Saturday, October 15, 2011

Next Travel Destination-Zambales!

Zambales, whose entire western stretch is rimmed by the crystal-clear waters of the South China Sea, is off-the-beaten path of Philippine travel destinations. Its land area was separate from the mainland in prehistoric times. Violent tectonic and volcanic upheavals joined it with the main island of Luzon. The resulting topography- undulating mountain ranges, coastal plains and valleys, and lush virgin forests – makes Zambales one of the more panoramic provinces on Luzon.

The outflow of lahar from Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption in the 90’s cut a wide swath through central Zambales giving this area a stark and surreal beauty. The eruption forced the aboriginal Aetas to abandon their mountain domain and seek refuge in the lowlands.

Perhaps Zambales’ most well known attraction is the former US naval base in Subic Bay, now an all-in-one tourism destination. Water sports, wreck diving, surfing, bay cruises, wildlife adventures, jungle trekking and other eco-adventures await the Subic visitor. Here you can see tigers in the wild and a marine show with whales, dolphins and seals; wild monkeys often scamper out of the tropical rainforest cover and hang out by the side of the road. You can go deep into the jungle and learn survival techniques from the Aetas who trained the Green Berets during the Vietnam era.

For the more urbane, there are duty-free shops, fine dining restaurants featuring global cuisine, classy casinos and Vegas-style shows. Those who prefer their nightlife on the raunchy and rowdy side can cross Subic’s gates over to Olongapo town, where there are bars, bars and more bars featuring live cover bands that sound just like the originals. Other nocturnal delights await party animals in Olongapo, a 24/7 kind of place.

From the northern tip to its southernmost end, the coast of Zambales is virtually one long beach. Some of the finer public swimming beaches are in the Iba area. Along the way to Iba, one passes orchards of mango trees heavy with fruit. Zambales mangoes are famous for their sweetness and succulence. North of Subic is one long coastal stretch with many surfing spots. San Miguel and San Antonio towns have several breaks along its beaches. Nearby Pundaquit has a little bay with great waves when it gets too big on the outside reefs.

A wonderful day trip is an outrigger cruise to the Capones Islands, just a couple of kilometers offshore from Pundaquit. These are two completely uninhabited islands with absolutely no facilities. All you get is its pristine little coves and beaches and the surrounding coral reef.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Let's See Cebu!

It was mentioned in Enya’s enduring hit song, “Orinoco Flow”. It has its own international airport with direct flights here from most Asian capitals. It is one of the most popular destinations in the Pacific Rim. Simply dubbed, “An Island in the Pacific”, Cebu is the Philippines’ premier southern island, a crown jewel in the 7,000-island archipelago.

Cebu has everything: dazzling tropical beaches, centuries-old historical landmarks, great cuisine, fabulous nightlife, adventures in the wild-underwater and topside, over all a truly exotic getaway destination.

One lands in Mactan when visiting Cebu. Just minutes from the airport, the Shangri-La Mactan, a five-star world-class resort, lives true to its name. This lush white-sand beach oasis caters to travelers far and wide, from families to business people to the independent traveler. It also has what is arguably the region’s largest and most luxurious spa.

Across the channel spanned by two bridges lies Cebu City, the island’s bustling capital. Nightlife aficionados, foodies and shopaholics will get their fix here, a 24/7 hedonist’s delight! Those who prefer more bucolic scenery and a languid pace should head out of town northward for a scenic drive to the northeastern side.

Alegre Beach Resort in Sogod is secluded but complete with well-appointed individual cabanas. Each spacious abode is warm and elegant with native wood furniture and wooden floors. The cabanas have large and luxurious marble bathrooms as big as my studio apartment! And the cabanas sit atop limestone cliffs overlooking the ocean. The view is mesmerizing from your own private terrace.

Off the northeastern tip of Cebu, 8 kilometers offshore, is the island of Malapascua. This is truly an idyllic island escape for the independent budget traveler; you will not see crowds of tourists nor beachfront hotels here. There are neither roads nor cars. Instead, there are sleepy fishing villages, deserted coves, sandy pathways; a palm fringed white beach and lush tropical fauna.

Malapascua is small - you can walk around it in about three hours. Hike to the lighthouse for spectacular views. Meet friendly locals and sample freshly caught seafood grilled right on the beach. Surrounding Malapascua are coral gardens and superb dive spots with abundant marine life to titillate avid snorkelers and scuba divers.

A bit bigger than Malapascua is Bantayan Island, off the northwestern tip of Cebu. Once considered Cebu’s best kept secret, Bantayan is now a popular summer destination for beach-aholics from all over. Santa Fe town has the best beaches and the most accommodations on the island. History buffs can explore the ruins of an old Spanish fort right on the beach in Kuta or check out the four-century old church in the middle of the island.

And, there is a secluded little cove with a powdery white sand beach and sparkling turquoise waters to die for. No overnight accommodations here and only accessible by boat, this is truly the quintessential tropical paradise spot! Sssshhh…clues are in the sentence before.