Sport climbing at Cantabaco, Philippines

An island paradise, friendly people and great climbing

The Philippines is a fantastic nation made up of 7641 islands, a population of 110 million people and 90% of the people, Christian. Cebu is a cigar shaped island found in the middle of the Philippines. I first heard of this place from a Brasilian climber, Alex who had spent many months in Thailand on Tonsai climbing and gone to visit the Filipino guys he had been climbing with. He told me “James you would love it, so green, great climbing, super tasty food and the nicest people you will meet.” This seemed like a good recommendation because Alex, is one of the nicest people I have ever met. Finally, ten years later I made it to this place and was not disappointed.

Cantabaco is an hour west of Cebu city and the small village is situated along the road. There are a collection of small shops, bakeries, fruit stores, roaster farms, restaurants and jungle all around. Across the road stands the forty meter tall cliff, which features pockets, dishes, jugs, underclings, crimps, and tufas. The yellow, grey and white limestone is absolutely fantastic to climb but requires strong core tension, aggressive foot work, ability to climb in humid sweat producing conditions and heaps of forearm endurance.

To get to the crag, the approach from Cantabaco is five minutes, just ask any local where is the climbing and they will tell you the way. Once you cross the small creek, pay the ten peso a climber fee at the building with the billiards table, you walk behind it and around a house with pigs, giant goldfish and roasters. Go through the tin gate and follow the only trail towards the enormous bamboo trees and proceed up some stairs to the cliff.

The Cantabaco cliff is divided into 5 sectors to help with route orientation. Sector 1 is the first area you arrive at and is the tallest wall with the highest concentration of routes. The climbing is on a solid, slopey pocketed limestone with long routes 20 to 32 meters (6b+ to 8b+). There are about 20 variations and on the right side is a short steep wall 8 variations from 5b to 8a+. Sector 2 is found by following the trail down to a big tree with 15 routes from 6a- 7c+. Sector 3 has new clean glue  bolts with 10  routes from 5c+ to 7a. Sector 4 is a shady, mossy area with banyon trees and vines on the wall, there are 10 routes with grades ranging from 5a to 6b+. Sector 5 is the multi pitch area with two pitch routes 5a-7a. There are various variations after the first pitches.

After taking a taxi up to Cantabaco we dropped our stuff at the local homestay for the Filipino and foreign climbers (Yoly Aling Guest House). We had arrived the day of a babies christening and there were lots of family and friends around eating and chatting we were invited for lunch. After a delicious meal of  rice, noodles, vegetables and sweets we headed up to the crag. It was cloudy, misty and with a light rain but we were keen to check it out. I had been in contact with a local Cebu climber (Jun), and he had told Yoly we would arrive.  The crag was super simple to find, and we were there in ten minutes as we stopped to say hi to locals wave and generally turn our heads to try to take it all in. At the cliff we met Jun (Cebu climber) his wife and his friends Joshua and Sunshine. I had the same expectation when I visit a new crag, take it slow and easy to learn the rock and style. That afternoon I climbed some moderate climbs and walked the cliff to look at all the routes.

While we talked to the locals about climbing in the Philippines and the history of Cantabaco and  there seems to be a lot of potential but progress is slow. They said the majority of good climbing is here with about 100 routes but of  course there are a few other areas being bolted.

Some of the top routes were Cinamon (7a). It was a fantastic challenge not too out of reach, but thought-provoking enough. I did climb Hot Chocolate (6c), but I am not sure if the sweat was from the heat or the sheer terror of climbing on sun bleached slings, luckily I had some runners that I was able to use. Kathi enjoyed Vulva (6a), well bolted with glue ins, huge holds, big moves and wee bit of steepness.  One day we climbed with Raymund who had his draws on Vina Kulafo (6c), a vertical  test piece on the main wall with a super powerful move to enter the route and then endurance and a few slopey feet hold to finish, he polished it off on the second attempt.

Each night we wandered into town to buy veggies and listen to all roaster cackling as they were excited from the sunset. Back at the home stay we cooked some vegetables, drank some electrolyte drink and had a cold shower to clean the sweat off.

A big part of the male culture in the Philippines is cock fighting. This involves a battle between two roasters with razor blades fixed to the legs and the men place bets on which animal will kill the other one. The local cock fighting ring is noisy and I imagine very bloody, it is visible from the road but I never went inside. While we were in Cantabaco there were two afternoons of fights lasting about 4 hours and the loud spectator screams could be heard at the cliff.

From my interactions with the Visaya people they believe in good will to travelers. After a week of staying and climbing at Cantabaco I was satisfied, healthy, light-hearted, fitter,  and browner. My last climb was the thirty meter long Never Ending Journey 7a+ it took all of the quick draws we had and I had to skip a bolt.  I climbed it in the last light of the day with a light wind and still had sweat on my forehead.


How to get there – Once in Cebu city take a taxi to Cantabaco (2000 peso). The other option is bus to Lutopan (120 peso) and then a moto taxi.

When to go – It  was at least 30 degrees in December but the late afternoon provided good temperatures. Windy and cloudy days are also good. I was told that May, June and July is the really hot season.

What to Climb -Nut Tree 5, Vulva 6a, Pork Barrel 6a+, Cock fighter man 6b, Oh Baby 6b, Paris Hilton 6b+, HotChocolate 6c  22m, Vina Kulafo 6c 22m, Itchy Crossing 6c 25m, Alma matter 6c+, Cinamon 7a 22m, Kanta Ba Ako 7a 15m, Chikinna 7a 15m, Never Ending Journey 7a+ 30m, Canta 7b 30m, Roller Coaster 7b+ 30m, La Filthy Gringas 7c+ 22m, White Flower 8a 22m, Jack Sparrow 8b+ 30m



Rest day and Shopping – A ten-minute moto ride away (10 peso) is the small town Lutopan providing roast chicken, a church, pharmacy, veggie shops, convenience store, various used clothing shops, market, and general funk can be found and bought. There are at least ten small restaurants for great Filipino food.



Where to stay – Cantabaco at the purified water factory, Yoly and Len are super nice people and have been supporting climbers for many years with private room, toilet and fan (450 peso). There is also a kitchen to use, purified water, stove, fridge, and all cooking paraphernalia.


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