Deep in the forests of Mount Arayat, legend has it that an angry goddess lurks. Mariang Sinukuan was once a generous spirit, keeping watch over the nearby villagers, but once spurned by their greedy plunder of her mountain home, she became a menacing presence.
Today, stories of this mystical creature are an added benefit to visiting the Philippines’ most accessible park, Mount Arayat National Park. The park, which is just 45 minutes north of Manila, offers an inactive volcano as a dramatic landmark that rises more than 1,000 meters from the surrounding pancake-flat landscape.
Visitors start at a small ranger station, where guides are available for hire and background information on the park is available. At times, there has been unrest on the mountain so solo hiking is not recommended unless it is coordinated through the ranger station.
That said, the park has clearly marked trails and spectacular views of the rice fields and rapidly developing Central Luzon area. The hike starts off on a dirt road, which quickly narrows through lush foliage, passing waterfalls and pools of cool water that are perfect for a quick dip.
The hike to the summit and back will take an entire day— three to four hours in each direction—so plan to leave at dawn. While there is little wildlife on the mountain, the views and proximity to services make this national park stand out. A shorter hike up the mountain to view the majestic formation called White Rock takes about an hour and includes a stop at what locals refer to as “7-11,” a small store and the last chance to stock up on food and water. Once past this point, there is no water on the mountain—except that which the goddess Mariang Sinukuan provides for you.
When to Go
Slightly cooler and drier conditions prevail in the north of the Philippines from December to early May.
The best way to access the park is via a two day, one night visit to the area. From Manila, drive up in the morning, visit the ranger station and arrange the next day’s tour. Then check into one of the many hotels near the Clark Freeport Zone a few minutes away. The next morning, leave very early for the hike.
Where to Stay
Nearby Clark Field is home to a Holiday Inn Resort (Mimosa Drive, Clark Field. Tel: +63 2 845 1888, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Price: Doubles from P5,848).
A two-day visit starting in Manila, with a visit to the ranger station on arrival and a tour of the national park on the second day is the best itinerary for most.