In October of 2006, I visited the remote islands of Cuyo and Culion in Palawan for a photography assignment and passed Negros and Iloilo in transit. This is my account of that journey. This is the 6th of a series.
Be careful of what you wish for, it might come true. For many years, Cuyo is a fascination. A sprinkling of islets between Panay and Northern Palawan, I have wondered many times about its isolation, its people and the rich religious cultural heritage found on its soil.
It all started way back more than a decade ago when I used to collect butterflies. There was a specific subspecies that can only be found in this island and I was struck by the thought of the possibility of this very remote island with its undescribed and unique species for my discovery.
Over the years, I switched to beetles, got interested with Spanish colonial history and with it the old churches and fortresses followed by a sense of adventure and travel. Cuyo’s tug became all the more greater. With the church project, I finally realized visiting these isles, albeit briefly.
I was not able to go around much except spend a week at the town proper, Magsaysay and an overnight stay in Agutaya, another island before proceeding to Culion since I have to wait 4 days for the next trip to Palawan. Because of the short stop, I vowed to come back again some other time. And longer.
Cuyo is a municipality of Palawan with a total population of around 18,000 (census 2000) dispersed in 17 barangays with its own language. Fishing and agriculture are the main industry and top products are coconuts/copra and cashew. Life here is slow paced and bucolic. The main town center is quite small that walking through its streets can be accomplished in just a few hours.
Modern houses mix with the old and while electricity is present, when I was there, power is every other day. Not really much can be done here but if you want to just relax, want simple joys, fresh seafood and willing to forego modern amenities, this is a good place. Communication is not a problem here as mobile services c/o Smart, is available. Internet via satellite is also present but when I was there, it was not just working.
Beaches, white sandy shores, shallow and deep waters, wild birds, the gentle breezes and familiar sound of the waves is everywhere. Even near the pier and a few meters walk from the inn I stayed at and I was already bathing at the pristine waters located at a tongue of white sand.
Here, there is a good view of the town dominated by its fortress church at one side while the rest of the island with its sloping mountain can be seen at the other. It’s so cooling and soothing. A stone’s throw where I was at, and a flock of marine birds were scouring the sand and waters for food.
Because of its location, these group of islands offer the tourist and diver unparalleled raw sea adventure. Raw in a sense that the beaches and spots are undeveloped. For the adventurer wanting to experience very out of the way places and weary of the usual beach party venues, this is the place to go. Speaking of resorts, Amanpulo, ultra high end, ultra exclusive and ultra expensive is in one of the islets in this municipality.
Think of cheap and fresh seafood and Cuyo has it. Very rich marine grounds where fishers from different parts of the Visayas and Palawan come. Early each morning (next post) fishermen come to the shore to trawl the shallow waters while some arrive from other islands with bigger catch.
Cuyo is quite remote. The best time to go is during the dry season as the sea is very treacherous especially when typhoons and bad weather systems affect the country. Transit points are either via Iloilo or Puerto Princesa. When traveling here, bring a basic first aid kit and one’s medications as the hospital is not that well equipped. Food is cheap, however.
While there are inns (the one I stayed in is airconditioned and popular with travelers and businessmen and provide a generator if power is not available) I think it is possible to arrange with the mayor for a homestay.