We went on a cove-hopping expedition in the country’s last frontier’s sleepy town, and these are what we’ve found .
San Vicente is looking like the next big thing for the coming holidays’ travel, with its 14.7-kilometer-long Long Beach and the backpacking haven that is Port Barton, notable for its laid-back hostels and array of seaside bars fringing its shoreline.
Truth be told, the town is a mirror of what Palawan’s got in its golden days when the crowds haven’t arrived. It has pristine beaches with powdery cream sand, unspoiled nature, hardly any construction. It’s a peaceful setting for a true away-from-it-all experience, which you can amp up by visiting these beaches:
This is one of the more pristine beaches on Boayan Island, which is home to other coves that will have, at most, one or two other people on them. It’s a small, 300-meter stretch of powdery white sand that’s a good pitstop for lunch. Sea turtles sometimes graze on the seagrass offshore so make sure you keep a sharp eye out for them (or ear, since your boatman will usually spot them first).
Daplac Cove is on Boayan Island, about 30 minutes by boat from Poblacion.
The name is a massive cliché, but this island does it justice. It’s a small island with a white sand beach and crystal clear waters that will entice even non-swimmers to take a dip. It can get a bit crowded, but there’s a sandbar between this and Maxima Island in waist-deep water that you can use to “escape” that crowd.
Exotic Island is found within Port Barton Bay, a 15 to 20 minute boat ride from Poblacion.
We can’t talk about beaches in San Vicente without talking about Inaladelan Island, also known as turtle island. This private island resort has a 300-meter white-sand cove at its southeastern tip that’s populated by coconut trees and a couple of cabanas. Take a spot on a hammock between the coconut trees and enjoy the view, or book a tent for the night and have this island all to yourself. The highlight: turtles you can swim with just several meters off shore.
Know more about Inaladelan island here <Inaladelan article to be linked after publishing>.
This one’s a bit tucked away (and also happens to be a private resort), but White Beach (or Esmeralda Villa as it is now known) is one of the better beaches in Port Barton. It’s not as crowded as Port Barton’s front beach so you’ll feel like you own the place. There is a Php50 entrance fee, but this beach is worth it.
Esmeralda Villa is a 15-minute drive from most inns in Port Barton. You can rent a motorbike to get there for about Php600/day.
The last one on our list has a bit of a reputation as the first photo you come across whenever you look for San Vicente or Long Beach. It has cream-colored sand and stretches looks quite long from the top of Bato ni Ningning, but Irawan Beach is more secluded than its longer neighbor. There are hardly any resorts within the area; this means the beach is about as empty as it gets. Perfect for those sunset selfies!
Irawan Beach is a 20-minute drive north of Poblacion in San Vicente, located in Brgy. Santo Niño.
The basics SkyJet Airlines has direct flights from Manila to San Vicente 4 times weekly, which will increase to 6 times weekly beginning October 27, 2019.
There’s more to Camiguin than its famous sandbar. Case in point: Mantigue Island.
When people hear Camiguin, the image that first pops out is usually that of White Island. The popular sandbar has always been one of its major tourist draws, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only one.
In fact, there’s this four-hectare island off the coast of Mahinog that gives you the same white sand beach experience coupled with more things to do: Mantigue Island.
Mantigue has a bit more cover than White Island—thanks to the small beach huts on the southern part of the island. There’s coverage in the form of mangroves along its shores as well as vegetation in the middle part of the island, where you can find a restaurant, which doubles as the island’s tourism office. The waters surrounding Mantigue has been declared a marine sanctuary, making it perfect for snorkeling or diving. There’s also a small fishing community on the northern part of the island.
How to get there
SkyJet Airlines offers direct flights to Camiguin five times weekly. We suggest renting a motorbike (Php500 or about USD10 per day) and driving to get to Brgy. San Roque in Mahinog, which should take around 30 minutes. In San Roque, board a motorboat (Php600/boat, maximum of six people) to the island, where you can stay for four hours maximum. If you stay longer will set you back Php75 per hour per boat.
Things to do
There are a couple of things you can do in Mantigue Island, even if you’re only limited to for-hour stays.
Stand-up paddle board
Glass boat rides
Beach bumming for the Gram
Talk to the island locals, and (maybe) buy fish from them (fresh or sundried)
There’s credence to why this beach is called Long Beach.
In case you think Boracay Island’s 4km long white-sand beach is the most breathtaking beauty of a shoreline there is in the country, wait until you see Long Beach in Port Barton, located an hour away from San Vicente, Palawan. It’s a 14-kilometer stretch of white sand beach, the longest in the Philippines and the second longest in the whole of Asia. It cuts through several villages, and splits into 6 coves and 3 barangays: New Agutaya, San Isidro, and Alimangoan. It’s also not as populated as neighboring El Nido because San Vicente remains to be a hidden gem of the Philippines Last Frontier.
The sand is about as white and as fine as you’ll find in El Nido or Boracay, with shallow waters just off the coast that you can swim or snorkel in.
Things to do San Vicente is more of a quiet fishing village, so don’t expect malls or places to party. You can, however, do the following while in this small fishing village:
Island hopping.Most tourists, especially backpackers, start at Port Barton and visit nearby islands from there.
Snorkeling and diving. The waters off of San Vicente are relatively shallow, perfect for snorkeling. Some of the islands during the island hopping tour double as snorkeling/diving spots. Ask your boatman for spots where it’s okay to take a plunge to make island hopping tours more worthwhile.
Cove hopping from one part of Long Beach to another. Erawan/Irawan Beach is one of the more popular beaches to visit. It’s in Barangay Sto. Niño, about 45 minutes away from Poblacion by motorbike.
Visit Pamuayan Falls or Bigaho Falls. The two waterfall in Port Barton offer distinct ways of enjoying a cascade: Pamuayan comes with a one-hour hike through a forest trail, while Bigaho offers something a bit more chill as it’s an easy, 20-minute walk from the beach.
Get there Skyjet Airlines (Flyskyjetair.com) flies direct from Manila to San Vicente, Palawan four times weekly beginning July 16, 2019. From the airport, take a tricycle to your hotel on Long Beach. Fares are usually between Php60 to Php75 (USD1.20 to USD1.50) per person.
Where to stay Sunset Beach Resort (Php3,000 per night for 2 guests, Php500 or USD10 for an extra bed, Sunsetbeach-palawan.com) in Macatumbalen is one of the recommended places to stay in San Vicente, especially if you enjoy peace, quiet, and good old German standards (one of the owners is German). They have the beach right in front of the resort and are within three minutes of town proper, which locals refer to as simply San Vicente or Poblacion.
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Heading to this Mindanaoan island province and exploring it stat is now possible with SkyJet’s direct Manila to Camiguin flights.
The buzz is true. If before you spend a whole day to get to Camiguin off Mindanao, blessed with white sandy beaches and marvelous diving, now it’s a mere over-an-hour’s flight—made possible with SkyJet Airlines’ launch of direct Manila to Camiguin flights on May 6, 2019.
And so we’ve surmised we’ve found for you your new Tagaytay, where you can escape the urban jungle on a Saturday, and be back the next day in time for you to get your @$s ready for work on Monday. Not that you cannot stay for three or so days.
Here’s a guide to enjoying the “Island Borne Off Fire” in 24
Day 1, 9:40am
Fly SkyJet Airlines from Manila to Camiguin. Take off from the Manila International Airport Terminal 4 at 9:40am. You’ll touch down at Camiguin Airport at about 11am. SkyJet flies directly from Manila to Camiguin five times daily except on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Grab lunch at the institution located right across the airport: La Dolce Vita, an authentic Italian restaurant, which has been around for over a decade. Its brick oven churns out delectable pizzas; and here you can have wonderful traditional carbonara. After lunch, linger for a cup of cappuccino.
Check-in at your hotel of choice. If you’re a group of friends or a small family with kids in tow looking for for-sharing villas or an apartment-style place for the night, you won’t go wrong with Paraiso Resort & Apartelle. It checks all the basics. Clean; with kitchen where you can shop and cook and dine in if you feel like staying in; has a waterpark for some night swimming; and features an open air restaurant-bar open until 11pm—handy to those who come looking for a night cap. Best of all, it’s centrally located—five minutes’ ride from the airport, and it’s jump off point to Camiguin’s many unique attractions. Top tier option, fronting White Island: Paras Beach Resort.
Smother your skin with sunblock and get things rolling. First stop is White Island, a pristine permanently-exposed sandbar that’s as gorgeous in person as it is on anyone’s IG feed. It’s serpentine shape changes depending on the tide, but this is not why it’s amazing. Its claim to fame are its shallow waters that are so clear they glisten in the sunlight, and the picturesque Mt Hibok-Hibok as its backdrop. I say make this your first stop because once you wade into the water, you’d surely stay for a while. Get there. A 10-minute habal-halab (local motorcycle) ride from the airport to Yumbing jetty where there are boats that will take you across to the sandbar in less than five minutes.
Eleven minutes’ ride and you’re at the view deck of the Old Volcano, officially, Mt. Vulcan. The massive land form’s nickname does not literally translate for it’s more like an offspring of Mt Hibok-Hibok, says our tour guide. There’s probably nothing significant in the stop—but I had my photo taken anyhow—until you actually hike up the steps of the walkway. As your heart pound, and your knees weaken, you get awestruck by white life-size figures depicting the Stations of the Cross.
After a few snaps, a short ride will lead you to the Old Spanish ChurchRuins. What’s left of the church is nothing but walls enveloping the ground, and old trees creating a canopy. The Guiob Church was built in the 16th century and over a hundred years later a massive earthquake cueing Mt. Vulcan’s eruption shook the island and knocked the sanctuary down. It makes for a pleasant stop for Catholic devotees who can light a candle and say a prayer.
The Sunken Cemetery is another casualty of Mt. Vulcan’s eruption in the 1870s but it has ironically turned into a remarkable Camiguin landmark, luring travelers from all over the globe to catch sight of it. It’s best viewed at sunset—and while there’s that feeling of loneliness crossing over eeriness when you visit especially at this time of the day—it will be a shame to leave the island without having set foot at the place. Small boats can take you to the giant cross and hang out for a while at its deck. The more adventurous take the plunge to see the gravestones underwater up close.
Ardent Hot Springs’ warm waters are the perfect ender to a long day out in the sun what with its tiers of 35- and 40-degree Celcius waters. The four cascades filled with naturally heated waters are a balm to sore muscles, and a calming way to cap your active day.
Day 2, 8am
Breakfasts are simple a la carte meals at Paraiso Resort. A must are local fruits for they’re typically sweet, and if the ber months have commenced, never miss out on the lanzones, cluster of small yellow fruits with juicy translucent meat on the inside. The best kind of lanzones grows in Camiguin. In October, the streets of the main highway get filled with peddlers selling the tropical fruit.
Once your bags are packed and you’re ready to go, stop by Vjandep Bakeshop on Plaridel Street en route to the airport to buy Camiguin’s coveted pasalubong: Vjandep’s Pastel, a brand of locally made buns filled with yema (sweet soft custard). Any which way you eat it—as a snack or dessert—will make you forget you have a plane to catch. If you miss the stopover, the airport has a stall selling these goodies. Only the bakery though sells different flavored Pastels.
Check-in at Camiguin Airport, in time for SkyJet’s 11am flight bound for Manila.
Book direct flights between Manila and Camiguin five times weekly with Skyjet Airlines (SkyJetAirlines.com).
Explore sunken ships—the ugly beautiful allure of Coron, Palawan.
Coron, Palawan, the wreck diving capital of the Philippines, is known for its 13 World War II Japanese shipwrecks all lying within depth enough for them to be explorable by underwater addicts—the divers— from the Teru Kaze at a minimum depth of 4m, to the Irako with a maximum depth of 42m.
offer great views from the outside and excellent routes on the inside for
experienced divers and those with the right certification levels. Most of
Coron’s dive operators in town, including our own Reggae Dive Center, typically
offers three daily dives.
If you only have
a few days in town, try this itinerary.
Start your diving holiday with some shallower check out dive in Barracuda Lake, known for its thermoclines and temperatures reaching 39 degrees Celcius—a perfect warm-up for a stunning dive on the Morazan Maru, which offers great diving both for experienced and entry-level divers.
Morazan Maru was originally built in
1905 in England but was sunk in September 1944 along with the other wrecks. She
has since turned into a home of an abundance of species like lionfish and giant
trevallies—and sometimes even turtles.
Cap off your day
with a shallow dive at Teru Kaze
located a stone’s throw away from the Morazan Maru, for some reef and wreck
diving. This wreck is good for snorkeling as the shallowest part is only 4m
below the surface. On most days, Teru Kaze will offer good views from below as
well as from above the surface.
You’ll be back
in Coron later in the afternoon with ample time to climb Mount Tapyas for a
view of beautiful sunsets and of Coron Island. Enjoy a refreshing fruit shake
or a cold beer at the newly opened Tapas Lounge before you continue further
down the hill and out into town.
End your day by
stopping at Coron’s many bars and restaurants. You can have the bistek and menudo at Lolo Nonoy’s or
vegan pesto pasta and veggie sticks at Le
Voyage. For something off-track, walk off the main street and venture into
Coron’s side streets with its eateries and restaurants catering to all tastes.
Experienced and certified divers can upgrade their depth limits with dives to the Akitsushima.
location between 23 and 35 meters under the sea makes it not suitable for entry
level divers but it remains to be one of the most popular dives in the area as
it’s the only wreck left with its guns mostly intact. The guns are dislodged
from the gun turrets and are currently standing upright on the seabed next to
the wreck, with three barrels raised toward to surface.
some time on the surface, have your second dive at the Okikawa Maru, an oil tanker that holds the distinction as Coron’s
longest and widest shipwreck at 160 meters in length and a 20-meter span across
the beam. Her shallower part lies above the depth limit for entry level divers.
This wreck is
located in a passage that from time to time creates strong currents. Due to the
relatively shallow depth and the current, the Okikawa Maru teems with marine
life—groupers, snappers, crocodile fish, triggerfish, and more. Those with keen
eyes will find this wreck good for macro diving.
Cap your day’s
dive series at Lusong Gunboat, one
of the last unidentified wrecks in Coron. The Gunboat took direct hits and had
its wreckage spread over a wide area, though the hull is generally intact. As
with the Teru Kaze, this gunboat was also sunk in very shallow water—so shallow
in fact that this wreck pokes out of the water at low tide.
Gunboat is perfect for all levels of divers—from those getting into scuba
diving, experienced divers who want to chill a bit after some great dives, and macro
End your day
with a dip at Maquinit Hot Springs with its natural saltwater springs, or a
full Italian meal at Altrove.
This day will be your last diving day in Coron since divers are advised not to fly within 18 hours of going underwater. Finish off in style at the Irako, Coron’s deepest and darkest shipwreck.
Irako was a
refrigerator ship in the Japanese Navy. She has tight compartments and storage
rooms, and her starting depth of 30 meters means only the most experienced of
divers dare to take her on. Currents can change in a heartbeat and visibility
ranges from a few meters on a bad day to magnificent ideal months. Her upright
position with masts still poised makes it easy to see why she has become part
of many divers coming to Coron’s bucket lists.
dive is on the cards for your last dive day: the Kogyo Maru, an auxiliary construction supply ship, which went down
with her load. One can still see the toppled construction machines in her cargo
holds, with belt tracks and hundreds upon hundreds of bags of cement. Like the
Morazan Maru, this wreck is widely covered in corals and marine life, from
schools of seabreams to circling big-eye trevallies, to huge numbers of scads
Make a final
dive in one of Coron’s reefs or one of the shallower wrecks to make this trip
one for the books.
Head back town
for some tasty ramen and a cold beverage at Buzz. You can also visit Tita Esh for a more low-key vibe and some
filling pansit canton or a
heart-warming bowl of mami.
It’s island hopping day! Make sure not to leave Coron without taking a trip to Coron Island. Rent a private boat with a tour guide or book a tour through an operator.
offers a lot of white sand beaches and clear waters, with lunch that’s served
in one of the small huts they have set up for the same purpose on the beaches.
Do not miss out on Kayangan Lake or Twin Lagoon; go snorkeling in Siete Pecados or Twin Peaks.
Rent a kayak or
a standup paddleboard in town if you’re feeling edgy before leaving and explore
the island as you paddle along. This is a great opportunity to experience the beauty of the island in a very eco-friendly way.
Relax and enjoy
the evening with a good view and a cold gin and tonic from either the View Deck
or Suites 4:13 before heading out for dinner and summoning a good night sleep.
Who is Lisbeth Jensen? Lisbeth is an instructor at Reggae Dive Center in Coron for over four years now. She is passionate about the environment and has used her work to participate in conservation efforts in Busuanga.
The Basics Get there. Skyjet Airlines flies from Manila to Coron three times daily. Flyskyjetair.com
Dive tours. Reggae Dive Center offers fun dives to Coron’s many shipwrecks as well as PADI dive courses. Mobile: +63928 835 5657, +63906 316 1454 Reggaedivecenter.com
Head to Freediving Coron if you want to enjoy these same dive spots without the need for heavy scuba gear. Mobile: + 63915 172 6809 Freediving-coron.com
Words: Lisbeth Jensen; Photos: Catalin Craciun & Daniel Soriano Featured photo by Catalin Craciun