LEON, ILOILO—Vacationists in the Visayas or Mindanao seeking refuge from the sweltering summer heat need not travel all the way to Baguio City far up in the north for their great escape.
Bucari village in Leon town, about 28 kilometers northwest of Iloilo City, has long been considered Iloilo’s “Little Baguio”for its cool climate, pine trees, rice terraces and fresh vegetables, but without the hordes of tourists and other pitfalls of rapid urbanization.
The temperature in the village, 600 meters above sea level, drops to 9 degrees Celsius during December and about 18 to 20 degrees in other months.
The pine tree-covered campsite in Sitio (subvillage) Tabionan has become a favorite site for spiritual retreats, meditation, team-building workshops and recreational activities because of its nippy weather and relaxing and quiet ambiance, according to municipal tourism officer Rose Lea Kilayko.
The campsite is part of a 5,500-hectare reforestation area of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in the Aganan Watershed.
The pine trees are now 30 to 50 years old, said Evan Calaor, former village chief of Bucari who is also the camp administrator. Levi Duran, DENR regional technical director for forest management service, added that the pines were chosen for its adaptability to the cool climate and elevated areas.
Bucari is ideal for mountain-trekking and mountain-bike riding because of its steep terrain that criss-crosses rivers and creeks and unpaved and winding roads.
Mt. Agua Colognia
For experienced climbers and trekkers, going up Mt. Agua Colognia—the highest peak in Bucari at 1,200 meters above sea level—is an attractive challenge.
The Tabionan campsite, 30 km from the town proper, borders Antique province and is accessible by passenger jeepney or motorcycle from the town center. But almost half of the road network from Leon town proper to Bucari is unpaved, which can make travel difficult especially during the rainy season.
Trekking for 30 minutes from the campsite to the viewing area 700 meters above sea level can be backbreaking, but the reward—a glorious view from the summit—is priceless. At the top and facing the east, one can see lush mountains and rice terraces as the sun rises.
From the same spot and on a clear day, Iloilo City, Guimaras Island and Mt. Kanlaon in neighboring Negros Island can be seen from the viewing area.
Rent a tent
Travelers can also hike for about an hour to the Imoy Waterfalls in the neighboring village of Camandag and take a dip or dive into its 2-meter-deep waters or rappel down. The falls is surrounded by wild flowers and trees and is about 200 meters from the village center.
There are no sleeping accommodations in the campsite, but if you love to sleep outdoors, you can rent a tent that can accommodate up to four persons for P250. Three cottages are open for day trips and dining. Communal toilets and showers are available at the camp.
Travelers can also rent cottages at Talon Inn on the grounds of Buracari National High School about a kilometer from the campsite. The inn, which is operated by the school’s parent-teacher association, rents out a room that can accommodate eight to 10 guests for P1,600 a night. There is also the privately owned Pineridge Bucari Mountain Resort about 2 km from the camp, which charges P1,000 per person nightly for a minimum of five guests.
Additional cottages, including facilities for overnight stay, will be built to accommodate the growing number of guests, according to Calaor.
Kilayko said there were plans to construct a 400-m zip line from the campsite to the forest and a canopy walk at the pine tree groove.
The food at the Tabionan campsite is provided by residents of the community who also serve as guides. Campers are treated to specialty dishes of native chicken “adobo” (chicken simmered in marinade) or spangled chicken (grilled chicken cooked in broth with spices).
HOW TO GO THERE
Visitors should not leave the camp without taking home fresh vegetables (lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, cucumber and celery), which can be purchased directly from the villagers dirt cheap. A kilo of sayote (chayote) that costs from P40 to P50 in Iloilo City can be bought at P12 a kilo from the villagers.
Bucari can be reached from Iloilo City in less than an hour by passenger van (P50 per passenger) or passenger jeepney (P40 per passenger) from their terminals in Jaro District.
From the Leon town proper, tourists can take a jeepney (P50 per passenger) or a motorcycle (from P200 per passenger) to the Tabionan campsite.
Motorcycle rides to the Tabionan campsite and Barangay Camandag (where Imoy Falls is located) are offered at P100 and up for one person. The tour guide’s fee starts at P350.