Sometimes a place is so beautiful, one visit just isn’t enough. El Nido is like that. Sagada is like that too. Batanes is very high on that list. And now, I must add Daraitan to that rundown.
I visited Daraitan three years ago in one of the best 21k trail runs I had ever done. A year later I visited it again on a solo mountain bike ride. This year, I visited it yet again with my significant other and some mountain biker friends.
While climbing down some of the huge limestone boulders that dotted the landscape, even my jaded travel blogging ex-girlfriend agreed: Daraitan is a special place. It’s got that otherworldly charm that recalls fantasy novels and bygone eras from which epic sagas are forged.
Our group was originally planning to meet up at Shell Marcos highway, and then do a padyakoldaway bikepacking trip through Marilaque to Daraitan while lugging along tents, cooksets, food, beer, sleeping bags and other camping equipment. The plan was to stay overnight at Daraitan on Maundy Thursday, and then pedal back to mundane civilization on Good Friday.
But I remembered what a guide told me a year ago about Daraitan: Ang dami pong tao dito pag mahal na raw ser!
I had visions of people getting packed as tight as a rush hour MRT train, all the while wailing karaoke in their most godawful gin-addled voices. Alarm bells immediately started ringing in my head. That was not exactly my idea of a relaxing commune with nature, so I scrapped the camping idea. We were just going to do a day-visit.
Since it was just a day visit, I advised my companions to skip the long ride from Marcos highway in Antipolo and just drive to someplace nearer Tanay. This way we would have more time to explore Daraitan and relish the vibe of the place. I knew from experience that it was going to take us the whole day to get to the famous Tinipak rocks if we started at Shell Marcos highway.
So instead, we parked our cars at Café Katerina in Sampaloc, Tanay assembled our bikes, and proceeded to pedal to Daraitan.
The nice thing about the Sierra Madre mountains is that if you arrive early enough in the morning, you can be sure that the air will be crisp and cool. While Metro Manila was getting microwaved and broiled under the April sun, it still felt like December that morning at Cafe Katerina.
It was a nice and easy downhill ride from there to the Sampaloc junction where we encountered a bit of traffic from thousands of people who were making a pilgrimage to the Regina Rica shrine.
But after about an hour or so of weaving through the pilgrim traffic, we arrived at Daraitan road.
The last time I went to Daraitan, I hardly had enough time to appreciate the place. I was tired, and it was getting late in the day, and I needed to get back to my car in a land far far away before it got too dark and dangerous on the Sierra Madre highway.
This time, I had come back much wiser. I and my companions had more time to soak in the awesomeness of this slice of unspoiled nature.
JM, who used to be a climbing instructor at PowerUp marveled at the quality of the boulders and cliffs of Daraitan. We both agreed that we should bring some of the PowerUp people here soon so they can better scout the area for climbing and bouldering.
A few things had changed here since my last visit. There was now a visitor center complete with a tindahan at the General Nakar side of the river. It was cool to be able to buy cold drinks in that area. The guide also told us that the Dumagats had already built bridges across the trickier river crossings.
After an hour or so of hiking, we finally reached the cave. There was blood on one of the rocks at the entrance. I thought someone had an accident there, but our guide simply said that someone had sacrificed a chicken to placate the spirits of the area.
The cave is easily one of the most beautiful caverns you can explore near Manila. Unlike many caves near Metro Manila which have gotten vandalized and trashed, Daraitan cave is still relatively untouched and pristine.
The best thing about it is that at the end, there’s a shallow pool where you can take a dip and refresh yourself. I had been to several caves before, but this was the first time I had ever taken a swim inside a cave. When you just let yourself float on the water and close your eyes, there’s a magical kind of silence that takes over the mind. When you open your eyes and see darkness of the cavern, you realize that it’s not the frightening kind of darkness but something akin to unburdened peaceful sleep.
The only downside to a bike trip to Daraitan is ironically… its upside. We had to climb back to the Marilaque highway, back to our parked cars which were more than 2 hours away. To cut a long story short: it was an agonizing uphill trip on bikes.
Fortunately, we had great accommodations at Camp Explore in Antipolo. But this camp deserves a piece all to itself.
Anyway, Daraitan really is a special place. Next time we come here, I’ll make sure to bring a tent. Maybe we’ll do a sidetrip to the Laiban Dam too. And if there’s time, climb Mt. Daraitan itself.
If you want to organize your own bike ride to Daraitan, or if you plan to go there via public or private transpo, check out this article by traveling-up.com. It’s got info on directions, fees, and useful tips.