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Pagsanjan and the falls

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Serving as the capital of Laguna province from 1688 to 1858, the town of PAGSANJAN lies 101km from Manila and is home to a few old wooden houses, an unusually ornamental stone gate – or Puerta Real – and a pretty Romanesque church. The gate sits on the road to Santa Cruz (Rizal St) and was completed in 1880, while Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, dating from 1690 but remodelled in the nineteenth century, is at the end of Rizal Street. The town’s main claim to fame these days is as the staging point for the dazzling Pagsanjan Falls, chosen by Francis Ford Coppola as the location for the final scenes in Apocalypse Now in 1975. Most tourists come not for the Hollywood nostalgia value, however, but to take one of the popular bangka trips down the fourteen rapids of the Bombongan River. The rapids are at their most thrilling in the wet season; during the dry season the ride is more sedate. You don’t need to be especially daring to do the trip, though you will get wet, so bring a change of clothes. All ticket sales are supervised by the local tourism office in the municipal building (daily 8am–5pm; t049/808-3544) in the centre of town, opposite the church; ignore touts who try and sell tickets on the street. Most visitors pay P1000 for the ride; boats leave from the bridge behind the building.

It usually takes around 45 minutes to shoot 5.38km through the dramatic gorge; when you get closer to the actual 30m-high falls, you can ride a bamboo raft (balsa) to go directly below the cascade into the cavern known as Devil’s Cave, another thirty minutes or so (this is an additional P250 per head).