We first learned about the unspoiled beauty of the islands and beaches of Monreal, a town in Ticao Island, Masbate about 7 years ago but kept putting off a visit to this place for next few years. Seven years is a very long time to keep hiding a gem of a destination these days especially given people’s attachment to social media. We were almost certain that Monreal would have gained tourism fame by now and squandered its untouched nature.
However, as our motorized outrigger boat cruised around the northwestern tip of Ticao and the rock islands, white sand beaches and crystalline turquoise waters emerged into view, it became apparent that Monreal’s raw beauty has stayed. For now.
Ticao Island is one of the 3 major islands of Masbate province, the other two being Masbate and Burias. It is not a destination that’s easily accessible but all the inconveniences we went through was a small price to pay for enjoying the pristine beauty of this island.
Our trip to Ticao was actually part of an outreach to needy families in San Fernando town. The latter is just a 30-40 minute motorbike ride away from Monreal where boats may be hired for exploring the islands to the northwest. A boat, however, picked us up at our resort in San Fernando and took us and 15 others on an island-hopping excursion around the whole of Ticao Island. We headed south first before rounding Ticao’s southern end at Batuan town and then heading north towards Monreal.
Guindahap or Guinhadap?
There are two islands at the tip of Ticao, both part of Monreal town – San Miguel and Mababoy Islands – which were supposed to be the final stops for our day of island exploring. Approaching those islands from Masbate Pass – the body of water separating Ticao from Masbate Island – we passed by imposing karst cliffs along the coast of Ticao Island.
Just off Monreal town’s western coast we passed by Cagpating Island. Along with the much smaller Puro Island, both islands with their white sand beaches would have been an interesting exploration but time and fuel wouldn’t permit us. We continued north squeezing through a channel between the Ticao main island mass and a smaller island, probably Paltaban Island.
As the boat passed by the northernmost coast of Ticao Island and the western side of Mababoy Island, ruggedly beautiful rock formations dotted in places by cave-like shallow perforations manifested themselves: the Guinhadap Rocks. Some blog posts online allude to these as Guindahap Rocks. Later, we found out that the barangay of Monreal that holds jurisdiction over this part of the town is named Guinhadap. We also ran into a picture of an elementary school at Mababoy Island that clearly spells out the barangay name: Guinhadap.
Halea Nature Park
The last stop of our island-hopping tour was Halea Nature Park at San Miguel Island, just north of Mababoy and situated at the extreme northern end of Ticao Island. As the boat slowed down and glided into the gentle waters of a small cove at Halea, the waters turned from a deep blue color to crystal-clear turquoise. To our front were two small white sand beach coves that harbored a few native huts. Otherwise, there are no other manmade structures on the island.
Our highlight for Halea was the rich marine life that could easily be spotted beneath the crystalline waters. Some of our boat companions didn’t even need to snorkel; they just threw bread crumbs into the water and out came colorful reef fishes. Harmless juvenile sharks are reported to be sheltering in these waters but we didn’t see any on this day.
Conservationists would have cringed at the thought of feeding the fishes here. Despite this seemingly common practice, Halea and much of Monreal’s beaches and islands still appear to be very much pristine. There are practically no tourist facilities at Halea and the other islands that we saw or visited and most of the smaller islands appear to be practically uninhabited. And there’s more to be seen underwater. The Ticao Pass, a body of water separating Ticao from the Bicol mainland in Luzon, is home to the Manta Bowl, a dive site where huge manta rays may be observed feeding on plankton. Other pelagics – whale sharks, hammerheads and thresher sharks – are also in the vicinity.
There are other coves just to the north of Halea and white sand beaches on adjoining Mababoy Island but our boatmen said we did not have enough fuel to visit them. It was time to head back to our temporary home at San Fernando. We briefly made a stop at the port town of San Jacinto along the way and ended at our San Fernando resort just as the golden rays of a setting sun blanketed the horizon.
Boats may be rented for island-hopping at Monreal port; these boats go to Halea Nature Park and to other destinations such as Burobangkaso Islet and Catandayagan Falls. Prices for these boats reportedly range from P2,000 to 2,500 (plus a guide fee for P500) for 5 persons. If you’re based in Masbate City you can hire a larger boat for P8,000 (good for 15 people or more) that will also include additional destinations such as the Buntod Reef and Marine Sanctuary. In our case we opted for the later and the boat just picked us up at our resort at San Fernando (thus avoiding having to travel by land to Monreal).
Getting to Monreal
If you’re starting your island-hopping from Monreal, the first step is to get to Legazpi City. There are daily flights to Legazpi via Philippine Air Lines and Cebu Pacific. From the airport at Legazpi City take a trike to the Legazpi Bus Terminal. At this terminal you have two options to get to Monreal.
Option 1: To Monreal via Pilar
Take a bus or van at the terminal to Pilar town in Sorsogon. Travel time is about an hour to 1.5 hours. At the port in Pilar town take the ferry to Monreal port (about 1.5 hours). As of this writing the single ferry leaves Pilar at 12 noon.
Option 2: To Monreal via Bulan and San Jacinto
Since there is only one ferry that leaves Pilar for Monreal, others take this option. From the terminal at Legazpi City, take a bus or van bound for Bulan, Sorsogon. Travel time is about 2.5 hours. At Bulan port take the ferry to San Jacinto in Ticao Island. Travel time is about an hour. There are several ferries that make this trip. At San Jacinto ride a habal-habal or motorbike to Monreal (no trikes here). This last part of the trip is about 17 km. and could take about 30-40 minutes by motorbike. It’s also possible to catch the bus or van making the trip to Monreal from Batuan town but there are just a few trips of this sort and they might even be full by the time they get to San Jacinto.
(It’s also possible to get to Monreal from Masbate City. There are direct flights to Masbate via Cebu Pacific. From Masbate City port ride a ferry to Lagundi Port in Batuan, Ticao Island, then take a bus or van from there to Monreal. But from what we know the bus or van at Batuan leaves early in the morning only. Also you can already start your island-hopping to Monreal from Masbate City. Just take more people with you to cut down on the expenses.)