By: Philippa Langrish
Running in the Cordillera Mountains
The best travel experiences are often the most challenging! So for a few days in March we decided to shed the many layers of comfort which we wrap ourselves in daily, in order to reconnect with life’s simple pleasures.
We were heading to the tiny village of Dalupirip, nestled in the Cordillera mountains one and a half hours drive from Baguio, in the north of the Philippines. I was both apprehensive and excited to seek out the simple life Pinoy style. As city dwellers we wanted to get rustic, breathe the fresh mountain air, meet the locals and reconnect with the essential.
The safest way to do this in the Philippines is with an organised group. Since I am a fan of trail running I signed up for an event as part of the Cordillera Ultra Marathon (there are 4 options; 5km Vertical ascent with 1000m elevation gain, 22km run, 50km run and Kids 4km Trail run). The raw beauty of the landscape and thrill of the challenge appealed to our sense of adventure as a family.
The trip was filled with many unknowns. Where to stay, whether there would be any hot water or electricity, how safe was the road and political landscape. I did a fair bit of research on the internet and spoke to a handful of trusted friends who managed to put my mind at rest.
We eased ourselves into the adventure with a preliminary four-day stay in the lap of luxury in Baguio City, before heading off on an intestinal road following the Agno River to our destination. The journey from Baguio to Dalupirip took 1.5 hours. The road was safe, sealed and fairly easy to navigate. The road comes to an end across the river from the village. We parked, bundled bags on our backs and commenced the 20-minute stroll across the hanging bridge and along the rice fields to the village.
There are no roads in Dalupirip since the only access is by foot bridge, which makes it a very safe place for the kids to run around. Once we arrived at the Barangay (village centre, with church, town hall and school), the race committee warmly welcomed us and allocated us a charming homestay on the edge of the rice fields. Our hosts were a lovely mother and her daughter Josie and Cherry, who stayed in the house with their father, brothers, sisters and Cherry’s teenage daughter. Their cousin lived opposite and had two children the same ages as my kids Maya and Gillan. The kids made friends instantly. They spent most of the time holding chicks, watching the pigs, drawing in the dirt and playing cards.
The highlight of our trip was the warm welcome we felt by our host family, who heated up tin tubs of water over a wooden fire so the kids could have a hot bath, showed us where the hot springs were, and sacrificed one of their chickens for our dinner before the big race the next day. We hope that we could give back some love by teaching them card games (which we left for the kids), buying as much local produce as was offered us and sharing stories.
Initially I was nervous about taking the kids to the back of beyond but I wouldn’t have done it any different now. The experience we had as a family was unforgettable – and our hosts were so adoring of the children we felt safe, happy and welcome.
Where to stay in Dalupirip
The Cordillera Conservation Trust organised our accommodation through the Dalupirip Barangay. Most of the villagers are happy to share their home with travellers and cook for them. The village is inhabited by several families. Everyone knows each other and there is no crime.
The Barangay has a list of host families who have accommodation throughout the year.
Alternatively sign up for an outdoor challenge and the Conservation Trust will organise your homestay. There are kiddy races too:
Lodging costs are between 100 – 250php
Running / Hiking / Biking in Cordillera with Kids
The best way to experience the great outdoors is by hiking, running or biking through it. I was thrilled that the Cordillera Conservation Trust strives to be family friendly and even organises kiddy trail runs to help inspire youngsters and teach them to love nature. The Kiddy trail accepts kids from 5 – 18 and even 18+ Trail Virgins (Adult trail running novices)
I would strongly advise exploring this region with an organised group and not straying from the track. The Cordillera is a remote territory and its best to go with people who are knowledgeable about the area.
The Cordillera Conservation Trust organise a handful of events throughout the region over the year, including the Ultra Marathon, Epic Race (mountain biking) and Cordillera Challenge (mountain biking). Their incentive is to create a sustainable adventure economy for the local communities to help in the conservation of the wild space in which they live in.
I took part in the 22km race which is an undulating race with one 3km ascent to 1,100m. It was a brutal challenge but ultimately incredibly rewarding. The cut off time was 8 hours, which is extremely generous (basically you could hike at a good pace and probably finish in time). The race was brilliantly organised with a well-marked trail, marshals at major junctions and “sweepers” to make sure nobody is left behind.
If running and biking sounds like hard work, then local guides are available for hikers.
Where to Eat
We brought a lot of dried and can food with us. However, our host family were happy to cook for us and during the day we ate in the village square.
During our stay, local families cooked BBQ chicken, chicken adobo, chicken soup, and halo halo (coconut and jelly with condensed milk and ice) in the village square for race participants and supporters.
There are no restaurants or cafes.
The Best (and Worst) Part
The best part was reconnecting with nature. Our time spent bathing in the hot springs, eating a chicken together with the family which had been freshly prepared, and boiling water over an open fire so the kids could wash in the evening.
Another highlight was the opportunity to run through remote villages with the other competitors, scale a mountain, take in the amazing views and polish off a freezing cold Halo Halo after 22km of trail.
The race began at 5.30am, so I was back for a late breakfast with the kids at 10am, who stayed in the homestay while I was out running.
The worst part was my initial anxiety about what to expect in a remote area with not an Air BnB in site. There is a fine line between adventurous travel and fool-hardiness. Since we travel as a family I never want to put the kids in any danger. However, my anxieties were thankfully misplaced. I decided that if it became too difficult I could always turn back. Luckily the village was safe, the people friendly and there was even electricity!
Three Things You Should Definitely Do
- Go with a group, or part of an outdoor event (mountain biking, hiking, running). The atmosphere is wonderful since everybody wants you to have a good time. Do not explore remote areas of rural Philippines alone
- Pack lots of dry snacks, but also buy local from the villagers. You can’t beat home cooked food and your pesos will help support their community
- Have a bath in the hot springs. Take a towel and some eco-friendly body wash and enjoy a family soak
When to go
Usually the mountain races and events are held in March. Try to avoid the rainy season. The rural areas are prone to landslides during these months – typically July till November. The best time to go is December – April when it is cool and dry.
How to get there
- There are public jeeps that leave for Dalupirip twice a day from the Dangwa station in Baguio City beside the Public Market.
- You may also take a Taxi from Baguio: Cost should be around PhP500/taxi
- We took a private car:
- From the centre of Baguio head onto the Baguio-Bua road which leaves from the round-a-about by Wrights Park Horse Stables
- The road will take you past Mines View Observation Deck
- Follow the Agno River until you reach the hanging bridge to Dalupirip where the road ends.
- Follow map directions here.
Things to Pack
- Sun cream 50+
- Insect repellent
- Money – there is no bank
- Sarong and towel– great for covering up, drying yourself, using as a pillow etc
- Medical kit – the nearest hospital is 6 hours drive away!
- Sun hat and glasses
- Trainers and flip flops – it’s too hot to wear trainers all the time and a hassle to take them on and off every time you go inside or need the toilet.
- Card games – light to pack and fun for the evening
- Poles – I always hike and run with these as it takes the strain off my legs
- Water carrier and camelback or equivalent
- Baby carrier – if with an infant.
- Fully-charged working mobile phone
- Headlamp and/or flashlight with battery power to last for at least 8 hours.
- Water cup
- Rain Jacket
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