Balbalasang National Park | Trailblazing Paradise
Paradise found is paradise lost. This saying is the reason why I parked my thoughts writing about Balbalasang National Park for a long time.
I’ve been hesitating to tell my story about it fearing that I may be leading this new getaway into the claws of mass tourism.
But it is neither mine to keep nor it could be held a secret for a long time as infrastructures are creeping fast on this side of Cordillera. So I may as well share my trailblazing experience & just hope that the next wave of explorers will practice responsible tourism.
We’ve seen how things have turned ugly in Mt. Pulag, Sagada & lately in the homeland of Apo Whang-od in Buscalan. The strains that we’ve put in these once beautiful places like the mounds of trash & the erosion of indigenous cultures are the inevitable effects of mass tourism.
Balbalasang National Park will be spared from destruction if we all do the tenets of sustainable tourism. It can be done & let’s do it in this newfound haven.
Balbalasang National Park, Kalinga Province
While most tourists squeeze themselves in Buscalan, a small village on the other side of the mountain hides a paradise named Balbalasang National Park.
It is a protected mountain park teeming with rich biodiversity & pretty landscapes. Among its treasure trove of attractions is its intact pine forest elevated at more than 1,000 meters.
Balbalasang National Park is a sanctuary for endemic plants & animals. Rare birds like the flame-breasted fruit dove & Isabela oriole nest here. Special specie of the giant flower Rafflesia also thrives in this wooded mossy forest.
A perfect spot for day treks, the park offers a wonderful panorama of the Cordillera highlands crouched by evergreen rice terraces & hemmed by wild rivers.
How to get there
Balbalasang National Park is a not a secret at all. But because of its remote location & inaccessibility, it only receives a handful of tourists each year, probably not even a hundred.
It is in northwestern Kalinga bordered by the mountains of Pasil, Pinukpok & the province of Abra. There are 2 routes to get there & both ways mean traveling on narrow treacherous mountain passes.
- Via Tabuk – This route covers approximately 90 kilometers. But because of its terrain, it takes about 4-5 hours travel time. There are only 2 trips that ply this route daily & depart early morning from the town center.
- Via Abra – This traverse is about 110 kilometers from Bangued & its 8-hour trip happens only on Saturdays.
Concrete roads are currently being built. It winds on narrow passes carved on mountainsides. While it is possible to drive your own car, the road condition allows only for 4-wheel drive SUVs & a master level skill in uphill driving.
The road hazards are serious & just about everywhere—deep gorges, rockslides & dirt roads. Before you even think about driving, read my story on how we almost died getting there.
What to expect?
A very small community of indigenous Kalingas called Balbalan or Banao inhabits Balbalasang National Park. They are the stewards of its pristinely beautiful ecohome.
Rice terraces, hidden waterfalls, sparkling rivers & barely explored caves surround the village. It has a wide riverside campsite hemmed by boulders & age-old pine trees.
Trekking is the staple activity here. And if you love exotic animals, plants & birds, then there’s plenty to see around.
Balbalasang is also a perfect spot to get your digital detox as there are no mobile phone signal & internet. You can laze on a hammock or just roll on the grass & listen to the murmurs of the river as it lulls you to sleep.
There are no hotels or inns. It only has a dormitory that was once used as quarters of Anglican missionaries. Today, it serves as a guesthouse & a residence of students from other mountain communities.
There are small stores around the village that sell what you’d probably need throughout your stay like canned goods & instant noodles. But you’ll also find vendors going house-to-house selling freshly picked fruits, newly butchered meats or freshwater fish.
Balbalasang is predominantly an Anglican community since its first missionaries came after World War II. They live a very peaceful lifestyle & so away from the stresses of modern living.
Change is coming!
Developments are well underway in this side of Kalinga. New concrete roads & full electrification are taking shape. This is good, as it will improve the lives of the Banaos like easy access of their goods down to the market & other services like hospitals & schools.
A new concrete building is also being constructed to serve as the Public Works & Highways office & at the same time a lodge for tourists. However, it is situated right beside the river & its design is quite not aesthetically harmonious with its surroundings.
We saw how the hauling of construction materials caused damage to some parts of the riverbed. Some pine trees around it too have died.
Hoping for good
Tourists have a great responsibility in minimizing our impact of destructions in the places we visit. Balbalasang is a fragile community with very little knowledge in modern day waste disposal. So let’s bring our non-biodegradable trash when we leave.
Also, kill the drama of bonfires to avoid forest fire. Do not bring non-native tree seedlings or plants that would change the indigenous habitat of its flora & fauna.
Respect the culture. Immerse with the locals & do not demand for the fancies of city lifestyles.
Above anything, I hope that our local government unit & tourism agencies would begin to safeguard Balbalasang, its people, nature & culture.
Balbasang National Park could be the next big thing in Cordillera ecotourism. But let’s all make it a sustainable one, at least for real this time.
Drop by the Tourism Office in Tabuk for more information.