A destination oftentimes presents a welcome surprise, a deviation from the usual image associated with it. Take, for instance, Clarkfield in Pampanga. Foremost that may come to mind is the U.S. airbase, long gone, and the existing economic zone. There’s the Macapagal airport, hub of budget airlines. It’s the venue of the annual hot air balloon festival. It’s hard to think that an educational establishment like the Nayong Pilipino and ecotourism site would be found here.
Yet settled amidst mango trees, guarded by an aeta settlement area a mile or two from Nayong Pilipino is an ecotourism site called the Paradise Ranch and Zoocobia Fun Zoo. The kilometer-long Sacobia bridge serves as its marker, right after the Clarkfield exit of SCTEX (use the map, here, for directions on how to go there). Sentries guard the major intersections so there’s no reason to get lost.
We were there for an ocular inspection, in preparation for an educational tour that we’re organizing at GoTravelBliss Travel and Tours. Perfect excuse to mix work with leisure. Good time to discover that visits to Paradise Ranch and Zoocobia Fun Zoo should be done ideally early morning or late afternoon.
We arrived at Paradise Ranch around 4:00 p.m. The sun was still up and the temperate still a bit hot, although we could only imagine if we arrived here earlier, right after lunch. It’s really not a problem if we stayed in one area, the Zoocobia, the swimming pool or the boating lake, for instance. Touring and exploring the entire place takes a lot of walking and expends a lot of sweat, what we got by wanting to see too much with too little time.
An overnight stay would have given us enough time. Paradise Ranch allows overnight stay in its external, stand-alone units, like the Christmas House, or a dormitory-like arrangement in the main building, beside the swimming pool and the restaurant. The stand-alone accommodation would allow complete privacy, but would be a challenge to those used to room service, as there’s no in-house phone. This wouldn’t be a problem for the eco-tourism crowd drawn here. The per head cost of P1,200, which includes breakfast, lunch and dinner, gives a lot of bang for your buck. Plus the presence of comfortable accommodation amidst the sights, sounds and smell of nature is a treat enough.
There’s a river for boating and fishing, and an obstacle course that would suit team building or corporate outing. There’s a Butterfly Kingdom where guests are treated to the sight of colorful butterflies and the life cycle of these wonderful insects, complete with living, crawling caterpillars and pulsing pupa (chrysalis). There are various parks and gardens where guests could sneak into and relax in relative seclusion.
One garden in particular, the Garden Pavilion, stands out because of the pine trees that make it look like Tagaytay. It could also resemble Baguio. The staff sticks to the resemblance to Tagaytay because this is where a supposed Tagaytay scene between Dingdong Dantes and Marianne Rivera was shot. The tree that was planted, adopted and named after Dingdong is found at the bottom of the Garden Pavilion.
Allow us to burst any bubble of misimpression that this is one refined, fully-completed destination. It is not. It appears to be in the process of evolution. The dirt road, 2 kilometers more or less, that connects the main highway to the Paradise Ranch is a bit bumpy, most likely muddy when rain pours. Same thing would happen to the approximately half-kilometer dirt road that connects the Zoocobia, found at the entrance of Paradise Ranch, and the main building/swimming pool. New trees are being planted (you could sponsor a tree and pay a minimal amount, to pay for the personnel who would maintain it). A waterfalls is nearing completion. New areas are being cleared for expansion. The place would have something different the next time you visit.
We’re saying this to anticipate any disappointment for expecting too much. Let it be clear, however, that the existing structures and facilities would be sufficient to cater to a visitor’s needs. Even weddings are allowed, and had been held, at Paradise Ranch. Why not? It’s picture-perfect. The facilities are new and well-maintained. The place is clean. Flowers and trees abound. Fresh air. The staff are helpful, warm and courteous. Plus an entrance of P375 (Zoocobia + Paradise Ranch), with children below 3 feet free of charge, it’s worth the trip.
The Zoocobia zoo, on the other hand, doesn’t have half the animals as that of, say, Avilon Zoo, but it’s big enough and packed with activities and sights for the kids, that I gave up halfway and went back to the restaurant to wait for my companions.
The uphill walk towards the Butterfly Kingdom, the gardens and other attractions would be a breeze for kids, not for adults, unless they seek to break a sweat and lose some pounds. Those averse to walking and would want a quick visit could spend the entire time in the Zoocobia Fun Zoo. It’s at the left side immediately after entering the main gate. The parking area is found across the Zoocobia entrance.
Zoocobia Fun Zoo, which is derived from the combined name of the three mascots (Zooc, Cobi and Bia), is located on top of Sacobia Valley. It includes the Zoocobia Barn houses animals such as pigs, goats and camel. There are animal-feeding encounters, including love birds, ostrich and Southeast Asian bearcat. There’s a big-bird exhibit, not the one from Sesame Street, but various big birds in an open space for the kids to explore.
Learning is enhanced with actual experience. Zoocobia provides interaction with animals and engages them in fun learning activities. The main structure houses the Animal Bone and Skin Museum, where children can see animals in their skeletal glory properly labeled or gently brush away sand to reveal the bones, just like an archeologist (or what do you call that kind of scientist?). There’s the Philippine Pride exhibit, which showcases items such as the national bird and national fruit.
Get lost, as we did, in the Zoocobia Maze, or experience carts running downhill powered by nothing but gravity, the Zooc Ride. There’s a giant slide (or shall I say very tall and long slide, which, if you add flowing water, would be akin to Magellan’s Drop of Splash Island), adjacent to the children’s playground. There’s also a horse ride on standby, just in case the kids want more.
Wind down at the Zoocobia restaurant and bring home something from the Souvenir Shop. Fully exploring and running around Zoocobia, not to include the other areas of Paradise Ranch, would take around half a day. Bring an extra shirt. You and the kids would need it. Enjoy!