Daraitan is a quiet little village in the Sierra Madre mountains in Tanay, Rizal. Daraitan is also one of the most beautiful places you can bike to from Metro Manila, and I don’t say those words lightly. I’ve become quite jaded when it comes to mountain biking destinations. But Daraitan is worth every pedal stroke, every ounce of sweat, every painful grunt it takes to get there. If you’re a Metro Manila biker planning to do a bike tour this summer, this should be at the top of your list.
Daraitan has been cited as having the cleanest waters in the Calabarzon area. One look at its clear flowing river was enough to convince me that it deserved that citation. But besides the clarity of its streams, there’s also its forest covered peaks, the fantastic boulders, cliffs and rock formations along the river, and an unspoiled cave that’s perfect for spelunking. This place radiates magic like Rivendell.
My first foray into Daraitan was less than a year ago. I joined the first leg of the Nature’s Trail Discovery Run and found myself crossing Daraitan’s streams and hopping around its boulders in a 31k trail run sufferfest. Needless to say, while my eyes registered the beauty of the place, my mind had been drained of any capacity for awe and wonder by the agonizing run. So I resolved to go back to Daraitan some time in the future and soak in its vibe at a more leisurely pace.
My original plan last weekend was to bike all the way from U.P starting at around 5:00am. Instead, I got out of bed around 6:00am and was only ready to bike by 7:30am. Against my own convictions (bikes don’t need to be carried by cars!) I took the car.
I parked the car and had a big breakfast at Park, Rest and Dine which is likely the best resto on the whole stretch of the Marilaque highway. You can spot this hip garden cafe just after Mang Vic’s Bulalohan and before the Palo Alto subdivision in Baras.
I started pedaling at around 9:30am. I was hoping to reach Daraitan by 12:30pm. But it didn’t quite turn out that way. Anyone who has biked through the Marilaque highway knows that this scenic route offers plenty of distractions.
Even though I was already familiar with Marilaque’s contours thanks to dozens of trips there via motorcycle, touring it on a bike made me see some of the finer details of the place. I didn’t know there were lots of climbable cliffs along Marilaque. I just had to stop and take pictures.
It was past 12:00 noon when I reached the Daraitan road. From here it was another hour of fire road riding before Barangay Daraitan itself. It was a very fun ride—lots of fast descents with a smattering of short climbs. It kinda reminded me of Bobok Bisal, minus the cliffs.
I had a lunch of instant noodles and coke on one of the sari-sari stores along the way. It wasn’t exactly filling, but I needed the carb, the sugar, caffeine and salt to keep me going. An hour later, I reached Daraitan’s wooden bridge, paid a toll of ten pesos for my bike, and was off to the barangay hall to get a permit to explore the Tinipak Springs and Cave.
The folks at the baranggay hall told me that I needed a guide since I was not familiar with the route. For tour groups, the fee was 500 pesos. But since I was solo, I was able to bargain and bring it down to 150. I have no problem with paying for a guide since this is one way of giving back to the community. The only problem was that I had to slow down to a hiking pace so that my guide could keep up with me on my bike.
It was already around 1:30 when we left the baranggay hall. My guide Roel told me that it would take about an hour’s hike to the cave. But I was in a hurry—we needed to cut that trek by half if possible.
The trail to Tinipak is lined with huge boulders. Many of these rocks would be perfect for an afternoon of bouldering. Some of the cliffs may also be bolted or top-roped for rock climbing. The climber in me just couldn’t help marveling at all the potential routes and challenges this place has in store. This is not exactly Wawa, but it can hold its own.
Roel told me that it would be hard to bring the bike all the way to the camp site near the cave. Reluctantly, I had to chain it to a hut near where motorcycles were parked. From there we proceeded on foot to Tinipak.
There were groups of mountaineers who were also camping at Daraitan that day. Apparently, this place is already very well known among outdoor enthusiasts. I joined them as they clambered down rock faces and crossed streams. The water looked so clear, fresh and inviting, but I had no time to stop and take a dip.
It was past 2:00 when we reached the cave entrance. A massive Balete tree guarded its entrance. My guide told me that folks there believed the Balete to be around 300 years old, but he himself wasn’t sure. My wife would probably love this tree because she loves huge Balete trees.
To me, the tree looked like an ancient Ent that was tasked to protect some treasure buried deep within the cave. Yeah, I get all Tolkien sometimes when I’m out in a place like this. If you must know, I also read the Silmarillion back in college.
We borrowed a headlamp from one of the locals guiding a group of mountaineers and proceeded to drop down into the cave. This was just a ton of Wow.
I’ve been to several caves before, the most spectacular one being the Calbiga cavern in Samar, but this pristine natural tunnel in the bowels of Daraitan still left me stoked. I felt like some questing elf visiting the Mines of Moria.
We trekked until we reached the spot where an underground stream was being sucked up by a hole in the floor. Roel said that it was possible to go beyond that point, but it would be better if both of us had headlamps. Since it was already past 3:00, I said I’d leave further cave exploration for another time.
On the trek back, I promised myself that I’ll go back to Daraitan this summer. I’ll also bring a tent, sleeping bags, a hammock, and a few friends to soak the amazing vibe of this place.
It was already almost 4:00 when I started biking back to Sampaloc, and then all the way back to Park, Rest and Dine in Pinugay, Baras. It was an excruciating trip. 2/3 of it was all climbing.
And then the sun began to set.
While admiring the sunset on the Marilaque highway, I also couldn’t help thinking that this was a dangerous road to be riding alone in the dark. Becoming human roadkill was not part of my plans. As if those things weren’t bad enough, the temperature was dropping fast and the wind was whipping my bike as if some evil wizard was intent on making me quit.
But I reached my car at around 7:00. After a quick dinner of menudo at the café, I was back on the road and thankful for a great ride to a fantastic place.
The route to Daraitan from the UP Diliman campus
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