Just like BASE jumping, skydiving, or snowboarding, rock climbing is considered an extreme sport. There’s an element of danger to it that gives you that exhilarating rush of adrenaline.
The sport is quite straightforward–you climb from the ground and try to reach the anchor or the top of a climbing route. To prevent injury from falls or slips, you use highly specialized equipment, and you also need to have a partner or a belayer who will catch you when you fall.
If you want to experience rock climbing in the Philippines, then the crags of Cantabaco and Poog are for you. The two crags are situated in the municipality of Toledo and are just a 15-minute motorcycle ride away from each other.
These rock climbing destinations have some of the best, cleanest, whitest, and most unspoiled limestones in the country. They should be at the top of your list should you want to include rock climbing in your Cebu itinerary.
Cantabaco is a popular crag in the country. It was one of the first cliffs bolted for sport climbing by professional Filipino climber Mackie Makinano and a few other local and foreign climbers. Sport climbing refers to a type of rock climbing that relies on anchors, collectively called bolts and hangers, that are permanently drilled and fixed to the rock for protection from falls.
Surprisingly, more foreign rock climbers are aware of the area than locals. But that may soon change as the sport has become increasingly popular among local and national adventurers.
You can reach the Cantabaco crag after a 10-minute hike on a dirt trail from the road. Yes, it is that close to town. You can actually see the top part of the cliff from the road! That also means conveniences such as stores, eateries, and internet cafes are easily accessible. However, accommodations are rudimentary. Most visiting climbers spend the night in a friendly bed-and-breakfast called Ate Glenda’s, found just across the crag.
The crag itself is partly sheltered by a lofty forest, which means you are mostly protected from the sun. Over 60 bolted routes are distributed over five areas, ranging from beginner to advanced routes. Routes are often designated by a number from the Yosemite Decimal System. The higher the number, the more difficult it is. For example, a 5.8 route (a beginner’s grade) is much easier than a 5.11 route (an intermediate grade).
There are routes that are as easy as climbing a ladder, having big holds and steps. Others pose a bit more of a challenge and require several techniques such as wedging yourself in a crack, doing a split, or hugging a stalactite.
For hardcore climbers, they can proceed to Area 5 where the routes are almost as smooth as a paved highway. Holds may accommodate just a finger or two, and the steps may be barely an inch wide. Some routes have overhangs or roofs, requiring a climber to scale the route in an inclined rather than upright position. Seeing climbers scale up these routes is like witnessing a human defying the laws of physics!
Most of the routes in Cantabaco are around 70 to 80 feet. However, there are two routes here that reach up to around 250 feet. Since no rope can reach that high, climbers often climb the route in stages until they reach the top. This is called multi-pitch climbing, and it is one of the most exhilarating, challenging, and rewarding experiences you can ever have. This is the ultimate way to conquer your fear of heights.
Hail a habal-habal (motorcycle for hire), and tell the driver you want to go to Upper Poog. After a 15-minute ride and a 5-minute walk, you will come face to face with the whitest and gnarliest limestone wall you will ever see in your life. Welcome to Poog, Cantabaco’s sister crag.
Bolted by a generous Italian climber named Ascanio Combria and local guide Enie Yonson, Poog Crag has over 40 climbing routes. The convoluted surface of the rock wall means that Poog crag is more conducive to beginners than Cantabaco. The holds and steps are large, easy to hold onto, and sturdy. But with that said, most of the routes are graded 5.9 to 5.10, with a few 5.11s. This means that while the crag is beginner-friendly, it still poses challenges that make it interesting.
Most of the routes are straightforward—no roofs or overhangs. So just simply go straight and up! Use balance, counterbalance, and the right amount of strength to reach the top of each route. Remember that it’s all about your determination and willpower; if you think you can do it, you can definitely do it!
While having a break, you can explore a small cave right within the cliff which locals use as shelter during typhoons. The cave exits to a terrace that’s around 25 feet above the ground, serving as a great vantage point for taking photos of climbers trying out the different routes.
One of the nicest things about the Poog crag is the view that it offers. Unlike in Cantabaco where the cliff is located at the fringes of a jungle, the Poog crag sits right smack in the middle of an open, grassy area dotted with coconut trees. Thus, Poog is exceptionally scenic, especially when you reach the top of a route. From there, you can see mountains, farmlands, and even the nearby town of Lutopan. You get a bonus of strong cellphone signal too due to the absence of obstacles other than the cliff itself.
Just like Cantabaco, Poog crag is located near modern conveniences. You can buy food, beer, and supplies from nearby stores. Some climbers even set up camp here, buying their dinners and beverages from those stores, then start their climbs early in the morning.
So don’t just sit there in front of your TV or overwork yourself at your desk. Live a life of adventure and excitement. Try out rock climbing at Cantabaco or Poog, and feel the rush of adrenaline!
Fly from Manila to Mactan-Cebu International Airport via Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air, or AirAsia. From there, the best, quickest, and most hassle-free way to get to the Cebu South Bus Terminal is to ride a taxi. Be wary of taxis who insist on fixed rates; always have them turn on the meter. Riding jeepneys to the CSBT from the airport is hot, inconvenient, and takes a lot of time.
To get to Cantabaco crag, take a Toledo-bound bus at the Cebu South Bus Terminal. Ask the driver to drop you off at the Lutopan junction. From there, ride a habal-habal to Cantabaco. Tell the driver to drop you off at Silangan Chapel. You will see the crag on the left side of the road.
To get to Poog crag, take a Toledo-bound bus at the Cebu South Bus Terminal. Tell the driver to drop you off at the crossing for Upper Poog. From there, ride a habal-habal to the dirt trail that leads to the climbing area.
You can travel to and from Cantabaco and Poog crags via habal-habal.
For guideship services, get in touch with Enie Yonson at +63 943 068 89 85 or +63 948 712 48 75. You can also search for him on Facebook and send him a private message.
Enie has complete sets of ropes, climbing shoes, and climbing gear. Thus, you may rent climbing equipment from him if you didn’t bring any or if you don’t have your own.
For basic accommodations, stay at Ate Glenda’s bed-and-breakfast. You can contact them at +63 995 462 97 75. They have pretty good rooms and basic amenities that you can rent at an affordable rate.