Hulugan Falls, Laguna with kids
Hulugan Falls is a 70-meter tall waterfall in Luisiana, Laguna that is breathtaking to see in person. Its height is impressive to kids and also the sight of water showering down the rocks and lush vegetation. The water falls into a pool that you can swim across and get to under the waterfall itself. You can climb on the rocks and be showered by all the different water pressures of the falls. While the falls themselves are beautiful and offer lots of family fun, first thing to note is that Hulugan Falls are difficult to hike to. You hike downhill to the falls, and while it is only a 20-30 minute hike, it is very steep for kids and potentially slippery. At one point the incline reaches about 80 degrees (almost vertical) with rocks and tree roots providing the steps to climb down. Even though it is a downhill hike at first, the steepness makes it a strenuous hike down that is equally or more difficult than the hike back up. My quadriceps and knees were already sore at the end of the downhill hike, and remained that way for a couple days! We went on a no-rain day but the rocks were still moist and we had to exert effort to not slip, and I imagine a wet day would be really hard on one’s knees and legs. We had to hold the hands of our 4 and 5-yr-old the whole time (9-, 11- and 13-yr-olds were okay on their own) and support them (which added to the strain on the knees and legs). Babies and toddlers would need to be carried- in a hiking backpack would be the safest and least tiring way. The take home message here is I don’t recommend this hike if you are visiting with somebody with compromised fitness or knee problems, and to be ready to carry your little kids.
Hulugan Falls is a 3-hour drive from Manila, past the North side of Mount Makiling, i.e. Los Banos, and close to Cavinti Lake and Lake Caliraya (in fact, I would recommend partnering it with a trip to this Lake, see my post on this nearby place to stay or camp), and this is without traffic. The traffic build-up is in Los Banos, so if you can leave very early in the morning and pass Los Banos before 8am, that would be best. We went on a holiday with little traffic, but we still got slowed down significantly in Los Banos. (Note that for returning back to Manila, Los Banos evening traffic can be particularly bad and Waze may route you around the South side of Mount Makiling, going through Santo Tomas instead. This road is longer by 20km and is slow, but can be worthwhile if Los Banos traffic is very bad).
The best time to go to Hulugan Falls for less crowds is during the week versus the week-end. We went on a holiday (Independence Day) and there were only about 5 other groups at the falls with us. The falls are prettiest before 1pm, when the sun shines onto the water and makes the waterfall sparkle. We noticed that in the afternoon when the falls are in the shade they aren’t as breathtaking.
The jump-off point to Hulugan Falls in in Barangay San Salvador. It is easy to find because “Hulugan Falls Jump-off point” is in accurately in Waze. It is a small barangay with just sari-sari stores. If you need to have a meal beforehand, I would recommend stopping at one of the restaurants in Pagsanjan town for this.
Upon arrival at San Salvador, you can just park on the side of the road at first, and the locals will probably instruct you to register in their makeshift office just in the front of somebody’s house. There is a 30 pesos/person fee (our 4- and 5-yr olds were free), a quick debriefing, and a guide assigned to your group. Guides are mandatory and there is no fixed rate for the guides, but the suggested rate is 300 pesos, up to 500 pesos (this is according to the barangay captain’s wife who I spoke to after I had a somewhat unpleasant experience of my guide deceiving me that there was a fixed rate).
Your guide will show you where to park (it’s about a minute drive further), and from here you take a tricycle (a short, approx. 3 min ride) to the start of the hike down to the falls. Trike is 10 pesos/person each way (you will also take a trike at the end of the hike to get back to your car). The guide stayed with us the whole time.
At the falls itself, kids can splash in the small, shallow pools around or swim in the big pool. Rocks around the main pool are slippery from moss and the rocks at the bottom of the pool are jagged and also not easy to detect. Water shoes are a good idea to bring for kids to be able to get the most out of it. Also, non-swimmers will want floaties or life vests because the pool does get deep in the middle. Have your guide show you the one spot where it is deep enough to jump into the pool safely, it’s a lot of fun.
If there’s one thing we noticed about Hulugan Falls, it is how clean the trail and area around the waterfalls are kept. Barangay San Salvador does a great job reminding visitors to “leave no trace” and of maintaining the area to make it a wonderful nature experience. I spoke to the barangay captain’s wife about this, and indeed their maintenance of Hulugan Falls is something they are proud of.
Bring a packed lunch or snacks that you can enjoy sitting by the falls. Just remember to pack as light as possible because of the hike. We saw groups with small gas stoves and even a family who built a small fire to cook their lunch, so cooking there is an option.
Before or after the hike, be sure to try the bibingka at the one stand near the parking lot- it is delicious and creamy bibingka with actual bits of buko in it! 3 for 100 pesos.