About 60 miles (97 kilometers) from Manila, a visit to the 33-foot-high (10-meter-high) Pagsanjan (Magdapio) Falls delivers an epic thrill ride. First, paddle upstream in a small boat. Then ride a bamboo raft under the cascade itself into Devil’s Cave. Finally, race down the jungled gorge through a series of adrenaline-pumping rapids.
Pagsanjan town licenses boatmen (bangcero) to operate the small canoes that ride upriver through the gorge to the waterfall, and prices are set centrally, per head. Fees reflect the effort involved in navigating a small boat upstream—this is not a cheap trip.
Unless you’re exploring the Mt. Banahaw region, you’ll likely visit Pagsanjan Falls from Manila. Rather than getting up at the crack of dawn to make the drive and then arranging boats on arrival, most visitors opt for the convenience of a tour. Most Pagsanjan Falls tours include hotel pickup and drop-off, lunch, a canoe ride, and a bamboo raft ride. A few budget Pagsanjan tours omit the rapids in favor of hiking or swimming and looking at the waterfall.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Pagsanjan Falls are a must for thrill-seekers and movie fans.
- Babies and children under 7 are not allowed to ride the boats to the falls.
- You’ll get wet. Bring a plastic bag or waterproof case for your phone and/or camera if they’re not waterproof.
- Your bangcero will expect a tip: 100 pesos is the standard amount.
- There is no disabled access to Pagsanjan Falls. People who seem frail, including older people, will not be allowed to ride.
How to Get There
One of the Philippines’ favorite waterfalls, Pagsanjan Falls are around 60 miles (97 kilometers) from Manila. Even leaving early and in a private vehicle, the drive takes over two hours. If you’d prefer a day trip rather than spending the night in the unremarkable town of Pagsanjan, your only options are tour, taxi, or drive. Most find a tour more convenient than driving through gridlock and arranging your own boat.
When to Get There
Also known as Magdapio Falls, the Pagsanjan Falls are one of Manila’s most popular weekend trips: on Saturdays, Sundays, and over the Easter period they can be insanely crowded. In terms of timing, look to balance high water, which creates rapids and makes the waterfall dramatic, with low water, which allows boatmen to navigate the river. Early in the wet season, between August and October, is the best time to visit.
Apocalypse Now in Pagsanjan
Widely considered one of the greatest movies ever made, Apocalypse Now explores sanity and insanity against the background of the Vietnam War. Americans were unwelcome in Vietnam during the ’70s, so director Francis Ford Coppola chose the Philippines to shoot his movie. The culminating sacrifice scenes were filmed on the river that runs up to Pagsanjan Falls.