What is Canyoneering?
Canyoneering (or canyoning) is an activity that involves traveling in canyons using a variety of techniques that may include walking, scrambling, climbing, rappelling, jumping, and swimming.
It is one of the most popular activities on the island of Cebu, Philippines. Although there are several places on the island where you can go canyoneering, the most popular is the one in Badian/Kawasan Falls.
But why is it so popular? Look at the picture below. I mean, just look at the color of the water. I swear it was not photoshopped. It really was that blue!
How to Get There?
Badian is located in the southwest of Cebu. If you book a canyoneering tour from anywhere on the island, it should include transportation to and from Badian. And that’s the easiest way to get there as your tour operator would know how early you should start the journey in order to optimize your time at the canyons. If you’re traveling from Cebu City, for example, the best time to start is around 5 am, and if you do this with a tour, you wouldn’t have to worry about finding a bus so early in the morning.
However, if you’d like to travel there independently and book a tour once you’re in Badian, you can do so by bus.
From Cebu City: From the South Terminal, get a bus heading to Bato. The journey should take around 3 – 4 hours and cost you around PHP120. Note that there are two different routes. You should get the one that goes to Bato via Barili.
From Oslob: Get a bus to Bato, and from there, change to another bus to Badian. The entire journey should take you 2 – 3 hours.
From Moaboal: Take a bus bound for Cebu City, and alight at Badian. The journey will take 30 – 40 minutes.
For all of these bus options, you should tell the driver that you are heading to Kawasan Falls, and he would know where to drop you. From the drop-off point, it’s not a long walk to the falls. Otherwise, there should be canyoneering operators or tricycle drivers offering you a ride.
When to Go
July to September is the rainy season on Cebu Island. However, this shouldn’t affect the canyoneering activity. When I went there in July, I asked the hostel receptionist what would happen if it rained. Would my canyoneering tour get canceled? He assured me not to worry. It would be more fun if it rained, he said. After all, ‘it’s always more fun in the Philippines’, and I guess this transcends all weather conditions.
How Much is It?
Apparently, the government has set a minimum price for Badian canyoneering tour packages, which is PHP1500. So, if you get offered a much lower price than this, be very careful. They may not be official guides and thus might skimp on safety.
In Moalboal, where I stayed, I did some asking around and found that this was indeed the average price. Some tricycle drivers offered me PHP1300, which was tempting because I’m a sucker for finding the cheapest deal around. But I was also scared of getting scammed, so to be safe, I booked at my hostel (Moalboal Hostel/MoHo). It was PHP1400, inclusive of lunch and transfer.
In general, your tour package should include:
- Safety gear (a helmet & life jacket)
- Entrance fee
- A professional guide
- A bottle of water
Is it Possible to Do it Without a Tour?
Yes, it’s possible to do the canyoneering activity on Cebu Island without a tour but this is not advisable, especially if you’re alone and inexperienced. First of all, a tour operator will provide you with a helmet and a life vest. Even if you don’t consider the Badian canyons to be particularly challenging, accidents do happen, and you don’t want to be without safety gear.
Secondly, a tour guide will tell you which areas are safe, and where to step, jump, and land. You really have to rely on their knowledge for your safety. If you’re not a strong swimmer, they will help pull you along in the current. And lastly, they can help you take photos and videos of your adventure! All of the pictures and videos in this post were taken by our guide.
What to Expect
On the day of the tour, the driver picked me up at my hostel at 8.30 am. Joining me was a Japanese American guy named John who stayed at another hostel nearby. There would only be the two of us in our group.
This was a good thing because the more people you had in your group meant the longer it would take for you to finish. But it could also be a bad thing for me because I usually only feel brave when there’s someone in the group who’s more timid than I am. And the larger the group, the higher the chances to find such a person.
Bring Your Own Dry Bag
Our van stopped at a tour shop where we got our life vests and helmets, and signed the indemnity form. The life vests had pockets in the front where you could stow your water bottles. We had both brought our own dry bags for our phones and wallets, but I put mine in John’s as his was bigger.
To get to the starting point from the tour shop, we shared a ride on a habal-habal, which is a long motorbike that could fit up to five people (or maybe more).
At the starting point, we listened to a safety briefing given by a member of the staff. Then we registered our names in the guestbook and began our journey. Be prepared to walk for about 20 minutes to get to the canyons. By the time we reached, I was already out of breath, so we took a short break. The place was already crowded with large tour groups.
The First Jump
This was actually one of the highest jumps out of the five or six that we’d be doing throughout the trip. The first jump was compulsory while the rest was optional. All these jumps would gradually help build your confidence and prepare you for the last and highest jump.
The Second Jump
The second jump was slightly more painful. I’ll skip the details but let’s just say that going to the bathroom was a little awful for a few days after that.
My Fears of Heights, of Falling, and of Water
Although I had just gone skydiving the week before, it didn’t make me any less scared of heights. People may find this hard to believe but skydiving is nothing compared to cliff jumping. Skydiving, to me, didn’t feel like falling at all. It was more like floating in the air.
I suppose I’m not actually scared of heights, per se. It is the falling sensation that terrifies me. I have no problem climbing a mountain or looking down from my 15th-floor apartment. But the moment you ask me to jump, even from a few feet high, I’d totally shit my pants.
I’d been doing all these activities that scared me in the hope that it would help me get rid of the fears I had. But I realized that it didn’t work that way. The fears were always going to be there. Those activities only trained me to handle them better.
And yet, sometimes, I still have my weak moments. This was one of those times that I let the fear take over me. For some reason, during the third jump, I chickened out even though it was not as high as the previous jumps I did. Maybe it was because of the queue that had started to form behind me that made me even more self-conscious. Or maybe it had something to do with my little ‘accident’ on the second jump.
So, I skipped two jumps, including the highest one at 40 feet. But I still managed to enjoy the experience, swimming beneath stalactites, sliding down rocks, or simply floating in the aquamarine water.
I saw one or two spots — where other people were queuing to jump — that our guide seemed to deliberately avoid. I wonder if it was because of me that he didn’t bother taking us there.
The Kawasan Falls
The last stop of the canyoneering tour was the famous Kawasan Falls — a three-tiered waterfall, best known for its surreal blue water. If you thought that the water in the Badian canyons was blue, then this is even bluer.
It is also, quite understandably, the most touristy waterfall in Cebu. Therefore, to enjoy it best without a crowd is to go very early in the morning, around 7 to 8 a.m. But because I visited it after doing the canyoneering, I only reached there at noon. There were already tons of tourists around, swimming and loitering at the restaurants. And that was on a Friday. I can’t imagine how packed it would be on weekends.
It was nice to be able to relax in the water after a couple of hours trekking in the canyons, but I had to keep my life vest on. Everybody had to wear one, especially those who wanted to go near the waterfall. I don’t know if this was because of any drowning incident in the past.
Tied to a post at one corner was a big bamboo raft where people could get on to rest or take pictures. Usually, visitors could pay PHP300 to take the raft to the waterfall and lie face down on it to get a “waterfall back massage”. But for some reason, on that day, this service was unavailable. So, I had to make do with just swimming under the waterfall.
Well, actually, I wasn’t really swimming. I was just bobbing up and down, trying not to drown while the water pounded on my head from above. So, I did manage to get a two-second head massage before I called it quits. It was not a very pleasant massage — my hair was all over my face, and our guide had already started to call us back, signalling the end of the trip.
The canyoneering tour was definitely the highlight of my trip in Cebu. So, I would definitely recommend it. However, when I got home and looked at the videos, I started to get mad at myself. I wished I had done all the jumps. John seemed to be having a lot more fun than I was. My camera had more videos of him than of me. Well, it’s true what they say — in the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take.
Tips for Canyoneering in Badian, Cebu
- As the activity can take up to 5 hours to complete, most of the tours will recommend a morning start. The last entry is around 2 – 3 pm, so that you can complete it before dark. Do keep that in mind when planning your itinerary.
- There is usually only one safe route, so the bigger the crowd, the longer it will take to complete the tour. If you can, try to avoid peak periods, like public holidays or weekends.
- The rock surface can be slippery. Wear a good pair of sneakers, aqua shoes, or strapped sandals. No flip-flops allowed. You’re going to lose them in the water anyway.
- Bring a GoPro. Or any kind of sports camera. I used the cheap kind that people use as a dashcam. If you don’t have a bobber (floating hand grip), your guide will make a makeshift one for you.
- It’s a long activity. If you plan to record the entire thing, be sure to bring a spare battery!
- Do not bring your phone, fancy cameras, or any valuables. There are too much jumping, diving, and scraping on rocks involved.
- Bring some money with you if you plan to buy food. The canyoneering tour normally includes lunch. But if it doesn’t, or if you simply can’t wait that long, there’s a BBQ area somewhere between the second and third jumps, where you can buy meat skewers, drinks, and chocolate. There’s also food at the Kawasan Falls.
- Get a good travel insurance. Accidents can happen anytime. And while most travel insurances cover the basics, not all of them covers risky activities such as canyoneering. At the moment World Nomads is the most comprehensive travel insurance out there. Click here to get a quote.
What do you think of this activity? Is it something you’d like to try? Comment below.