The Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park was created in 1935 to protect unique rock formations, caves, and rainforest along the Sohoton River in Basey, Samar (Basey is pronounced as Filipino Ba-say). It is part of the larger Samar Island Natural Park. Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park covers an area of 840 hectares, which showcases the majestic splendor of the natural resources not only of Samar but of Eastern Visayas. The park is internationally known for its natural beauty as demonstrated by its caves subterranean rivers, waterfalls, and unique limestone formations.
Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park has three navigable rivers, Basey, Sohoton, and Bugasan.
It was sunny when the boat left the Visitors Center and Eco-Lodge on the way to Panhulugan area, but it suddenly drizzled and full-on rained before we reached Panhulugan. The raindrops blurring my already-blurred vision did not divert my eyes from feasting on the weather-generated jagged limestone rock formations that towered over everything in the vicinity. I was not able to take photos on the way to the natural bridge (thank you, assistant Juan for the photos), but I enjoyed the serenity of the place – looking at the greenery before me while listening to the soft swishing movement of water beneath the boat and the kayak while raindrops slowly saturating my hair and clothes. 🙂 It was an enchanting mistress who was deliciously evil in its deceptiveness.
Juan and I planned to kayak our way to the natural bridge on our own (how to do it would have been another story), but the heavy rain that afternoon forced us to take separate kayaks and be paired with an expert. The guides informed us that the current was strong and they did not allow guests to do the kayaking on their own. The 30-minute kayaking along Cadac-an River plus the pulling of the kayak in the shallower parts were relaxing although I was soaked to the bones by this time. Cadac-an River is known as the “golden river” because of the color that is reflected off the clay in soil. While my kayak guide was doing all the paddling, he was also pointing at the trees and errant birds and answering my incessant questions. 🙂
The natural bridge is not grand in terms of size but it has its own charm. As our kayak passed under the natural bridge, I had a fleeting feeling of exultation. As the sun was slowly crept from behind the clouds and the raindrops dissipated, I saw the details of the rock formations and how water dripped from the edges to the sides and down to the passing mortal commuter. It was a lovely sight.
Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park has three caves: Panhulugan I, the largest; Sohoton, the most spectacular, and Bugasan III. Archeological digs by Fr. Carl Hutterer date many formations to the stone age. There were stalactites and stalagmites inside the cavernous cave, with passageways as intricate as some of the rock and calcite formations.
The cave was relatively easy to navigate in, with its flat and (thankfully) dry ground, wide mouths and accessible pathways. It cannot rival the torment I had to go through in Sumaguing Cave in Sagada nor can it equal the elegance of the stalactite formations of El Nido Subterrenean River, yet, like the natural bridge, it has a magnetic beauty. The rock formations inside the cave are neither grand nor complex, but their repeating patterns lend them a sense of magic that says nature has been at work in this for thousands of years, if not millions, and it is not done yet.
Before going to Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park, Juan and I stayed in the town of Basey. We planned to visit the churches, the mat weavers, and wander around town. It rained though, so we got stuck in the shed beside the 17th century church of St. Michael the Archangel. It was another peaceful place to make some introspection as we waited for the weather to change.
The parish church of St. Michael the Archangel in Basey started out as a straw hut in 1591. In 1656, the Jesuits built a church with a more solid foundation and dedicated it to St. Michael the Archangel. In 1768, the church was transferred to the Agustinians, and in 1795, to the Franciscans. In 1845 Fr. Domingo de Madrid transformed the church and added the bell tower. In 1880, a typhoon destroyed the church. From 1894 to 1896, Fr. Vicente Gutierrez oversaw the changing of the roof to galvanized iron and from then on, the church became the center of the teaching Doctrina Cristiana.
In 2013, supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) brought a great devastation to the people, livelihood, and properties in Samar and Leyte. The parish of St. Michael the Archangel was not exempted. It was repaired, renovated, and refurbished in 2015.
Fees for Tour to Sohoton:
|DENR Entrance Fee for Local||P25.00 (US $0.49)|
|DENR Entrance Fee for Foreigner||P200.00 (US $ 3.95)|
|*Habal-habal from Poblacion to Rawis Cave and vice versa (two persons)
*The driver waited for us to have lunch in one of the places the officer in Municipal Tourism Operations Center had recommended
|P400.00 (US $7.91)|
|Motorboat from Wespal Visitor Center to Panhulugan Area (5 people)||P500.00 (US $9.88)|
|Kayak Rental||P50.00 (US $0.99)|
|Cave Guide||P300.00 (US $5.93)|
|Kayak Guide||P150.00 (US $2.96)|
|Lighting Fee||P300.00 (US $5.93)|
|Guitarist (which we did not know was performing for us. I thought he was just there to while the time.)||P200.00 (US $3.95)|
|SSA Operational Expenses (10% of items from row 4 to 9)||P150.00 (US $2.96)|
|Total Fees||P2,275.00 (US $44.96)|
How to get to Basey, Samar and Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park from Tacloban City:
– Take a ride at the van terminal of downtown area, Tacloban City, near Savemore SM Department Store, to the town of Basey, Samar. Fare from Tacloban to Basey: jeepney, P25.00 (US $0.49) or van, P40.00 (US $0.79). The trip lasts 45 minutes.
Juan and I rode the jeepney in the terminal near the TESDA office. The locals thought we were going to a town in Leyte whose name starts with an S instead of Sohoton, so they ushered us inside a van. When it turned left to the direction of Leyte, Juan told me that we were going the wrong way. I asked the driver where we were going and was informed that we were in the wrong vehicle. The driver decided to return to the terminal and the locals helped us get to the jeepney to Basey. Bless their heart. Thank goodness, Juan knows his maps! Hahaha.
– Walk around five minutes (10 minutes if you are slow like me) through Basey to go to the Municipal Tourism Operations Center located at ABC Hall Building. This is down the hill and to the right of the parish of St. Michael the Archangel. Register in Tourism Operations Center and arrange for a guided tour. They will take charge from there.
Contact Number of the Municipal Tourism Operations Center in Basey, Samar: 0918 – 6434 987. They were friendly. I asked them for scotch tape and pencil (the band-aids for my wounds on my feet got wet and I was running out of supplies).
On the way back to Tacloban, we waited for the jeepney in the terminal (in our wet clothes) that might or might not have arrived. The locals told us to ride a habal-habal (motorbike) to Brgy. Sto. Niño where a ferry to Tacloban City docks. We paid P80.00 (US $1.58) for the special trip to Brgy. Sto. Niño. We paid P15.00 (US $0.30) each for a place in the ferry. The ferry ride lasts 15 minutes. For those going to Basey, Samar from Tacloban and vice versa, I highly recommend this over the land travel option.