When one is asked to name a tourist spot in the Philippines, one of the first ones a local would mention would be Pagsanjan Falls, as we see it in postcards to textbooks, yet one really needs to see it firsthand to truly appreciate this amazing work of nature.
Pagsanjan Falls is one of the most famous waterfalls in the Philippines. Located in the province of Laguna, the falls is one of the major tourist attractions in the region. The falls are reached by a river trip on a dugout canoe, known locally as shooting the rapids, originating from the municipality of Pagsanjan. The boat ride has been an attraction since the Spanish Colonial Era with the oldest written account in 1894. The town of Pagsanjan lies at the confluence of two rivers, the Balanac River and the Bumbungan River (also known as the Pagsanjan River).
The main falls is located within the boundaries of Cavinti, Laguna, but access by boat originates from the town of Pagsanjan. A move by the ruling body of the town of Cavinti was submitted to the Sangguniang Bayan on February 10, 2009 proposing the renaming of the falls to Cavinti Falls.
The falls and gorge were declared as a National Park with Proc. 392 on March 29, 1939 and Proc. 1551 on March 31, 1976. The Pagsanjan Gorge National Park covers an area of 152.64 hectares (377.2 acres).
According to history, the Pagsanjan Falls is rich in legendary lore. Long, long ago, recounts one legend, there were no falls. There were only the foliaged highlands, the twin rivers, called Bumbungan and Balanac, and the alluvial delta (where the town of Pagsanjan now nestles). On the eastern bank of the Bumbungan River lived two old brothers named Balubad and Magdapio. For many years, the two brothers enjoyed a rustic life of peace and happiness. But one day calamity struck. A terrible drought brought ruin and death. No rains came for successive months. The soil became dry as tinder. The blooming flowers and food plants withered and died. The birds, deer, wild hogs, monkeys, and other animals disappeared. The rivers, creeks, and mineral springs dried up. Not a single drop of life-giving rain fell from heaven.
Balubad and Magdapio suffered immensely. Day and night, they prayed for rain, but the gods did not heed their prayers. The older and weaker of the two brothers, Balubad, died of thirst. Magdapio, with a sorrowing heart, buried him on the slope of the mountain overlooking the river delta. This mountain is now called Balubad.
Left alone in a waterless world, Magdapio agonizingly trekked to the upper region of the arid riverbed. He reached the high rocky cliffs, after an arduous journey. To his utter disappointment, he found no water.
"Ye gods!" he sobbed bitterly, "Where is the water?" In despair, he angrily hurled down his big cane among the rocks.
Suddenly, a spring bubbled on the spot where the cane fell. Rapidly it grew bigger. The fresh waters roared down the canyon walls, soon becoming a booming waterfall. Amazed at the miracle, Magdapio fell on his knees and thanked the gods. He drank the cool water until he felt new energy surging in his blood. Thus emerged the falls of Pagsanjan.
Access to the falls
The most popular way of reaching the falls is through the Shooting the rapids boat ride, which originates from any of the resorts along Bumbungan and Balanac Rivers. Two skilled and licensed boatmen take one to three passengers on wooden or fiberglass, long, narrow canoes to the falls, which could take more than an hour of paddling upstream depending on traffic and water level. The journey takes passengers through the narrow and verdant Pagsanjan gorge lined with huge boulders, rocks and small waterfalls. The ride upstream ends in a natural pool below the falls where an optional raft ride takes visitors through a curtain of cascading water to the Devil's Cave behind the falls. The return trip called Shooting the rapids is a thrill ride through fourteen rapids as the skilled boatmen maneuvers the boat through the narrow rocks as it heads downstream.
It is also possible to hike the falls from the town of Cavinti. The top of the hidden falls is best viewed from the view deck of Pueblo El Salvador Nature's Park and Picnic Grove in Brgy. Tibatib. To reach the main falls, one has to go down a steep steel ladder, which in one section, goes vertically straight down. A few small falls are also located upriver.
How to get there
There are buses from Manila bound for Sta. Cruz, Laguna. From there a jeep can take you to Pagsanjan.