The first time we visited this group of 123 limestone islets in Lingayen Gulf it was a disappointment. The major islands were choking with visitors (albeit it was during a weekend holiday), many of them were unkempt and the corals were mostly dead and denuded of fish. But because it was relatively accessible we kept going back – three more times in fact. During our last two visits, however, we started noticing several improvements and were able to experience more of the beauty that made the Hundred Islands National Park a popular destination decades ago.
Our last trip to these islands just off the wharf at Lucap in Alaminos, Pangasinan, was in 2011 where we toured as many of the islands as we could. The waves were pretty strong at that time of the year and there were islets where there was no beach for our boat to dock but it was the best tour we’ve had of all the visits we did to the Hundred Islands. We were also able to do some snorkeling and were pleasantly surprised to see a regeneration of the corals and other marine life. The place also looked cleaner than in previous years, regaining more of the beauty it had in the past. The photos here are all from that tour.
Quezon Island is the most developed among the Hundred Islands with a large dining area and several huts. There’s a snorkeling area here from where we got to spot a variety of marine life including parrot fish, Moorish idols, butterfly fish and angel fish. There’s also a giant clam sanctuary developed by the University of the Philippines’ research institute in Bolinao near the snorkeling area.
There are a number of limestone outcrops or islets lying off Quezon Island. Visitors can rent kayaks and explore these limestone islets and other nearby islands.
Governors Island is the largest in the group and has overnight accommodations like Quezon Island. It also has the highest elevation among all the Hundred Islands. We got to climb up to a view deck here for a sweeping view of the park and a white sand cove in the side opposite the docking area. We also spotted a small cave on our way down from the view deck.
When we first came to the Hundred Islands in the 1990’s, Children’s Island was where we opted to stay. It’s suitable for family tours and the beaches are generally shallow and child-friendly, hence the name. Incidentally, this is where we first encountered a jelly fish, when a friend in our group got stung by one at an islet from across Children’s Island.
Not all the islands or islets have sandy beaches. Bat Island is one of them. It is not possible to dock at this island as it does not have a sandy beach. Our boat just stopped off the island so we could observe the numerous bats resting among the trees and rocks during the day. (It would have been quite a sight had we gone here during the early evening hours when the bats rouse from their sleep and fly off to the mainland.) Cathedral Island is another place where boats cannot dock; it has a cathedral-shaped cave that may be observed from a boat.
Marcos Island also has the Imelda Cave, a twin-chambered, cathedral-shaped cave with a pool of blue-green water 70 feet below. Swifts and bats make their home in the cave chambers, making it even more interesting. The Imelda Cave is accessible via a short trail from the beach that also offers vantage points for viewing the white sand beaches at Marcos and other outlying islands. The cave can also be approached from the other side of the island by kayak or by a daring swim.
On our last visit to the Hundred Islands, we had to brave rough waters to get to Lopez Island, an islet with a sandy beach and just across from Quezon Island. We visited Lopez Island prior to our 2011 visit and observed its corals that were slowly regenerating; as a result there was a good number of reef fishes in the vicinity. The strong waves in 2011, however, prevented us from snorkeling.
Cuenco Cave in Cuenco Island is another of the several caves in the Hundred Islands National Park. The island is located in a cove formed by a group of islets and has white sandy beaches on two sides. The entrance to Cuenco Cave lies at the beach where our boat docked and the cave itself runs through the width of the island all the way to another sandy beach on the opposite side. Cuenco Cave is very easy to explore, offering a view of its interesting limestone formations.
There are other islands and caves in the park that we weren’t able to visit due to the rough waves in some portions of the park; low tide also made it difficult to dock on others. We were hoping to visit Shell Island but our boatmen said it was impossible at that time of the day to dock at those places. Other islands that may be visited are Century Island, Crocodile Island (nope no crocodiles here), Turtle Island (no turtles here either) and Scout Island. Virgin Island is located near Governor’s Island; a floating bridge now connects the two islands.
How to Get There
By private vehicle: Head to Lucap Wharf in Alaminos, Pangasinan. From Metro Manila this trip is more or less 4 hours when passing through the NLEX and SCTEX. There is a parking area at Lucap Wharf where you can leave your car before heading towards the tourism office to get a boat for island-hopping.
By public transportation: Take a bus bound for Alaminos in Pangasinan (Five Star Bus, Philippine Rabbit, Victory and Dagupan have regular trips to the city). These bus trips normally take 5-6 hours. At Alaminos proper take a trike to Lucap Wharf. At Lucap Wharf head for the tourism office to get a boat for island-hopping.
Since they’re regulated by the tourism office, the boats charge fixed rates. No need to haggle here. Day tour rates are P1400 – 2000 depending on boat size.
There are also resorts in the area where you can stay overnight if you choose to do so or you can also check in at a hotel in Alaminos City. There are also lodgings at Quezon and Governor Islands. Take note that for overnight stays at the Hundred Islands, the boat rates are significantly higher.