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7 Real Last Frontiers of the Philippines

Turtle Tracts on the beach for only one night!

With more than 7,000 islands, is it fairly easy to declare that there are a lot of places in the Philippines that make you feel like you're in the last frontier of the country. Like you're imagining that you're walking or riding a boat for kilometer upon kilometer and never seeing a single human and you only witness plants and animals that drew stares of awe from you.

Wake up! Unfortunately, from 16 million hectares of virgin rainforests in 1930's, the unadulterated greenery was down to 800,000 hectares.... 12 years ago. And there were also studies of coral reefs in healthy conditions that are hovering between 2% to 5%, mangroves that are also left in single digit percentage, plus a lot (as in A LOT) of species in the brink of extinction.

So.... are there still areas in the Philippines that are considered as the final frontiers of nature?

Let me bring you to your dream state - yes! But only if you put the final frontier into appropriate expectation (not necessarily lowered). Meaning, expect people to be living in those places. The term "pristine" is a bit difficult word to justify nowadays. But if you keep your eyes and mind open, you can actually experience those moments of wonderment by being in the midst of the last few places hardly touched by modern development.

Another way to put things into perspective why these places are considered as last frontiers - they are very hard to reach. With usually zero tourist facilities or amenities or only few people can fit into or afford to visit. Of course some have started going into the industry of tourism and development that probably 5 years from now, they won't have the right to be labeled as last frontier destinations.

There are also places not yet included in the list but definitely should be taken seriously (uhm... watch out for the updated blog?) like parts of the Philippine Cordillera, Mindanao (ohh.... that Liguasan Marsh...).  Agusan Marsh should also be included. Plus the eastern part of Sierra Madre, and Zamboanga Peninsula, or even Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi!.....

Oh, my... lets just enjoy this seven sites then lets meet for coffee for the next list.

See List Per Page

  1. BATANES ISLANDS
Photo by: Jing Ramos-Dimaya - http://on.fb.me/1hFaTiV
More than 20 years ago, my college class had a speaker who talked about destinations in Northern Luzon. He said that Batanes was not a good place to visit because its coastlines were mostly crags and it hardly had any "decent" white sand beach.

Guess what? These tiny emeralds at the border of the Pacific Ocean are now known as a scenic landscape and seascape!

Those who were lucky enough to have the chance to visit Batanes are enthralled (yup, the perfect word) by the sheer, rugged beauty of Batanes.
Photo by: Yay Ortega - http://on.fb.me/1cL8Vbt
But I would say that 95% of the tourists have actually seen only 5% of the territory. Most of them would not know that they may have walked on a trail that is less than 500 meters from an old stone fort. And the most number of islands they have visited would only be 3, leaving the other islands  away from the eyes of the outsiders, simply because those islands are just too far away and difficult to get to. And let's add very expensive (that is, if you're lucky to convince a local boat operator to bring you to those uninhabited places where only birds, wild grasses, and of course, the most scenic crags and seascapes can be seen. 

2. SIARGAO ISLAND
A super dense mangrove forest in Siargao Island
Everybody knows that Siargao Island is a surfing territory. But few have realized that within a 2-hour radius from the surf sites, more amazing sites can be seen and experienced. One can ride a banca for several hours and see only uninhabited mangrove forests. Then stay on islands fringed with white sand beach, and visit lagoons and tidal pools that will make you feel that the global population has been down to 0.001 percent. 

3. BUCAS GRANDE ISLAND
Kayaking inside the Sohoton Lagoon
Many think that this is part of Siargao Island. But this is actually a separate island which is at best, 2 hours away by boat from Siargao and less than 30 minutes if accessed directly from the mainland. What you will see here is a huge lagoon hidden by limestone walls. The only opportunity you can see go to the lagoon is during a low tide when a small banca can delicately squeeze through the tiny hole (or a small cave) leading to the lagoon. There are generous local stories of fairies, spirits, and a very rich being that ordered a luxury car with an instruction to deliver it to the island (which had no roads!).

But if you want to really enjoy the site, get ready to get really wet in this natural coliseum of forested limestone walls. Swim, snorkel, bring a kayak or rent a small banca, explore tiny caves while swimming, and if you have a pair of binoculars, do some birdwatching for the endemic Tarictic Hornbills. And make sure you still have the time to swim in another lagoon filled with stingless jellyfish. Don't be surprised if you see big resorts in Bucas Grande. Apparently, those guys have seen the quality of this destination and went ahead of the resort investment game.

*Note - there were feedback that say that swimming with the jellyfish is currently not allowed. Better check first if you're planning to visit the area.

4. TURTLE ISLANDS
A long, long time ago, almost all the coastlines of the Philippines were the nesting grounds of marine turtles. Now, thanks to man, those nesting grounds are reduced to tiny spots, usually out of reach of most humans or seriously protected by concerned, well, humans.

The Turtle Islands (which is actually also a municipality) of Tawi-tawi is a very special place and probably the last refuge of a good number of marine turtles still surviving to this day.

Try to imagine this - on any given day, 50 - 150 turtles come up to the sands of the islands to dig their nests and lay their eggs. If you didn't say, "woah!" to what you just read, then you don't really understand what I'm trying to say!

If you do, you might be planning now your trip to the islands. Unfortunately, its distance from any established population center in the Philippines would require 12 hours of sea travel. And get this - there are no commercial boats nor planes going to the site. And a bit jaw-drop thing is that the place is only 45 minutes away by speed boat from the Malaysian town called Sandakan. Now, figure out how you can get to the islands and see the mommy turtles laying their eggs at night and the hundred of baby "turtlets" (okay, hatchlings) running towards the shore by the break of dawn.

Here's a youtube video of that one special island called Baguan:


5. TUBBATAHA REEFS NATURAL PARK
Photo by: Teri Aquino
This is not a UNESCO World Heritage Site for nothing.  For many scuba divers, this is one of the ultimate destinations in their diving careers. You will see the biggest and dense populations of pelagics (that's large fishes like tuna, sharks and manta rays for us land-locked mortals). The quality of this destination is so high that businessmen have actually purchased live-aboard dive boats (where one can stay for up to a week living on the boat) for only a few months of open season during summer. The waves on other months only allow hardy and really commendable wardens (no, heroes)  living on a very small station to keep watch over this national treasure from illegal fishing boats that catch turtles and destroy coral reefs. Its a very lonely and dangerous job they chose to get into. Of course, they now have to watch out also for the huge U.S. navy ships that might get lost and stranded in the shallow reefs of Tubbataha.
One of the only two islets in Tubbataha. This one is called Bird Island, and its off-limits to humans
Photo by: Teri Aquino
Scuba divers have to save a lot of money if they want to reach this frontier, stay on board for several days, and endure the 12-hour boat ride from Puerto Princesa City to the site. But once in the area, its a huge buffet table of diving and diving and diving. And as they say, nobody leaves Tubbataha without that crazy smile on his face.
6. BALABAC ISLANDS
This is a real last frontier as it can be.

The islands of Balabac in the southernmost tip of Palawan Province can only be reached after a 5-6 hours land travel from Puerto Princesa, and usually 3 hours boat transfer to get to the main island of Balabac.

What to see? Well, mainly products coming from Malaysia (like candies, chocolates and noodle soups).  But if you really want to discover the place, then hire a boat to go island-hopping. Snorkel in a hugely wide shallow reef where you see a lot of juvenile nemos and dorys. Thinking of being a naturalist? Then get ready to see bird species not usually found in many parts of the country. Look out into the see and try to get a glimpse of dolphins that may decide to swim alongside your boat. And oh, have a picnic on beaches you do not share with anybody. Just ask first where the crocodiles are staying before you get out of the boat.... Just kidding! You only do the asking when you're in the mangrove area. By the way, this is the only place in the Philippines where the Mouse Deers live in the wild.

7. BABUYAN ISLANDS
Photo by: Jessie delos Reyes - http://on.fb.me/1mkd7V8
 How would you like the idea of taking a bus to the edge of Luzon Island for say, 12 hours, then wait for a boat to get filled with passengers for a 6 hours travel that could extend to 12, depending on the wind, the waves, and the courage of the boat operator?

But lucky are the very few who have reached these islands! They've seen humpback whales, heard them sing (if they had hydrophones), and get really happy seeing hundreds of dolphins that filled their entire vision while in the middle of the sea. Of course, there are the beaches, kilometers of pure nature where there were no other group of tourists who bombed their moments with nature.

Babuyan is a group of tiny islands, usually volcanic in origin that lies between Batanes and Luzon. Depending on your interest, you can go whale watching, swimming, or finding that fairly newly discovered species of bird called the Calayan Rail that was seen by the science world only in the year 2007. The only way to reach the area is by boat and the window is usually only the months of summer. You know the term, "the waves are as high as the churches?"






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