Liloan, Cebu: Hiking the Cotcot River in Barangay Mulao

Cotcot River is a scenic river trekking destination at the Liloan-Compostela border.

What comes to mind when you hear of the Cebu town of Liloan? To most people, it’s rosquillos cookies and the historic Bagacay Point Lighthouse. But this town has so much more to offer if you venture farther inland. The Cotcot River, for example, which separates Liloan from the municipality of Compostela to the north, is a river trekking destination. It is one of the major rivers on Cebu island, running for around 40 km from the highlands of Cebu City to the eastern coast, where it empties out into the Camotes Sea. Eager to discover the place, my sister and I organized a weekend trip together with her dog owner friends to go hiking along with their canine companions.

Our group comprised of nine persons and four dogs in total, riding a convoy of three vehicles. We first met up at Jollibee Liloan along the highway for breakfast takeout, then proceeded by turning left to Fatima Road towards the mountains. Before going to Barangay Mulao, where the river hiking begins, we stopped by a dragon fruit plantation along the way at Purok Dragon Fruit, Barangay Cabadiangan.

Mhy J’s Refreshments & Dragon Fruit Farm (entrance fee: ₱20 per person; parking fee: ₱20 per vehicle) has an elevated dining area overlooking 800 square meters of cultivated cacti that bear the distinctive, magenta-colored dragon fruits. Aside from serving rice meals, they also have their signature dragon fruit shake (₱80), which we all absolutely enjoyed. It was the ideal power drink to energize us before the hike. Unfortunately, the cacti were not bearing fruits during our visit since their fruiting season runs from May to October. Our stopover was the great place for the dogs to get acquainted with another, and to warm up for the rest of the day’s activities.

Stopped by a dragon fruit farm along the way at Barangay Cabadiangan.
The Cotcot River separates the municipalities of Liloan (right side) from Compostela (left side).

The 11-kilometer road to Barangay Mulao from the highway was scenic as it follows a river valley. Aside from an uphill stretch paved with concrete ramps, most of the route, albeit narrow, was fully cemented and accessible by automatic four-wheeled vehicles. Upon reaching the center of Barangay Mulao, we drove down to the covered basketball court, which provided a lot of room to safely park our vehicles. A barangay tanod had us register our names in their logbook and pay the entrance fee of only ₱10 per person for the river trekking. He also recruited a local guide to accompany our group.

The trail begins behind the covered basketball court, passing through backyards where villagers raise fighting cocks, chickens and pigs. Mango trees dotted the way, which was easy to negotiate since it was downhill all the way to the river. We reached Cotcot River in less than half an hour. Take note that other blogs have been calling this waterway the “Mulao River” after the two barangays where visitors typically start their hike – either in Barangay Mulao in Liloan or Barangay Mulao in Compostela – but the proper name is Cotcot River. One can start the hike from either barangay, but the trail from the Liloan side is shorter since it’s closer to the popular rock formations.

We reached Cotcot River from the covered court in less than half an hour.
Our hiking group at Malingin Rock!

As soon as we reached the riverbank, we could see Malingin Rock, our first stop, only 150 meters upriver. This entire section of Cotcot River was beautifully strewn with large, mostly pale-colored boulders, contrasting with the green valley that flanked the narrow waterway. The water level was low so our footwear remained dry, as we climbed over boulders and hopped over rocks. Malingin Rock is one of the larger dark-colored boulders, measuring around 4 meters in height in my estimation. It gets its name from its roundish shape (Lingin means “round” in Cebuano), precariously sitting next to the riverbank.

We continued further upriver – for another 180 meters – to second interesting formation. Sakayán Rock is a much larger boulder sitting on the middle of the stream. Locals named it after its rough resemblance to a boat (sakayán in Cebuano), when viewed from the side. We picnicked at the rocky riverbank overlooking the boulder. A few of the group dipped their feet at a small cascade to cool off. The trail itself, even the bouldering part, was very manageable, however, the intensifying heat as the sun approached midday challenged us, especially on our return hike where we had to climb back up to the trailhead.

Our leisurely hike along the Cotcot River was an enjoyable experience and worth the drive up the mountains of Liloan. It was easier than the day hikes we’ve experienced in Naga City (Mt. Naupa) and Carmen (Mt. Mago). It offers a refreshing change of scenery that’s different from the undulating grassy hills and karst peaks that characterize most hiking destinations in Cebu province. Who would have known Liloan had its fair share of nature escapes?

Our dog Ocean enjoying the boulders.
Sakayan Rock is boat-shaped boulder in the middle of Cotcot River.
An aerial view of Sakayan Rock and the Cotcot River.

How to Get There

From the North Bus Terminal (SM City Cebu), take any northbound bus and alight at the Fatima Road junction in Liloan. There also buses that ply between Liloan and Cebu IT Park’s PUV terminal. From the junction, hire a habal-habal (motorcycle taxi) to take you to Barangay Mulao (Liloan). (Tip: one may also alight earlier across Gaisano Grand Mall, where one can find more habal-habal.)

For private vehicles, use Google Maps to navigate to “Barangay Mulao Hall”. There’s no mobile signal in the area, so make sure you download an offline map on Google Maps beforehand.

Register, pay the entrance fee (₱10 per person), and ask for a local guide at the barangay hall. Unfortunately, there are no fixed rates for guiding. Negotiate the fee with your guide beforehand to avoid misunderstandings. A fee of ₱100 per hour would be fair compensation. For our three-hour return hike, we paid our guide ₱450 for guiding our group of nine (ie. ₱50 contribution per person).

A return hike to Malingin and Sakayan Rocks from Barangay Hall of Mulao (Liloan) would take at least an hour (with no rests). If you want a longer, more challenging route, you can enter Cotcot River from Barangay Mulao, Liloan, and continue farther upriver past the rock formations for roughly another kilometer, exiting at Barangay Mulao, Compostela on the right side of the river. This route also can also be done on reverse (ie. Compostela to Liloan).

For more information, please contact the Facebook page of Barangay Mulao, Liloan, or text +63 9294861001. It may take days to receive a response since there is no mobile signal in the village.

Caution: Cotcot River is prone to flash floods. Avoid going to the river during strong rains. Heed the advice of barangay officials, if they disallow visitors due to unfavorable weather conditions.

Location Map

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