But what is less well-known is that the Philippines is a mountainous country, too. Indeed, the Philippines is home to hundreds, maybe thousands, of mountains – from solitary peaks lording over entire landscapes, to ridges and pinnacles massed together in long and lofty ranges.
Concerning the latter, there are many mountain ranges to be found in the Philippines. Some are exceedingly long and extensive, such as the Sierra Madre. Some are of massive proportions, and tower to great heights, such as the Cordilleras. Still, others are remote and faraway, and very difficult to reach, like the Diwata and Daguma mountains of Mindanao, or the Mantalingahan range of Palawan. All, however, are of immeasurable value to the lives and lands around them, serving as havens and sanctuaries of old-growth forests and rich and rare biodiversity; sources of food, water, medicine, and livelihoods to indigenous peoples and other communities; and acting as carbon sinks, as well as natural defenses against typhoons, to name but a fraction of their importance.
Below is a list of the mountain ranges of the Philippines. Note that it is not an exhaustive catalog; a number of the country’s unnamed and unknown ranges have been excluded, to be added in once information about them becomes available. But the major mountain ranges of the Philippines, and the more minor but no less important ones have all been included.
1. Caraballo Mountains
HIGHEST POINT: Mount Palali (1,707 meters or 5,600 feet above sea level)
The Caraballo Mountains, or the Caraballos, is a mass of mountains sprawled on the central part of Luzon Island, between the Cordillera Central and Sierra Madre, two of the major mountain ranges of the Philippines. The Caraballo range follows a northwest-southeast trend that crosses through the provinces of Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, and Quirino.
Westwards, the Caraballo Mountains marches to meet the high peaks on the southern end of the far loftier Cordillera Central; eastwards, the Caraballo range advances until it unites with the extensive Sierra Madre arrayed along the eastern coastline of Luzon.
North of the Caraballos, the vast, fertile flatlands of the Cagayan Valley, encompassing farms, paddy fields, plantations, and pastures, and numerous well-peopled settlements, sweep into the distance, racing towards the northern coast of Luzon. It is from the mountain range that the Cagayan River, which flows through the Cagayan Valley, emerges, gathering the waters of small streams, springs, rivers, and other tributaries, until it swells in breadth, depth, and strength, becoming the broad and mighty torrent renowned as the longest river in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, to the south of the Caraballo range, the far reaching Central Luzon plain rolls on towards the cities gathered around Manila Bay and beyond. It is also from the mountain range that the Carranglan River issues forth to deliver its waters to the Pampanga River – the second largest river in Luzon (next only to the Cagayan River) and the Philippines’ fifth longest – that flows south through Central Luzon.
Mount Palali in Nueva Vizcaya comprises the highest point of the Caraballo Mountains. Its 1,707-m (5,600-ft) tall mass is clad with patches of forest that recede here and there into grasslands; while its summit affords panoramic views of the lowlands of the Cagayan Valley, as well as the mountainous uplands of the Cordillera Central and the Sierra Madre. It is said that on a clear day, even Pulag of the Cordilleras can be descried from atop Palali.
The Caraballo Mountains is one of the least-documented mountain ranges of the Philippines. But what is known is that, like Mount Palali, the rest of the mountain range is heavily forested, or at least it once was, for in many areas, the luxuriant forest cover has been utterly denuded for timber and farmland, leaving some mountains – and in extension the surrounding lowlands – bereft of protection from floods and landslides. The wildlife of the range is also known to be rich, though excessive hunting and poaching, not to mention logging and unsustainable agricultural methods, have taken a toll on the local faunal populations.
Fortunately, several portions of the range have been designated as protected areas. These include the Casecnan Protected Landscape and the Pantabangan–Carranglan Watershed Forest Reserve.
2. Central Panay Mountain Range
LENGTH: 94 km (58.4 mi)
HIGHEST POINT: Mount Madja-as (2,113 m or 6,932.4 ft ASL)
The Central Panay Mountain Range is stretched along the length of Panay Island, in the Visayas group of islands. Despite its name, the range is actually situated parallel to the western coast of the island, arrayed from the Sibuyan Sea on the north to the Panay Gulf in the south. West of the range are narrow coastal lands fronting the Sulu Sea; to its east are broad plains and flatlands – well-tilled and farmed, and densely populated – sprawling far and wide, until they reach the mass of hills that riddle the eastern coast of the island. The range’s course spans some 94 km (58.4 mi) in length, and passes through all the four provinces of Panay, namely Aklan, Capiz, Antique, and Iloilo.
The highest peak of the Panay range is Mount Madja-as (Madia-as) on its northerly portion. Madja-as, in the local language, means ‘lofty’, and lofty indeed is the mountain, boasting an elevation of 2,113 m (6,932.4 ft) ASL that renders it the highest point of the entire range; the highest point anywhere in Panay; and the second highest mountain in the Visayas, next only to Mount Kanlaon in Negros Island. A dormant volcano, the rain-washed slopes of Madja-as are heavily wrapped with misty forests, from which flow forth spectacular waterfalls and a number of springs and streams.
Southeast of Madja-as is the slightly shorter Mount Nangtud, separated only by the Dalanas River. At 2,073 m (6,801 ft) ASL, Nangtud is the second highest point of both the range and of Panay Island, and the third highest mountain in the Visayas.
Another noticeable peak of the range is Mount Baloy Daku (1,958 m or 6,424 ft ASL), which forms part of the central mass of the mountainous chain.
The Central Panay Mountain Range is a veritable oasis of globally significant biodiversity. Among the range’s more remarkable inhabitants are the Visayan hornbill (Penelopides panini), Walden’s hornbill (Rhabdotorrhinus waldeni), Negros bleeding-heart pigeon (Gallicolumba keayi), Panay striped babbler (Zosterornis latistriatus), Visayan spotted deer (Rusa alfredi), Visayan warty pig (Sus cebifrons), Panay cloudrunner (Crateromys heaneyi), and the Panay monitor (Varanus mabitang). Also, from the forested mountains of the range flow forth the fountainheads of all the largest rivers that drain Panay Island, including the Panay, Jalaur, Aklan, Sibalom, and Bugang Rivers.
Unfortunately, the Central Panay Mountain Range, like most, if not all, of the mountain ranges of the Philippines, is under threat from logging and poaching activities, as well as destructive agricultural practices, chief of which is slash-and-burn cultivation. A campaign to have the range be declared as a National Park, and thus be accorded much-needed protection, is underway.
3. Cordillera Central
LENGTH: 320 km (124.3 mi)
HIGHEST POINT: Mount Pulag (2,922 m or 9,587 ft ASL)
The Cordillera Central, more commonly known as the Cordilleras, is a gigantic array of mountains dominating the whole western half of Northern Luzon. It is the largest of all the mountain ranges in the Philippines, constituting around a sixth of the entire land area of Luzon.
The range is bounded to the north by Pasaleng Bay and the Babuyan Channel; west by the strips and slivers of flatlands of the Ilocandia along the shores of the West Philippine Sea; east by the broad, fertile lowlands of the Cagayan Valley; south by the vast Central Luzon plain; and southeast by the less lofty Caraballos, which connects the Cordilleras with the Sierra Madre further to the east.
From north to south, the entire Cordillera Central spans 320 km (124.3 mi) long, and encompasses all the provinces of the Cordillera Administrative Region, namely Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, and Mountain Province, along with the City of Baguio; as well as parts of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Pangasinan, Nueva Vizcaya, and Cagayan.
Historical accounts divide the Cordilleras into three component ranges, which are hardly discernible from one another. These are the Malayan Range (the Ilocos Range to some), which forms the northern and western part of the Cordilleras; the Central Range, which as its name implies, makes up the central mass of the Cordilleras; and finally, the Polis Range, which constitutes the eastern section of the Cordilleras. These divisions, however, are seldom mentioned today, and may very well have fallen out of official use.
In addition to being the largest, the Cordillera Central is also the highest of all the mountain ranges in the Philippines. It is surmounted by a multitude of peaks rising to heights above 2,000 m (6,562 ft) ASL. Of these lofty summits, a great number belong to the list of the highest peaks in Luzon and in the entire Philippines.
Foremost among the peaks of the Cordillera is Mount Pulag, which straddles the borders of Benguet, Ifugao, and Nueva Vizcaya. Pulag is elevated at an impressive height of 2,922 m (9,587 ft) ASL, making it the highest point of the range; the highest mountain in Luzon; and the third highest mountain in the Philippines, next to Apo and Dulang-Dulang in Mindanao. Pulag forms the focal point of the Mount Pulag National Park, one of several sections of the Cordilleras designated as protected areas.
Aside from figuring among the tallest, Mount Pulag, so-called the Playground of the Gods, is also one of the most famed mountains in the country, highly sought-after by novices and veteran climbers in equal measure. Its scenic, pine-clad trails lead to its rolling grassland summit where spectacular views of the ‘sea of clouds’ and, at dawn, the starry expanse of the Milky Way, reward the mountaineers willing to brave its damp and cold – and oftentimes freezing – climate.
Neighboring Pulag is Mount Tabayoc (2,842 m or 9,324 ft ASL) of Benguet, which stands as the second tallest peak in Luzon, and the seventh highest mountain in the Philippines. It is admired for the ancient forests that fully mantle its slopes and even its summit; and the four magnificent lakes of Ambulalakao, Incolos, Letep-Ngapos, and Tabeo that lie at its feet.
Mount Timbak (2,717 m or 8,914 ft ASL) of Benguet, the third tallest peak of Luzon, and the ninth highest mountain in the Philippines, also rises within sight of Pulag and Tabayoc. It is known especially as a very accessible climb.
Further afield, in Mountain Province, is Mount Amuyao (2,702 m or 8,865 ft ASL), another one of the highest mountains of the Philippines. Amuyao features well-established trails that pass through idyllic villages, terraced rice fields, and piney and mossy forests, all the way to its summit.
The Cordilleras is the ancestral domain of the six Igorot groups: the Ibaloi, Kankana-ey, Ifugao, Kalinga, Isneg (Apayao), and the Bontoc. Owing to their fervent love for their land and freedom, and their prowess in mountain warfare, the Igorots are one of only two peoples in the Philippines who were never colonized by the Spanish; the other are the Moros of Mindanao. Thus, the Igorots were able to preserve their way of living, and even to this day practice the same customs and traditions their ancestors had centuries ago.
It is the Igorots who built the high and extensive clusters of rice terraces upon the slopes of the hills, valleys, and mountains of the Cordilleras. These impressive terraced paddy fields are renowned worldwide, but none more so than those found in Ifugao, the rice terraces of Batad, Bangaan, Mayoyao, Hungduan, and Nagacadan, which have been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the collective name Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras.
The Cordillera Central is not only a cradle of ethnic culture and heritage; it is also a cornucopia of biodiversity. The range supports different types of habitats, notably tropical pine forests, which altogether house numerous species of flora and fauna, many of them rare and endemic. The range also hosts the headwaters of some of Luzon’s largest rivers.
But more noteworthy than the Cordilleras’ forests or rivers or its other natural resources is its mineral wealth. Deep within its mountains are vast veins of gold and immense deposits of other precious metals, making the Cordilleras the premier mining district of the Philippines.
Sadly, it would have been far better if the Cordilleras’ mineral bounty was never made known to the outside world, for mining has brought only little gain to the region and its indigenous folk. The mostly foreign-owned mining firms denuding the forests, leveling the mountains, gouging the earth, poisoning the rivers, and driving the Igorots from their ancestral homes, have gained riches beyond measure from the Cordilleras, but have paid little in compensation. Their profits go directly to enrich Metro Manila, or to their home countries, even though it is the Cordilleras and its people that suffer the consequences of their ruinous business.
4. Daguma Mountain Range
LENGTH: 180 km (111.8 mi)
The series of verdurous peaks and ridges known as the Daguma Mountain Range stretches along the southwestern coast of Mindanao Island, massed together along a northwest-southeast line that begins from the shores of Illana Bay (Iranun Bay) and runs towards the coast of Saranggani Bay on the southern tip of the island. In all, the Daguma range extends for some 180 km (111.8 mi) in length, straddling the provinces of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato, and Saranggani.
The northern portion of the Daguma range consists of low plateaus elevated only a few hundred meters above sea level. But as the range marches southeast, the mountains become loftier and more rugged, eventually forming the western and southern walls of the Allah Valley, an expanse of fertile land in South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat. The Allah Valley is bisected by the Allah River and the Banga River, whose headwaters issue from the Daguma mountains; the valley is well-populated, and is a popular tourist draw for its natural sceneries such as Lake Sebu.
There is no official source identifying the highest point of the Daguma mountains. It could very well be Mount Busa on the southern massif of the range, though some accounts claim that Busa forms a separate range of its own, while others declare it a part of the Tiruray Highlands. In any case, Busa rises to an elevation of 2,083 m (6,834 ft) ASL. It is the focal point of a key biodiversity area encompassing old-growth rainforests and many endemic species.
Another notable peak is Mount Parker, locally known as Mount Melibengoy, which stands at a height of 1,824 m (5,984 ft) ASL. The mountain, while impressive in itself, is more renowned for the wonder it hides in its summit – the mystical Lake Holon (or Lake Maughan), a volcanic crater lake with crystalline waters and a peaceful and scenic setting. But as with Mount Busa, there is no official source declaring whether Mount Parker is a part of the Daguma range, or of the Tiruray Highlands, or even a range of its own.
Indeed, there is a dearth of information about the Daguma mountains in general; it remains one of the many uncharted places in Mindanao, not to mention one of the least-explored mountain ranges of the Philippines. It is, however, known that the mountains are thickly forested; home to a vast biodiversity; and are rich in minerals, especially in coal reserves, which are reported to run to hundreds of millions of metric tons. The range and its vicinity are peopled by several indigenous tribes collectively known as the Lumad, among whom are the T’boli, Tiruray, B’laan, and the Manobo.
Unfortunately, the Daguma range, on account of its natural wealth, is beleaguered by the encroachment of massive, militarily-backed mining, logging, and plantation corporations. In the struggle for the mountains, the ethnic tribes who have been dwelling in the range for centuries now find themselves forced out of their ancestral domains, often violently. But even more unfortunate is the fact that the desperate plight of the Lumad, and the devastation of the Daguma mountains, have only garnered little attention, if at all.
5. Diwata Mountains
HIGHEST POINT: Mount Hilong-Hilong (2,012 m or 6,601 ft ASL)
Almost parallel to the eastern coast of the island of Mindanao runs the lengthy mountain range known as the Diwata Mountains (or the Diuta Mountains), trending south from the province of Surigao del Norte all the way to the Davao Region. West of these mountains lies the vast expanse of the Agusan Marshes, while to its east are pockets of coastlands fronting the Philippine Sea. At the central portion of the range, the high mountains dwindle to low, rolling hills elevated but a few hundred meters above sea level.
The Diwata Mountains is one of the least-known mountain ranges of the Philippines; not much is recorded of it, save that the range is densely forested and harbors a great number of endemic floral and faunal species. Several tribal communities of the Lumad also populate the mountains.
The highest point of the Diwata Mountains is found close to its northernmost end – Mount Hilong-Hilong, which has an elevation of 2,012 m (6,601 ft) ASL. It straddles the boundaries of the provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, and Surigao del Sur. Hilong-Hilong is rich in wildlife, particularly of endemic avifaunal species – even the mighty Philippine eagles (Pithecophaga jefferyi) are reported to nest in the mountain. Hilong-Hilong is also rich in pristine natural landscapes. However, its isolated setting, and the difficult passages to its summit, mean that only experienced mountaineers can witness the hidden wonders of the mountain.
But a more notable peak of the Diwata range is Mount Diwata, which stands in the southern portion of the mountain-array. Mount Diwata (1,261 m or 4,137 ft ASL), from which the name of the entire range is derived, is steeped in legend; it is said to be the home of diwatas – the nymphs, fairies, or goddesses of local lore. Diwata, too, is home to numerous and diverse species of endemic wildlife.
But it is neither the fairies nor the wildlife that have put Diwata on the map; it is the vast wealth of gold and copper hidden within its depths that has earned the mountain fame, or more likely, infamy. For upon discovery of this mineral hoard, a veritable gold rush ensued: thousands of miners and their families descended upon Diwata to claim their share of the precious minerals. And from the miners Mount Diwata earned the unfond nickname Mount Diwalwal, after the local idiom ‘diwalwal ang dila’ (‘one’s tongue hanging out’), the condition that miners find themselves in after a long day of toiling in the mountain.
The ensuing mining operations in Mount Diwata, most of which are illegal and exceedingly dangerous, have turned the once-pristine area into a polluted wasteland. Whole swaths of woods and forests have been stripped. Dirty and crowded shanty towns have cropped up around the mountain. The noxious fumes exhaled by the mines have poisoned the air, and their toxic vomit, which were disgorged on the rivers, have laced the water with deadly chemicals. And in these baneful conditions the miners and their families live, even to this day, exposed to numerous hazards, not least of which is mercury poisoning.
6. Hamiguitan Mountain Range
HIGHEST POINT: Mount Hamiguitan (1,620 m or 5,315 ft ASL)
The Hamiguitan Mountain Range is a narrow expanse of mountainous upland stretched along the length of the Pujada Peninsula, the strip of land jutting out from the southeastern coast of Mindanao and forming the eastern bounds of the Davao Gulf. The range, with an elevation of 75 to 1,620 m (246 to 5,315 ft) ASL, is shorter and smaller than most of the mountain ranges of the Philippines. But despite its size, the range is in fact one of the more important, and more renowned, anywhere in the country. For the Hamiguitan range is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of only six such sites in the Philippines, and the only one in Mindanao.
At the northern portion of the range rises Mount Hamiguitan (1,620 m or 5,315 ft ASL), the range’s principal peak as well as its highest, from which the entire chain of mountains is named after. Mount Hamiguitan is famed not for its stature; just west of the mountain are far taller peaks, including Apo and Talomo. Instead, Hamiguitan is renowned for the exceedingly rich and diverse wildlife populations it supports. The mountain forms the focal point of the Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected area that has earned its place in the World Heritage List in 2014.
The Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary encompasses five identified forest ecosystems, each found at succeedingly higher altitudes. These are the agroecosystem at around 75 to 420 m (246 to 1,378 ft) ASL; the dipterocarp forest ecosystem at 420 to 920 m (1,378 to 3,018 ft) ASL; the montane forest ecosystem at 920 to 1,160 m (3,018 to 3,806 ft) ASL; the mossy forest ecosystem at 1,160 to 1,350 m (3,806 to 4,429 ft) ASL; and finally the mossy-pygmy forest ecosystem at 1,160 to 1,600 m (3,806 ft to 5,249 ft) ASL.
Of the five forest ecosystems, the mossy-pygmy forest is the most noteworthy. It features a most unique and remarkable forest of century-old trees of bonsai proportions that have eked out a miraculous existence on a harsh and unfavorable environment. For the soil these trees grow on is ultramafic, laden with iron, magnesium, nickel, and other metallic elements which have rendered the trees dwarfed and stunted. The mossy-pygmy forest is the crowning glory of Mount Hamiguitan, both figuratively and literally, for indeed it covers the mountain’s summit with 1,234 ha of natural bonsai trees – the vastest pygmy forest anywhere in the world. In this surreal landscape, trees that otherwise grow to soaring heights – 30 to 60 m (98.4 to 197 ft) tall – are shrunk to short statures only around a meter high!
These ecosystems are veritable cornucopias of floral and faunal life, home to more than a thousand species of plants and animals, of which hundreds are endemic to the Philippines, such as the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi), Philippine cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia), Philippine tarsier (Carlito syrichta), and a number of species of Nepenthes, the carnivorous tropical pitcher plants; and several are found only in Mount Hamiguitan, like the butterfly Delias magsadana, the Hamiguitan hairy-tailed rat (Batomys hamiguitan), and the pitcher plant Nepenthes hamiguitanensis.
7. Kalatungan Mountain Range
HIGHEST POINT: Mount Kalatungan (2,860 m or 9,283 ft ASL)
The Kalatungan Mountain Range is a closely-serried cluster of mountains set in the midst of the province of Bukidnon, in Mindanao; it lies immediately south of the slightly loftier Kitanglad Mountain Range, and west of the far lengthier Pantaron Mountain Range.
The Kalatungan Mountain Range is considered among the tallest mountain ranges of the Philippines. Its highest point is Mount Kalatungan, a volcanic mountain with twin peaks: the first, the loftier, bears the name Kalatungan (2,860 m or 9,283 ft ASL); while the other peak is the slightly shorter Mount Wiji (2,819 or 9,249 ft), which to some is known as Mount Lumpanag, and to others Mount Makaupao. Mount Kalatungan is the sixth highest mountain in the Philippines.
Another notable mountain of the range is Mount Kilakron (2,329 m or 7,641 ft ASL), which rises far to the east of Mount Kalatungan.
The range is noted for being almost always swathed with cloud cover all year long. But beneath this white and gray mantle is a green one – this time, of verdurous forests. Indeed, the mountains of the Kalatungan range are among the very few areas left in Bukidnon that still host old-growth and mossy forests. Above and underneath this forest canopy, wildlife flourishes in remarkable wealth, wildness, and wonder.
The range is a principal source of water for the inhabitants of Bukidnon and several neighboring provinces, serving as the origin for the headwaters of some of Mindanao’s major rivers as well as their tributaries. These include the Pulangi, Cagayan, Maradugao, and the Muleta Rivers; as well as the Sawaga, Bangahan, Ticalaan, Lantay, and Manupali Rivers.
Mount Kalatungan and the rest of the range are declared as a protected area under the Mount Kalatungan Range Natural Park. Several communities of the ethnic Lumad, notably the Talaandig tribes, consider lands within the range as their ancestral domain. They have deep cultural, social, and economic ties – ties that stretch over many generations and harken to ages past – with the mountains of the Kalatungan range, as well those of the Kitanglad range to the north.
It is from the ethnic dwellers of the mountains that the name of the Kalatungan range is derived. A legend of theirs tell that in days long gone, days now beyond the reach of memory, the whole province of Bukidnon was drowned by the Great Flood; only the summits of Mount Kitanglad to the north, and of Mount Kalatungan, remained above the water. It was said that in the peak of the latter, there survived numerous praying mantis eggs, which in the local language are known as kalatungan; thus was the name of the mountain, and the range, conceived.
8. Kitanglad Mountain Range
HIGHEST POINT: Mount Dulang-Dulang (2,938 m or 9,639 ft ASL)
The Kitanglad Mountain Range is an array of lofty mountains lording over the northern central plains and plateaus of the province of Bukidnon. It is laid out along a west-east axis. Immediately south of the range is the slightly lower Kalatungan Mountain Range, while to the east unfolds the length of the Pantaron Mountain Range.
The Kitanglad Mountain Range is ranked among the highest mountain ranges of the Philippines. It encompasses several peaks of such heights that readily merit inclusion among the tallest mountains anywhere in the country. The highest point of the range is Mount Dulang-Dulang, fondly nicknamed D2 by mountaineers. Dulang-Dulang soars to a height of 2,938 m (9,639 ft) ASL, making it the second highest mountain in the Philippines, second only to Apo, and surpassing Pulag of the Cordilleras only by a slight margin.
The slopes of Dulang-Dulang, like those of the other peaks of the Kitanglad range, are clad with ancient forests of wondrous beauty, all abounding with wildlife. From its summit, mountaineers can descry the entirety of the surrounding mountain range, and even catch a glimpse of venerable Apo in the distance.
Dulang-Dulang lies within the ancestral lands of the Talaandig tribe, who revere the mountain as sacred. Those wishing to ascend the mountain must first obtain the blessing of the local tribe, and must abide by the rituals customary before, during, and after the climb.
The next highest point of the range is Mount Kitanglad, the mountain after which the entire range is named. At an imposing height of 2,899 m (9,511 ft) ASL, Mount Kitanglad, an inactive volcano, is ranked fourth among the tallest mountains in the Philippines.
Kitanglad serves as a communications center, and the trails leading to the summit have been well-established to ease the passage of the people who work there. Upon the mountain’s peak are communications towers and several bunkhouses furnished with electricity.
In the shadow of Kitanglad dwell several Lumad ethnic communities, notably the Bukidnon tribes. These peoples have long served as the guardians and gatekeepers of the mountain. As with Mount Kalatungan to the south, Kitanglad figures prominently in their lore– indeed, the name of the mountain comes from myth. According to one of their legends, in ages past, a Great Flood covered the province of Bukidnon, leaving only the peak of Mount Kalatungan, and of Mount Kitanglad – then overgrown with tanglad (lemon grass) – visible (kita in the local tongue) above the water. Thus was the name of the mountain derived.
Another notable peak of the Kitanglad range is Mount Maagnaw, which, at 2,742 m (8,996 ft) ASL, is the third highest point of the range, and the eighth highest mountain in the Philippines. Also of note are Mount Lumuluyaw at 2,612 m (8,570 ft) ASL; and Mount Tuminungan at 2,400 m (7,874 ft) ASL.
Within the Kitanglad Mountain Range endures one of the last remaining rainforests in the Philippines. There is found a rich ecosystem of many diverse species, a great number of which are rare and endemic. This wealth of wildlife includes the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi), Philippine serpent eagle (Spilornis holospilus), Philippine sparrowhawk (Accipiter virgatus), brahminy kite (Haliastur indus), Mindanao pygmy fruit bat (Alionycteris paucidentata), and the Kitanglad shrew-mouse (Crunomys suncoides). Also found in the range is Rafflesia schadenbergiana, the second largest flower of the genus Rafflesia, and likely the second largest flower in the world.
The entire Kitanglad Mountain Range is a protected area known as the Mount Kitanglad Range Natural Park. It has also been declared as an ASEAN Heritage Park.
9. Malindang Mountain Range
HIGHEST POINT: Mount Malindang (2,404 m or 7,887 ft ASL)
The Malindang Mountain Range is a series of mountains extending, on a general north-south direction, on the northeastern portion of the Zamboanga Peninsula, the elongated strip of land that is linked to the northwestern coast of the central mass of Mindanao Island. The range traverses through the provinces of Misamis Occidental, Zamboanga del Norte, and Zamboanga del Sur. It is one of the smaller mountain ranges of the Philippines, though by no means less important.
Its chief peak, after which the entire range is named, is Mount Malindang, a complex volcano with an elevation of 2,404 m (7,887 ft) ASL; it is the highest point of the Malindang Mountain Range, as well as the highest point anywhere in the province of Misamis Occidental. Other notable peaks of the range include North Peak (2,183 m or 7,162 ft ASL), which rises, as its name implies, north of Mount Malindang; and South Peak (1,850 m or 6,070 ft ASL), which in turn looms south of Malindang.
The Malindang Mountain Range is the basis of the Mount Malindang Range Natural Park, a protected area which has also been declared as an ASEAN Heritage Park. The range is characterized by a plethora of striking landscapes and natural features, including volcanic structures, high rock walls, deep canyons and ravines, swaths of virgin forests, hot springs, waterfalls, and even a crater lake known as Lake Duminagat. The range also serves a catchbasin, from which numerous rivers, streams, and creeks flow forth to supply water for agricultural, industrial, and domestic use of the populace of the adjoining provinces.
The vast forests of the Malindang range are particularly noted as a haven of countless rare and diverse floral and faunal species, among which are the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi), rufous hornbill (Buceros hydrocorax), Philippine deer (Rusa marianna), Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), flying lemur (Cynocephalus volans), long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis), and the Mount Malindang shrew (Crocidura grandis). Indigenous peoples, mostly the Subano, are settled within parts of the park’s declared area.
But besides these, little else is known about the Malindang range; it remains among the least-studied mountain ranges of the Philippines. Much of its expanse await further exploration, so that the true extent of the richness and diversity of its ecosystems is yet to be established.
10. Mantalingahan Mountain Range
HIGHEST POINT: Mount Mantalingahan (2,085 m or 6,841 ft ASL)
The Mantalingahan Mountain Range is a row of peaks and pinnacles forming the central mountainous backbone of southern Palawan Island. It is laid out along a northeast-southwest orientation. The range, considered to be one of the most remote mountain ranges of the Philippines, is part of the encompassing Beaufort Mountains Ultramafics geological region, a largely unmapped array of ultramafic outcrops rising along the length of the island.
Mount Mantalingahan (sometimes Mantalingajan or Mantaling), which lends its name to the entire range, is the range’s principal peak as well as its highest point. At an elevation of 2,085 m (6,841 ft) ASL, it is also the highest point on Palawan Island, and in the entire Palawan province.
Little is known about Mantalingahan, for it remains vastly unsurveyed. Its extreme remoteness, and the sheer wildness of its terrains and landscapes, render reaching the mountain – let alone climbing its summit – an utterly lengthy and laborious endeavor. Indeed, the relatively few mountaineers who have been to Mantalingahan all agree that it is one of the three most difficult climbs in the Philippines, alongside Mount Guiting-Guiting of Romblon and Mount Halcon of Mindoro. But they also agree that Mantalingahan is one of the most remarkable, meaningful, and worthwhile climbs that the country can offer.
What little is known is that Mantalingahan is a primordial realm of ancient and awe-inspiring forests. Over half of its original forest cover still remains, making it exceedingly vital in absorbing and storing carbon.
Within these forests thrive a multitude of plants and animals, of which many have never even been documented. Indeed, the mountain and the range are veritable bastions of biodiversity, characterized by an exceptionally high floral and faunal diversity and endemism – the continuous discovery of new species underscores this ecological value. Some of the more recently discovered wildlife include the forest gecko Luperosaurus gulat, the Palawan soft-furred mountain rat (Palawanomys furvus), and the Palawan moss shrew (Palawanosorex muscorum), which is known to live only near the peak of Mantalingahan.
The mountain range is also the ancestral domain of several thousand members of the indigenous Palawan tribes. Among the more remarkable of them are the Tau’t Bato, literally the People of the Stone, whose hamlets lie at the foot of Mantalingahan; and whose beliefs and ways of living have changed little since the days of their ancestors. To all the tribesfolk living in the mountain’s shadow, Mantalingahan is revered as a hallowed place, and it is there that they have established their burial grounds and other ceremonial and traditional sites.
Apart from its significance in local mythology, the mountain range, more importantly, provides the tribesfolk with food, water, medicine, and livelihoods. The adjoining lowland communities, too, benefit from the range. The watersheds of Mantalingahan, thirty-three in all, supply drinking water and irrigation to the surrounding municipalities.
The mountain and the entire range make up the National Park known as the Mount Mantalingahan Protected Landscape, the largest terrestrial protected area in Palawan. Despite this designation, however, the range still faces relentless pressure from mining, logging, poaching, and unsustainable agricultural practices.
11. Pantaron Mountain Range
LENGTH: 200 km (124.3 mi)
HIGHEST POINT: Mount Apo (2,956 m or 9,698 ft ASL)
The Pantaron Mountain Range is an extensive and continuous chain of mountains running through the interior of Mindanao Island. It is arrayed on a north-south line, trending from the coasts of Macajalar Bay and Gingoog Bay in Northern Mindanao to the shores of the Davao Gulf on the southern reaches of the island. It is one of the major mountain ranges of the Philippines, spanning some 200 km (124.3 mi) in length and crossing through six provinces: Misamis Oriental, Agusan del Norte, Bukidnon, Agusan del Sur, Davao del Norte, and Davao del Sur. The range, sometimes known as the Central Cordillera of Mindanao, constitutes about 12 percent of Mindanao’s total land area.
The Pantaron mountains are the site of Mindanao’s largest contiguous forest block; within the range is also found one of the last few remaining old-growth forests of the island. The forested mountains serve as watersheds from which issue forth the headwaters of several of Mindanao’s large rivers, including the Mindanao, Pulangi, Davao, and Tagoloan Rivers, as well as major tributaries of the Agusan River, all which supply the agricultural, industrial, and domestic water needs of about half of Mindanao.
The forested mountains, too, provide critical habitat to a multitude of plants and animals, a refuge of threatened endemic species such as the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi), Philippine warty pig (Sus philippensis), and the Philippine tarsier (Carlito syrichta). Numerous communities of the Lumad tribes, such as the Pulangiyen, Binukid, Manobo, Higaonon, Tagabawa, Kalagan, and the Giangan, also inhabit lands within the forested range.
The northern terminus of the Pantaron Mountain Range is Mount Balatukan, a gigantic compound stratovolcano shaped in a long and lofty ridge surmounted by multiple peaks. The tallest of such peaks reaches a height of 2,450 m (8,040 ft) ASL, the highest point anywhere in the province of Misamis Oriental. Balatukan, a protected area under the Mount Balatukan Range Natural Park, retains extensive forest cover that supports many species of wildlife.
On its southernmost end, the Pantaron Mountain Range is anchored on Mount Talomo and Mount Apo, which together form the component range named the Apo-Talomo Mountain Range (though some accounts declare that this is an entirely separate range). Mount Talomo rises to an elevation of 2,707 m (8,881 ft), making it one of the highest mountains in the Philippines.
Mount Apo, on the other hand, is the tallest mountain in the Philippines. At a height of 2,956 m (9,698 ft) ASL, Apo is also the highest point of the Apo-Talomo Mountain Range, as well as the encompassing and far larger Pantaron Mountain Range. From its foothills, to its slopes, and thence to its summit, it hosts a wide variety environments, ranging from luxuriant rainforests, mossy swamps, verdant grasslands, crystalline lakes and pools, rocky terrains, to volcanic structures. It is a veritable cornucopia of flora and fauna, while at its feet dwell several Lumad tribal communities, namely the Manobo, Bagobo, Ubo, Ata, K’Iagan, and Tagacaolo. Apo and its surrounding landscape are administered and protected as the Mount Apo Natural Park, which has also been declared as an ASEAN Heritage Park.
Akin to most of the mountain ranges of the Philippines, the Pantaron Mountain Range is beset by the ruinous pursuits of huge mining, logging, and plantation firms. The indigenous folk of the range, who have been living in the mountains for generations, are slowly being forced out or even eradicated. Despite mustering a defense of their ancestral lands, they possess little power to oppose the overwhelming might of the massive, militarily-backed corporations that profit from the devastation of the mountains.
12. Sierra Madre
LENGTH: 680 km (422.5 mi)
HIGHEST POINT: Mount Guiwan (1,915 m or 6,283 ft ASL)
The Sierra Madre is a veritable wall of mountains rising along the length of the eastern coast of Luzon that fronts the Philippine Sea and beyond it, the Pacific Ocean. Long and lofty, this formidable mountainous array extends from the province of Cagayan in the north, to the province of Quezon in the south, along the way traversing through eight other provinces, namely Isabela, Quirino, Nueva Vizacaya, Nueva Ecija, Aurora, Bulacan, Rizal, and Laguna. From north to south, the range spans about 680 km (422.5 mi), readily earning it the distinction as the longest of all the mountain ranges of the Philippines.
The Sierra Madre, Spanish for ‘mother mountains’, forms the eastern mountainous backbone of Luzon. Although it is often described as a continuous chain of mountains, it can be divided into three component ranges. The northern Sierra Madre, which extends from San Vicente, Cagayan in the north to Baler, Aurora in the south, is the longest, making up about two-thirds of the entire length of the range. The southern Sierra Madre, which is only about a third of the length of its northern counterpart, stretches south from Dingalan, Aurora to Atimonan, Quezon, where the entire range comes to a halt. Between these northern and southern arms is the central massif, the smallest component range, a cluster of peaks in the provinces of Aurora and Nueva Ecija known as the Mingan Mountains.
Along the whole length of the eastern side of the Sierra Madre are narrow coastlands confined between the range and the sea, where a number of remote and less-developed communities, most of which can be reached only by plane or boat, are located.
Meanwhile, westwards of the Sierra Madre are wide landscapes and features. West of the northern Sierra Madre lie the rich, fertile lowlands of the Cagayan Valley, spreading in a vast distance until they reach the feet of the parallel-running Cordillera Central of Northern Luzon in the west, and the heels of the Caraballo Mountains in the south. The Caraballos forms a mountainous link between the Sierra Madre and the Cordilleras.
West of the Mingan Mountains and the southern Sierra Madre stretches the broad Central Luzon plain, densely populated and intensely farmed, sweeping west towards the Zambales Mountains and south towards Manila Bay, where the vast and populous cities of Metro Manila are gathered; and the lakes, hills, and peaks of Southern Luzon.
Owing to the length and vastness of the Sierra Madre, and the fact that several of its peaks seem to display equal heights, its highest point is thus difficult to pinpoint. However, according to a more recent exploration, a tentative candidate is Mount Guiwan of Nueva Vizcaya, which rises to a height of 1,915 m (6,283 ft) ASL. Guiwan is forested and abundant in wildlife, and is the traditional hunting ground of the ethnic Bungkalot tribe, who have established trails to ease their passage up and down the mountain.
Another close candidate is Mount Mingan, the principal and the highest peak of the eponymous Mingan Mountains. Mingan of Aurora is elevated 1,901 m (6,237 ft) above sea level. Like Guiwan, it is also forested and rich in wildlife. It also has paths traversing across its slopes; these are used by the ethnic Dumagat tribe and by lowland farmers for hunting, foraging, and other purposes.
The value of the Sierra Madre is immeasurable. First of all, this mountainous barrier forms a natural defense against powerful typhoons issuing from the Pacific and seeking to assail Luzon. Against its vast sides, slopes, and walls, typhoons are weakened, so that their full might are not brought to bear when they pass across Luzon, reducing the damage done to lands, lives, and livelihoods.
In ecological significance, the Sierra Madre is among the most important mountain ranges of the Philippines. Its peaks and pinnacles form a continuous forest landscape that account for 40 percent of the country’s total forest cover! And the ecosystem this extensive forest houses is staggeringly rich, boasting high levels of species diversity and endemicity – indeed among the richest ecosystems anywhere in the country. The forest also provides for the needs of the indigenous tribes who have peopled the mountain range for many long centuries. Moreover, this forest cover sustains major river systems that keep alive the agricultural economies of the Cagayan Valley and of Central Luzon; and feeds the hydroelectric dams that power the surrounding urban settlements, including Metro Manila.
The Sierra Madre hosts the most number of protected areas in the Philippines. Sixty-eight national parks, watershed forest reserves, natural monuments, marine reserves, and protected landscapes and seascapes are arrayed along its length. The most prominent of these is the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park in Isabela province, the largest protected area anywhere in the country.
However, despite its undisputed value, and its wealth of protected areas, the Sierra Madre, like all mountain ranges of the Philippines, suffers continuous degradation from logging, mining, poaching, and the rapid conversion of forestland into farms and plantations and commercial and residential areas.
13. Tagaytay Ridge
LENGTH: 32 km (19.9 mi)
HIGHEST POINT: Mount Sungay (709 m or 2,326 ft ASL)
The Tagaytay Ridge is one of the lesser mountain ranges of the Philippines. It is also known as the Tagaytay Range, or historically, the Cordillera de Tagaytay. It is situated on the southern reaches of the province of Cavite, and appears as a long and high tableland. From Mount Sungay, its eastern end, the ridge marches on a semi-circular fashion along a west-southwest line, until it reaches its southwestern terminus at Mount Batulao that straddles the border of Cavite and the neighboring province of Batangas. In total, the ridge, the name of which, tagaytay, is the Tagalog word for ‘mountain range’, spans 32 km (19.9 mi) in length.
The Tagaytay Ridge overlooks Manila Bay and its bustling environs to the north; to its south lie the famed Taal Volcano and its encircling lake. The ridge is reckoned to be the northern rim of the ancient caldera of Taal; a testament to this is fact that the ridge is made of volcanic tuff, the rocks formed from the detritus disgorged by volcanoes, in this case by Taal in its primeval eruptions.
The Tagaytay Ridge has an average elevation of 610 m (2,001 ft) ASL. Its highest point is Mount Sungay (also known as Mount Gonzales), whose peak is elevated 709 m (2,326 ft) ASL, making it the highest point in the province of Cavite. Sungay, however, boasted a loftier elevation before. Indeed, its name is the Tagalog word for ‘horn’, for the mountain was once noted for its sharp, horn-like pinnacle that soared some 752 m (2,467 ft) ASL. In those earlier days, Sungay’s remarkable peak was used by mariners as a navigational tool when sailing in and around Manila Bay.
However, the prominent summit was leveled and destroyed at the behest of the dictator Marcos and his wife to accommodate a palace-like mansion, one of his many needless and wasteful constructions. Though the project was never completed, the damage was irreversible; the mountain was left lower and shorn of its once-proud peak.
Mount Batulao to the southwest is only a few meters shorter than Sungay. Standing at a height of 693 m (2,274 ft) ASL, Batulao is famed for its wild, rugged slopes and its twelve jagged peaks, two of which rise higher and more prominently than the rest. The mountain is a favorite of hikers and climbers, highly sought-after for its scenery, cool climate, and accessibility.
The northern face of the Tagaytay Ridge encompasses gentle slopes rolling down to sea level at Manila Bay. In contrast, steep cliffs and escarpments mark the southern and eastern sides of the ridge, some plummeting, almost vertically, from 20 m (65.6 ft) high down to the waters of Lake Taal. Much of the ridge is swathed with forests, pinewoods, and patches of grassland and shrubland.
Built upon the Tagaytay Ridge is a number of municipalities and the City of Tagaytay, a veritable tourist resort city sought for its mild climate, pine-clad highlands, and scenic views of Taal Lake and Volcano, one of the most iconic landscapes of the Philippines.
14. Zambales Mountains
LENGTH: 180 km (111.8 mi)
HIGHEST POINT: Mount Tapulao (2,037 m or 6,683 ft ASL)
The Zambales Mountains is a 180 km (111.8 mi) long chain of mountains massed together along the western shores of Central Luzon. It stretches on a northwest-southeast direction, beginning from the western mountains of Pangasinan province along the southern coast of Lingayen Gulf; advancing through the whole length of Zambales province; and marching southeast towards the tip of the Bataan Peninsula that fences Manila Bay. To the east of the mountain range, the vast plain of Central Luzon rolls on; to the west are the sweeping waters of the West Philippine Sea.
The highest point of the Zambales Mountains is Mount Tapulao, otherwise known as High Peak, which boasts an elevation of 2,037 m (6,683 ft) ASL. Upon its slopes are forests of Sumatran pine (Pinus merkusii), which in Zambal, the local language, is known as tapolaw, hence the name of the mountain.
But of the more than a hundred mountains that form the range, none is perhaps more recognized than Mount Pinatubo. Pinatubo earned worldwide notoriety for its cataclysmic eruption in 1991. Prior to that, the volcano was dormant for nearly 500 years, forest-clad, obscure, and rather unremarkable despite standing 1,745 m (5,725 ft) above sea level. All that changed when it awoke in anger. Its eruption devastated the surrounding lands and was felt worldwide. It was the second-largest terrestrial eruption of the 20th century and by far the largest eruption to affect a densely populated area.
The climactic eruption obliterated Pinatubo’s original summit, effectively reducing the volcano’s height to 1,486 m (4,875 ft) ASL. The collapsed summit was replaced by a wide caldera, which has since then filled with rainwater, forming a crater lake now known as Lake Pinatubo. The turquoise-hued lake and the surreal moon-like landscape inadvertently created by the eruption have proven certified tourist draws, attracting people by the crowds annually.
Mount Pinatubo, together with Mount Negron (1,583 m or 5,194 ft ASL) and Mount Cuadrado (1,324 m or 4,344 ft ASL), comprise the Cabusilan Mountain Range, a component range forming the most prominent section of the Zambales Mountains.
Other notable mountains of the Zambales range are Mount Natib and Mount Mariveles in southerly Bataan, which together comprise around four fifths of the province’s total land area. Mount Natib (1,253 m or 4,111 ft ASL) is the focal point of a protected area known as the Bataan National Park.
Mount Mariveles (1,388 m or 4,554 ft ASL), on the other hand, is the southern terminus of the Zambales Mountains; it also forms the highest point anywhere in Bataan. The mountain is famed for its multiple peaks, of which the three most well-known are Tarak Ridge, Pantingan (Banayan) Peak, and Mariveles Ridge. The mountain looks towards the city of Manila across Manila Bay, affording a stunning backdrop for the sunsets seen from the city.
The Zambales Mountains is densely forested and rich in minerals, notably nickel. Unfortunately, mining and quarrying have devastated sections of the range and its surrounding lands, leaving several mountains scarred, almost leveled, and bereft of their once-green cover; rivers and waterways were choked and poisoned; and erstwhile fertile farmlands rendered nonarable.