Top 10 Extreme Adventures

Adventure holidays are booming in the Philippines with adrenaline pumping activities from canyoning, cliff jumping, to extreme aerobatic flying

cover photo by Caloy Legaspi


Canyoning requires absailing or descending steep rock faces with only two ropes  secured at the top and passed round the body, separating you from certain death, then cliff jumping into clear mountain pools, hiking through tropical rain forest and beautiful mountain valleys. If this sounds like Fear Factor on cable TV, well it is.

A company called Planet Action located near the town of Moalboal on the southern end of Cebu arranges canyoning trips and also offers river climbing, volcano trekking, caving, and mountain biking. Canyoning is usually done at Montaneza Falls in Cebu Island. Planet Action, owned by Jochen Hanika, offers a complete adventure package including experienced guides, equipment, airport transfer from the Cebu City Airport, and accommodation in Panagsama Beach, near Moalboal. The package also includes a "we survived" party with unlimited San Miguel beer and an all-you-can-eat barbecue of freshly caught fish, grilled chicken and porkchop. Tours are held daily, starting at 9am and ending at 4pm. Package cost is P2,500 (US$60) per person, minimum of two people.

Planet Action, Panagsama Beach, 6032 Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines, tel +63917/ 583 00 62, email [email protected]

River Climbing

River climbing adventures are not just adrenaline pumping but pits you against nature as you climb rock faces while a tropical waterfall thunders down close to you, testing your ability to find footholds, handholds, and the strength, skill, and stamina to climb with water hitting your face.

Planet Action organizes river climbing trips to Matutinao, a town located north of Badian in Cebu. The one-day tour will take you to the mountains of Barangay Matutinao, trekking, bridge crossing, swimming through a ravine and scaling rocks on the way up the three waterfalls of Kawasan. The preliminary trek is tough. You have to walk some 30 minutes through a narrow and rocky path, so no room here for weak knees. The river climbing tour is also at P2,500, with the same inclusions as the canyoning tour. 

Scaling Mt. Halcon

Climbing Mt. Guiting-Guiting. Photo by George Tapan

If you like pushing your physical limits, go on a major expedition to climb the 8,484-feet Mt. Halcon in Mindoro, acknowledged as the toughest climb in the country because of its knife-edge ridges, long and steep trails, and series of river crossing. According to mountan climbing organizer Omar Picache of Camp-O Mountain Equipment, Mt. Halcon takes two days to climb and another two to descend from. "It's a difficult climb because it takes days; there are lots of river crossing, steep trails, and the terrain is a combination of river, hanging bridge, and walls you can negotiate only by scrambling or horizontal rock climbing. The climb becomes even tougher when it rains." The best time to climb is April, August, and September. Only experienced climbers are suited for this climb. An alternative climb is Mt. Guiting-Guiting in Romblon, with similar river crossing, scrambling, and steep and long trail. For climbing expeditions, contact Picache at +63917/ 533 9767. They can come up with packages for groups, minimum 10 people. The minimum number of days for the Halcon climb is 4 (2 days up, 2 days down), and packages start at P10,000 per person. 

Formula 3 car racing

A formula car on the circuit. Photo by Richard Joson

At 230 kilometers per hour, the thrill, mental agility, years of training, and discipline all come into play as one barrels down the race track. Race car driver Richard Joson says Formula 3 car racing "is a fine balance of being on the edge knowing there's almost no difference between maximizing speed and grip and going out of control."

"The extreme part is trying to do something that you have never done before in a race car. To find the limit you sometimes have to go over it. It's the desire to reach the limit that makes it extreme," he said. The speed depends on which race track you are racing on. On the slow, twisty short tracks such as the Batangas race circuit or Goldenport in Beijing, China, top speed reaches 230 kph. These tracks have a short straightaway measuring 800 meters. Everything is geared to torque and rapid acceleration. On the fast tracks like Sepang Malaysia, Autopolis Japan, Fuji Speedway, top speed hits to 260 to 280kph. "The fastest circuit I've raced in is Fuji Speedway in Japan which I think has the longest straightaway in the world at 1.61km coming from a flat out corner taken at fifth gear. Top speeds there reach 295kph at sixth gear," Joson said.

As can be expected, the car racing adventure comes at a price of time, money, and dedication. "There is no shortcut to acquiring skills in this sport. You get used to the G Force from the lower racing categories like karting and entry level Formula (Formula Renault, BMW, Toyota). You can also help your fitness by doing exercises such as upper body and neck exercises that are specifically designed for racing drivers. To get started in this adventure, it is wise to get into karting first and other lower categories for you to qualify for Formula 3. The Karting Association in the Philippines can get people started in racing. There are also several racing schools in England, France, and Germany. After a short course in karting you are given a local C racing licence," said Joson.Try Tuason Racing for basic karting class, basic circuit racing class, formula car testing, and high performance driving class. 

Tuason Racing1 San Vicente Ferrer st. Corner Sta. Lucia st., San Antonio Valley, Sucat, Paranaque City, tel +632/ 820 4203

Batangas Racing Circuit, Garcia-Rosario-San Juan-Candelaria Rd, Rosario, Batangas, tel +6332/ 729 5365 

Deep sea diving

Deep sea diving at below 40 meters or beyond 45 meters is as extreme as you can get. The world record in 2001 for deep sea diving at 308 meters (1,010 feet) was achieved in the Philippines by technical diver John Bennett. Tehcnical diving instructor Alex Santos of IANTD Philippines explains that in deep diving, your body absorbs more inert gas which normally doesn't affect us on land. "If you breathe it under pressure, it dissolves in the tissue. Ascending too fast may result in bubbles in the tissue. That's why there's decompression illness. Symptoms range from skin rash, extreme fatigue, to joint pain, paralysis, and even death. Decompression or releasing inert gas from your tissues is done in the water. You allow yourself time to ascend to do this," Santos said. 

Recommended site for deep sea divers is the Nunez Shoal in Malapascua, Cebu, with a 50m depth and visibility up to 30m. It's situatued on the edge of a drop off measuring about 1km or so so divers must be careful. Monkey Wreck in Puerto Galera is another fantastic deep dive site for the advanced diver. It has a depth of 35m to 40m. Other recommended destinations for deep sea dives are Anilao in Batangas, anywhere in Palawan, including Tubbataha, Subic, and the Visayas region. For deep sea diving adventures, contact Atlantis Dive Resort

Atlantis Dive Resort, Sabang Beach, Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, tel +6343/ 287 3066 to 69 or +63917/ 562 0294

Shipwreck diving

The Philippines offers various extreme diving opportunities, from deep dives to shipwreck dives. The most challenging shipwreck dive, according to Santos, is in Coron, Busuanga, Palawan. In this area, the most intricate shipwreck dive is the Akitsushima, an aft engine ship sunk by the Americans in 1944 in Coron Bay. It's lying at a depth of about 36m and its interior is marked by metal hazards. Only certified wreck divers are allowed to explore it. The wreck is also home to giant groupers, schools of barracuda, and yellowfin tuna. Akitsushima is located between Culion and Busuanga island.

Another difficult shipwreck to explore is the USS New York wreck in Subic Bay, Zambales. According to Santos, "There are a lot of areas in the wreck that are narrow. It's a maze. The minute you're in the water, everything becomes unfamiliar and you only see so much. Inside the ship, you're moving around a small area." Santos reckons that shipwreck diving can be more extreme than deep sea diving because you can get lost and trapped inside the wreck if you don't have training. "Even if a wreck is shallow, you can still lose your way out. Two to three months is something like a crash course and I don't recommend it," he said. For shipwreck diving adventure and tuition in Coron, try Sangat Island Dive Resort

Sangat Island Dive Resort, Sangat Island, Coron, Palawan, tel +63916/ 400 8801

Extreme kayaking

Extreme Kayaking. Photo courtesy of Tribal Adventures

For the ultimate kayaking experience, skilled kayakers should try Saltan River in Pinukpuk, Kalinga, northern Philippines, according to Tribal Adventures operator and experienced kayaker Greg Hutchinson. The Saltan experience starts with a stretch of narrow river with lots of gradients. "The area is very isolated and there's only one difficult way of getting out of it. I'd rate it as a level five, although there are areas that are six, which you don't do if you're sane," says Hutchinson. For extreme kayaking, contact Tribal Adventures. 

Tribal Adventures, tel +63917/ 819 3049 or +63998/ 999 3049, email [email protected]

River rafting

River rafting in Cagayan. Photo by Kim Domingo

River rafting trips in Cagayan River, the longest river in the Philippines, located in Cagayan Valley in Luzon gives you the chance to encounter danger in the form of big boulders, constrictions where water rushes through a narrow passage, water thundering from above, undercuts, backwashes, and eddies or whirlpool. Cagayan River allows five competitive levels of rafting, from one to five, with one suited for beginners, and five the most difficult.

Kim Domingo, member of the Philippine team for river rafting, said two of the extreme river rafting areas in Cagayan are Paluban-Sto. Nino and Sto. Nino-Ugyaban. "Both have big boulders, constrictions, and large volume of water coming from a higher level. While there are no undercuts in these specific stems, there are backwashes and lots of eddies," she said. "Overall, Cagayan River has about five critical undercuts. The excitement is when you hit the big waves. And, there's danger, of course, of falling and surfing inside rapids or disturbed water. A person can be trapped in an undercut, an opening at the bottom of the river with water going through it. An undercut is dangerous, because once a rafter is trapped, he can no longer swim to safety. 

"There is also the backwash or the circular motion of the river. To survive this, you adopt a ball position so you are caught in the backwash and thrown back to safety, or you plunge deeper in the water to escape the current. The river's topmost level has the strongest current. The middle has average current, and the bottom has no current. If you dive deep enough to reach the bottom which will allow you to swim in the right direction and free yourself from the trap," Domingo said.

Hutchinson considers Bubunawan beside Cagayan River as posing the more extreme challenge than the Cagayan River. "For one, it's much steeper," he said. "Rafting is also difficult in certain parts of Tinglayan in Kalinga down from Bontoc. The same can be said of Chico River to Bontoc down to Tinglayan." Chico River Quest offers rafting trips in Kalinga starting from P4,000 per person for a group of at least 6.

Chico River Quest, tel +63917/ 804 3468, email [email protected]

Aerobatic maneuver flights

The plane pre-flight. Photo courtesy of Airworks

See the world from a different angle with aerobatic flying, an ultimate adventure that allows you to fly an aircraft in a pitch, turning it upside down on its lateral axis, or bank it, turning it in its longitudinal axis, like a pig being roasted. Aerobatic maneuver pilot Captain Xavier Estabillo of Airworks says a student can go on the serious route and learn to execute on his own specific briefs like rolling an aircraft or maneuvering it in various ways, learning all the controls. He can also learn to cope with the G force or acceleration due to gravity, but this takes time and some dedication. "I personally feel dizzy after three or four maneuvers during my first time. For one to be able to cope with the G force, flying should be done almost everyday for about three months to get used to it," he says. Those who just want to experience the thrill of aerobatic maneuver flying on a one-off adventure are also welcome.

One undergoes a briefing on what will be done during the course of a flight and then go on a dual control, pretty much a tandem where the student sits in front of the aircraft, and the licensed pilot, at the back. Both have control of the aircraft. If anything happens and the student freezes, the pilot at the back can take over the controls. In extreme cases, Captain Estabillo says a student sometimes suffers from a "swimming in glue" syndrome, when extreme fear instinctively prompts him to go into a fetal position, resulting in the controls being pulled. The experienced pilot then becomes handy, promptly correcting the situation.

There are also instances when during the performance of a loop, blood is pulled from the head and the brain to the lower limbs, resulting in a blackout in an inexperienced flyer. Airworks Aviation Academy's Captain Meynard Halili is a licensed flight instructor who teaches aerobatics, but Airworks is still waiting for their permit to teach aerobatics. In the meantime, those who would like to experience flying a plane can sign up for their Discovery Flight, a 1-hour trial flight on a Cessna airplane with a licensed pilot. It costs P8,500 on the Cessna 152, and P11,000 on the Cessna 172. 

Airworks Aviation Academy, General Aviation Area, Mactan International Airport, Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu 6015, tel +6332/ 512 8375, mobile +63943/ 410 0514, email [email protected]


Kiteboarding in Boracay. Photo by Che Mambong

Kiteboarding has gathered a strong following among young and old in Boracay, about an hour by plane from Manila. In kiteboarding, you use the wind to propel you. The kite, which is attached to your body, is dragged by the wind, and it's up to you to control the direction and speed by maneuvering the kite. The attraction of the sport, according to Nenette Graf of Hangin Kiteboarding Center (Cabrinha), is "the feeling of fredom once the kite gathers a big chunk of breeze and you start gliding and get propelled up in the air. You lose yourself in the feeling of being free and in control."

A good venue for the sport is Boracay's Bulabog beach, recognized internationally because it has a shallow lagoon protected by a reef, has consistent side or onshore wind from the months of November to April. Boracay further poses an exciting challenge to kiteboarders during the northwest monsoon or southwest monsoon and its beaches presents swells and reefbreaks. The existing windsurfing spots around Manila include Lake Caliraya and Taal in Batangas. In Boracay, Hangin Kiteboarding and Ocean Republic all offer kiteboarding lessons and adventures. A 12-hour course with an International Kiteboarding Organization licensed instructor costs P19,000, the standard rate set by the Boracay Windsport Association.

Hangin Kitecenter and Resort, Bulabog Rd. 1a, Boracay Island, Malay, Aklan, tel +6336/ 288 3766

Ocean Republic, Bulabog Beach, Boracay, Malay, Aklan, tel +6336/ 288 4977, email [email protected]