The Philippines has a secret. Hidden on the west coast of Luzon, Nagsasa Cove is a respite from the chaos of Manila and an enclave of calm amid the rough waters of the South China Sea.
You are not
likely to find Nagsasa in any guidebook. Ask anyone in Manila -- or even anyone
outside of the local province of Zambales -- and they will probably say you are mistaken, that no
such place exists. Twenty years ago, they would have been right.
Nagsasa Cove was reportedly formed when Mt Pinatubo erupted in 1991. Pine
seeds swept into Zambales, giving birth to an alien nation of evergreen trees
on a tropical beach more likely to host a string of palms. Now, the nearly
still waters of Nagasa Cove reflect the surrounding mountains, and
nearby waterfalls feed the river at the back of the beach. Unlike the crowded
sands of more popular Luzon beaches like Puerto Galera, Nagasa is
usually empty. It is hard to believe that such a beautiful place was borne
from such a violent eruption.
In recent years, whispers of Nagsasa Cove’s existence have started to
grow louder. Those who have fallen victim to its enchantment have shared the
secret that is too good to be kept that way, and Filipino bloggers have begun
spreading the word about Luzon’s next great off-the-beaten path destination. But
unless you already happen to be in Zambales, it is no easy trek
to Nagsasa, which may help the sanctuary retain its relative
Coming from Manila, the journey begins with a pleasant three
to four hour bus ride to the town of San Antonio. The following 20-minute
"tricycle" ride to Barangay San Miguel or Pundaquit is less so.
Travellers find themselves squished into a partially enclosed motorcycle
sidecar that is barely big enough for one person. Supplies and luggage
that do not fit on the roof of the sidecar sit on the floor, encroaching on the
already-limited leg room inside. The final hour-and-a-half is by banca, a small
motorized canoe that uses wing-like lateral floats that extend a few
meters from the boat to help navigate choppy waters. Even with the assistance
of the floats, the rough sea can make it a trying trip for those with no
Adventurers are rewarded with a
mostly-empty beach to soak in the sun and short hikes to nearby waterfalls. At
the back of a small fishing village -- home to Nagsasa's few inhabitants – the
trail passes through a tall pine forest and winds along the river where local
women do their laundry. Water cascades down the side of the mountain, providing
hikers with a refreshingly icy plunge into the swimming hole below.
As the day fades away, the sun
enters a slow dance with the mountains, reflecting an ever-changing kaleidoscope
of hues in the water below before finally creeping behind the peaks.
tents or hammocks are the most luxurious sleeping options; the other choice is
spending a night on the sand.
are non-existent save a small shop for basic supplies like firewood, so make
sure to stock up on food and drinks in San Antonio. Fresh fish and s´mores can
be cooked on a self-started fire, and music is generally a capella or
from a guitar, if you bring one.
Not everyone appreciates the nuances of beach camping — sand adds a bit of
crunch to succulent Zambales mangoes and hot showers are replaced
with a dip in the brisk river at the back of the beach — but if you like the
idea of taking a mid-day nap on the beach, under a pine tree canopy, listening
to a soundtrack of the wind, then go before it is too late. The secret is now out.