THE WEEKLY #143: SAILING IN THE PHILIPPINES – MANILA TO NEGROS
It’s not every day you are invited to sail across the Philippines in a Catamaran so when VOPO asked Josh and I to join the maiden Philippines sailing voyage we were literally on board. The plan for the 10-day expedition was to begin in Batangas and sail through Romblon, Cebu and finish in Negros with the final three days spent at Danjugan Island.
VOPO does environmental consulting and eco-friendly expeditions around the world and is looking to launch regular trips within the Philippines later this year so this voyage was a test-run/exploration of sorts to gauge timings, destinations and other tips for future trips.
I had never sailed on a boat for more than a couple of days so this was going to be a new experience. We slept in small cabins beneath the deck and our chef cooked all of our meals on board. Often we sailed for almost 20-hours straight without jumping off the catamaran, which can be a test of patience but also a great time to spot dolphins, take in the islands of the Philippines and dive into a good book.
In this blog post, I’m going to go through each location we visited and share the many photos I took throughout the journey.
Destination 1: LAIYA
We kicked off the journey by driving 4 hours from Manila to Laiya Beach. Here we took a dingy out to our catamaran, enjoyed the sunset and had our first sleep on board before setting off to sail before sunrise for the first day of our voyage.
Destination 2: BANTONCILLO
Our first stop of the journey was Bantoncillo Island, which is locally known as Gakot Island. Gakot Island is owned by a Filipino family looking to turn the island into a marine sanctuary and a hub for eco-tourism. It is in its early stages but will hopefully grow into a successful eco-hub like Danjugan Island, an environmental sanctuary we would visit later in the trip.
The family showed us to their beautiful beach coves, viewpoints, and snorkeling spots. This island definitely is a gem of the region with great underwater channels and pristine beaches. It will be interesting to watch the progress of this project over the next few years in collaboration with VOPO.
Destination 3: TABLAS ISLAND
After Bantoncillo, we sailed towards Tablas Island where we would park our Catamaran in the north. We arrived in the dark but woke in the morning at sunrise near the huge cliffs of Calatrava. Josh and I didn’t put a second to waste and took the dingy out for a 40-minute journey to Calatrava town and went for a 10km run. Keeping the running going while on board was difficult but where there is a will there is a way. Here is a short vlog from that expedition.
Destination 4: ROMBLON ISLAND
Without having explored Tablas we set off again headed towards Romblon Island. With a long route and many islands along the way it often felt a little rushed for time to explore locations but the overall goal was to reach Negros by a certain time. We traveled through Romblon Province to reach the beautiful Bonbon Beach. It is an epic sandbar I had visited back on my initial trip to Romblon Province last year.
We were the only boat at the sandbar and joined only a handful of people on one of the best beaches in the Philippines.
Destination 5: SIBUYAN ISLAND
After Bonbon beach we headed off to Sibuyan Island. It took quite some time to reach and the end we didn’t even get off the catamaran and just watched the sunset from the boat. It was great to see the mountains of Sibuyan again but would definitely have been nice to explore on land.
Destination 6: CRESTA DE GALLO
We set sail at sunrise and made it to the famous sandbar, Cresta de Gallo. We enjoyed a couple of hours hanging out in the crystal clear waters with not another tourist in sight.
Destination 7: GIGANTES
After our refreshing visit to Cresta we set sail for Gigantes, a region I hadn’t visited yet. We made a short stop at Tangke Lagoon, which is the most popular spot in Gigantes. It’s a hidden lagoon surrounded by the dramatic limestone cliffs seen throughout the Philippines.
Destination 8: MOALBOAL
This was a huge leg of the sail. I think we spent almost a day on the catamaran making our way to Moalboal. As soon as the catamaran came to a halt we jumped out and headed for a snorkel. The clarity was incredible and there were thousands of sardines as usual. It truly is an incredible spot for free-diving and I think on that day the conditions were as good as I have ever seen.
Destination 9: DUMAGUETE
It was back on board the catamaran to continue the journey down the Tanon straight towards Dumaguete. Here we didn’t visit anything as we were running behind schedule. However, in the dark, we headed off on the dingy to put in another run through the town. We slept on the catamaran as we set sail overnight.
Destination 10: DANJUGAN ISLAND
Danjugan Island is a marine sanctuary where visitors must apply to visit rather than a simple booking like a resort. The island has been protected for almost three decades and it is now home to over 70 bird species, snakes and some incredible marine life and corals.
We spent three days exploring Danjugan Island from the treks to the beautiful reefs that surround the empty beaches. The highlights were:
- Watching the eagles circle above
- Witnessing a huge python eating bat in the bat cave
- Snorkeling above the huge table corals
- The epic sunsets each night over the still water at Typhoon Bay
- Hanging out at the lookouts amidst the trees.
Destination 10: BULATA CLEANUP
We made a quick day-trip to mainland Negros to the Barangay of Bulata, which is right near Danjugan Island. Here we did a cleanup with SWEEP organization and the kids from the local school. It was also the day the first single-use plastic free Sari-Sari store was opened in Negros so it was a great day. The team also helped to paint environmental awareness murals throughout the town!
Destination 11: BACOLOD
We drove up through Negros to Bacolod for a quick lunch before we flew out to Manila. Overall, it was an awesome experience to sail through the Philippines. I think the VOPO team learned some great lessons to implement in their future trips and may shorten the route or break it up into two separate trips to include more adventuring and a little less transit time for guests. Danjugan was incredible and a highlight of the trip!