The province of Aklan on the Philippine island of Panay is known internationally as the home of and gateway to Boracay. The Philippines’ most famous paradise island is understandably a much-desired holiday spot, with its crystal clear blue waters and powdery white sand spanning kilometers of beachfront. However, those who go from Kalibo or Caticlan airport straight to Boracay are unfortunately ignoring a wide range of hidden gems. One of those is the newly blazed trail of Mount Balinsayaw, located in the barangay of Mabusao about half an hour from the port city of Caticlan.
The hike, for now, is completely free and very untouched. You will hardly ever encounter anyone else on this trail, although the trail itself is surprisingly well-maintained. The roundtrip hike should take even the slowest of hikers no more than three hours, but along those through hours, one traverses through a wide variety of landscapes and sceneries. Sign into the guestbook at the small building just past Mabusao’s basketball court and decide whether you need a guide or not.
The first ten minutes or so might be tricky until you make it to the uphill ascent, so you might want to consider asking someone to see you through up until that part just so you don’t get lost. You will be starting off hopping along stones to cross rivers, strolling through local peoples’ backyards, and potentially lost in the shadows of towering palm trees in the jungle. For someone unfamiliar with the trail, it might feel like you’re just waltzing through someone’s backyards as their cows and chickens graze on the lush greenery. People might be washing their clothes in the dam you walk across, or shooting hoops in a makeshift basket nailed to a tree. No matter where you go in the Philippines, ball is life.
Eventually, you will find yourself at the start of the inevitable uphill ascent. Around this time is when you’ll likely start questioning why you forced yourself to do this hike but trust me, it will be well worth it. Hopefully you started early before the sweltering Philippine sun starts to hit its peak and beat down mercilessly on you.
The first stretch of uphill will take you out of the dense and lush jungles and into an equally lush landscape of tall grass and bushy foliage. The higher you go, the grander the view gets. The endless jungle goes on as far as the eye can see. One can catch a glimpse of the glimmering ocean on the horizon. The rolling, forested hills of the Philippines curls and curves in every direction.
The howling gusts of wind adds to an already epic hike as the tall grass tickles you as you weave your way towards the top, tired though triumphant.
The province of Aklan is much more than just Boracay and Mount Balinsayaw is a nice testament to that. The rice paddies, lush hills, and local lifestyle make it a beautiful stop on the way to Boracay, or a fantastic adventure in itself.