If there’s a mountain that can be considered as the Philippines’ most popular, Mount Makiling wins by default.
This mountain with its peak towering 1,090 meters above sea level and located about 70 kilometers south of Manila is the first that most city dwellers see when they travel south from the National Capital Region (Metro Manila). For those going on a first trip to Los Banos in Laguna, it is the majestic Makiling that greets every visitor to the south with its lovely silhouette that looks like a woman on a recline (thus the term ‘maquiling’).
Makiling now is home to almost a million people, enjoying the abundance of its waters and soil to nourish a fast-growing community. It is home to one of the biggest universities in the Philippines and several of Asia’s biggest research institutes. It is also one of the oldest national parks in the Philippines, and continues to preserve and to propagate our endemic species.
In 1909, the University of the Philippines College of Agriculture was established at the foot of Mount Makiling by the American colonial government to promote agricultural education and research in the Philippines. In 1933, the Makiling Forest Reserve was made into a National Park under the care of Bureau of Forestry. In 1960, the administration of Makiling National Park was transferred to the University of the Philippines for forestry education and research purposes of the College of Forestry.
At present, the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB) is the designated caretaker of the 4,347-hectare Makiling Forest Reserve. The reserve is home to diverse flora and fauna. The forest serves as the laboratory to students and researchers. It is also open to nature lovers, adventure seekers and conservationists.
How to get there
Being under the jurisdiction of UPLB, the only way to go to Mt. Makiling is to enter the gates of the university.
Commuting to UPLB is easy. Take any bus in Buendia in Makati City or Cubao in Quezon City going south to Santa Cruz, Laguna. Alight at Los Banos crossing, often referred to as Los Banos Jollibee. Fare is around P120 and travel time about two hours. From across Jollibee, there’s a terminal for jeepneys going to UPLB. These jeepneys go around the campus of UPLB, all the way to the College of Forestry. For those destinations outside the regular jeepney route, the only way to go there is to walk.
For those driving to Mount Makiling, take the south highway via SLEX then exit from Calamba, also in Laguna. From Calamba, continue drive to the national highway all the way to the next town of Los Banos. The main entrance is 1.3 kilometers from the Jollibee junction. UPLB security now requires visitors to deposit their driver’s license at the entrance. There are two other entrances to UPLB – thru the Magnetic Road and the side road near International Rice Research Institute – but only for those with UPLB stickers.
What to do, what to see
Mount Makiling’s peak can be climbed in a day. Although there are several designated campsites for those who prefer to stay overnight, it is not advisable because of limited water source and presence of “limatiks” (forest leech) at higher elevations.
There are several access trails to Mount Makiling, but the most popular is via UPLB. All visitors to the Mount Makiling Forest Reserve are required to register at the entry point and pay P10 per person entrance fee. The entry point is marked Station 1, and all important landmarks are properly identified, making the need for a hiking guide unnecessary.
The next major station is the entrance to the Makiling Rainforest Park (Station 7). The trail leading to the park is 3.3 kilometers from the gate, and takes between one to two hours of easy to moderate trekking. Here, there is a huge camp site for overnight hikers. Located also within the vicinity are the UPLB Nursery Farm and the Mud Spring (about 15-minute trek from the main trail).
From here, one can take a short detour to the Mudspring before taking the two-hour trek to the summit. The summit is identified as Peak 2, and it rewards climbers with a magnificent view of Laguna and its surroundings.
But for those who do not wish to tire themselves but still like to see the many trees that grow in Makiling, they can visit the Botanic Garden near the entrance of the reserve. Established in 1965, this natural museum contains many plant species endemic to Mount Makiling.
Another interesting site around Makiling is the National Center for the Arts. Built during the Marcos regime, it continues to hone talented students through the Philippine High School for the Arts. On the way up to the center, visitors will pass by the Chapel of Saint Marc. The chapel’s cross – featuring the outline of a crucified Christ – was designed by National Artist Leandro Locsin.
At the main campus of UPLB, visitors can also see the Oblation, the old Baker Memorial Hall, the Carabao Park, the Carillon Tower, the Seniors Social Garnden and many more. At the corner of the football field is the biggest Acacia tree in the campus. It is also called Fertility Tree because of the many things that happen at night under the tree.
Where to stay, what to eat
As most visitors to Mount Makiling go there for a day trip, places to stay overnight are very limited. There is a designated campsite at the Rainforest Park. However, prior arrangement must be made at the gate.
Visitors can also stay at the Pook ni Maria Makiling right next to the Jamboree site. It is also possible to find overnight lodging at the cottages of the National Arts Center.
Another alternative is to stay overnight at the nearby Pansol, where private pools with cottages can be rented for P5,000 to P10,000 for 12 hours.
There are many places to eat around UPLB. For quick and affordable meals, visit the campus cafeterias. For those who wish to try some authentic Elbi (LB) cuisine, the stretch from Jollibee junction to the main gate are lined with quaint little restaurants ranging from Thai to Mediterranean that serve tasty and reasonably fair-priced meals.
But for the ultimate Elbi experience, try the choco milk being sold at the Dairy Farm. It’s as fresh and as refreshing as the popular Mount Makiling.