Mt. Kulis is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the Philippines. More so during the pandemic. Its popularity stems from the vast display of sea of clouds against the misty and scenic Sierra Madre mountain range. Need variety? It has wide array of tourist attractions such as a hanging bridge, secluded falls, and an overflowing river pool too!
This hike is best suited for beginners and can be your next getaway destination due to its proximity to Metro Manila.
In this guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know to plan your hike, including a detailed breakdown of trek practicalities, what to pack, how to get there, photos to inspire you to take this trip too, and more!
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- Location: Sitio Maysawa, Cuyambay 1980 Tanay, Province of Rizal, Calabarzon, Luzon, Philippines | Asia
- Distance | 5.6 KM Out and Back Trail
- Duration | 1 day (1.5 to 3H to Summit)
- Jump-off Point | Fresno Agro Forestry and Eco Tourist Campsite | Sitio Maysawa, Cuyambay 1980 Tanay, Philippines
- Max Elevation | 629 MASL
- Hiking Season | Open year-round. Best months to visit: January to May
- River Crossings | None
- Food & Water Sources | Sari-Sari Stores (Several convenience stores from the registration area and at destination points). See “Trek Practicalities” below.
- Fees | Register and Pay Camp/Hut Fees on-site (Passport/Valid ID Card required) | See “Trek Practicalities” below.
- Guides: Required and Assigned at Fresno Agro Forestry and Eco Tourist Registration Area | See “Trek Practicalities” below.
- Recommended For: Beginners | Casual Tourists
Admittedly, I took inspiration from the numerous posts via social media of this picturesque place and decided it’s probably the safest (travel restrictions wise) choice to experience the outdoors once again. And escape the metro after a year of quarantine.
This was my first hike since the onset of the pandemic (March 2020). And although I work out at home, I didn’t think I was conditioned enough to go on a hike then. Strength? Sure! However, my endurance took a back seat. My NEAT‘s been at an all-time low for months. Still, my yearning for the outdoors prevailed. And boy, was I rewarded.
It was back in May when Alex and I decided to hike this mountain, with our usual DIY (Do-It-Yourself) style. As you might know, I’m not a big fan of organized group tours. Yes, I think they’re an efficient and economical way to travel (with lots of perks too!) but I simply prefer owning up my time, pace and solitude. I love slow immersive trail stops. Further, taking tons of photos can also cause delays on other folks and I’d rather not be the cause of inconvenience.
Anyway, this hike was special for me. It renewed my love for the outdoors (not that it waned over the last few months), it’s just that quarantine can skew your perception of things that matter to you. (More on that soon.)
For this hike, we met as early as 1 AM. We encountered a few logistics hiccups like an unexpected change in van terminal hours and almost getting ripped off with the tricycle fare. But we persisted, compared offers from multiple drivers, and haggled.
At last, we made it to the campsite a little past 3 AM. We were the first ones there.
It was us who opened that rickety gate along with the two (2) local leads. One of them was our assigned guide. Unfortunately, the establishments inside were still closed but our guide managed to convince one of the store owners to serve us coffee.
A trivial cup of coffee suddenly had a different appeal during those wee hours of the morning. Far from the metro. In nature.
It brought forth a certain wave of calmness in me that I didn’t know was missing over the last few months of being locked up. Despite reading countless articles on how it takes a toll on prisoners, I thought I was the kind of person who can endure solitary confinement. Until I experienced it during this pandemic. I know that’s an exaggerated and a “privileged” statement to make but these trying times really urge you to reflect.
We still had plenty of time to kill before the campsite opens but we didn’t mind. We’re just happy to be out and exploring once again. And besides, we always kill time through conversations bordering from trifling to existential.
Registration office opened around 4 AM or so. After the formalities of signing papers and payments, off we go into the woods with merely our phones guiding us through the dark. (Don’t judge us, soon we’ll invest in headlamps! )
The trail is easy and established enough given its popularity over the last few months. When we reached the first attraction site, the sun hasn’t risen yet so we had to wait out under a hut. Actually, it’s funny how the conversation revolved around our guide’s preferred birth control method. Not sure how we got there but I am always curious nonetheless.
Sun rose and I took advantage of its soft light. Setup my tripod but the poor thing won’t stay up so I just instructed Alex how to use my camera (as usual).
The trail from Noah’s arc to Sambong peak and off to the summit was relatively easy. But if you’re coming out of a year-long quarantine, I suggest you begin actively walking or going for a quick run prior to this hike because although it’s easy, you might suffer from a few shortness of breath here and there if not conditioned enough. Like me!
We had our breakfast at the summit overlooking the Sierra Madre mountain range which vaguely reminded me of Bali, Indonesia. Other sights on the way down such as the spider web, hanging bridge, Lion Falls, and the overflowing river pool are decent attractions too. We enjoyed our time in each of those destinations and probably stayed longer than what our guide expected to the point of slyly suggesting a 4×4 ride on the way back instead.
From the pool, we decided to hike back to the registration site by 3:30 PM. Still blistering hot for the mid-afternoon sun but we managed to reach the jump-off point by 5 PM. We would’ve been faster had we not stopped countless times due to my insane breathlessness. Again, if you’re not active, please do some cardio before the hike.
At 6 PM, we were homebound. My heart was full. And so was my memory card.
I’ve covered a few practical tips/guides below to help you plan for a smooth hike in Mt. Kulis:
Visitors are required to present the following:
- Valid ID
- Confirmed Booking Appointment (Given by Fresno Admin staff upon booking confirmation.) You should fill in the form below for booking reservations. Packages are also included on the link. Once done, you should contact Fresno Agro Forestry and Eco Tourist Campsite via their Facebook page. Click this link for the booking form.
- Age Restriction: Only 18 – 65 yrs old are allowed to enter the campsite.
Pandemic Related Safety Requirements:
- Medical Certificate – Released date should be within five (5) days prior to your travel date. If you can’t secure one, you need to sign a waiver form at the registration area.
- Wearing a mask while hiking is not mandatory. But please observe other safety protocols such as social distancing and sanitation.
REGISTRATION, RENTALS & OTHER FEES
- Entrance Fee (Day Tour: 4:00A.M. – 4:00P.M.): Php 150.00/Head (3 USD)
- Entrance Fee (Overnight Tour: 4:00P.M. – 1:00P.M.): Php 200.00/Head (4 USD)
- Tent Pitching Fee: Php 300/Tent (6 USD)
- Tent Rental (Good for 2 Persons): Php 500.00 (10 USD)
- Sleeping Mat: Php 100.00/Mat (2 USD)
- Corkage Fee: Php 50 per alcoholic beverage bottle. (1 USD)
PACKAGES AND ITINERARY
Hiking Mt. Kulis should be a seamless experience for you when you opt for either Day Hike or Overnight packages.
Day Tour (4:00 am- 4:00 pm)
Camp A: Php 200/pax (4 USD)
Camp B: Php 200/pax (4 USD)
Lion House Falls
Overflowing River Pool
All-In Destinations (Camp A&B) Php 300/pax | 6 USD
Tour Guide Fee Php 500 (1-5pax) | 10 USD
Additional Php 50/hr (1 USD) in excess of 8hr
*Prices are subject to change without prior notice.
Overnight (4:00 PM- 11:00 AM)
CAMP A: Php 300/pax (6 USD)
CAMP B: Php 300/pax (6 USD)
Lion House Falls
Overflowing River Pool
Tour Guide Fee For Overnight stay at CAMP B Php 1,250 (1-5pax) (25 USD)
All-In Destinations (4:00 PM- 3:00PM The next day) : Php 500/pax (10 USD)
Mandatory Tourguide for Noah`s Ark And All Destination for CAMP B
Tour guide fee Php 500 (1-5pax) | 10 USD
Additional Php 50/hr (1 USD) in excess of 8hrs
PHONE RECEPTION & INTERNET
Phone reception and data connection can be a little bit patchy or sporadic at lower elevations and throughout the hike. Better signal near the summit but not stable as well. Set any web pages you want to reference on the trail to ‘read offline’ beforehand. You can set this blog post to read offline also.
There are several sari-sari (convenience) stores lined up near the registration area and on each destination point where you can stock up on food and other supplies.
- Water source is a piece of cake on popular destinations such as Mt. Kulis. You can buy extra bottled water or refill your containers thru several stores lined up in each resting/destination point.
- Personally, I bring loads of water from home then carry them on the trail. I consider the extra weight as “training”. But if you’re not up for that self-induced struggle and also want to be extra careful, you may also sterilize your water sourced from the trail by using Steripen or any of those purification tablets.
There are no easily accessible ATMs near the trail. I recommend that you withdraw enough cash while in the town/city proper as there will be fees to be paid on-site before and after the hike. Plus, it’s always a good idea to have some cash with you in case you need to pay for a tricycle/motorcycle to/from the trailhead, or for emergencies.
I use either my phone’s native weather app or you can equally check reports and updates from the sources below:
- PAG-ASA DOST (The official Twitter account of Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration)
- ACCUWEATHER (This is an American media company that provides commercial weather forecasting services worldwide.)
MAPS & NAVIGATION
- Google Maps – This one’s a given. Just make sure to download the relevant map online beforehand, and switch to flight mode to conserve battery.
- Maps.Me – Another good option when it comes to offline maps. But I seldom use this and only get by with Google Maps alone.
- Waze – Download the app (available both IOS and Android) and look for Fresno Agro Forestry and Eco Tourist as pin.
You may reach out to the admin of Fresno Agro Forestry and Eco Tourist Campsite via their Facebook Page: Fresno Agro Forestry and Eco Tourist Campsite
WHEN TO GO THERE?
The best hiking season in the Philippines starts from January to May. While this trail is accessible year-round, I highly advise to always check the weather advisories and other regional restrictions for safety and convenience.
HOW TO GET THERE?
By Private Transportation
Route 1 – Via Marcos Highway
You need to pass over Masinag, Cogeo, Boso-Boso Resort, Palo Alto and Garden Cottages. Follow the road until you reach Maysawa Circuit, the jump-off point for Mt. Sapari and Mt. Binutasan. From the waiting shed, this is more than 1 kilometer away from Treasure Mountain, go straight up then turn right when you see the signage for Fresno Agro Forestry and Eco Tourist Campsite.
Route 2 – Via Sampaloc in Tanay, Rizal
Take the Sampaloc Road and pass the street to Daranak Falls. Drive straight until you reach the junction then turn left. You should pass Sierra Madre Resort, Ten Cents to Heaven then Pico de Pino. Continue driving until you see the jump-off point Maysawa Circuit. From the waiting shed, this is more than 1 kilometer away from Treasure Mountain, go straight up then turn right when you see the signage for Fresno Agro Forestry and Eco Tourist Campsite.
By Public Transportation
Route 1 – Via Cogeo
Ride a van or jeepney going to Cogeo Gate 2 | Php 70 (1.5 USD). Take another jeep bound to Sampaloc, Tanay. Terminal is beside CityMall. | Php 45 (> 1USD). Get off at Sitio Maysawa or jump-off to Maysawa Circuit. From here you can walk for 45 minutes to an hour or hop on the tricycle to get to Fresno Agro Forestry and Eco Tourist Campsite. Tricycle from Sitio Maysawa to Fresno costs around Php 100 (1 USD).
Route 2 – Via Tanay
Ride a jeepney going to Tanay town proper and get off at Tanay Public Market. Take another jeep going to Sampaloc (Php 29) | (> 1 USD). Ride a tricycle going to Fresno (Php250-Php350 for 4 persons) | (5-7 USD).
WHAT TO PACK?
I’m a minimalist outdoor explorer, I only carry what’s necessary for the trip to ensure comfortability and safety. But keep in mind that any adventure outdoors, it can get unpredictable so you should always be prepared. Outdoors is not a joke, Jim!
Prepare for all weather eventualities. As much as you can, you should stick to sweat-wicking material. Avoid jeans or any cotton fabrics – if they get wet, they are heavy, take forever to dry, and you’ll get cold quickly. Also, you don’t want to mess with Hypothermia.
- Sunblock sunblock sunblock!
- Hat, gloves and sunglasses
- Sun Protect Jacket
- Bandana and/or Buff
- Nothing ruins a hike more than ill-fitted or inappropriate hiking shoes. Make sure they are broken in already! You don’t want to suffer from blisters and other discomforts while hiking. It should be a fun experience for you more than a struggle. Ideally, you should have a good pair of hiking boots. But personally, I settle with lightweight running shoes with good traction. I have an old pair of Nike that I am not yet willing to retire soon. Bought it for less than 60 USD and summited 10 or so mountains with it.
- You may want to pack a pair of sandals or slippers for wearing around camp or when you just want your feet to breathe.
I don’t have a full list of camping equipments yet but will gradually invest soon. As a minimum though, the following should get you covered for a good day of camping:
- Sleeping mat, bag and liner
- Pillow (Mine’s just my bag ’cause I’m paranoid but hey a decent pillow wouldn’t hurt you!)
- Cooking: Small burner, gas canister and other cooking supplies.
You’ll need the usual hiking gear below, depends on your itinerary (Mt. Kulis Day Hike or Overnight Camping).
- Hiking Poles
- Refillable Water Bottle or Water Bladder (I carry both. 3L gang here!)
- Water purification method
- First Aid Kit (As much as possible, don’t settle with “prepared kits”alone. Please customize your own according to your medical needs and other emergencies you can think of.
- Rubbish bags for carrying out all your waste
- Head Torch
- Basic toiletries (Also, tissue & toilet trowel for digging a hole and burying human waste).
I’m not a heavy eater on the trail and can survive on small snacks such as below. Just make sure to pack food that is high in calories, but low in weight, and that you have a good mix of proteins and carbohydrates.
- Trail Mix
Obviously, I like documenting my adventures through photos and videos. But who doesn’t these days? Below is the list of electronics you should take with you to capture your special moments too:
- Appropriate Cables
- DSLR/Mirrorless/Point and Shoot Cameras
- Extra Batteries for Camera
- Extra Memory Cards for Camera
- Add Ons Only – Solar Panel for Charging & Satellite Communication device for Emergencies
Additional Note: In the Philippines, mountain guides are usually trained to carry portable two-way radios to communicate with each other and to/from Barangay halls. I recommend double-checking if your guide’s carrying one as there are instances that they will just leave it on-site out of complacency and easy trail class. Make sure they have it with them at all times so appropriate authority and rescue will attend to you in case of emergencies.
WHERE TO STAY
Although Rizal is one of the most popular destinations near Manila, finding a place to stay is quite a difficult feat. For this hike, you have two (2) options for accommodations:
- If overnight, you may opt for the accommodations offered in the camp itself via this booking form. They offer tent and kubo (hut) rentals for as low as Php 400 (8 USD) and Php 1000 (20 USD) respectively.
- Other comfortable options for you would be to book accommodations via Booking.com. I recommend this if you have other valuable items of luggage to store and to also avoid the hassle of carrying it at the trail camp.
MORE PHOTOS TO INSPIRE YOU
I hope some of these photos will inspire you to take this trip and experience the beauty of nature and the province of Rizal.
These are the tools I used for these photos:
- Fujifilm X-S10 Mirrorless Digital Camera with 18-55 MM Kit Lens
- iPhone XS MAX (256 GB)
- Adobe Creative Cloud for Post Processing
TIPS AND OTHER NOTES
- Observe the Leave No Trace (LNT) Principles. Since you are one lucky gem to experience the beauty of nature, be a good steward. I encourage you to read this link first before doing any outdoor activity: https://lnt.org/why/7-principles/
- To avoid crowds, it’s better if you hike on a weekday.
- Yes, you may fly your drones and get sick aerial views.
- Parking spaces are available.
- If they went above and beyond and you’re satisfied with their service, please tip your guide. Usually, they are locals and guiding is their main source of livelihood.
- Challenge yourself. You can share your photos with me if you feel like celebrating after your hike.
- Enjoy life. You owe it to yourself.
That’s all! If you have any useful info to add or stories to share, get in touch through the comments section below or send an email at: [email protected].
If you have any questions, let me know and I’ll try my best to help you. Good luck and enjoy your trip!
OTHER ACTIVITIES FOR YOU IN RIZAL
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