Those who want to combine swimming on the beach, doing some family adventures like getting close to the dolphins and doing some shopping before heading back home, are packing the beaches along Subic Bay. The more adventurous travelers are going further north, taking the boats from Pundaquit to visit the islands of Camara and Capones, and then camping out at the hidden coves of Anawangin and Nagsasa. While surfers and skim-boarders are now trooping to the small town of San Felipe for its giant waves, those who prefer family picnics go straight to the island of Potipot.
But these destinations tend to get really crowded. The campsites at Anawangin, Nagsasa and Potipot are known to get noisier and rowdier at night, especially when people start consuming a lot of alcohol.
Fortunately, there is one destination in Palauig town where people can go to if they long for quiet time with friends – Magalawa Island. The place is very still and serene. There are no vendors who will pester you into buying anything. There are no radios, and the only noise you will hear at night come from crickets.
This island’s fresh water and centuries-old camachile trees are keys to Magalawa’s history.
The fresh water that comes from the jetmatic pumps is highly unusual for such a small island like Magalawa. The story goes that Magalawa was actually a part of the mainland that can be reached by crossing a narrow body of water. But strong currents that flow southeast during high tide and northward during low tide led to the separation of Magalawa. The inhabitants called the new island “Mag-luwa,” which means “about two places” in their native tongue. The name later became “Magalawa.”
Another interesting sight on the island are the presence of many centuries-old camachile trees. Camachile trees are not endemic to the Philippines, and like avocado, achuete, caimito, atis, guyabano, anonna and sapodilla, are endemic to Mexico and Central America and were brought in to the country through the Acapulco-Manila galleon trade.
The galleons made regular stopovers in Palauig, Zambales, to load local mangoes, which the Mexicans hold in high regard. Also, Magalawa was used for the rest and recreation of Galleon personnel. Camachile, originally called guamuchile, were planted on the islands because it is an important ingredient in Aztec dishes. Undisturbed and completely neglected after the Spaniards left the island, the trees grew tall and became one of Magalawa’s unique attractions.
How to Get There
Going to Magalawa is already an adventure in itself. You may go there either by private transport or by bus. It is advisable to call the people of Magalawa Armada Resort (contact Grace Armada at 0920-9483303) to inform them that you are coming so they can send a boat at Sitio Luan to pick you up.
By public transport, take the Victory Liner bus going to Zambales. Usually, most of the buses only go as far as Iba, so you may have to change buses in Iba if you are going further north. Alight at the junction going to Veritas road (this is where Radio Veritas built its transmitters for its international broadcast). From the junction, take a tricycle to the boat station going to Sitio Luan, where boats going to the island are waiting for passengers. Bus fare to Palauig is around P450, while the fee for the six-kilometer dusty road ride by tricycle to Barangay Luan is P75 per person.
By private vehicle, take the NLEX then SCTEX, exit SMBA, and take the provincial road to Santa Cruz, Zambales. The junction on Veritas Road is located at Barangay Pangoligan, about 500 meters from the km 222 marker. Turn left when you reach Veritas Road, and follow the road all the way to Oslet Armada Fish Dealer Compound in Luan where you can park your vehicles (P100 parking fee). The 15-minute roundtrip boat ride to Magalawa costs P100 per person.
What to see, what to do
The waters surrounding the island are quite clear and teeming with corals, so the island is best enjoyed by swimming and snorkeling. At the north side of the island, there is a mangrove forest where it is possible to do some fishing or watching migratory birds.
Half of the island is a small fishing village of less than 400 residents. Early in the day, it is possible to buy some fresh catch from the village.
Magalawa sets very strict rules; no playing of loud music, no bonfire, no picking of starfish and so on. But these are the same reasons why people keep coming back to Magalawa.
Where to stay, what to eat
Half of the 56-hectare island is owned by the Armada family, and for over a decade has developed it into a resort catering mostly to families who wish to have a relaxing weekend together and for backpackers seeking a quiet refuge. Nipa huts and concrete structures were built under the shade of the old camachile trees to house those who are looking for overnight accommodations. The resort is also friendly to those who prefer to bring their own tents.
A complete weekend barkada package costs between P1,700 to P2,300 per person, and this includes accommodations, four set meals, entrance, boat transfer, snorkeling and rafting. This is quite reasonable considering the meals they serve are usually big servings of fresh seafood like squids, fish, shrimps and crabs.
Visitor may also choose to rent the cottages or bring their own tents. There is a large camping area under the shade of the camachile trees that can accommodate about 50 tents.
Visitors may bring their own food, or they can buy some canned goods and soft drinks from the small sari-sari store operated by the Armada family.
Zambales is known to be home of the sweetest mangoes and during summer, you can get them at the nearby Iba market for less than P50 per kilo. The camachille fruit, for those who wish to try them, are free on the island.
My most relaxing moment in Magalawa comes from watching the sunset on my hammock while I devour several pieces of those sweet and ripe Zambales mangoes.