Zambales is generally surf spots and grey sand beaches — many from lahar, a reminder of the infamous Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991. So when a friend told me there’s a beautiful white sand beach in the province that is surrounded by calm waters, I didn’t believe her.
This year though, I’ve run out of excuses to not visit Magalawa Island.
There are only two resorts on the island — Ruiz and Armada. We chose the latter because I’ve read it has a better beachfront and the iconic sandbar. It also has an inclusive package of lodging, food (4 meals), snorkeling, and two-way boat transfers. That’s great for barkadas like us who just want to chill and not worry about anything but our tan haha! Kidding that’s just me, my friends are afraid of the sun.
Left Taguig around 3am and arrived in Palauig around 9am (we took maybe an hour breakfast break just out of Subic). Armada has a very detailed direction on their website so you won’t get lost whether your commuting or taking a private vehicle. You can leave your car in a private parking area c/o the resort before taking a 15-minute boat ride to the island.
I wish I can tell you the first sight of the island is jaw-dropping. It’s not. It was so hot that time and normally I would immediately want to dive with all my clothes on but all the seagrass made me just want to find the nearest shade. But don’t be discouraged, the good part is just on the other side.
Our room in the tree house was ready before check-in time of 12nn. My mood changed from dejection to excitement when I saw the view. My friend was right. It really is a beautiful white sand beach with no waves at all — although very, very strong current. Parents, beware.
I did not need a lot of encouragement after seeing that. I was down at the beach in a few minutes. I couldn’t help but compare Armada’s swimming area to that of Boracay’s. Its fine sand makes swimming very comfortable. It’s also very level and slowly gets deeper so you won’t get caught off-guard, especially if you’re not a good swimmer like me. The water is so clear, you’ll occasionally see fish swimming with you. Saw one jellyfish too so be a bit careful!
At 3pm, a boatman picked us up for snorkeling. You know how people get on the top load in some provincial jeepneys? The boatmen allowed us to do that on their boat, which was super fun! Really suggest you do it too haha! Snorkeling area is just 5 minutes away from the shore.
We were surprised at how vibrant it was underwater and so near the island too! This was hands down my favorite part of the trip. The boatmen were also very lax about it. We jumped several times from the boat (don’t dive it’s not that deep) and exchanged goggles and snorkeling gear a lot, played around with our action cam and pretended to be good swimmers (my friends are, actually haha! I was the only one pretending).
There was another group with us but I think they were not very comfortable with the water. We appreciated though that they did not complain at all when we kept playing around some half hour after they decided they’ve had enough. Meantime, kuya bangkero kept a watchful eye on us the whole time.
Back on the island, my friends decided to call it off early. We were all very tired from the early morning travel. Still, no puyat can stop me from watching the sunset. I fought the calling of my warm bed and walked to the sandbar, which was apparently the best spot to say a temporary goodbye to the sun. It was a very beautiful moment, I almost fell asleep right there.
There were many campers on the weekend we went. What I loved about it was how everybody just found their own spot and minded their own business. We spent the night by the shore — we had a speaker with us but we tried not to be too loud, at least no one complained. A lot of people did the same, but I guess there was a common respect among tourists that no one tried to up one another so it was a very peaceful evening for everyone.
The next morning we spent playing around by the water. It’s so beautiful you wouldn’t notice the time passing by. It’s also very cold so you won’t mind the sun glaring violently above.
We checked out at 12nn and took our last meal in the island before heading out. By the way, the packaged meal for 2D1N stay includes lunch, dinner, breakfast, and lunch. All include fresh seafood — fish, shrimp, squid, crab, etc. — and softdrinks. Note that you can exchange your drink for coffee. There’s also free drinking water.
Another note, staying in the treehouse meant using the common CR, which was located some 150 meters away. It could be cleaner and better maintained. I’m not sure if it was only because there was no electricity on the island when we went (the electric cable connecting it to the mainland broke the day before), but most times there was no water supply. The common CR smelled a lot too. We also hope the locks work and people know how to knock when the doors are closed. Still, I’ve seen worse common restrooms. Armada’s is relatively acceptable.
Overall, our stay at Armada Resort was the perfect equation for a great weekend: beautiful place, great food, and awesome company. It’s a small island but the water is so inviting, you wouldn’t mind dipping the whole day. If you’re looking for a stunning spot near Manila, you should definitely give it a try.
Gas & Toll – P3400/5 (P680 each)
Tree House package – P1800 each
Environmental Fee, etc. – P40 each
Total: P2520/person (can be cheaper if you’re just camping)
Estimated travel time from Manila: 5-6 hours