In the generally mountainous Nueva Vizcaya, there’s no shortage of attractions highlighting the beauty of nature. North of the province, at the municipality of Diadi, for instance, part of the 24,000-hectare Lower Magat Forest Reserve has been converted into an ecotourism destination.
Called Lower Magat Eco-Tourism (LMET) Park, the piece of land was first acquired by the provincial government from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 1969 for preservation and later on, development into a nature park.
Today, the spot is a sprawling 1,200-hectare of land that has a lagoon, camping grounds, swimming pools, cottages, recreational facilities, and trails for hiking and biking.
Upon entry to the park, the park’s flora and fauna-rich surroundings are evident.
The park’s hanging bridge offers views of lush greenery left and right, which leads guests to a heavily-forested area.
“There are a lot of varieties of trees here, but the most common are mahogany and teak,” says Mark Renzon Aradana, administration aide of LMET. “Both are hardwood.”
The park is also home to many of what Aradana calls mother trees.
“These are trees with trunks that grow straight and branches that only grow at the very top,” he explains. “They are the biggest and oldest trees in the forest.”
At LMET, acacia and yakal are examples of this.
Another hanging bridge within the park called Lambingan—called such a name because of its popularity as a date spot among couples—leads to a flower garden.
Here, flowers of every kind bloom, including sunflowers and bougainvillea.
An in-park zoo, meanwhile, houses hundreds of animal species.
“There are domestic pigs, deers, guinea fowls, and monkeys,” says Aradana, who is also an Animal Science graduate. “There are snakes, too, including an 11-feet Burmese python that guests can touch and take pictures with.”
The zoo also provides shelter to a threatened species—the gray-faced buzzard.
“A local turned it over to us,” he shares. “It was injured so we took care of it here at LMET.”
When interacting with animals at the zoo, though, Aradana says they often warn guests to refrain from giving out food to prevent any untoward incident.
Summer or the dry season is the best time to come to LMET, according to Aradana. During this time, when skies are clear and days are warm, guests can better enjoy the eco-adventures the park offers.
At the park’s lake, guests can go boat riding (Php100 per hour). Pre-pandemic, up to four people are allowed on the boat. For the safety of the guests, though, the current arrangement permits only two visitors per boat.
Accessible through the park’s hanging bridge, there are three eco-trails in the park suitable for trekking, two of which are short distances that are manageable even for beginners. The third eco-trail, the only long-distance trail among the three, is currently under renovation.
The same trails are paths that guests can take for mountain biking.
After a full day of sightseeing and trying out all park activities, guests can end the day camping (Php50 per night on a niine square-meter space). Guests must bring their own tents at the campsite, though, as there are none available for rent at the park. Only two guests are allowed in each tent, too.
While at the campsite, guests can most likely witness an activity called kanyawan. It’s an Ilocano word that means “to feast.”
“It’s a celebration of the gods,” Aradana says. “The Igorot begin with a prayer, perform a ritual around a bonfire setup, and proceed to slaughter domestic animals to be cooked and consumed later on.”
No matter what activities the guests choose to try, though, guides are always present.
“The guides here are trained via the Department of Tourism (DOT),” Aradana adds.
At the moment, 11 guides are already DOT-accredited. Four more are still processing their accreditation.
Staying overnight at Lower Magat Eco-Tourism Park is possible. They have accommodations within the park, the inspiration for some of which are the tribes living in the region.
For instance, there are Isinay-inspired houses (Php1,000 overnight for five guests). The Isinay tribe is a small group primarily living in parts of Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino.
On a nearby hill, nestled within trees, are traditional huts reminiscent of Ifugao houses (Php500 overnight for 5 guests).
More conventional rooms are available at the two-story Yakal Hall (Php3,000 overnight for three to five guests). It’s spacious rooms have a small veranda at the back.
There are other cottages and rooms within the park—named after trees—that are equally affordable: the Governor’s Cottage and PEO’s Cottage (Php1,000 overnight for five guests), Mahogany Hall (Php2,000 overnight for five to seven guests), and log cabins at the Narra Hall (Php10,000 overnight for 10 guests).
For events like weddings, the park’s pavilion or Acacia Hall (Php500 per hour; Php2,500 per day) is also available.
Food is available at the park’s canteen, where guests can try local cuisine while eating at an open-air hut.
Aradana says guests can reserve accommodations ahead of time to ensure that they have a room to stay in while at the park.
“We accept reservations on our official Facebook and Instagram pages,” Aradana says. “They can simply search for Lower Magat Eco-Tourism Official on social media and send a message.”
Leave no trace
Picking flowers or plants is prohibited. “We have what we call LNT,” Aradana says. “Anywhere inside the park, guests should abide by a ‘Leave No Trace’ policy.”
Cutting trees in the area is not allowed, too. DENR’s Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) monitors the trees thriving or propagated for reforestation purposes.
Just like most destinations in the past year or two, Lower Magat Eco-Tourism Parks had to close.
“There was a time when, unfortunately, some employees tested positive so we had to stop operations,” Aradanas says. “Now, we’ve reopened to the public.”
All of its staff have since been fully vaccinated and are ensuring the park’s smooth operations for 8 A.M. to 5 P.M.
Apart from an entrance fee (Php50) which allows access to most parts of the park, and a parking fee (Php25) if visiting by car, park staff are requiring a vaccination card, and for health and safety protocols like social distancing, wearing of face masks, and hand sanitizing are followed.
All tourist destinations in Nueva Vizcaya have health and safety protocols in place to protect locals and visitors alike. Everyone is expected to comply by wearing face masks, regularly washing their hands, and practicing physical distancing.
To check out up-to-date information regarding local destinations that are open and the safety protocols and requirements needed for each location, you may visit philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app at app.philippines.travel, Apple Store, or Google Playstore.