What’s Tagalog for “FML!!” .. I’ll tell you, it’s Pagsanjan Falls! [Pagsanjan Falls Travel log]

Pagsanjan is about 2 hours away from Makati. We left Makati at 12.45pm on Saturday afternoon, so there was a bit of traffic on the road out of Manila, but once we got to the SLEX, it was smooth sailing. To get there, take the South Super Highway (SLEX) all the way down to the last exit — Calamba, Laguna. Follow the road that leads to Los Banos, Laguna. Take the main road and you’ll get to Pagsanjan, Laguna. You’ll be passing the municipalities of Los Banos, Pila and Sta. Cruz. The view of the trees, rice paddies, “palay” and the rice fields reminds me how great it is to be out of Manila! We got to the resort at 3pm.

A Pagsanjan Arc will mark your arrival at your destination. Pass the arc and you’ll see the Pagsanjan church.

Our first stop was the Pagsanjan Falls Lodge and Summer Resort – as recommended to us. There are many signs on the way about the maximum price for the ride upriver and the fact that you shouldn’t listen to anyone along the road who is chasing your car to offer you a better price. There will be a lot of boatman flaggers on the streets.

As for the resort; it is quite nice for the area and the prices are quite reasonable – as is everything in the Philippines – every if you factor in the yearly inflation that seems to accompany prices with regards to tourists.

After paying our fee at the lodge, it was on to the canoes

Balaaaancceeee … Sirrr!! Balaaaancceeee … please!!!

On every part of the journey going up, that was the phrase that pays. If you’ve never been on a canoe going up a river before, then going to Pagsanjan Falls will definitley be an adventure – something out of the movie “Deliverance”. If you’re the last ones up the gorge like we were, then you’re going to hear the sounds of the forest, the swish of the canoes, the trickle of waterfalls and the cackling of the monkeys.

In the first 4 KMs, a motorized canoe pulled us along and all was decent, then the rocks in the river became very prominent and it was not a smooth cruising anymore. The motorized canoe disconnected from us and left us at the mercy of our boatmen.

But those two boatmen knew their job very well; took charge to take us further up. It’s a Herculean task to row against the flow but they had every skill needed for it. There was synchronization in their job.

It definitely was something from Jurassic Park … the steep sides of the gorge with each waterfall that we passed

From this point onwards there were strong rapids full of rocks and the boatmen had to literally step out of the unbalancing boat, push the rocks by their feet or step onto the rocks and pull the boat ahead with their hands. They knew exactly where & how slippery or sharp each rock was. Their job was so demanding that they took rest in between by sitting on a rock after locking our boat in place with another rock. This was truly were we started understanding the Tagalog word for “Fuck!!!” – in fact the guys asked us if we knew Tagalog, since we knew every time that they swore while pulling us up the rocks.

In between the huffing & puffing sitting on the rocks, I could see the strain on these guys and the amount of effort it took to go against the rapids and drag our canoe up the rock – but this is a job and they chose it – it is tough, in fact this would be one of the toughest honest jobs I’ve ever seen anyone do. I made peace with myself that I would give them a generous tip – that’s the best I could do and then I forgot about it.


After Talahib Falls (pictured above), the guys said that this was Pagsanjan Falls. This is where my sympathy went away and BEAST mode came on. I calmly pulled out my camera with the map of the region and said this was Talahib Falls and that we came to see Pagsanjan Falls – I could see the frowns on their faces, but just for a moment – I think it is a game they play, to see which tourists come along who would push them and be “demanding”.

It was another 2 KM of hiking and dragging and then came the waterfall. Once you reach near it, your canoe is parked near the rocks and you wait for your turn to get into the bamboo raft which would take you under the waterfall.

9 Interesting facts about Pagsanjan:

  1. Pagsanjan is pronounced as Pag-san-nyan.
  2. The name of the river is Magdapio.
  3. The stretch is of 6 KMs before we reach the falls. First 4KMs are done by a motorized canoe and then the boatmen (they are called banceros) take over and paddle the canoe against the powerful flow.
  4. There are at least 10 sets of rapids in last 2 KMs.
  5. There are around 980 boats with two boatmen each.
  6. The boatmen hire these boats for PhP (Philippine Peso) 100 per trip (1USD = 42 PhP).
  7. Every day only 120 boats are allowed to take this trip so their turn comes only once in a week and hence they try to earn as much as possible.
  8. The area is protected by the environment department.
  9. One such trip costs us from 1200- 1500 PhP per person; breakup of which includes 30% tax to local municipality, 30% to association of (boatmen and hiring of motorized canoe), hiring of gears like life jackets, helmets etc.
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About Rishiray

Rishi Sankar is a Cloud HRMS Project Manager/ Solution Architect. Over the past 15+ years, he has managed to combine his overwhelming wanderlust with a desire to stay employed, resulting in continuing stints with 3 major consulting firms (IBM, Deloitte, Accenture). He documents his adventures around the world on "Ah Trini Travelogue" with pictures and stories from the road/tuk-tuk/camel/rickshaw. You can follow him on Twitter at @rishiray and on Facebook at "Ah Trini Travelogue . He doesn't like Chicken Curry but loves Curry Chicken and is always trying to find the perfect Trinidadian roti on the road. He also doesn't like cheese and kittens ... and definitely not together. E-mail from his blog is appreciated like a 35 yr old Balvenie at rishi@rishiray.com

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