When plans for a Mt. Victoria hike fell through, I decided to look for easy yet rewarding day hikes in Puerto Princesa City, the provincial capital of Palawan. Situated only 17 km north of the city center, Mount Magarwak is one of the most accessible hiking trails. Popular among local hikers and off-road bikers, this row of forested hills in Barangay Bacungan rises only a little over 300 masl but offers impressive views overlooking Honda Bay and the lush mountains of central Palawan.
The best time to hike here is at dawn, making it in time to catch the sunrise over Honda Bay from the ridge line. Much of the trail doesn’t have tree cover so an early morning climb would be ideal to avoid the midday heat. I left my accommodation, Balay Tuko Garden Inn, an hour before sunrise on a rental scooter, driving 15 kilometers up the national highway, before detouring to a dirt road that took me to the trailhead next to a large unoccupied house. I learned how to find this hiking trail from videos and other blogs on the internet.
I wasn’t expecting the area to be very dark and quiet. There were no houses nearby. It was a Saturday, so I assumed there would be other local weekend hikers taking the trail at sunrise. However, I found myself alone at the trailhead in pitch-black darkness. There were no other motorbikes or vehicles parked nearby. Out of nowhere, a few stray dogs appeared, barking at me. But I calmed myself, and they soon turned friendly. I parked my scooter on the road side, and started walking up the road next to the big house.
After walking for 10 minutes, the road slowly veered away in the wrong direction, away from the mountain. I realized I was lost and should have detoured to a trail earlier, so I retraced my steps back towards the trailhead to find a white dog at a road bend, which, yelping at me, seemed to beckon me to follow him. It dashed up a narrow uphill path, which I missed earlier. I climbed up the trail, and reached the ridge of the hill, which was marked by green-painted electrical posts.
Despite getting lost earlier, I arrived at the ridge just in time to catch the sun emerging from the cloudy horizon. From the north-south trail, looking eastward, I could see Honda Bay and its islands like Frazer, Pandan, Luli, Canon and Cowrie. To the west, the national highway snakes through a valley.
Walking farther up the ridge, I finally reach the Smart cell tower on the highest point of Mount Magarwak. There isn’t much of a view from here due to the thick foliage, so I continue to the viewpoint past the tower. Roping down a steep section, the downhill path to the right of the tower leads to a rocky peak of reddish ultramafic rock offering the best vantage point.
From here, not only can I see the bay and its islands, but also the mangrove-lined Bacungan River below and, farther out along the horizon, the prominent mountains of central Palawan, like Mt. Peel (Tapyas), Mt. Bahile, Mt. Bloomfield, Mt. St. Paul (site of the World Heritage-listed Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park), and Cleopatra’s Needle.
How to Get There
Mount Magarwak is located in Barangay Bacungan, 17 km north of the city center of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. The most convenient way to get to the trailhead, especially for a sunrise hike, is to hire a habal-habal (motorcycle taxi) or drive your own rental scooter. Located 200 m north of the airport junction (across Star Oil gas station), Bataga Vehicle Rental (contact no. +63 9530867992 or +63 9126062075) rents out scooters, motorbikes and cars to tourists. Scooter rental rates are ₱500 per day, exclusive of fuel.
Bring food, water, and a flashlight or headlamp. There are no stores or vendors near the trail.
From the city center, take the national highway northwards. Upon reaching the Bantay Gubat Central Monitoring Station (a hut on the left side of the highway), turn right into a dirt road. Follow this road uphill for 1 km until you find a large unoccupied house on your left. This is the trailhead to Magarwak. Park your ride near the house and take the dirt road on your left. Walk this road for only 130 meters, until you see a small red gate to your left. Detour to the narrow, uphill trail beside the gate.
A broken wooden sign reading “This Way to Smart Tower” marks the start of this path. Follow this uphill path until you reach the ridge line of Mount Magarwak. Follow the ridge trail – which is marked by green electrical posts – towards the Smart cell tower at the highest point of the mountain. The best views, however, can be seen past the cell tower. To reach the viewpoint, continue following the downhill path on the right side of the cell tower. A rope has been been installed to aid hikers descend a steep section towards the rocky viewpoint.