The sun had barely awakened from its slumber when we began to set off for the rolling hills on the western side of the island. It was almost the start of the rainy season – it would actually rain almost every late afternoon – but the oppressive heat during much of the day forced us to plan an early morning trek when the temperature would be more tolerable. We woke up just in time to catch a picturesque sunrise and by 6 AM we were on our way.
Lying off the coastal town of Culasi in Antique province, Malalison or Mararison Island, as locals call it, is endowed with powdery white sand beaches, a curving white sand bar, crystal-clear turquoise waters and stunning rolling hills.
Practically unknown in years past although just two hours away from the jump-off point to Boracay in Malay, Aklan, Malalison only began attracting its fair share of visitors in the past three years. After Typhoon Yolanda’s disastrous visit to the province in late 2013, relief workers visiting the island realized its tourism potential. Within a few months several travel bloggers had visited Malalison and news about the island began to spread.
Having just visited an array of white sand beaches and sandbars in Masbate, Pangasinan and Romblon the past two months we were looking for a different island experience. With its magnificent hills, Malalison seemed to fit the bill. The island is also relatively laid back, still unspoiled by mass tourism. It was just the perfect getaway from what had been a hectic previous week at work.
The hike to the hills, to our surprise, was relatively easy. Because of the hot season the ground was quite dry and we never had to worry about slippery surfaces. Along the way we encountered several pitcher plants, carnivorous plants that have a mechanism for trapping prey (usually insects) and digesting them.
The hills have taken on a rusty orange-yellow hue – the effect of more than 2 months of hot and dry climate on the grass blanketing the hills. Patches of green here and there – including that of pine trees the locals have planted – indicated the onset of the rainy season. It wasn’t hard to imagine how these hills would have looked like a few months from now when the rains would have done their work.
When we reached the peak of the highest hill on the island we were afforded spectacular panoramic views in all directions including the hills and beaches of Malalison, the surrounding seas and nearby Panay Island. Further to the west is a small rock outcrop called Nablag Islet which may be reached on foot during low tide.
Since we left our resort on the eastern part of the island without taking breakfast we decided to return after spending some time at Malalison’s highest point. We would have loved to return and hike down towards Nablag Islet and a nearby cave and beach that contains multi-colored pebbles later that afternoon. However it started to drizzle again mid-afternoon and we ended up enjoying our time instead at another Malalison attraction – its white sand beaches and sandbar on the eastern side of the island.
The closest airports to Malalison are the ones at Caticlan and Kalibo, both in nearby Aklan province. In our case we took a flight to Kalibo then took a Ceres bus bound for San Jose in Antique. (The Ceres terminal is less than 7 kilometers from Kalibo International Airport; trikes at the airport can take you there.) Tell the conductor that you are getting off at Culasi and that you’re bound for Malalison. The fare is P120 and the travel time is around 2 hours. Get off at the town plaza and take a trike to the passenger terminal and jetty. There are also vans in Kalibo that can take you to Culasi; the van terminal is situated right beside the City Mall and is just 3-4 kilometers away from the airport.
At the passenger terminal and jetty in Culasi pay the terminal and environmental fee of P40. The tourism people there will assist you in renting a boat to Malalison Island. A boat good for 5-7 people costs P750. This includes roundtrip transfers and a tour around the island. Travel time is 10-15 minutes excluding the island tour. In our case we elected to tour the island first before proceeding to our resort at the island’s eastern end facing the Panay mainland.
Where to Eat, Where to Stay and Other Tips
Malalison is relatively new to tourism so there is just a small number of resorts on the island. These include Aloma Island Inn, Enrique de Mararison and Malalison Blue Lagoon Beach Resort. There are also a total of 41 homestays – households that were trained by the local government’s tourism department. Homestays offer rooms at P250-350 per person and can also prepare food for their guests. You may need to bring your own towel and toiletries if you choose to spend the night at a homestay.
There is only one eatery at the island: Nanay Cristy Carinderia (which also happens to be a homestay) but the resorts and homestays can prepare food for you. We asked our resort to prepare breakfast and dinner but for our only lunch on the island we bought fresh fish from a vendor and had it cooked, then headed for Nanay Cristy where we ordered rice, drinks and vegetables to supplement our fried fish.
Electricity on the island is provided by a generator which only runs from 6PM to 10 PM. Some resorts that have their own generators can provide power from 6PM to 6 AM.
Taking a guide is mandatory for hiking to the hills. Some people might feel this is unnecessary but it’s much safer if we get one. It’s also a way of giving back to the folks at Malalison who have openly welcomed guests to their island. A trekking guide costs P200-250 for every 4 people.