Discovering the oft-overlooked province of Nueva Ecija
It matters not how long you’ve been in the Philippines or how many locals you’ve mingled with – there’s a pretty good chance you’ve never gotten an invite/recommendation to visit the Central Luzon province of Nueva Ecija, as apart from ultra travel enthusiasts, not too many have cared to explore what the province offers apart from rice.
Recently, though, the North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB) organized their sixth edition of Lakbay Norte – a media familiarization tour that promotes the many possibilities to be found in Northern Luzon – featuring the provinces of Nueva Ecija and Cagayan. Expat went along for the ride to find out first hand what Nueva Ecija actually has to offer curious wanderers.
Here’s what we found:
Minalungao National Park
Ironically enough, I stumbled upon a random Facebook post with a photo of Minalungao National Park a few days before I was to set foot in it. The photo of the eco-tourism destination jumped out from the screen with the dramatic effect of Penaranda River’s gleaming emerald water, cutting through and around limestone walls as rafts carrying tourists completed the vista.
I would find out just as I got to Minalungao that the picture perfect image I caught was a seasonal one, its brilliance often reserved for the summer. But as I realized that early February afternoon, seeing Minalungao National Park a couple of months from its best, is akin to that time you swiped right, only to find out that while your match’s profile photos do not quite translate in person, you would both have a fine time. And pleasant is not too rough a consolation from spectacular, as Minalungao’s dramatic runnel shined through regardless of season.
A visit to Minalungao is ideal for lazy afternoons, where you can rent cottages or a bamboo raft for PhP500 and enjoy a meal as you cruise along the river—a guitar or just your trusty speakers would be recommended.
From Manila, there are bus lines like Victory Liner that go to Cabanatuan City in Nueva Ecija. Get off at Bucana in Gapan, then take a jeep to General Tinio (Papaya). From there, tricycles can take you to Minalungao.
PMP Paradise Farm
While still only on the verge of tapping into its full tourism potential, PMP Paradise Farm already stands as a perfect respite for weary city slickers. Its expansive 250-hectare estate allows for seemingly mundane, yet surprisingly relaxing activities like fruit/vegetable picking, sheep herding, horseback riding and fishing – of the catch and cook variety, of course.
PMP Paradise Farm offers the above with their day tours that also include options for picnics under the shade of any of its plethora of trees, or via the social lubricant that is the boodle fight.
But, what I would recommend is taking their two-day package that includes all of the above, along with options for staying at the farm’s beautiful nipa huts or checking in at a nearby resort. A visit to Minalungao National Park is also part of the package, making the farm the ideal takeoff point for your Nueva Ecija travels.
The farm is located at Barangay Nazareth, General Tinio (Papaya). It’s a four-hour drive from Manila via NLEX-SCTEX. From Gapan, the farm can be reached via the Gapan-Penaranda-Magsaysay Road.
Crystal Waves Resort
For a more traditional family-friendly setting, head over to Crystal Waves Resort in Talavera, where its wave pool, Olympic-sized swimming pool and kiddie pool invite you for a welcome cool down from Nueva Ecija’s frequently unforgiving heat.
Should you wish to stay the night, there are cottages and suites for rent, while other fun activities include a 200-foot water slide, a zip line, wall climbing and rappelling.
The resort is located at Maharlika Highway, Dinarayat, Talavera, Nueva Ecija. For inquiries, contact (0932) 867-5855 or (0933) 863-0138.
Philippine Rice Research Institute
And if you’re up for an educational side trip, the Philippine Rice Research Institute’s field tours bring a greater appreciation for the oft-overlooked field of rice farming. Apart from being enlightened by their staff on the growing technologies involved in rice production and the many possibilities surrounding it, the grounds are also open for picnics, kayaking, among other group-bonding activities.
For inquiries contact their Visitors and Conference Services Office at (044) 456-0277, located at Maligaya Science City of Muniz, Nueva Ecija
By TIMOTHY JAY IBAY
Photos by MARTIN SAN DIEGO courtesy of the NPVB