The Philippines has innumerable pristine and undeveloped rivers. Places like these are playgrounds for those who love a big dose of adrenaline. That is definitely true for the mighty Sampao River in Biliran because it is one of the country’s best venues for canyoning.
For those who don’t know what canyoning is, it is an extreme outdoor activity that combines trekking, climbing, scrambling, swimming, jumping, and rappelling down the geological features of a river canyon into one crazy adventure.
Rivers are unpredictable and treacherous, so you need a skilled technical guide to help you navigate the ravines, waterfalls, and tributaries of Sampao River.
No one does it better than local guide, professional caver, and expert canyoneer Joni Bonifacio who runs Trexplore the Adventures, an outdoor activity outfit. He knows these canyons like the back of his hand. He and his team of local adventurers painstakingly mapped out the river and prepared anchors for visitors who want to explore this wild river.
What is canyoning adventure in Biliran like?
The excitement starts as soon as you reach the port of Naval, Biliran where habal-habal (motorcyle for hire) drivers booked by Joni will pick you up.
Marvel at the expansive rice fields, verdant mountain chains, and rustic towns as you travel to your first destination, the beautiful Agta Beach in Barangay Talahid where you can have a warm, relaxing dip while watching a fiery sunset.
A smiling and friendly Joni and his team will meet you at the resort the next day. After a short briefing, you’ll ride habal-habals for half an hour towards the scenic highlands that are saturated with fresh mountain air. Indeed, the serenity of the mountains is a total contrast to the pollution, noise, and chaos in urban cities.
After disembarking at the jump-off point in Barangay Sampao, the real adventure begins. The first part of the activity involves a difficult trip up a mountain towards the headwaters of Sampao River. You’ll need to climb steep trails, balance on narrow irrigation dikes, scramble on moss-covered boulders, and kiss virtually vertical rock faces. Seems physically challenging? It is!
After an hour or so, you’ll reach the headwater deep in the thick jungle of Sampao. Following a short rest and a thorough safety briefing, Joni and his guides will fit you with wetsuits, harnesses, helmets, life jackets, and other safety equipment.
“Are you ready?” Joni will ask you with a voice that tingles with excitement. As soon as you answer in the affirmative, you’ll jump into a roiling basin. Right away, you’ll feel the strength and power of the river fed by hidden springs and rainwater from the Tres Marias mountains.
In deeper parts of the canyon, you simply lie down, close your eyes, and let the current carry you as if Mother Nature is gently coaxing you to her wonders.
Natural water slides are some of the most fun and favorite features of the Sampao River. The fast flowing water will push you down on the slippery bedrock. You can’t help but scream in delight as you happily glide along and splash into the cold pools below.
Where there are rivers, there are most likely waterfalls. Sampao River is full of stunning and untouched waterfalls. You’ll shriek in delight as you leap off the shorter ones. But for the large ones that are around 40 to 60 feet tall, you’ll need to find another way to go down safely. That’s where you need to rappel, or go down using a single rope. Joni and his guides set up rappel lines so you can safely go down.
Don’t worry, the Trexplore team has previously drilled bolts into solid and identified infallible anchor points so the lines won’t disengage when subjected to your weight. As long as you follow safety instructions, you are perfectly safe as you abseil down the ropes.
In general, rappelling down the waterfalls is easy. But in some places, you need to be careful where you put your feet. That’s because some of the rock faces are covered with moss and are very slippery; sometimes, it feels like you are stepping on oily glass! Also, in some areas, the cliff’s face is characterized by loose soil and the slightest pressure can dislodge the soil.
However, you get many opportunities to catch your breath and re-energize yourself. For example, towards noon of your canyoning adventure, Joni’s porters will bring you a sumptuous home-cooked meal. You can swim in calm pools, bask in the sun, relax under the flow of mountain springs, and marvel silently at the richness of the silent and mysterious canyons.
The last major hurdle after an entire day’s canyoning adventure in Sampao River is the magnificent, foliage-covered Ulan-Ulan Falls. To get over this beautiful yet monstrous beauty, you need to rappel 120 feet down while the waterfalls unceasingly sprays you with fresh river water. It’s a frightening but absolutely adrenaline-pumping activity!
Do you want to feel Nature’s power, be mesmerized at its beauty, and, at the same time, go beyond your limitations? Then try out canyoning in Biliran.
Getting to Biliran
There are overnight ferry trips to Naval, Biliran from Cebu. These overnight trips take 10 hours, so if you want a shorter travel time, take a fastcraft to Ormoc City from Cebu. That takes around 3 or 4 hours. In Ormoc, ride a shuttle van that goes to Naval. In around two hours, you will arrive in Biliran.
Take a flight from Manila to Tacloban, Leyte. From there, ride a van to Naval. Total travel time should take around 3 hours.
No one is more qualified to safely guide you in your canyoning adventure than Joni Bonifacio of Trexplore the Adventures. Get in touch with him using the following contact details:
₱3,000 per person – canyoning rate for 1 to 4 people
₱2,500 per person – canyoning rate for 5 to 10 people
Rates are subject to change without prior notice.
- Whole day (6 to 7 hours) canyoning in Sampao River
- 2 guides
- Complete set of canyoning equipment (e.g. wetsuit, harness, PFD, helmet, etc.)
- Transportation from your accommodation to Sampao River and back
- Photos (bring your own USB, SD, or other digital storage devices)
- Joni welcomes reasonably healthy first timers who want to try out canyoning. The minimum age is 15 years old. For those with health problems, please see your doctor first.
- For safety and to enhance the feeling of adventure and serenity, only 10 participants per day are allowed to go canyoning.
- Although it’s not necessary, we suggest you learn how to swim and/or rappel.