There is a certain kind of melody that plays in the middle of the night. The sound of crickets blends perfectly well with the gentle whisper of the wind and the rustling of the leaves. Every now and then, a small splash of water hums in to the evening melody. The music it creates is calming as it lulled me back to sleep. I heard it perfectly well that December early morning as we slept under the stars marooned in the island of Isla Maria.
Isla Maria is a small island located in the middle of Lake Lumot, a man-made water reservoir in Cavinti, Laguna. The island is a perfect spot to get marooned and detached from your busy city life. You can choose to sleep under a roof or under the stars. Or you can opt to sing your heart out until the first light of day. With amenities that cater to families, workmates, and even your barkada, Isla Maria gives you a different feel of island living.
I first caught a glimpse of Isla Maria on Facebook after a guest shared her experience and photos of her recent visit. I got curious because of Isla Maria's unique proposition - enjoying life on an island in the middle of a lake. It was something that was worth trying out especially for a beach person like me.
So how does Isla Maria re-defined island living?
Isla Maria makes the whole experience Memorable.
Living on an island on a lake is not the usual staple for travelers in the Philippines and being able to do so is a totally unique and memorable experience. But having the whole island for yourself, which we did, levels up the whole experience.
Isla Maria is like a huge house where you have everything that you need. You have a choice of accommodations - from a whole house to glamping. We did camp out in style on the island and we woke up refreshed to a bright and sunny December morning.
Time seems to slow down on Isla Maria and you get to spend more time with family and friends. You can share your stories while cooking your meals or while you take a lazy dip in their pool. You can even play a round of badminton or hide and seek during your free hours, which you get a lot. Evenings can be a lot of fun where you can lie down on its grass to gaze at the stars while a family member or friend belts out their favorite videoke tunes until the wee hours of the morning.
The island re-defines family or peer bonding. It gives you the opportunity to just re-connect effectively the old-fashioned way. Think of it as a family or peer weekend at home... only this time marooned in an island on a lake.
Isla Maria gives you a different kind of Adventure
If you think that the laidback feel of the island will tone down your sense of adventure, you guessed wrong. Isla Maria packages include a different sense of adventure with its water activities, fishing, and island hopping!
Yes, you heard it right! Lake Lumot has its own collection of islands that you can explore. But do not expect it to be the white-sand-type kind if islands. You can circumnavigate these bare islands, just a few minutes from Isla Maria, in a few minutes because it is that small. If you come in at the right time, you can catch a glimpse of migratory birds on its banks or water buffalo's lazing around its shallow waters. And did I mention that these islands/islets is a perfect spot for those unadulterated IG-worthy pictures?
And just when your food supplies run low (you have to bring and prepare your own meals at Isla Maria), do not worry because part of your activity is fishing. The fresh water lake is home to a number of fishpens that breed Tilapia. We docked in one of these fishpens and tried our hand on fishing. These fishpens make fishing an easy and fun activity and kids would love it! Asher definitely did enjoy it. You just pay the attendants based on how many kilos you harvested from the lot. Grill your freshly "harvested" tilapia and enjoy your meal.
The still waters of Lake Lumot is conducive for other water activities. You can deviate from your usual exercise routine by hopping on a kayak and paddle your way around the island. You can work out your upper body while getting a tan and enjoying the morning sun. Or if you have extra cash on hand, you can rent their jet ski and get on a high speed adventure on Lake Lumot.
Isla Maria Relaxes you.
Isla Maria is an easy escape from the hustle of the city. The place is laidback and disconnecting is an easy option for its guests. You can choose to just doze of on a hammock or enjoy the sunset view by the pool. If singing is your stress reliever than by all means sing your heart out until your voice cracks with its videoke machine. Or you can choose your own chill spot where you can read a book or meditate.
I loved their floating cottage where I spent most of my morning on our second day. Its cozy ambiance matched by some early 2000 music, blasting from the sound system, was a perfect spot to just chill and hum with the song playing. It was not just relaxing, it was nostalgic like an easy Sunday morning.
Isla Maria re-connects you with nature to Inspire you.
Have you ever experienced the calming effect of watching the sunrise or the sunset with the sound of nature surrounding you? That was exactly how the island makes you experience these nature shows. You can find your own spot and just enjoy watching the day turn into night and then night turning into day.
Take the time to lie on the grass to enjoy the sun or enjoy the cool waters of the calm lake. Better yet, get some adrenaline running by getting your guts together to jump into the lake. After a couple of rounds, relax on the bamboo rafts and doze off to the sounds of water slushing and soft winds blowing. Cap off the day by lying down on the grass to gaze at the stars and the evening sky.
Re-connecting with nature makes you realize that it is worth taking the time off with nature. Nature energizes and inspires you to be able to think clearly and to be more focused. And Isla Maria is a great place to exactly do just that.
Isla Maria makes you Appreciate the best things in life.
Isla Maria makes you realize that most of the things that make our lives better does not come with a heavy price. Connecting with family and friends is as simple as spending time sharing stories or laughing at the corniest jokes. Connecting with yourself is about taking the courage to jump or to listening to music that you get to enjoy. And that getting re-charged can be done by simply watching the sunset or by looking at the stars.
As you watch a fisherman tread through the calm waters of Lake Lumot as he does his daily chores, you learn to appreciate that life is simple. We get to realize that life can be simplified if we look closely around us.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
For most travelers, we have always associated island living with white sand beach coves on an undiscovered island. Isla Maria gives a different shade to that definition. This island on the man-made lake of Lumot gives it a more subdued vibe of having to spend a day or two on an island all for yourself. It is a great escape from the fast paced city life without having to worry about flights or long drives.
I am always on the lookout for the new destinations that offer a unique proposition. Isla Maria caught my attention because of its glamping and the idea of spending a day on island all for yourself. I must say that Isla Maria really delivered what it says it would.
Isla Maria should be on your bucketlist this summer. Spending a summer night on an island is a cool idea especially if you are talking about an island on a lake which we rarely find.
Getting There: Isla Maria, located in Cavinti, Laguna, is just a 3-hour drive from Manila by private car via Tanay in Rizal. They have tree houses, a family house, and glamping accommodations. Their standard packages include boat transfers, fishing, island hopping, and unlimited use of kayak, pedal boat, and videoke. You can check out details of Isla Maria packages or message them through their Facebook page by clicking here.
If you are commuting, you can take a bus bound for Sta. Cruz in Laguna from Buendia (Php68). You can then take a jeep bound for Cavinti and ask the driver to drop you off at the Johnson Junction (Fare is at Php30). Take a trike from the junction to Isla Maria or Lagpan (Fare is at Php150), the jump-off point to Isla Maria.
The sound of the waves hitting the shore was music to my ears after enduring a 12-hour travel from Manila to Mati. The travel experience included rushing out of the airport, ala "Amazing Race", as soon as the plane landed from Clark, to intercept the bus that my brother hopped on in downtown Davao. Four and a half hours after boarding the bus, we were rolling in to the sleepy city of Mati. We were tired, hungry, but EXCITED.
When my Mindanao-based brother and I first talked about taking a trip somewhere in Mindanao, Mati was his obvious choice. He missed riding the waves after moving in to Cagayan de Oro in 2017. I loved the idea because Mati was new place for me to discover and explore.
The city of Mati is not like most cities. Located on south eastern side of Mindanao, it is void of the usual high concentration of buildings and establishments that we usually find in an urban set-up. It evokes a provincial vibe more than a city. It is a popular weekend beach escape on this side of the country and its claim to fame are the waters of Dahican Beach which is ideal for skimboarding.
Join me as we explore the sites and the sounds of Mati, the provincial capital of Davao Oriental.
Our first stop for this trip is its famous Dahican Beach!
Located 30 minutes away from the city center, my brother and I opted to make Dahican Surf Camp our pitstop for this trip. The surf camp is a beachfront resort located in the middle of Dahican's seven-kilometer shoreline of white sand beach facing Mayo Bay.
Dahican Beach is Mati's prime tourism draw. Its white sand beach attracts beach bums for its chill and laidback vibe. Watching the sun rise on its horizon is a great reward for early risers. Or you can also enjoy watching fishermen haul in their catch in the morning. For evening persons, you can have your fix by enjoying your fave drink while indulging yourself to house music blending perfectly with the sound of the waves crashing along its shores.
The waves of Dahican also attracts adrenaline junkies. It is a popular skim boarding spot in Mindanao, and there are spots in the area where you can also enjoy riding its swells. My brother had a grand time body surfing while I enjoyed watching skim boarders skim along its shores.
The raw beauty of Dahican Beach can give other Philippine beach spot a run for the money. I loved how unassuming the place is despite its beauty. It has something to offer for all types of travelers, from beach chilling to challenging its waves.
Davao Oriental prides itself for having an area that is rich in biodiversity. And a visit to the Subangan Museum will give you an overview of the province's rich ecology, culture, and history.
The first floor of the museum showcases the rich cultural heritage and history of Davao Oriental. It gives you a glimpse of the way of life of the different tribes from its region, from a historical point of view to the present. You will be amazed at the colorful artistry found in their body ornaments and the way they dress. A special room also gives its guest a walkthrough on how the region was affected by climate change.
The second floor is an exciting exhibit that makes you feel, see, and hear the rich beauty of its natural resources. It walks you through the Davao Oriental's tourist attractions, mossy forests, and awesome cave systems. And it walks you through the exhibit by making you experience how it feels to be in those places. The exhibit is experiential which makes you excited to discover the real thing.
At the center of all the exhibit is the skeletal remains of Davor, a sperm whale that died in 2010 along the waters of Governor Generoso. It is the first whale exhibit in the country and the 7th largest on display in the world, measuring 53 feet in length. Its name is derived from the province's name to signify the rich biodiversity of Davao Oriental.
The Subangan Museum is one the well-curated museums that I have visited here in the Philippines. I came out full of new information that I picked up in a fun and interesting way. Definitely, it stands by its name derived from the local phrase "Subang sa Adlaw" which roughly translates to "first light of the day". The museum does serve as a the "first light" in understanding its culture, history, and natural beauty of Davao Oriental.
Provincial Capitol and People's Park
Standing atop a hill overlooking the Pujada Bay, the Davao Oriental Provincial Capitol is the province's seat of power. It is the most dominant structure in Mati's skyline.
Adjacent to the Provincial Capitol Building is the People's Park - a sprawling open space park. A small monument honoring Andres Bonifacio and a Children's Playground are the prominent attraction in the park.
Cathedral of San Nicolas de Tolentino
Located at the heart of the city, the Cathedral of San Nicolas de Tolentino is the center of the Catholic faith in the city.
Its modern and minimal approach in its architecture make the structure blend with the modest atmosphere of the city. From the outside, the church may seem like your usual neighborhood church but you will appreciate it more once you step inside the church.
Its modern minimalist design extends to its interiors. You will be impressed with its high ceilings and its simple altar with its wood finishing that gives it a very warm and homey feel.
Mati Bay Walk
Just a few meters walk from the church is a sprawling park facing Pujada Bay - the Baywalk. The open field park sits behind the breakwaters giving its guests a beautiful view of the bay and the surrounding mountains of the province.
This is a popular afternoon spot for locals where they can enjoy the view and the breeze while spending time with family and friends. This is where you would also find the "I Love Mati" sign with the Pujada Bay as its backdrop.
Mati City Hall
The City Hall of Mati serves as the center of governance of the city. Located two blocks away from the Baywalk, you can take a 5-minute walk to the city hall and you also get to enjoy a usual day in Mati.
Check out the city's watchtower and its garden that bears the busts of the city's mayors. You will also find the city's pylon a few meters from the city hall gate.
Sleeping Dinosaur of Mati
Another famous spot in Mati is its Sleeping Dinosaur. It is a viewing deck atop a hill that overlooks Pujada Bay and the surrounding landscape around it. It got its name because the landmass that separates Pujada Bay and Balete Bay looks like a sleeping dinosaur resting on the bay's waters.
The view deck is located along the city's outskirts on the western side. You can take a bus bound for Davao or Tagum and you can ask the driver to drop you at the Sleeping Dinosaur View Deck. Alternatively if you are coming from Davao, you can ask the driver to drop you off at the view deck before you head off to the city center.
Be prepared to be physically challenged with a short and a bit steep 15-minute hike to the view deck. This part of the trip caught me off-guard that I was huffing and puffing when we reached the view deck.
But your huffing and puffing will be rewarded by the amazing views of the land and sea of Davao Oriental. I was lucky to come in without the crowd that I was able to enjoy 30-minutes of unadulterated view of the "Sleeping Dinosaur" while getting refreshed by the breeze coming in from the sea.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
At first glance, the city of Mati may seem to be a sleepy and unassuming Philippine destination. Most people would probably associate it with Dahican Beach and skimboarding. But beyond the white sand and the adrenaline, the city gives you an interesting sneak peek of what you can discover and explore in this city and Davao del Sur.
The province is a pot of gold for travelers and Mati has not seen the last of me yet. Well, kelangan lang talaga na matibay ka if you plan to visit Mati. The travel from Manila alone can be taxing but it's a trip worth taking. Maybe on my next trip to Mati, I should take it a "notch higher".
Tara! Mati, Bai!
Getting There: Cebu Pacific, Air Asia, and Philippine Airlines have regular flights to Davao City from Manila, Clark, and major cities in the Philippines. From the airport, you can walk to the highway where you can take a bus to Mati City. You can take a tricycle or ride a habal-habal to go to Dahican Beach or to go around the city.
Roughly at 11.20pm, we were along EDSA in Cubao desperately hailing a taxi to get home. A ride getting home shouldn't be a problem on a regular day but this was not a regular day. It was December 31 and we just came from a 14-hour trip from Caramoan. 25 minutes and four cabs later, we were home and 15 minutes ahead of 2019. And 20 minutes after ringing in the new year, we were comfortably asleep - tired after returning from our supposed yearend trip and after we got "Usman-ed" in Caramoan.
Our planned trip started out smoothly days before the onset of the new year. The plan was to explore the beautiful beaches of Caramoan on the eastern seaboard of Camarines Sur. This tourist destination took the limelight after being featured on a number of seasons of the international franchise of "Survivor". With its pristine white sand beaches, off-beat rustic ambiance, and 13 islands to explore, it is not surprising that a lot of locals will try their luck in surviving Caramoan.
Day 1: A Surprise Sidetrip
We started out our trip smoothly with two families, a couple, and a solo traveler. We all boarded a van for an overnight trip to Caramoan. Weather was fine when we left although I was aware that a typhoon was going to hit land in Samar which may affect the weather system in the area. I expected some rains and some winds on our first day.
It was drizzling in Naga when we stopped over for breakfast. And just after breakfast, our first itinerary change was announced. Our sidetrips to Naga, initially scheduled on the third day was moved to the first day. It was understandable since we cannot afford to set out to explore islands in that kind of weather. But a major change was that our side trip was to include Albay. I was reluctant because by moving towards Legazpi meant getting closer to the typhoon which meant more rains. But when you are a joiner on a trip, you are at the mercy of the organizer's discretion. We had no choice but to go with the flow.
The heavy downpour in Naga did not allow us to fully explore two of the city's popular destinations - the Penafrancia Minore Basilica and the Camsur Watersport Complex. We were able to make a short visit and view the image of the Our Lady of Penafrancia. However, the rains were relentless when we reached the CWC that we just had a quick tour of the complex.
The rains were more considerate when we reached Legazpi City. While some of our companions managed to hop on an ATV and enjoy a trail run, our group decided to enjoy lunch and go for some pasalubong shopping at the Cagsawa Ruins. It has been years since I first set foot to explore the ruins and it was a nice to come face to face with this iconic attraction. Too bad though that it was raining and Mayon was not in view.
After the brief stop in Albay, we finally headed up to Caramoan and arrived at around 9pm amidst a heavy downpour. We later found out that our van was the last to have crossed the mountains to Caramoan.
Day 2: A Rainy Staycation at Rex Inn Garden Resort
We were jolted out from our slumber at around 6.15 in the morning. The frantic wake up call woke us in the midst of a flooded room. In no time, I was scampering to get our bags up on the bed. I was scooping stuff floating around while Jeh and Asher was securing our important stuff inside our Hull and Stern dry bags. We did not feel any fear. In fact, we were all laughing at our predicament.
I evacuated Asher first as water was rising fast before Jeh and I started to haul our things out of the flooded room. At one point, I feared that the presence of snakes in the floodwaters. By the time that I made a final sweep in the room, water was already on my thighs. It rose from ankle-deep waters up to my thighs in a matter of 30 minutes.
The great thing with Rex Inn Garden Resort was that we were ushered in to a new room on the higher grounds of the resort as fast as we were evacuated. All affected guests were well-taken cared of. In no time, we were already sorting out our wet clothes from the dry ones. After breakfast (which was served and delivered to our room on time), I was able to get a clear picture of our situation. The heavy downpour in the evening that continued through the early morning caused the adjacent river to overflow and flood the resort. Baranggay officials were even mapping out a rescue plan to save 3 families stranded in one of the hills near our resort at the time that I was assessing the situation. The families sought higher grounds when the river swelled.
By midday, we were made aware that all roads leading out of Caramoan was blocked by landslides, a total of 18 landslides along the access road. Access to town was also blocked by another landslide. There was no easy way in to and out of the place as clearing operations may take days. The only way out was through the Caramoan Feeder Port in Guijalo and it would entail navigating through muddy trails because of the landslide.
We decided that sitting out the storm was the only option as we were stranded anyway. Our island hopping activity turned into an unscheduled staycation at Rex Inn Garden Resort. We enjoyed just relaxing in our room, enjoy the sumptous meals which were always served on time, and enjoy the rainy and windy weather. Some of the guests took the opportunity to just enjoy a dip in the pool.
Day 3: Three Beaches and A Church
With the sun breaking out of the clouds, our guide, Kuya Joseph of Gayon Travel and Tours, organized a quick beach hopping activity to give us a sneak peek of Caramoan's rustic beauty.
We couldn't go far because a gale warning was still in effect in the area and the closest island that we can get safely into was Bagieng Island, more popularly known as Survivor Island. This is the island that is used by the international franchise for their location for the popular reality tv show.
There are three beach spots in the area. Our first stop was the Balete Beach characterized by its cream-colored sand and the abundance of Balete trees. The place is a solitary spot which is also ideal for camping. It's solitary atmosphere make it a great spot to enjoy a slice of some peace and quiet.
Bagieng Beach is another stretch of cream-colored sandy beach at the "back" of the island. This is the landing area of motorized boats to access the location of the reality show. Its sugary sand and lush greens make it another photogenic spot for those cool and, sometimes, wacky shot.
Sabitang Laya is the main attraction of the island as this is the spot where the series is shot. Its vast open space and sandy shores, it is a great place where you can have a picnic and enjoy a cool dip. Asher loved the spot. Its dramatic limestone formation are great backdrops for photos. Its natural beauty would make any survivor enjoy spending time in the island.
As our exploration was limited due to safety issues, we were already headed back to the resort by midday. The beach hopping activity was really meant to give us a short preview of what to expect when we return sometime soon.
Later in the afternoon, we had the chance to head down to Caramoan town after one lane of the road was cleared of mud. The short trip to the town gave us a clear picture of the devastation brought in by the rains of Usman. Not far from our resort, flood waters was as deep as 10 feet. Locals were all busy cleaning up the mess inside and outside their homes.
In the midst of the typhoon mess stands a Spanish-period church that dominates the skyline of the town of Caramoan. Built in the 15th century, the St. Michael Archangel Parish Church is one of the oldest churches in Camarines Sur. Its brick walls, glowing in red-orange hues in the late afternoon light, reflects its simplicity, its age and its rich history. Its three-tierred facade is highlighted by the image of St. Michael on the second tier and a belfry on the third.
The simplicity of the church extends within the walls of the church. Its main attraction is its altar and its three-tierred retablo with the image of the Crucified Christ as its centerpiece. The top level of the retablo bears the image of the church's patron saint.
We visited the church just as its afternoon mass was ending. As the faithful spilled out of the church's concrete pathways, I caught a glimpse of the church's wide courtyard still bearing puddles of floodwater. The church survived typhoons and earthquakes in all its 400 years of existence, which the town will be celebrating on May of this year, and no amount of Usman's rain is going to dampen the townfolks' faith.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
As we sailed across the waters of Lagonoy Gulf in the middle of the rain, I asked my little girl if she enjoyed our trip. Asher replied with a resounding "yes"! We both agreed that it was a different experience but it was one for our travel books. Our plan may have deviated by a mile but we love the fact that we did not allow the flood, the rain, and the wind to spoil the fun. We defined what was fun.
We only realized how Usman drenched the region after we boarded our bus to Manila, the last bus trip for the year. We never had any idea of how much damaged it has caused until we got connected back onto social media. Now, we understood why our families were worried. It was a different experience. That I guess is the essence of our yearend trip - trips are never perfect. Something's bound to happen that will derail you from the plan. And that is the best part because you discover something new and different about the place and about you.
My biggest pick-up from the experience - always waterproof your bag and it wouldn't hurt to have a Hull and Stern Waterproof bag. And yes, we are planning our return to Caramoan soon.
Special Note: I have to commend Kuya Joseph and the staff of Rex Inn Garden Resort for taking care of me and my family. I cannot thank you enough for your fast action and for making us feel comfortable throughout our stay. We really enjoyed our stay in Caramoan kahit na-Usman kami sa Caramoan.
Getting There: Raymond Bus Lines have direct land trips to and from Caramaon from their Cubao Station. Advance bus reservations are required weeks ahead so plan your trips very well. My recommended place to stay is Rex Inn Garden Resort.
For hassle-free joiner tour, you can get in touch with Kuya Joseph of Gayon Travel and Tours, based in Caramoan, that includes van transportation, accommodation, meals, and island tours. He can also make accommodation and island tours arrangements if you are bringing a car with you.
As I am writing this down, my family and I are sitting out the torrential rains and strong winds of typhoon Usman as it traverses the Visayas area. We are in Caramoan for our much anticipated yearender trip until a hurried wake-up call from one resort staff this morning. We woke up to a flooded room and we had to sweep on every single stuff that we had, both wet and dry, to move to a higher area of the resort in about 30 mins. I wil be blogging about it soon and how it pulled-off to be a yearend surprise.
2018 was another great year of going around the Philippines. I was more organized with the scheduling of my trips this year with "big" trips happening every quarter and the shorter ones filling the in betweens. I have explored the popular ones and those that are considered off-beat, focusing more on places that I have yet to explore. I am learning to turn down the usual trips in lieu of being able to explore new spots in the country.
When I started the year, I aimed to continue exploring provinces of the country that I have yet to cover with my #GOT81 goal. I identified one province from Luzon, one from Visayas, and one from Mindanao to explore. I had Catanduanes and joining the Pahiyas Festival in my 2018 bucket list, as well.
In retrospect, I was able to accomplish 3 out of the 7 items on my travel bucket list for 2018. Batanes was impressive but it was Catanduanes that made a mark on me. Antique was really awesome because I loved the solo backpacking scene which I have not done for a long time. Although I missed out on Pagadian this year, my Siargao, Mati, and Samal Island trips (Mati and Samal blogs are still on the works) were so awesome that Mindanao is my priority for my travel bucket list for 2019.
For my year ender, I wil be sharing with you my top local destinations for 2018.
Siargao Island is my top destination for this year. The place charming and endearing that Siargao grows in you slowly. I love the unique mix of its rustic atmosphere and vibrant island party feel. You get immersed with its natural beauty and get the rush with its activities while getting your fill of gastronomic delights from a wide selection of restaurants.
Siargao grows in you. Its vibe intoxicates you that you fall in love with it, more and more each day. Going around Siargao reminds you of your summer vacations in your parents' hometown where you just watch the day pass by going around town and observe the community's afternoon runs. You smiled at everyone you meet and the favor is returned. Every now and then, someone will make a short conversation with you and you really don't mind it. You feel that you are part of the community, not just a mere visitor.
This was Siargao to me. It goes beyond getting amazed by its natural beauty or its adrenaline-pumping activities. It makes you feel that you are part of the community.
You can read on my full Siargao blog here:
#GOTOffBeat: Caramoan, Camarines Sur
Our yearender trip to Caramoan is my off-beat destination for the year because of two things - Caramoan remains to be an off-beat tourist spot despite its popularity and it also got us off beat from the usual course of travel because of what we went through.
It is amazing that despite the popularity of Caramoan, locally and internationally, it has remained an off beat spot. I was pleasantly surprised with the absence of the usual restaurants and hotels present in the "more" popular destinations. Local small businesses thrive and you can still manage to get cheaper priced goods and services. It managed to remain rustic and off-beat probably because of getting there is not a joke.
But what made our Caramoan experience unique was the experience. We signed up with a tour group that came in at a time that storm Usman was about to hit Samar that also affected in the area. Despite the weather bulletins, we managed to get to Caramoan safely on schedule and with minor changes in the itinerary. The next day we woke up to a flooded room, we had to be moved to a higher area of the resort, and we had to sit it out the rest of our second day.
By the third day, we were told that we were stranded as there were 18 landslides that needed to be cleared out along our route. It was on the same day that we realized how much damage Usman lashed out on Caramoan and its surrounding areas.
It was a different and difficult experience but we took it in stride. We even managed to squeeze in a quick tour of the area before finding our way back to Manila. We learned a thing or two which I am excited to share with you on my future blog entry about this trip.
And no worries, we will be back.
(Kudos to Kuya Joseph of Gayon Travel and Tours and the staff of Rex Garden Tourist Inn for taking care of us during the ordeal. It was not the most ideal yearend family vacation but you made the whole experience bearable, comfortable, and fun. Maraming salamat po!)
I consider my Antique trip a "lucky trip". It was initially cancelled because of personal reasons and, with sheer luck, I was able to rebook it a month later because of an airline consideration due to, again, a weather disturbance. It was also my first solo backpacking trip after a long time.
Antique was a laidback charmer. It was very rustic and peaceful. It was a perfect place to unwind and detach from the world. This was a place that gives you that sense of adventure and rewards you with real quality time for self. I like the mix where a little hiking and water adventure makes you see the beauty that lies within its province and then enjoy a soothing kawa bath or morning meditation in the midst of nature. It allows you to see, experience, and be one with nature.
In its very essence, Antique is ideal for solo travelers. The serene atmosphere that it offers is ideal for those who are soul searching or for those who just simply want to detach from the world and re-charge. There are nature activities to try out and historical sites to explore to keep you amused. And you can end your day reading a good book or just simply drowning out in music while having a hot cup of coffee.
Read more about my Antique trip here:
#GOTDiscovered: Isla Maria, Cavinti, Laguna
And of course, our 2018 will not be complete without my discovery for this year - Isla Maria in Cavinti, Laguna!
Imagine having a whole island for yourself as a vacation spot. It was one of the coolest way to spend a Christmas day-out and it is just 4 hours away from Manila. Isla Maria is a small island in Lake Lumot ideal for a weekend family trip or a company teambuilding activity. You really get value for your money that includes a short island-hopping tour of Lake Lumot, unlimited use of the kayak, and you can even go try your hand on fishing.
This is another upcoming blog that I will be sharing with you soon and I just needed to share my unique destination find for 2018. You can check out their Isla Maria's Facebook page here.
As 2018 ushers in 2019, my project #GOT81 is still in effect and I am taking on the theme of #Mindanao1 this year. My trips to Siargao, Mati, and Samal Island made me realize that I still have a lot to explore and discover in Mindanao. So for this year, Mindanao will be my priority hence the number "1". I think it is also high time that I get to show that Mindanao is a safe destination to travel coming from someone who was born in Cagayan de Oro.
So what's on my travel bucketlist this 2019?
This landlocked destination missed out on me in 2018 and word is out that it is one off-beat destination that defines locked and loaded. This is one destination that has haunted me since the time that I read about it and I am rearing to explore it.
2. Balangiga Bells
It's back and I have got to hear it. After concerted efforts, the bells of Balangiga is back in its home. This is one historical and cultural treasure that I have got to see and hear as it is a mute witness to the horrors of the American occupation.
Gear up for another backpack adventure through Mindanao this March. I am excited to explore the wonders and the colorful heritage at the heart of Mindanao. This is going to be one of my biggest trip, if not the biggest, for the year.
Again, Pagadian also missed out on me in 2018 because of a family emergency. So I am re-planning the long overdue trip and this time crossing through three other cities in the area.
5. Dinagat Island
Off-beat destinations continue to charm me and Dinagat Island fits the pack. After watching it on "Byahe ni Drew" and seeing it from above (on my way to Siargao), Dinagat Island has caught my eye. And there is only way to quench my curiousity - checking out its spot.
6. Masskara Festival
This is another festival that I have been wanting to experience. Having seen its winning group perform during the Dinagyang week, I think the festival is one celebration where I can join in the fun and the dancing. And hopefully, I will be able to do it this year.
7. Swim with the Whale Sharks in Donsol
The best way to swim with the whale sharks is to swim with them in their natural habitat without disturbing its usual course. It would be a great experience to observe these gentle creatures in the wild.
I still have a couple of blogs that I am still working on as of this writing. I hope to share them with you in the coming weeks. As we work on heading back to Manila just in time for the New Year (as we are now aboard a boat to Sabang Port), I hope you enjoyed your travels this 2018 and I hope you also enjoyed mine, as well.
And with 2019 rushing in, gear up for another exciting year of exciting adventures and misadventures. Cheers to the new year!
PS. We arrived home safely 15 minutes before 2019 ushered in.
The City of Pines is a favorite destination of Filipinos at this time of the year. With its cold weather that matches up with the Christmas season, don't be surprised if your family or your peers are planning a weekend trip to Baguio. This city is the closest thing that you can get to that cold autumn feels on a tight budget. If you have an extra hundred, you can even get that winter-feels.
Sitting at 1, 540 MASL, Baguio City is the highest city, in terms of elevation, in the country. It is a year-round destination that packs in history, adventure, and culture in one complete itinerary. But apart from the usual visits to Mines View, horseback riding in Wright Park, and boating in Burnham, here are 7 interesting things to do when in Baguio.
Glamping in style
Yes, you heard it right. You can now camp out in style at Valleypoint Campsite in Sto. Tomas. Solo travelers can avail of an overnight package at Php1350 that includes glamping accomodation, breakfast, unlimited coffee, and one round of aerosoft shooting.
The campsite is located along a ridge that overlooks the southern part of the city and evenings are amazing with the view of the city lights. The campsite also has a common room with large pillows where you can spend the rest of the evening playing group games from the camp's selections or you can opt to sip a cup of warm coffee while chatting with friends.
For early morning risers, you can wake up to the cold Baguio morning just before sunrise and enjoy the light show of the sun rising. You won't see the sun rising but the play of colors at dawn is amazing. You'd realize that the cold wouldn't bother you as you get treated with its own version of its sea of clouds.
And just before leaving, get de-stressed by aiming the airsoft gun on a target and see how good you are on hitting the bulls eye. A great way to end your glamping experience. You can check out the Facebook page of Valleypoint Campsite here.
Walk the city
With its cool weather, exploring Baguio's tourism core by foot is the best way to go. You get to enjoy its weather and the city's beauty at your own pace and without the headache of getting stuck in Baguio traffic. You can kick off your walking tour with an insightful visit at the Museo Kordilyera where you get a glimpse of the unique culture of the different groups in the Cordillera.
Walking distance from the Museo Kordilyera is the Baguio Museum . The museum showcases the rich culture of the Cordillera. It also gives you a glimpse of how Baguio looked a decade ago and how the city developed into what it is now. The museum's main attraction is Apo Baket - a mummy from the Cordilleras. The museum has been her home for the past decades.
Walk along Governor Pack Road and find the historical marker where its development started before saying a short prayer at the Baguio Cathedral. Admire the church's rustic design with its pink facade, stained glass windows, and its twin belfries. The church also served as a shelter during World War 2 and within its ground is a memorial for the casualties of the war.
You can then walk down the stairs that leads down to Session Road, Baguio's most famous street. This is where you will find a lot business establishment, both popular and Baguio-based. Check out Vizco's and Tea House for their cakes or you can check out the ukay shops along Sky World. Looking for a vegetarian fix, head off to Oh My Gulay! You would be surprised at what you'd find in Session Road.
If you are thinking of lunch, I suggest that you take your food out instead of dining in. Because not far from Session Road is Burnham Park. Its huge ground is a great place to sit back, relax, and have a picnic while you enjoy the rush and the view. The park also offers a lot of activities for the young and old. You can try your hand out with boating on its lagoon, biking around, or by letting kids be kids on its playground.
You can cap off your walking tour by heading up to the Baguio City Hall. Along the way, you will pass by the city's own version of Rizal Park honoring the country's national hero. A view deck in front of the city hall will give you a commanding view of the city. A great way to end your city walking tour.
Have a picnic
They say that the best way to enjoy a place is to go the way locals do. Growing up in Baguio, going on a picnic is a staple among residents and forms part of everyone's childhood memories. I have yet to meet a Baguio resident who never had a picnic experience even once during their growing up years in this city.
The city has a lot of parks to choose from where you can share a meal with the family under its clear skies. Burnham Park, the upper part of Wright Park, the Botanical Garden, and John Hay are popular picnic spots in the city. The cool weather and the greens will be a memorable experience.
Baguio is a UNESCO Creative City with a lot of homegrown artists taking their roots here. The Bencab Museum and Tam-awan Village are top-of-the-mind art spots in Baguio that receives a lot of tourists on a regular basis. The art spots have become a city icon for artistry and creativity.
But the city has more creative spots to discover. Street art is a common thing to see and appreciate in Baguio. Skyworld may seem to be a great place to shop for ukay items but, when it closes its shop, you'd be amazed by creativity on its metal roll-up doors. So, keep your eyes open and appreciate the creativity on fence walls, roll-up doors and sidewalks that become canvasses of the young creative minds of Baguio locals.
While you are at it, Ili Likha Artist's Village is worth checking out along Assumption Road. This multi-level establishment was the brainchild of film-maker Kidlat Tahimik, who was recently recognized as a National Artist for Film. Artworks in different forms blend naturally with the complex's wooden structures and beams to create a sanctuary that would engage the artist in you.
The City of Pines is an old settlement pre-dating the Spanish occupation. It used to be called "Kafagway" and was a hunting ground of the Ibalois and other highland ethnic tribes. It was only during the American Period when Baguio was developed as a summer retreat for Americans. Burnham Park, the Mansion, Kennon Road, Teacher's Camp, and Camp John Hay were some of the structures built during this period.
Baguio's heritage and historical structures are mute witnesses to the both the good and the bad of Philippine history. The Baguio City Hall, Burnham Park, and the Mansion saw the development of Baguio from a rancheria to a bustling city. Session Road saw how local businesses bloomed and how bigger market players entered the local scene. Camp John Hay was a taste of America during the 80's until it was developed as an ecological attraction in the city.
Of course, we have heard the creepy stories of the log houses in Teacher's Camp. How its hauntings are associated to its early American inhabitants. You wouldn't want to miss out a visit to the famous Diplomat Hotel that have seen the horrors of the Japanese occupation of the city. It also tells you how a place once feared has slowly evolved into a destination that gives you a commanding view of the city. Well, a visit to Diplomat would never be complete without its haunting stories.
Wherever you go in Baguio, there will always be a touch of history. Don't just sulk up on the view but be amazed by the stories and history behind these tourist spots.
My love for the outdoors was born in Baguio. As a young boy, I enjoyed hiking on the trails around PMA. Some trails lead to another part of the camp while the other leads to the Loakan Airport or a "view deck" of Kennon Road. The scent of pine trees while walking on these trails are all embedded in my memory.
Although the scent of pine trees may no longer be there, hiking is still an activity worth trying out when in Baguio. The popular hiking trail of Mount Ulap can be done if you have an extra day to spare. My family have done its traverse and the commanding views of the Cordillera, La Union, and Pangasinan is enough of a reward for challenging you physically. You can read our complete experience here.
But if you only have a few hours to spare and you want to get close to nature, you can take a hike along John Hay's Yellow Trail. It snakes through the forested areas of the camp and will take around 2 hours to complete. It is a great way to exercise and commune with nature while you enjoy the cool climate of the city.
Mention Baguio City and expect people to associate it with ukay-ukay. You can't blame them because the city did popularize thrift shopping in the country. There are a lot of places to go ukay-ukay shopping in the city - Skyworld along Session Road, Abanao Street, and Hilltop to name a few. But the night market along Harrison Road is a must place to check out for unique finds. The street comes alive with its merchants selling anything under the sun. You just have to have a keen eye in searching for great finds. If you get tired and hungry in the process, food stalls are located on both ends of the street that offer different kind of street food and coffee.
But beyond the ukay-ukay economy of Baguio, there are a lot of great finds in Baguio's public market, from strawberries to the walis tambo. Freshly ground coffee, fresh vegetables, fresh flowers, freshly-made ube, and handicrafts are just some of the great "pasalubongs" that you can bring home. If you want to find what and where in Baguio's public market, check out my Baguio Palengke Attack blog here.
Baguio is also the home of a number of homegrown businesses. Mirthful Atman and Mirth Fragrances are two brands that I have come across and loved that are based in Baguio. Mirthful Atman is a shirt brand that aims to inspire one to be a "happy soul" through their cool shirt designs while Mirth Fragrances offer linen sprays and perfumes for everyday use. Check out the Facebook page of Mirth Fragrances here.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
The Baguio that I grew up in has long evolved into an urban jungle marred by a boom in its population and traffic. Gone were the days that you wake up to the fresh scent of pine trees during cold mornings. But the city still tries to keep its culture, history, heritage, and its stories intact despite the changing environment that it sits in. Its tourist spots and its activities, both the old and the new, tries to connect its residents and its tourists to the old Baguio that I grew up in.
I hope that as we walk the city, enjoy its cool weather with friends and family, appreciate its beauty and artistry, and support its local businesses, we are able to see beyond Baguio's site and sounds. We are able to understand that, despite its development, the old Baguio feel is the key in keeping its uniqueness as a Philippine destination. That it is not just the cold but the unique blend of the cold and pine tree scent that complete the Baguio vibe. It is not just the beauty of its site but the stories behind it that make the city come alive. And we could make that promise to strive, whether locals or guests, to keep that city spirit and vibe alive in our hearts and mind, and more importantly in our actions.
Getting there: Victory Liner, Dagupan Bus, and Genesis Bus have daily trips to Baguio City. Regular aircon bus trips cost around Php450 one way while the De Luxe buses of Victory Liner and Genesis Bus costs Php750 one way. Taxis and jeepneys are the mode of transport within the city but, with the traffic, getting around by foot is faster.
City Core Walking Tour Itinerary:
9.00a - Museo Kordilyera
10.00a - Baguio Museum
11.00a - Baguio Cathedral via Governor Pack Road
11.45a - Session Road / Skyworld Ukay-Ukay Shops / Ili Likha Artist’s Village / Buy Lunch
1.00p - Picnic Lunch at Burnham Park / Explore Burnham / Boating / Biking
3.00p - Baguio City Hall via Rizal Park
4.30p - Ukay-ukay shopping at Abanao / Explore Baguio Public Market
6.30p - Dinner at Session Road
8.30p - Visit Baguio Market
#ExploreManila was a personal project that I started a few years back that was aimed at exploring the cities and the lone municipality of Metro Manila. The goal was discover each city/municipality's history, food stops, and culture amidst the hustle and bustle of city life. The city adventure had me enjoying a free kalesa ride in Pasig City, being personally accomodated by visual artist Cacnio (the artist behind the Php20-peso bill design) inside his Malabon home, looking for a historical monument in Mandaluyong, and searching for a historical lighthouse along the banks of Taguig. Through these adventures and misadventures, I have come to realize that Metro Manila is more than just a bustling metropolis.
It was unfortunate, though, that this adventure had to take the backseat for a time... until two Sundays ago. A long overdue visit to my sibling's final resting place down south spawned into a spontaneous city adventure that had me enjoying a hot afternoon exploring Paranaque.
Paranaque, located south of Metro Manila, is a city by the bay that is popular for its its posh hotels along the reclaimed area of Manila Bay. The city was officially founded in 1580 and was originally known as Palanyag. Its strategic location played an important role in the country's history from the Spanish period up to World War 2.
Paranaque has evolved from being a metro suburb to a bustling city. It managed to keep its traditions and history intact amidst the buzz of the city. Let us discover the city's history as we #ExploreParanaque!
Elorde Sports Center (Paranaque-Sucat Road)
Established in 1974, the Elorde Sports Center was the brainchild of Gabriel "Flash" Elorde - one of the country's best Filipino boxers of all time. This 3-hectare property is a sports haven and has become a brand associated to sport of boxing. It houses a stadium, boxing rings, tennis courts, and swimming pools. It is also a populat host for regular cockfighting derbies.
The brand has expanded widely in the metro but its original branch remains, not only as a venue for discovering and developing talents, but as an attraction, as well.
Getting there: From the Sucat bus stop along SLEX, cross to the other side of the Paranaque-Sucat Road. Take a jeep to Kabihasnan and ask the driver to drop you off at "Elorde". Fare is at Php10.
San Dionisio Chapel and Heritage Tree (Quirino Avenue)
This old Spanish Chapel is the home of the headless image of St. Denis or Tata Dune - a French Bishop who was persecuted by his persecutors.
The church stands out with its simple facade made from adobe, bricks, and cement. Its big open courtyard has a stage where their annual senaculo tradition is held. Installed on its walls is a "Lupong Tagapangasiwa ng Bisita" marker. Within its courtyard stands a huge Acacia Tree that provide a refreshing shade from the afternoon sun. The tree was declared a heritage tree by the city government in 2007.
Its simple interior is highlighted by a two-tierred retablo with the reverred image of Tata Dune, cradling his head on his arms, as its centerpiece.
The serene and peaceful ambiance of the place give you that relaxing provincial feel. I enjoyed taking a spot by the courtyard, enjoying the cool shade of its heritage tree, and enjoying the rustic beauty of the old chapel.
Getting there: From Elorde Sport Center, you can take a jeep to Kabihasnan and ask the driver to drop you off at San Dionisio Chapel.
The Cathedral Parish of Saint Andrew (Quirino Avenue)
At the heart of the old Paranaque stands a huge church that really had me in awe when I first caught sight of it. The Cathedral Parish of Saint Andrew is a church that has a touch of history, a sanctuary for the faithful, and a majestic beauty.
Established in 1580, the congregation were mainly from the barrios of La Huerta, Don Galo, and San Dionisio and was dedicated to St. Andrew. The church and the convent was completed in 1650 but convent was later on demolished upon orders of the Governor-General because of threats of an attack by Chinese pirate, Koxinga. The Paranaque Cathedral is one of the oldest churches in the country.
The four-century old church was built baroque style with buttresses on the side. Its facade is highlighted by an image of Saint Andrew with a four-storey belfry standing adjacent to the church. Its interior os majestic with its high ceiling and huge windows on the side. Its altar garbed in gold and white is highlighted by an image of Christ on the cross. Two adjacent altars flank the main altar. One bearing images of different saints and the other bearing the reverred image of the Nuestra Senora Del Buen Suceso.
The Nuestra Senora Del Buen Suceso was canonically crowned as the patroness of the city in September of 2000.
Getting there: From San Dionisio Chapel, you can take a jeep bound for Baclaran and you can ask the driver to drop you off at St. Andrew.
I noticed a couple of mansions just right outside the Paranaque Cathedral so I took my time to take a stroll around La Huerta. During earlier times, this old town had an orchard that was admired by many that it was said that people who travelled through La Huerta would stop to admire it. Unfortunately, the orchard slowly deteriorated as no one was able to really take care of it.
But beyond its famed orchard, La Huerta also played a role in Philippine history. It is the birthplace of Padre Masangkay, a Filipino priest who was involved in the Cavite Mutiny and later joined the revolution against the Spaniards, and Manuel Bernabe, a renowned Filipino author. Both have their own contributions recognized by the community.
La Huerta has its own collections of mansions that give you a glimpse of the past in La Huerta. These houses are privately owned so I only view them from a distance. These houses have maintained their grandeur despite the developments around it.
Simbahang Metodista Episkopal (Qurino Avenue)
This small Methodist Church along Quirino Avenue brings the honor of being the first Methodist church established south of Manila. The church was first established in 1901 in Mabong but was transferred to its location in 1917. Unfortunately, it was accidentally bombed during the liberation of Manila that took the lives of 77 Filipinos.
The church was rebuilt in 1950 with the aid of the Philippine War Damaged Commission and the Trinity Church in the US and was named Martyrs' Memorial United Methodist Church.
Getting there: From La Huerta, take a jeep going to Baclaran. Ask the driver to drop you off at Tambo.
Baclaran (Roxas Boulevard)
If Manila has Divisoria and San Juan has Greenhills, Baclaran is Paranaque's hawker center. This is where you can get goods that are really cheap from clothes, shoes, religious items, food, bags, and household items. For those who love to shop for cheap items, Baclaran is a place worth checking out.
Walking around the place can be confusing with a lot of stalls lined up on the streets that offer goods with really cheap prices. The keyword here is to haggle. Go around and check out the stalls before making the final purchase. Expect the crowd here on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Getting there: From the Simbahang Metodista Episkopal, take a jeep going to Baclaran
Baclaran Church (Roxas Boulevard)
In the midst of the hustle of commerce in Baclaran is the Redemptorist Church - one of the popular churchs in the metro. The church is a national shrine dedicated to the "Our Mother of Perpetual Help" and is one of the largest Marian congregation in the country. Wednesdays are often referred to as "Baclaran Days" as it is during these days that the novena is prayed.
The current church is the third structure to be built on its location. The church, with its Modern Romanesque design, took 6 years to be built since most of its funding came from personal contributions from devotees. It was officially dedicated in 1958 and has been open for 24 hours ever since. Pope John Paul II offered mass on this shrine during his 1981 visit in the country.
Its grand interiors stand out for its high ceiling and simple design. Its main feature is the image of "The Mother of Perpetual Help" installed at the altar of the church. The church has a seating capacity of 2000 but can accommodate as much as 11, 000 in a single mass.
The sprawling church compound has a small park and open spaces where visitors can relax before or after mass. Its recent addition is its belfry that features mosaic of its patroness on its four sides.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
I never expected to walk through history in Paranaque. I have always associated it as a food haven but it did not occur to me how this city grew out from our history. It is a city that was able to preserve its history and culture despite the rapid development happening within its territory. Unlike the other cities in the metro where urban development grew around or drowned around historical sites, Paranaque historical core has remained intact. Exploring the old barrios of La Huerta, San Dionisio, and Don Galo is like visiting a provincial town where you get to appreciate its stories and laidback vibe.
Local travelers are quick to jump on a trip to explore interesting and famous Philippine destination but seldom take the time to explore the city where they reside. We are all quick to share itineraries of the places that we have visited but we are stumped when asked about interesting places in our neighborhood. Metro Manila is more than just a bustling metropolis. It is a place where history was written, where old customs are still being practiced, and where you get to understand the different Pinoy cultures and traditions. You get to see the raw beauty of Manila by exploring it one city at a time.
Getting there: You can take a bus to Sucat from any point along EDSA. Alternatively, you can take a bus to Baclaran where you can take a jeep to Kabihasnan.
Exploring Antique's past gave us a glimpse of the rich history of the province. It gives us the narrative on how its natural beauty caught the eyes of the Datus of Borneo, the Moros, and the Spaniards. Its colorful past can play a huge part in developing a sustainable tourism plan for Antique, especially now that it is slowly coming out of its shell.
The spotlight on Antique as a tourism spot is attributed to two interesting propositions - its golden hills that roll towards a white sandbar and reinventing the use of a cooking utensil into a unique and relaxing activity. These two things placed the province in the peripherals of offbeat travelers and, through time, caught the interests of mainstream and socmed travelers. On this entry, we will be exploring the towns of Tibiao and Culasi and how these two sleepy communities drove Antique out of the shadows.
Mararison Island: A Beauty Uncovered After A Tragedy
Located on the northern part of Antique, Culasi is a town that is rich in natural resources from its mountains to its islands. The town was established by the Spaniards and was originally known as Bacong. Its name was later changed to Culasi, a name derived from the mangrove species that grow abundantly along its rivers.
Its main tourism pride is Mararison - a small island off the coast of Culasi that is popular for its rolling hills and it white sand bar. Its beauty have long captured the interest of off-beat travelers but it was only after Typhoon Yolanda destructively cut through the Visayas that its beauty was unraveled to a larger traveling community. In no time, Mararison Island was thrust into the limelight.
Despite the attention on Mararison Island, the island remains rustic with a vibrant community. The best way to discover it is by engaging with the locals. Homestay is still the best way to spend a night on the island although there are a number of resorts for those who want a more comfortable stay.
Going around the island by foot is the only way to discover Mararison. The trek will give guests a 360-degree view of the island, literally and figuratively, along an established trail. It takes around 3 hours to complete the route and I recommend doing the trail in the late afternoon just right in time for the sunset.
Lantawan is the local name of Mararison's highest peak. From this vantage point, you will be amazed by the 360-degree view of its rolling hills, its white sand shores, Nablag Islet, and the coastline of Culasi.
I was lucky that I was able to have the vantage point all for myself. It gave me the opportunity to breath in its beauty and try to capture the views without usual crowd. And yes, don't miss out on getting a closer look at pitcher plants while on the trail. Don't worry, the guides will show you these pitcher plants that come in different sizes and colors.
From Lantawan, we continued on with the trail that traverses through Mararison's rolling hills and steep cliffs. Guests are treated to a more dramatic and contrasting views of Mararison - one side are the soft and rolling green hills while the other side are the rugged and steep cliffs. Tekkers are advised to take extra caution because loose rocks and soil and the dizzying heights make the trail extra challenging.
Part of the trail is going down a rocky beach cove where you can find a small opening known as Gui-ob Cave. The cave has a narrow opening that leads to a big cavity just a few meters from the opening.
Luyo Beach/Nablag Islet
Luyo Beach is small beach cove on the western side of Mararison. Although it is not as stunning as that of its eastern counterpart, its shoreline provides a more peaceful ambiance.
The cove also serves as a closer vantage point to Nablag Islet. One can actually walk across the sandbar that connects Luyo to Nablag during low tide.
I told my guide, Ate Rocil, that I was really looking forward to watching the sunset and she told me that our last stop was a good vantage point to watch the setting of the sun. As we continued through the trail, I noticed how the green hills of Malalison was turning into golden yellow which really got me excited.
Finally after about another 10 minutes of uphill trekking, we reached the vantage point that Ate Rocil was talking about. The spot had a very good and unadulterated view of the sun setting on the horizon with Nablag Islet on the foreground.
I have to say that Mararison sunset is one of the best that I have witness. The calmness that it evokes as it paints the island's rolling hills from green to gold was surreal. The best way to enjoy it is sit down and enjoy the show.
Another prominent spot in Mararison is the Kawit Sandbar. The sandbar changes its shape depending on the prevailing season. The habagat season deposits the white sand into a mound at the end of the eastern side of the island. The waves during the amihan slowly push back the sand to form the shape of a fish hook. Locals are quick to say that the white sandbar is best viewed during summer where you can even set camp on the sandbar.
The amihan season was just starting at the time of my visit so the sandbar was not at its best shape. But I enjoyed waking up early to watch the sun breaking out of the mountainous terrain while enjoying the peaceful ambiance of the sandbar.
Tibiao: Nothing Beats The Original
If there was one thing that really drove Antique out of its shell, it is the re-invention of the kawa into something unique and interesting. Who would have thought that a makeshift heated tub created a buzz that it is now being replicated as a come on for travelers and tourists in other Philippine destination. It was definitely the Kawa Hot Bath that directed attention to Antique.
But beyond the warm attention, Tibiao has a lot more to offer. It is a place endowed with amazing natural attractions to explore and a calming ambiance that would soothe the mind. It is a place where you get to really understand the true meaning of "time for self".
Bugtong Bato Falls
Within the jurisdiction of Tibiao is a seven-tierred waterfall - the Bugtong Bato Falls. The first level of the falls can be reached after a 30 to 40 minute hike through the beautiful rustic landscape of Tibiao. My guide, Jocelyn, shared with me that only the first three levels of the falls are accessible to tourists. The other levels don't have an established trail yet. The seventh tier is the biggest and can be reached through a different and steeper trail.
Water cascades from a height of 145 feet on the first level. I was amazed by the sheer height of water falling on its rock wall. It was grand and beautiful. Jocelyn shared with me that the cascade on the seventh tier is thrice the height of the first so you can just imagine how huge the topmost waterfall is.
From the first level, you then climb up a steep trail to get to the second and third level. Make sure that you hold on to the railing because going up can be a challenge for those who are afraid of heights. But you will be rewarded with a beautiful view from the top of the first level. A short walk inland will bring you to the spot where you can view the second and the third levels.
The cascade on the second level is the shortest in height among the three. Its cold waters fall into a shallow basin. If you still have the energy, you can still head up to the third level by climbing up on rock wall adjacent to the second level's cascade. Ropeworks are provided for the guest’s safety.
The rest area on the third level is very small. It did help that I was the only guest at that time that I had the spot for myself and enjoyed taking "clean" pictures of the three levels of Bugtong Bato. You can take a dip into the cold waters on the third level where the basin is around 15-18 feet deep or enjoy the water rush between your toes while enjoying the views and the sounds of the forest that surrounds the place.
Tibiao River Tubing
After the hike, I cooled off by hopping on a tire tube and let the rushing waters of Tibiao River push me downstream. Of course, I had a guide with me to help me navigate through the rapids of the river.
River tubing is another great activity to try out when you find yourself in Tibiao. The 45-minute downstream run will let you experience the thrill of bouncing around the rocks and rapids of Tibiao River. All you got to do is just sit back, share stories, and enjoy the view as you bob in and out of its rushing waters.
Kawa Bath at Kayak Inn
After the hike and the rush, it was time to relax and chill and there is no better way to do it than get a warm dip on Kayak Inn's Kawa Bath.
Kayak Inn is a rustic riverside resort in Tibiao. It prides itself to be one of the first, if not the first, to offer the kawa bath and river tubing in the area. The place is an "A++" for those who wish to disconnect, relax, and unwind. Its simple and basic nipa hut accomodations, with its own patio, give you that laidback provincial feel. It feels like you are just relaxing at home. I really loved the calm and peaceful vibe of the place. It was as if time stood still during my stay.
The Kawa Bath was something that I was looking forward to. A large caulderon that could fit a person is filled with water, herbs, leaves, and flowers which is then heated over fire. Once ready, the guest gets to enjoy a warm dip while enjoying the sweet aroma of the herbs and the relaxing atmosphere of the place.
The makeshift tub experience was very relaxing. The warm dip was complemented by the rustic view, the mix sound of riverwater rushing down the stream, the rustling of leaves, sunlight breaking through the canopies created by trees, and the sounds of crickets and critters. The calm ambiance of Kayak Inn completed the whole experience. It was a perfect way to cap off a physically exhausting morning.
The re-invention of the kawa made its mark that a number of tourist destinations, like Rizal, have adopted it for added attraction. But let me tell you, nothing really beats the original.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Antique's successful re-invention took the province out of the shadows of Boracay and Iloilo to showcase a tourism branding that marked it as its own. The province which started out as an off-beat destination and an "alternative" from the party island has aligned itself as a tourism hotspot in the country.
One thing that I liked about Mararison Island and Tibiao was how their respective local government units were able to align the tourism opportunity to benefit their respective communities. Locals get to feel the benefits of the thriving industry whether it be for their guides, homestays, and even on commerce for local fishermen and small businesses.
My interaction with locals are conversations about how they benefit from these travel activities. They have shared with me the efforts being undertaken to making sure that they are able to preserve what they have now. They understand what happened to Boracay's 6-month closure. Although it affected them because the number of foreign guests dropped, it was augmented by local travelers and it did make Antique a household name. But they are quick to draw from the experience that sustainability is crucial in the tourism industry.
With the re-opening of Boracay, they are excited with the prospect of having more tourists visiting Antique. I am hoping that it would be a bigger opportunity for more people to realize that the adjacent province of Antique has a lot to offer. You can enjoy its rustic and peaceful ambiance as you discover the stories behind its golden sunset and its hot "kawa". to edit.
Getting there: You can take a flight from Manila or any major Philippine airport to Iloilo or Caticlan. I took the Iloilo route. From Iloilo Intenational Airport, you can take a van to Molo Terminal where you can take a Ceres Bus bound for San Jose de Buenavista or Culasi. I suggest that you take the bus as the schedule is more dependable than the van. From Hamtic, you can take either a tricycle or a jeep to San Jose de Buenavista and Patnongon. From Patnongon, you can take a bus bound for Culasi. Ask the conductor to drop you off at Crossing Importante where you can get a habal-habal to Kayak Inn.
I highly recommend that you make prior arrangements for your accommodation with Kayak Inn. For a solo traveler, I paid for Php650 for an overnight stay. The package includes breakfast and the kawa bath. They can also assist you with making the arrangements for the trek to Bugtong Bato Falls and the Tibiao River Tubing. Guide fee for Bugtong Bato is at Php200 and River Tubing is at Php400 per head. You may reach Kayak Inn, through Ems, at (0930) 6060631.
From Tibiao, you can arrange for the habal-habal to bring you directly to Culasi Port. Solo travelers pay only Php100 per trip as a rider or you can have the option of renting out a whole boat for Php750 for a roundtrip. You can contact Kea’s Homestay, through Maricris, at (0920) 6524088.
Sample 2-Day Trip Itinerary:
Day 1. Arrival/Hamtic/San Jose de Buenavista/Patnongon
7.00a - ETA in Iloilo
8.00a - ETD for Hamtic
10.00a - Explore Hamtic (Hamtic Cemetery Church and Malandog Marker)
11.30a - Proceed to San Jose de Buenavista
12.00n - Lunch
1.00p - Explore San Jose (Old Capitol/New Capitol/EBJ Freedom Park/ Ruins of San Pedro Roman)
2.00p - Proceed to Patnongon
2.30p - Explore Patnongon (Ruins of Patnongon Church and Convent/Ruins of Casa Municipal)
3.30p -ETD to Tibiao
5.00p - ETA at Tibiao/Proceed to Kayak Inn
5.30p - Afternoon Chill
Day 2. Tibiao/Malalison
7.00a - Breakfast
8.00a - Hike to Bugtong Bato Falls
10.00a - Water Tubing at Tibiao River
11.00a - Kawa Bath
12.30p - Proceed to Culasi
1.30p - ETA at Culasi/Lunch
2.30p - ETD for Malalison
3.00p - ETA at Malalison/Find Homestay
3.30p - Hike around Malalison
5.30p - Catch the sunset
6.30p - Chill
Breaking away from the shadows of Boracay and Iloilo, the province of Antique created a ripple in the Philippine tourism scene by re-defining the use of the "kawa". An innovative and creative way of a "hot bath" did not only made a mark but also prompted other destinations to replicate it to attract travelers. Of course, nothing beats the original.
Antique is an old settlement that started with the time of Datu Marikudo and the 10 Malay Datus. It was one of the three "sakups"established, together with Akean and Irong-Irong. Its original name was Hantique, from the word Hantik - the large black ants found in the province, and was led by Datu Sumakwel.
The Spanish period ushered in the construction of massive churches to encourage locals to turn to Christianity. Watchtowers were also built to guard the seaside from Moro raids. Some of these structures or the remnants of which still stand to serve as reminders of Antique's rich history. For this blog, let us explore the rich and, sometimes, dark past of the province where the mountains meet the sea.
Rustic and rural, who have thought that Hamtic once served as the provincial capital of Antique. The municipality is said to be the oldest town in the province as this is where the first Malay settlement was established under Datu Sumakwel. Its name is a derivative of "Hantik", the original name of the "sakup".
Hamtic Cemetery Church
The cemetery sits in a middle of a rice field and can be accessed from the highway by a narrow street , beautifully lined with trees. At the heart of the cemetery is a beautiful old church that is believed to be from the Spanish period.
Its design is like a miniature baroque Spanish-period church with its three-layered limestone facade and two belfries flanking both sides of the church. The first layer contains niches that run along the front and side of the church while the second level have columns on the facade and rectangular windows on its sides. The third level has the image of the Risen Christ that also serves as its focal point of the facade. The church's design runs similar to the churches San Joaquin, Tigbauan, and Molo in Iloilo.
You find very limited information about the Hamtic Cemetery Church online. There are stories that associate it to the supernatural and ghost hauntings that are popular in the region. There are also stories that claim that it was once a parish church. But judging from the still standing and ruins of Spanish period churches in the region, it does not fit the mold of being a parish church because the churches in the region are massive in size. A plausible information that can be looked into is that the church may have been a Spanish-period camposanto similar to that of San Joaquin in Iloilo.
Hamtic is the oldest town in Antique with the first settlement taking root at Brgy. Malandog under the leadership of Datu Sumakwel. A marker was installed by the local government to commemorate that fateful event.
The marker is located along the highway, right beside the Malandog Elementary School. A sculpture of two hands carrying a golden salakot is the focal point of the small park. The hands represent the Malay Datu Sumakwel and the Ati Datu Marikudo who forged an agreement with the Malay Datu giving the Ati Datu a salakot that is said to be made of gold.
Artworks adorn the walls of the mini-park's walls that tell the story of how Antique came to be.
San Jose de Buenavista
A few minutes from Hamtig is the provincial capitol of Antique - San Jose de Buenavista. Established in 1733, it was first known as "Tubigon", in reference to the area being underwater, and forms part of the town of Hamtic. It was only in 1872 that San Jose was recognized as a town and subsequently became the capital in 1902. A quick stop in San Jose gives you a glimpse of it rich history and cultural heritage.
Antique Old Capitol Building / New Capitol Building
The old Capitol Building of Antique stands at the heart of San Jose de Buenavista. With its American-inspired design, its squat rectangular facade is higlighted by pillars that give it a sturdy feel. It is now the home of the provincial museum of Antique. Unfortunately, it was undergoing renovation during my visit so I was not able to explore its galleries.
Adjacent to the old building is the new Kapitolyo with its more modern design. This serves as the center of politics of the province.
Evelio B. Javier Freedom Park
A wide open space park sits right in front of the old and new provincial capitol. The Evelio B. Javier Freedom Park is a public park where locals can enjoy a lazy afternoon watching the day pass by or hold peaceful gatherings. The park is complete with a stage for public gatherings and concerts and an open area for sport activities.
It was named in honor of Evelio B. Javier, a Hamtic born politician who was assasinated in 1986 at the the grounds of the park. His murder was associated to his fight against the Marcos administration and his move to contest the election votes in some of the precincts of the region.
His zeal and legacy is very much rooted among Antiquenos that a park, a sports center, and an airport was named after him.
Ruins of San Pedro Roman Church
A 5-minute trike ride from the Provincial Capitol is the Ruins of San Pedro Roman Church. It is said to be the ruins of the original church built by the Agustinian friars. The massive church was said to be shaped like a Latin cross with one entrance on each side and a main entrance at the front.
The thick stone perimeter walls are the only remaining parts of this massive church. Plants and bushes have also sprung out on the walls, with one part of walls being embraced by tree roots. A belfry was installed atop the main door of the ruins. The inside of the ruins have already been landscaped with a grotto at the far end of the navel.
A smaller church was built within the compound to cater to the spiritual needs of the community.
Founded as a visita in 1761, Patnongon was originally under the visita of Sibalon. The town is a treasure trove for those who love history and nature.
Ruins of Patnongon Church and Convent
The ruins of Patnongon Church and Convent stands at the heart of the town. The original church was completed in 1895. The church was damaged during the Philippine Revolution and was bombed by the Americans during the liberation of the Antique. The church was no longer reconstructed after the war.
Had the church been saved from the bombing of the liberation forces, the church would have been the biggest church in the province. What remains from the original structure are its walls and the facade of the first level. A school now stands within the walls of the ruins and part of its walls were incorporated to its classrooms.
Ruins of Casa Municipal
A few meters from the ruins of Patnongan Church is the ruins of the Casa Municipal. The structure is believed to have been built during the Spanish period and was the center for politics and governance.
The walls of the Casa Municipal remains standing until today and efforts are underway to reconstruct the structure in its original state.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
For the longest time, Antique remained under the shadows of the more popular tourist destinations in Panay Island and its rise in the tourism industry is an extraordinary feat. It redefined the old into something new that caught the interest of a lot of people. It gave something fresh to a market that is always in search for a unique proposition.
There are still a lot to discover in Antique that go beyond these popular attractions. The province offers a great combination of its colorful history, rich culture, and amazing natural attractions - most of which, are still to be discovered. Its history is embodied with its landmarks, both standing and those that are in ruins, like those that I have explored recently. It tells of stories of mutual cooperation, bloody battles, principled bearing, and some with a touch of the supernatural.
Antique is more than just taking a hot dip or its mountains meeting the sea. It is a province that embodies a character built through time and by the brave men who toiled and fought on its soil.
Getting there: You can take a flight from Manila or any major Philippine airport to Iloilo or Caticlan. I took the Iloilo route. From Iloilo Intenational Airport, you can take a van to Molo Terminal where you can take a Ceres Bus bound for San Jose de Buenavista or Culasi. I suggest that you take the bus as the schedule is more dependable than the van. From Hamtic, you can take either a tricycle or a jeep to San Jose de Buenavista and Patnongon.
Sample 2-Day Trip Itinerary:
Day 1. Arrival/Hamtic/San Jose de Buenavista/Patnongon
7.00a - ETA in Iloilo
8.00a - ETD for Hamtic
10.00a - Explore Hamtic (Hamtic Cemetery Church and Malandog Marker)
11.30a - Proceed to San Jose de Buenavista
12.00n - Lunch
1.00p - Explore San Jose (Old Capitol/New Capitol/EBJ Freedom Park/ Ruins of San Pedro Roman)
2.00p - Proceed to Patnongon
2.30p - Explore Patnongon (Ruins of Patnongon Church and Convent/Ruins of Casa Municipal)
3.30p -ETD to Tibiao
5.00p - ETA at Tibiao/Proceed to Kayak Inn
5.30p - Afternoon Chill
Day 2. Tibiao/Malalison
7.00a - Breakfast
8.00a - Hike to Bugtong Bato Falls
10.00a - Water Tubing at Tibiao River
11.00a - Kawa Bath
12.30p - Proceed to Culasi
1.30p - ETA at Culasi/Lunch
2.30p - ETD for Malalison
3.00p - ETA at Malalison/Find Homestay
3.30p - Hike around Malalison
5.30p - Catch the sunset
6.30p - Chill
While most people radiate towards white sand beaches for a quick escape, the small sleepy seaside town of Lobo in Batangas breaks out from the norm. Its beaches are not the usual fare. It is equally beautiful with its rugged and rough seascape.
A Spanish period lighthouse was Lobo's eyecandy to me. It took months of finding the right time to go out and explore this side of Batangas. And when I finally did one lazy Saturday, I packed my stuff to endure the 4-hour travel capped by its winding roads that cut through the steep mountain terrains that border Batangas City and Lobo.
Welcome to Lobo, Batangas
Dubbed as the "Atis Capital of the Philippines", Lobo sits along the southern shore of the province facing Isla Verde and Mindoro. The town was abuzz at the time of our visit because it coincided with their town fiesta. So the streets were garbed with colorful buntings, parade floats were zooming past, and the locals were in a more festive mood. But I reckon that its laidback atmosphere dominates most of its 365-days.
Exploring the town is relatively easy. At the heart of the town is the community multi-purpose hall, a small leisure park, and its pasalubong center. The Lobo Municipal Hall sits right across the multi-purpose hall while the public market is on the opposite side. Fresh produce are the best finds in Lobo.
Foodstop: Pasalubong Center and Cafe
The Pasalubong Center and Cafe in the town of Lobo is more than just a hub for pasalubong. It is an IG worthy spot and a great place to eat in Lobo.
The wooden interior, the wooden swing, and the 180-degree view of the town center is creatively appealing to guests of Lobo. It is very cozy and homey as you enjoy watching the daily grind of locals. The design is enough to spark your creativity for that IG worthy shot.
But the beyond the art in its interiors, the food offerings is also worth checking out. A must-try is the adobong tulingan - a skipjack tuna viand cooked in soy and vinegar. It is so yummy that the dish alone makes the 4-hour trip worth it. Of course, there is also the suman and ripe mangoes dipped in tsokolate to cap off a great lunch.
The center is also a one-stop shop for pasalubongs. They have a wide selection of souvenir items and local products - from coffee grains to honey.
A short ride away from the Poblacion is the Lobo River. The water of the river flows down from the mountains downstream and exits to the Verde Passage. The river is also believed to be one of the possible root of the name of the town.
A good vantage point to view the river is the bridge that connects Poblacion and Malabrigo. It gives you a panoramic view of the river with the mountain ranges in its background or the river at it runs towards the sea.
Malabrigo View Deck
Located along the national road, the viewing deck offers a 180-degree view of Malabrigo's rugged coastline.
The park was developed by the local government for visitors to have a quick overview of Malabrigo's famed rocky shoreline. The park was landscaped with concrete benches that one can sit on and admire the view. A staircase leads down to the beach for easier access to those who want to explore the beach below the deck.
Faro de Punta de Malabrigo
At the heart of Lobo's tourism is a Spanish-period lighthouse - the Malabrigo Lighthouse. Declared as a National Historical Landmark in 2006, the Faro de Punta de Malabrigo is one of two Spanish-period lighthouses in the province of Batangas. It was designed by Guillermo Brockman and was built by Jose Garcia in 1896. It guides ships navigating through the Isla Verde Passage.
Its cylindrical light tower and the adjacent pavilion is one of the most preserved Spanish-period structure that I have ever checked on. My mind was fluttering through images of how the compound became a mute witness to the pains and gains of the Philippines as a nation. How many famous people walked through its corridors? I am really not sure but it was a nice thought as I sat in one of its corners and admired its structure and its history.
The Malabrigo Lighthouse is one structure where you don't only get to admire it from afar. It is one historical structure that you can walk its hallways, touch its walls, or sit in one of its corners. Its well-preserved structure allows you to romanticize history while enjoying the peaceful ambiance that the sea and nature offers.
Malabrigo Rock Beaches
Lobo has a very odd way of standing out. While most beaches in Batangas offer sandy beachfronts ranging from white sand to darker shades, its clear and azure waters break on rounded rocks or pebbles along the shores of Malabrigo.
A trail from the Malabrigo Lighthouse leads down to its popular rocky shoreline. Rounded rocks of different sizes are the stars of its shore so wearing protective footwear is a must. The sound of water breaking on the shoreline and the rustling sound of leaves dancing with the blowing wind is enough to relax the mind and the soul. For those intending to stay a little longer, there are huts for rent in the area and it costs Php500 for a day's use. But if you are staying for just a short while, the caretakers are kind enough to use for free provided that there are no other paying guests.
The rocky shoreline is a staple in Lobo. It is the kind of beach that requires a different kind of appreciation. One benefit of its rocky shores is that the beach does not have much guests. It is a good beach spot for those who just wants to get their dose of vitamin sea without the usual crowd.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Two things stand out for me in Lobo - its rustic and tranquil ambiance and the hospitality of its locals. The locals are very accomodating and that they are not afraid to strike a conversation with their guests. They don't try to take advantage of tourists but are more than willing to give information that helped us out while out exploring their place.
Lobo is not the usual kind of beach destination. Like what I've said, it is a destination that require a different kind of appreciation. It is not the top-of-the-mind beach spot unless you have preference for history or off-beat destinations. Its tranquil atmosphere really stuck out for me. I like how time slowly churned while we were out exploring.
With the combination of its tranquil atmosphere and the local's overflowing hospitality, it’s a destination that is worth visiting but this time for weekend.
Getting there: You can take a bus bound for Batangas Grand Terminal in Cubao or Buendia, preferably with the CALABARZON signage (Fare is around Php170 from Cubao). You take a jeep that is headed to Bayan and ask the driver to drop you off at Don Ramos (Fare is at Php9). At Don Ramos, cross the street and take the jeep for SM Batangas. Ask the driver to drop you off at the Most Holy Trinity Parish which is just beside SM City Batangas (Fare is at Php8). Take the jeepney to Lobo Town Proper (Fare is at Php57). The transport terminal for Lobo is located behind the church.
Once in Lobo, you can hire a Malabrigo tricycle to get to the Malabrigo Lighthouse. Fare is at Php120 one-way, special trip.
Sample Day Trip Itinerary:
7.00a - ETD from Cubao to Batangas Grand Terminal
9.00a - ETA at Batangas Grand Terminal
10.00a - ETD to Lobo Town Proper
11.00a - ETA in Lobo Town Proper
- Lunch at Pasalubong Center and Café
12.30p - Explore the town / Lobo River
2.00p - Malabrigo View Deck
2.30p - Faro de Punta de Malabrigo
3.15p - Malabrigo Beach
4.00p - Head back to Poblacion
5.00p - ETD for Batangas City (Last Trip)
I miss Siargao. More than its destinations, I miss its laidback and rustic vibe. Its the kind of ambiance that lingers on you for a very long time that it makes you want to head back to the island.
Well, Siargao is a league of its own. This teardrop island on the northeast side of Surigao del Norte has grown from being a surf spot to a prime tourist destination. The island transports you back to memories of your childhood summer vacations - you know, the real-kind ones. Its natural attractions, its ambiance, and its touch of adventure are complete ingredients for a great vacation.
You can choose to sleep, explore the town, bike around, beach bum, or party the night away when you find yourself in Siargao. But that is just half of the fun. The island has a lot to offer still. On this post, I will be sharing with you my top half that would make you go #SiargaoNaNgaAngHinahanapNgPuso.
#5 Eat your heart out
Siargao is a gastronomic paradise. It is a place that offers a wide selection of food choices that will definitely satisfy the tummy and your heart. From local delights to international dishes to healthy bowls, the island seems to have it.
For starters, pizza lovers can head out to Kermit. It is a popular food stop in the island with everyone, who have been to Siargao, saying that dining in Kermit is part of the Siargao experience. Apart from their brick-oven pizza, they also have rice meals and pasta in their menu that you will definitely enjoy. Its rustic ambiance add up to its dining experience. Be forewarned though, the place is so popular that you need to make a reservation to avoid a long waiting line. We walked in just right in time to get easily seated at the time of our visit.
Another pizza place that is popular in El Nido that has also touched down in Siargao is Altrove, located along Tourism Road. Munching on their pizza is an experience in itself. The open air dining of the place give it a more sophisticated feel. Mama's Grill along Tourism Road is THE place to go for your "inihaw" cravings. This is a no-fuss food stop where you come in, choose the items that you want them to grill, and find your spot among the benches and tables. Chances are you will get to share your table with other diners on a busy hour. Don't miss out on their fruitshakes to go with your meal. And there is also Café Loka for that quick beach snack while watching the day go by at Cloud 9.
Finally, do not miss out on the Siargao's famous pan de surf! Their bread is stuffed with sweetened coconut meat and baked on a makeshift oven using coconut husk giving it that unique smoky taste. The stall opens around 1pm and they close shop as soon as the breads are sold out. And they get sold out really fast.
#4 Catch the Sun
Whether you love watching the sun rise or the sun set, Siargao is a place where you get to enjoy catching the sun. Cloud 9 is one of the places to go to where you can watch the whole day from sunrise to sundown.
We got our fill of trying to catch the sun setting along the horizon from two different point of views - from the boardwalk and from the adjacent white sand beachfront of Cloud 9. Both views offer a different and dramatic perspective of the sunset. Let me warn you though that the crowd gathers up during the afternoons so make sure that you be there early to get a good viewing spot.
Too bad though that we were not able to catch the sunrise in Siargao. We were either busy preparing for our tours or we woke up late from the partying the night before. But we did get the chance to check out the Cloud 9 Boardwalk in the morning and we were given a treat - clean, unadulterated, and crowd-free signature shots at the boardwalk.
Here's a tip, you don't have to be lucky to get these clean shots. It is just a matter of timing - mornings are the best time to capture crowd-free photos.
#3 Jump and Rock
Siargao is an island of natural beauty carefully blended with one's spirit for adventure. It gets your adrenaline pumping, not only with its surfing, but with heart-pumping activities that could scare the wits out of you, that's if you don't like heights.
Coming in at number 3 is the Siargao Land Tour that brings you to two of the most popular destinations north of General Luna - Sugba Lagoon and the Magpupungko Rock and Tidal Pools.
Sugba Lagoon is popular for its diving platform set against the beauty of its still waters. It takes about an hour and a half of land and boat travel from General Luna passing through the scenic farmlands of Siargao and through the amazing mangrove landscape of Del Carmen. You wouldn't the notice the travel time because your eyes will be treated with nature's beauty. Visiting the lagoon has a time limit so as not to overcrowd the area although the 45-minute allotment is enough for you to enjoy the place.
The first thing that you need to face is your fear of heights as you face off its famous diving platform. At a height of at least one floor, guests are encouraged to take the plunge into its cool waters of around 12 feet. It may sound easy but I have watched people buckle down on the platform after the usual picture taking. I perfectly understand how they feel because for a guy like me who have a thing for heights, it takes a lot of guts just to even stand on the platform. But lo and behold, I did JUMP off the platform. I was already there and I did not want to pass off the chance. Just take a deep breath, walk, and jump.
There are also kayaks and paddle boards that you can rent out at Sugba Lagoon to explore and enjoy the stillness that the place offers. For Php300 per hour, you can paddle out and explore the nooks and crannies of the lagoon and get those IG-worthy shots. Better yet, you can find your own spot and enjoy the tranquility of Sugba Lagoon.
After taking that daring JUMP, it was time to ROCK the pools of Magpupungko.
The Magpupungko Rock and Tidal Pools is nature's amazing work of art. Its rock formations was carefully molded by the wind and the waves to its ruggedly beautiful look. Its pools are glistens in varying colors of green as the water recedes to give guests a full view of this natural wonder. The best time to visit the rock and tidal pools is during low tide.
We definitely ROCKed the pools of Magpupungko because its innate beauty had our creative minds toggling on capturing amazing pictures. And you can rock it further by exploring the area. We got the tip from our resident funny guide, Mai-Mai (whose personality reminds me of Maymay Entrata), that we should go out and explore further. We did find another white sand beach cove at the end of the beach strip. We were also lucky that we had the beach strip for ourselves when we got there.
As we walked back to the main beach, the tides were starting to come in. Its the signal that guests would have to be leave for the daily "natural cleaning" of its pools.
#2 Swim with the Jellies
Just 2 hours by boat from General Luna is a peaceful sanctuary where one can swim with the jellies and explore the 7 islets of Sohoton. Welcome to the municipality of Socorro!
As soon as your boat docks at Bucas Grande, guests are registered and ushered into smaller bancas to visit its jellyfish sanctuary. You will be enveloped by the tranquility of the place as you make your way to the sanctuary. The sounds of the leaves rustling with the wind and the swooshing sounds of the water are enough to calm your nerves.
The jellyfish sanctuary is the home of stingless jellyfish. In this sanctuary, you can swim with these gentle creatures. Kuya Eddie, my boatman, shares with me that these creatures swim to the surface during lowtide. You can try to pet them but he also said not to take them out of the water. Kuya Eddie even helped direct some of the jellyfish towards me when I took a dip in its waters.
I asked Kuya Eddie why there is a net at the entrance of the lagoon. He said it serves as a protection for the jellyfish from predators. He shared with me the time when two fish got into lagoon and started eating the jellyfish. One was eventually caught while another escaped after a hefty buffet. After that incident, they decided to set up the net as a safety measure.
After returning to the docking station, our group boarded a bigger boat that would give us a tour of the Sohoton Cave. Its name was derived from a local term that means "under the cave" because, to explore the place, one needs to go under a cave.
Sohoton Cave have 7 islets within its territory and our guides were quick to mention that it is easy to get lost within the area. He was quick to show us a famous rock formation as soon as we went under the cave entrance. The rock formation serves as a marker to point of entry/exit of Sohoton. A few meters away from the rock formation is the Daungdong Wall. It is a white limestone rock face that has also become an attraction in Sohoton.
Our first stop was the Hagukan Cave. Its name was derived from the word "Hagok", a local term that means snore. Our guide shares with us that, when the wave hits the walls of the cave, it creates a hollow sound similar to the sound of snoring. The cave is popular for its luminous waters. Guests enter the cave and one will be amazed by the luminous green shade of the water at the mouth of the cave. If you are taking a picture or a video, take it from underwater to capture its beauty.
The Magkukuob Cavern is another popular spot for its cliff jumping. But before you make the 2-meter high jump, one needs to go inside its cave and navigate through its rocks to the platform. Traversing through the cavern is manageable despite of the sharp rocks and the dim light. Oh and by the way, it is a one way ticket which means that the only way out is to jump!
Exploring Bucas Grande and the three islands of Siargao - Naked, Daku, and Guyam, can be done in a day. Our tour was organized by Cavys Homestay and Tours at Php1500, inclusive of breakfast and lunch. You can reach Ate Luz of Cavys at(0910) 940 8297 .
And of course, topping my list of the things to do in Siargao is SURF!
I mean you are already in THE Surfing Capital of the Philippines so you might as well ride its waters. Cloud 9 is the spot to surf. You will find a lot of instructors by the main road offering surfing lessons. Take extra precaution though because, unlike Baler and San Juan, the waves of Siargao breaks on mostly reefs so taking a tumble may entail a minor gash. Well, the gash may serve as your medal for riding high in Siargao.
Most guests surf during the early mornings and late afternoons so do expect the crowd not only on the line but also on Cloud 9.
Post Travel Notes
As I write these closing paragraphs down, after arriving in Clark, I am still stomped with how to describe Siargao or what place I can compare it to. I have been to a lot of places in the Philippines and it is only Siargao that has left in me this longing imprint of me wanting to go back there soon... really soon! It toppled my previous favorites, not for its attractions, but for its natural charm that really seeps into your blood and psyche. Siargao makes you her own.
Siargao is stubborn. It keeps its identity despite the lure of bigger tourism revenue. It refuses to lose itself even if it means that other spots can get well ahead despite Siargao's better opportunities. It is stubborn for playing it safe by just playing what the community is used to doing.
But it is that stubborness that make Siargao stand out from the rest. There is no place that you can compare it to because it is its own. Siargao grows inside of you as you try to decipher its character. And you end up being owned by this teardrop-shaped island making you surrender and admit #SiargaoNaNgaAngHinahanapNgPuso.
Getting there: Skyjet, Cebu Pacific, and Philippine Airlines have regular flights to Siargao from Manila, Cebu, Clark, and Davao. If you are coming from Manila, I suggest taking a Skyjet flight to Siargao in the morning and take the PAL Siargao-Clark in the afternoon to maximize your stay.
From the airport, you can take a van going to General Luna at Php300 per head. You can contact (0938) 1737647 to arrange for your van transportation.
For land and island tours, we booked our tours at Php3000 per head for both with Cavys Homestay and Tours through Ate Lucy at (0910) 940 8297. Their packages are already all-in, inclusive of lunch and breakfast. It is one of the cheapest that you can find in General Luna.
Day 1. Arrival
12nn ETA at General Luna. Check-in at resort / Lunch at Kermit.
2pm Walk around General Luna town proper. Try the Pan de Surf near the Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Church. Rent a bike
4pm Finalize tours with Ate Lucy at Cavys
5pm Check out Cloud 9. Watch the sunset.
9pm Chill out or Party
Day 2. Island Tour at Php1500 per head (Bucas Grande, Naked Island, Daku Island, and Guyam Island) / Watch the sunset/ Party at Night
Day 3. Land Tour at Php1500 per head (Sugba Lagoon and Magpupungko Tidal Pools) / Watch the Sunset / Party at Night
Day 4. Departure
5.30am Surf and Watch the Sunrise.
7.00am Breakfast and Chill out by the beach.
10.00am Buy Souvenir. Early Lunch. Preparation to head home.
12.00nn ETD for the Airport
Marc del Rosario
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