Guimaras is an island just 20 minutes by boat from the main city of Iloilo in the Philippines. Purchasing a ticket, boarding, and arriving couldn’t be easier. Everything is offline, so you’ll have to write your name on a piece of paper for security, buy the boat ticket, and take the next boat leaving. There’s no schedule, no online ticket purchasing, no planning. I went there with a friend who lives in Iloilo and I was surprised to be sitting in the boat after just arriving 10 minutes prior.
The whole trip was very spontaneous. We had nothing prebooked, no accommodations, and I knew nothing about that island except that it was very near and I wanted to explore it. My friend had been several times so I trusted her to show me the best places in Guimaras.
We arrived at the port of Guimaras and took a tricycle all the way to the north. We chose to head in this direction because the area is generally less populated. We also stopped at some mango vendors to buy the original Guimaras mangoes along the way.
It was beginning to get dark and the tricycle driver dropped us off at an expensive-looking beach resort. Instead of booking a room, we decided to take a look at the beachside. There we found simple small nipa huts that didn’t seem to belong to the resort. Luckily we found a guy at the beach who looked like a fisherman and my friend asked him whether he knew who was responsible for those nipa huts. He said he was.
From there, she started bargaining in Hiligaynon, which is the local dialect in Iloilo, and I went away to not influence the bargaining process. My friend then came back to me and said she bargained him down to 800 pesos for the hut, or roughly $16. An incredible rate for such a beautiful spot. All I cared about was the beach anyway – not the swimming pool at the resort nearby. Here we spent our first night in Guimaras, in a small cheap hut right next to the beach.
The next day, we decided to visit the marine sanctuary. A place where marine biologists research and work. It was not really a touristy place but it cost roughly 20 pesos entrance for outsiders. We explored the sanctuary and it was incredible. A boardwalk going through swamps, small stone pebble beaches, and we even found a submarine. A bit further into the sanctuary, we found a cave and we went in. It ended up being the most beautiful sight at the sanctuary. It opened up to the ocean and we took a dip in the cool crystal clear water at the untouched cave opening.
After buying some ice cream from a local vendor, we decided to go to a floating restaurant for lunch. We took a tricycle and it was kind of hard to find the small dirt road leading away from the main road, but we found a tiny sign leading us in the right direction. Then we took a free shuttle boat service up to the restaurant, where we were the only guests in the entire place. We ordered food and beer and I got to jump from their jumping platform afterward which was 10 feet high.
After this amazing experience, we made our way back to start taking care of our next accommodation. We also got some more locally-grown mangoes at the side of the road sold by a small family. According to Filipinos, Guimaras mangoes are supposed to be the best in the whole Philippines. The soil and air here are perfect for growing them. We bought some for dinner and my friend knew of a place we could stay the night. I was quite excited and didn’t know what to expect.
As soon as we hit a dead end, our tricycle driver said we would have to walk up the unpaved hill. We then paid him and continued our journey uphill. We passed by a small local store where a family was living and as they saw us, they greeted us with large smiles and offered us some of their self-made camote-cue (caramelized sweet potato on a stick). We were so grateful, gave them a bit of money to compensate them, and continued our journey up the hill.
It was blazing hot and after 30 minutes of hot weather and amazing vegetation, we arrived at a place that seemed completely cut off from civilization. A few wooden bungalows, coconut trees everywhere, kids playing – this was the place. My friend said it was a retreat where she and her friends would go to have some quiet time. I also realized that I didn’t have any phone signal since we left the tricycle on the paved road, which didn’t bother me one bit.
We then found this amazing small beach. It had pristine white sand, a few nipa huts, and a family as caretakers. My friend asked the mother for the price of the huts and if we could sleep there. When we heard that they also rent out tents, we changed our minds and decided the huts were a bit too big for two people. As we were the only ones there, we decided to sleep in a rented tent for $5 in the middle of the beach. There was a nice cool breeze in the evening and we enjoyed the entire beach to ourselves. My friend pitched her hammock to relax until it got dark and I put a table in the middle of the beach for the dinner that we bought in a small store during the day. When you looked out into the ocean you could see an island that looks like three tiny hills. It turned out the place we were was called Tatlong Pulo Beach Resort (The Three Islands).
This trip was just a weekend trip but a very memorable one. An amazing non-touristy experience that you could only experience by getting to know the locals. We relied heavily on local tricycle drivers, caretakers, family stores, and local businesspeople. We loved building a good connection to the people here, which I believe is a must when you travel. The gratitude and smiles are priceless.