There is an archipelago lying between the Pacific and South China Sea boasting a rich mix of culture, food, and people, and sprinkled with a dash of limestone cliffs. Mabuhay! Welcome to the Philippines! Let's get climbing...
Why go climbing in the Philippines?
Climbing in the Philippines still flies under the radar of most, but is becoming ever more popular due to recent crag developments and social media.
The roughly 7640 islands of the archipelago are divided into 3 main groups – Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao – each with many notable climbing areas. Be aware that getting to each area takes a few hops, often ending with a motorcycle or tricycle journey. Make sure you know the correct fare for this so you don’t overspend.
Climbing in the Philippines inevitably means climbing on limestone, but this island will show you just how diverse this rock type is! From the pockets of Poog to the stalactite-filled walls of Igbaras you're bound to find something that suits your style.
Aside from climbing, you can visit one of the countless beaches, local historical sites, or spend the day sampling the mouth-watering local food. If you need extra guidance check out ClimbPhilippines.com or just rock up at a local gym and see if anyone is willing to head to the crag with you.
Doors Dural taking a fall while deep water soloing in Marabut, Samar © Nick Aguilos
Where to go Rock Climbing in the Philippines?
Start your trip in Luzon, the major island in the north of the Philippines. About an hour's drive from the capital, Manila, you'll find Montalban (also known as Rodriguez). This was the first area developed for sport climbing in the country, and so has some rich history to it. The most popular crag, Uling Wall, is about 30 minutes from the parking lot and offers routes ranging from 6a to 8a. You'll find some quality limestone boulders in the area too.
For those of you who like to land on crash pads rather than clipping draws, drive 5 hours north from Manila to the Benguet Province of Luzon, where you'll find an abundance of boulder gardens on (mostly) dried up riverbeds. With it’s huge variety of problems, Ambongdolan is one of the best areas here. It’s quite remote so you’ll have to camp. Contact the climbers of the Benguet Rock Climbing Community before heading out: they have set up camping areas for visitors.
Mikhail Gomez climbing in Quezon © Nick Aguilos
Cebu is the oldest city in the Philippines, lying in the heart of the Visayas, about an hour’s flight from Manila. This is a popular destination for sport climbing, and most head either to Cantabaco or it's neighboring crag, Poog, for routes ranging from 5 to 8b+. The rock in both areas is limestone, but while Poog is pocketed and offers mostly vertical walls, Cantaboco has varied terrain. You’ll find anything from slabby multi-pitches in area 2, to three-dimensional routes in areas 3 and 4, to sustained and overhanging hard routes in area 5.
Note that Cebu can get very busy at the end of October as Lust for Lime, the annual rock trip by Filipinos, is held here. There are many rooms for rent made available for locals, the most popular of which is Yolly's.
Another hour-long flight from Manila, or half a day trip by land and ferry from Cebu, is Panay Island, where you can find the crags of Igbaras and Dingle.
Igbaras is the most remote climbing area in the country and is accessible by taking a jeepney from Iloilo City to Igbaras Town. An accompanying motorcycle (habal-habal) finally takes you up steep slopes where the crag is situated. Accommodation here is either in a mountain hut, or camping in the grounds allotted for climbers and hikers.
Igbaras is known for its hard climbing on overhangs, with plenty of tufas and stalactites. The weather changes constantly for warm, to cold, to pouring rain, so be prepared! The Engagement (8a+) is THE route to try here: sustained and full of crimps and pockets. Mackie Makinano, Kuya Mackie to the local community, made the first ascent. Mackie is also one of the major crag developers in the Philippines and has bolted a lot of the routes in the country, including at the crags mentioned here. Be sure to give him a heads up, he might just be heading to the same crag you wish to visit.
Kyle Antolin climbing in Montalban © Nick Aguilos
Dingle is another crag in Iloilo that takes an hour to get to, plus a 30 minute walk-in approach. The climbing is very three-dimensional, sustained and technical, involving lots of navigating through stalactites. There is no accommodation, so bring camping gear and food.
If one's embassy allows for it, I personally would urge visitors to head to the Bukidnon Province in the heart of Mindanao. The area has seen huge developments in climbing in the past few years, and boasts several notable areas: Meow Pao, Skeletor, Neverland, Blue Water, and The Great White Wall.
Blue Water has shorter routes in the 6a range. Skeletor and Neverland are two separate crags with walk-ins between 15 and 30 minutes long, offering climbs that are more overhanging and generally harder than at Blue Water. The Great White Wall is an area adjacent to Neverland but has only one 6-pitch line bolted at the time of writing. Meow Pao is the furthest from these areas and takes a motorcycle ride to get to from the Blue Water area. Climbs here are on average 3 pitches long, ranging from 6a to 6c+ .
When to visit?
For the best conditions, visit between November and February.
Words by Nick Aguilos.
Cover photo caption: Mikhail Gomez climbing in Atimonan, Quezon © Nick Aguilos