Wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Madre Mountain Range, Aurora Province showcases a windswept beauty that has long drawn those who want to intimately commune with nature. While surfing is the town’s main draw, the rise in tourism in recent years has seen a new wave of accommodations, restaurants, and tourism services being offered. These days, there’s more to see and do in this laid-back coastal town!
Surf in Sabang & Cemento Beach
Without a doubt, surfing is the number one draw of Baler. After all, the coastal town, where ridable waves of the Pacific Ocean reach 2.7 meters in height, isn’t dubbed the Birthplace of Philippine Surfing for nothing. Locals picked up the sport in the late 1970s after the production crew of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (which filmed Vietnam scenes in the Philippines) left behind their surfboards.
The sandy breaks of Sabang Beach along the town center make it an excellent place to learn the sport. Located right along this stretch is Nalu Surf Camp, which offers surf lessons for PHP 350 per hour, inclusive of certified instructor and surf board rental, plus a free photo and free bottle of beer! More experienced surfers may catch the reef breaks along Cemento Beach like the one in front of Cobra Reef Resort.
Hike to Ditumabo Falls
Take a break from surfing by hiking to Ditumabo Falls, a 50-meter tall cascade plunging into a catch basin. Located in the neighboring municipality of San Luis, 30 minutes drive away from Baler town, the tourist spot is nicknamed “Mother Falls” for its grandeur. The main falls can be reached in 30 minutes, walking along a boulder-ridden river, tracing the massive pipe and concrete dike of a hydroelectric plant.
Stroll down local history
Baler is a quiet town, but its handful of heritage sites brim with dramatic history. The top sights are located within walking distance from each other, and makes for an easy DIY walking tour. Start at the San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Church (Baler Church), a modest-looking Roman Catholic church originally built with stone in 1611, and reconstructed in 1939. The original church was the site of the Siege of Baler, when the last forces of the Spanish empire quartered themselves inside the church for 11 months, long after the Philippine revolutionary government declared independence from Spanish rule. (Learn about this intriguing chapter of Philippine history by watching the 2008 Filipino film Baler or the 2016 Spanish film 1898, Los Ultimos de Filipinas.)
In front of the church is the Doña Aurora Aragon-Quezon Ancestral House, which is a replica that uses the wooden posts from the original nipa house, where the wife of President Manuel Quezon was born. She was known for her humanitarian work and for being the first Chairperson of the Philippine National Red Cross. She died in an ambush by communist insurgents en route to opening a hospital in Baler. The province of Aurora was named after her. Finish your tour at Museo de Baler, a brick-walled museum housing artifacts tracing the town’s history.
Cruise to Dicasalarin Cove
The Pacific Ocean pummels the coastline of Aurora province, carving out a rugged seascape often likened to the picturesque spots one finds in Batanes. Seasta Beach Resort & Lodging, located next to Baler Fishport, offers scenic boat trips along the dramatic coastline east of the town center, passing by the Dimadimalangat Rock Formations, Anyao Islets, and finally the remote white-sand beach of Dicasalarin Cove, lorded over by small white-painted lighthouses and a weather station. Boat cruises are PHP 850 per person for group of 7 to 15 people, inclusive of onboard wifi, snacks and bottled water, and snorkeling equipment.
Ride speedboat-towed inflatables
If a boat cruise is a snooze for you, and you have that need for speed, Buoyancy Water Sports, also based at the Baler Fishport, can arrange hair-raising rides on speedboat-towed inflatables like UFO, Banana Boat and Flying Fish! Rides range between PHP 250 and PHP 350 per person, with varying requirements for minimum and maximum capacities, depending on the ride.
Float down a tranquil river
Need to relax after all the action? Take it slow and steady at Nature Green Forest Resort, a rustic guesthouse located along a swimmable river near Cemento Beach. Laze around their dipping pool, lounge on a swing under a tree, or explore the river by kayak, bamboo raft, or floating cottage.
Embark on a food trip around town
The tourism boom in Baler has seen many food outlets popping up in town in recent years, offering numerous options to refuel and unwind after a day of outdoor adventure. One of the newest additions is Myrtle Park, a skateboard park with gyros shop Wrap N’ Roll and tropical cocktail bar, Pineapple Express. Other recommended restaurants are Bike King’s Kitchen (check out the counter with bike-inspired seats!), Kubli Bistro with their comfort food and live music, and Yellow Fin Bar & Grill.
One of the best value eats in town is Chef Gerry’s Picnic Bay, which specializes in seafood, inihaw (grill) and shabu-shabu. Their eat-all-you-can lunch buffet is only PHP 200 per person! No matter where you eat in Baler, you’ll come across the ubiquitous ensaladang pakô, a salad made with the young fronds of the vegetable fern (Diplazium esculentum) which grows abundantly in Aurora.
Indulge in local chocolate
Now for dessert! Chocolate lovers must troop to Mumunsi Chocolate Cafe to satisfy their sweet cravings with chocolate treats made with cacao beans sourced from Aurora province. They serve traditional tsokolate or hot chocolate drink frothed with a batirol (wooden whisk), as well as savory dishes like pastas and salads, which incorporate tablea (chocolate tablets) or cacao nibs. Mumunsi also carries its own brand of bean-to-bar chocolates in dark and milk varieties. One can see how these chocolates are made at their small on-site factory.
Play a fun game of mini golf
Tucked away in the countryside of Maria Aurora town, 15 km northwest of Baler, is Joker’s Hideway, a whimsical 16-hole mini golf course that meanders around fish ponds and banana trees. Drop by ASAP to avail of their ongoing promo: play-all-you-can for only PHP 50 per person! And have a swingin’ good time with family and friends.
Learn to make bignay wine
Enjoy farmhouse living at Azbahaen Leisure Farm & Resort, amidst rice fields, fish ponds and herb gardens. Accommodation is also available: take your pick between the spartan lodging rooms, dormitory, family duplex, or the farm house that can accommodate up to ten people. The farm also produces its own brand of wine, Wineberry, made from the wild berries of the bignay or currant tree which flourishes on the farm. Cheers!
Marvel at the artworks of Vincent Gonzales
Peruse the emotive, often surreal artworks of a renowned Baler-born visual artist at his eponymous art museum: the Vincent Gonzales Art Museum located along the highway, 5km before entering the town proper of Baler. The artist has exhibited his work extensively across Asia and Europe, his pieces drawing inspiration from his personal experiences, indigenous cultures and the rugged beauty of his hometown.
Take home jars of creamy peanut butter
Don’t leave Baler without stopping by Pacita’s Pasalubong, the go-to shop selling souvenirs, delicacies, and their famous Great Harvest brand of homemade creamy peanut butter (PHP 200 for a 500 gram jar)! Other bestsellers are their atsara (papaya relish) and coco jam.
How to Get There
Baler is five to six hours by bus from Manila. Genesis Transport has bus trips (PHP 488) departing every two hours from 10PM to 7AM at their Cubao terminal. For inquiries, contact +63 9338527648, +63 9338527638, +63 2 3328075, or +63 2 4211425.
Hire a tricycle to get around town and the neighboring municipalities or, if you’re traveling in a bigger group, rent a van with driver. Our accommodation, Endless Summer Hotel, offers a van rental for only PHP 2,500 for an day tour (8 hours) of tourist attractions in and around Baler. The van can accommodate up to 12 persons. For inquiries, contact +63 9467106677 or +63 9062032489, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This trip was made possible through Lakbay Norte 8 (January 28 to February 2, 2019), a media tour organized by North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB), a non-stock, non-profit organization spearheaded by the Manila North Tollways Corporation, builder and concessionaire of the North Luzon Expressway.