Chasing Waterfalls Part 1: Kawasan Falls
Ah… Kawasan Falls! If you haven't been there then please, please add it to your bucket list. Located near Moalboal in Southern Cebu, Kawasan Falls attracts thousands if not millions of tourists a year with its picturesque scenery, turquoise blue water and fun, adventurous activities. Kawasan Falls is a popular destination for canyoneering - jumping off series of cliffs starting from the top and going down to the basin of the river. The journey starts at the town of Algeria and ends at Badian. This is not for everyone as some of the cliffs are 15-20 meters high but the fun is guaranteed! What draws most people to Kawasan Falls is the amazing, blue water… We visited in August, which is during rainy season and the water was still nice and blue. Turquoise blue as some might describe it. The scenery was also stunning - the jungle surrounding the falls was lush green because of the heavy rain. The place truly looks surreal, almost like a heavily edited picture.
We left around 9 am from our hotel in Moalboal and drove to Kawasan Falls which takes about an hour from Panagsama Beach. Well, it actually took us a bit longer than that because we had to pull over and wait out the storm. Again, we visited during rainy season so we had to deal with heavy, tropical rains. The good thing however is that they are “quick and dirty” as I would like to say - it starts suddenly, it rains heavy for maybe twenty or thirty minutes and then it stops just as sudden as it started. If you use google maps be aware that the gps will take you to the part where the canyoneering starts and not the actual waterfall park entrance. There are lots of signs for the waterfalls and a huge church (named Saint Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church) with a parking lot - that’s where you want to be. We went to the canyoneering part but luckily one of the guys waiting for his group of adventure-seekers stopped us and told us where to go. One thing that I would really like to mention are the locals! The Filipino people are some of the friendliest, nicest and happiest people we have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Everywhere we go we are greeted, people wave us, kids smile and shout, “hello” or "I love you.”
Yes, we know maybe we’ve said we found the nicest people before but they just keep upping the stakes each new place we go. So, after finding the correct place we were directed to a parking lot right in front of Saint Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church, where we had to pay 50 pesos parking fee. We were given a receipt which said “Thank you for the donation” which was kind of funny since donations usually are not mandatory but we’ve quickly found out that isn’t the case in SE Asia… At least they charged everyone else and not just us. The actual entrance fee of 40 pesos per person was collected a few meters up. Note that if you are not driving yourself and you have hired a driver or a tricycle then the only fee you are required to pay there is the 40 pesos entrance fee. Pretty cheap if you ask us!
From the parking lot there is a nice, big, paved pathway that weaves through the jungle and alongside the amazingly, blue river. We expected the water to be green and muggy as everywhere else we have visited due to the heavy rains but to our delight this was not the case for Kawasan Falls. After a short walk of maybe 2 km we reached the first basin. We visited on a Sunday (foolishly) and the place was packed! Apparently the falls are popular among locals during weekends - people had brought up tons of food and drinks, the music was on and families and friends everywhere were enjoying themselves swimming, playing and spending time with each other. There are no jumping spots at the first basin but the pool is nice and big for swimming, There are also bamboo rafts that you can lay on and it will put you right under the waterfall for a nice Filipino style massage and it costs 300 pesos per person (6 USD). The line for those was pretty long so we decided to continue our hike up and see what the next basin had in store.
The second tier of the Falls offers a nice viewpoint over the waterfall as well as a few smaller, more secluded pools that were not very popular. Still stunning and deep enough to dip in just without that “wow” effect that the first has. The third and last tier was much busier with a much larger pool, a nice jumping cliff (10 meters in height) and a swing for the ones not brave enough to jump off the cliff. Besides the cliff and the swing there was a few rocks that people were jumping off as well. The gray skies, gloomy weather and cold water didn't seem to be scarring anyone as people seemed to truly enjoy their playground. We dipped for a bit and watched the people jumping off the cliff. Loren was debating whether or not to sign up for a canyoneering tour so we decided to see if it was something for her. I, myself couldn't do it.. not yet at least… I am terrified of heights and I just recently started swimming so canyoneering is not something I was ready to do. As an afterthought however, maybe I should have done it and pushed myself..oh well now I have one more reason to go back.
TIP: Canyoneering tours are more expensive in Moalboal or the nearby towns than at the actual Falls. Most tours from Moalboal were about 1500 pesos with the most expensive reaching 2500 which included transportation, the actual canyoneering and a bbq lunch. If you feel comfortable driving a scooter we would suggest renting one (about 300 pesos per day or 6 USD) and driving yourself to the falls and then booking a tour at one of the many agencies located near the Kawasan Falls. The price there was about 750 pesos. Now if you’re a serious budget traveler or you aren’t sure if you want to go with the full-throttle Canyoneering you can also just go and swim, jump off multiple cliffs (including the 10 meter high one), swing, jump off rocks, etc and that will all be included in the admission price. There are multiple places to rent life jackets and helmets as well, starting around 75 pesos but you can shop around.
We swam a bit, Loren jumped off some rocks and one of the cliffs (the locals cheered and clapped when she did it!) and then we decided to head back to town and hopefully check out a beach or two. On the way down we spotted a nice little pool with a heavy stream of water going through it. No one was there so decided to jump in and ended up attracting several other people. The little pool felt like a jacuzzi - the water was hitting us pretty hard but hey, free massage!
Finally, ready to leave we headed back and were greeted by a very nice, young man selling the most delightful little treat ever! How can I describe this chocolatey, yummy goodness?! It was a pastry filled with Nutella and dusted with coco powder. It was more moist and dense than a donut and kind of chewy but it was the best thing I have ever had. I grabbed one and then went back for another one. In retrospect I should have bought a few more for later… Oh, yeah one of those little pieces of heaven cost about 20 pesos (a mere 40 cents USD). I’m still drooling just thinking about it.
As the Nutella delights were not enough we then decided to try some other local treats - fried banana glazed with brown sugar and this fried dough filled with banana and dusted with sugar, this one was Loren’s favorite. The Philippines are famous for their delicious mangos so to top everything off we had an amazing, juicy mango from a sweet, old man near the entrance. Words don't do justice describing how delicious everything was making it a perfect ending to this part of our day.
A few things to note:
When planning your Kawasan Falls visit try to avoid weekends - locals and other tourists are everywhere!
If you want to try canyoneering book a guide close to the waterfalls rather than in Moalboal, it’s much cheaper.
Try the local food that the street vendors are selling - delicious!
Rent a scooter and drive there on your own - much cheaper and then you can explore the nearby Cambais Waterfalls (more on that here).
Bring snacks and water - swimming and jumping off rocks and cliffs can be tiring, keep your energy up! You can buy things there as well.
Wear shoes - the pool bottoms are pretty rocky so it’s quite nice to have protection for you happy feet. (Flip flops will work fine if you do not have any water shoes.)
Do not bring anything important and if you do - carry a waterproof bag. Do not leave your things unattended as there were a few pick-pocketing attempts that we noticed.