Gateway to discoveries
“You are now leaving the island of Luzon” is what all travelers read when they enter the Matnog Port. “646 KM, Municipality of Matnog” says the small letters at the middle of the welcome arch at the entrance of the port.
I haven’t checked what’s written at the back of the arch, but I believe that if there’s one, it should read, “You are now entering the island of Luzon. Welcome to Matnog. It’s 646 kilometers to Manila.”
Matnog is strategically located at the south-eastern tip of the island of Luzon. Its port is one of the busiest in the Philippines, playing host to millions of people crossing the San Bernardino Strait to Northern Samar annually.
According to history books, the town derived its name from the Bikolano term “matunog” referring to the sound produced by waves breaking at shores.
Early settlers of Matnog were probably the seafaring Malays led by the ten Datus from Borneo. The southern tip of Luzon was said to be included when the Datus purchased the island of Panay. The tribe of Datu Dumanaqui led by his chief Sirangan and his wife Hara-Hara settled at the original site of the town near the mouth of Matnog.
During late 1600s, Moros raided coastal towns plundering whatever wealth that was there. To prepare for the raids, a watchtower was built at Tanauan on a hill overlooking Matnog Bay. The place was later called Banuang-daan.
Matnog was a barrio of Bulusan before it became a pueblo civil in 1800.
During the early days, wooden boats sailed the San Bernardino Straits from Matnog, bringing people and cargo to the country’s southern parts. Nowadays, there large ferry boats forming the part of the intermodal Pan-Philippine Highway leaving Matnog port regularly. There are also many regular outrigger boats bringing people and supplies to the many islands of Northern Samar.
Matnog is also becoming a paradise for those who wish to explore its many hidden islands, coves and caves.
How to get there
The 646 kilometers to Matnog means it takes between 12 to 13 hours of driving to get there. The stretch of the Pan-Philippine Highway starts in Manila at South Luzon Expressway and exits from Santo Tomas and continues to towns in Laguna and Quezon before turning right Andaya Highway in Calauag, passing though the towns of Tagkawyan, Del Gallego, Liboro, Ragay and finally Sipocot. From Sipocot, the road continues to Camarines Sur passing through Naga, Albay passing through Legaspi and finally Sorsogon. From Sorsogon City, the road continues south to Irosin before finally reaching the tip at Sorsogon.
There are regular buses that go straight to Matnog, taking around 14 hours of travel. It is also possible to take a regular flight from Manila to Legazpi, and then take a bus or a van to Matnog.
Matnog is layouted in such a way that the central terminal, port, public market, municipal and tourism office, and church are all located right next to each other.
What to see, what to do
Those who wish to explore the islands of Matnog are required to register at the Municipal Tourism Office located right across the Municipal Hall. Visitors are required to pay P50 registration fee and P20 environmental fee. The tourism office assigns boats (good for 10 people) to visitors going to the islands and the rates are fixed at P1,600 for day trips and P2,000 for overnight trips.
The boats make several stops before going to Subic Beach in Calintaan Island. The first stop in Tikling Island introduces the visitors to the pinkish coralline sand of Matnog. It is the nearest among the islands and offers a quick getaway for those wishing to experience Matnog Bay’s crystal clear waters.
The next island is Juag, where the Marine Sanctuary is located inside the lagoon. Visitors can walk on bamboo platforms to feed its resident groupers, giant clams and even lobsters.
Last is Calintaan Island where Subic Beach is located. It is one of the three beaches (the other two being Santa Cruz Island in Zamboanga and Aguib in Cagayan) with pink sands. There are two adjoining beaches in Calintaan: the popular Subic Laki and the hidden Subic Liit. Both have pinkish coralline sand. Inside the island are hidden trails leading to its old growth mangrove forest. At the other side of the island is the hidden Calintaan Cave.
At the Magnog proper, visitors can check the miraculous image of the Holy Infant Jesus inside the Santo Nino Church. It is believed that the image was sent from Spain via Mexico in the late 1700s. When the present church was completed in 1864, the image was enthroned there permanently.
Also worth visiting in Matnogare the ruins of the old watchtower that is believed to be constructed in 1785. Known as Baluerte de Piedra, this can be visited via short climb in Barangay Banuang-daan. The view on the hill affords a magnificent view of Matnogcentro, its port and handsome bay.
Where to stay, what to eat
Matnog is still part of Bicol Region, so it is best to feast on local favorites like pinangat and ginataan. The best place to get these delicacies is the local market where several eateries sell freshly-cooked Bicolano favorites. The local market is also a good place to buy pasalubong items like roasted pili nuts and dried fish.
For places to stay, there’s the Matunog Pensionne in Barangay Cancanan, a short distance from the public market, where twin accommodation costs P1,200, and there are also several resorts in Banuang-Daan such as Bantingue, Richwell, Stardust, Uya’s and a nameless one.
But the best place to stay in Matnog is to go camping in Subic Island, where one can enjoy quietly the pink sand at its widest in the morning when the tide is at its lowest.