Panay Island isn’t all about Boracay. Take the route less taken. Here’s your guide around Aklan, Antique, Iloilo, Guimaras and Capiz.
Boracay Island’s powdery white sands, pristine waters and pulsating nightlife is still one of the longest-running travel destinations in the Philippines. But what makes Bora so enjoyable also makes it very expensive.
Around PHP 1,000 is how much you have to shell out for roundtrip terminal fees, boat transfers, airport terminal departure and environmental fees — that’s just to get to its shores! Chances are, your itinerary won’t be just beach bumming. Activities such as helmet diving, island hopping, cliff diving, not to mention, the partying will also add up to the expenses.
So instead of going to Boracay Island, we backpacked Panay Island with via land travel and simplifying itineraries. Sorry, Bora, you can wait! Here are the destinations you shouldn’t miss should you take the route less traveled:
Aklan: Escape to an Eco-Park
Bakhawan Eco-Park is a self-sustaining environmental organization established in 1989, offering a kilometer-long boardwalk piercing through hectares of man-made mangrove plantations. The eco-park allows in Panay Island you to enjoy the strong sea breeze amidst the rustling of trees, and a peacefully coursing river.
It’s an awesome destination for introverts who wanted to escape crowded spaces in Panay Island. Bakhawan Eco-Park also offers kayaking, rafting and doing demos of extracting woodworms and serving the latter as snacks (locally called tamilok). The entrance fee is at PHP 150, which goes to the sustainenance of the eco-park.
Other attractions in Aklan: Get to know the town’s heritage by visiting Museo It Akean located at the heart of Kalibo.
Antique: Relax at an Outdoor Hot Tub
Known primarily for its legends of the aswang and the mananganggal, Antique is probably the less modernized province in all of Panay Island. Still, its unspoiled provincial feel has its charm. The weak cellular signals and absence of light pollution at night will help you reconnect.
A great way to relax in Antique in Panay Island is going to Kawa Hot Bath. Huge metal basins with fire ignited from the bottom and a potpourri of leaves and flowers floating in the steaming water serve as a hot tub for weary bodies. Even if you kind of look like Soup of the Day, you won’t be the mythical creature’s next meal, promise! The fee for a hot bath is at PHP 250 per person. You can opt to spend the night in Kawa inside bamboo huts starting at PHP 500.
Other attractions in Antique: Go island hopping to Malalison Island and alternate hotsprings with the cold spring of Malumpati. For more information, check out this guide from Taraletsanywhere!
Iloilo: Go on a Mid-Year Visita Iglesia
The city of Iloilo is flocked by Panay Island foreigners during Dinagyang Festival, an annual street party in honor of the Sto. Nino. But even on ordinary days, Iloilo shines with its colonial period churches. One of these churches, the Miag-ao Church, is among the four churches in the Philippines listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for its Baroque architecture.
Aside from Miag-ao, almost each town in Iloilo also has their own old churches and church ruins worth visiting. Just take a commute crawl on the towns of San Joaquin, Molo, Jaro, Guimbal, Tigbauan, Pavia, Sta. Barbara, and more to see them.
Other attractions in Iloilo: Taste Iloilo’s signature dishes such as the batchoys of La Paz town and the pancit of Molo town.
Guimaras: Savor the Less-Crowded White Beaches
Home of the sweetest mangoes in the world, Guimaras is also known for their southern white beaches that receive far less traffic than Boracay. It is also located just at the tip of Panay Island, only a 15-minute ferry ride away.
On the Southern part of Guimaras is Alubijod Beach, just one of the white sand wonders you can choose to soak your feet into. You can go island hopping right before the sunset to SEAFDEC, Ave Maria Islet, Baras Cave, and Turtle Island for PHP 500 per person for the first hour, with an additional PHP 150 per hour.
Other attractions in Guimaras: Pass by the hectares of mango plantations and taste local mango pizza!
Capiz: Binge-eat on Seafood
There are more excuses to skip pork and poultry for a few meals when in Capiz, known as the Seafood Capital of the Philippines. An easy way to get your hands to seafood in Panay Island is to go to the Seafood Court at People’s Park Plaza.
Just along the strip of Baybay Beach, which is reminiscent of Manila’s Roxas Boulevard, are clusters of seafood palutuans which serve the freshest catches of the day. Platters of prawns, shrimps, scallops, squids, clams, mussels and more are priced at PHP 100 – 250 per serving that is good for sharing.
Other attractions in Capiz: Go on a short side-trip to Panay Church and see the largest church bell in Panay Island and in Asia.
Traveling around the towns of Aklan, Antique, Iloilo, Guimaras and Capiz is achievable in just five days, and you can extend if you wanted to! A backpacker’s budget of PHP 4,000 per person (and a discipline to not buy trinkets) will suffice for the transportation, hostel stays, food expenses and sightseeing around Panay Island.
So the next time you find yourself itching to go to Boracay, know that there are also great alternatives when you choose the Panay Island route less traveled.
This article was later published at Manila Bulletin‘s Lifestyle Section on February 21.
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