Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Tuesday, February 07, 2017
Minalungao National Park photo by Ryan Riguer
Puno's Ice Cream & Sherbet Ube Flavor

Nueva Ecija is the last place for anyone to have any sense of trepidation about life. For decades, most tourists in Metro Manila had to beat the odds in far-flung areas of the Philippines just to experience the remote beauty of nature and the satisfaction of unique delicacies. When they had to experience the burden of intrepid travel in such trips, the opposite is entirely true of a visit of this province in Central Luzon. It's a travesty that it's usually overlooked for the more glossy island destinations that tend to cost more.

What not many people know is that, in one province, they can actually stay at a four-star hotel as a luxurious tour base of a natural attraction called Minalungao National Park and even linger in Cabanatuan City where the hotel is for memorable meals of local fare. And all it takes is just three days or less.

Enjoying the scenery of Minalungao National Park
Aling Otya's Batutay
Minalungao National Park photo by Ryan Riguer
Harvest Hotel photo by Aubrey Gacer
For my revisit of Nueva Ecija, I ascertained that my three-hour Five Star bus ride from Manila would be worth the adventure of a hike in the foothills of the Sierra Madre, a visit of a cave in the same area, a pool and river soak and a delicious food trip of longganisa and more.

Check out where I stayed, where I went, and what I ate in this landlocked province of mainland Luzon:

What To Visit: Minalungao National Park
Known For: the emerald green waters of Gen. Tinio River that flows through Peñaranda, a 1,000-step pilgrimage site, and massive limestone citadels

The glass-covered cross in Minalungao
Cabanatuan City is not a gateway to the North for nothing. It's a bustling city that most travelers in the country often mistake for being the provincial capital when it's not. For having all the right city landmarks, it's a good tour base to serve as your jump-off point to a visit of General Tinio's Minalingao National Park.

"One of the country's 240 protected areas, the natural attraction is roughly an hour away from Cabanatuan."

One of the country's 240 protected areas, the natural attraction is roughly an hour away from Cabanatuan. It's just one of 34 other national parks in the Philippines. At the site, tourists can enjoy the rural scenery that the foothills of the Sierra Madre can provide -- a couple of limestone walls towering at more than 52 feet where the mighty Peñaranda River flows, a cave that's accessible from the river bank, and a well-paved 1,000-step pathway to a mountain top where a glass-decked cross stands.

Minalungao National Park
Minalungao National Park photo by Ryan Riguer
The view from inside the cave in Minalungao
Crossing the hanging bridge in Minalungao National Park

Before It Was Famous

Prior to being a popular tourist destination, the area was the access point of mountainside settlers whose livelihood come from forest-grown crops. They can still be seen traveling through the area via the newly-installed hanging bridge and most of them -- roughly 200 in total -- have become available tour guides.

From a high point of the pilgrimage site, visitors can actually see the plains of General Tinio and neighboring towns on one side and, on the other, the mesmerizing silhouette of the vast mountain range of the Sierra Madre.

"From a high point of the pilgrimage site, visitors can actually see the plains of General Tinio and neighboring towns..."

Tackling a pathway inside the park that has 1,000 steps
Minalungao on a good day
The massive limestone walls of Minalungao National Park
The Sierra Madre view from the Minalungao pilgrimage site

How To Get There

Tourists can rent a tricycle from Cabanatuan City for P600 or more, depending on the number of passengers (see the end of this article for a tricycle contact). In General Tinio where Minalungao is, a tourist outpost will welcome visitors to the park where a necessary environmental fee needs to be settled. Available at the outpost are local guides whom you can eventually tip after being shown how to experience the area (see the end of this article for a tour guide contact).

"The destination is frequented by guests on weekends, so a weekday visit is highly recommended..."

Best Time To Visit

The destination is frequented by guests on weekends, so a weekday visit is highly recommended to have a real whiff of what the area is about sans the sight of a tourist-thronged scene. With the influx of visitors for the past six years, various structures have been built in the area that include restrooms, rooms for overnight stays, and open cottages for relaxation.

Graffiti can also be seen on some rocks where they shouldn't be which is something that the park administration needs to address and monitor.

"...it's known that the river turns murky after a full day of rain."

It is also advisable to check with Accuweather.com for a 5-day clear weather forecast prior to your visit of the park because it's known that the river turns murky after a full day of rain. It usually reverts to being emerald green after only five days.

Batutay via the buffet breakfast of Harvest Hotel
Burgerniza by Cafe Ecija

What To Eat: Cafe Ecija's Burgerniza and Puno's Ice Cream & Sherbet

Dining At Cafe Ecija

While booked at Harvest Hotel, I found its F&B affiliate called Cafe Ecija to be not just an accessible dining spot but also one that's worth spending tourist cash on. For serving decadent cakes for desserts and longganisa-oriented options, it's a must-try in the province.

Longganisa Spring Roll
"I tried its appetizing Longganisa Spring Roll which made use of hamonado..."

I tried its appetizing Longganisa Spring Roll which made use of hamonado, a local longganisa flavor favorite. At the restaurant, I also had a delicious slice of its Mocha Caramel Cake.

The best-seller, however, was what I enjoyed the most before leaving the hotel -- the Burgerniza which had the sweet hamonado as its thick patty under a layer of Milka Krem's kesong puti (white cheese), a local Nueva Ecija product.

Mrs. Puno with her staff at an outlet of Puno's Ice Cream & Sherbet

Snack Stop At Puno's Ice Cream & Sherbet

I also made a tasty side trip to the nearest Puno's Ice Cream & Sherbet outlet from the cafe in Cabanatuan City. The more-than-five-decade-old family enterprise is homegrown and is known in the province as more than just an alternative to big ice cream brands. It's actually what locals indulge on for random snacks. What started with just one flavor now has a plenitude thereof from Langka Cheese Cashew to Coffee Crumble. For being only P12 per cup, it's understandable why the brand has endured this long.

Aling Otya
Making batutay at the public market
Longganisa Pandesal
What Souvenir To Buy: Aling Otya's Longganisa and Longganisa Pandesal

Before you leave Cabanatuan, it's best to buy the original source of the city's longganisa at the Cabanatuan Public Market where its original producer -- Dorothea Lajares -- still has a market stall named Aling Otya which her young relatives are currently overseeing.

Cabanatuan Public Market
A lot of stalls sell the batutay or the beef-based longganisa, but Aling Otya is still the most preferred for being the original purveyor of the flavor.

Without using extenders, this type of longganisa is full-on savory when cooked and enticing to tear into because of its caramel coating. A pack is available for P200 and above, depending on the weight. The stall also sells other longganisa variants like the hamonado (sweet pork) and rekado (garlic pork).

Also available in Cabanatuan City is a bakery-eatery that sells longganisa pandesal with hamonado and rekado fillings. The store is called FM Breads and Noodles and it's just a stroll away from the public market.

Enjoying the swimming pool of Harvest Hotel
Harvest Hotel Standard Room photo by Aubrey Gacer
A lounge area at Harvest Hotel (photo by Aubrey Gacer)
Where To Stay: Harvest Hotel

An easy option for a tour base of Nueva Ecija is Cabanatuan City and it's where the four-star Harvest Hotel is. Offering more than luxury in terms of well-appointed rooms, the hotel is accessible from the city's numerous landmarks, the staff members are hospitable, and it has a family-friendly swimming pool.

Book now.

For more Harvest Hotel information and photos, check out my blog post about it here.

Before you overburden yourself with a crazy itinerary at some remote destination in the Philippines, isn't it reasonable to try visiting a highly accessible province first like Nueva Ecija?

Photography by Aubrey Gacer and Ryan Riguer

Our Minalungao National Park tour guide

Minalungao National Park Guide Contact
Tour Guide Mobile Number: 0907-731-6175

Cabanatuan City Tricycle Contact For Minalungao
Driver: Harold
Mobile Number: 0905-773-6590

Harvest Hotel

Book a room at Harvest Hotel.

Address: 1179 Del Pilar St., Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija, Philippines 3100
Phone: (044) 950-8888
Mobile: (+63917) 539-6125
Email: info@theharvesthotel.com

More Photos Below:

Getting wet in Minalungao National Park

Viewing the sunset from my booked room at Harvest Hotel
Our tour guide waiting for us to cross a makeshift crossing in Minalungao
After tackling the 1,000 steps of the pilgrimage site
The view from the pilgrimage site of Minalungao National Park


  1. I am not aware na may ganitong mga places sa nueva ecija at maganda. I guess maraming gaya ko na dinadaan-daanan lang ito. Parang similar ito sa Kapurpurawan, Wawa, at Pundaquit Zambales.

    1. Thanks for visiting the blog, Hitokrihoshi. And experience Nueva Ecija soon!

  2. baliwag transit has a direct access to general tinio where minalungao is located. jeepney transports are also available and much cheaper than renting a tryke. and correction for the peñaranda river, it is general tinio or (papaya) river from the springs of sierra madre. it leads or flows down through peñaranda which is a neighboring town. thanks for visiting minalungao.

  3. Your effort to promote tourism in my hometown, Nueva Ecija, is very much appreciated. :) By the way, there's a new tourist spot in the town of Talavera, Nueva Ecija. It's the newly opened ISDAAN FLOATING RESTO-FUN PARK. It's a 9-hectare Asian-inspired dining destination in this booming town in Central Nueva Ecija.

    1. Thank you for visiting the blog. Also, thanks for the tip about the new resto-park. That will surely compel me to revisit the province soon.


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