Sohoton Natural Bridge Natural Park is divided by the Sohoton river which is surrounded by thick, lush jungle covering majestic limestone cliffs. There are trips taking you by Bangka (traditional Philippine wooden boat) to the Panhulugan Cave where you can continue kayaking to the Natural Bridge. This is, without doubt, one of the most amazing off the beaten track experiences in The Philippines.
The Natural Park is situated on the island of Samar in the Eastern Visayas and can be accessed easily from Tacloban city.
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How to get to Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park
The closest airport is in Tacloban. There are only domestic flights to and from Tacloban Airport, so you need a connecting flight from either Manila or Cebu if you plan to travel straight into Tacloban when you arrive in The Philippines.
To go to Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park, first, you need to get to Basey where you can book the tickets for the tour from the tourist office. There are aircon buses from Tacloban bus station to Basey. If you want to travel like a local, as we did, jump on a Jeepney. The locals are very friendly and will help you off at the right stop and show you the way to the tourist office.
From the tourist office, you need a motorcycle taxi to drive you to the Sohoton Visitor Center and Eco-Lodge. This is where you pay for the tour. You will get two guides, one for the cave and one for the kayaking. Both will follow you on the Bangka trip to the cave entrance.
The last bus back leaves at around 18:30, though you will get all the information you need from the tourist office. Also, the motorcycle taxi will wait for you.
If you want to spend the night you can book in at Sohoton Visitor Center and Eco-Lodge.
When is the best time to visit?
Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park is nice to visit most of the year. However, heavy rains through December to February increases water levels in the river excessively. This results in the park often closing in this period of the year. If you happen to travel to Eastern Visayas in this period make sure you check up front if the park is open or not.
About Sohoton Natural Bridge Natural Park
Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park was established in 1935 to protect the natural limestone structures with its surrounding fauna and wildlife. The National Park stretches over 841 hectares filled with lush jungle, pristine waterfalls, the vivid river, and numerous limestone caves.
“Sohoton” actually means “to pass through” which is a fitting name for the park. You pass through the jungle and the limestone walls with the Bangka and kayak. Further, you pass through the Natural Bridge and into the waterhole with the kayak.
I also like to think of it this way; travelers should pass through without leaving any footprints or any waste interfering with nature.
The locals refer to Sohoton River as “The Golden River” because of its golden, muddy color in the rainy season.
Other than experiencing a unique off the beaten track destination in this astonishing part of the country, visiting Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park brings money to a poor region of The Philippines. The guides are locals and money stay in the area. I see that as extremely valuable.
Panhulugan Cave is the largest of the caves in Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park. It consists of two main chambers. The cave has some interesting formations of stalactites and stalagmites. Some of the most famous formations look like the Banawe Rice Terraces, Chocolate Hills and The Great Wall of China.
Except for magnificent formations, you can also see a lot of tiny bats sleeping in the ceiling of the cave.
Is it responsible to visit Panhulugan Cave?
One of the first things I questioned when we got to Panhulugan Cave was; Is it responsible to visit the cave?
We were the only ones there. No, that’s a lie. There was a group of 3-4 people walking out of the cave when we arrived.
The guide was young and dedicated and explained everything we needed to know about the limestone cave. So, what was my concern about?
He was touching the stalactites and stalagmites, and we were allowed to as well. Further, he explained there were a couple of stalactites and stalagmites only the guides were allowed to touch. The reason for this was that some tourists had managed to break them previously and they didn’t want to harm them more.
This is good, right? Well, not really. The thing is that stalactites and stalagmites take millions of years to grow the size we see them in the cave today. They grow less than 10 centimeters on one thousand years. When we touch them, they will slowly erode.
Even though there are not many tourists visiting this stunning cave complex yet, I hope they start new practices soon which don’t affect the cave.
I would say that it is absolutely worth visiting Panhulugan Cave, but be mindful and show respect by not touching anything.
Kayaking Sohoton Natural Bridge
The Sohoton Natural Bridge can only be reached by moving further up the river. A great way to do so is by kayak.
We were the only ones with our guide. And thank god we had him there. I went a bit wrong into a rapid and fell out in the water. In a millisecond I had saved my flip-flops and waterproof camera bag as I was hanging sideways around a natural limestone pole while the strong stream tried to push me further down the river.
The guide came to the rescue and also had to dive for my sunken oar. Somehow, I didn’t worry about that one in that millisecond. I wonder how many times he has had to save useless tourists like myself. The rest of the trip was less action filled.
The river is quiet except for birds singing known and unknown songs and the oars breaking the surface of the water. You will definitely have an incredible nature experience kayaking with wild nature meeting the river on both sides.
Reaching Sohoton Natural Bridge
Once you get to the Natural Bridge, you will be absolutely mesmerized. The natural limestone bridge towers above the river and as you paddle beneath it you enter a large, natural pool with limestone walls on all sides. The low entrance made me completely speechless. There is a small rocky beach inside where you can leave your kayak while you go for a swim in the refreshing, crystalline water hole. Or maybe you want to chill on the beach for a bit.
The river continues out on the other side of this stunning, natural formation. However, our tour returned back where we came from.
Read: Beautiful waterfalls in the Philippines you should not miss!
What to bring to Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park
Since you most likely will make this a day trip, there are a few things I recommend bringing.
- Waterproof bag to put your valuables when you kayak
- Lunch pack
- Reusable water bottle
- Waterproof sports camera
- Flip-flops or other shoes that can get wet
Start planning your trip to The Philippines
If you want to experience The Philippines off the beaten track there is so much to choose from with more than 7000 islands. Start finding ideas in Lonely Planet Philippines guidebook.
Sohoton Natural Bridge Natural Park is, without doubt, one of the off the beaten track destinations you should discover.
The best source to check your flights to The Philippines is with Skyscanner. If you are flexible with dates, choose the view for “calendar” and you will see a whole month with the cheapest days to travel marked in green. In many cases, you can save hundreds of Euros by traveling the day before or after your original plan.
To book your accommodation I recommend Booking.com. They have a wide variety of hotels, bungalows, and hostels to choose from and you can choose your preferred price range for your search results.
Read Next: 9 Best things to do in Bohol
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