People have often asked if we could recommend nice beaches within 2 hours drive from Metro Manila. It’s an almost impossible question to answer since driving just to get outside of the metropolis would already take 2 hours in many cases. And then the nearest white sand beaches that we know – in the provinces of Quezon, Zambales and Bataan – are often 3-4 hours away. That’s just by land. You then have to ride a boat in most cases to get to the islands where those beaches are located.
On return flights to Manila we would often observe white sand coves dotting the coastline of Batangas and Cavite and often wondered whether those coves are accessible. We did get to visit one – at Caylabne Bay – back in 2008. But that was a private resort and one had to drive through heavy traffic in the busy towns of Cavite to get there. In the same way, many of those coves are private resorts that are either off-limits to non-members or charge exorbitant rates even for just a day tour.
Recently however, we began seeing pictures of a beach in Ternate, Cavite called Katungkulan Beach and another in Nasugbu named Layag-Layag Beach. There were other less known coves near these two beaches that looked similar. Both were not developed like the high-end resorts along the coast. When there was an opportunity to bring friends and love ones on two occasions to the beach we decided on these two.
We’ve also recently discovered a fast way to both beaches. About 4 or 5 years ago, a highway was built from the hills at Ternate that goes all the way to Nasugbu in Batangas. The construction of the Kaybiang Tunnel that cuts across the base of a hill made it possible to reach Ternate in 2 hours from Metro Manila.
Patungan Cove: Getting There the Hard Way
Our first target was Laya-Layag Beach but at a view deck and stopover at the Ternate-Nasugbu Highway, we learned that the beach is now off-limits to visitors. (We already knew beforehand that a major corporation had bought the land around it.) This was hard to confirm but we did hear one of the locals talking to a boatman in Nasugbu town on his mobile phone with the boatman affirming that the beach was indeed closed to visitors. We decided it wasn’t worth risking a boat ride to the beach and paying P1,500 only to be turned back.
We opted instead for Patungan Cove in Maragondon town, which we encountered after the descent from the hills in Ternate. Patungan is not a white sand beach – the sand is light brown in color – but it looked clean and had the hills of Maragondon as a scenic background.
We’ve passed this way before and knew about the pending legal battle between a major corporation and the residents (most of them fishermen) over the rights to Patungan Cove. As a result, the corporations’ security guards have blocked road access to the cove. We can however still get there by riding boats from a spot off the highway where we parked the car.
It was a windy day and the waves were quite strong so we experienced some difficulty in boarding the boat and in disembarking. However, the same amihan or northeast monsoon winds that were causing the rough waves also kept temperatures at an acceptable level. It was so soothing many of us fell asleep later in our rented hut.
Patungan Cove is a lively beach cove with several huts for rent alongside the houses of its residents. There were several visitors even on a weekday. However we still had a restful time on the beach. We also chatted with some of the locals here, trying to learn about their situation, the legal battle they have for ownership of the place and their livelihood. We’re not that well-informed about all the legal issues of the case but we do feel for the residents here who have been living on this piece of land for decades now.
Katungkulan Beach: In the Company of the Marines
After only two days we were back in the area, this time to accompany love ones. We’ve previously tried to visit Katungkulan Beach inside Camp Gregorio Lim, a Philippine Marines base back in January. We were politely turned down at the gate; there was a military exercise going on (Balikatan) and it would take weeks. We decided to take another shot and to our relief and delight we found out that Katungkulan is now open for business.
Camp Gregorio Lim actually sits just outside the Mount Palay-Palay National Park; there are several protected wildlife species here. On the way to Katungkulan Beach we encountered macaques near the roadside on several occasions. We also spotted two wild boars just outside the camp’s gate. While the macaques (locals often call them monkeys) tended to shy away from humans the wild boars looked unperturbed and seemed to be accustomed to humans in their midst.
Katungkulan Beach is often referred to as Boracay de Cavite, ostensibly because of its white sand. The sand here, however is not white and is a far cry from many of the white sand beaches we’ve visited. The cream colored sand mixed with grey sand particles, however, are fine and just right for swimming. The surf was still strong on this day but we nevertheless enjoyed the waves striking our bodies as we hit the surf.
It appears that the Marines are the ones managing this beach although civilians are the ones manning the store and renting out the huts. They do have basic huts for both overnight and day accommodations here.
While it may have been disappointing not to be able to visit beautiful Layag-Layag Beach or even the white sand coves of Maragondon and Nasugbu, both Patungan Cove and Katungkulan Beach proved to be satisfactory destinations. And they’re roughly only 2 hours away from Metro Manila.