Hiking through a jungle to swim in a tropical lagoon sounds like every adventure minded travellers dream, and the Busay falls in Malilipot gave me the chance to do just that! Read on to find out exactly how you can do it too.
Nestled in the rocky, mountainous terrain of Albay in the Philippines are a number of enchanting waterfalls. Rich in local legend and spectacularly beautiful, it is impossible to resist the idea of a hike through the forest to reach them and swim in their cool, refreshing waters, and with everything from shampoo ads to reality TV shows selling the fantasy of bathing under a tropical waterfall these days, why would you want to?
The Busay falls in Malilipot, a small town hidden away in a lush, forested mountain, is the perfect day trip for intrepid travellers who want to do just that.
Surrounded by local legends of fairies who live in the pools and caves, Busay is the highest waterfall in the Philippines, crashing down the mountainside from a height of 250 meters through several small pools at descending levels, and it is an extremely popular local destination for families who come to swim and cool off in the lowest pool at the base.
But the Busay falls aren’t just a destination for families and day trippers. If you want to push your boundaries a little bit and put some effort in, you can hike through the lush forest and pass through the several levels to reach the top. Each level is increasingly deserted the further up you get, with the vast majority of families, day trippers and children content to splash and play at the lower level, those travellers willing to put the effort in can be assured of their reward of a deserted lagoon perfect for an afternoon swimming and relaxing with friends.
The hike up is not exactly an easy stroll once you get past the second tier and travellers should prepare themselves to put a bit of effort in, but it isn’t completely inaccessible either for those with a basic level of fitness.
Unlike the seven tiered falls at Erawan National Park in Thailand, there is no development or tourist infrastructure once you get past the main entrance, which is a good thing. Erawan National Park is overdeveloped and over touristy, and that is neither good for tourism or the environment.
As a more natural and sustainable counterbalance to Erawan, there are no man made walkways, steps, ladders or stairways on these trails, and you will need a guide to help show you the way as there are no easy to read, tourist friendly signposts either. This trail is very rough and ready, and the local guides would neither confirm nor deny the rumours that more than one tourist had come a cropper on certain steep parts!
There are plans to put some small pieces of infrastructure in to assist tourists past some of the more difficult parts, and if that is kept to a minimum such as a via ferrata style rope up some of the steeper sections instead of relying on whatever strong branch happens to be there, I’m all for it. I just hope they keep it to a minimum and don’t start pouring concrete walkways everywhere. Keep it natural, keep it minimal and keep it sustainable.
At the moment, it is almost perfect.
If you hike up past the second tier, you will start to come across some short but steep climbs and some loose, slippery rocks over the shallow streams too, so you do have to be prepared for that. But none of this is insurmountable for those travellers with a basic level of fitness who are prepared to put in the effort. It may mean that grandma and the children have to stay at the lower tier, but that is a good thing for those who want some peace and solitude in what is in essence a popular tourist spot. The Busay falls is literally the best of both worlds for both independent travellers, tourists and day trippers alike.
By putting in the effort and climbing to the mid level tiers or higher, the fabled fairies of the mountain reward you with not only beautiful scenery but a cooling, refreshing swim with your travel companions, and as much as I normally advocate solo travel as the best way to see the world, in this it is worth getting a few friends or fellow travellers to do the hike with you, because in this case having good people to share the experience with makes it special. In this instance, spending some time with a great group of people made for a genuinely awesome time and a perfect day out.
What do you need to bring?
You don’t need to bring much with you at all on your trip to the falls. I came prepared for a much more intensive hike than it actually turned out to be, with suitable hiking trainers and everything. It wasn’t necessary.
Good, sturdy footwear is essential, I generally wouldn’t advise normal flip flops as there are a few sections where they won’t be secure enough and some of the steeper climbs are too slippery and you will lose them or twist an ankle or something, but neither do you need full hiking trainers. Good, light shoes that can get wet or walking sandals that are secure (the ones that strap around your ankle) are perfect.
Swim shorts and suits are a must of course, as why would you come here if you didn’t want to swim? And they will dry quickly in the sun so wearing them on their own with a change of clothes to put over them when they do is enough. On top of that a good microfibre towel and some water are a good idea too.
You really don’t have to overthink a visit to Busay falls, at the end of the day it is a popular tourist attraction not a hike through an untamed jungle, and although the hike is a little challenging it is not that bad either.
The real reason to come here is the sheer amount of pleasant, convivial fun you will have swimming in each of the lagoons on the way back down from the peak (or on the way up too if you so wish), because at the end of the day this is what travel in the Philippines is all about. Forget about taking anything too seriously and just revert back to your childhood, live in the moment and enjoy it. They don’t have the slogan ‘it’s more fun in the Philippines’ for nothing!
And that is before I even mention the health benefits of getting a natural massage from the water pounding your shoulder and neck muscles, talk about visiting natures spa!
I could have spent so much longer at the falls than I actually did and genuinely didn’t want to leave! Cooling down in the pools were a perfect antidote to the hot, muggy weather and sharing the experience with some awesome people made for the perfect day trip.
I would absolutely recommend setting aside a full day to visit here. Yes you can easily come in the morning and spend just a few hours hiking up to the top and back with a little swim, but that is missing half the point. You really want to spend some time just swimming around and relaxing without having to worry about getting back or moving onto the next destination.
How to get there.
If you want to visit here yourself, the falls are just a few kilometers away from Tabaco city and around 20 kilometers away from Legazpi city, and there are a ton of both public transport and private transport options to get here from both places.
There is a small car park at the entrance, just a couple of minutes walk from the first pool, and private transport can pick you up or drop you off here, and the public transport from both Tobaco and Legazpi drops you off just a short ten minute walk away up a straight road. It really is that easy.
Alternatively if you are in Malilipot itself (or you miss the bus stop and end up here), you can get pedicab rides cheaply enough from the Municipal Hall which should take about 15 minutes or so.
The Busay falls are a perfect day out for you to come, relax, and spend some time doing absolutely nothing other than just enjoying yourself. Adventure really is more fun in the Philippines and I totally recommend it as the perfect day out for any traveller heading through this region.
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This article was written in partnership with the Tourism Promotions Board Philippines and TBEX. The views and opinions expressed are entirely the authors own based on personal experiences when travelling and are honest and factual without any bias.