I FINALLY got to visit Naga City, Camarines Sur, for the very first time last weekend (April 19 to 21, 2013), when I joined a group of media friends whom Alec Santos, head of Naga City’s Arts, Culture and Tourism Office, invited to experience the Naga Excursions. The City Government of Naga had just launched its Naga Excursions tourism brand on March 22, 2013. Developed by the Local Government Support Program for Local Economic Development (LGSP-LED), the new brand features key tourism products that promote Metro Naga as a tourism destination in the country, and Alec had wanted members of national media to experience what Naga had to offer, so he put together a media familiarization tour.
In the company of Philippine Star’s Lualhati Fausto, Fernan Nebres, Gillian Gacuma and Dandi Galvez and Manila Bulletin’s Joseph Gonzales and May Corpus, my husband Raff and I (representing FLAVORS Magazine – and this blog, www.flavorsoflife.com.ph) took an 8:40 a.m. Philippine Airlines (PAL) Express flight from Manila to Legazpi, Albay last Friday (April 19, 2013). Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport was jam-packed with travelers scurrying to get to their scheduled flights that morning, and the queues, starting with the queue at the airport entrance, were looooong. It took so long just to enter the airport that, while in queue, we got to watch Michael V. and his family get down from their van to catch their own flight and then we got to chat with good friend Chef Jill Sandique, who was with Ferna’s Peter Co on a trip to Cagayan de Oro for a cooking demo event.
An hour after the PAL Express plane finally took off, we were in Legazpi Airport, which had an awesome view of the perfectly cone-shaped Mayon Volcano. A van picked up the group, and we immediately embarked on a smooth and scenic two-hour road trip to Naga City, Camarines Sur. The roads were good, Mt. Mayon kept us company for a long stretch and then took a backseat to Mt. Iriga (also known as Mt. Asog) and then equally beautiful Mt. Isarog. In no time at all, catching short naps while on the road, we were in Naga City.
The van pulled up in front of The Avenue Plaza Hotel, where Alec and his staff – Christine ‘Tin’ Abrera, Khrystian ‘Kirs’ Hidalgo, Janwyne Almazan, and interns Jennifer Romano and Dada Bordado – stood by the entrance waiting. This was to be our home for the next couple of days, and it was cozy, comfortable and so modern and well-equipped that it would give Manila-based boutique hotels a run for their money.
The group later met up with Business Mirror’s Marvin Estigoy and Eleanor Leyco, who took a late afternoon Manila-Naga flight.
One of the attractions of the Naga Excursions, more accurately marketed as Naga eXcursions or Naga X, is high adventure experiences such as mountain climbing, hiking and trekking, swimming in falls secluded by lush tropical forests, taking a dip in hot springs, ziplining, wall climbing, rappelling, and horseback riding.
For the media group that visited Naga last weekend, the high adventure experience began in the morning of our second day (Saturday, April 20, 20113), with an early morning 15-minute ride to Mt. Isarog National Park, where our three-kilometer climb up Mt. Isarog and trek down to breathtakingly beautiful Malabsay Falls in Barangay Panicuason began.
Mt. Isarog is reputed to be the highest forest-covered peak in Southern Luzon. It happens to be a favorite among mountain climbers due to its moss- and cloud-covered trails and its rich biodiversity. It is home to the endemic Isarog Cloud Rat and Shrew Rat, and the tropical jungle brims with lush greenery.
The trail begins with a narrow path, which only 4×4 trucks can travel on. It can get muddy and slippery when it rains, but on a clear day, it should be a nice and easy ride on board rough-terrain vehicles. On foot, the path is quite challenging for beginners because there are steep climbs that must be done. But it all becomes worth it when you get to the part where the path opens up to a wide expanse of plateau, where you get to see a good silhouette of Mt. Isarog’s peak on one side and a view of Naga City on the other.
Push on and you enter a rainforest, where the path becomes more challenging. When you get to a clearing, which serves as a resting area where comfort rooms for nature’s calls are available, the climb up the mountain transforms into a trek down to scenic Malabsay Falls. The path leading down to the falls is narrow and tricky, with slippery areas and huge, steep steps that have to be taken, ducking under a giant tree trunk at one point and keeping your balance all the way down to the huge boulders surrounding the falls. At one point or another, you might have to decide to remove your footwear and proceed on bare feet. I did. So did some of the other members of the group. Even crossing from one side of the falls to the other on boulders and a fallen tree can prove to be quite challenging, but when you hear the rumbling sound of the cascading waters and take in the breathtaking view of the falls, it becomes all worth the trouble.
Malabsay Falls is a 40-foot high cascade of pristine cool waters rushing down from the slopes of Mt. Isarog. Visitors usually come here not just to admire its beauty but also take a dip in its crystal clear, refreshingly cool waters.
Other waterfalls are located nearby, including Nabontolan Falls, which is a 45-minute hike away from Malabsay Falls.
THERAPEUTIC HOT SPRINGS
After our trek from Malabsay Falls back to the Mt. Isarog National Park, the media group boarded the van once again and off we went on yet another adventure trip to the Panicuason Hot Springs Resort. Tucked away at the bottom of one of Mt. Isarog’s river ravines in Naga’s East Highland Tourism Zone, the resort is designed around the Inarihan River, which is a tributary of the Bicol River, so visitors can choose to take a dip in the cool waters of the river and then later move on to the hot spring pools.
There are actually several natural pools, whose hot spring waters are at temperatures ranging from a refreshing 20 degrees Celsius to a relaxing 39 degrees Celsius. Naga locals come in droves, mixing with both foreign and domestic tourists, to the Panicuason Hot Springs Resort to take an invigorating dip in the therapeutic geothermal hot springs of Mt. Isarog set within a rainforest gorge.
But swimming is not all there is to do at the Panicuason Hot Springs Resort. There’s a lot more, as it serves as proud home to the fastest zipline in the country. The ride takes all of 12 seconds from one end to another of the 200-meter long zipline at a 60 kilometer-per-hour (KPH) speed and at a height of 280-feet above the river.
The resort also comes equipped with wall climbing and rappelling facilities.
AN ARRAY OF ACTIVITIES
Forming part of the original itinerary was a visit to Haciendas de Naga Cool Waves and Adventure Park located in the Naga East Highland Tourism Zone, but due to lack of time, the media group had to make do without it. It could have been very interesting, though, since Haciendas de Naga offers a wide range of activities, such as horseback riding, wall climbing, rappelling and ziplining.
The place boasts of a 2,000-square-meter wave pool overlooking the city, where visitors can go swimming, as well as a firing range, a golf course and driving range, and a good fishing area. There are also kalesas to ride on, and visitors can enjoy the all-time favorite activity, which is pili nut picking and de-shelling.
These high-adventure activities form just one of the major components that make up the Naga eXcursions tourism campaign. Other packages revolve around food-tripping on local Nagueno cuisine, visiting Spanish-era churches in Metro Naga, and immersing in cultural activities.
(To learn more about Naga Excursions, visit www.nagax.com.)