This coastal town offers the shortest route to the Pacific Ocean from Metro Manila. It may not have white sand beaches but it offers a whole lot of other attractions – pristine waterfalls, lush forests, fast-moving rivers for white water rafting, a coastline of rugged beauty and the raging swells of the Pacific for surfing. And the food! There might not be any fancy restaurant in town but a bountiful and diverse supply of freshly caught sea food makes a trip to Real, Quezon something to look forward to.
Its proximity to Manila is something that has lured us to Real in the three times we've visited – all of them one-day trips – making the town an ideal quick weekend destination for city folks. Real lies between the Sierra Madre and the Pacific coast and to reach the town requires a drive up the hills past pleasantly green surroundings. You realize you're in Real when you leave the hills and begin driving down a coastal road.
Balagbag Falls is the most accessible waterfall in Real.
There are ten waterfalls in town but so far we've only been to one. Balagbag Falls is the most accessible (and probably the most beautiful) of the ten, lying just off the Real-Mauban coastal road. This road was still under construction when we first came to Real in early 2014 but the portion that goes all the way to the entrance of Balagbag Falls is now fully concreted (watch out for falling rocks along this road though). From the main road going to Real town proper from Siniloan, we detoured to the Real-Mauban coastal road on the right. This is just before the bridge over the Tignoan River and the Pacific Recreation Kamp. (You know you have missed the Real-Mauban Road if you cross a major bridge on the main highway to Real town proper.) There is an area for parking just across the road from the entrance to the falls. If commuting you can just take a trike from Real town proper to get here in no time. From the entrance (marked by a sign that says "Balagbag Falls & Mini Resort") it is just a short 3 minute hike to the falls itself, a trek so easy that even the elderly can make it.
Balagbag is a two-tiered waterfall. The lower tier is the shorter of the two at about 20 feet. It cascades into a moderately deep catch basin. You can see people sometimes diving into the lower catch basin from the rocks on top of the lower tier. The upper tier is much taller at perhaps about 100 feet. Its catch basin is much shallower than the lower basin though. A series of stone steps leading to the upper catch basin has been carved into the rock to the left of the lower tier. This is not hard to climb but during rainy days one has to be careful as the rocks tend to be quite slippery (we had to abort a planned photo shoot of the upper tier for this very reason).
Balagbag Falls' bottom tier with the second tier in the background.
Only a kilometer away from Balagbag is Nonok Falls (sometimes referred to as Lunok Falls) although the portion of the Real-Mauban Road that leads there is rough and unpaved. Nonok Falls is just a 10-minute hike from the entrance or jump-off point. Visitors will have to ford a shallow stream along the way. Although not as tall as Balagbag Falls at 33 feet in height, Nonok has a pretty strong water flow even during the summer and is more ideal for bathing.
The Cawayan Falls in Barangay Cawayan is actually a series of relatively small waterfalls. The first four are easy to reach but the last two – which also happen to be the biggest – require a climb through big rocks. Cawayan lies close to the boundary of Real and Infanta. Its entrance is about 5 minutes away on foot from Puerto Real Resort. There are at least 7 other waterfalls in Real – mostly unknown – with names such as Bagombong,Malalago, Kinamliman, Tipuan, Pinagminahan and Ngabngaban. The last named is the grandest of them all, standing at 200 feet in height. All these falls are a bit more difficult to reach than the first three and most will require some trekking through forested areas and rivers. Not many visitors have been to these falls but it just shows you the tourism potential of this town.
Pacific surf, Real: view near the parking lot at Balagbag Falls.
The Pacific Coast
The rugged beauty of Real's coastline was on full display during our drive to Balagbag Falls. The stunning views of the rugged, rocky coastline being pounded by the turquoise waters of the Pacific made us stop at various points along the Real-Mauban Road to get a better view.
The rugged coast along the Real-Mauban Road going to Balagbag Falls.
The breaking waves along Real's coast are caused by the northeast monsoon or amihan winds at this time of the year. This makes the town an ideal surfing destination and probably the nearest surfing spot to Manila. ThePacific Recreation Kamp or The PaRK rents out surfboards and offers surfing instructors for beginners. It is located right along the major highway here – the Siniloan-Famy-Real-Infanta Road – at the point where the highway first touches down on the Pacific coast. The PaRK is a good place for backpackers to camp out with its wide grassy areas. There are also open cottages for rent.
There are no fancy restaurants in Real but there is a seafood market along the main road going to Infanta in Barangay Tignoan (not too far from The PaRK). A variety of really fresh seafood is sold here and there are stalls in the same location that will cook what you buy from the stalls.
Two varieties of grouper and colorful parrot fish at Tignoan's seafood market.
We've eaten here three times already and have not been disappointed at any time. Most of the seafood here are fresh since it comes straight from the source. If you're after the seafood it's best to visit during summer as the supply of the latter is not as plentiful during the amihan (northeast monsoon) season or during stormy weather when fishermen have a hard time going out to sea. We've tried lapu-lapu (grouper), shrimp, squid and ulang or giant freshwater shrimp. The latter is hard to find these days although many are now raised in ponds. Compared to prawns they have larger heads and are meatier but are also less expensive than lobsters. The steamed ulang was the highlight of our food trips here.
Steamed giant freshwater shrimps (ulang) served with regular shrimp.
If you are taking public transportation the option with less transfers is to take a Raymond bus that goes to Infanta, Quezon (Infanta is the town right after Real going east). Most of these buses are non-airconditioned. Riding the non-AC buses is not a big deal once you're pass the urban centers and especially after Siniloan where the higher altitude makes the trip a pleasant one. The terminal for Raymond buses going to Infanta is located at Legarda St., Sampaloc, Manila. This bus will pass by Real via the Siniloan-Famy-Real-Infanta Road. This route is sometimes referred to as the "backdoor" route and passes through Antipolo-Teresa-Tanay towards Siniloan, Laguna. We're not sure about the total travel time but it could be anywhere from 3.5 to 6 hours depending on the traffic/time of day.
If you're coming from the southern part of Metro Manila it might be better to head up to Santa Cruz. There are several buses in the metropolis going there including Green Star and DLTB that have terminals in Buendia, Pasay City. At Sta. Cruz ride the jeepney bound for Siniloan, and at Siniloan get a jeepney bound for Real.
If taking a private vehicle the routes are roughly the same: take the backdoor route through Antipolo-Teresa-Tanay-Siniloan. This route is pretty much straightforward. At a junction of the Manila East Road (the road running along the northern portion of Laguna de Bay from Taytay) in Siniloan turn left towards Real-Infanta. Travel time is normally three hours.
There is another alternative although we are not sure if the road is paved all the way. This is the Marilaque Road or the Manila-Rizal-Laguna-Quezon Road that is actually a continuation of the Marcos Highway from Cogeo, Antipolo and that passes through the hills in Tanay before going on to Infanta. (We've taken this highway going to Baras and Tanay and that part of the route is well-paved.) There might be a detour going down to Real from this highway.
The other route, as with public transportation, is through the South Expressway to Calamba, Laguna, then Santa Cruz and on to Siniloan. At Siniloan look for the road junction going to Real.