Text and photos by CristyThe first time I visited Hundred Islands in Pangasinan a long, long time ago, I was enchanted. In my child's mind, it seemed magical somehow -- seeing countless little uninhabited islands dotting the wide blue seas. I've just recently visited the place again, and I've realized that, despite more than fifteen years have passed, I'm still under its spell!
Who wouldn't be with the sight of over a hundred little islets sprinkling a vast area of some 1,844 hectares of calm and clear blue waters? One can practically have an island all to oneself!
Many times during my travels, I've gotten disappointed upon re-visiting a place I hadn't seen in so long -- a little commercial destruction here and there, a lack of government care or simply my memory having over-enhanced old images in my mind. But on this particular trip, I was glad to see that despite the passage of so many years, the islands have remained as enchanting and as beautiful as ever.
The Hundred Islands National Park is the foremost tourist destination in the province of Pangasinan in northern Philippines. It is a five-hour drive north of Manila passing through Pampanga, Tarlac, and finally to Alaminos. The jump-off point is the town of Lucap. From the wharf, it is just a short 20-minute boat ride to the islands.
Long ago, I remember Lucap as being a small and sleepy little town with hardly any accommodations available. Now it is much more populated and busier with many little commercial establishments and vendors lining the wharf area. There are still no major hotels or resorts, but the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA) has a small guest facility right on the wharf (presently being renovated due to damages it sustained from La Niña). There are also many private lodging places in the area to choose from.
On this trip, my friends and I rented a boat for the day (double pay compared to the usual practice of getting dropped off and picked up). But it's the only way if you want to go island hopping. We avoided the major islands as these were bound to be more crowded. But hey, there are more than a hundred islands out there, so there are a lot of choices!
To start with, I asked our boatman to take us to the best snorkeling spot. So off we went to this shallow little area between two islets. But before we could jump overboard, a PTA boat approached and told our boatman it was off-limits. Apparently it was the area PTA and University of the Philippines (UP) marine biologists used in replanting giant taklobos (clams). I was actually pleasantly surprised to experience such vigilance and apparent care being exercised by the government in protecting the environment and repairing past mistakes and damages done.
So we moved on to the "approved" snorkeling area just close by. There aren't as much corals and fishes as there are in popular snorkeling and dive places like Anilao (Batangas), but there are a lot of giant taklobos already replanted. The UP marine biologist told me that much of the coral formations were damaged during storms and typhoons which had hit Pangasinan earlier in the year.
Then we went for some island-hopping till we finally settled on this nice little isle, named Marta. From afar it looks just like two ordinary islands right beside each other, till you get closer and realize it's actually connected by a tiny strip of white sand beach (I was actually worried the little strip of sand would disappear on high tide).
It was beautiful -- the sand white and fine, the slope gradual, the waters warm and clear, the sky so blue and the sun so bright. There are other islands close by but on Marta, we were alone and it was heavenly! I felt such calm and peace as I soaked in and enjoyed the beauty of the surroundings and thanked mother nature for giving it to us.
Actually, not all islands in the park are ideal for swimming and picnics. Only a few have white sandy beaches. Most are rock-solid but with lush green plants and vegetation, some trees, some even have caves!
The government has kept development within the park to a minimum. Until now, only Quezon, Governor, and Children's Islands have any sort of structures. And these are just very basic picnic huts and tables, rest rooms, and some overnight huts and a cottage. There are no restaurants or souvenir shops or even running water. Many visitors who wish to stay a night or two choose their own island, pitch a tent, and cook their own food!
Surprisingly, most visitors I saw are local Filipinos. Perhaps, this is due to the ease of travel and the very reasonable prices (i.e. park entrance fee is only 10 Philippine pesos [PhP] per person, a round-trip boat ride for up to 10 passengers is PhP400). Or maybe due to a lack of proper promotion, foreigners just haven't discovered this slice of paradise.
Visitors to the area should be prepared for the lack of luxuries of any sort. There are no beach resorts, nor aqua sports facilities. This is simply nature at it's best, without any of the commercial hype and fanfare.
After a peaceful and relaxing day out in the islands, public shower and bathroom facilities are available back at the PTA facility in Lucap wharf. These are very basic (separate fees are charged per use).
So if like me you've always wondered, "just where are all those 7,107 islands of the Philippines?" Well at least now you know, 123 little islets are right there at The Hundred Islands National Park!
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This article was originally published on July 16, 1999 in BusinessWorld's online Destinations Travel Journals. Reprinted here with permission of the author.