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Cantabaco: A Rock Climber’s Mecca in Cebu

Cantabaco A_Rock Climber’s Mecca in Cebu

Do you want to be engaged in a sport where only a handful of people can actually appreciate what you’re doing? Do you want to join a sport where you literally risk life and limb to achieve a goal? Do you want to join a sport where you don’t compete with anybody but yourself? If you do, Sheila and I then welcome you to the world of rock climbing.

Rock climbing is an extreme sport like skydiving, base jumping, or snowboarding in which the element of danger haunts you to excitement. It’s a sport where you either “get it” or you don’t. Specifically, you either want to climb a towering cliff or you don’t.

The idea of rock climbing is pretty straightforward. You try to climb from the ground to the top of a cliff, but that’s just the first thing. The second thing comes if you slip, lose your balance, and fall along the way. Because of the potential injury (or death) that may happen during a fall, a good deal of highly specialized equipment is required to catch you and postpone your meeting with your creator.

rock climbing

Rock climbing in the Philippines, admittedly, is almost an unknown sport. Try searching the web for rock climbing specifically in the Philippines, and you’d come up with just a few relevant results. There are no route guidebooks, comprehensive accounts, and how-tos. Food and accommodations hover on rudimentary.

However, what it does offer is exceptional climbing in a virgin paradise, and in the country, the best place to scramble up cliffs is in Cantabaco, a quaint countryside town in the city of Toledo in the island of Cebu. Here, you can find the best, whitest, cleanest, unspoiled limestone cliffs in Cebu. The cliff is exquisitely bolted for exceptional sport climbing. If you seek to challenge yourself, then rock climbing in Cantabaco is definitely for you.

To get to this adrenalin pumping place, you need to ride a Toledo-bound bus at the Cebu South Bus Terminal. Ask the driver to drop you off at the Lutopan junction. From there, you ride a habal-habal (motorcycle for hire) to Cantabaco.  A habal-habal ride is almost always mandatory in any adventure. If you go to Cantabaco via bus, you are going to have to ride these skinny motorcycles unless you want to walk for half an hour under the heat of the sun.

going to Cantabacco

Tell the driver to drop you off at the Silangan Chapel. From here, the magnificent limestone cliff of Cantabaco is visible from the road.

Cantabaco from the road

A peaceful, quiet community. You may find it strange that there are only a handful of local climbers at the Philippines’ best rock climbing site.

silangan

Raymund Daculan, Enie Yonson and Willard Elimino are the best known guides in Cantabaco. Raymund’s house is just a 1-minute walk from the Silangan chapel while Enie’s is a bit farther away. Willard’s is about 6 kilometers away from Cantabaco. The photo below shows Raymund’s awesome crib.

The apartment with the red roof is actually a bed-and-breakfast for visiting climbers. Lots of foreigners and local climbers rent rooms there for several days. For a small fee, you can even ask the household to cook your meals for you. The bed-and-breakfast features amenities that are fit for adventurers who are trying not to blow a hole in their wallets. Such amenities include the basics: a toilet, a bathroom, a washing area, and an outside dining area.

Cantabaco

Inside Raymund’s cool crib. It is chock-full of climbing equipment and a cool, cool motorcycle.

Raymund's cool crib

If this is your first time to experience rock climbing, you probably don’t have climbing equipment. Worry not, fellow adventurer, for our guides have their own equipment that you can rent for a minimal fee.

rock climbing equipment

All set? Got your harness and rock climbing shoes? What about ropes, quickdraws, and belay devices? Great! Let’s head to the crag. It’s just a 15-minute walk from the chapel.

ready to rock climb

On the way, you may want to buy your lunch so you won’t have to exit the crag and go back to the street again to buy food during noontime. I tell you, you wouldn’t want to go down while you are in the heat of climbing; the adrenaline rush is just too strong that it overshadows your pangs of hunger. There are lots of carenderias (streetside eateries) around where you can take your pick.

eatery

A few minutes from the road, you need to cross this rickety bamboo bridge that runs over a stream. Don’t worry, it is strong although you might want to have a bit of malicious fun by shaking the bridge with your feet while someone crosses it. The bridge creaks and groans as you cross it, enhancing the rural, provincial feel. This bridge is actually a landmark in Cebu’s rock climbing community.

rickety bamboo bridge

Follow a short trail through the jungle . . .

short trail

. . . then to the massive, magnificent, unspoiled limestone crag of Cantabaco.

massive limestone

Unless you are taking an alternative trail, the main trail takes you to Areas 1 and 2 where you can start climbing some routes. However, guides usually go directly to Area 3 where there is a lot of shade. To get to Area 3, you need to scramble up these huge, mossy, slippery boulders.

going to area 3

Welcome to Area 3 of Cantabaco. It offers a lot of shade while you come face-to-face with a fine limestone cliff.

area 3

On a good day, Area 3 may be filled with people. Don’t worry. There are 60 routes of varying climbing grades (level of difficulty) along the length of the crag.

Cantabaco area 3

Before we do anything, Sweetie and I usually head off to a nice nook in Area 3 where we can set up our hammock so that we can simply rest and snooze off if we run out of adrenaline, which is actually unlikely.

resting on a hammock

While you psyche up yourself or do some warm-ups, the guides prepare themselves to set up a route for you to climb.

rock climbing guides

First, we set up a top-rope system for you. To do that, we do a climbing technique called lead climbing. Lead climbing is ascending a route that involves a climber attaching himself or herself to a length of dynamic rope. As the climber ascends a route, he or she places protection equipment (pro, in short. In sport climbing, we use quickdraws as pro) to bolted hangers on the face of the route and clipping the rope to the pro. If the climber falls, the pro prevents him from plunging to his death.

lead climbing

Here, I’m lead climbing a route called Bohemian, my favorite warm-up route. See that orange thingy where the rope passed through and the similar blue object at the right side of my head? Those are quickdraws, or pro, to save me from a fall.

Cantabaco Bohemian

A climber needs another person below to hold the rope if he or she falls. That person also feeds rope as the lead climber ascends. This person is called a belayer, and your belayer literally has your life in his or her hands. It is important that your belayer knows how to do his job properly. It’s also important for the belayer to be calm and composed. Sweetie is my climbing partner and trusted belayer. The bond between Sweetie and me definitely becomes stronger as we entrust each other’s lives. Rock climbing allows us to experience that awesome responsibility.

That’s Sheila and some of our friends, belaying a few climbers in Area 2.

belayers

As the climber reaches the top of the route, he or she sets up an anchor so that the belayer can lower the climber down. Once the climber is down, you can now climb the route with the rope set up on an anchor high above the route. This type of climbing is called top roping. It’s a style of climbing in which a rope runs from a belayer at the foot of the route to an anchor system at the top of the route. The rope then goes back to the climber, tied through a harness that is worn by the climber.

Here, Sweetie is climbing on top rope while I belay her.

try rock climbing

Sweetie high up on a route called Ninja Cools.

Ninja Cools

After completing a route, she comes back down and disengages himself. It’s your turn!

rock climbing sweethearts

To give you an idea of the scale of the crag, check the photo below, and compare the size of the people to the rock. That is just the bottom of the cliff, not even 1/4th of the way!

rock climbing day

Sir Tiki is almost at the top of the route.

rock climber

Once you reach the top, you kiss the anchor (this is customary for first ascents) and look down. Yes, at a hundred feet, the view below is pretty scary! But the feeling of accomplishment is beyond words.

area 3 from above

Once everyone has climbed the route, it’s time to clean the route, or retrieve all the quickdraws and the anchor. You don’t want to leave those expensive pieces of equipment, do you? Sweetie usually does the route cleaning. She climbs up the route and unclips all the quickdraws.

Sheila rock climbing

Nearing the top of the route . . .

almost reaching the anchor

. . . and finally reaching the anchor.

reaching the anchor

Sweetie prepares to anchor herself in order to set up a rappel anchor. Rappeling is one of the two ways that the retriever uses to go down. Retrieval/cleaning a route is the most crucial part of the climbing process. A mistake in the retrieval/cleaning process can actually injure or kill the climber.

preparing to rapel

Sweetie at work a hundred feet up!

reaching the top

Once she’s done, she can then rappel down.

rapel

On the ground at last! Nice work, Sweetie!

packing up

Sometimes, you might want to take a break or climb other routes. You’re free to do that. While you do, Sweetie and I will have our moments.

Gian and Sheila

Or, if you’re hungry, you might want to set up lunch . . . oppa climber’s style!

rock climbers

Of course, you wouldn’t be satisfied with climbing just one route, so we pack up and move to another route. We then repeat the process until you have your fill of climbs.

fellow rock climbers

Age doesn’t matter when it comes to climbing. This Japanese guy is 66 years old and hobbles a bit when he walks. But let him climb, and you’ll feel your eyes widen and your jaws drop to the ground. He is incredibly strong and has great techniques.

Japanese rock climber

Different races, different genders, different professions . . . one goal: to reach the anchor.

making friends

Aside from the handful of rock climbers in the Philippines, Cantabaco, as a rock climbing destination, is not well-known in the Philippine sport tourism sector. However, the place is quite popular in foreign lands. In fact, rock climbers all over the world make it a point to stop by Cantabaco to have a taste of Philippine rock climbing. So, don’t be surprised if you see a lot of foreigners here.

foreign rock climbers

You might think that Area 3’s routes are a bit easy for you. Very well, let’s go up. This is Area 4, a climbing area that follows a steep trail. Most of the routes here are 5.11 and 5.12 in climbing grade, or expert level. To compare, most of the routes in Areas 1, 2, and 3 are in 5.8 to 5.10, or beginner to intermediate level.

Area 2

Still not challenged? Well, let’s move to Area 5 where the rocks are so smooth, the holds are so small, and the moves are so sequential that you’ll wonder if the routes here could be climbed at all. Area 5 has routes that range between 5.11 to 5.14s. These are the best, hardest, truly world-class routes that Cantabaco can offer.

area 5

One of our female climbers, Blanche, negotiates a roof on  a difficult route called Blackfoot.

Blanche on a difficult route

A massive roof and overhang in Area 5. Yes, they’re climbable.

Area 1 of Cantabaco

Macho papas at Area 5.

fit bodies

At the end of the day, you’ll be so pumped up that you won’t be able to lift anything heavier than your cell phone. It’s time to pack up and go home.

rock climbing friends

Sweaty but happy!

day of rock climbing

After taking a shower at Raymund’s place or at Ma’am Glenda’s bed-and-breakfast, we are refreshed and resting for a little while before going home.

Gian and Sheila

Or perhaps goof around with fellow climbers.

after rock climbing

See you next weekend, Cantabaco.

rock climbing site

Update 3/3/2016: Climbers are not allowed to use the trail that leads to Areas 1 and 2 anymore because the plot in front of the crag is now privatized. Climbers will need to turn right just before the small house, and follow a steep ascending trail to Area 5. From Area 5, you can go down to the lower areas.

There’s a concrete house beside the said trail where you log in and pay a fee of P5.

Suggested Itinerary

6:00 AM – assembly time at South Bus Terminal
6:30 AM – ETD Cebu, ride a Toledo-bound bus to Lutopan
8:00 AM – arrival at Lutopan Crossing (locally known as Landing), ride habal-habal to Silangan Chapel, Cantabaco
8:10 AM – ETA Silangan chapel, meet up with guide, briefing
8:45 AM – Trek to crag, buy packed lunch
9:00 AM – start of rock climbing
12:00 PM – lunch
1:00 PM – rock climbing
4:00 PM – wrap up, packing up
4:15 PM – head back to guide’s place
4:30 PM – ride habal-habal to Lutopan
4:45 PM – ETD Lutopan V-hire terminal for V-hire or Lutopan crossing for Cebu-bound bus
6:30 PM – ETA Cebu

Pertinent Charges per person*

P 40 – non-aircon bus fare Cebu City to Landing, Lutopan (and vice versa)
P 10 – habal-habal fare Landing, Lutopan or Lutopan town center to Cantabaco, Silangan (and vice versa)
P 70 – v-hire fare from the v-hire terminal (presently transferred to the South Road Properties at the back of Malacañan sa Cebu) to Lutopan town center (and vice versa)
P 5 – entrance fee to the crag
P 120 – accommodations in Manang Glenda’s bed-and-breakfast (see contact details below)
Guide fee – please negotiate with the local guides

* Except where indicated, all rates are on a per-person basis. We did not include our expenses for meals, snacks, tips, and other fees in this rate sheet as you may have different needs, preferences, itineraries, miscellaneous transportation, and sharing scheme from us. Note that all figures are subject to change without prior notice.

Tips

* Cantabaco is a really small town, so everybody knows everybody. For guideship services, please contact Enie Yonson at 0943-0688985 or 0948-7124875. You can also search his name on Facebook or send a message to him through the BASO..body and soul outdoor Facebook page.

* Cantabaco can be reached via bus. Take a Toledo-bound bus at the Cebu City South Bus Terminal. Ask the conductor to drop you off at Landing in Lutopan. Once you reach Landing, ask a habal-habal to take you to Silangan Chapel in Cantabaco. You can clearly see the crag at the left side of the street. Ask locals for directions to the crag; it’s just a short 10-minute walk.

* Cantabaco can also be accessed by a van for hire. You can take a V-hire at the v-hire terminal in Cebu (presently transferred to the South Road Properties at the back of Malacañan sa Cebu). However, you’re in for a long wait, usually around an hour, since the V-hires to Lutopan take a long time to fill. The plus side is that you’ll experience a more comfortable ride, and the driver can drop you directly at the Silangan Chapel at Cantabaco. On the way, you’ll witness breathtaking views of Cebu’s mountains and greeneries.

* You can bring your own equipment if you want. Be sure to bring at least 12 quickdraws if you opt to take your equipment with you.

* Enie does not have fixed guide fees. It is important to negotiate the fee with him before you go to Cantabaco.

* For your lunch and snacks, it’s best to buy your food before heading to the crag. There are a lot of stores and eateries nearby where you buy your meals and drinks. It is quite exhausting if you have to go back down from the crag to buy lunch.

* The above itinerary is for a day of climbing. However, to make it really worth your while, we suggest you stay there for the weekend. You can stay at Ma’am Glenda’s bed-and-breakfast. They have pretty good rooms and basic amenities that you can rent at an affordable rate of P120 per head per night. Contact number is 0995-462-9775. You can also stay at Spring Park Mountain Resort which is just a few minutes walk from the crag.

* To maximize your guide fee, it is recommended that you climb any route that has been set up. Ask the climbers there if you want to try the route they have previously climbed. Most are happy to let you make an attempt.

* Unless you have a private vehicle, on your last day, it is best to exit the crag early in the afternoon (around 3 PM) and head to Landing or the v-hire station at the town center. This is especially true on Sundays. That’s because there’s a long line of people trying to catch a bus/v-hire going back to the city.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

Just because the photos look cool and fun does not mean that you can take climbing lightly. Climbing is inherently DANGEROUS! Every time you climb, your life and the life of your partner hang in the balance. There are only three things that will happen in climbing: you succeed, you get seriously injured, or you die. Your safety depends on you and SOLELY on you! Thus before you go out there, it is vitally important that you get some basic training on climbing principles, techniques, and safety first. Visit a local indoor climbing gym to practice for a few sessions before heading out to the big rock wall. You should also get training from professional guides. Although blogs (including ours), books, tutorial videos, and articles could be a good source of information, you should find a certified climbing instructor to properly coach you through the sport. We got our training from Cantabaco’s guides and climbing instructors, and even if then, we’re still learning. Let us be clear on one thing: we are NOT climbing instructors.

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About Gian and Sheila

Rock climbers. Mountaineers. Sweethearts on adventure. Adrenaline Romance is a photoblog that belongs to a loving couple who has an eternal lust for adventure. The blog contains experiences, tips, itineraries, and other useful information regarding adventuring in the Philippines and beyond.

87 comments on “Cantabaco: A Rock Climber’s Mecca in Cebu

  1. Likeeeeeeeeeee

  2. hi are you guys planning to climb there around september? me and my husband are planning to fly out there to get some climbing done in the philippines

    • Hi Kat,

      Actually, if we don’t have any trek, trip, or adventure on weekends, we always go to Cantabaco to rock climb. So, yes, we’ll be there in September. 🙂

      The other thing to consider is the weather. September is rainy season in the Philippines. Hopefully, it won’t rain on weekends so we can climb. Many of the routes are unclimbable if they’re wet.

  3. Hi, the blog is so interesting. I have a plan to climb there when i’m on my vacation. iI’ll be in cebu within April 30 to May 7 and i’m considering this with my itinerary plan, but the problem is I am solo traveler from Davao, it is okay for me to try it? or you can join me 🙂

    by the way, I love to climb there but I am beginner with no experience at all, but I really love to. One day is enough to climb there? just e-mail me okay. thank you..

    • Hi Jabbar,

      Thank you very much for visiting our blog. April to May are great months for rock climbing since that’s summer here in the Philippines.

      Yes, you can definitely try it out there even if you’re a solo traveler. Just contact the guides, and they’ll take care of you. Also, it’s very likely that we’ll meet there because we rock climb in Cantabaco every weekend unless we have other appointments.

      Being a beginner there is no problem; the crag has 60-plus routes, ranging from easy to very difficult. One day is fine, but of course, the more days you’ll stay there, the more worthwhile your experience will be.

  4. This is a rare jem! A fantastic place to climb. Bring extra rope to leave behind as the slings often need replacing. Donate any decent rope/slings to these guys, if you can! The local guides do a brilliant job looking after the crag and the visiting climbers. Take ear plugs to protect from morning sermon. Take a sunshade if visiting the beach.

  5. Actually I was there 2011 so alot may have changed!! Good luck 🙂

  6. Why you risk your life and limb in sportclimbing? In most other parts of the world sportclimbing is seen as one of the most safest sports anyway…

    • We know that sport climbing is a relatively safe sport, but we don’t want to people to be careless. We need to be realistic here; any type of climbing (or any sport for that matter) has its own risks, some of which are life threatening.

      • OK. Its nice that you want people to take care. But to compare it with basejumping is a bit extreme. Rockclimbing, especially sportsclimbing is a broadsport nowadays and not allot of people die in this sports. Basejumping is done just by a handful people copmpared with rockclimbing and there the deathrate Is quite high.

        Sorry when I grumble around in here 🙂 But the last time I just saw to much people representing rockclimbing as something extremely dangerous and extreme which is just for very extreme and crazy people. But in fact its a sport for little children same as for quite old people too.

        It all depends on the type of the climb and the experience of the climber.
        Crossinng a highly busy street can be more dangerous than rockclimbing 😉

      • Hello Bene,

        We understand your point, and respect your view. However, we won’t change our stance that any form of rock climbing (including sport climbing) can be dangerous and risky.

        Providing an insight about the risks involved makes people more aware and careful. Yes, it is relatively safe, but we don’t want to take chances by telling people that it is completely safe.

  7. Hi,

    I’m in cebu in 2weeks and I m thinking of going climbing one day. I m climbing around 5.10 and i will prob just got my shoes with me. So what will be my options 🙂 thx for any help 🙂 Regars mattias

    • Hi Maittas,

      Perfect! Many routes in Cantabaco range from 5.8 to 5.10. Then if you want to push it, there are 5.11s as well.

      Just bring your shoes; and contact Enie Yonson, Willard Elemino, or Gretchen Trazona Yagonia. You can check out their numbers in this post, send them a message in Facebook (just type those names in the search field), and visit the FB group Cantabaco Rock Climbing friends and contact them there. If all else fails, simply head there (directions in the blog post) and ask the locals where you can find Enie or Gretchen. They’re local guides, and they have complete sets of sport climbing equipment. So, bringing only your shoes would be sufficient.

      Hope this helps.

  8. Hello are these trips still happening during this time of year? would love to come visit !

  9. Hi, would you know where can i practice climbing before actually going/ experiencing Cantabaco? Also, do you have any scheduled activities where i can tag along, if possible 🙂
    Thank you and God bless!

    Ivy

    • Hi Ivy,

      Well, you can actually go to Cantabaco directly so you can have your first rock climbing experience. Many climbers actually have climbed Cantabaco before they climbed in a gym. So, yes, you can go directly there, and climb the easy routes.

      If you feel that you need more experience before climbing real rock, you can go to your local climbing gym. If you’re from Cebu, you can try out the climbing wall at Crown Regency. It’s a bit expensive there because it’s a hotel, but they have a big wall.

      About tagging along, sure, you can. Get in touch with us through our FB page or send us an email.

      Hope this helps! Thanks! 🙂

  10. Hi,

    I’m in cebu next week for 5 days.
    May i know if you have climbing activities that I can possibly join?

    Thanks

    • Hi RG,

      Unfortunately, we will be out of town next week. However, don’t worry. You can simply contact Enie Yonson or Gretchen Trazona Yagonia (contact details are in the Tips section of this blog post) to help set up your rock climbing session and to guide you.

      Hope this helps. Thank you!

  11. This is very useful. I plan to experience RC this summer. Thanks! ^_^

  12. Hi! I have some Japanese friends who will be visiting Japan sometime in November. They are looking for a placs ehere in Cebu where they can do rock climbing. Do you know any contact person who might be able to accompany them (for a fee or for free, hehe) when they do the rock climbing? Thank you! 🙂

  13. Hi, I want to ask if it’s possible to do this activity alone? And any idea about the price range for the equipment?

  14. Hello,

    Your page is really helpfull… I found it to late because I’m already in Cantabaco… but it’s really clear and precise. Thank’s

  15. […] friend. With him, you can have hours and hours of climbing fun in the rock climbing meccas of Cantabaco and Poog in the municipality of Toledo, Cebu. He can show you around, assist you in booking your […]

  16. […] more information about the types of climb, different levels and routes, please click on this link: Cantabaco: A Rock Climber’s Mecca in Cebu. It is actually through the information of this blog that I was able to have this great […]

  17. Hi,
    I’m going to go to Cantatabaco for climbing in 4 days, I was reading your blog,good job, it is well done.
    My question is…
    Do you know if some climbers are gonna be around?
    I mean if usually are climbers there in November.
    Thanks so much
    Big hug
    Marcos

    • Hi Marcos,

      Thank you very much for visiting our blog. As per your question, yes, there are several climbers who visit the crag in all months. So, you’ll always have company there. 🙂

      Also, don’t forget to hook up with Enie; he’s a great guide. You can contact him on Facebook (search his name “Enie Yonson” ) or give him a call through his number listed in the blog post.

      If you can’t reach him, just ask the locals in Silangan where you can find Enie. He’s a popular guy. Hehehe!

  18. Thanks for the post! The information is extremely helpful. How is the weather like this time of the year? We are hoping to do a climbing day trip on November 22. If anyone is in the area and interested in climbing together please let me know! We have our own gears and comfortable leading 5.10-5.11s.

    Thanks!

    • Hi Amy,

      The weather is mostly fair to sunny within these months. Sometimes, rain usually arrives late in the afternoon or night time.

      Enjoy your climb! 🙂 Contact Enie Yonson through his phone or Facebook, or look for him once you get there (he’s quite popular in Silangan) if you need anything. 🙂

  19. […] areas. In fact, we have one of the best rock climbing areas in the Philippines, which is located in Cantabaco, Toledo. Now, we have a new one, which is just 15 minutes away from that classic […]

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