The beautiful sunrise, as we approached the island of Romblon, was enough assurance of the good things to look forward to with the “organized” Romblon trip that I joined. It was a welcome relief after a very uncomfortable evening boat travel that left me sweaty up to my underwear and with only a few hours of sleep. The trip was my second attempt to join an organized tour but unlike the first one, the supposed “organized tour” was not at all rosy as they painted it to be. It was a good thing that Romblon’s raw beauty simply blew me away.
Romblon is an archipelagic province that consists of the islands of Tablas, Sibuyan, Corcuera, Banton, Concepcion, San Jose, and the provincial capitol of Romblon. It has earned the monicker of the “Marble Capital of the Philippines” because of the abundance of these quality stone resource in the province. One would be amused with the rows of stores offering marble crafts.
The rustic beauty and ambiance of the province is now catching up with a lot of travellers. Its natural wonders from the mountains to its waters is slowly taking traction on the tourism front. Although getting to and around Romblon requires patience, it will definitely charm its way to your heart… the way it did to mine.
The initial plan when we get to Romblon was to take another ferry to Tablas but things changed pretty quickly as soon as we disembarked onto the port. One thing that you need to consider when exploring Romblon is the inter-island ferry schedule because it requires efficient time management and quick responses. If you missed out on it, expect to make a day’s worth of changes in your itinerary.
Cobrador Island, also known as Nogoso Island among locals, is an island situated along Romblon Bay that is popular for its white sand beach and clear blue waters. It was not part of the itinerary but it was a great choice to spend our mornings after the tiring evening boat trip.
As we stepped onto its white sand shores, we were eagerly greeted by locals and a huge “I Love Cobrador” which gives you that feel that the place is a popular spot in the area. The beach is lined with nipa huts and a makeshift shower area for its guests. I have to say that the community has adjusted fairly well with the attention being accorded by travelers to their place.
The serene atmosphere of Cobrador Island was a welcome relief. As we lounged along its shores, I had the chance of admiring Tablas Island from a distance. We stayed by the beach and the sea breeze was enough to lull me to sleep. I decided not to swim at that time but it was a welcome respite for weary travelers.
Visiting Cobrador Island will not be complete without exploring its rugged landscape so we hopped on an outrigger boat to explore and get impressed.
Interestingly, the island is not only blessed with a rugged landscape but it also played a part in Philippine history. Sitting within its rugged cliffs is a tunnel that the Japanese used as a hiding place during World War 2. According to locals, American and Filipino freedom fighters flushed out the Japanese by fire, resulting to death.
We had to be content with admiring the historical site from afar as it was not safe to explore the place because of its unstable ground.
Tucked secretly in one of the nooks of Cobrador Island is a hidden gem – Tinagong Dagat. Rock formations serve as an enclosed perimeter creating a hollow crevice forming a pool. A pass thru cave sits adjacent the rock formation which opens up to a small beach cove on the other side. Salt water passes through the cave filling the pool. From the sea, it only looks like a huge rock formation concealing the pool hence the name.
I did not pass up the chance to take a quick dip. I had a good time traversing the pool to the beach cove and back. Adjacent to the rock formation are two beach coves where one can simply chill under the sun.
As the name implies, the Guard House is a small rock islet by the entrance of Cobrador Island that serves as its security station. A guard house stands at the top of this rock formation.
But bravery does play a huge part when you step on the island. The depth of the waters surrounding it is ideal for cliff jumping. We caught a few young locals enjoying the thrill of jumping off the cliff into the green-blue waters below. Some of these young boys were so accustomed to it that they do not just jump, they have a few tricks to show off.
A newly constructed platform is already in place for guests who are brave enough to face their fear of heights.
As our boat docked along the shores of Romblon, we got ready to explore the town on foot. Romblon is a very small town and the best way to get acquainted with it is by taking a leisurely walk around town.
Romblon is one of the three major islands of the province. It also serves as the province’s seat of governance. The town is a major entry point with its seaport being serviced by inter-island ferry lines.
It was once called “Doblon” that meant a bird warming an egg on its nest, in Visayan. It was in 1685 that the Spanish Recollects stepped onto its soil paving the way to the evangelization of the island. This rich part of local history is preserved and incorporated in their present community.
Fort San Andres
Our first stop was Fort San Andres, one of the two Spanish-era fortresses located in town. The fort sits atop a hill that overlooks the town. It was built in the 15th century to protect the town from raiders.
The fort had undergone restorations in the past years giving the fort a well-deserved recognition for its historical value. You can find a visual narrative about Fort San Andres within its confines that gives guests a look on its history and its current restoration works.
Fort San Andres offers a commanding view of the town of Romblon and its surrounding areas. It is a must-see destination when you find yourself in Romblon. I realized, now that I am writing this blog, that the fort is actually a good spot to watch the sunset. Had I figured this one out when we got stranded in Romblon, I could have spent a lazy extra afternoon just watching the sun set on the horizon.
A second fortress is also in ruins at the adjacent hill behind the church. Unfortunately, we were unable to explore Fort Santiago at the time that we were there. I just hope that it also gets the same attention and restoration efforts from the community.
Fort San Andres Walkway
From Fort San Andres, we easily got to the town center via the Fort San Andres Walkway. The steps is the fastest and shortest way to get to the fort from town. You can enjoy overlooking views on certain decks along the walkway making your walk an interesting one.
Just how many steps does it have? Hmm… I failed to count the steps as I was enjoying the views that it offered. I realized it too late as we were already halfway down. I will try to check when I find myself back in the town or, if anyone knows the answer, please feel free to comment down below.
Romblon Freedom Park
Romblon is one town where you get to experience that small-town feel. The town gets busy during the mornings when ferries dock on its ports bringing family members, friends, and guests to town while locals go through their daily routines. As the day progresses, the energy slows down until the last ferry leaves its port and the whole town reverts back to its laid-back atmosphere.
At the heart of all the excitement and activities is the Romblon Freedom Park. The plaza is the first to greet you as you exit the gates of its seaport with its “I love ROMBLON” marble sign. The plaza is adorned with a huge marble monument as its centrepiece, marble carved animals, and marble benches that affirms that you are definitely in Romblon.
Most locals and guests, if not all, will definitely come face to face with the park. It is a good spot to just simply relax and watch the daily grind of the town. Be forewarned, though, to practice discipline and follow simple rules like using the pedestrian lane or risk being called out by the town’s avid announcer over his speakers. And when he does, expect all eyes to look towards your direction.
Marble Craft Stores
Romblon will not be Romblon without its famed marbles. Marble sculpting is one of the cottage industries in the province because of the abundance of this quality marbles so it is safe to expect a dose of artistry and creativity using this valued stone.
Luckily, a small arcade lined with marble craft shops sits adjacent to the Freedom Park. Marble artisans showcase their handcrafted souvenirs that range from housewares to key chains. You can request to have your name engraved on the items that you purchased. The best part of the trade are the reasonable prices of these items. Your only concern would be the extra weight that you need to carry when you head home.
Saint Joseph Cathedral
Declared as a National Cultural Treasure in 2001, the Saint Joseph Cathedral is the oldest church in the province. The church and its belfry was built in the 15th century and serves as the center of the Catholic faith in the province. The church honors the Santo Nino as its patron saint.
The dome of the church and the belfry dominates the skyline of Romblon. The simple façade of the church evokes the simplicity of the community where it belongs. The stained-glass windows and the image of Saint Joseph at the front add elegance to the simple design of the structure. The four-storey belfry sits alongside the church and one can really admire the age of both structures as seen in the elements that it was made of – coral stones. On one corner of the church compound is a bell forged in 1888 prominently displayed.
The simplicity of the church extends to the interior of the church. Prominent elements in the design are the coral stones and marble stones that adorn its inside walls. A three-tiered retablo is the focal point of the church with the image of Saint Joseph at the center. Two adjacent marble retablos on the side of the altar have the images of the Santo Nino and the Blessed Virgin Mary installed as its central piece.
Bonbon Beach and Sandbar
We had to brisk walk, close to running, over sand and rock formations of Tambianan Beach to get to Bonbon Beach. The walk took us close to 15 minutes as we were so eager to catch the sunset at this popular beach destination in Romblon.
Bonbon Beach is popular to both locals and tourists for its powdery white sand that nicely slopes down to the sea. The beach is untouched by commercialism so you get to enjoy the sandy shores in its pristine state.
The main feature is a sandbar that connects Bonbon Beach to the nearby Bangug Island. Timing is very important to be able to successfully traverse the sandbar to the island. Luckily, we came in at the right time. I was the only one from our group to successfully cross the sandbar to Bangug Island.
What I enjoyed the most is the relaxing stroll along the sandbar while getting awed by the changing color hues of the sky as dusk was settling in. It was simply an amazing feeling to experience nature’s beauty.
Sibuyan Island is often referred to as the “Galapagos Island of Asia” because it was always surrounded water ever since the island was created. It has one the unspoiled ecosystems in the country and the world with 33% of its land area covered by primary forest. These forest covers is home to a diverse collection of flora and fauna.
Considered to be the cleanest river in the country, Cantingas River sits along the base of Mount Guiting-Guiting and is a popular attraction among locals and tourists. A medium scale resort was established to cater to the growing crowd. The resort is complete with high level platforms, the highest being 3 floors high, where one can jump into its cool waters. The platforms alone can tell you that the river is deep.
Cantingan River's headwaters also supplies electricity to the island via its hydro-electric power plant located upstream.
Cresta de Gallo
Cresta de Gallo is a 5-hectare kidney shaped island comfortably nestled along Sibuyan Bay. Untouched by commercialism, the island teaches its guests to enjoy what it has to offer with a “back-to-basics” theme. Staying overnight is a challenge because the island does not have fresh water source hence no showers or even a restroom. Everything that you need must be brought in. It is the best place to go where you can pre-test your “Survivor” dreams.
The raw and untouched beauty of Cresta de Gallo will captivate its guests. We docked on the southern end of the island and walked its length to the northern end where we were to set up camp. We got to enjoy the island has to offer – white powdery sand, rocks beds, and clear waters.
Watching the sunset and the sunrise is a real treat that Cresta de Gallo could offer. The island is narrow enough that you can set-up your tent where you can view the sunset on your right, in the late afternoon, and the sunrise on your left, in the early morning.
I enjoyed walking the sandbars of Cresta de Gallo while watching the sunset. Wear slippers when you stroll around as there are areas where sand gets mixed with crushed sea shells and corals. The sunset in Cresta de Gallo is melodramatic where it treats you with a mirage of baby blue, baby pink, and orange hues on its skyline. It was nice to just sit still and enjoy the calm atmosphere of the island as you watch the shifting of sky’s colors.
Our evening was also filled with laughter as we had the island all for ourselves and sharing stories over wine and beer. We also had the chance to explore its shallow waters revealing interesting sea creatures that live in its waters.
As always, the sunrise was glorious with less of the drama. It charged up to the sky and energized everyone as we got ready for the long journey home.
Post Travel Notes
As we sat by the roadside canteen, sipping coffee, and trying to figure out alternative plans on how to get back to Manila after getting stranded, I enjoyed the laidback atmosphere of Romblon. The place reminded me of Siquijor. This was a place where I would love to retire because it is very close to nature, the beach in particular, and I loved its community feel. In fact had the trip organizers handled our “situation” properly with a more concrete solution, I would not mind staying another day or two in Romblon.
Romblon is now going beyond its marble industry. It has a lot of tourism potential owing to the fact that a lot of its premiere spots remain raw and untouched. It is an off-beat destination that is slowly getting traction among travellers which could resonate to the creation of sustainable livelihood tourism programs for the community.
Romblon is a destination that is not for the faint-hearted. It requires thorough planning and precision. The main consideration is the inter-island ferry schedules that can adversely affect your itinerary. I guess, one of my pick-up points from this trip, apart from discovering the raw beauty of Romblon and Sibuyan, is that it doesn’t hurt to book your tickets in advance.
Getting There: From Manila, you take a Batangas-bound bus for Batangas Pier. Romblon is serviced by major inter-ferry island ferries like 2Go Lines and Montenegro Lines that ply the route Batangas Pier to Romblon. You can check out their websites for the schedules and for details on how you can purchase roundtrips tickets in advance.
You can rent an outrigger boat to Cobrador Island or, as per our friendly siopao vendor, you can also hitch with boats that bring supplies to the island for only Php50. You can also go around Romblon and Bonbon Beach using the ever-dependable tricycles.
You need to take a ferry to Ambulong Port in Sibuyan Island. Again, it is best to check the schedules in advance. From the port, you can take a jeep to San Fernando where you can hire a tricycle to Cantingas River. You can also hire an outrigger boat here to bring you to Cresta de Gallo.
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Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.