San Antonio where?
It’s that little town in Zambales where one can visit hidden coves, lovely islets and a century-old lighthouse, take some surfing lessons, do some fishing, taste the local cashew nuts or maybe, watch a piano recital for a change.
How come nobody has heard about it? Well, actually many have been coming to this town for many years to chill out on a weekend. The beach of Pundaquit has always been a favorite destination for backpackers, swimmers and surfers.
But nowadays, Pundaquit is just a mere jump-off point to the hidden gems of San Antonio: the Coves of Anawangin, Nagsasa and Silanguin. The unique attractions came about when Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991. With Pinatubo’s eruption came the lahar that found its way to these coves facing the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). The lahar carried volcanic sands and the seeds of the agoho tree (Philippine Pine Tree) that are endemic on the slopes of Mount Pinatubo. The white Pinatubo sand finally settled on the beach of Anawangin, Nagsasa and Silanguin, and the agoho seeds found their way on the fertile soil along the beach. The results are three beautiful white sand (which are actually volcanic sands) beaches framed with thick foliage of hundreds of tall Philippine Pine trees.
The whole Redondo Peninsula where these coves are found is the home of the native Aetas. The Aetas are the original inhabitants of the town of San Antonio. This was their hunting ground. But in 1830, when the first influx of Ilocano from Paoay came, they were forced to move up to Redondo Mountains. San Antonio finally became a town in 1849, with settlers coming mostly from the Ilocos region.
The Aetas still make San Antonio their home. On weekends, they go down from the mountains and sell their fresh harvests at the public market. They also visit the camping grounds of Anawangin and Nagsasa, selling souvenir items like bows and arrows and bamboo piggy banks.
How to get there
With the opening of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), it is now easy to reach Zambales either by private vehicle or public transport.
Driving to San Antonio from Manila takes only three hours. Take the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), then take the SCTEX and exit at the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA). It is always easier to drive inside SBMA instead of going thru Olongapo City. From SBMA, the road leads to Subic, then Castillejos and to San Marcelino. In San Marcelino, the road splits into two: right to San Antonio and left to San Narciso.
Taking the bus to San Antonio is also quite easy. Victory Liner has regular scheduled trips to Zambales. Take any bus going to Iba and Santa Cruz as they make their regular stops in San Antonio. From San Antonio public market, tricycles can be rented to go to Pundaquit and San Miguel.
Pundaquit and San Miguel are where boats going to the islands and the coves can be rented. Boats can carry a maximum of four passengers. Boat rental fee is fixed by the local cooperative. Visitors usually combine the visit to the islands with an overnight camp at one of the coves. The current rates for cove plus islands trip are P1,500 for Anawangin, P2,000 for Nagsasa and P2,500 for Silanguin. Pay only after when the boat returns.
What to do, what to see
The Faro de Punta Capones is one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the Philippines. Completed in 1890, its light guide ships entering and leaving the ports of Manila Bay and Subic Bay. It also warns navigators of the rocky shores surrounding Capones Island.
The Capones Lighthouse is a sight to behold. With its walls entirely made of red bricks and its doors of narra and molave, it evokes of a period of grandeur when the Spaniards still reigned in this side of Asia. With its imposing prismatic tower with ornate helicoidal stairs made of iron, it welcomes to the Philippine shore all ships coming from China and the rest of the world.
The nearby Camara Island is a huge rock set against the sea. It is a favorite of rock climbers who enjoy the challenge of conquering its walls.
Anawangin Cove used to be the secret hideaways of many mountaineers and backpackers who come regularly to this place via a six-hour trek crossing Mount Redondo. But with many stories and photos of Anawangin coming out of the web, it was soon discovered by many city dwellers looking for quiet place to spend the weekend.
Although the place tends to get crowded on weekends, it is still easy to find a quiet spot on the beach or across the river to camp. There are no cottages in Anawangin so visitors must bring their own tents and other provisions. The private owner of Anawangin Cove collects P100 per visitor to pay for maintenance.
Alternative camp sites can be found in Nagsasa and Silanguin. They also have the same white sand beaches and pine trees but less of the crowd. Entrance fee to Silanguin is P150 while there is none in Nagsasa.
The beach of Pundaquit is still popular to daytrippers and surfing enthusiasts. During full moons, the locals come out and stay on the beach, especially during summer when it’s squid season. There’s this tradition in San Antonio that has become a unique attraction: when a boat filled with squid returns, they give away squids to whoever help them bring the boat ashore.
During surfing season, surfers come to Pundaquit to experience the challenge of trying their skills on “Magic Left.” It is a surf spot where waves rise from two- to three-foot swells to massive overheads.
Those who already have their fill of the town’s natural attractions can check a different type of lure at Casa San Miguel. The Bolipatas of Zambales built Casa San Miguel in 1991 to provide a venue for local artists to hone their talents and share their creative skills with the community. It also provides opportunities for the underprivileged to have access to education and the arts.
Where to stay, what to eat
There are three ways to stay in San Antonio.
The more adventurous type bring their own provisions and camp overnight on the beach at the coves of Anawangin, Nagsasa and Silanguin. Be sure to bring plenty of water for cooking and drinking.
For surfers and beach bummers, the south side of Pundaquit are where nipa huts are available for P1,000 or less. During the summer months, people simply bring out their mats and sleep in the open on the beach overnight.
For those out-of-towners with families, the central to north side are where the nicer resorts can be found. There are now plenty to choose from like Pundaquit Luxury, Canoe Beach, Ohayo San, Megans Paradisio, Pundaquit Sun and Surf, Capones Vista, Villa Janella and many more.
Although most of the resorts have their own restaurants, they tend to be pricey and lack consistency. So it is still best to bring your own food. An alternative is to buy fresh seafood from the public market and cook them at the beach. Just bring your own cooking equipment.
The public market is also a good place to try local Ilocano and Zambal dishes. Here you can try igado, dinakdakan, pinakbet and bulanglang.
But the best part of the San Antonio experience is to watch the sun at it dissolves between Camara and Capones while chewing roasted cashew nuts (sold by the Aetas) and drinking icecold beer.