When you hear about the place Baler, top of mind is always surfing. Well, indeed this place is a haven for surfers, may they be pro, hobbyist or first timers who just want to get a dose of adrenaline rush. However, this place requires a 6-7 hours bus ride from Manila, but don’t worry. You will be rewarded by a majestic view of Sierra Madre on your way to Baler. In my own experience, the view was truly magnificent, like a desktop wallpaper. I prefer taking a very early morning bus, around 1-2 am from Cubao, just in time for sunrise when I pass by Sierra Madre.
Baler is the capital of Aurora province and boasts its nine feet waves from September-February, the main reason why surfers and other tourists flock here.
If you’re into surfing or even if you’re just up for a new experience and adventure, for sure surfing would be the number one activity on your list. But what’s next after surfing? Is this the end of story for Baler? No. There are a number of things to do and places to visit around town. From the bus terminal of Baler, huge posters of local tourist attractions beam and tricycle drivers await prospective clients to offer their service. Tedious internet research is not necessary. You just hop in to your friendly local driver’s tricycle and off you go to explore. I have gathered a list of things to do before or even after your surfing adventure.
- Rolling Store
No. The name doesn’t have anything to do with the store’s appearance or nature. Rolling store is a group of “carinderia” lined side by side beside the road of town proper, near Museo de Baler. When you look at it, there’s nothing special about it, but wait until you’ve tried their very cheap and fresh tuna and blue marlin. You can have a full stomach under P100. Their menu is like a feast of seafood from big fish, shrimps and lobsters to the normal pork barbeque, etc.
- Museo de Baler
Just a quick walk from the rolling store is Museo de Baler that houses paintings of local artists, a bust of former president Manuel Quezon, his restored 1936 Chrysler Airflow Limousine, a galleon model from the Spanish era, a stuffed carcass of Philippine Eagle, a model of Baler town enclosed in a glass case, a wall depicting the history of the town, awards received by the MMFF movie entry, Baler, etc. For a P30 entrance fee, you can roam around and take pictures including Doña Aurora House.
- Doña Aurora House
A few meters away is Doña Aurora House. It’s located just in front of Baler Church. From the outside, it looks like a normal hut you can find elsewhere since it was already restored. Climb the wooden stairs and sit on one of the bamboo chairs in the living room. Beside is a bamboo lampshade with an old school non-electric flat iron. To the right is a dining table within walls adorned by paintings of local artists depicting life in Baler. Adjacent to the living room is what seems to be a study area slash dining room (again?) with a bookshelf stacked with books. There are also pots and a replica of a traditional Filipina costume.
- Baler Church
Cross the street from the old house and you will find Baler Church. For those who love ancient structures, this might disappoint you as the façade is so simple and the church itself is small. This served as the last point for Spanish soldiers to surrender to American troops. There was a wedding being held when we visited so we were not able to go inside.
- Ermita Hill
It takes around 15 minutes to reach it. It’s a perfect place to relax while enjoying the view of Baler Beach. You can take pictures or sit on chairs under huge trees. This is where locals took refuge when a powerful tidal wave struck Baler in 1700’s. Only seven individuals survived. There’s a monument at the foot of the hill as a reminder of the catastrophe. Local food and fresh buko juice are sold just across the street.
- Diguisit Falls
A very accessible falls, Diguisit is rather a very small waterfalls with multiple cascades. The flow is not as strong as Ditumabo Mother Falls but it’s a perfect way to relax and dip into the cold water less the huge crowd since the area is too small to accommodate a lot. The climb to the main cascade was a challenge for me since I was holding a tripod and a heavy SLR so I just took some shots below and enjoyed watching people swimming. How pathetic.
- Aniao Islet
From the same road, we continued our journey to Aniao Islet. Surprisingly, it is just beside the road! Literally a beach beside the road, what can I say? Unfortunately, it was low tide when we got there and it was not very inviting to swim into due to the sharp rock formations. There is I think a small resort a few steps from the entrance with a pool in front. Cottages are scattered and there is a mini bus converted into a sari-sari store. I took pictures instead and found lots of sea creatures underneath like starfish, crabs and little fish. Entrance fee is P20 per head.
- Hanging Bridge
Stretching more than a hundred meters, the hanging bridge at Barangay Zabali, Baler has become part of the local tourism industry. It was very unfortunate that it was closed when we visited due to an incident where a few drunk male tourists crossed the bridge, all settled at the middle and rocked it like crazy causing one of its support to break loose. Now tourists are not advised to cross it. The entrance was blocked so all I did was take pictures of it. Nevertheless, the view was still beautiful. The calm waters, the trees and plants along the river make it a good place to relax and just enjoy the beauty of nature.
- Balete Tree
As we drove, I noticed a sign saying “Balete Park”. I knew we’re going to see the huge Balete tree I saw when I Googled Baler. I just realized that the tree is inside a park. When we arrived, it was very obvious that this place is a must go for tourists-taking pictures, walking, sitting, buying and eating food beside a big hut where food vendors lined to sell local delicacies like rice cakes steamed in banana leaves (suman), fresh fruits, coconut juice and grated coconut meat fried in brown sugar (bukayo) Surprisingly, their rice cakes were colored brown but it was good even when you eat it on its own. Going back to the topic, the Balete tree is 600 years old and coined by the locals as the “Millenial Tree”. It is also known as the biggest tree of its kind in Asia. It takes 60 adult people holding hands to circle the trunk of it. I didn’t know it is possible to go inside and climb. Had I known right on time, I would have done the same. Very pathetic.
- Ditumabo Mother Falls
Technically, this isn’t part of Baler anymore since the falls is located in San Luis, a nearby town from Baler but due to its beauty, most tour groups, tricycle drivers and even the local government include it as part of the itinerary. Getting there was no joke. First step is to take a tricycle from Baler to San Luis, around 20 minutes, and then there goes the rough road uphill. Take note that we went there just a few minutes after a rainfall so the road was wet and slippery. It took us around another 20 minutes or so before we stopped. From the last point, we had to walk about 30 minutes, and by walk I mean trek, and by trek I mean crossing rivers, bamboo bridges, leaping on huge rocks, climbing steep and slippery ladders. To cut the long trek short, we arrived at Mother Falls. It was stunning despite the huge crowd of tourists, its murky water due to rain and the weather. The water was cold I wasn’t able to swim. Taking pictures was a challenge. With its size and might, its name just fits it. Its single cascade was strong and yet it’s still a beauty.