A Travellerspoint blog

Even Half-Day Tour is More Fun in the Philippines

Guimaras Island: An Afternoon Delight

semi-overcast 31 °C

I have been to Iloilo City for so many times starting in the year 2003 when I had an opportunity to do some tours. While it always been my wish to pay even a short visit to Guimaras Island since, I had been failing to do so. Maybe because I was alone then, that I planned it alone myself, so I lacked guts to venture it on my own.


It was only this November of 2013 that when I visited Iloilo City with a colleague and friend, Marisa Dahan, whose interest in travel is at par with mine, that the idea of reaching Guimaras Island was revived and revitalized. We arrived early one afternoon at the city for an official business the following days. We were ushered at a beach resort located at the outskirts of the city. So the way to reach at the dock to board an outriggered boat, the sole means of transport to and from the island, entailed much effort. We immediately deposited our baggage at the reception counter and left for Guimaras. Fortunately, the driver of the vehicle that fetched us at the airport offered to ferry us to the port area.


I later learned that there are two docking points for passenger boats to and from Guimaras. I cannot point however where they were situated, but I remembered passing through a street with crowding shanties on our way out while the return trip docked at a wharf close to the lighthouse. Both trips cost us 14 pesos each.

The 50+ seater passenger boats leave Iloilo docks every 15 to 30 minutes every day. The ride across the sea dividing the Panay from Guimaras usually takes only around 15 minutes. On our way in, Marisa and I arrived at Jordan wharf and greeted by tour fixers. We approached the tourism information kiosk instead and inquired on the route, transport, and cost of a half-day tour.


It was told that motorela (motorcycle with sidecar) is available any time of the day as transport for less than 4 person-groups. There are other means of transport but motorela is good for the two of us. The lady asked our itinerary and informed us that our route will cost 1,200 pesos. Given only around 3 hours to make the island tour, because we reached Guimaras at 2pm and have to leave before the last boat trip back to Iloilo at 6pm, the thousand bucks-half-day tour is expensive and no cost-wise.

We left the kiosk and decided to find the transport on our own. One tricycle driver followed us and agreed to our bargain at 700 pesos. That price is reasonable to reach just 3 tourist destinations in the island, the Trappist Monastery, then Kapelya na Bato, and the Lopez's Mansion.


Trappist Monastery was our agreed first stop considering that the spot is in Jordan. Then we dropped by the smallest park in the whole country as it is along the way to the monastery. The monks' monastery was undergoing improvements, so we concentrated our time in checking the souvenir items in their tourist shop, took some souvenir photos and then headed towards the other destinations in the itinerary.


Buenavista is the location for the 2 important tourist destinations. It was a long ride from Jordan. We reached the Kapelya na Bato (English translation: Stone Chapel) at sundown, known as Navalas Church. It has this welcoming fortress made of concrete, which the entrance hole looked like a cave's entrance. It appeared to have undergone curation and/or several renovation. The chapel resembles a usual chapel, it only has unique facade and ambiance that epitomized its heritage.








The sunset has amplified the beauty of the Lopez's Mansion, known to be the Roca Encantada. Since it is painted in white, the orange-red afternoon hue has exemplified the grandoisity of the 3-story heritage house. Situated on top of the hill in one corner of the Guimaras Island, the stunning view consisted the pebbled beach on one side and the tiny little isles on the other.



Being on top of the hill, living that kind of lush life even just for a day is beyond my imagination. I am fond of house in posh designs but such simple but elegant, located in a one of a kind spot, is something that left me awed and dreamy.




Just the right timing, we arrived at Buenavista wharf at around 6pm, then boarded right away in the leaving boat. After a couple of hours in Guimaras, my day (I am sure, Marisa's too) was filled with fun and adventures. Defraying a total of a thousand all in all, the half-day tour around (though not covering the whole island, which offers more tourist spots) was definitely an afternoon delight.


Posted by crisbernal 23:21 Archived in Philippines Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises churches ruins island guimaras heritage_houses philippine_tours budget_travels baroque_churches island_adventures day_tours daytour Comments (0)

Wild Riding is More Fun in the Philippines

Enjoying Paoay and Laoag Tour Destinations and Adventures

sunny 30 °C

There were plenty of attempts to reach Ilocos Norte province. This is the only point in the country that is not covered in the previous projects I've worked with. So I cannot make a tour in this particular tourist destination for free. Sept 30 was supposedly my chance to make a personal tour there. That was when I find a new job with another project, which necessitated me to cancel the trip ticket.


My new project has put that plan into reality though. It in fact gave me two opportunities to reach llocos Norte and the chance to explore its tourist destinations. This was my second time. The first visit on November 9 featured in another blog, Journeying the Northest. This maybe the second time, with same company, but the experience is new, the route is new, and the itinerary is new.

I arrived here via Tuguegarao City. Thus to circumnavigate Cagayan Valley to Ilocos Norte by a bus was once in a lifetime experience and a fun already.


I was invited to grace a training in Laoag City sponsored by the DepEd DO of Ilocos Norte. It was held in Java Hotel, which is known to be owned by the Farinas family. It does have the Indonesian feel in it, in as far as physical structure and aesthetic design are concerned.


It was after the two-day official activity that the fun part began. Led by Sandra and Mayo again, Marisa and I were treated to a wonderful tour. This time though, we were accompanied by Ms. Che, the Accountant, and our car driver in this quest.

Paoay Church was the first stop. I may have been here during my first visit, but I still consider this my first, because it was only this time that I got to really marvel its baroqueness, scan its intricacy, and behold its beauty. I finally got the third in my 4 collections of Baroque Churches in the Philppines, after San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila and Miag-ao Church in Iloilo. The fourth, which will be covered in the future tours, is in Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur.




Batac, Ilocos Norte was the next destination. This is the hometown of the then President, Ferdinand Marcos. Fortunately, the former president's tomb was opened for our viewing, along with other local and foreign tourists. So I got to see with my naked eye his preserved body inside a coffin made of clear glass.


From Marcos' tomb, we entered the Marcos Museum. It was known to be the residential house of the Marcoses which was now transformed into a museum. The interior design and the organization of memorabilia are creative and at par with other museums I saw in other countries. The life of the former president is depicted in them.


The first two sights were all indoors because the afternoon sun was yet hot when we started our tour. After Batac experience, the heat of sun mellowed and signaled our journey to the next destination, which was Laoag; not the downtown but in barangay La Paz, where the large stretch of San Dunes can be found.


Reasonably distant from the prior point, it was really sundown when we arrived at the sand dunes site. Having previously arranged by the hosts, we immediately proceeded to the fun and wild rides in the area. Divided into 2 batches, and while waiting for the 4x4 ride up, down and around the somewhat desert field, I tried the sand boarding, and then the sand skiing.


Both the sand boarding and skiing, coupled with the steep routes, were heart-pumping, adrenaline-rushing fun. The fact that we are all inexperienced, the sliding was enjoyed more by screaming and shouting. So much so, when one fell off the wooden board, then blinded by the scattered and flying sands.


The wild ride with 4x4 wheels was definitely the closing activity. After enduring the leaps and bounds, plus the fear of having the car break down mid-field, we were all exhausted and hungry. Had it been in the midday, the other trips will no longer be worthy.


What was fitting to reward ourselves after having survived the wild rides was to feast with the Ilokano cuisine at Saramsam restaurant. The recipes we gorged that night were the following:


a taste of puque-puque

a lick of utong

one of a kind binagoongang pasta DSC_4332.jpg

malunggay ice cream as dessertDSC_4339.jpg


No matter my body ached that night, while waiting for the boarding call, much more while relaxing the whole duration of the flight, the wild ride was funnier, much more enjoyable, and memorable.

Posted by crisbernal 05:34 Archived in Philippines Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises churches driving museum laoag heritage_houses philippine_tours baroque_churches day_tours imelda_marcos city_tours bisita_iglesia daytour batac Comments (0)

Journeying the Northest is More Fun in the Philippines

Traversing La Union, Ilocos Sur, and Ilocos Norte


I started exploring Philippines since my high school. Being so active in curricular and extra-curricular activities, l reached as far as Bicol and Davao then. In my college days, l was able to visit Cagayan De Oro and Manila. When I started working, I traveled to Cebu and Bohol. All these travels are free, charged to the school or company. Such perks continued on and has intensified when I joined consultancy in 2003. Specializing in development projects, l have even reached those roads less traveled.

Except the Northest. Visiting northern Luzon was indeed my first time to reach the northern Ilocandia.


Given the chance to visit Region I, I asserted to my colleague that flying is better than taking the bus. Hence, I chose flying from Manila to Laoag then ride the bus from Laoag to La Union. It may be circumferential but it will justify our reason reaching Laoag and then make a day tour thereby.

Since the theme was business with pleasure, I worked at daytime first then arranged a short tour in the evening. Fortunately, the host region was so accommodating, we, Marisa and l, got the chance to take a peek and take pics at the Thunderbird Resort. This is a pricey hotel that, exuding a Sartorini feel, lay along La Union coast and only accessible to guests with private cars.


The nice treat did not just end there, we were ushered to a sumptuous dessert, before eating the main course, just because we were intrigued by the so-called La Union's best Halo-halo. Served with the coco shell, we almost cannot consume the big serving. As a result, the dinner was sacrificed.


After the training activity in City of San Fernando, La Union, Marisa and l went to Vigan City. Here we spent a night at Cordillera Inn while experiencing the old Philippine heritage at nighttime, expecting some appearances of ghosts, as most people were claiming. Strolling around the city, particularly the heritage sites, felt creepy yet awesome.




Early the next morning, we headed on to Laoag. Training participants from the City pledged to arrange a tour for us before we fly back to Manila. Sandra and Mayo accompanied us and showed us more beauty, heritage and culture of llocanos, especially in the northest.

Our first stop was the Bangui Windmill. This renewable energy source is such a site to behold and something that we can be proud of. There was a number of gigantic fans lining at the coastline. Windmills are their source of power. And an expansion can be observed to more areas beyond Bangui.


We were then treated to a feast, an early lunch, of native cuisine. Hosted by the Bangui National High School, I enjoyed the site of a fully filled dining table, where fresh catch is cooked, fresh veggies are made salad, and more llokano style of cooking.

Now with full stomach, the group proceeded to the famous Burgos Lighthouse. I thought I will be able to climb the top, but it was now forbidden.


Without delay , we continued on to Kapurpurawan. Here we found the noted white stone, I mean, rock formations. The Kapurpurawan actually means white. We took poses and pictures of ourselves lost and silly while enjoying the view. Though the whole site is not entirely white, since some parts are black, the naturally carved stones were really something uniquely astonishing. It was so windy here, and thus windmills are appropriate, that may have slapped the waves against the rocks. This perhaps was what made the shaping of the white stones or rocks.



Then we got to the Dragon Fruit Farm. I finally able to see the plant where these red or pink fruit stemmed from. In that farm, we found dragon fruit-flavored ice cream, lumpia made out of dragon fruit zests, jams and other delicacies made of dragon fruits.


To make the most of the chance, I pleaded to include Paoay church in our itinerary. When we got to the church, we hastily took pictures before making the sign of the cross. Then immediately returned to the car and went to the airport to check in for our flight that night.



Despite the short time, we still managed to see the touristy destinations in Ilocos region. Being hasty added to the fun, actually.

Posted by crisbernal 03:26 Archived in Philippines Tagged churches night philippine_tours budget_travels baroque_churches day_tours city_tours daytour Comments (0)

Family Bonding is More Fun in the Philippines

Agusan and Misamis Oriental Roads Less Travelled

all seasons in one day 27 °C
View Panay Island in 360 degrees on crisbernal's travel map.


I remember my Secondary Education Development Program (SEDP) years where my history book declared Masao island as the landing place for Magellan's expedition. It never occurred to me that the actual landmarks were erected in the said place. That place was located in and around Agusan del Norte.



Reaching Masao was the very first family trip we made outside Surigao del Norte, our home province. Driving our new car, my older brother followed my cousin's lead. With us were my parents, my sis in law and my nephew. My cousin's family, who resided in Butuan City accompanied us and served as our guide.

It astonished me to notice the landmark at the mid-entrance of the Masao islet. Never thought I could find a monument marking the "claimed" arrival of the Spaniards in the Philippine archipelago. I quoted claimed because it is until now in the dispute whether the first arrival of the Spaniards was in Limasawa or Masao island.


For curious commuting tourists from Butuan City downtown, the isle can be reached through motorelas or tricycles (motorcycles with side car). Since the structure lies along the beachline, you can also enjoy the black-sanded shoreline swimming or picnicking.


Divine Mercy

My post-Christmas 2012 break was spent in Mindanao. To ensure that my flight won't be cancelled due to bad weather, which December always brings in my home province Surigao, I took a flight from Manila to Cagayan de Oro City. Confident having our new car, my parents and my siblings decided to fetch me at Lumbia Airport. Thus, this trip was my family's first going out of Caraga Region.

What best to spend the holiday than climbing the Divine Mercy Shrine? Since El Salvador City is less than an hour ride from the city, we took the opportunity to visit the shrine. It was our way of celebrating Christmas and to thank God for the blessings he has bestowed upon us the whole year round.


We have a full-house then; my Father, my Mother, my brother, my nephew, my brother's mom in law, and my nephew's cousin in his mother side squeezed in the 10-seater SUV. We climbed the hill where the towering Divine Mercy statue is located. We took photos and marvel at this man-made tourist destination.


I have a cousin, on my father's side, who married a businessman in the city. She promised to meet us that night. She treated us to a gastronomic supper at no less than the original barbeque spot in Cagayan de Oro - Steve's Chicken BBQ. Afterwhich, she and her husband toured us to their parent's multi-million mansion in the Xavier Estates.


My family and I braved the night trip to return home to Surigao del Norte, with filled eyes due to plenty of sightings and filled stomach due to grandiose dinner my cousin hosted.

Posted by crisbernal 10:05 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Joyriding is More Fun in the Philippines

Discovering Surigao del Sur's Natural Wonders

sunny 32 °C

I always got free side-trips every time I travel for work purposes. And I never thought that discovering Surigao del Sur would be enchanting, captivating, and worth more than a side-trip. The roadtrip we made included dropoffs at "tourist" destinations. It was aptly called, joyride.

Hinatuan Enchanted River


I am a Surigaonon and hailed from the adjacent province, Surigao del Norte. Both lie along the coastline of the Philippine Deep. Knowing the cuts and curves of my known province, I expect that Surigao del Sur would offer me similar features. I was glad I was wrong. The municipalities covered in my itinerary offered me an entirely different experience, a marvelous natural destination that would keep tourists, local or foreign, in awe.


My first stop was in the municipality of Hinatuan. My company and I planned to drop by the Enchanted River after the day's work. But the municipal government's Mayor has reserved for us a lunch at the now famous tourist destination in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur. Seeing the neatly piled, erected side by side, nipahut-cottages in the resort, I can already feel the very welcoming vibes and ambiance upon dropping off the service vehicle. Enchanting, as they called it.


We made the courtesy call with the local chief over the sumptuous lunch. Enjoyed with the clanking of spoons and forks with the china; engrossed with the cracking of crabs' shells by anything strong to paddle; absorbed in devouring the local cuisine that comprised mostly of steamed root-crops, such as sweet potato, cassava, banana, and the kilawin, adobong pusit, and freshly grilled fishes; the noontime passed unnoticed. Fortunately, the bell clang to announce the feeding time at one o'clock. Resort guests, that includes us (we were eight all in all: reps from central and regional offices), crowded the river bank all ready with cameras in all forms and sizes. It was a festive mood for both fishes and people-watchers. Fishes busied themselves catching the feeds while people clicked their cameras. Capturing the rippling of deep blue waters, the splashing made by fish fins and tails, was so enchanting!


Beware though, because no one is allowed to feed the fishes other than the resort staffs.

By the way, swimming is allowed before and after the feeding time.


Cagwait White Beach


Our next destination was in Cagwait, Surigao del Sur. It seemed really a destiny to be accommodated in the known White Beach Resort, even for just one night. The resort and the white beach alongside is the usual site or venue for the annual Paliguan Festival to celebrate the feast day of St. John the Baptist, that is June of each year.


The huge park is conducive for family picnics any time of any day. Despite the late night of our arrival, we still spared a picnic time in one of the nipa-roofed cottage with sounds of waves slapping the white shore as the background music.


The rooms and beds are not that glam but the complementing white beach experience, the early morning swim, the natural unspoiled environment surrounding it are priceless. It made me feel coming back again, later if not sooner.


Marihatag Tree Park


Our last day of stay happened in all-in-one very accommodating place in Marihatag, Surigao del Sur. A resort inside a tree park, beside a prestine and refined shoreline. It was aptly called the Tree Park. Fronting the park is an islet which is a 30-minute swim away, that if you are in fact a swimmer. I have tried crossing but the waves were pushing me back to the park's side. It was known to be privately owned though.


The resorts amenities include a restaurant where you can order food. Early morning breakfast is so awesome there to witness the sunrise, especially when the weather is good. There are several small nipa-roofed cottages for picnickers; an abandoned pool with murky water in it, which I feared a breeding den of mosquitoes, dengue included; and, the closed and airconditioned rooms.


On our way out, we viewed the so-called Britania Group of Islands. These are islets arranged naturally in an awesome fashion. We're in a hurry that we were not able to capture a photograph. Then there is this infamous Tinuy-an Falls in Bislig City down south of the province. This however was not part of our itinerary. There was even this holed rock formation in Cortes, where the slapping of waves resembles an explosion from within the center-hole.

I am glad I still have reasons to go back and rediscover Surigao del Sur's marvelous natural wonders.

To get there, I used to fly through Butuan City and drove through the Surigao del Sur province.

Posted by crisbernal 13:27 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

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