Ah, Baler! Birthplace of Philippine surf culture!
If you have some time to spend on mainland Luzon and you’re itching to catch a couple of waves, I highly recommend seeing Baler for a few days.
After the production crew of Francis Ford Coppola's classic film, Apocalypse Now (1979), finished shooting in Baler, they left their surfboards behind with the locals. The rest is history, and Baler is now one of the Philippines's hottest surf spots. (Think Siargao on a budget.)
Baler is a place to chill, surf and breathe: a perfect getaway from Manila's chaos. Think warm water, multiple surf breaks, mangroves, reefs, forests, waterfalls, and ancient trees. Great food, drink and coffee joints abound.
BALER SURF OVERVIEW
Consistency – Surf is pretty consistent all year round. Dry season runs from November to May. The best waves are brought in by the north swell from October until April. Waves hit peak size and quality between December and January.
Best for beginners, intermediate and advanced surfers. Newbies, have no fear. Surf schools and board rentals abound.
Crowds are never an issue, although Sabang beach gets busy on weekends with learners. Line-ups are regular. You may get schooled by an 8-year-old local on a beaten up shortboard.
LEARNING TO SURF?
Make friends with the local surf instructors and you can score an hour lesson for as low as P250, depending on time of day. An instructor once stayed out with me for 3 hours for only P400 (but afterwards I paid him in full and bought him a six-pack of San Miguel, ‘cos he was awesome).
Board rentals are around P200 an hour, P400 for a half day, and P800 for a whole day. You can definitely haggle.
Locals in Baler are pretty chill. If you mess up on a couple of waves, they’ll throw you some helpful advice (and probably also laugh at you a little bit. All good fun.) If you’ve brought a shortboard and fancy a go on a log, ask a local on the line-up to switch with you for a few hours. They’ll be more than happy to play around on a new board.
Cemento Beach – Near an old cement pier, a short paddle away from a large rock, is a strong, right-hand reef break offer excellent quality right breakwaves. Best place to find the largest, cleanest, good quality waves in Baler. This is where local surf comps and the Annual Aurora Surfing Cup are held, frequented by Aussie, Japanese and European surfers in Aurora. Perfect for experienced surfers. Reef shoes 100% recommended if you don’t want to have bleeding, broken feet for the next two weeks.
Charlie’s Point – North of Sabang Beach, a short walking distance from Baler town, Charlie’s Point is the famed beach seenin the film, Apocalypse Now. Depending on the swell, medium-quality waves can break both right and left on a sand and gravel bottom. Great for surfers of all experience levels. Waves best in December to January.
Lindy’s Point – Further north of Charlie's Point, around 15 minutes walking distance from Bay's Inn, Lindy's Point is a relatively new discovery. The tall breaks were "accidentally" created by the local government when engineers opened the mouth of Baler Bay to the river as a flood prevention mechanism during rainy season. Tall, strong, sharp breakwaves are formed by the river and Pacific waters clashing, giving surfers unequivocal stoke. Newbies, steer clear.
Sabang Beach – This is probably the most popular place to catch a wave when in season, October to February. Best for beginners and novices, providing small to medium size waves (unless typhoon season), breaking left and right on sand. Saying that, more experienced surfers have a blast here when swells get bigger. Glassy lefts and rights can be caught early in the morning, with locals carving from as early as 5am. Sometimes mushy, always fun. Great spot for getting back into the swing of surfing, if you need practice.
HOW TO GET TO BALER
Baler is only around 6 hours from Manila by car. You can take a cheap, air-conditioned overnight bus and get there by early morning. You can hop into a car and drive yourself. Or, you can hit up a Philippine surf Facebook group and hitch a ride with city locals headed there for the weekend.
Only one bus company, Genesis Transport Bus, goes direct from Manila to Baler daily, departing from 0000 until 0700. Travel time is up to 6 hours.
If you buy a bus ticket in advance, you may need to deposit money at the bank (no online payment yet, sadly). Otherwise, grab a cab to Genesis Transport Bus Terminal (704 EDSA corner, New York St, Cubao, Quezon City).
The Joybus is a great overnight ride departing at midnight from Manila. It costs P650 ($15). You get free wifi, an on-board toilet, a hostess, no stops, free toiletries, blankets and pillows, and snacks. That’s right, free snacks.
You can take the regular bus for P450 ($10), which departs from 2.30am to 7am. But I’d recommend the Joybus if you can swing the extra P200. Once in Baler, grab a nearby tricycle to Sabang Beach, where most accommodations are, or to the hotel you've booked.
VIA PRIVATE CAR
From Manila, enter the North Luzon Expressway at Balintawak; exit at SCTEX.
Entry onto SCTEX is at LaPaz, Tarlac toll gate. Follow the highway towards Aliaga and Cabantuan City. Take the Nueva Ecija-Aurora highway, passing through Talavera, Rizal, and Pantabangan, until you reach the Nueva Ecija-Aurora border.
Drive through the towns of Maria Aurora and San Luis, until you reach Baler.
Takes around 5 to 6 hours. Remember that Baler is in Aurora province!
VIA LOCALS & ORGANIZED TRIPS
Alternatively, if you want to catch a ride with locals and hang out with a couple of people, shout out for a ride in the Manila Surfer's Association FB. Also check out Surfista Travels or FlipTripPH if you're looking to go via organized tour, where everything is paid for and you get to catch waves for a weekend with some like-minded people.
Where to Stay in baler
There are a bunch of different accommodation options to suit every budget in Baler, from cheap inns to luxury resorts. So far I’ve stayed at two resorts, a hostel, and at a friend's beach shack.
If on a budget, try out Circle Hostel which is cheap, cheerful, and usually full of dizzy teenagers and/or backpackers. They have communal areas, hammocks, games, multiple outlets, and bunkbeds. Good for socializing.
Hotel Motel Charlie Does Inn is another great place to stay. Comfy beds, clean and simple rooms. There’s a peaceful garden at the back with hammocks to chill in. The Charlie Does surf school is here too.
Aliya Surf Camp is a popular beachfront hotel, with a clean pool, prime location, decent food, a grassy knoll to park your board, and a little surf shop selling all kinds of equipment and zinc (plus a poster of Blue Crush. Love!).
Getting around BALER
Tricycle: Trike tours abound around Baler. Hit up places like Baler Church, Museo de Baler, Diguisit Falls, Aniao Islet, the Hanging Bridge, Millennium Tree, Mother Falls and more. Tours are around P500 for half a day, or P800 for a whole day, depending on where you're headed.
Bicycle: Work those legs! Rent a bicycle from hotels and hostels - I recommend the "beach bikes" with the huge wheels that make cycling on sandy beaches a breeze. (Geddit?) Around P300 a day!
Scooter/Motorbike: Get your ped on and zoom around like you're in Bali. You can cover more ground this way and zip off to destinations further out like the Dicasalarin Cove and Millennium Tree. Motorbikes can be rented anywhere in Sabang, under P1000 per day depending on the model.
Boat: If you're a lazybones who can't be bothered to walk the shore/carry their board from one spot to another, catch a boat ride at T. Molina Street. You'll get to Cemento Reef from Sabang Beach within minutes. P5, too. Very wallet friendly, and a bit of a timesaver, too!
Things to do IN BALER
Catch the insanely beautiful sunrise. Baler’s dawn has a cool, ethereal mystery to it. Wake early, head to the beachfront, and watch the early locals catch waves in the golden morning light. It's extremely soul soothing.
Rent a bicycle. Explore trails around Baler and neighbouring towns, San Luis, Dipaculao, and Maria Aurora. Rent a "sand" bicycle!
Skate or die! Okay, well, you won't die if you don't skate. But cruising down the smooth concrete roads on a longboard, or popping ollies on pathways between palm trees, is a pretty sweet way to pass the time.
Treks and Waterfalls. The Ditumabo "Mother" Falls in San Luis is the biggest of Baler's waterfalls. Cold water cascades from a 100ft drop, forming a natural pool, from which a stream trickles to Diteki River.
Splash around at Diguisit Falls. En route to the Cove, these three little cascades offer a natural waterfalls massage. Perfect for sore surf muscles.
Photo opportunity at Dicasalarin Cove – This cheeky little secluded cove south of the town offers huge waves, fluttering winds, cream sands, and gorgeous cliff faces. Prime IG material. Like, like, like.
Climb a century-old Balete tree – Clamber to the top of the Millennium Tree for a small fee; local guides will help you up using roots and branches.
Check out Baler Church. Catch spiritual vibes at this church made famous by the Siege of Baler (1898-99) between Philippine Revolutionary forces and Spanish troops during the Revolution Spanish-American War.
Stroll around Museo de Baler and Quezon Memorial Park. Take in some culture at Baler's museum, located at the birthplace of President Manuel L. Quezon, the first ever President of the Philippines.
Have a picnic at Dicaloyungan. Sip beers (or fresh coconuts) by some cracking scenery (the river is something else, honestly.) Good romantic spot.
Explore the downtown area – if you're tired of the waves (impossible), check out the historical church, local market, and the Quezon house.
Hike Ermita Hill. Situated in Mount Dibudalan, this hill will give you a cracking panorama of Baler Bay, Aniao Islets, and Dima-Dimalangat.
Cross the Hanging Bridge. This charmingly rickety bridge at Tibag-Sabang, originally thrown together with bamboo sticks, creaky wooden planks, and rusty wire, is no longer that rickety - but it is charming. Check it out.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
There are so many options lined up along Sabang Beach! Have a wander around and pick somewhere that grabs your fancy. Otherwise, here are my picks:
Groundswell Café has delicious homemade treats baked up by a surfing Filipina lass named Barbie, and epic iced coffee. (If you get the shakes before you can finish the cup, shove it in a freezer for tomorrow's pre-surf bevvie.) They also have decent cocktails, beers, shakes, teas, and sandwiches. Fun crowds hang here too.
Good Food – Cheap, cheerful, moderately hipster grill stall eatery. Food is fresh, simple, and tasty. Order the fish taco. And then a chicken one. You're welcome.
Kusina Luntian – Good, cheap Filipino food at this joint owned by a former Manila kid who fell in love with surfing. Eat kamayan-style (with hands, from a banana leaf). I recommend the pako salad, which is local fern and salted egg. Bang.
Costa Pacifica – Great buffets go down here during breakfast. Fairly affordable prices, but the food is well cooked and the menu is full of options. Mix of Western and Filipino meals, drinks, shakes, and desserts. The salads are pretty awesome.
Aliya Surf Restaurant - grab a beer and watch the sunset from the beachfront. If you're not into beer, have a milkshake!
But wait. Are you a beer lover? Good news! Craft beer has reached Baler! Charlie Does Cafe right behind Costa Pacifica serves their own micro-brewed beer called Baler Brew (which uses wild honey) as well as craft beers like Summer Sessions from Craftpoint and Tropic Haze and Midnight Blur from Nipa Brew. They serve good cakes and snacks too.
ALSO, DON'T LEAVE WITHOUT TRYING...
NANAY PACING PB! Baler sells the DOPEST homemade peanut butter by a brand (or nice old lady) named Nanay Pacing.
It’s made of peanuts, sugar, and salt.
For a post-surf pick-me-up, spread that ish on some Skyflakes and feel your muscles weep. Get a jar immediately. (Unless you have a raging peanut allergy, in which case, check out the coconut jam instead. Just as good.)
So.. that's Baler in a nutshell. I've barely scratched the surface, but I hope this helps you whenever you get a chance to visit.
Any questions? Drop a comment below!
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Mel left London to chase summer around the world, one country at a time. She loves the ocean, writing postcards, and solo exploration. Travel with her on Instagram.