WANT to go to the beach but hate the crowd?
There’s this one perfect place I’ve been going to for the past 20 years whenever I feel the urge to just relax and to chill out – I just drive south to Lobo, Batangas.
Lobo is your typical Philippine town. It is quaint and rural, despite its potential as an alternative tourist destination. Its small population of fewer than 40,000 people, living in about 19,000 square kilometers, is still unmindful of the influx of tourists who brave the one-hour mountain or coastal drive to reach it.
The town center is small. Like in most Philippine towns, the municipal hall, the church and the public market are right next to each other. It is here where one can get a public transport to Batangas City. From the town center, the road crosses the long bridge over Lobo River and leads to coastal villages of Sawang and Malabrigo, where most of the attractions are located.
How to get there
From Manila, drive south via South Luzon Expressway, then enter the STAR Tollway and exit at Batangas City. This should probably take about an hour and a half of travel time.
From the Batangas City exit, turn left and drive until you reach the Batangas capitol. There are two ways to reach Lobo poblacion from there: either via mountain road, which is about a 37-kilometer route, or the coastal road, which is about 42 kilometers. Both routes take an hour to reach Lobo. The mountain road passing via Taysan is the more established of the two. From Gov. Antonio Carpio, the road ascends to the slopes of Mount Banoi. The winding road along the way affords a scenic view of the mountain ranges of Lipa, San Juan and Lobo, before it finally descends to Lobo poblacion.
The alternative road, which was fully cemented recently, is the more scenic of the two. It starts at Libjo, enters Tabangao and passes through several oil refineries. The road leads to Pagkilatan point, where the massive Montemaria pilgrimage site is now being built. From the pilgrimage site, it crosses Ilijan point before finally entering the first barangay of Lobo.
From the poblacion, cross the long bridge and drive eight kilometers to reach Punta Malabrigo, where most of the town’s attractions are located.
What to see, what to do
Lobo’s beach is not sandy. It is pebbled, particularly at Punta Malabrigo side. This must be the result of the strong underwater current that pushes pebbles up to the surface from the sea. Malbrigo literally means “bad approach” in Spanish, and this must be because of the difficulty for boats to dock at the Punta.
But the millions of pebbles are nature’s way of filtering the sea around Lobo: They make for the clearest sea waters south of Manila. They also make the waters cooler even at the height of summer.
In the next barangay of Sawang, the calmer waters have turned the corals into a submarine garden. Here, even with just the aid of a snorkel, one can easily see the colorful fishes as they swim peacefully in this protected area.
Another attraction in Lobo is the old Punta Malabrigo lighthouse. Built in 1896, the Faro de Punta de Malabrigo was built by Jose Garcia and designed by Guillermo Brockman. A Victorian-inspired building sits right next to the lighthouse that provided shelter for the caretakers. The service buildings are locked, as the operation of the lighthouse has been fully automated, with the power coming from solar energy. One interesting feature of the lighthouse are the many cisterns built around the service buildings that collects rain water.
Adventure-seekers can have their fill of thrills by climbing up the Bangkalan and Nagpatong peaks of Mount Lobo. The jump-off point is at Curba, in barangay Nagtaluntong. The three to four-hour trek is easy to moderately easy and affords a magnificent view of Verde Passage, Mindoro, and the many mountain ranges of Laguna, Batangas and Quezon.
But the best activity to do after an exhilarating day is simply to sit on the warm pebbles of Malabrigo beach and watch the sun as it disappears behind Mount Halcon.
What to Eat, where to Stay
There are many places to stay in Lobo. The most popular is Punta Malabrigo Resort (0916-5588487 and 0909-7829630), a family-run resort owned by a couple, Johnny and Zena Evangelista. The resort is always fully booked with regulars, especially during summer. So it is best to check out other resorts in Malabrigo like Jay-R, Andrea, La Bien and El Bryan.
For those who prefer to go snorkeling or do some diving, they can check in at Submarine Garden or Honey Beach Resort in Barangay Sawang.
But for those on a budget, all you have to do is park your car at the lighthouse and camp overnight. You can also opt to go down the stairs that lead to the pebble beach and pitch your tent by the rock formation. As a courtesy to local officials, pass by the barangay hall of Malabrigo and inform them that you are camping overnight.
Food supplies are aplenty at the local market. Freshly-caught fish like yellow-fin tuna and tanigue are available and inexpensive if you get them from the local market very early in the morning.
The local market is also the best place to buy freshly-roasted kapeng barako. You can either get the beans or have it ground at the market. Big tablea (chocolate) balls are also available for P25 a piece.
No visit to Batangas is complete without trying its famous lomi. This sticky noodle soup is specially good to try after surviving the twists and turns on the road leading to Lobo. Several carinderias in front of the plaza cook them fresh for P25 a bowl.
But the best pasalubong from Lobo is its famous champoy made from tamarind. The mountains of Lobo are lined with tamarind trees, many of them over a century-old. The locals harvest their fruits, dry them in the sun and cook them in brown sugar. The result is that sweet tamarind candy sold in most bus stations in Batangas. But in Lobo, you can get them even cheaper, at P50 per box.
They say a visit to Lobo – as the old cliché goes – is like trying their sweet tamarind: Getting it may be quite difficult, but once you taste it, you’ll keep coming back for more.