Top 7 Things to Do in Bolinao 2023

Patar White Beach Vista

The best things to see and do in Bolinao:

  1. Bolinao Falls

  2. Cape Bolinao Lighthouse

  3. Patar White Beach

  4. St James the Fortress Parish 

  5. Balingasay River Cruise and Sungayan Grill

  6. Patar Rock Formation

  7. Snorkelling

  8. Bonus content – Where to stay, the best way to get there and personal stories to learn from.

Bolinao, Pangasinan

Known for its variety of falls, Bolinao enjoys a popularity that seems to only be rising post pandemic. With a host of man-made and natural sights, white sand, deep blue water and rocky coal outcrops ready for exploration, Bolinao has long been a favourite with local and international tourists.

Just five hours drive north of Manila, a significant number of Filipinos regularly visit the windswept and interesting shores of Bolinao – which is a testament to its appeal as much as its accessibility.

Falls 1

Photo by: China D

Along with its natural beauty, Bolinao has a rich history that is reflected in its Spanish-era buildings, as well as its native archaeological sites and artefacts that were around well before Magellan took his first creaking steps on a carrack.

Records claim that Bolinao was founded by a Spanish Capitan in 1575, however, evidence and folk-stories pre-dating King Philip II’s reign indicate that there was a settlement before the official Spanish Royal Decree that marked its creation.

By native account, Bolinao was a small fishing village. Some say it was named for a species of once abundant fish, others that it was after the trees that formally lined the shores. One other Tagalog story, which will amuse those who know how half of the Philippine population name their children, claims that Bolinao was named after a couple - Bolido and Anao.     

Bolido and Anao

Leaping forward to 2019, over half-a-million people visited the shores of Pangasinan and 84,000 mga tao call Bolinao home. The great covid invasion of 2020/1 killed previous tourism figures, but thankfully it didn’t hang around as long as the Spanish (although it felt like it at times).

Now, with borders once again open to international tourists, Bolinao is ready to welcome new-comers along-side its regulars - those that have been happy to make it their go-to-holiday destination long before we knew what a lockdown was. Considering some of the Philippines most popular destinations, such as Boracay, welcome around 2 million tourists a year, Bolinao also provides a tropical getaway without the crush.

If you’re looking to take the family, your single-self or your significant other for a well-earned break to a place where you can swim, walk on the beach, explore ancient caves and marvel at 17th century Spanish architecture, Bolinao is a great choice.

Location and Language

Located on the west coast of Luzon (the north island of the Philippines), Bolinao is the most northern town in Pangasinan province.

Map of Bolinao

The local dialect is Binubolinao and is the second most widely spoken of the Central Luzon languages (or Sambalic languages). Due to Bolinao’s location, most locals can also speak Pangansinan and Ilocano. Then, of course, the lingua franca of the country – Tagalog. Just to show off, the clever bunnies can also throw some English shapes.

Things to Do

Bolinao Falls


It’s well-known that Bolinao is lined by long beaches – it is on the low-lying coast after all. However, due to the fact that Bolinao is also surrounded by the hills of Bani to the south, natural runoff surging its way downstream as gravity insists has created a few spectacular waterfalls that run into the Balingasay River. Hidden by forest cultivated just enough for tourists to reach without too much trouble, these falls are an unexpected contrast to an area known for fine white sand and exposed rocky outcrops.

There are 3 falls in total for tourists to swim and, should your puso allow, to leap from. After paying an environmental official the standard fee for tourist sites, a dirt road with sign posts leads you to each of the falls.

  • Falls 1 (big falls)

    Falls 1

Photo by: China D

  • The tallest of the three, Falls 1 also has a deep lagoon to match the high drop. It’s still family friendly though, with shallow areas and helpful bamboo bridges aiding access between rocks. Just make sure you have your camera ready so you don’t need to make your family member do the jump again.

  • Falls 2 (Small falls)

Falls 2 jumpFalls 2

Photo by: China D
  • Significantly smaller than Falls 1, it gives those who want to jump off something - but without the cardiac arrest - a chance to leap. A flight of wooden stairs takes you down to the wide falls and swimming area. At the top are a number of picnic tables with a clear view of the falls and all the activity.

  • Fall 3 

    Falls 3, is known as the less popular but pretty one. Very scenic with a big water basin for easy swimming, this is the place for those that want to limit their daily adrenaline intake as well as get away from the crowds.

Price: P40 environmental fee for each person. P20/person for each fall. 

Cape Bolinao Lighthouse


Located at the sharp end of Cape Bolinao, the lighthouse is one of the oldest in the Philippines.

Cape Bolinao Lighthouse Walking the 5 dogs Cape Bolinao Lighthouse

Photo by: China D

And at 107 metres above sea level, Cape Bolinao Lighthouse is also the second highest in the country (after Cape Bojeador Lighthouse).

There are 140 steps to the top of the lighthouse which, unfortunately, is closed-off to tourists. However, the outer part of the lighthouse is well maintained and therefore instagramable.

Unlike the lighthouse, its former administrative building is open to the public – and the sky since its roof went missing – and allows climbers in the form of wild plants to spread across its nooks and crannies. The dilapidated but beautiful building lends itself to gorgeous dramatic shots, making it popular with tourists. All of this is set to a backdrop of sky, cliffs, sea and bougainvilleas.  

Cape Bolinao Lighthouse View of sea

Photo by: China D

Price: Free. A small parking fee if you’ve hired a car and driven there.

Patar White Beach


Well known and loved by tourists and locals alike for its beauty, this beach will also manage to use its charms to keep reeling you back time and again. A characteristic which makes it so charming is its vastly contrasting features that sit perfectly side by side.

Patar White Beach with Rocks

Photo by: China D

From soft white sand to rocky outcrops (make sure to bring rubber footwear for exploring), palm tree shade to sunny open sky, the impossibly bright blue water that becomes gorgeous shades of pastels at sunset, and the small vendors that sell anything from souvenirs, to band-aids (did I mention the sharp rocks?) and beer, both Patar White Beach’s natural and man-made features create an interesting and awe inspiring place to wander, swim, relax and get the all-important pasalubong essentials.

Patar White Beach sunset

Photo by: China D

Price: It is free to enter the beach, however, if you want a bit of semi-private shade and comfort, you can rent a “cottage” for around 300 – 1000 pesos a day. The beach and cottages are dog friendly, an allowance that our five fur kids used to the limit, claiming a cottage as their own and barking at anything that came near to their heart’s content.  

Patar White Beach Cottage

Photo by: China D

St. James the Fortress Parish (1609)


One of the oldest and tallest structures in the Philippines, it was made in the early 17th century using black coral stones – a characteristic that puts a tagalog twist on the Spanish Renaissance style building.

St James Parish Church

Its edifice alone is worth the trip, instantly transporting you back to a time when empires ruled, men fought over spices and God had the final say. If the length of time the place has been upright and working isn’t impressive enough, the baptism of classical elements it has survived should be. Starting with Earth, a quake severely damaged the church tower in 1788, reducing the tallest structure in Pangansinan to half its size. Then a fire destroyed the church convent in 1819 and in 2009 the strong winds and the heavy rain of typhoon Emong left the church with damage that is still being fixed.

Open daily, it is free to enter.

Balingasay River Cruise and Sungayan Grill


Named the cleanest river in Region 1 - and thought to be the cleanest in the entire country - Balingasay River winds for 7 km through a beautiful and diverse landscape that supports an array of wildlife, sea creatures and old mangrove forests. The falls (mentioned above) are one of several outlets that flow into the river and they can also be accessed from it.

You can explore the river by renting a boat for around 500 pesos, or, if you prefer the sea life on your plate, you can dine at the Sungayan Grill and eat while you cruise the clear water.

Balingsay River Cruise

At the Sungayan Grill, named after the local species of fish also known as “the unicorn” fish, you also have the option of dining without the moving in a nipa style hut. The full menu is very reasonably priced with dishes ranging between 100 – 300 pesos.  

Sungayan Grill with Cruise: P1000 max. 12 pax, P1,500 13-18 pax, P2000 19 – 30 pax.

Patar Rock Formation


Rock Formation

Photo by: China D

Sculpted by Mother Nature over millennia and yours to enjoy if but for a moment. Located along Patar Road near Patar White Beach and Cape Bolinao Lighthouse, the natural rock formation hangs precariously over the clear blue water that has battered it into a reflection of itself. The perfect opportunity to take a surfing shot on top of a rock-made wave. 

Go Snorkelling


With crystal clear water and abundant sea life harboured by beautiful rock formations, Bolinao offers plenty of places to dive in and discover. As well as those mentioned above, Patar White Beach and the falls, you can also try snorkelling Balingasay sanctuary, Ilog malino beach, Silaki Island shoreline and Santiago Island Shoreline. Don’t forget your goggles (or if you totally did, buy some at a local vendor) and get exploring.  

Getting there


Depending on your transport situation, you can get to Bolinao with relative ease by bus or car. Either way, you’re in for a fabulous road trip with beautiful scenery.

By Bus - approx. 6 hours

From Manila, you can take a bus directly to Bolinao from Cubao or Pasay. Prices vary between the Victory Liner and Five Star bus companies – one way tickets will be around P351 – P469.  

From Dagupan, you can get a bus to Bolinao via either Alaminos City or Baguio. Take a van to Alaminos City and from there, you can catch a bus direct to Bolinao for around P90 and the journey will only take about 1 hour. Alternatively, you can take a bus to Baguio for around P250 and go direct to Bolinao from there. Bus Prices from Baguio are around P300 – P500. Travel time is around 5 hours.  

From Pampanga, catch a bus direct to Bolinao from Dau Terminal. Victory Liner or Five Star bus companies charge around P350 and take around 6 hours to get you there.

By Car (Including Car Hire) – approx. 5 hours

Bolinao Road Sign

Photo by: China D

If you would like to take on the road trip to Bolinao yourself and you have use of a private vehicle, congratulations on being mayaman (what do you do for a living?).

Pero, walang kotse? Walang problema.

As mentioned in our La Union blog, hiring a car in the Philippines is very straightforward, requiring only a driver’s licence and your passport (or other form of ID if you’re a local). Unlike most hire car places elsewhere in the world, as long as the car is brought back in the same condition that it left (mud and dirt excluded) you won’t be charged for the number of miles - or even need to refill the tank for some hire car places. You’ll just be charged a flat rate based on the number of days you’re hiring the vehicle for – around 1,400 to 2000 pesos per 24 hours is standard. There may be a cleaning fee added, this will be around 200 pesos.

Coming from the south, the TPLEX expressway makes getting at least halfway to Pangansinan very straightforward. After exiting, although distance wise you’ve already covered most of it, time wise you still have a few hours of single lanes, slow moving tricycles and overloaded push bikes to navigate. The roads are paved and fairly well maintained so there aren’t too many potholes in which to fall prey. 

Driving in the Philippines

If it’s your first time driving in the provinces or in the Philippines altogether, here are a few must know things:

  • There will be a number of intersections that, for reasons only known to the local government, do not have traffic lights. If you stop and wait for the traffic to clear, you’ll be there until Jesus returns. The protocol is to slow down, stop if need be and to slowly push your way into the traffic. It sounds scary, but the traffic will give way.

  • Toyota Hi-aces are the fastest vehicles on the road (they're generally carrying high paying tourists) and will overtake anything at any time, even if there is on-coming traffic. Do not be tempted to follow suit otherwise you may find yourself in front of a fast-moving truck.

  • Motorbikes driven by holiday makers are menaces and often travel in groups. Watch for them tearing up your side.

  • Just as you manage to pass the tricycle or pushbike you’ve been following at 20km/h for the last 15mins, another one will pull out. Be on the look-out at all times for the many and varied vehicles that share the road with regular traffic. The slower and more awkward the vehicle, the less likely it is to look before pulling out in front of you.

Driving in the Philippines

Photo by: China D

For the average family, getting to Bolinao from Manila is fairly straightforward, especially with the aid of a GPS. For our family holiday, we needed to hire an entire people mover – a Toyota Hi-ace. I managed to pack seven kids, five dogs, an uncle, a mum and a wife, along with the paraphernalia that is required for a smooth stay away from home – food, clothes, pots and a kettle for the copious amounts of kappe required for the adults to maintain order.

We made it there and back without incident (if you don’t count the number of times our dogs tried to claim the territory as their own by barking as loudly as they could to anything that moved) – if we can do it, so can you (we believe in you!).

Where to Stay

Ruth Transient

Needing a place that would accommodate 11 people and 5 dogs, we thought we might be sleeping in a multi-star hotel – outside. Luckily, we came across Ruth Transient. The owner is absolutely lovely, not only for allowing us and our ferals to stay in her accommodation, but also for all the little favours she was willing to grant. She even met us on her push bike at the end of the road to help us locate the place. It was probably easier than trying to get us to understand directions over the phone, but nonetheless she (literally) went that extra mile.

The room was spacious, clean and air-conditioned. The washroom is in Filipino style, meaning a tabo is required for flushing. However, all amenities are recently installed and functioning well. One of the best features is the private outdoor kitchen just outside the door for late night and early morning chills.

The location couldn’t get much better either – just metres away from Patar White Beach. Plus, there’s a sari-sari store conveniently located directly under the room.

Rock View Beach Resort

Not just an area to view the natural rock formation, you can stay here too. The Rock View Beach Resort offers air-conditioned rooms at a very reasonable price (around $50 per night) considering the priceless view. If you don’t mind trading in a little comfort, you can pitch your tent for even less – as the saying goes, only 3 things matter when looking for a place: location, location, location.  

Puerto Del Sol Beach Resort

If you’re looking for something a little more luxurious - a place to treat yourself and maybe that someone special too – this beachside resort offers a way, in several different styles, to do just that.

With four room types to choose from, including the fanciest bahay kubo you’re likely to see and mansion villas, it’s not just your perfectly made bed that will be comfortable - your entire experience will be aided by air-conditioning, mini bars, private verandas and amenity kits. In the public areas, clean pools that seem to stretch all the way to the South China Sea are favourites among visitors. The terrific service of the resort staff is also well noted.   

Featured in 5 Top-Rated Bolinao Beach Resorts by Philippine Beaches (, it has the endorsement of Philippine locals as well as international tourists.

Here's a visual representation of all the places covered in this blog. Enjoy Bolinao!  

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