Exploring the Philippines – Hundred Islands National Park

Introduction.

One of the main attractions in the Philippines, the Hundred Islands National Park is located just to the west of Lingayen Gulf in northwestern Luzon. A geological area of interest, the Park is the ideal location for a weekend away. The group of 124 islands (123 at high tide) is just off the coast of Lucap, close to the city of Alaminos. They are all small and made from coraline (coral & limestone). A few are little more than large rocks.

Typically, they consist of vertical cliffs of limestone topped by scrubby vegetation on which it is impossible to land. Many have been undercut by the sea and as a result have tables that hang above the surrounding sea.

Hundred Islands is not a place to go if you are looking for nightlife. However, there are a few restaurants and bars in Lucap. The fresh seafood and the awesome view at Maxine by the Sea Restaurant is recommended.

The best time to visit the park is December through to May.

Formation.

These rocky land formations are about two million years old and were formed when sea levels dropped. Most of the islets look like green mushroom tops, some stand out because of their more interesting shapes (e.g. Turtle Island).



Coral.

The water around the Hundred Islands is clear and shallow. If you choose the right island on the right day it’s possible to have a small white sand beach to yourself. Historically the Park was not well looked after and much of the original coral has been destroyed by dynamite and cyanide fishing, so the snorkelling is not great. In addition the Hundred Islands area is frequently hit by typhoons, which also take their toll. In an effort to regrow the coral, the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA) are placing giant clams in strategic locations around the islands.

Boat Trips and Activities.

Boat trips to the Park start at Lucap and it’s here where most of the accommodation is situated. The town itself has no beach and is predominantly a single row of small hotels and restaurants along the shoreline. There is a park entrance fee which is payable at the Philippine Tourist Authority at the left hand end of Lucap Pier.

Apart from island hopping and swimming, other activities which are available around Hundred Islands include: A zip line at Governor Island and Quezon Island, scuba diving, cliff diving (Marcos Island), helmet diving, kayaking, jet ski, and parasailing.

Arrive early at Lucap Wharf and catch the sunrise when the islands look spectacular in the early morning light.

How to Get There.

Travel to Alaminos.

Victory Liner, Five Star and Philippine Rabbit all have an hourly service from Cubao, Quezon City, Metro Manila to Alaminos. Journey time is about 6-7 hours and the fare one-way about 400 pesos. All buses stop at Tarlac for about 15 minutes, there are restrooms here and several stalls selling snacks. You can also take a Dagupan bound bus from Manila and change at Tarlac for one heading to Alaminos. On arrival in Alaminos there are usually a few tricycle drivers at the bus-stop, vying for your business. Some hotels in Lucap will arrange to pick you up if you prefer. Anyway, it’s a 10 minute tricycle ride from Alaminos to Lucap.



Travel to Hundred Islands.

To reach the Hundred Islands Park itself is a 20 minute banka or pump-boat ride. I often arrange to hire a boat from the hotel reception, this is hassle free and the boatman will usually collect you from reception. If not, there are always plenty for hire at the wharf. I have always found the boat staff to be very helpful and they will do their best to take you to the type of island you want to visit. I have often asked to visit an island with a quiet beach and asked the boatman to leave me and come back later, leaving me “marooned” for a few hours. You can have your own island for a few hours, as long as nobody else has chosen the same island!

Touring the Hundred Islands Park.

On top of the cost of your boat, you will have to pay the park entrance fee which is Php 100.00 for a day visit and Php 160.00 for an overnight stay. A regular boat will take you to a choice of three islands. This comprises a short stop at two islands and then a visit to a third island for the rest of the day. The service boat is more expensive but you can go to as many islands as you like. Remember to wear your life jacket.

Individual Islands.

Before you set out for the day, don’t forget your sun cream, take plenty of water to drink and something to eat. Only three of the islands have been developed for tourism. These are Quezon, Governor’s and Children’s Island. As a result these can be quite busy, particularly during a weekend.

Governor’s Island.

Governor’s Island is one of the most visited in the National Park. It has a short stretch of white sand beach, a small cave that is home to bats and small birds. If you don’t mind a short uphill walk to the top of the Island, there is a viewing platform which offers beautiful views of the islands of the National Park (see photos). It is possible to camp overnight on the Island (fee payable).

Children’s Island.

Children’s Island is ideal for families with children, its’ waters are shallow enough for young children to play / swim safely. There are tables available to rent for the day. It is another Island where camping is possible (fee payable).

Quezon Island.

Quezon Island (which is actually composed of three islets) is the most developed in the National Park and includes 2 dining pavilions, a grilling area, restrooms, nipa huts, a small white sandbar, and a giant clam garden. It is possible to go snorkelling around the clam garden. You can also rent kayaks on Quezon Island. If you are hungry, snacks are available, although these tend to be a bit expensive.

Island Summary.

Marcos Island – has a lovely beach, a great walk to a viewpoint at the top of the island. At the heart of the island is a cavern with a deep pool. It’s possible to jump into the pool and swim out into the sea and back onto the beach.
Scout Island – has a fine white sand beach and a cave.
Quirino Island – has a water filled cave and bats.
Cuenco Island – also has a cave and a small pristine beach.
Turtle Island – looks like a giant turtle. Admire Turtle Island from the sea as it’s not possible to land.
Crocodile Island – next to Turtle Island and looks like a crocodile. Another island with no beach.

Cathedral Island – has a big cavern.
Clave Island – has a white sand beach.
Century Island – snakes and bats inhabit the island which also has a cave. There is no beach here.
Lopez Island – has a fine white sand beach.
Martha and Ramos Islands – a tiny white sand bar joins these islands.
Guiya Island – is the most northerly.
Bat Island – is home to thousands of fruit bats, which you can see hanging from the trees as you pass by. It is not permitted to land here.
Romulo Island – is usually quiet and has a nice small beach.

Conclusion.

The Islands are beautiful to see and travel around. If you happen to be based in Manila, it’s definitely worth the time taken to get there. There are some excellent viewing areas if you are prepared to climb a little. However, during holidays and weekends the park gets very busy, so visit mid-week and set off early to beat the crowds and see the Hundred Islands at their best.

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