Samar's Ulot River: This Once Distribution Channel for Illegal Logging is now an Adventure Tourism Site


Cutting through the mountains and hillsides of Samar from east to west, the 90-kilometer Ulot River, the longest river in Samar, is a thing of beauty. Surrounded by verdant forest and limestone karsts featuring dramatic rock formations, clear cascading waters stream through a setting that conceals a vast network of cave systems, including the Langun-Gobingob Cave, widely regarded as the biggest in the country and itself, the river once known as a distribution channel for illegal logging has now become an emerging adventure tourism destination.

Yuna Lachica
Group shot at Deni's Point of Ulot River

Even though the Ulot River streams into a number of towns in Samar, the jump-off point for tourism activities on the river such as the TORPEDO ride we experienced, begins in Paranas, Samar. Land travel from Tacloban, where we came from during our trip, lasts almost a couple of hours over a rough and bumpy highway. Despite the poor road conditions, the scenery kept me amused throughout the trip.

Julianne Uy Soriano
Tourism Center at Ulot River in Paranas, Samar

We arrived in Paranas shortly after 7 a.m., having departed Tacloban before 5 a.m. The TORPEDO team members after gleefully welcoming us, promptly led us inside a newly constructed tourism center, complete with a briefing space and bathing facilities.

Julianne Uy Soriano
The pre-torpedo boat ride briefing

Following the 15-minute orientation, during which a guide explained the dos and don'ts of the river trip, we were given our separate helmets and life vests and instructed to board a torpedo boat in a group of four, thereby dividing our party into two.

A River with a Shadowy Past

During the peak of lumber exploitation in the 1970s, loggers set their sights on the forests of several provinces, including Samar. The Ulot River back then, was seen as a strategic distribution conduit for illegally cut logs. As the river transported thousands of felled trees downstream, so did the illicit logging industry, which persisted despite numerous prohibitions and restrictions until 2003, when the Samar Island Natural Park (SINP), the Philippines' largest national park, was established, encompassing the entire Ulot River.

Birth of the TORPEDO

After the creation of SINP, local stakeholders, the LGU of Samar, with the guidance of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Tourism (DOT), and even other NGO groups such as ABS-CBN's Lingkod-Kapamilya, worked together to develop a livelihood strategy for sustainable tourism and conservation management for the surrounding environment. This model aimed to help residents who had been involved in illegal logging transition into becoming prominent players in Ulot River’s potential tourism draw.

Yuna Lachica
Part of the super long Ulot River

In 2008, TORPEDO, an acronym for Tenani Boat Operators for River Protection and Environmental Development Organization, began operations. The aim was to showcase the beauty of the Ulot River and offer a unique experience, slightly comparable to white water rafting in Cagayan de Oro.

They utilized the same torpedo-shaped boats, which were previously used for transporting logs, for tourism purposes. Built without an outrigger, it mirrors the shape of a torpedo designed to slither and slalom past the river's boulders and slice through the flowing water with ease.

Yuna Lachica and Desa Tayting
Ready for the Torpedo boat ride

Since then, the TORPEDO boat rides have been giving adventure junkies a thrilling ride along a 10-kilometer part of the river, taking an hour going downstream and another hour going upstream. If the TORPEDO group is composed of an all-male boating crew, a women's organization was also created to cater to the other tourism draw of Samar Island Natural Park (SINP).

Julianne Soriano Uy
What a recovery from the abuse of illegal logging decades ago

The national park, which spans 333,000 hectares, covers a wide area of old-growth forest teeming with snaking hiking trails and birding sites. SINP is home to over 210 bird species and over a thousand species of flora and fauna.

The Tenani Association for Women and Development, or TAWAD, is an all-women group that manages the other eco-destinations inside SINP. Unfortunately, after our Ulot River experience, we didn't have time to check out the hiking trails or even one of the many waterfalls and caves inside the SINP. I guess, a return trip is in order in the near future.

New Engines Boost River Tourism

Back in December 2022, a few days before Christmas, the Tourism Promotions Board of the Philippines (TPB), the marketing arm of the Department of Tourism (DOT), conducted a Community-Based Tourism (CBT) workshop in Paranas and, following the conclusion, gifted the members of the TORPEDO Organization with 10 motorboat engines.

Julianne Uy Soriano
Tourism Promotions Board of the Philippines (TPB) handed torpedo boat engines

The early Christmas present proved to be beneficial, especially after the pandemic, as the TORPEDO group began conducting more torpedo boat rides from then until now to cater to the gradually increasing tourist arrivals in the area.

My TORPEDO Boat Experience

Even though I’ve experienced white-water river rafting in Cagayan de Oro City and Davao City a few times before, I was still feeling the jitters as we got on our boats,. The sight of the calm river water helped me settle as I spotted a dog darting down the banks, attempting to keep up with us as we navigated our first rapid.

Julianne Soriano Uy
This dog tried following us. 

Despite its similarities to white-water river kayaking, the torpedo boat trip puts you on a smaller, wooden boat without the need to raft as the boatman directs the boat, which is powered by a boat engine. Unlike with white-water rafting, torpedo boating allows you to concentrate fully and immerse yourself in the entire experience of navigating the river by having your both hands free to simply hang on to the side of the boat or take photos and videos.

Yuna Lachica
Here comes the splashes

The first couple of rapids were smaller ones , but as we slashed our way through the nearly 10-kilometer downstream course of our Ulot River Torpedo ride, the rapids grew in size, creating more whirlpool activity and, as a result, larger splashes.

Yuna Lachica
and more rapids

As we zipped down Ulot River, marveling at the lush woodlands that lined both banks, the hour-long trip offered a perfect blend of tranquil moments and adrenaline-inducing activities.

Samar Travel Guide
Thrills and pretty sights

With my lower torso already drenched from the river's wild spatters, I savored the deliberate way our torpedo boat cut through the water as it sped downstream to the rockier section of Ulot, where huge boulders lay scattered. It turns out that this spot, called Deni's Point, was the torpedo ride's penciled halfway point.

Yuna Lachica
There are a few parts where the TORPEDO men has to manually steer the boat

We docked our torpedo boats by a small islet near Deni’s Point and then proceeded to one of the large boulders for some cliff diving thrills. At a height of approximately 12 feet, we alternately leapt into the water while wearing our life vests. Upon hitting the water, the current propelled us downstream for approximately 60 meters, where we reached on to a rope secured across the river to guide us back crawling unto the rocks and repeating the thrilling experience.

Yuna Lachica
Here comes the extra fun part

Doing it three times proved enough for me to experience a new adventure that, if I were to compare it to whitewater river rafting in Cagayan de Oro, I'd describe as "same-same but different." On the way back, this time going upstream to the jump-off, my adrenaline has simmered down, allowing me to calmly enjoy the scenery more.

Yuna Lachica
Jump and be swept away

Learning afterward the history of the Ulot River, from its days as an illegal logging channel to this emerging adventure tourism site managed by locals who once plied the trade of cutting trees and becoming sustainable tourism players, made me appreciate the place more on top of the awesome experience we had riding the torpedo boat.

Ulot River
Look up, not that young man anymore, look up.

Following my past experiences, such as overnight caving at Langun-Gobingob Cave in Calbiga and exploring the Sohoton Natural Park in Basey, among numerous other caverns and waterfalls I've yet to visit in the province, this thrilling Ulot River torpedo ride perfectly complements the growing list of adventure attractions in Samar province. I can absolutely say with conviction that Samar is a province every traveler shouldn’t overlook anymore.

This article first appeared on Esquire Philippines.