THE island of Mindoro – the Philippines’ seventh largest – often does not get as much as many tourists as it should. Most tourists simply head to Puerto Galera and think they have seen all the island can offer.
But there is more to Mindoro than Puerto Galera. The island is an adventurer’s paradise, with its mountains, lakes and secluded beaches. It is simply a destination waiting to be discovered. At the center of it all is the town of Sablayan, the gateway to many of the island’s hidden attractions.
Sablayan came from the term “sablay” meaning “wave convergence.” The original settlement was where the strong waves from the North and South China Sea meet and the place originally known as Sablay later became Sablayan.
The old town center in Sablayan is located in Lumang Bayan, about two kilometres south of the present location. It was in Lumang Bayan where the old fort was built to protect the town from the constant attacks of pirates. Later on, a lighthouse was built on the same location. The old cannon still stands on what is now known as Parola Park. Close to Parola Park is the old church of Sablayan built in 1832 together with the fort. It is no longer used as a new church was built in Poblacion, but its bell tower still houses one of the remaining bells brought from Naujan.
The original settlers of Sablayan were the Mangyans. Soon after, the rich land and waters of Sablayan attracted migrants from Southern Tagalog, Ilocos and Panay. The Tagalogs occupied that central portion of Sablayan and became merchants and traders while the Ilocanos settled on the vast fertile lands and became farmers. The Ilongos occupied the seaside and became fishermen.
Sablayan became a full-pledged municipality in January 27, 1902 by virtue of Act No. 547 of the Philippine Commission.
How to Get There
Sablayan is located in the province of Mindoro Occidental. The fastest way to reach it is to take a plane from Manila to San Jose followed by a two-hour bus ride to Sablayan. Another option is to take a ferry from Batangas to San Jose that takes about 8 hours. This is followed by a two-hour bus ride to Sablayan.
Another way to reach Sablayan is to board the DimpleStar Bus (P800 one way) in Cubao or Espana with the trip lasting seven to 8 hours.
But the best and most scenic way to reach Sablayan is to drive all the way from Manila. From Manila, drive south for two hours through the SLEX and STAR highways, then head straight to the Batangas port where RORO ferries for Abra de Ilog are waiting. The ferry ride takes 2.5 hours and costs around P2,000. From Abra de Ilog, the Sablayan centro is 125 kilometers of good and gravel roads, passing thru the provincial capital of Mamburao.
What to see, what to do
The Municipal Eco-Tourism Office (telephone number 0928-4659585) can make all the necessary arrangements for adventure tours around Sablayan. For those going to either Apo Reef National Park or Mounts Iglit- Baco National Park, the tourism office can arrange for registration, transportation, guides and all the necessary permits.
Actually, there is no need to go very far to enjoy the many attractions of Sablayan. Right next to the tourism office is the Sablayan Museum where among the many interesting items on exhibit are the tools and wares used by the Mangyans. The museum also exhibits the bones of a Tamaraw as well as centuries-old earthen wares found on the coast of Sablayan.
An interesting “attraction” in Sablayan is the Penal Colony and Farm, which is a prison camp without walls. Actually, it is not without walls, but those in “medium” and “minimum” security are free to roam around.
The Sablayan Penal Colony and Farm was built in January 1955 and is 20 kilometers north of the town proper. The 16,190-hectare property is where inmates are transferred to decongest the New Bilibid Prison in Metro Manila.
The penal colony houses many structures like dormitories, recreation hall, chapel, mosque and post office. The original office building was also retained.
Located inside the penal colony is the Libuao Lake and Siburan Forest that are natural wonders maintained by the inmates.
Libuao was derived from the local term “libwa,” which is a water lily that grows in the 24-hectare lake. The lake is nestled by the lowland forest of Siburan. A visit to the lake, especially early in the morning when all the lilies are in bloom, unveils a colourful panorama of emerald and lilac. With its rich biodiversity of flora and fauna, the Libuao Lake and Siburan Forest is slowly gaining popularity among bird watchers, conservationists and nature tourists as a paradise.
Less than 30 minutes by boat ride from the pier are the two Pandan islands – North or Pandan Grande and South Pandan. The waters surrounding the islands are teeming with colourful corals, tropical fish and marine mammals, while the inland forests are a sanctuary to migratory birds.
The 27-hectare Punta Grande Island Resort has become a haven for travellers who wish to get away from the noisy city life. The resort can only accommodate up to 50 guests and many tourists, particularly those from Europe, come regularly with their families to enjoy the beauty and tranquillity of the island.
Sablayan boasts of being the keeper of two of the Philippines most stunning nature parks – the Apo Reef Natural Park and the Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park.
Mounts Iglit-Baco, whose peaks rise to more than 2,000 meters above sea level, is part of the Asean Heritage Parks. This is the last sanctuary of the endangered Tamaraws (Bubalus mindorensis). Mounts Iglit-Baco is also home to many endangered and endemic bird species like the Mindoro Bleeding Heart, Mindoro Tarictic, Mindoro Imperial Pigeon and the Mindoro Scops-Owl. To many local mountaineers, the challenging three- to five-days climbs to either Mount Baco (2,488 meters above sea level) or Mount Iglit (2,364 meters above sea level) are considered dream climbs.
Apo Reef Natural Park, located 20 nautical miles west of Sablayan town, is considered the largest atoll-like reef in Asia. This natural park is composed of three islands: Apo Island, Apo Menor and Cayos del Bajo. The lighthouse is located in the main island and is used as a base for exploring this underwater paradise. Its crystalline blue water is teeming with colourful corals and varieties of marine fishes, families of sharks, stingrays and mantas. The powder white sand of Apo Island is also perfect for lazing around under the sun. The main island also has a hidden lagoon with an old-growth mangrove forest.
Where to stay, what to eat
Adventurers who head straight to the nature parks of Apo Reef and Mounts Iglit-Baco simply bring their own tents to sleep. But tourists who also wish to experience sleeping in native-style cottages can try out the accommodations at Pandan Island.
At Sablayan centro, accommodations are available at La Sofia Apartelle, Emely Hotel, Feliz del Mar, DJ Beach Resort, Landmanz Hotel and Adventure Camp.
For dining, Ian Jole’s Camalig Restaurant serves the best seafood this side of Mindoro. Try out their adobong pugita.
But for a unique picnic experience, go straight to Libuao Lake where the inmates built several picnic huts that they rent out to visitors. The fresh fish from the lake are very tasty and the inmates can catch them and cook them for you. Nope, the inmates here will not dance for you, but they will make your trip to Mindoro quite memorable.