Minalungao: Nueva Ecija’s (Not So) Hidden Gem
One of the few remaining natural environments of the region, Minalungao National Park is a 2,000-hectare protected area located in General Tinio, Nueva Ecija. The green patch of land is halved by Peñaranda River and limestone formations. Minalungao came from “Mina” which means mine, and “Lungao”, a local word for a cave. Indeed it has a system of caverns which most are yet to be explored.
When the flock went from Aurora to Nueva Ecija, we already accepted that swimming moments are over. Aside from having no access to any coastline, we knew that they’re not much interesting tourist spots to be found there. We were wrong.
From Cabanatuan City (where we stayed), we went to Minalungao through Fort Magsaysay. We’re almost denied entering the fort since we don’t have sticker access pass. Glad that they still let us pass to the largest army training grounds of the country, as well as where the late Senator Ninoy Aquino was jailed.
Upon reaching the park, an unwelcoming sight we saw for a “protected area” like the uncontrolled influx of tourists (we’re also to blame), as well as ongoing developments which for me are eclipsing the place’s natural ambiance. Though disappointed at first, we were in awe when we finally left our rented cottage to see the actual river. We saw the river as it reflects the blue skies and lush greeneries surrounding it, flaunting its glistening jade waters. Humongous rock formations along the trail are breathtaking. The place was so picturesque, your fear of heights won’t bother you from taking photos and selfies in the middle of the hanging bridge!
Its popularity is known not only throughout the province but also to its neighboring provinces, Pampanga and Bulacan since there are not much notable natural tourist destinations to visit to on those areas. No wonder the park is experiencing huge traffic of visitors.
Seeing the bamboo rafts below the trail made us regret our hurried decision to rent a cottage on the picnic grounds, which is far from the river. For only P600 you will enjoy the steady current while on the raft. It’s like a floating cottage, where you can take the food, beverages, and belongings with you (bringing electronic gadgets is discouraged). Phone signal there is very weak, so it’s another plus to raft renting as it makes the group on sight of each other.
There are many things to do there such as cliff diving, cave spelunking, kayaking, ride a zipline, and what we did repeatedly: letting ourselves be drifted by the river (with our life jacket, of course).
Regarding the developments there, lots of things were happening on the other side of the hanging bridge. Pathways were garden-decorated, and countless lodges were being built. There’s also an ATV which is displayed for photo-op. Probably the empty spaces along the way will be for displays similar to the ATV also. Another attraction there is a grotto of a glass cross, wherein you need to climb a thousand steps to get there.
Being at Minalungao National Park is a great experience. I really hope that the authorities there should do something about the overdevelopment and overtourism of the park and act (seriously) to preserve its natural beauty as well as promote the true spirit of ecotourism.
Entrance – P100 per person
Parking Fee – P50 (4-wheels), P30 (Tricycle), P20 (Motorcycle)
Lifejacket Rental – P25
Bamboo Raft/Floating Cottage Rental – P600
Cottage Rental – P400
- Bringing food and beverages especially when renting a raft is encouraged. Though there are cheap eateries on the picnic grounds, you’ll still find it hassle to go back and forth just to buy something to eat.
- When hiring a raft, better to waterproof your belongings especially your gadgets. You don’t want to be sorry if you accidentally drop your valuables on the water.
- Flashlights or phones with torchlight are handy if you do spelunking there.
- Avoid going there after a storm has just passed. You’ll just be disappointed by the muddy water and strong current of the river.
- Visit it ASAP if you want to see and experience the remaining “natural” beauty of the park.
The national park is a victim of over-commercialization — there are buildings built on the limestone rocks that taint the natural landscape of the place. As mentioned earlier, there are lodges being built on the other side of the park, in which those are part of hotel and water park/resort in the making.
From Manila, take NLEX and exit to Sta. Rita. Upon reaching Gapan via San Miguel Road, There are several trails to Minalungao National Park, so better ask locals along the way.
Ride a bus going to Cabanatuan/Gapan (P150-200, 3 hours). From Gapan, ride a jeep bound to General Tinio, then hire a tricycle to Minalungao National Park.