Bucari, one of the barangays/sitios (subvillages) in the municipality of Leon, Iloilo, had been making some “noise” within several travelers’ groups in social media and in almost anywhere. Because this town is not very far from the city we live in, we decided to visit Bucari to understand why this far-flung place continue to attract hordes of visitors every passing day.
Going to Bucari, Leon is not hard to do. Perhaps it is because we are from Iloilo ourselves and one of us had lived for some time in a barangay not far Bucari itself.
How to get there?
If you are from the airport, ship/ferry terminal or from city, you may ask a cab driver to take you to Jaro Big Market located just at the back of the Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral. Once there, ask around for the jeepneys or vans en route to Leon, Iloilo. Travel time from Jaro to Leon is more or less an hour.
When you arrive at Leon municipal plaza, look for tricycles that will take you the terminal of jeepneys bound for Bucari.
By jeepney: It should be noted that the trip schedule of jeepneys going to and from Bucari is not fixed, depending on the weather and road conditions. But in regular days, the first jeepney from Bucari going to the town leaves at 7 in the morning and it will go back to Bucari at around 2 in the afternoon. This means that if you want to take a jeepney (fare is 50 pesos per way), you must know beforehand the exact time the next trip going to and from Bucari leaves.
If you are more adventurous, consider positioning yourself on top of the roof of the jeepney with other locals and tourists to see a 360-degree view of the mountains.
By motorbike: Taking a motorbike is a fast and more convenient alternative. We actually took a jeepney going to Bucari and a motorbike coming back to the town the next day. Motorbike fare is 150 pesos per person, per way.
By bicycle: If you want to level up your adventure and you’ve got the strength to maneuver your bicycle on steep and winding roads along the edges of the mountain , bike your way up to the campsite. Note: Exercise extreme caution when you take the bike. Roads are steep, very slippery during rainy season, and debris fall from sides of the mountain.
By private vehicle. As long as your car is capable of going up and down steep roads, you should not have problems with driving your car going to and from the campsite. Again, exercise caution when driving especially when it is raining or if it’s your first time going there.
No matter what transportation you choose to take, you can be sure that you will not get lost going to and from Bucari. Jeepney and motorbike drivers are very friendly and could be your instant tour guides when you try to strike a conversation with them.
You’ll know when you are getting close to the campsite when the air starts to smell of fresh pine and dew, the wind that blows on your face gets colder and colder, and the canopy of pine trees grow thicker and thicker. So don’t miss taking them all in and take a long breath of fresh air and forget all your worries.
What to see and do in Bucari?
The best thing Bucari provides (at least for us) is a cooler environment, which is something to relish on when you are living in a humid city most of the year. Other activities include, but not limited to:
Tabionan Reforestation Area. This is the main camping site area where 30 to 50-year old pine trees grow in more than 5,000 hectares of government-protected land. Go back to simple, rural living by pitching a makeshift canvas or plastic tent to protect your body from cold and stray animals, preparing your food using traditional stove and utensils, drinking water from a cold spring, and wandering in mosquito-infested environs, especially during the night. But doing these things will remind you of the fact that human beings only need quite a few essential things to survive. Forget about cellphone signal and internet because they are non-existent here (good or bad thing, you decide).
Mansiga Viewing Deck. After an almost an hour of uphill climb with sweat dripping all over your body, a panoramic view of the mountain ranges of Alimodian and Leon, Iloilo will welcome you and make you forget your quench for water and the nagging pain of sore feet. There is also a fallen log that offers a more scenic view of the surrounding. You can take a photo walking the log for some spare coins (donation, as they say).
Puting Bato (White Rock). Another spot that you can go to and get amazing pictures is the Puting Bato (White Rock), which is a protruding rock formation that some tourists say resembles Pico de Loro in Batangas. Important note: Exercise caution when taking selfies or pictures on the rocks. You might slip, hurt any part of your body, or God forbid, fall into the crevasse.
Imoy Falls. We have to tell you that trekking down the way going to Imoy Falls can be an ordeal. We walked at least an hour with plenty of rests along the way. But when you finally reach a series of waterfalls that culminates at Imoy Falls, you will instantly forget all the hardships of your journey.
Farm Terraces. On the way to Imoy falls, walk along the beaten path and enjoy a 360-degree view of Alimodian-Leon boundary. Say hello to the local farmers tending their rich and lush rice field grown with other variety of high-value crops.
Bonfire. One of the highlights of our stay in Tabionan camp site is the lighting of bonfire. For a fee of 100 pesos, you can request a pile of logs from the camp site staff that you can use for your bonfire. For us, however, we decided to gather woods by ourselves and make our own bonfire. We talked and drank, and laughed around our bonfire until the wee hours of the morning, warm and cozy.
How much you’ll spend?
There is no definite budget to set when visiting Bucari because there are several options that you can choose from when it comes to transportation, place to stay, and food allowance. How much you’ll spend will depend on the choices that you’ll make. One thing for sure is that you’ll spend less.
-Jeepney fare from Jaro to Leon is 30 pesos per person, per way. Van fare is 40 pesos per person, per way. Jeepney fare from Leon town proper to Bucari to is 50 pesos per person, per way. Student, senior citizen, and PWD discounts apply on weekdays as well.
-Motorbike fare is 150 pesos per person, per way.
-If you travel with your bicycle or private vehicle, only think about of your car’s fuel.
-If you choose the campsite, you need to pay 100 pesos for overnight stay if you have your own tent.
-If you decide to rent a tent from the campsite, rental fee varies depending on the size of the tent (from 300 to 500 pesos per night which can accommodate 8 to 10 persons).
-There is also an exclusive spa resort close to the campsite, Pineridge Bucari, which offers wellness and mountain exploration activities. We’ve never been to it, but we heard that you need to book the place months before the day of your visit.
-There are “carinderias” or native restaurants at the entrance of the campsite that serve native dishes.
-If you’re on a budget, bring your own food and cook at the communal, traditional kitchen for a minimal corkage fee.
-You may also request to have your food cooked by their staff for a fee.
-Entrance fee is voluntary or donation-based, at least the last we went there.
-Environmental fee at Imoy Falls is 20 pesos per person.
-If you want to take a motorbike instead of trekking to and from Imoy Falls, fare is 100 pesos per person, per way.
-There are organic and fresh produce sold at the entrance of the campsite for cheap prices. You might want to buy some of the local farmers’ fruits of their hard labor such as carrots, cabbage, broccoli, radish, sayote (chayote squash), among others.
All these things taken together validate Bucari’s now ubiquitous title: The Summer Capital of Iloilo. It’s the best place in Iloilo to retreat into the mountains for a while, experience the simplicity of rural living, and explore places that inspire owe and wonder.