TRAVEL LOVE: Masungi Georeserve, Rizal Philippines

What's ironic about being away from your country is how much you start to appreciate what your motherland has. Stepping back gives you a bigger perspective, and somehow a little guilt for not appreciating the beauty that's within your reach all along. There's no denying that the Philippines, with her over 7,000 islands, is home to some of the world's most beautiful places. I often find myself boasting about that every time I get asked where I'm from. I even get competitive, when someone suggests I go to this "best" beach, I'll be like "it better be good, I'm from the Philippines you know," with a half-meant joking smile. 

Hence, when I decided to come home, I made it a mission to see and experience more of my country which I fondly call Project Pinas. I planned domestic trips in the next few months, as well as local experiences like food, shopping, night life. You can't run out of things to do, and gratefully, I have a little more time to spare now. 

I took interest on Masungi Georeserve when I first saw it on Instagram last year, and it's easy to see why. It's a gorgeous place, and definitely IG-worthy. But what piqued my interest the most is how the brilliant team behind this massive conservation project was able to rehabilitate these forests that used to be plagued by illegal logging and other activities like kaingin (cutting and burning of trees for cultivation purposes) and pa-uuling (charcoal making).  

The Masungi Georeserve is a conservation area and a rustic rock garden tucked in the rainforests of Rizal. Masungi's name is derived from the word "masungki" which translates to "spiked" - an apt description for the sprawling limestone landscape found within. - from official website 

According to our dedicated tour guide, the conservation efforts started 15 years ago, and it took blood, sweat and tears to be where they are now. The fight with large-scale illegal loggers is a hard and dangerous feat, while the kaingin and pag-uuling activities were being done mostly by locals who didn't have alternative livelihood and lacked proper information and skills/training in doing sustainable practices. As someone who works in the sustainability arena specifically palm oil, I share the passion and the pains, too! What the Masungi Georeserve has become through years of dedicated work, education and engagements, is a resounding testament of how we can find balance between development and conservation, and because of that, I hope more people especially local tourists, support Masungi Georeserve. 

This is from the chainsaw used by illegal loggers before Masungi's rehabilitation

If that's not enough, here are more reasons why you should go:

1. Being close to nature is good for you. Masungi Georeserve is only 2 hours away from Manila, and is probably one of the closest spots to commune with nature. They feature 9 spots including the famous Sapot ni Ric (spider web platform) where you can appreciate the amazing view of Laguna de Bay, the largest lake in the Philippines. Tucked in the luscious mountains, your lungs will get a treat from the clean, fresh air while enjoying the natural sounds of nature - bird tweets, trees swaying and all. According to Japanese researchers who visited Masungi Georeserve recently, they found evidence of secretions from plants that strengthen and boost our immunity! How awesome is that? As cellphone signal is non-existent once you enter the compound, it's also a great way to disconnect, even just for a few hours. 

2. The hike is exciting, challenging but not too hard. The whole place is perfectly curated, from the base where you get a briefing and start your journey (Silungan), and throughout the whole hike. The trail is well-designed and already lined up by concrete blocks so it's friendly even for beginners. I have a fair experience in hiking back in Malaysia, and I personally like the ruggedness of natural, muddy trails, but it's not to say that the Masungi trail is boring. It still requires you to stretch and duck, as well as strategy and agility. Climbing up and down the ropes would also challenge your upper body strength and stretch your limbs. This is also the perfect way to conquer your fear of heights. I highly recommend to do some prep work for those who are not really active prior to the hike. Do some cardio exercises and stretching a few weeks before, it will really make a difference. 

3. It's a good place to practice your camera skills. Aside from the fact that it's naturally photogenic, the designers also did a good job to ensure that every nook and cranny is IG-worthy. While our tour guide, Kuya Reynan, probably holds all the secrets and tricks to get the perfect shots, it's also a great opportunity to practice some serious photography. After everything's over and done, you will be left with perfectly-captured memories. While my old iPhone 6s did pretty okay, I really think GoPro gave us the best shots because of the wider views and versatility. So bring one if you can! 

4. It's money well-spent. Conservation fee of PHP1,500 on weekdays and PHP1,800 on weekends per individual may sound a lot at first. I wouldn't lie and say it's cheap, because I've been to hikes where we didn't need to pay for anything at all. However, after experiencing Masungi Georeserve firsthand, and seeing the commendable job they've done, I cancomfortably say that you get the bang for your buck. The trail features 9 interesting spots including the Sapot ni Ric (spider web platform), and the peaks Nanay and Tatay which give you a glorious 360 view of Sierra Madre mountain range. There are also rope climbs and hanging bridges which will both challenge and delight you, as well as the Yungib ni Ruben cave with stalactites (from the ceiling) and stalagmites (from the floor) formations. Depending on fitness level of the group, the whole hike may last from 3-5 hours. Safety is also a priority so everyone has to wear a helmet, and in the event that the course is too challenging, there are detour paths available.  

5. It's the perfect family and barkada getaway. All hikes are pre-scheduled, and you need at least 7 people to form a group (maximum of 14). There's a dedicated your guide who are mostly locals, so you get to enjoy the hike and bond with your own group instead of strangers, if you're  not into that. Since the courses can be tough, it creates camaraderie and team work. One of my cousins has poor eye sight, so we made it a point to always have a buddy to look out for her. Another one fears heights, and we all cheered and encouraged her to finish the trail, and she did! They also give you a certificate and plant a tree to commemorate your visit. Yay!

Lastly, here are a few important notes and tips if you plan to go to Masungi Georeserve. For a full list of their policies, please click HERE

  • No walk-ins allowed. Request for a schedule HERE. They are very responsive and everything went smoothly for us. You have to pay 50% upon booking, and the full payment before the actual day. We used BPI online transfer facility, and it was easy breezy. 
  • They offer morning and evening hikes, but I personally recommend to book an early morning schedule so it won't be too hot. It was cloudy when we got there and enjoyed a bit of drizzle, which we really didn't mind. But a sunny day makes the perfect backdrop for photos. 
  • It's a bit of a challenge to use public transportation, so private cars/vans are recommended. 
  • No food allowed other than trail mix, biscuits and water. They provide light refreshments at the end of the trail - refreshing kalamansi juice, tuna sandwich and bananas, with wet towels, too! 
  • No cigarettes and lighters allowed inside the premises. You have to surrender them before entering, and just collect them after. They are very strict on this one, and if you are caught, fine is PHP3,000, whether you lit a ciggie or not. Please don't start a wildfire.  
  • No littering. You have to bring out your trash with you as their bins are only meant for toilet papers, which they decompose themselves.
  • Don't touch wildlife or pick plants and flowers.  
  • Personal tipping is discouraged. There are donation boxes instead. All the staff are very helpful and kind, and spoke impressive Filipino! Be generous. 

I hope you have the best time like we did. If you have comments, questions or additional tips, do connect with me in the comment section or by email, so I can update this post for the benefit of other readers/travelers. Happy travels!