Master photographer George Tapan would often invite people to have a photo shoot in Baler. He held two workshops last year in the area (which I missed). I've always been curious about Baler ever since.
Baler is a top destination for hard-core surfers who love Cemento's Cobra Reef but remains relatively unknown among Manila's travelers. We just decided to go there 2 weeks before the actual Baler trip and we were able to reserve a room easily during the peak holiday season (December 29-January 1).
But what is it about Baler that keeps people (surfers, photographers and travel enthusiasts) coming back to it? I was smitten by Baler's allure and we all fell in love with it.
Where is Baler?
It is the perfect road trip for us since it is only 6 hours away from Manila. Surfers would often leave at 12mn and arrive in Baler in time for the early morning surf in glassy weather condition.
For families with kids, we recommend traveling during the daytime so when you leave at 5 in the morning, you'll arrive just in time for lunch and check-in. You have to condition and excite your kids to wake up this early.
I was surprised to find out the roads are 80% paved already. The days of super rough, bumpy roads are over, which often deter the road trip travelers.
The winding path through Pantambangan Dam is beautiful! It is like a winding race circuit cutting through the Sierra Madre Mountains, with the Pantambangan Dam watching over you. (TIP: Travel during the daytime to appreciate its beauty.)
What to do in Baler?
Most beginners would start in the beach break of Sabang Beach. Advanced surfers love Cemento's Cobra Reef. Other surf spots would be Charlie's Point, Linda's Point, and the secret spot at the mouth of Baler River.
Learn how to Surf! :)
Surfing Lessons start at P400/hour with instructor already. You can learn from Charlie Does in Bahia Baler by Alex Angara and Mahdox Surf School by the top Baler Surfer - Engr. Rommel Rojo or simply Okoy, as he is known in the surfing community.
Baler was the place where parts of the Apocalypse Now movie was shot during the Marcos era. There are a lot of references to that movie, and you'll understand why the surf shop is named Charlie Does.
A Surreal Avatar Experience!
This huge Balete tree is quite unique because you can enter it for that surreal Avatar experience. It is claimed to be the largest Balete Tree in Asia and is 600+ years old. It is a photogenic place for group shots, fashion photos or an eco-editorial shot.
Only thing is, it is located in the town before Baler --Maria Aurora. Also, it is at the center of a political controversy between the Angaras (incumbent pushing for Aurora's toursim) and the Ronquillos (who own the land) so, sadly, no one maintains it for now.
Play with the kids in the sand.
The boys had a great time playing along the beach because it's a bit cold and windy, and the waves were crashing on the beach, one after the other.
During this time of year, the undercurrents are very strong, so I would not recommend swimming with your kids then.
Honor the 7 families who survived the great tsunami on December 27, 1735.
Nemi Merinda created this monument to honor the families who survived (which included the Angaras).
The families were able to climb Ermita Hill, which is the highest point overlooking Baler Bay. A Shrine in Ermita hill was dedicated to commemorate the incident.
Relive the Manuel L. Quezon Days!
A popular sightseeing spot in Baler is the place housing the vintage cars used by Manuel L. Quezon (1937 Chrysler Airflow) and General Douglas MacArthur (1937 Cadillac Cabriolet).
President Manuel L. Quezon (19 August 1878 - 1 August 1944) is honored in the new P20 bill by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, where he is described as:
"Popularly known as the 'Father of the National Language,' Manuel L. Quezon is the second president of the Philippines and the first to be elected through a national election. He worked tirelessly to gain recognition for the Philippines as an independent nation. During his term, a national language for the Philippines was adopted and our women were given the right to vote. Quezon is the first Filipino president to hold office in Malacañan Palace by the Pasig River in Manila."
Baler, Aurora, Quezon is his hometown, so this is a great opportunity to have a close encounter with his history and the legacy of his wife Doña Aurora.
Take home a Baler Weave!
We are fans of the woven products in Baler, especially the designed hats and fans. Drop by the pasalubong center behind the Baler Market to take home a Baler weave.
Baler is a haven for eco-tourism adventure because of the different rock formations, hiking trails, waterfall destinations, and secluded coves that are accessible only by rough roads.
We decided not to go there during this trip because it is not advisable to take the kids there. We'll go back to Baler to feature the different nature-tripping spots with our traveler friends.
TIP: The Best Tour Guide in Baler is Charles "Mac" Ritual +63 909 683-1363.
If he is not available, ask for tour guide recommendations from him. He is an adventure tour guide from the Baler Tourism group, , and he's also the tour guide of VIPs like George Tapan. :)
Where to Eat in Baler?
Surprisingly, home-cooked food is relatively good in Baler. Here are our favorites:
The Rolling Stores of Baler beside the church in town are the most popular among surfers because you can have a home-cooked meal for under P100 only. Our favorite carinderia stall is Shane's Eatery beside Triple B-Mae Foodstop.
Bay's Inn Home-Cooked Food! We love Bay's Inn because of its old-school comfort food dishes -- quite affordable at P150 (average)/person, and it is in the center of Sabang Beach with a great view of the surfers in action.
Appetizers, Soups and Sizzlers | Fish, Shrimps, Squid | Chicken, Beef and Pork | Vegetables, Salad and Noodles | Sandwiches and Pizzas | Sizzling Plate Madness, Fried Chicken Value Meals, and Pancit Palabok Merienda Meals | Hot Beverages, Softdrinks, and Seasoned Fruit Shake | Corkage, Hot Drinks, and Cocktail
Gerry Shan's Chinese Place serves the best Chinese food in the area, especially the spicy squid. We had our Media Noche feast for 10 people for only P200/person! It is located along Quezon St. in Baler town. You can call them at 63 948 6616-848 for reservations/catering in Baler.
Bahia de Baler's Bar and Grill is the most expensive (around P200 per dish). The All Day Breakfast Meals (P150) are very good. It is the best place to have dinner because of the live band there every night. :) It is located in the center of Sabang Beach (near the shore) and near Bay's Inn.
Overall, the food has a long way to go in Baler, but I love the unadulterated home-cooked Pinoy food goodness.
Where to Stay?
Bahia de Baler 2 is the best place to stay for us since it is located in the center of activity in Sabang Beach. It is a 3-storey boutique inn with a mini-zoo at the back, a decent cafe (Cafe Rossa) beside it, and free Wifi in the lobby.
Bahia de Baler 1 is also a good place to stay. It is just a 1-storey place with a huge open garden in front. It is located in the non-happening side of the beach and is ideal for couples or families who want a little privacy.
Bahia de Baler
Buton Street, Sitio Labasin, Brgy Sabang, Baler, Aurora
Contact: Camille Pedreno
Mobile: +63916 770-1980, +63928 687-5424
We stayed in Room 209 with 3 single beds and 3 complimentary breakfast (P2,700). There is cable TV and an inconsistent hot & cold clean shower. Towels, basic toiletries and complimentary breakfast at Bahia de Baler Grill are included. Our veranda was facing the back, so we did not enjoy it that much.
We would recommend the following rooms that have verandas facing the beach:
Room 205 - 1 double bed, 2 complimentary breakfast (P2,500/night)
Room 207 - 1 double bed and 1 single bed, 3 complimentary breakfast (P2,800/night)
Room 305 - 2 double beds, 4 complimentary breakfast (P3,500/night)
Room 307 - 2 double beds, four complimentary breakfast (P3,500/night)
George Tapan's favorite place to stay in Baler is Bay's Inn. It is a quaint place located near the beach. Both Bay's Inn and Bahia de Baler are owned by the Angara family.
BAY'S INN BALER Lodging and Restaurant
80 Sitio Labasin, Brgy. Sabang, Baler, Aurora 3200
Mobile: +63 907-7005734 (Ask for Pia or Weng)
In front of Bahia de Baler 2 and very near the beach will rise Bahia de Baler 3. The 15-month project will start this year and will end in 2012. The Angaras partnered with the Discovery group to operate Bahia de Baler 3.
When is the Best Time to go?
In 2012, Baler will be the talk of the town among Manila Tourists. We often prefer to go to places in the Philippines when it is relatively undiscovered, so the best time to go to Baler is now in 2011!
The Aurora Surfing Competition in Baler usually happens from February 12 - 15, which kicks off the Aurora Foundation Day celebration, which culminates on February 19 (a fixed date). This is the best time to go and see the best Aurora Surfers compete against each other.
Celebrating Valentine's Day in Baler with someone special seems like a good idea, doesn't it? :)
Live an Awesome Life,
Full Disclosure: Nothing to disclose. We paid for all our meals and accommodations. I'm not related to, connected with or compensated in any way by the Angaras or any of the establishments featured in this blog post.
P.S. Fuel management is crucial when you go to Baler. Gasoline goes up to P55/liter in Baler so we refueled just enough to get past the Pantabangan Dam / Sierra Madre Mountains.