The Philippines comprises 7,107 islands, each possessing unique and mystical beauty unlike no other in the world; just like a snowflake, each endowed with its own intricate design. Boracay, which is located in Panay, has been the famous go to place in the Philippines for foreign travellers.
It is like Kobe Bryant in the world of basketball – very famous, well loved and has been the most valuable player multiple times. On the other side of the mainstream, are the unknown players whose beauty is still unripe. Its treasure not discovered; its potential still unexplored. Take a journey with me as we look at the underdogs of Panay island in the Philippines and discover its mysterious magnificence. There is more to Panay island than Boracay!
What we will encounter is untapped beauty that is at par with that of the Philippines’ most visited site, Boracay.
First, let us familiarize ourselves with the island of Panay. Panay is an island in the Philippines located in the western part of the Visayas. Politically, it is divided into four provinces: Aklan, Antique, Capiz, and Iloilo, all in the western Visayas region. Panay is one of Philippines’ most fertile islands. During the early part of the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, the Spanish Augustinian friar Gaspar de San Agustín, described Panay as:
“…very similar to that of Sicily in its triangular form, as well as in it fertility and abundance of provision. It is the most populated island after Manila and Mindanao, and one of the largest (with over a hundred leagues of coastline). In terms of fertility and abundance, it is the first.
It is very beautiful, very pleasant, and full of coconut palms… Near the river Alaguer (Halaur), which empties into the sea two leagues from the town of Dumangas…in the ancient times, there was a trading center and a court of the most illustrious nobility in the whole island.”
Our first province to behold is Aklan. Aklan is in the northwest portion of Panay island, bordering Antique province to the southwest, and Capiz province to the east. It’s capital is Kalibo.
Ever heard of the Ati-atihan festival? If you haven’t its one of the famous festivals in the Philippines which celebrates the Santo Nino (child Jesus). It is celebrated in the capital of Aklan, Kalibo. Held on the month of January, locals parade in the streets, dress colorfully like the Ati tribe (the Philippines’ first inhabitants and oldest ancestors) and drink and feast all day long. It is engrossing to watch the parade that fills the streets with vibrancy and jubilation. Ati-atihan is an event that is definitely on the itinerary of explorers looking to see what is outside of Boracay.
A hidden gem in Aklan is a place very similar to what we read about in fairy tales. Think forests with scenic pathways that are inhabited by fairies, crickets, colorful flora and fauna – a Mangrove plantation. Kalibo’s Bakhawan Eco-Park is a 220 hectare Mangrove forest established in 1990. It is known to be the most diverse natural growth mangrove community not just across the Philippines, but in Southeast Asia as well! The century-old “Apiapi” trees are exotic mangroves in the Philippines, and it is found in the eco-park. Not only is it a spectacular home to many species. This mangrove is a humanitarian project as well. Jed Rosell, of Biyaherongbarat.com and a co travel blogger wrote:
“The local government, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the non-government organizations such as United Services and Welfare Assistance Group (USWAG) Development Foundation and Kalibo Save The Mangroves Association led by Atty. Allen Quimpo, an environmentalist and former political leader in Aklan, took action against the problem by turning the muddy shoreline into a mangrove reforestation site starting with 50-hectares expanding three times the size as the project progresses.
The community-based project did not only address the baranggay’s flood problems but also gave a means of livelihood for the participants. Areas were assigned to KASAMA members/families to maintain and manage. In return, they receive salaries and also allowed to harvest mud crabs and shell fishes within the allocated site. The Mangrove Reforestation Project has served the local communities in two ways, as a sustainable solution against flooding, and a means of income.”
Another nature’s work of art found in Aklan is the Jawili Falls. The Jawili falls is located in Baranggay Jawili in Tangalan, Aklan. Jawili falls is made up of seven cascades and emerald green basins, truly a distinctive sight to view. Its fresh and cool waters, straight from the mountain is refreshing for any traveller up for a swim. Its waters range from 130 to 540 square feet with a depth of eight to ten feet.
Our next destination will be the province of Antique. If you are more of an explorer of the off-beaten path, Antique is the perfect place for you. Antique is located in the western portion of Panay island and borders Aklan, Capiz and Iloilo to the east. Antique’s natural resources include springs, waterfalls, beaches and mountains that are glorious finds for trekkers and backpackers.
Pandan, which is a fourth class municipality in the province of Antique is home to the Bugang River which is a multi-awardee for the cleanest inland body of water in the Philippines. The Bugang (which means “magnificent” in kinaraya, the dialect of Pandananons) river is about five kilometers long of cool, turquoise water. It stretches between the western end of the Malumpati Health Spring (another of Pandan’s popular tourist sites) and the Pandan Bay portion of the South China Sea. One would see a bedrock of lime stones, riparian forests and aquatic plants while boating through the Bugang river.
Malumpati Health Spring resort is connected to the Bugang river. It’s the most famous destination for a weekend getaway for the locals in Pandan. Families have picnics and reunions during the weekend in this health spring resort. One can trek to the head spring, go on a river cruise on a raft from Malumpati to Bugang or zip line. Malumpati is also known for its enigmatic head spring. The head spring is a very mystical place. Divers have tried to discover how deep the head spring is but they were only able to reach up to 50 feet deep. It is an underground river and the currents underneath make it a dangerous endeavor for the divers to go deeper than 50 feet. Visitors of Pandan, Antique can find a hospitable and cozy home in Pandan Beach Resort. The resort caters to customers and gives package tours of Bugang River, Malumpati, Sebaste, Culasi and Tibiao.
Tibiao is another fourth class municipality in Antique that nature lovers and adventurers will love to visit. It is home to the wild Tibiao river, Bugtong Bato falls, the Kawa (cauldron) bath, the very first fish spa in the Philippines. Bugtong-Bato falls in Tibiao is similar to Jawili falls of Aklan because it has seven cascades. One can rappel from the second cascade to the third cascade and feel like Tarzan. On the hike to the falls is a scenic background of plush green mountains, the Tibiao river and several rice terraces. The Tibiao river is perfect for kayaking. Different parts of the river cater to easy, moderate and difficult levels for a white water river kayaker. It hosted the first “International Kayaking Cup,” which was initiated by Tibal Adventures, Inc. in 1997. After a long and hard day of adventure, travellers can relax in the Kawa (cauldron) bath (don’t worry, you will not get cooked ☺) and get their feet cleaned naturally by fish devouring dead skin cells in the Tibiao fish spa.
Another rare jewel found in Antique is Seco island (which means elbow in Kiniraya). It is an uninhabited island located North east of the Sulu Sea with 1.5 kilometers stretch of sand and shallow clear sea, this island is a crown jewel of Antique and probably one of the best kept secrets of the province. This island is part of Tibiao Antique. It was first discovered by fishermen as a sanctuary. They sought refuge from their fishing excursions in Seco island in times of bad weather. Up until today, it is visited by fishermen to sun dry their fish.
It is a great site for camping, where one can pin a tent on the sandbar and escape the realities of the modern world. Kite surfers also frequent this site as it was considered by Yahoo Philippines as one of the top five kite boarding spots in the Philippines. There are no infrastructure, no trees and definitely no vendors on the island. Commercialization hasn’t begun to corrupt this jewel in Panay.
Next stop – the city of smiles, Iloilo! This is because the disposition if its people are exultant and the manner in which they speak is endearing. Iloilo is a province whose capital is Iloilo city. It occupies the southeast portion of Panay island and is bordered by province of Antique to the west and province of Capiz and the Jintotolo channel to the north. Just off Iloilo’s southeast coast is the island province Guimaras, once part of Iloilo but now an independent province.
Like Aklan, Iloilo celebrates Santo Nino (child Jesus) in its Dinagyang Festival, held every third week of January. The Iloilo Dinagyang Festival is a showcase of the rich heritage, colorful history, passionate devotion, and fun-loving spirit of the Ilonggos.
Iloilo is also known for its historical churches. These churches are a symbol of the glorious past. Its grand architecture will make you marvel at the elaborate religious designs and art sculpted and painted at the murals of the church. Among these is the Miag-ao church which was built in 1787. It is one of the four baroque churches in the Philippines inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Another is the Parish of St. Anne situated in Molo. The church takes pride in having a gothic-renaissance architecture. A trip to Iloilo will not be complete without paying a visit to its most treasured religious assets -Iloilo’s grandiose colonial-era churches.
The Gigantes islands are another destination in the unknown gems of Panay island which is in Iloilo. It lies 21 kilometers northeast of Carles town proper, which is about 145 km from Iloilo City. It includes 10 islands, the biggest of which are Gigantes Norte and Gigantes Sur that have two villages each. Gigantes islands houses numerous caves. One is Bakwitan cave. It is known to be an evacuation site and refuge by residents fleeing Japanese soldiers during World War II, the cave also served as shelter for families when Super Typhoon Yolanda struck in November last year. A lot of history and culture can be found within the confines of the cave as shards of pottery believed to be centuries old can still be found inside it, along with human bones as the caves are believed to have been ancient burial grounds.
The Bantigue Island Sandbar is another famous site in Gigantes islands, which is accessible only during low tide. In addition is Cabugao Gamay Island, considered the most photographed among the islands’ attractions because of its picturesque rock formations, white sand beach, sprawling coconut trees and fresh clear waters.
Cabugao Gamay, which is a few minutes away is where the Tangke saltwater lagoon is nestled between towering rock formations. If the place is devoid of a crowd and pays close attention, monkeys can be spotted peeking from, and climbing over, the rock formations. Antonia Beach, another spot closeby; is popular for its two long and parallel stretches of white-sand beach. The islet is also a favorite spot for snorkeling, camping and other beach activities.
Our final destination – Capiz. It is a 1st class province of the. Its capital is Roxas City and is located at the northeastern portion of Panay Island, bordering Aklan and Antique to the west, and Iloilo to the south.
When Filipinos hear Capiz one word enters their minds, and that is seafood! It is known to be the seafood capital of the Philippines and is among the top 15 most frequently visited places in the Philippines. To get a taste of the freshly caught seafood, a visit to the Baybay beach is a must. It ‘s wide coastline and fine black sand is ideal for romantic strolls with your sweetie, playing by the beach with your kids and skimboarding on the shore with your friends. One can enjoy the many restaurants that serve the freshest seafood at Baybay beach as well.
Breathtaking are the places that are hidden in Panay isn’t it? There’s so much to explore, experience and conquer; so much to write down but so limited the space to capture the splendor of Panay. What I have covered doesn’t do justice to the many wondrous sites that make up the whole of Panay. Somewhere lurking around the corner is another new paradise waiting to be discovered. There’s a saying that goes “just the tip of the iceberg”.
Boracay, in this case, is just the tip of the iceberg when we talk about the grandeur and mystique of Panay. There’s so much to delve in deep down and know. It can also be said that Panay’s beauty is just the tip of the iceberg when we talk about what the 7,107 islands of the Philippine archipelago. Boracay has so many neighbors that are as stunning and it’s high time that we go beyond what we know, dive into unfathomable depths to the splendidness waiting to be discovered and become more aware and educated with nature’s art that is in Panay island.
Francisco Colin, S.J., Labor euangelica, ministerios apostolicos de los obreros de la Compañia de Iesus : fundacion, y progressos de su Prouincia en las islas Filipinas historiados, Madrid:1663, Lib. I, Cap. VII, p. 63.
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Pandan’s Bugang River. Retrieved from http://www.pandanbeachresort.com
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