There is a place on the southwestern part of the island of Mindoro that is slowly gaining popularity among backpackers: this is the town of Bulalacao in Oriental Mindoro. The place is way off the tourist trails but has the potential of becoming an alternative to crowded Boracay.
Bulalacao is right in the middle of the tourism triangle connecting the islands of Panay and Palawan with Mindoro. It is now the alternative Roll-on Roll-off (Ro-Ro) terminal for Caticlan. The place is only an hour away from San Jose where a regular Ro-Ro boat runs daily to Coron, and is only four hours away by land to the original backpackers’ town of Puerto Galera.
Bulalacao offers many natural attractions. It has 13 remote and mostly uninhabited islands – all surrounded with crystal clear waters. It has one of the longest coastlines in Mindoro, all lined with light-gray sands and dotted with hidden coves. It has several hidden waterfalls and a forest park. On its mountain slopes live the only tribe in the Philippines that has retained its original written script. The Hanunuos, one of the eight Mangyan tribes of Mindoro, still uses a bolo-shaped knife for inscribing Sanskrit-type alphabet on bamboo.
The Mangyans are the indigenous people of Mindoro and its original residents. But as new people came to settle in the lowlands, many of the Mangyans retreated to the mountains.
Bulalacao is said to be one of the original settlements in the islands. People from Panay and Palawan came and settled on the east-end of what is today Tabuk Beach. It was a perfect location as it was relatively protected from the invaders by a river. The Spaniards also built there the original town named San Pedro. However, in 1844, Mother Nature unleashed its wrath when typhoon-driven storm surges completely destroyed the whole town. The town later on moved to higher ground on the westside of the river.
The town changed its name from San Pedro to Bulalacao in 1969. There are two legends how the town got it new name. The first is about the mythical bird “bulalacao” with its silver-colored wings that the Mangyans believe can cure all sickness. The other is about a shooting star – a “bulalacao” – that fell from the sky one night and its trail created the 13 islands.
How to get there
Part of Bulalacao’s attraction is its remoteness. Visitors must really exert extra effort to get there.
The quickest but more expensive way is to get on a plane to San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. From San Jose, take a UV Express van or a local bus going to Bulalacao. Travel time is about an hour and a half.
The longer way is by bus. Dimple Star Bus runs four times daily trips from Cubao. Fare on an air-conditioned bus that travels south via the Strong Nautical Highway is about P800. The trip takes between 10 to 12 hours.
Those bringing their own vehicles can drive south via South Luzon Expressway, then Southern Tagalog Arterial Road or STAR to Batangas Port. From Batangas, take a Ro-Ro ship to Calapan, Oriental Mindoro. Cost of Ro-Ro transfer is about P2,000 for a mid-sized vehicle and the crossing takes around two hours. From Calapan, it takes four hours to reach Bulalacao.
What to see, what to do
Bulalacao can be best enjoyed by going on an island hopping tour. Three or four islands can be visited on a day trip. Boats can be arranged at Sitio Aplaya. Boat rental ranges from P2,000 to P4,000 per day depending on the number of islands to be visited. Be sure to bring plenty of water and food as most of the islands have no provisions.
An hour and a half by boat from Poblacion is the rugged island of Alibatan. It was once used by the Americans for bombing exercises in 1946, and is now more commonly known as “Target” Island. The bombing exercises created a large hole in the middle of the island that has transformed into a beautiful lake. There’s a beautiful cove on the southern part of the island.
Another island with a perfect view is Sibalat. On the middle of the island is a small hill with a 360-degree view of the island and the whole Bulalacao Bay. It is a perfect place to have a picnic. Very close to Sibalat is Aslom, with its kilometer-long sand bar. It is a favorite place for swimming by the locals.
On the southern tip of the Balatasan Peninsula is the 165-hectare rocky island of Tambaron. So far, this is the only island in Bulalacao with lodging facilities. Its south and east beaches are good snorkeling sites.
On the east side are the islands of Sugicay and Buyayao. Both have pristine white sand beaches rarely visited by tourists. Their surrounding waters are teeming with live corals and colorful fishes. This area is one of Mindoro’s best diving spots.
Those who are looking for inland adventures will not be disappointed. From Poblacion, a 1.5-kilometer mountain trail leads to a 65-hectare Tree Park ideal for trekking and camping. One can also trek to the waterfalls of Cabugao and Bagong Sikat and spend a day or two interacting with the Hanunuo tribes.
Where to stay, what to do
Accommodations in Bulalacao are very limited. Aside from Tambaron Green Beach Resort and South Drive Inn, the only alternative is home stay. Several houses have been designated by the municipal government to offer home style accommodations. Cost ranges from P600 to P800 for non-airconditioned rooms and P800 to P1,000 for air-conditioned rooms. Most of these lodging places are located around Poblacion.
There are also very limited options for dining. For quick and inexpensive meals, there are several eateries at the public market serving fish sinigang and adobong pusit. Batangas migrants serve their quick and filling lomi soup near the market.
Bulalacao only has one real restaurant. This is the South Drive Grille, which also serves as the un-official meeting place of local community groups. It has no fixed menu. Unless you make your special request in advance, say at least a day, you will be served the catch of the day, which unfortunately and fortunately are usually fresh crabs in spicy sauce, grilled pampano and tanigue, and even steamed coconut crabs!
This is how Bulalacao treats its guests – like a star!