Baler is situated in Aurora province (named after a former President’s wife) which is one of the last frontiers of the region. It is nestled among the formidable Sierra Madre mountains so you feel sort of cut off from the rest of the country.
Recently, Baler has become increasingly popular because people have been discovering its many wonders, especially its rugged, picturesque coast and powerful waves that make for a surfer’s dream come true. There are currently numerous establishments in the area providing accommodations, shops, and even surfing lessons.
From Manila, you can take public transportation from various bus stations located on Cubao bus terminal. There are non-stop de luxe buses with on board attendants, free snacks, and even a restroom. Cost is about $15 per person. For slightly less, you can ride a regular bus without the amenities. Departure times are usually around 2:30 AM, 4:00 AM, 5:30 AM and 7:00 AM. The ride from Manila takes about 5-6 hours depending on the time of day.
One route uses the North Luzon Expressway, connecting to the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway just a bit past Angeles, Pampanga. Then from Tarlac, you’ll take Sta. Rosa-Tarlac Road, Carmen-Cabanatuan Road, Pan Philippine Highway, Pinagpaanan-Rizal-Pantabangan Road, Pantabangan-Canili-Basal-Baler Road, and finally the Nueva Ecija-Aurora Road which leads to Baler. This route leads to the town of Maria Aurora.
Alternatively, you exit into Cabanatuan City from Carmen-Cabanatuan Road, and take the Nueva Ecija-and the town of San Luis before reaching Baler. You’ll be cutting through the lush virgin forests of the Sierra Madre mountain range on this route. This is the more common route for most buses, but also passes through many rough, narrow, and zigzagging roads. It is generally not advisable to drive your own vehicle because of the road conditions. Efforts have been made to gradually improve the road conditions by paving with cement. On occasion, some parts of the route may not be accessible due to typhoons or landslides, so always verify the conditions and best route before heading off.
As a more expensive option, you can catch an 8:00 AM flight via SkyJet Airlines from Manila to Baler on a Monday or Friday. The return flight is at 9:30 AM. It takes about 45 minutes each way. The plane lands on an airfield in San Luis. From there you can take a bus and reach Baler in 20 minutes.
What to Expect
Once you reach the town of Baler, there are several options depending on your surfing level. Sabang Beach on the north side is more ideal for beginners. Advanced and adventurous surfers can try Cemento Wharf, Cobra Reef or Dapa where waves reach 4 meters or more. There is a wide array of surf shops along the beach areas, so you can take your pick and haggle for the best prices. Then be ready to enjoy the waves!
During off-season times, you can opt for tamer water activities, such as snorkeling, diving, boating, and wind-surfing. You can visit Dibut Bay with its picture-perfect cliffs and rock formations. Casiguran Sound stays calm throughout the year and you’ll enjoy its white sandy beach. Or you can visit the Cunayan Falls and Ditumaho Falls in San Luis for an exhilarating hike along or through the river.
There are numerous hostels and hotels in the area which cater to all budgets ranging from PhP900 to PhP2000 per night. You can also opt to take local tours by boat or through the town.
Places of Interest
Sabang Beach – perfect for beginners
Dicasalarin Cove and Lighthouse
Other Tips and Precautions
- Best time for surfing is between September to March. But do check local weather conditions first, as some typhoons may also occur during these months.
- If it’s your first time to Baler, go with someone who is familiar with the place or get a local guide to help you find the best bargains in tours, water activities, food, and lodging.
- Most accommodations are along Sabang Beach. You can choose either air-con or fan rooms. Some places may also feature live music at night, so consider that this might disturb your sleep.
- You need to know how to swim and be physically fit to even try beginner’s surfing. A good stretch before and after surfing is helpful. You must also be a strong swimmer if you want to try the more advanced surfing areas.
- Surf at least one hour after meals, and never after drinking alcohol.
- Watch out for rip tides which may suddenly pull you out into the sea. If you do get caught, don’t resist it. Instead, move along with the flow of the rip until it lets you go. Then you can swim safely back to shore.
- Talk to the surfing instructor about the safest place for you to surf, given your own level.
- Wear a wetsuit or rash guard during surfing to prevent hypothermia.
- Wear sunblock on your face and exposed body parts.
- It’s best to go surfing with a companion.
- Even the best surfers can get injured. Never let go of your surfboard as much as you can, and never dive off the board.
- Take surfing lessons first if you’re a beginner.
- If in trouble, signal with your arm and keep to your board. Don’t panic.
- It is best to stay overnight because of the tedious drive from Manila to Baler and back.