One recent Christmas I was staying with friends near San Manuel, in Pangasinan Province on the island of Luzon in the Philippines.
Luzon is the largest island in the Philippines (which comprises more than 7,000 islands in all) and the Northern-most one.
It contains at least 3 active volcanos (Mayon, Pinatubo and Taal) and is largely mountainous, but with a flatter area in the north-central part.
Pangasinan Province is in the northern part of that flatter area, just at the start of the mountainous region that reaches to the northern tip of Luzon.
100 Islands National Park
The 100 Islands National Park comprises some parkland on the mainland near Alaminos City and 123 (not just 100!) islands, with another one that appears at low tide – so 124 in total.
The islands themselves are mostly quite small, and made of limestone and coral. They are all well covered with vegetation, and some have caves with snake and bat populations.
The water has eroded the base of many of the islands, which gives them their mushroom shape:
To get to 100 Islands from San Manuel we had a drive of at least 4 hours, going almost due west. Given the traffic and road conditions in some of the provinces, and the fact that we had to be back in San Manuel that evening, we set off at around 6:00 AM.
This map shows where we were staying and our destination:
And here’s a closer look at the 100 Islands National Park. The islands themselves are a bit difficult to distinguish on this map, particularly if you’re viewing this on a mobile device, so I’ve circled them.
Alaminos City is to the south west of the bottom part of the park:
Once we reached Alaminos City we had to make our way to the wharf at Lucap, within the park, where we hired a boat (with boatman) to get across to the islands.
Here’s our boat – a traditional Filipino banca:
Because we were only there for the day, we explained to our boatman that we wanted to avoid the islands that have been developed for tourists and, therefore, were crawling with people.
So he took us first to Monkey’s Island.
It was about a 45-minute trip from Lucap, but it was like having our own private island! Here’s our group getting ready for a bit of serious paddling in the water:
And here’s the same beach with the trees in the picture above behind me:
Climbing to the highest point on the island (not exactly high – about a 5-minute climb!) we got a great view. I seriously recommend footwear, though, because the coral is sharp underfoot. I didn’t wear any shoes and I suffered..!
You can see, again, how the water has eroded the bases of the islands:
Continuing our exploration of the island, we found this cave. Be careful entering caves if you go there, because they are home to snakes and bats:
This is Governor’s Island, where the Philippines version of Big Brother was filmed, and one of the ones that have been developed for tourism.
This is the back view of the Big Brother House, which, today, offers overnight stays for up to 10 people:
The water everywhere was absolutely Gin-Clear – as you can see towards the bottom of this picture:
By now, time was moving on and we had to get back to San Manuel, so we took the banca back to Lucap and began our journey home.
100 Islands is a must if you’re looking for somewhere tranquil and beautiful.
There’s little development there (only three of the islands are developed) and it’s easy to avoid the crowds.
We only had a short time there and explored just a couple of islands, because we did it as a day trip from San Manuel.
But if you wanted to explore more of the islands then I would recommend you give yourself 2 full days, and stay overnight at a hotel either in Lucap or Alaminos.
Alaminos would be a good location if you feel like a bit of night life, as well as the peace and tranquillity of the islands.
You’re looking at either a bus trip (these can be a bit hairy!) or a car from Manila.
Keep in mind that 100 Islands is at least a 4-hour trip from Manila as well – you can experience some extremely lengthy delays on provincial roads in the Philippines..!
So, again, I recommend overnight stays and giving yourself 2 full days there.
Have you been to 100 Islands? Tell us about it in the comments!
The Expat Traveller