BALUNGAO, Pangasinan—An extinct volcano has become a major tourist attraction in this eastern Pangasinan town, revealing nature’s hidden treasures to visitors seeking a weekend breather.
The secrets that lurk under the thick tree cover of Mount Balungao, 184 kilometers north of Metro Manila, are now for all to see. The volcano is visible from the Manila North Road (MacArthur Highway) in Rosales town.
Up close, visitors are treated to a welcome attraction: A natural health spa of hot and cold springs built on the slopes of the 382-meter (1,253 feet) volcano, about 3 km from the town center.
Several pools of hot and cold spring water were built by the local government, which has seen its tourism potential, developing the area into Balungao Hot and Cold Spring Resort.
Another come-on is Balungao Hilltop Adventure that features zip lines spanning 1.4 km and 600 m. The 1.4-km zip line, which is 200 m high, starts from one hill and drops into where the 600-m zip line starts. The shorter zip line ends up in the resort’s pool area.
The 600-m zip line was opened in September 2011 while the longer one was introduced to visitors on May 20 this year, just as summer was ending.
The exhilarating ride above the treetops offers a view of the town’s verdant fields and mountains.
All-terrain vehicles (ATV) can be rented if one wishes to explore the mountainside. Guides are also available for tourists who want to hike around Mt. Balungao.
Adults are charged an entrance fee of P50, and P25 for children. The fee includes the use of the swimming pools. Those who want to try the zip line have to shell out an extra P300, while the ATV rental is P200 for a 30-minute spin. Picnic sheds are available for P200 a day.
Visitors are urged to bring their own food as there are no eateries nearby. Mayor Philipp Peralta said the local government, anticipating the influx of tourists, was still looking for a partner to put up hotels and restaurants in the town.
In San Manuel town, 23 km from Balungao, the village of Botao (local term for “open”) offers natural pools to visitors seeking relief from the heat.
Local officials said Botao was named for its countless “holes,” sources of freshwater.
Enterprising residents have made use of this natural resource, turning empty lots and backyards into resorts complete with swimming pools. There are several resorts in the village, some of them with two or more swimming pools, said Mark Anthony Godinez, 28, who helps his mother, Milagros, manage Villa Felisa Spring Resort.
The other resorts are Aqua Pasadiso, Orallo, Sagpat, Water Park, and A and E.
Word of mouth
There are no advertisements to lure the traveling set to Botao, with resort owners depending on “word of mouth” to attract clientele.
The village used to rely solely on agriculture as a source of revenue, according to Milagros Godinez.
In the mid-1980s, an enterprising resident put up Original Botao Spring Resort, but a land dispute forced the owner to shut it down. Next to come up was Orallo Spring Resort, and soon enough, other resorts followed.
“Because the water is not treated, you can stay in the pool for hours, without causing any irritation to the skin and eyes,” Godinez said. “The spring water is so pure. Laboratory tests showed it to be potable. In fact, this is where I get my regular supply of drinking water.”