Words and Images by
Mark Anthony Barquin Togonon
Ahh! The beach! Is there a better place to unplug and disconnect from our harsh realities? The thought of the soothing sounds of the waves crashing on the shoreline somehow can make you forget real life. For a few minutes I stare at my laptop wallpaper, which is a photo of a postcard-perfect paradise in the remotest part of Palawan. How I wish I could just teleport away to the island! I remember how the whistling songs of the Orioles and the warm rays of sunshine would wake me up every morning during my camping trip to the island a year ago. I would slip out of my tent right away to enjoy a quiet stroll along the beach while everyone else was still asleep. On my left was an evergreen mass of conifer trees, on my right the cerulean of the slothful sea. Under my bare feet was white sand—consistently soft and silky it felt like I was walking on a carpet of baby powder. Soon, I would sit cross-legged on the sandy shore and stare at the small, royal blue waves coming in closer and closer until they break just beyond my feet.
Here, a list of remote islands you can visit and disappear into should you decide to run away from it all. You should see them, too, before the crowds descend.
1.) Onuk Island, Balabac, Palawan
I remember how my friends and I blurted out profanities the first time we saw the waters surrounding Onuk Island. It is the clearest we have ever seen, incredibly clear that one could see the boat’s shadow on the seabed below and easily spot some hawksbill and green sea turtles gliding by. Here, your snorkels are practically useless as the water’s clear visibility extends as far as the eyes can see.
Onuk Island belongs to the Balabac Group of Islands in the southernmost part of Palawan.
1.) From Puerto Princesa City, go to San Jose Terminal and ride a van going to Rio Tuba Port. Travel time is four to five hours. Make sure you arrive in Rio Tuba before 10 a.m.
2.) At the Rio Tuba Port, ride a boat to Balabac mainland. Travel time is three hours. The only boat to Balabac leaves at 12 noon, but could be earlier, depending on the number of passengers.
3.) For tours to Onuk Island, contact Lorna 63 917 553 2845, Fatima 63 921 777 6655, or Tess 63 946 413 5108.
2.) Candaraman Island, Balabac, Palawan
Candaraman Island stands out among the islands in Balabac because it doesn’t have white sand—it has a pinkish shoreline! Its rare color comes from the naturally pulverized red organ pipe corals, which are abundant in the area, mixed with the white sand. The gorgeous uninhabited island has a lush forest of Pandan and Talisay trees, home to more than a hundred species of endemic birds.
Candaraman Island is among the islands included in the itinerary of KilometerZero Ph.
3.) Punta Sebaring, Balabac, Palawan
Mornings in Punta Sebaring in Bugsuk Island are truly breathtaking. When the tide is low, the sea reveals a seemingly infinite expanse of rippled and very fine white sand. Fringed with pine trees and mangroves on one side and coconut trees on the other, the privately owned Bugsuk Island is a 119 square-kilometer stretch of powdery white sand, the finest I have seen among the beaches around the country.
Life here is simple. To bask in its magnificence means to pitch a tent near the shore, under the lush vegetation. Devoid of electricity, the island’s music comes from the coos and whistles of migratory birds. A good spectacle means a glimpse of the wildlife’s peculiar behavior. Mobile phone signal is sparse, so nights are best spent on meaningful conversations with fellow campers under the starlit skies.
Bugsuk Island also belongs to the Balabac Group of Islands.
For a hassle-free trip to the island, contact Kilometer Zero Ph at 63 917 857 8180 or visit www.kilometerzeroph.com/
4.) Omapuy Island, Tawi-Tawi
Had I flinched upon hearing about the bombings, kidnappings, and beheadings in the infamous provinces in Mindanao, I wouldn’t have seen Omapuy Island, which for me is one of the country’s most beautiful islands. The island, whose wide swathes of powdery white sand shimmer as they catch the light of the sun, is tucked away in a remote part of Tawi-Tawi, the southernmost province in the country. Here, the silence is broken only by the occasional squawks of the egrets and the swish of the farmers collecting seaweeds from the filaments mounted on wooden poles.
1.) Tawi-tawi is safe to visit but you have to coordinate properly with the Provincial Tourism Office, located conveniently beside the arrival area at Sanga-sanga Airport. You may reach them at 63 905 478 1367.
2.) Cebu Pacific has flights from Zamboanga City to Bongao, the capital of Tawi-tawi.
5.) Saluag Island, Tawi-Tawi
Surreal. No other words can possibly describe how I felt when I reached Saluag Island, the southernmost island in the Philippines, just 40 kilometers away from the Malaysian state of Sabah. Its transparent emerald waters reveal hectares of luxuriant sea grass and corals. Here, the Tausug and the Sama Dilaut share the bounties of the sea for livelihood and live peacefully in a small settlement along the blindingly white beach. On a typical day, one could find women and children on the shore, sorting out their seaweed harvests before hanging them on wooden poles to dry.
Saluag and Omapuy Islands can be visited in a day. Contact Tawi-tawi’s Provincial Tourism Office at 63 905 478 1367 to schedule your tours.
6.) Kalanggaman Island, Leyte
Langgam is a Visayan word for “bird.” The island is called Kalanggaman because the sandbars in its eastern and southern ends resemble the wings of a flying bird when viewed from above.
When Supertyphoon Yolanda wreaked havoc in Eastern Visayas in 2013, these sandbars were washed away and the coral reefs in the shallows were seriously disfigured. But nature really has a way of healing itself. Today, the island is even more beautiful with its longer sandbars and thicker vegetation.
On warm summer nights, Kalanggaman Island is usually filled with camping tents and overnighters who don’t mind sleeping under the clear star-strewn skies. There are no hotels here, just rudimentary thatched cottages to cover your head.
1.) At the Tacloban City New Bus Terminal in Abucay, ride a van going to the town of Palompon. Travel time is around three hours.
2.) Ride a boat going to Kalanggaman Island at the Palompon Port. Travel time is approximately 45 minutes.
3.) Make sure you coordinate with the Palompon Ecotour Office at least a day before the trip. You may call 63 926 816 4005; 63 998 555 1421; 63 926 816 4007.
7.) Malamawi Island, Basilan
Malamawi Island is a secluded slice of paradise in the infamous province of Basilan. Its sand is fine and soft like flour and the water, clean and sparkling. If the province’s notorious reputation has done any good, it has kept the island away from irresponsible tourists. There are few cottages and overnight facilities to make your stay convenient. I remember being constantly asked by the locals why I wasn’t scared to venture out to their province. “Do I have a reason to be scared?” I would always reply. The island’s caretaker said that while unfortunate events happen sporadically in the province, it is generally a peaceful place to visit.
1.) From Zamboanga City port, ride a Weesam Express to Isabela City in Basilan. Travel time is 45 minutes.
2.) Contact Hannah Saavedra Straver at 63 906 271 3143 to reserve a cottage/room at the Malamawi White Beach Resort
3.) Make sure to coordinate with the Local Tourism Office prior to the visit. Call 63 905 479 2819.
8.) Mantigue Island, Camiguin
Mantigue Island’s gorgeous white sand and clear glistening waters are enough to make one oblivious of the scorching midday heat. Providing a breathtaking backdrop to the island is Mt. Hibok-hibok, the only active among the seven volcanoes crowding the 240-square-kilometer land area of Camiguin, the second smallest province in the Philippines.
This province itself is quite amazing. It may be small but it has everything—rugged mountains, waterfalls, countless hot and cold springs, rainforests, beautiful volcanic white-sand beaches, historical sites, and immense biodiversity. It is said that the island has more endemic animal species than anywhere in the country. Also, the island boasts 31 marine sanctuaries; some are considered among the top dive sites in the country.
Cebu Pacific has flights from Cebu City to Mambajao Airport in Camiguin.
9.) Matukad Beach, Caramoan Group of Islands, Camarines Sur
I conquered my fear of heights in Matukad Island, and it felt awesome. I remember how shaky I was as I fumbled for a handhold halfway above the sharp-edged cliff on one end of the beach. As I inched cautiously to the top, I was silenced by the breathtaking panorama from my vantage point. Across the island were jungle-covered limestone cliffs rising up from the sea. From afar, verdant islands with small white beaches dotted the clear emerald waters.
1.) Ride a bus or plane to Naga City in the Bicol Region.
2.) From Naga City, take a van bound for Sabang Port. The van terminal is in front of SM City Naga. Travel time is one hour.
3.) From Sabang Port, ride the MB Harry boat bound for Guinjalo Port in Caramoan. Travel time is two hours.
10.) Paliton Beach, Siquijor
Travelers won’t run out of gorgeous white sand beaches to lounge by in the Siquijor. Tucked away from the main road is the blindingly white and undeveloped Paliton Beach, marred only by the dead seagrass washed ashore by the incoming tide. Its surrounding waters are so clear that one can easily see the lush clusters of corals and the colorful underwater life.
Besides the beautiful beaches that make up most of its 102-kilometer coastline, Siquijor has around 45 caves, several mesmerizing waterfalls, impressive marine sanctuaries, and a rich history. The island has long been surrounded with mystery, fuelled by stories about sorcery and creatures of the underworld.
1.) Siquijor is accessible via Dumaguete City.
2.) At the Dumaguete Port, ride a ferry en route to Siquijor. Travel time is an hour.