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
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.