a meet-up at the McDonalds outlet at the Centris near Quezon Avenue MRT Station where we left at 8:20 P.M. on a Saturday. We were ten boarding on a comfortable Grandia and we headed to the province of Nueva Ecija. We just had one stopover at a certain 7-Eleven Outlet in Gapan City to buy our necessities. From there to Sitio Minalungao is still 34 kilometers driving thru the Minalungao Trail or 1 hour and 25 minutes to be exact. We arrived there at 11:50 P.M. and our group just pitched our tents fronting the building where bathrooms and comfort rooms are housed.
The concrete tent zone at the foreground with the bathroom/CR building at the background
We had five hours soundly sleep inside our summer-type tents. After all, it was summer and we do not need the four-season tents. My companions had boiled water for the coffee and Milo while I was roaming around the riverbank area as early as 5:00 A.M. I took shower to freshen me up at around 6:00 A.M. There were a lot of cyclists who joined us at the tent zone for some pictorials, hoping they had also savored an overnight camping at the place.
Just one of the souvenir shops in the area just few steps opposite the concrete tent zone
Like any other tourist destination, the park is also equipped with souvenir shops and stalls. Visitors are offered a variety of local products, delicacies and souvenir t-shirts as well. I just noticed, the locals are so nice and friendly. Since, ours is a tour package, we had been booked for a guide in the name of Jonathan who was good in taking us pictures.
The main gate to the food court and the souvenir shops
After shower and break-camp, we headed to the Food court for our breakfast together with our guide. Indeed, it was such a refreshing morning breathing like a marathon runner in order to accumulate more fresh air which is not available in the metropolis.
The pathway leading to the food court
The breakfast meal was charged to our personal account. The food was okey. It was like a fastfood chain. You order and wait for about 5 to 10 minutes. Therefore, if you intend to avoid crowd especially this pandemic where social distancing is a must, then go and eat here early.
The facade of the carenderia we had for our breakfast
Each order of food costs P75 (or US$1.57). The choice of food are: Tapsilog (cured beef, fried rice with fried egg); Bangsilog (fried bangus, fried rice and fried egg); Porksilog (fried pork, fried rice and friend egg); Hamsilog (Fried ham, fried rice and friend egg); Chickensilog (fried chicken, fried rice and fried egg); Hotsilog (fried hotdog, fried rice and fried egg). You will wonder what all these mean? Let's have Tapsilog as an example. Tap stands for tapa (tagalog term) for cured beef; si stands for sinigang in Tagalog which means fried rice; and log is from the word itlog in Tagalog which means egg in English. Now, if you are a foreigner, you can now decide which one you will order for your breakfast. They also have fruits like mangoes and banana for sale.
Other choices of food meal package
If you decide to have a meal platter, you can have it for P150 (or US$3.14) ; a boodle fight good for 3 - 4 persons costs P800 (or US$16.72 ; and a Boodle fight meal package good for 6 - 8 persons costs P1,500 (or US$31.35). What consist this meal package? Fried tilapia, fried chicken, banana, salted egg, rice, chopsuey or it will depend on the request of the guests.
A comfort room facility inside the food court
Of course, if you feel that buying food in the park is expensive especially for families or groups who are in big numbers, then you can take with you your own food where there is no corkage fee. You can also rent a charcoal grill for P50.
So, what are the activities that we did in this natural park.
1. Endless photography and sightseeing
The spacious and scenic viewdeck
After breakfast, we moved to the viewdeck where from this point, we can see the inviting clear and tranquil pristine waters of Peňaranda River.
The magical natural park (Photo credit: Kristine Joy Anne Capistrano )
In complete awe, our group had moved from the viewdeck, climbed to the massive rocks and endlessly fixed ourselves in backdrop where we can have the marvelous towering karts and the complete allure of Peňaranda River with its emerald clear waters tempting us to plunge on it with reckless abandon.
An intimate union with the massive rock formation
(Thanks to my photographer Sir Philleep Masaquel)
The park is considered as one of the few remaining natural environments in this region north of Manila. It is promoted by the local government as an ecotourism destination offering breath-taking scenery of green pristine river and unique rock formations. A system of unexplored caverns have also been identified as potential attractions. Facilities for picnics, swimming, fishing, raft riding and cliff diving have likewise been put up to draw more visitors.