Panay is mainly known as the gate to Boracay island, the most famous tourist destination in the Philippines and one of the most visited in South East Asia. But to our eyes, most famous and most visited usually means most crowded and expansive. So, since we are more the “off the beaten path” kind of travelers we decided to explore Panay instead.
Panay is the sixth largest island in the Philippines and is inhabited by around 4 million people, is located in the Western Visayas province. Our tour started in the busy capital Iloilo, coming by RoRo ferry from Guimaras, to end in the North-Western tip of the island in Caticlan, around 300km in seven days.
Panay south coast
Iloilo is a not so pleasant and chaotic 400.000 people city, with a good range of cheap but ugly accommodation and some “resorts” along the coast heading west. The sea here is quite dirty and not inviting, we suggest to just pass through.Proceeding east the situation doesn’t improve so much, the road is a little busy with not a lot to see but plenty of fighting-cocks breeding farms and the usual arena for the fights.
About 40km east of Iloilo is the town of Miagao with is beautiful and very interesting Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church, also known as the Fortress Church.Riding this road it’s easy to notice that Panay looks more wealthy then the average of Philippines, the houses are mostly brick and concrete and you will see some big villas.
Some 15km further there’s the town of St. Joaquin, the road here is a constant up and down, Past St. Joaquim you have the option to cut through the PC Barracks Road, but we advise to stick to the coast. The scenery in this small peninsula is among the best on Panay’s coast, up and down through lush green forest with great views of the half-rocky/half-sandy shore. There are accommodation here but mostly overpriced. There are hot spring here and just off the coast the beautiful island of Nogas.
Panay west coast
Back on the main road, you will reach the municipality of Saint Jose de Buenavista, the capital of the Antique province. Some nice beach around here but nothing spectacular. Then 70 more kilometers to reach Tibiao.
In Tibiao we advise to look for Kasa Raja, a guest house owned by the super-nice Alex, an artist and an interesting person to talk with. He can organize for you trips to the nearby beautiful islands, we went with him to Malalison island, just off the coast from Tibiao, the beach has nothing to envy to Boracay, white coral sand and crystal clear water, with the advantage (at least for our tastes) to be the only tourist on the island. There is a fishermen village with a basic homestay if you want to spend the night there. Just a few hours a day of electricity, perfect for a real break.
Hiking in Tibiao, Panay
The same day we went also to the Bugtung Batu Falls, a series of seven waterfalls close to the barangay of Tuno (A barangay, often abbreviated to “Brgy.”, is the smallest administrative division in the Philippines, sort of a village) around 15km from Tibiao, along the Tibiao river.
In Tuno you will pay a small fee of 100P and you will be asked to hire a guide, not really needed but it’s cheap and the guides are people of the village, so you will support the local community.
Of the seven waterfalls, you can visit only three, but those are beautiful and have nice natural pools to bath in. To get to the third you must climb a rope on a slippery rocky surface, adventurous but really worth it. The hike itself is a short but beautiful walk through lush rice terraces. Going further is apparently impossible on a day trip, you must set an overnight expedition, again Alex from Kasa Raja can help you in that.
More things to do in Panay
Some more attraction of this area are:
- the Kawa hot baths. Huge pans where water and leaves are put, then the water is heated by a wooden fire and you can bath in, like you are being cooked by some cannibals.
- Kayaking down the Tibiao river. That cannot be done during the dry season
- the 1km long (two ways) zipline. For 300P you can fly, harnessed to a cable, over the river and the rice terraces.
bicycle touring Panay northwest
The remaining 93km are just nice until you hit the Northwest Panay Peninsula Natural Park, apparently a special permit is needed to visit the park but just riding along it offers some of the best views on the island. Going towards Caticlan there’s a last climb, also with great views, and some very nice beaches along the road.
In Caticlan there is a wide range of accommodation and the big harbor, from where you could reach many destinations, yes, even Boracay… but once you’ll be there and see the crowd of families and groups all going there… maybe you will reconsider.Our plan was to go from here to Mindoro, but the island was still under a strong typhoon, so we took a 12h RoRo ferry to Manila, very funny, especially when all the crew began to dance(?). It’s more fun in the Philippines.