Pagsanjan Falls or the Hidden Valley should be on your travel list if you have a day to spare in Manila. You can even do both in one day! The Philippines is mostly known for its thousands of beautiful, paradise islands. Therefore most people would fly into Manila and then leave straight away for Cebu or Palawan. But not far away from the capital city, you can find these hidden gems!
I did exactly that – arrived in Manila and stayed for 2 days, before moving on to the beachy Boracay. I joined a combined day tour of both locations. So I experienced places that are not so busy with tourists (yet), in a gorgeous setting of uninhibited nature.
Pagsanjan Falls, known also as Cavinti Falls or Magdapio Falls, is one of the most famous waterfalls in the Philippines, set in the province of Laguna. It is 91 metres high and the name ‘Pagsanjan’ comes from the Tagalog word “Pinagsangahan”, meaning “where it branches”. That’s a reference to the branching off of the two rivers, Bumbungan and Balanac. The falls and gorge were declared as a National Park in 1939.
Fun fact: it is where Francis Ford Coppola filmed some of the final scenes of the “Apocalypse Now” in 1975.
There are two ways of reaching the Pagsanjan Falls. The best way is by a river trip on a dugout canoe, known as shooting the rapids. Or you can hike to the top of the waterfall from the town of Cavinti. But then you miss out on the stunning views of the gorge. My tour included the former and was so cool!
Two licensed and very skilled boatmen (bangcero) paddle you up the river for over an hour in a wooden canoe.
It is mostly a peaceful and steady ride through a beautiful gorge, enclosed by towering cliffs, a few small waterfalls and lush vegetation.
There are moments where the water gets too shallow and the boatmen work incredibly hard dragging the canoe through the boulders.
Whitewater canoe tours to Pagsanjan Falls have been around since the late 1800s!
The falls and Devil’s Cave
When you arrive at the falls, you can go swimming in the refreshingly cold water of the pool or take a raft to the hidden “Devil’s Cave”.
The name refers to its structure, as some people think it looks like the face of a devil.
The cave is located behind the cascading curtains of the waterfalls and you are taken (or dragged, I should say) there on a bamboo raft (called balsa).
You have to wear a safety helmet too, as you’re passing under a very high-pressure cascade! This is truly one of the highlights of the trip 😉 You can experience the power and magnitude of the waterfall on your own skin!
The water coming down from the falls is from the Pagsanjan River and the longest drop is about 120 meters.
The return trip is a real thrill, as you go downstream through fourteen rapids! The skilled boatmen manoeuvre the canoe through the narrow rocks and make it look so easy 😉
Also, it’s customary and expected to tip your boatman and suggested amount is PHP 100 per person.
When to visit Pagsanjan Falls
If you would like to experience the most exciting ride down the river, you should visit the falls in the late summer (August and September). It is also the wet season and the water levels in the rapids are not too low, meaning: less dragging the canoe through the rocks. And avoid the weekends, as the route is more crowded then.
Keep in mind that the local government restricts tourists from visiting Pagsanjan Falls when there’s a typhoon or when the weather gets worse. And when the water gets turbulent, boatmen have a hard time manoeuvring the canoe.
Arranging the trip
Although I made it easier for myself and booked an all-inclusive tour from Manila (with YoloTravel), you can also arrange it by yourself. Grab a bus from Manila to Santa Cruz Laguna and from there jump on a jeepney to the town of Pagsanjan.
To arrange your trip to the falls you need to secure a canoe (PHP 1250 per person) from the tourist office in the centre of town next to the plaza.
Because the boat fits up to three passengers, there is a requirement of a minimum of two people. And if you’re travelling solo you will be probably paired with another person. Or if you can pay double and go alone 🙂
Pagsanjan Falls to Hidden Valley
It takes roughly 1 hour to drive from Pagsanjan Falls to the Hidden Valley. On the way, you pass through some lovely small villages.
You will probably also see a lot of jeepneys – colourfully decorated public buses. They might be kitschy, but over the years they have become a symbol of the country and its culture.
Hidden Valley Springs Resort is a private property tucked away deep into the wood of the Alaminos, Laguna. Upon arrival, you will find yourself in the middle of a virgin forest filled with giant ferns, wild orchids and skyscraping Amlang Trees, some even 300 years old! All of that scenery instantly creates a feeling of relaxation and calmness. Moreover, you can enjoy all of that by sitting in one of many thermal pools, jacuzzis and waterfalls.
The history of how the springs were created is quite fascinating as well. It is believed that hundreds of centuries ago a series of volcanic eruptions and transformations formed an over 90-metre-deep crater. In consequence, more than a hundred natural springs of varying temperatures surfaced, composed of pure mineral waters. They are said to be medicinal and rejuvenating, so you can truly pamper yourself.
Fun fact: During the shooting of “Apocalypse Now” director Francis Ford Coppola fell in love with the natural setting of the place. He decided to stay here for six months in 1977, while his wife was writing a book.
You can choose from 6 different natural pools: 3 warm pools, 2 Soda Pools and a Lovers’ Pool. All of them are surrounded by the glorious tropical flora in full bloom!
Soda Pools are formed by fast rushing water, creating a jacuzzi-like effect and waterfalls. You can jump in and enjoy a cheeky massage! It feels SO good on the skin. These pools are divided into warm and cold pools, where you can easily switch from one to another. The water is clean and feels very pleasant, so you might never want to leave 😉
The Lovers’ Pool is secluded from the rest of the resort, so it is indeed quite romantic! You can take a dip in the lush greenery in the most relaxing atmosphere.
After you’re done with your spa treatments you can go for a stroll and explore the lush, steamy woodland on the way to the Hidden Falls. It takes around 15-20 minutes to walk there and the scenery is extraordinary. You walk on a series of bamboo walkways and bridges, past the big boulders and tropical trees.
One of the footbridges is made from what used to be the tallest amlang tree in the forest. It fell when a typhoon hit the valley in July 2014. The impressive trunk remains in place and continues to amaze visitors. It feels so special to walk on it!
At the end of the path, you find yourself in a gorge with a waterfall at the back. It is about ten metres high and flows into a nearby river. The waterfall was created over 200 years ago by a meteorite, which dug a huge crater. The tranquillity of the place is unrivalled!
Unfortunately, you can’t take a dip in here, due to the nature of the rock formation at the basin. The whirlpool-type current makes it dangerous to swim in, but simply enjoying the surroundings and sounds of the water cascading down the boulders is enough.
If you’re not a part of the group tour and would like to visit the resort on your own, the cost for an adult is PHP 2,500 and PHP 1,250 for a child (ages 5-10). It includes welcome drinks, buffet lunch, afternoon snacks, access to pools, use of gazebos and other resort facilities.
Lunch is included in the price, so you can replenish your energy with a scrumptious buffet. Served in an open-air restaurant, it features some of the best Filipino cuisine and snacks. As I have a sweet tooth, my favourite dishes were desserts 😉 Especially the buko pie (coconut pie) and halo-halo, made from crushed ice, milk, sweetened beans and various fruits. Yum!
So if you’d like to relax, unwind and enjoy the tropical landscape, a day trip here is perfect for you. Pagsanjan Falls will surprise you with fun and exciting water activities. The second part of the day at Hidden Valley Springs will relax you with calming hot spring sessions. So visit this little piece of paradise and be one with nature, all in one day!
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to get in touch through my socials or let me know down below! 👇🏼 I will be more than happy to hear from you 🤓