Recently, low-cost flights were launched to Masbate from Manila and Cebu. But prior to that, visitors and locals alike had to rely on taxing sea crossings or flights that were limited and had a prohibitive price tag. As a result, it had long been one of those isolated island-provinces, where people mostly came to visit loved ones and their hometown rather than to visit as tourists.
By stroke of luck, a couple of months before the arrival of these low-cost flights, my flights to Legazpi were canceled, and I was allowed to reroute them to Masbate. Back then, a roundtrip ticket from Manila would easily cost anywhere between 8,000 PHP (~160 USD) and as much as 15,000 PHP (~300 USD), so I grabbed the opportunity and decided to spend a weekend (three days) there.
Arriving at Masbate Airport, in its barebones-yet-functional terminal, I was welcomed by one of Vice Governor Kaye Revil’s staff, Vange Rosales, who was tasked to take me around the island. Ms. Revil, a relentless advocate for her province’s tourism, had graciously agreed to host me whilst staying in the island.
Stopping by Jollibee for breakfast—yes, there are fast food restaurants in the island—we discussed the day’s agenda and talked about the province. Sadly, little is known about Masbate by those who live outside the region, no thanks to its geographic isolation from Luzon and the rest of the country. How could we know its political dynamics, the disasters it has bravely endured, and really, what it’s like there, when many of us don’t even know where it is or which region it belongs to? (In case you are wondering, it’s sandwiched between Luzon and Visayas, and it belongs to Region V or the Bicol Region.)
Not long after, we set for an hour’s drive to the town of Balud, and along the way, I noticed how sparse the island was. There barely were houses—we passed by rolling hills, wide open fields, and cattle farms, mostly—and there was barely any indication of a township. This kind of contrast—one between hectic Metro Manila and the provinces—never ceases to amaze this guy from the big city.
Driving across a small dirt road, we arrived in Palani Beach, and we were welcomed with fresh young coconuts, which were a godsend that hot day.
To manage expectations, I’d be honest and say Palani Beach isn’t exactly Boracay’s White Beach. But it has the trifecta of what makes a great beach: an unspoiled stretch of white sand, crystal clear water, and a pure breeze that wafts towards the shore. The setting was so idyllic that I found myself unapologetically napping under the nipa hut.
For lunch, we were served with a spread that included that day’s catch—prawns and fish. It was surprising how they had a rather unique take on the good ‘ol sinigang.
Making our way back to Masbate City, the capital, we stopped by a couple of places. First of them was Fazenda de Esperanza in Milagros town, which serves an altruistic purpose. See, this “Farm of Hope” rehabilitates drug and alcohol dependents, whilst making them productive through farm work. The farm has no walls, allowing its residents to roam free and for visitors to take in the sights. A good edible souvenir would be its fresh flavored milk, which has no preservatives added.
Last on our list that day was Mayong Payong in Mobo. The steep, dusty road leading to it may be discouraging, but once at the top, the picturesque views would justify the trip.
By the time we got back to the capital city, it was already late into the afternoon. Stores were starting to close—save for the small shopping center called Gaisano Capital—and the city was getting darker and quieter. It was peak provincial life—which I honestly appreciate once in a while.
I woke up late the following morning, with not much planned to do. But I was famished at the time, so I took a tricycle to one of the island’s most famous eateries, Castle Kaunan SuTuKil. For the uninitiated, SuTuKil stands for sugba, tula, kilaw—which in Visayan refers to fish cooked three ways: grilled, in a gingery broth, and ceviche. I was told the restaurant was a tourist destination in itself, and it was easy to see why. The fish dishes I was served were absolutely fresh, affordable, and delicious.
After the hearty lunch, I rode another tricycle to the aplaya (waterfront) to catch a boat going to one of the locals’ favorite weekend destinations—Buntod Sandbar and Marine Sanctuary. Chartering my own boat didn’t cost too much, since the ride took only a few minutes.
I was the only tourist there at the time, since it was a weekday. Although I was told that Masbate had better beaches to offer, I perfectly enjoyed my time there—the sand was fine, the water was clear, and the mangroves were healthy.
I then spent the rest of my day just walking around Masbate City, getting a deeper feel of the place. I reflected how the island’s isolation is both a blessing and a curse—a curse because they seem behind other cities and provinces, but also a blessing because people seem unexposed to our problems back in the city. People there lived relatively simple, quiet lives, and I may sound out of touch, but it’s admirable how they make out of what’s available to them.
Make no mistake though thinking Masbate is that behind—again, it has chain fast food (McDonald’s just opened a branch), a small shopping mall, paved city and provincial roads, LTE signal in the capital, and wi-fi in city hotels. But I digress.
Before I flew out the next morning, I met with Ms. Revil who asked me what I thought about Masbate. The first words that came to mind were stunning and simple, but I thought of a better word that trumped the other two—underrated. Sure, the province is miles away from claiming the same stature as Boracay and Palawan in terms of tourist arrivals, yet it has a natural beauty just waiting to be harnessed and appreciated. That’s why I applaud all the effort Ms. Revil and the rest of the provincial government are exerting to advance tourism.
In hindsight, I wish I had stayed longer to explore the island thoroughly (I read Ticao Island is gorgeous) and written more about it, but still, I’m glad I made Masbate my weekend destination. More people should do so too.
How to get there: Cebu Pacific Air flies from Manila and Cebu to Masbate, while Philippine Airlines flies from Manila to Masbate. Alternatively, there are regular sea crossings between Masbate and Pilar, Sorsogon, as well as Cebu City.