Hiking Up Hanginan – Maasin City’s Miraculous Pilgrimage Site

Contributed by The Bisaya Traveler

Hanginan – one of Leyte’s most revered pilgrimage sites – has been on my personal travel wish-list, for the past 6 months. From fellow adventurer Marj of Dakilang Laagan to a trio of Facebook followers, many have raved and praised about the awe-inspiring scenery and spiritual feel of this mountainous village in Maasin ity. And finally, I, together with my wife (Mrs. Bisaya Traveler), got the opportunity to hike the Hanginan trail and see its miraculous site – the San Francisco Javier Shrine.

Although the trail overall is a little short (about 3 kilometres), it was still a sweet, blissful and slightly exhausting hike. Not to mention, it gave me dozens of incredible snaps of the awe-inspiring panoramas of Maasin’s verdant side.

Also read: 10 Beginner-Friendly Hiking Trails in the Philippines

Our Hanginan hiking experience

We barely got any sleep, the night prior to our hike to Hanginan. With excitement building up and the typical not-so-comfortable boat bunk bed as my night’s accommodation, I only had a few minutes of sleep, as we were making our way to Bato, Leyte via an inter-island boat service from Cebu.

And, upon our arrival, we took a short V-hire ride to Manhilo, Maasin – my wife’s hometown, to leave our things and get some nourishment before our hike. I didn’t eat a lot, however, munching only a FitBar and a piece of freshly baked cheese bread. As for my wife, I didn’t notice what she was eating, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t much.

Without wasting any time, we took a couple of tricycle rides to reach the jump off point to Hanginan. From there, we commenced our hike and set sights on reaching one of the most sacred sites in the Visayas region.

Along the way, I saw a line of houses and stores on each side, selling a variety of items and products, from candles to energy drinks. In addition, there were habal-habal drivers offering their services, for those who want to reach the pinnacle, without taking a step on its rugged trail. Judging by these sights, I guess Hanginan is a pretty popular site in Maasin, Leyte.

Moments later, we noticed that the trail was getting steeper and more rugged. With loose stones, sharp rocks and hilly inclines, this weather-beaten path can certainly present a challenge to the hiking newbie.

To make things interesting and even more challenging, there was a multitude of slippery spots, on our way to the San Francisco Javier Shrine as well. Luckily, I came prepared, bringing my trusty pair of shoes rather than my slippery sandals.

My wife did take stops on our way up Hanginan. Even though she has scaled Hanginan in her youth, she hasn’t been following a fitness regimen as of late. Plus, it’s been really a long while since the last time she hiked a mountain.

Nevertheless, she had a swell time exploring the summits and mountains of Southern Leyte with the Bisaya Traveler.

We continued to walk, until we got treated to an enthralling overlooking view of Southern Leyte.

We, obviously, enjoyed the view and took tons of shots from this incredibly awesome vantage point along the Hanginan trail.

As much as I hate facing the camera, a couple-shot with my wife was mandatory. If I didn’t give into her plea, she might go berserk in the midst of our hike. Just kidding, though.

We proceeded with our hike to Hanginan and took breaks, whenever my wife needed one. Needless to say, I could sense how exhausted she was. But like any inspiring husband, I tried to uplift her spirit and gave her some motivation, through my theatrics and unusual words of encouragement (I literally talk to my wife with no filter).

I’m not sure if it worked, but it was still worth a shot.

Ultimately, we saw a verdant, grassy hill that, as she has said, offers an outstanding view of the city.

She told me to climb the hill and savour the views from the top.

And she was absolutely right! The views from this spot are nothing short of spectacular!

Then, we moved on with our hike to Hanginan, passing by lovely spots with great vistas. Every time we saw something nice, we made a quick stop, soaked up the atmosphere, and took a bunch of photographs.

Furthermore, we passed by small communities and tiny flower plantations that gave us a glimpse of the local culture of Hanginan.

There were kids, who quite frankly were a bit pesky, asking for money, to buy food. I really wanted to help them, but everyone knows that these youngsters won’t use the money for food. So, instead of handing out my coins and small bills, I gave them my snacks.

After nearly an hour of hiking, we’ve reached the base of San Francisco Javier Shrine. Afterwards, we took the final ascent to the church.

As we were making our way to the shrine, we got treated to a ton of striking photos of Leyte’s mountains and landscapes.

Though these mountains may not be as symmetrical as the famed Chocolate Hills, they somehow reminded me of Bohol’s icons.

Eventually, we arrived at the entrance of the shrine.

Compared to the Simala Shrine, the San Francisco Javier Shrine is rather meek and modest. Still, I could feel an aura of holiness inside the church.

Also read: 18 Picturesque Churches and Chapels in the Philippines

We set foot inside the shrine to pray and make a wish (they say wishes do come true when you pray in this shrine). Then, we lit up a quartet of candles and left the church.

Since our stomachs were grumbling, we decided to eat our brunch and buy some refreshments at an eatery, on the way down.

And yes, the eatery also had some fantastic sights.

I couldn’t even concentrate on eating my food because I was so distracted by the view.

With our bodies replenished and spirits uplifted, it was time to head down to the heart of Maasin City. I was planning to go downhill through the traditional Hanginan trail, but my wife had other plans.

She wanted to take a habal-habal ride via the newly paved road to the city proper, so she can see the beautiful landscapes of this part of Maasin. We did argue, but in the end, it is the wife who always has the last word.

And once again, she was right. While were weaving our way through the city’s highlands, we caught sight of many of green hills, mounds and mountains. Hopefully, one day, in God’s time, I will have the chance to explore these mountains.

Never underestimate a mountain

“Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence” – Nemann Buhl. That was just one of the few lessons I’ve learned, as we were hiking the Hanginan trail in Southern Leyte.

Honestly, I thought our Hangingan trek was going to be a walk in the park. After all, I have tons of hiking experiences under my belt, as well as survived dozens of long morning runs without sleeping and eating breakfast.

While I didn’t feel exhausted after the hike, I felt that we should have made some preparations, especially since my wife isn’t as active and energetic as I am. I didn’t take a sip of water for the whole duration of the hike, but we nonetheless ran out of water. Next time, I’ll encourage my wife to get as much sleep as she can, pack plenty of water and eat a full and healthy breakfast before taking on any mountain.

Things to take note

  • Fare for habal-habal ride from Hanginan to the city proper is ₱60 per person.
  • The trail is pretty straightforward, and there’s no need to hire a guide.
  • Don’t forget to say your prayers.
  • Bring water and trail food. Prices for food and drinks in Hanginan are fairly higher than usual.

How to get there

From Cebu, there are boats departing every night (around 8 to 8.30pm) to Bato, Leyte. Fare is ₱220 to ₱265 per person. From there, take a V-hire ride (₱50) to Maasin City and ask the driver or conductor to drop you off at the historic Maasin Cathedral. Then, charter a tricycle ride to the base of Hanginan (₱10).

Alternatively, there are also ferries and fast-crafts from Cebu that will take you directly to Maasin. For those who are flying from Manila, the closest airport to Maasin City is, as far as I know, in Tacloban. There are V-hires from Tacloban that can take you to the city of Maasin too.

Where to go next?

Visit the nearby Monte Cueva and the tropical island paradise Canigao Island in Matalom, Leyte.

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