When I posted a picture of me taking a “kawa-kawa” bath in Tibiao, Antique, my Facebook page started getting lots of funny comments from my friends.
“More time is required to boil hard meat.” “It’s not going to be tasty!” “Add more chilis to make it hotter!”
Getting boiled in a giant vat is just one of the many adventures that one can get in Tibiao. This once sleepy town in Antique is now considered as the most popular tourist destination in the province.
Its popularity started about two decades ago when a group of travelers based in Boracay started looking for a place where bored tourists can get action-packed adventures for a couple of days. Their search took them 90 kilometers south to the town of Tibiao where its mighty river boasts of crystal-clear water perfect for whitewater rafting and kayaking and other adventure sports.
Soon enough, tourists from all over started coming to Tibiao to try the thrill of riding its waters. The exodus also led to the discovery of many of its hidden attractions, such as waterfalls and rice terraces.
In between adventures, visitors started looking for something to do to relax. First, there was the fish spa, which gave birth to the now popular Tibiao Fish Spa that has reached many popular malls in the Visayas.
Next, there’s the kawa-kawa bath. The “kawa” or large cooking vats were used on the island of Panay during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines to cook muscovado sugar. They were made from cast iron, and hundreds of them were made at the time to produce the demand for muscovado sugar.
But when the Americans arrived, they introduced the process of refining sugar. This ended the popularity of muscovado sugar and so did traditional process of cooking sugar cane juice using giant vats. The province of Antique continued the process of making muscovado sugar, though at a smaller scale. This left hundreds of kawa of no use.
Until one day, an enterprising resort owner in Tibiao started offering a unique experience using those vats: getting a warm and refreshing bath in one of those kawa. It became an instant hit!
How to get there
Tibiao is about 90 kilometers from Caticlan and 170 kilometers from Iloilo City.
The easiest way is to access it from Caticlan. Fly from Manila to Caticlan (about 45 minutes) or get on a 2Go ferry that leaves Batangas City at 9 p.m. and arrives at Caticlan port at 6 a.m. From Caticlan, take a Ceres bus that goes directly to Tibiao. Travel time is about 2 hours.
For the Iloilo alternative, fly from Manila to the airport in Cabatuan. From the airport, take a taxi to the Ceres terminal in Molo. There are several buses bound for Tibiao there. Travel time to Tibiao is between 3 and 4 hours.
Most of Tibiao’s adventure activities are located at Barangay Importante. All bus drivers know about this important landmark. Just tell them to drop you off at the entrance to where the kawa are located. At the entrance of the “barangay” (village) road, there are “habal-habal” waiting to take passengers to their destinations. Visitors are required to pay P50 as environmental fee upon entry.
What to see, what to do
There are plenty of activities to do around Tibiao River. There are now about 4 resorts located at the banks of the river, and they offer all sorts of activities as well as lodging. Go to any one of them and check their offerings.
For those who like to ride the raging waters of Tibiao, they can try kayaking, whitewater rafting or rubber tubing. For those who simply wish to relax, they can try riding on bamboo rafts or river fishing.
To those who wish to do some trekking, there is a trail that leads to the seven-tiered Bugtong Bato Falls. The hike starts at Barangay Tuno. It takes about an hour to reach the waterfalls.
No visit to Tibiao is complete without trying its famous kawa-kawa bath. All of the resorts there now offer this unique experience. Cost of the 30-minute bath ranges from P200 to P300. Water on the vat is heated using firewood. Lemon grass, ginger, different types of leaves and flowers are added to the water to give it a refreshing smell. The aromatic bath on century-old kawa soothes stressed out body, calms the mind and lifts up the spirit.
For those who wish to relax further, the resorts have several “manangs” who are trained to do the traditional Filipino massage or “hilot.” Visitors can also try the popular Tibiao Fish Spa.
Tourists can join the town’s traditional activities such as learning lambaklad fishing, pottery and brick-making and the art of making the traditional muscovado sugar. The local tourism office is happy to offer them to those who are interested.
Where to stay, what to eat
Tibiao’s pioneer, Kayak Inn, offers the best lodging in town. They have several cottages made of local bamboo with a breathtaking view of Tibiao River and Mount Madja-as. Other resorts in Tibiao include Blue Wave Traveller’s Inn, Calawag Mountain Resort and Kawa Inn. Many of the resorts offer complete package of lodging, meals, trekking to waterfalls and kawa-kawa bath.
For dining, the food selections at most resorts are very limited. It is best to bring your own food when going to these resorts on a day tour. For those who wish to grab a quick meal of Filipino and Ilonggo favorites, there’s Flanes Chicken and Liempo Haus beside the gas station in front of the entrance to Barangay Importante.
But for those who want to sample some local favorites, there’s Tibiao Bakery located at Poblacion. Established in 1953, it still uses the same wood oven since it started, and continues to use one of the ingredients that made Antique famous, the muscovado!