Isla Verde, an unspoiled paradise

Long weekend, what to do? I wanted to sleep for 48 hours straight but just couldn’t stomach the thought of 4 days without going anywhere. Also, labor day weekends are the worst. They fill up every single beach in the Philippines and your supposed sweet escape becomes almost like a nightmare in a busy mall.

My sister has been bugging me about this ‘secret haven’ in Batangas. I couldn’t believe such a thing exists so near Manila but I was desperate for something less crowded. So I dragged some of my friends for a very last minute getaway. And I will forever be grateful that I did.

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Our first sight of the island made our jaws drop. Its white sand beach was a great contrast to the pristine blue waters. Sawang Dive Camp, our home for the weekend, stood almost like a Greek palace, proudly waiting for its masters to come home. Ehem (we actually had the place to ourselves that night)!

It was literally love at first sight, there’s no other word for it. The beach was crowded, but not to the point that makes you want to puke. Just enough  to enjoy watching families make the most of life’s simple pleasures. We noticed that tourists were either residents of nearby islands (like Tingloy and Puerto Galera) or foreign divers (mostly Koreans, oh my heart!).

And the water, my God. I honestly have never seen anything so clear.

They say Isla Verde is the center of the world’s marine biodiversity. I thought it was an exaggeration until we went boating around their famous dive site, just 15 mins. from Sawang. That was when I realized why divers from around the world fly all the way just to dive here. You can practically watch schools of fish merrily swimming from the comforts of your boat. We were not allowed to swim as it was a spot reserved only for experienced divers. And I wish I had a better camera that would have captured how truly amazing it was. But that just gives you more reason to see the place for yourself.

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Probably the most unassuming marker ever. Around these rocks is the underwater haven for divers.

Back in Sawang, it was easy to get lost in our own world. It’s not a place for fast Internet and comfortable beds. What it has are basic amenities for someone truly wanting some peace of mind – nice, clean tents; utensils for cooking; unlimited warm water for coffee, which I can’t live without; basic restrooms; and some of the most hospitable hosts you’ll ever meet. Oh and a dozen Instagram-worthy spots!

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Upstairs are dens for goats and pigs, and if you’re up for it, you can help feed these babies. The flock of crows make a trip up almost like a horror movie, but that just makes it more adventurous. Haha yup I could die in the woods and thinks it’s nothing but a great adventure!

 

 

Beside Sawang is an abandoned, unfinished resort, which opens to a small but beautiful cove. It’s the perfect spot for those who want to enjoy the water, shielded from the harmful UV rays. But for those who, like me, prefer a darker hue, the main beach is the place to be you guise.

Note: It’s a perfect place for swimming but if you’re bringing kids, don’t ever leave them unattended! There’s a strong current around the island and the water gets deep really fast. You can also snorkel just a few meters from the shore but if you’re not a good swimmer, bring your own floater! The island is a spot for badass divers and floaters are for the weak so they don’t have any haha

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We took an afternoon walk to explore the rest of the island, and this was the view on our way back to the resort. Sunsets are the best. They’re gorgeous wherever you are, they have the power to make you feel both empty and complete at the same time, always reminding you that even the most difficult days can end beautifully like this.

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How to get there? I think most people follow this route.

But what we did was:

1. From Buendia/Cubao/Alabang, take a bus to Batangas City. Alight at the Batangas City Grand Terminal.

2. Ride a jeep going to Balagtas (P12), ask the driver to drop you off at ‘Bayan,’ near the old market. If you don’t have food yet, please make sure you buy everything here – meat, veggies, hats and even goggles for those who forgot to bring one (we bought ours for only P50 each and they worked perfectly fine!). Note that there’s only one sari-sari store in the island (I think) and not enough supply of drinking water so make sure you stock up on that!

3. Then take another jeep (P8) or tricycle (P10/person) to SM Batangas. From the terminal, take a jeep going to Simlong and ask the driver to drop you off at the basketball court.

4. We chose to rent a private boat to take us to and from the island. We just thought this is so much better than sacrificing our schedule just to make it to the passenger boats, which I believe leave at 9am from another port. Boat rental is at P3000 back and forth, can fit up to 10 persons plus baggage. But make sure you reserve a boat beforehand and inform them what time you want to be picked up. Isla Verde is 1.5 hours away. For rentals and reservations, you can contact Kuya Eduard of Sawang Camp at 09297954768.

Other expenses:

Food: P200 each

Overall fare to and from Manila: Est P500

Resort entrance: P350

Tent: P500/tent (no charge if you bring your own; note: if you prefer room accommodations, you can opt for the resort beside Sawang)

Total budget: P2,000 mo may sukli pa 🙂 Not bad for a weekend well-spent. I was able to get away from the capitalists of the metro and other big beaches, and got to spend my money on people who don’t ask much, but give more than what you paid for.

This trip was also a great eye-opener for me. My mom hails from Batangas and I spent a great chunk of my life in this little town called Cuenca. Growing up with Batangueños, I never realized how friendly and thoughtful they are. The jeepney drivers, fellow passengers, market vendors, boatmen, and resort caretakers – there was so much kindness in everything they did that made us feel at ease and somewhat protected. And when traveling to unknown lands, these can make a lot of difference.

 

 

 

 

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