At almost 3600 square kilometres, the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park remains one of the country’s last frontiers. Said by conservationists to be the Philippines’ richest protected area in terms of habitat and species, the park is eighty percent land and twenty percent coastal area along a spectacular, cliff-studded seashore.
One of the reasons for the health of the park’s ecosystems is its inaccessibility from outside. To the east lies the Pacific, which is too rough for boats during much of the northeast monsoon (Dec–Feb) and typhoon (July–Oct) seasons; to the west, no roads cross the park or lead towards the more populated, rice-growing valleys. Small aircraft connect the towns of Palanan and Maconacon to the outside world, but that doesn’t make the area any less remote and for those unable or unwilling to pay for flights it’s very time-consuming to reach. If you do make it, however, then you’ll have no regrets.
The park has few wardens and no fences for boundaries, so you can visit any time you want without restriction; it is essential, however, to take a guide if you are to visit safely. A guide can take you down the Palanan River to the village of Sabang, from where you can walk through farmland and forest to Disadsad Falls, a high cascade that crashes through dense forest into a deep pool. For some of the trip there’s no trail, so you’ll have to wade upriver through the water. Another memorable trip from Palanan takes you northwards along the coast to the sheltered inlets around the towns of Dimalansan and Maconacon. On the isolated beaches here the Dumagat people establish their temporary homes.