The Philippines is a beautiful country, with plenty of islands and beaches. Yet, most visitors to Asia flock to Thailand and Bali. Even the popular beaches in the Philippines are not that well known, let alone a place like Marinduque Island.
On Marinduque, there are few nightclubs or bars. You’ll be hard-pressed to even find a souvenir shop. Although there are some cars on the roads, they are outnumbered by jeepneys (elongated jeeps with two long seats behind the driver), tricycles and motorcycles attached to a side car on a third wheel. The current popular means of transportation on Marinduque Island fascinating to watch.
Boac, Marinduque Island
I visited Marinduque Island in a group of five. As we walked the streets of Boac, it felt like the town had stopped. Well, being a rather quiet place in the first place, there wasn’t that much happening anyway. But as soon as the locals spotted some foreigners, everyone came out to stare.
Tricycle drivers stopped by the side of the road to gawk and jeepney passengers craned their necks for a better look. Even the shopkeepers ran out onto the street to stare. Although the kids were cute, they were a little shy and ran way when we tried to snap their photos.
Where is Marinduque Island?
Marinduque Island is about 170km south of Manila. Although it’s not that far, the island is a universe away from the traffic, skyscrapers and hectic pace of the capital of the Philippines.
The island is surrounded by Tayabas Bay, Mompoy Bay, Tayabas Strait and the Sibuyan Sea. It’s a 959-sq-km volcanic island with undiscovered beaches, caves, hot springs and waterfalls.
There are a few local resorts on the island that cater to the locals. These local resorts are inexpensive and certainly not luxurious.
At the top end, the best resort in the region is located on a tiny island. When Bellarocca Island Resort and Spa opened a few years ago, the island received an economic boost through better roads and jobs for the locals.
Still, most of the islanders work as farmers or fishermen. But some are branching out into tourism. A jeepney costs around $5000 and a tricycle costs $1500. And in a few years, as the region grows, there’s the potential of running a souvenir stall, cafe or massage parlour.
The towns have Spanish names like Santa Cruz and Torrijos. And with family names like Fernandez, Reyes and Gonzales you could almost be convinced you’re in South America not Asia.
While driving around with, Marie Diaz, our guide, I felt like I was in South America. We passed bullocks in rice fields and villages (known as barangays). Goats, dogs and children roamed the streets.
We learned that Marie grew up in Mogpog, a place that was occupied by Japanese troops during World War II.
It was obvious that Marinduque is one of the poorer provinces in the Philippines. But the people looked happy, the streets were clean and the homes were neat and the gardens were tidy. Most of all, the children seemed happy.
The island’s electricity supply is only turned on for a few hours each day and at night time, the villages are plunged into semi-darkness.
At Buenavista (Spanish for good view), we stopped to admire the ocean views, sandy beaches and swaying palms.
Nearby at Gasan, the homes were more prosperous. Some were larger and constructed with concrete. We passed a few shops that caught our eye.
Outside the local supermarket the sign “Glory to God, Sioland Supermarket, Gasan Branch”. Right next to the supermarket, in a public space beneath a stairwell, was a fruit stall and a vendor selling western wedding gowns.
Of the few attractions on the island worth visiting, I wouldn’t say that the WHS Butterfly Farm near Gasan was one of them. The butterflies were beautiful to photograph but the farm was really a family enterprise that makes its money by shipping pupae and framed (dried) and live butterflies around the world.
The Marinduque Museum in Boac is not a bad spot to brush up on local culture and history. There are a few exhibits, such as some 16th-century porcelain that was fished out from the ocean bed. The museum is by no means high tech but the stories are quite fascinating.
Marinduque’s drawcard is its special brand of Catholicism and Boac’s main attraction is the Gothic Boac Cathedral.
The cathedral was built in 1666 in honour of the Virgin Mary, introduced to the island by Jesuit missionaries.
In the local lingo, the Virgin Mary is known as “Ang Mahal na Birhen ng Biglang-Awa” or Blessed Virgin of Biglang-Awa Immediate Succor.
Another huge attraction are the Easter celebrations. In 1807, the parish priest of Mogpog, Padre Dionisio Santiago, started up a festival. Celebrations were based around the story of Longinus, a one-eyed Roman centurion who pierced Jesus Christ while he was on the cross.
The Roman Centurion festival craze took hold and these days, people from all over the Philippines flock to Marinduque at Easter time to watch the singing, chanting and street theatre.
The main event is a parade which includes the Via Crucis, or way of the cross, where Jesus Christ carrying a wooden cross is trailed by a group of barefoot devotees who whip themselves as penance for their sins.
It ends with the dramatic beheading of Longinus.
We met lots of locals while were were there. Outside the Boac Cathedral we bought banana que (deep fried bananas dipped in caramelized sugar), turon (banana jackfruit) and carioca (local doughnuts) from a local woman. The snacks cost seven pesos each (18 cents)!
A lovely spot to cool off is the Paadyao Cascades, where we plunged into a cool pool beneath the waterfall.
That evening, over dinner, by one of Bellarocca’s pools, our waiter told us the story of a poor village boy named Garduke who fell in love with Marina, the daughter a local chieftain.
Marina’s father was opposed to the match so the couple eloped by sailing out into the ocean where their boat capsized and they drowned. The spot where they drowned turned into the heart-shaped island of Marinduque and is right in the geographical centre of the Philippines. How romantic!
Christina Pfeiffer was a guest of Bellarocca Island Resort and Spa and Philippines Tourism
Buenavista to the airport in a jeepney costs 20 pesos (50 cents); Gasan to Buenavista in a tricycle costs 120 pesos ($3).
For a luxurious stay check into Bellarocca Island Resort and Spa, tel: +632 328 8831.
When to go
Mariones Festival is in March/April.
What else to do?
1. Dive or snorkel in the surrounding waters.
2. Hike Mount Malindig.
3. Soak in the hot springs at Malbog.
4. Explore the Bitik Caves in Santa Cruz and the Tarug Caves in Mogpog.
See Philippines Tourism