Elle Guison

Published: March 21, 2024

Forests have existed on Earth for millions of years, providing habitat for countless species. However, human activities and societal development, on top of the worsening climate, have led to the depletion of the world’s forests.

The world loses 10 million hectares of forests annually due to deforestation, and approximately 70 million hectares are affected by fires, according to the United Nations.

To raise awareness of the importance of forests and promote sustainable forest management, the UN General Assembly proclaimed March 21 as the International Day of Forests in 2012.

The UN encourages countries to organize activities that involve forests and trees, such as tree planting. But here in the Philippines, there’s another popular way to connect with forests: hiking.

While the country’s highest peaks—Apo, Dulang-Dulang, and Pulag—draw many, let’s explore three other incredible hiking areas that showcase the beauty and importance of Philippine forests.

Mount Makiling

Hikers in Mount Makiling take the opportunity to capture the beauty of the short-lived bloom of Rafflesia flowers. Photo by Jershon Pagilagan.

Mt. Makiling is a dormant volcano located in the Laguna and Batangas provinces on the island of Luzon. Within it is the 4,244-hectare Mount Makiling Forest Reserve, an ASEAN Heritage Park.

Makiling is known for its rich biodiversity, with 2,038 species thriving in the mossy forest. These include species endemic to the country such as the Philippine calotes, frog Philautus sardus, Philippine warty pig, Philippine deer, and jade vine.

But among the treasures of Makiling, the Rafflesia flowers are the star attraction.

These parasitic flowering plants can be spotted growing within the body of the Tetrastigma vine. Some blooms have already been spotted by hikers. However, these blooms only last for a few days, prompting an influx of hikers eager to see the Rafflesia face-to-face.

The Makiling Center for Mountain Ecosystems (MCME), which manages the forest reserve, will conduct its annual Lenten season visitor management program called ”Make It Makiling!” from March 24 to 31. The program coincides with the blooming season of Rafflesia flowers.

While promoting the lust beauty of the forest reserve, MCME also emphasizes responsible tourism. Mount Makiling Forest Reserve is protected by set guidelines that promote proper outdoor ethics such as leaving no trace behind, camping in designated areas, and respecting wildlife.

Read more: FACT SHEETS: The Philippines Dwindling Forest

Bucari Pine Forest

Bucari is known as Iloilo’s Summer Capital and Little Baguio due to its cool climate with temperatures ranging between 9°C to 20°C. Photo from Leon Tourism and Information Center Facebook page.

For hiking enthusiasts in the Visayas who want Instagram-worthy photos, the Bucari Pine Forest, nestled in the mountains of Leon town in Iloilo, is the perfect spot to visit. ​​Dubbed as the “Little Baguio of Iloilo,” Bucari attracts tourists with its cold climate and the hundreds of pine trees that make up the forest.

The main camping site in Bucari is the Tabionan Reforestation Area where 30- to 50-year-old pine trees grow across 5,000 hectares of government-protected land. Over the past years, the local government has led tree-planting efforts mainly to reinforce the land in the area and prevent landslides during typhoons.

Additionally, reforesting the land helps maintain the cool temperatures in the area despite the increasing number of tourists,

Visitors may stay at the Tabionan campsite or rent a cottage at Pineridge Bucari Mountain Resort. They can also hike up to the peak of Mount Mansiga where they can enjoy the view of the pine forest, vegetable terraces, and Iloilo City.

For those who want a refreshing dip after the hour-long hike, they can go to Combong Falls and Imoy Falls.

Mount Hamiguitan

Hamiguitan is crowned by dwarf trees which have adapted to the ultrabasic soil it grows on. Photo from the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources Davao Facebook page.

Another forest to explore is the largest pygmy or dwarf forest in the country located within Mount Hamiguitan in Mindanao. Common hikes in Hamiguitan are known to last for three days and two nights, making it the most challenging adventure on this list.

The 6,834-hectare Mount Hamiguitan is designated an ASEAN Heritage Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its diverse wildlife populations and habitats.

Hamiguitan is home to many endemic species such as the Philippine eagle, Philippine tarsier, Hamiguitan hairy-tailed rat and carnivorous tropical pitcher plants. Its forests are a mix of mossy, dipterocarp, and montane forests.

In exploring Hamiguitan, hikers will get a chance to visit special sites such as the Hidden Garden, a mysterious plot of dwarf sagimsim trees, and Tinagong Dagat, a lake that sometimes “disappears” due to changes in tide.

The highlight of this hike is the 1200-hectare pygmy forest, the largest of its kind in the world. Pygmy “bonsai” forests are usually found in harsh environments with highly acidic or basic, hydrophobic, or nutrient-deprived soils that stunt the growth of the plants.

In Hamiguitan’s pygmy forest, centuries-old trees are shrunk down to an average height of just 4.5 feet.

Which of these forests would you like to visit in your next hike?