The temperature these days in Metro Manila are approaching unbearable levels. About the same time three years ago it was just as steamy on our way to a pristine location in the Calamian group of islands in Palawan. We were baking in the early afternoon heat when our outrigger slowly glided past clear waters, where corals of various sizes, shapes and hues could easily be seen, into a beige sand beach on the island’s western side. Disembarking, we made our way past this beach and over a small hill into the southwestern end of the island. There waiting for us was a blindingly white sand beach, one of the best in Coron, Palawan.
Malcapuya Island was the last stop of our three-island tour from the town of Coron in Busuanga Island (Bulog Dos and Banana or Dicalubuan are the two other islands). It’s still a part of Coron but lies closer to Culion Island. Located some 30 kilometers south of the pier at Coron, it has remained relatively undeveloped, although it is privately owned. The island’s owner, however, has welcomed visitors for a minimal fee. To help preserve the pristine state of the southwestern beach, the owner only allows visiting boats to dock on the eastern side of the island.
The southwestern beach is what you’ll find on most of the photographs of Malcapuya Island. It is more than half a kilometer long of fine, white sand lined by coconut palms that provide a cool shade from the sweltering heat. Native huts and white canvas party tents underneath the coconut trees afforded even more cover and a place to keep our personal effects.
Despite the nice shade provided by the tents and palms, the crystal-clear waters of varying shades of aquamarine, turquoise and emerald were just too inviting to pass up. A line of sea grass not too far from shore failed to deter us. We were soon taking a dip in the warm, tropical waters which turned out to be shallow and perfect for swimming a few meters from the shoreline.
After a while our boatmen turned up with floats, inviting us to snorkel in the same waters but 100 meters farther out. The extensive bed of corals at that distance from the shore was a sanctuary for a variety of colorful marine life including giant clams and beautiful clown fish – the first time for us to actually encounter these types of sea inhabitants in the wild. Beyond the coral bed the sea floor suddenly drops down. It’s an area where even more varieties of fish and other sea creatures may be found, although we did not venture there anymore.
We spied this coral bed earlier, from atop a hill at the eastern end of the beach. This hill permits a panoramic view of the whole southwestern beach as well as distant views of Banana Island, Bulog Dos and the Malaroyroy Peninsula in Bulalacao Island. The sudden drop-off in the sea floor – marked by the sudden change in color from turquoise to dark blue – is also easily visible from this vantage point.
At the opposite or western end of the beach are karst or limestone rock formations that would have made for excellent photo opportunities. By this time however, we were so thoroughly sunburned despite putting on plenty of sun tan lotion that we decided to stay and rest under the shelter of the tents and palms for the rest of the time. To cap our stay we gorged on coconut juice and meat that the island’s caretakers provided. It wasn’t long before our boatmen signaled that it was time for the two-hour return boat ride to the town of Coron and our rest for the night.
Paradise Soon to be Lost?
At the time of our visit to Malcapuya three years ago we have already heard from locals that an upscale resort would soon be built in the island and along the beautiful southwestern beach. Three years passed and it seemed those were just rumors. This year, however, we learned that a group that established and operates resorts in Boracay and Panglao Island (Bohol) has acquired Malcapuya and will soon be building a luxury resort here.
We’re not against tourism development so long as it is responsible development where the environment is protected. Also, many resorts are known for keeping non-guests off-limits to what used to be public domain beaches; our experience at Bulog Dos, where a portion of the sandbar connecting the island to the rest of Bulalacao Island was off-limits to non-guests of the resort nearby, was the biggest disappointment on this trip.
From the port of Coron it is possible to charter a boat to get to Malcapuya Island. However, a shoestring traveler option is to go on one of the several tour packages being offered in Coron. This option will put you in a boat with other tourists (usually 10-15 in a boat depending on its size) so the rental cost is equally divided among the passengers. The trip to Malcapuya is usually packaged with a visit to Bulog Dos and Dicalubuan or Banana Islands. Both are also beautiful islands with white-sand beaches, pristine waters and rich coral grounds. The boat ride from the port at Coron town to Malcapuya usually takes 1.5 to 2 hours depending on the condition of the open seas.