Stakes from Island living in the Philippines

by Steve Van Derodar

| Photo courtesy of Journeyera.com via SV Derodar

Although urban living constrains most of us, some are lucky to have the option and affinity to the kind of life the islands of the Philippines offer. It could be temporary to halfway stays, even retirees needing a change fit a newer excitement, but one thing is true – there is a kind of bliss living in the expansive shores and natural wonders that the islands offer.

In Scott James Roxas, The Myriad Charms of the PHILIPPINES, he names six must-visit islands. These islands do attract not only locals but also foreign visitors. For those savvy with property investments, you will note strong potential in the rental and secondary home market in recent years. There is just so much that island living offers, capitalizing on their lifestyle, especially with a blend of culture, food, and historical flavors.

PALAWAN
Considered the Philippines’ last frontier, Palawan is the westernmost of its major islands and is about as far as you can get from the traffic-choked cities. Even Puerto Princesa, the capital and gateway to the rest of the province, maintains a laid-back appeal. About 60 kilometers away lies the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where visitors embark on a 45-minute canoe ride to explore a portion of the 24-kilometer river as it meanders through a massive cave system.

“The adventure takes travelers between El Nido and Coron, with stops in fishing villages, leaving plenty of time for snorkeling, swimming, and meals that showcase the local produce and seafood.”

Farther north, Palawan has a string of alluring coastal gems. Kayaking is a must in the karststrewn, crystal-clear lagoons of El Nido; the thriving coral reefs around Matinloc and Tapiutan islands are a playground for snorkelers, and World War II shipwrecks draw divers to Coron Bay. Uncharted Philippines (unchartedphilippines.com) covers the highlights in a six-day nature and wildlife tour, but for an utterly off-the-grid experience, embark on a five-day sailing expedition with Tao Philippines (taophilippines.com). The adventure takes travelers between El Nido and Coron, with stops in fishing villages, leaving plenty of time for snorkeling, swimming, and meals that showcase the local produce and seafood.

BORACAY
As the Philippines’ most celebrated beach destination, Boracay now looks better than it has in decades. The center of the action, four-kilometer-long White Beach, is no longer crowded with vendors, small boats, and portable furniture. Don’t just take a dip in the cerulean waters of the Sulu Sea; make time to stroll along the length of the strand up to Station 1, where you can quench your thirst with a lychee mojito at Discovery Shores Boracay (discoveryshoresboracay.com), one of the island’s top resorts. Off the beach and closer to Station 3, Subo Boracay (suboboracay.com) plates up classic Filipino dishes like sizzling sisig (pork hash) and kinilaw sa gata (local ceviche with coconut milk) in rustic wooden surrounds. Fronting a private stretch of white sand to the north, Azure Beach Club (crimsonhotel.com) at the Crimson Resort offers an enticing combination of good food and fun; Saturdays see foam parties held in tandem with a sumptuous pan-Asian barbecue buffet lunch.

Boracay now looks better than it has in decades. The center of the action, four-kilometer-long White Beach, is no longer crowded with vendors, small boats, and portable furniture.”

Bulabog Beach is a must for thrill-seekers keen to see Boracay from a different perspective on the opposite side of the island. Kitesurfing schools such as Habagat Kiteboarding Center (kiteboracay.com) offer discovery courses for those new to the sport, and operators such as Boracay Adventures Travel & Tours (boracayadventures.com) can organize 15-minute parasailing sessions and cruises aboard a para or traditional double-outrigger sailboat.

CEBU
Talk to Filipinos about lechon (spit-roasted suckling pig), and a debate is likely to ensue. On one side are fans of Anthony Bourdain–favored Zubuchon and other non-traditional iterations of the Cebu delicacy. On the other are devotees of the classic preparation found at Rico’s, House of Lechon, CnT, and the public market in the historic town of Carcar. You can decide for yourself by visiting some (or all) of these cult-favoring eateries in the Philippines’ second city — the thriving hub of its namesake island.

Aside from lechon, Cebu is also known for puso—rice cakes boiled in a woven pouch of palm leaves—dried mango, local chorizo, and linarang, a coconut milk-based sour, spicy fish stew that’s reminiscent of tom yum. You can sample such specialties through a customizable tour with a locally-based outfit Happy Juanderer (happyjuanderer.com).

But the local cuisine is only one of Cebu’s many assets. You can glimpse the city’s rich Spanish-colonial heritage in the old downtown area. It is home to landmarks like the Basilica del Santo Niño, the oldest Catholic church in the country, and Fort San Pedro, which was initially commissioned in 1565 by Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi.

“Aside from lechon, Cebu is also known for puso—rice cakes boiled in a woven pouch of palm leaves—dried mango, local chorizo, and linarang, a coconut milk-based sour, spicy fish stew that’s reminiscent of tom yum.”

Beyond Cebu city, a three-hour drive to the southwest brings you to the trailhead for a 20-to 30-minute hike toward Osmeña Peak, at 1,013 meters, the highest point on the island. Panoramic vistas over its jagged limestone scenery and Cebu’s eastern and western coastlines beckon from the viewpoint; most visitors pair the hike with a swim in the pools below Kawasan Falls. Over on the southwest coast, Moalboal is known for healthy offshore reefs that harbor at least 450 species of hard coral. The biggest draw here is Pescador Island, thanks to its excellent snorkeling and diving sites, where you can spot white-tipped reef sharks, turtles, and all manner of tropical fish. Look out for the celebrated “sardine run,” an ever-moving vortex of several hundred thousand sardines.

More sea- and sand-based escapades await in northern Cebu. You can best enjoy the islands of Malapascua and Bantayan over at least two days for awe-inspiring scuba diving (Malapascua is the place to swim with thresher sharks) and unhurried sun worship.

BOHOL
Across the strait from Cebu, the island of Bohol has its share of unique wonders. Two of its most prominent attractions are the 1,200-odd conical limestone outcrops known as the Chocolate Hills and the wide-eyed, palm-sized primates at the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary. SUP Tours (suptoursphilippines.com) offers stand-up paddleboarding tours down the jungle-fringed Loboc River, and mountain bike rides for advanced cyclists through local villages for more active explorations. Its most novel option is a “night safari” that involves two hours of paddling searching for fireflies.

“Neighboring Panglao Island isn’t just home to Bohol’s new airport; it also has a winning combination of sun, sea, and sand.”

A little more than a 10-minute drive to the east from the provincial capital of Tagbilaran, the town of Baclayon is a sanctuary for history buffs. It’s well worth a stop for its 18thcentury coral stone church and a collection of over 60 ancestral houses that line the main road. Villamor House and Malon House are open to museums and homestays, two of the oldest and most well-preserved examples. Whether you choose to pop in for an afternoon or stay overnight, the Spanish-Filipino architectural detailing and antique furnishings provide a fascinating glimpse into the past.

Neighboring Panglao Island isn’t just home to Bohol’s new airport; it also has a winning combination of sun, sea, and sand. There’s no shortage of small, low-key hotels and restaurants along Alona Beach, a jumping-off point for trips to the nearby dive sites and marine sanctuaries. Wildlife enthusiasts should not miss a full-day excursion with Pamilacan Island Dolphin & Whale Watching Tours (whales.Bohol.ph). They can see the pilot whales, dolphins, and whale sharks that frequent the protected waters off pint-sized Pamilacan Island.

CAMIGUIN
Unspoiled by excessive commercialism, this compact island province off the northern coast of Mindanao has a wild, jungly allure with no less than seven volcanoes on its shores. One of these is the 1,332-meter high Mount Hibok-Hibok, which last erupted in 1953. The day hike through a mossy rain forest on steep, unmarked trails rewards seasoned hikers with summit views stretching as far as Bohol and Cebu on a clear day. Far less strenuous is the half-hour walk to the base of 70-meter Katibawasan Falls, where a large natural pool provides the perfect excuse to cool off in the tropical heat. You can arrange guided treks through Camiguin Soul Divers (camiguinsouldivers.com), a purveyor of trips to dive sites nearby Mantigue Island.

“Unspoiled by excessive commercialism, this compact island province off the northern coast of Mindanao has a wild, jungly allure with no less than seven volcanoes on its shores.”

Camiguin’s most photographed landmark is the giant white cross off the west coast marking the Sunken Cemetery. Little remains of the historic graveyard that sank into the sea in 1871 during the violent birth of Mount Vulcan, but snorkelers will spot the occasional stone sculpture in its coral gardens that have become a home for clownfish, sea stars, and giant clams.

SIARGAO
A few years ago, teardrop-shaped Siargao mainly preserved surfers drawn to world-famous breaks such as Cloud 9. Its status as the “surfing capital of the Philippines” comes to the fore in late September and early October when international surfing legends and spectators descend on the island for the World Surf League’s annual Siargao Cloud 9 Surfing Cup (worldsurfleague.com).

These days, Siargao also attracts a growing number of holidaymakers for its laid-back beach culture. Popular sightseeing stops include the Magpupungko Rock Pools and the teal-hued Sugba Lagoon in the thickly forested interior of nearby Caob Island. Roughly an hour’s drive north from the town of General Luna, Pacifico Beach has all the scenery—complete with white sand, seemingly endless groves of coconut palms, and pounding surf—minus the crowds. The best way to explore it all is by renting a motorbike, but circling the island while perched atop a jeepney on tour by Wander Melon (fb.com/wandermelonsiargao) is another fun, albeit more precarious, option.

“Roughly an hour’s drive north from the town of General Luna, Pacifico Beach has all the scenery—complete with white sand, seemingly endless groves of coconut palms, and pounding surf—minus the crowds.”

The burgeoning food scene in and around General Luna is impressive. Shaka (fb.com/shakasiargao), serving colorful smoothie bowls and cold-pressed juices, is just a short stroll from the Cloud 9 boardwalk. Kermit (kermitsiargao.com), a surf resort and restaurant so adored its brick-oven pizza and spicy cocktails that it had to duplicate its dining venue in Manila. Farther down the coast at Bravo Beach Resort (bravosiargao.com), a Basque-trained chef serves up Spanish fare made with local ingredients.

There are more than “just” six islands in the Philippines that offer unique opportunities for investments. When you think of it, these islands can cater to specific demography, whether for short stays or extended stays, or even relocations.

Thanks again to Scott James Roxas for providing such a shortlist that is island-specific as to the offerings they provide. Understandably, people spend on the level of their comfort, budget, and satisfaction, which translates to the lifestyle experiences that they seek found in island living.


(Stevenson’sexperience in Philippine Real Estate spans more than 15 years. He has been involved in horizontal, vertical, vacation, and commercial properties. He has worked as an International Property Specialist to markets in Asia, Europe, and North America with Ayala Land, Federal Land, and Century Properties. ThroughPhil House Hunters, he offers real estate investment opportunities, marketing, and consultancy with a key focus on Metro Manila and Mega Cebu areas. Visit www.philhousehunters.com.Email at derodarsales@gmail.com.)

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