- Distance: 294 Kms
- Days cycled/Hours to complete: 2.5 days/28hours
- Saddle time: 17 hours
- Travel time back to Manila by bus: 8 Hours
Route (Via Manila North Road):
- Paranaque: Bicutan – Multinational – Baclaran
- Manila: Luneta – Intramuros – Binondo – Monumento
- Valenzuela: Malanday
- Bulacan: Meycauayan – Marilao – Bocaue – Balagtas – Guiguinto – Malolos – Calumpit
- Pampanga: Sto. Tomas – San Fernando – Angeles (Balibago) – Mabalacat (Dau, Tabun)
- Tarlac: Bamban (Dela Cruz) – Capas – Tarlac City – Santa Ignacia – Camiling – San Clemente – Mangatarem
- Pangasinan: Aguilar – Bugallon – Labrador – Sual – Alaminos – Bani – Bolinao
Two of the most challenging but enjoyable routes for cycling in the Philippines are the central and northern roads of Luzon. The very long stretch from Calumpit all the way to Tarlac will put your patience to the test, while the northern regions can be taxing to your endurance.
Despite the long distance, the roads of Pampanga and Tarlac often leads to the wonders of the North. These awesome places serve as gateways to provinces that offer spectacular attractions such as Benguet, Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, and Ilocos.
One of my friends asked if I could join them for a bikepacking trip from Manila to Bolinao in Pangasisnan. It was a crazy idea that I hesitated to join at first because of several factors. The unfamiliar route and bad weather during the whole week made the trip a daunting idea.
After mulling it over for days, I have finally made a decision to install my rear rack on my bike and pack my stuff for the Manila-Bolinao ride.
Meetup: Manila (1430)
From Paranaque, I cycled my way to Luneta along Roxas Boulevard to meet with my bickepacking buddies. We headed off to Intramuros, Binondo, and Monumento following the LRT line.
Valenzuela and Bulacan (1630)
The only hassle that we had to go through was the traffic congested roads of Manila going to Bulacan where we had to weave through piled up vehicles and protect ourselves from nasty pollution, but once you get through it, you’ll be welcomed by wider roads for a more pleasant ride.
It was raining when we reached Pampanga. With flashlights and rain covers on, we braved the heavy rains and made a quick stopover in San Fernando for dinner. Good thing there weren’t any customers where we settled because we pigged out with our shirts off.
Still drenched, we continued farther in spite the drizzly weather passing by Angeles and Mabalacat.
What I like about Pampanga is that the roads are wide and the places are lit up by establishments such as restaurants, buildings, and hotels. The lamp posts along the roads helped a lot and we even passed by a food park in San Fernando. The traffic was a bit busy at this point but it was less stressful compared to what we had to deal with earlier that day.
We went past the Border of Pampanga and Tarlac to cross Bamban bridge. It was one of the most artistic and modern looking ones that I’ve seen in the country. The old bridge was devastated by the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991 and They rebuilt the structure after the disaster back in 1998.
Good thing there were railings along the sidewalks to protect us from the whizzing trucks as we crossed. The arches were spectacular and the lights lit up the whole place. I couldn’t help but slow down as I appreciated its sleek design.
The drizzle has finally stopped when we reached Capas. We moved along for a few more hours until we arrived in Tarlac City for a quick stopover. This was when we decided to take our drenched shoes and socks off, and it was the most pleasurable feeling all throughout our ride!
With our shoes dangling on our racks and socks tied up for drying, we moved on until we reached the next town.
Santa Ignacia, Tarlac (0330)
The road going to Camiling was dark due to the lack of lamp posts. Mike and Mico, my bikepacking buddies didn’t get much sleep the night before and the trip was taking a toll on our tired selves. This was when we decided to stop at a closed gas station to catch some sleep.
The security guard let us in through the rope-blocked station to rest. He was even generous enough to hand us some cardboard boxes so we can lie down comfortably. Lying on my folded sleeping bag and with mosquito repellent on, we took a long nap as the guard sat nearby to look after our bikes.
Day 2 – Still in Tarlac (0500)
Recovered from the night’s long and wet ride, we continued to Camiling all the way to San Clemente. The city scene was replaced by towns and vast views of rice fields and mountains on the horizon. The roads were more pleasant at this point and the terrain was equally flat. We had a quick breakfast somewhere before Mangatarem and then took the road bound to Pangasinan.
Finally! The province of our target destination and one of the longest that we pedaled among the places we passed. Our celebration was cut short when we realized that Bolinao is around 120km from the Border of Tarlac and Pangasinan… Ouch.
We passed by several fields as we saw the spectacular views of Mt. Damas’ mountain range. It was the same scenario as we cycled passed the towns of Bugallon, Labrador, and Sual.
I like to call Alaminos as the “Town of Deception” if you are cycling to Bolinao. It may appear that you are already close to your destination but it is still about 35 kilometers away from the border of Bolinao (Where you can see the two lighthouse replicas).
Another factor which will take you quite a while to reach Bolinao is the twistier and a more elevated road of Bani. The final 16 kilometer ascent and long roads can prove taxing to your endurance since you’ve already came a long way. Good thing it was raining when we reached this point, it helped us conserve our energy as we crossed the mountain pass.
Bolinao: Side trip to Tara Falls (16:30)
We turned right after a few kilometers from the boundary of Bani and Bolinao to be welcomed by a short but winding road to our side trip. The road going to Tara falls was rough back then but we were fortunate to experience its newly paved path. There were some steep climbs on the way but our fatigue were cut short as we heard the gushing water from the falls.
As we arrived, we noticed that the water was brown compared to its normal pristine, blue hue. The non-stop rain showers changed the color of the falls but it was a relaxing and worth it spot nonetheless.
Bolinao Town Proper (1830)
The very long stretch to the town was a manageable ride. The downhill sections will make you rest for a while. You will also notice the ascents on the way as you go free-wheeling but don’t get intimidated, the ascents are not that steep.
Liberty Beach Resort (1900)
It was dark when we reached Patar Road. We crossed the bridge where Balingasay river and the open seas meet. The bluish tone of the sky was getting dimmer and dimmer as we moved along.
We could have pushed farther to Patar Beach but the audible sounds of people belting out in the karaoke made us decide to settle in a nearby resort instead.
Finally! After 28 hours of butt-numbing ride from Manila. We have finally reached cape Bolinao! We rented a cottage, got bathed, brought out the hammocks and sleeping bags to finally get a well-deserved sleep.
Day 3 (0700)
We spent our last morning in Bolinao strolling around town, had a sumptuous breakfast in one of the stores where I had ginataang pagi (stingray), explored the beaches, and then prepared ourselves for a bus ride back to Manila.
Bikepacking tips/Key Points
- A sturdy bike carrier is essential for long distance cycling. I made a mistake of bringing a backpack with liters of water when we did the Laguna Loop. The weight contributed to the stress in the back which affected my ride.
- Pack light but keep the important stuff.
- Get plenty of sleep the night before the epic ride.
- Hydrate! Especially during hot weather.
- Rest! We could have arrived in our destination a bit earlier but we prioritized rest and sleep so we wouldn’t get banged up too much.
- Study the map. Waze is also a very helpful app for navigating.
- Invest on a gel padded saddle cover.
- Bring a face cover or a carbon filtered mask to protect yourself against Manila’s pollution.
- There are several eateries lined up in most of the towns where you can refill your water bottles.
- You can buy food in the town market before heading to the beach. There aren’t much food for sale when you reach the resort and if there are any, it will be a bit expensive.
Things to bring/wear
- Patience, lots of it!
- Sleeves (for hot weather)
- Poncho (for rain and cold)
- Extra tubes
- Patch Kit
- Extra slippers/sandals
- Tire lever / tools (Allen wrench)
- First-aid/med kits
- Snacks/trail food
- 3 liters of water
- A hammock or sleeping bag (for rides lasting for two days or longer).
- Extra cash
- ID’s and HMO card in case of emergency
Here’s a personal breakdown of my expenses during our bikepacking trip:
- Dinner in Pampanga (Sisig + rice x2) : 70php
- Breakfast in Tarlac (Adobo + rice x2) : 60php
- Lunch in Alaminos: (Papaitan + rice x2) 70php
- Dinner in the resort: (Cup noodles + softdrinks) 50php
- Lunch in Bolinao town proper: (Pagi *half* + dinakdakan + rice x2 + ice candy) 110php
- Ordinary bus ride back to Manila: 365php + 100php for the bike (Five Star Bus) = 465php
Do you have any questions about this epic ride? Do you have any upcoming bikepacking trips that you want to share? Please send your inquiries or suggestions in the comments section below.