Since 1976 Baler, in the province Aurora, has been surfing. On completion of filming the blockbuster “Apocalypse Now” the film crew left some surfboards behind and the then infamous surf scene quickly began to expand, making Baler the “birthplace of surfing” in the Philippines. Today Baler still managed to keep a lot of its peaceful and quiet atmosphere. Although the place is a quite popular place for a weekend away amongst Filipinos, especially for those living in Manila, you most probably will be almost by yourself during the week.
How to get there?
Baler is located about 6 hours north-east of Manila. You can either go there by car or take a Genesis or JoyBus from Manila at the Cubao Bus Terminal.
One of the main highlights for us was the atmosphere of Baler itself. The place is very laid-back and we really enjoyed not having a lot of other Western tourists around. Additionally Baler only gets very crowded during the weekens or public holidays, so you most likely will be able to enjoy the place in peace and quiet. The locals are super friendly, open-minded and will give you a very warm welcome. Furthermore you can find some very traditional and also some modern food places in the city. We loved the food in Baler! Another thing we really enjoyed was the surfing at Sabang Beach. Our favorite spot is located on the eastern end of the beach, close to the river mouth. This spot is more protected from the wind and the waves come in nice and orderly.
How long to stay?
Depending on what you want to do and see in Baler we would recommend to stay for at least 2-3 nights, but we did not regret any of our ten days in this wonderful little town. You definitely will be able to spend a whole holiday in this place – especially if you like to surf or hang out at the beach. During our stay we not only were able to enjoy as many waves as possible, explore the surrounding and enjoy the lush green nature, we also got to know a lot of the locals, which added something special to our whole trip. Three days will give you enough time to enjoy the beaches and some of the most important tourist sites. You can also take some surf lessons or catch some nice waves by yourself. If you are looking for an instructor or a board rental, just go to Sabang Beach, you will easily find what you are looking for.
Where to stay?
There are plenty of nice surf camps, guesthouses and hotels in Baler. We decided to stay at the Charlie Does Inn at an average of 20 EUR per night/double room. Bookings can best be made via Facebook. Just look for Charlie Does and drop them a message. We got a special discount because we stayed for ten days, so maybe you should think about enjoying Baler a little longer. Some places charge more during the weekends (Friday to Sunday) so traveling from Sunday to Friday might save you some money. The rooms at Charlie Does are made of old shipping containers and 80% of the used materials are recycled. Wifi is available at the Charlie Does Cafe right in front of the accommodation. They also serve nice vegan and vegetarian meals! Sabang Beach is just a 2 min walk away.
Surfing Spots and Beaches There are four main surfing spots in and around Baler: Sabang Beach, Charlie’s Point, Cemento Beach and Lindy’s Point. Some of them are good for beginners (Sabang Beach) and some are suitable for more advanced surfers (Cemento Beach). Also Charlie’s point is the famous surfing spot featured in the movie “Apocalypse Now” which started the whole surfing in Baler and the Philippines. A complete overview of the surfing spots in Baler and its characteristics can be found on surfingphilippines.com. If you are lucky you can get in touch with some locals who can also show you some secret spots. Restaurants During our stay we discovered quite a few nice places to hang out and eat. Here are our favorites:
Charlie Does Cafe This place is a combination of a surf shop and Cafe. They serve delicious vegan and vegetarian dishes, have wifi and some pretty good board games. Make sure to also try the freshly baked peanut butter chocolate cookies. Yummy!
The Good Food This small restaurant is quite close to Charlied Does Inn and Cafe. It serves delicious Mexican dishes (tacos, burritos, quesadillas) as well as burgers, traditional Filipino dishes and lots of fresh fish. You should definitely try the Kinilaw. It was one of the best we had.
Uhuru This place almost has the same menu as The Good Food (also same prices) but it also is an awesome place to hang out, play pool and have some drinks while listening to good music.
Kusina Luntian We absolutely adore this tiny restaurant. The whole place is made from bamboo and they will serve you traditional Filipino dishes. If you want to, you can even watch them cook your meal. And once your dish is served (on banana leaves instead of plates) do not even start looking for cutlery, you need to use your fingers. So much fun!
Paddle Out Grill Here you can enjoy a mixture of Filipino and Korean cuisine. Make sure to try the Bibimbap – a dish of rice, fried egg, meat, kimchi and vegetables.
Friends Avenue This place gets super crowded in the evening and we think it might be because the food is just too cheap to be true. The quality is good and we really enjoyed the mixture of traditional Filipino dishes and their so-called “bunwiches” (a kind of burger). Flo’s favorite is the pulled pork bunwich. Fritzi’s favorite is the beef mami soup. Also try one of the big “friendship bowls” to share as a drink.
Aleng Aveng Just in case you once want to eat like a local and enjoy some traditional Filipino food make sure to visit this place. The lady who cooks is super sweet and she even made us some delicious Turon (banana spring rolls) for breakfast. Normally they are not on the menu, but if you tell her a day in advance, she most probably will prepare this awesome breakfast snack for you.
Jlo’s canteen This place is located right at the beachfront at Sabang Beach and we really enjoyed having breakfast here, as we could watch the waves while eating. You should try the “Tapsilog” (rice, meat, egg) for breakfast once, as well as one of the delicious fruit shakes and if you need a good souvenir buy some of Jlo’s home-made peanut butter and cocojam.
Sightseeing Baler is not only all about surfing, there are a number of points of interest which you can easily reach by motorbike or scooter. We rented a scooter at the Aliyah Surfcamp for 4 EUR per 12 hours. You can also hire a tricycle driver to take you around. Some of them also like to make deals including 3 to 4 different sites. The most important sites are:
Museo de Baler A local museum which hosts a lot of historical artifacts which also link closely to the Philippines’ first and longest colonizer, Spain.
Balete Tree This impressive tree, which is also called “Millenium Tree”, is the biggest Balete tree in whole Asia. The tree is +600 years old and you can walk right through its labyrinth of branches and trunks. You have to pay a small fee for parking and entrance.
Ermita Hill This hill marks some important history of Baler when in the 17th century a huge tsunami hit the city and only a few locals successfully climbed the hill to survive. You can either walk some steps up and also see a sculpture, or take the easy way and use the road which goes all the way up the hill. On top you can enjoy some great views of Sabang Beach and the Pacific Ocean.
Hanging Bridge The hanging bridge is a quite adventurous activity. If you are brave enough you can cross the whole bridge to the other side and back. But be careful: Some of the pictures you can find online were taken in the bridge’s “better” days. Today some of the planks are loose and most of the handrail is broken or even missing. Also the bridge moves a lot. So will you dare to cross it?
Ditumabo Mother Falls This is one of our favorite natural attractions of Baler. When we visited the Mother Falls, Baler had suffered quite a few days of heavy rain, leading to a huge amount of water coming down the falls. It was very impressive to see how powerful the waterfall can be and we were soaking wet within seconds. But it was a lot of fun. Also the hike to the waterfall is quite nice. Make sure to wear sneakers which are also good for walking in the water as there are parts where you have to cross a river. We decided to take a guide and were quite glad about our decision. Due to the heavy rain some passages were not easy. A guide will cost you around 4 EUR and the entrance fee to the waterfall is about 1,5 EUR per person.
Dicasalarin Cove This cove is owned by the Angaras Family in Baler. It is famous for its white sand, awesome vista and access to the Baler lighthouse. You can also visit an Artist village in the area. As the cove is privately owned you have to pay an entrance fee. Apparently it is around 2 EUR for guests of the Costa Pacifica Hotel and 6 EUR for all others. When paying keep in mind that the current in the cove is quite unpredictable and swimming or surfing is not advisable.
Diguisit Beach You will pass this beach and its waterfall on the way to Dicasalarin Cove. It has some nice rock formations at the beach, the sand is white as well and it makes a great stop along the way.
Laundry In case you need to get some laundry done, we found two good options in Baler: 1) Quicklean (self-service laundry) and 2) Berryclean (laundry service, close to the Museo de Baler at Casiguran Road) ATM There are several local banks located in Baler. Sometimes the cash machines are out of money or simply cannot get a connection to the server of your credit card company. So it might be wise to get some cash in Manila before heading to Baler. Just in case.