Travel opens you to changes and let’s you discover things because of these changes. A last minute change in my Samar Birthday trip last month led me to discover a small town on the Eastern side of the country that lets you enjoy a laidback beach vibe. This is Guiuan - a small town facing the Pacific that has volumes of history in the midst of its natural beauty.
Guiuan is a municipality that unknowingly played a significant part in Philippine history. Located on the southernmost coast of Eastern Samar, it was on the island of Homonhon that Magellan first set foot in the country during his historic voyage around the world. Fast forward 500 years later, Guiuan has kept its provincial laidback vibe and is starting to get traction in the tourism front as a surfing spot and for its natural attractions.
Guiuan Municipal Hall
My first stop as soon as I got to Guiuan was its municipal hall. My purpose was to get more information about how to get around Guiuan because, unlike other destinations, I was not met with habal-habal or trike drivers that offered tours despite my “turista” look. The new and sleek municipal hall is located a few blocks from the town center and you can choose to walk or take a trike going there.
The municipal hall serves as the center of governance in Guiuan and this is where you’d find most of the local government offices, including the tourism office. I got to meet Guiuan’s Tourism Officer, Miss Janet Ramos, who warmly accommodated and briefed me on the history and the attractions of their place. She went on to make transportation arrangements for me which was a huge help with my two-day stay in the laidback town. Meeting her and her team was my first taste of Guiuan’s warm hospitality.
Immaculate Conception Parish Church
At the heart of the town of Guiuan is the Immaculate Conception Parish Church, more popularly known as Guiuan Church. The church was founded by the Jesuits in 1595 and the stone church was built in 1817. The adjacent belfry was built next in 1854. The church was nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Philippines, however it was removed from the roster after Typhoon Haiyan destroyed the church.
The church was completely restored in 2019 with only its belfry and stone walls intact from the old structure. The church sits within a fort and is known for its shell ornamentation. The church facade has a historical marker that outlines its brief history. The Guiuan Church was declared a National Cultural Treasure in 2001 by the National Museum.
The restored interiors of the church was a real beauty with its grand designs. This is the first time that I have seen a church with 3 retablos, two on the side walls, that are of the same size. Adjacent to the main altar, are two smaller chambers or prayer rooms bearing smaller altars. The church is popular for the shell designs that adorn the smaller chambers. These shell ornamentations are said to be made of 8 types of seashells giving the church a unique personality.
Guiuan Town Plaza
Just right across the Guiuan Church is the sprawling town plaza of Guiuan. Similar to other Spanish-period towns, the plaza serves as the heart of the town and, around it, are the three main elements of the community - governance, religion, and commerce. I guess the Municipal Hall was once located within the same area.
The Guiuan Town Plaza has a corner that honors Dr. Jose Rizal. A children’s playground and open park are located adjacent to the Rizal monument. This is where you would find the “I ❤️ Guiuan” sign. Right across the park is the huge auditorium where town activities are held.
DOST - PAGASA Guiuan Weather Station
The Radar, as most locals would call it, is a weather station equipped with a doppler radar system located in Guiuan. Renovated with the aid of the JICA, the station helps in predicting weather movement in the country and helps mitigate the impact of weather disturbances on lives and livelihoods. It is more than just a monitoring station of PAGASA because it is also part of the attractions of the municipality.
Located around 60 meters above sea level and facing the Pacific Ocean, the station offers an amazing view of the Pacific coastline of Guiuan. One needs to go on a short and steep hike on the seaside hill to reach the station. Guests are treated to a beautiful 180-degree view of the Pacific Ocean, Dumpao Beach, and Calicoan Island. One also gets to enjoy the relaxing sea breeze blowing in from the Pacific while enjoying the view of the sea and the island.
Dumpao Beach is a simple and relaxing beach that is a few minutes from the town center. It is a long stretch of white sand beach that faces the Pacific Ocean. Interestingly, the waters are not deep and still because the waves break off-shore making the beach ideal for kids and the kids-at-heart.
The beach is pristine and laidback. It was a perfect place to chill in the afternoon, either by taking a dip or just simply walking along the length of its shoreline. You don’t get charged for entrance fees, although, you need to pay for hut rentals if you intend to use one.
The waves break a few meters from the shore giving the shoreline shallow still waters that is perfect for pictures or enjoying the feel of saltwater on your feet. There were areas along the beach that had rock formations. Again, it was a perfect backdrop for those dramatic shots. It is a perfect beach spot if you are looking for an unadulterated and no-crowd beach spot in Guiuan.
Pagnamitan Natural Pools
If there was one attraction and activity that caught my attention in Guiuan, it would have to be the Pagnamitan Natural Pools. A video of a man being carried by water current as he slid down under the bridge to the pools convinced me to change the original plan for this trip. I just had to try that one out in Guiuan.
The islands of Guiuan and Calicoan is connected by the Pagnamitan Bridge. The bridge spans a channel that connects the Pacific Ocean and the Leyte Gulf. On the side leading to the Leyte Gulf are two pools that has a depth of 3 feet to 7 feet, depending on the tide. Some say that these “pools” were bomb craters from World War 2 while others would say that it was from a dynamite explosion. However it was created, these natural pools is now one of the attractions in Guiuan.
At a certain time of the day, seawater from the Pacific Ocean would flow down under the bridge. The current is strong enough to make a person go with the flow and one would float from one side to the other, passing under the bridge. Unfortunately, I was not able to take on the challenge because the tides were not in my favor.
Unknown to many, Guiuan is significant in Philippine history. The island of Homonhon, where Magellan first set foot, is under its jurisdiction. It also served as the base of liberation forces during World War 2.
Establishing the base camp for liberation forces paved the way for the construction of an airport in Guiuan. The airport would accommodate the war aircrafts during the liberation of the Philippines. It originally had 2 airstrips and there are claims that it hosted the biggest landing force during the war. The airport was later turned over to the Philippines by the Americans after the war.
At present, the Guiuan Airport is considered a feeder airport and has only 1 operational runway. It was used as a hub during the Typhoon Yolanda relief operations. There are plans to develop the airport to accommodate commercial flights to help boost commerce and tourism in the area. The airport is also a favorite local spot for afternoon exercises and, interestingly, for sunset viewing.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Change is a constant in our world and, often times, change gives us the opportunity to discover something new that will sweep us off our feet. Guiuan was no exception and it took a video of a smiling man being carried by flowing seawater under a bridge to catch my attention and change my plans for this birthday trip. It did not disappoint. I discovered a destination that lived off a simple vibe in a natural setting - a complete back to basic feel. But wait… there is more.
Travel gave me the opportunity to see the world beyond my usual. Mainstream and off-beat destinations have given me a glimpse of both worlds. I must say I love off-beat destinations more because I like the vibe that stands closer to how locals live daily and enjoy their place. I guess I am the person who loves destinations where you go with how the day of the locals go.
Check out my #ByahengOffTheGrid Guiuan Youtube travel video blog here: #ByahengOffTheGrid Guiuan
Getting there: To get to Guiuan, you can take a plane to Tacloban City from any major hub in the Philippines. You can then take a jeep or a trike from the airport to Van-vans Downtown Tacloban Teminal where you can take a van to Guiuan. Travel time from Tacloban to Guiuan is around 3-4 hours.
Tourism Contact Person: Miss Janet Ramos at (0945) 4695971
Trike Contact for Guiuan Tour: Kuya Inoy at (0997) 9617295
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.