Like the Isla Gigantes in Carles, Iloilo, Mararison Island, got under the tourist radar after Typhoon Haiyan. This little known island just 15 minutes off the mainland of Culasi, Antique used to be enjoyed exclusively by the locals and a few tourist. But soon, word got out, or simply, photos of picturesque hills and an alluring sandbar found in just one island went viral across the net. Being highly accessible from the mainland, the once quiet fishing community now welcomes visitors at their tropical island home.
Also spelled as Malalison Island, the sound when spoken in their local Panay island language, Kinaray-a sounds like an “r” for their “l”. Mararison is part of the three island west of Culasi, Antique. A legend speaks of these three islands as the children of Madya-as and Canlaon. Being stubborn and hard-headed siblings, Bulalakaw, the chief God threw the siblings to the sea one torrentuous night and turned them into the islands. Mararison being the youngest was closest to the mainland, Maniguin being the farthest and Batbatan island being in the middle.
White Beach Lazing
I consider the 55-hectare land area of Mararison Island as having two different sides – the east side and the west side. I had the luxury of visiting the island twice and managed to experience both sides in length. My first visit was a day trip on the island. Jumping off from Culasi after registering at the tourist center near the beach and taking a small outrigger boat to the island. It’s a short 15-minutes. Even from the shore itself the island with its beaming strip of white sand goads onlookers to visit.
I remember my excitement building up as soon as we got close to the sandbar. The rich blue-green waters rendered by the healthy seagrass growth at the seabed. The sand was of grainy and the crush-coral kind but looks good under the sun. Blessed with good weather as well, it was easily tempting to laze on a hammock on at ka-Ronnie’s place where we stayed. We had the fresh slices of blue marlin grilled for lunch and it tasted so good. A little coffee after, then we went to enjoy the beach.
As much as I wanted to sleep the whole afternoon, we simply had to take a dip. For a weekend, it was surprising to find so little people. We almost had the whole sandbar to ourselves. The sandbar doesn’t extend too long, maybe around 50-100 meters estimate. But I heard from a boatman that it used to be longer, even the wideness of the shore. After Typhoon Haiyan, the shoreline had been eaten up considerably.
I had a grand time swimming here as the water was clear, clean and refreshing. The ground quickly drops on the west side of the sandbar where the seagrass are, the sea ground on the eastern side is more gradual albeit rocky, is more swimmable.
Hilly West Side
What makes Mararison Island quite unique from other sandbar islands is it has a hilly landscape on the western side. Facing the open Sulu sea, the battering waves and the wind may have shaped the landscape’s rugged features. From the sandbar, we had to pass by the island community first. The jump-off was after the grade school “Malalison Elementary School”. And from there, it was an easy hike by the side of the hills.
It was a very scenic and enjoyable trail, the view similar to Mt Pulag’s rolling hills but on a smaller scale. What’s fascinating is the abundance of small species of pitcher plants in the area. I’ve seen them grow in forest and highlands but not on a low elevation such as this. More so on an island.
We climbed a viewpoint overlooking the sandbar. It’s also where a transmission tower stands. The trail extends down to the western side where Luyo Beach and Gui-ob Beach are found.
Overnight on the Island
My second visit gave me a chance to spend a night on the island. It was late afternoon and the tide was low that we had to dock directly at Nablag Islet found at the western side. We trudged slowly at the low-tide sticky and sandy shore to Luyo Beach where Enrique de Mararison is found. Our home that night.
It was an interestingly quiet cove, the beach was rocky, not as fantastic as the ones on the eastern side but has a nice secluded charm to it. I guess it’s the exclusivity of the place. Just on the other side of the hill is a small Gui-ob Beach with a shallow cave network. Hiking up the hill from here during sunrise would be recommended. Closer than coming up from the island community town.
Mararison Island is composed of a fishing community. Now also partially into tourism with people working as guides and boatmen during free time. I also saw from the signages that the island is a RARE managed area. An NGO I previously worked with that helps communities manage their natural resources, protected areas, and make them sustainable for their livelihood.
While efforts to conserve the island is there, their close proximity to the mainland may also be a disadvantage. On my second visit, there were some amount of trash at the sandbar swimming area which weren’t there or as plenty before. Trash probably drifted by tides and currents from other areas. A case shared by many mainland-close islands.
Like yin and yang, Mararison Island offers a wonderful stretch of white beach yet also gives hikers a nice trail to wander around. Whether one stays for a day or two, it was an island getaway that’s quite enjoyable for its simple and tropical island life. No high-end resorts or dining places, but a bucolic island experience, nature and friendly people to interact with.
Going to Mararison Island
There are several entry points going to Culasi, Antique, the jump-off point for Mararison Island:
- By Air: Philippine Airlines now has direct flights to Antique. They fly three times a day to San Jose Airport from Clark Airport. From San Jose, it’s a 2 hours travel time by road to Culasi. You can catch a bus at the terminal coming from Iloilo to Pandan or Culasi directly.
- Kalibo and Caticlan: Catch a bus heading to Culasi. Travel time is 2 hours. Fare is P110.
There are at least 145 households in the community and at least 40 of them are trained for homestay accommodation. Homestays starts at P250 per night. Do note that the island has limited water supply and electricity. So conserve water.
We stayed at Enrique de Mararison, the lone resort at Luyo Beach. The resort is powered by solar and generator, but electricity fluctuates and also suffers from limited water. Rate starts at P1,500 for a room good for six which includes boat transfers from mainland at Unidos Beach Resort, breakfast and island fees.
Culasi Tourism is quite organized. Just head to their office near the port to register and hire/join boats to the island.
- Terminal Fee: P10
- Environmental Fee: P30
- Boat ride from Culasi Port to the Island and back: P750 good for 5 pax
- Island Tour Guide: P250
- Boat transfers from east to west of the island (or vice versa): P200
- Boat for snorkeling: P200
- Mask and Snorkel: P100
For hassle-free tours on Mararison Island, you may contact one of the following travel tour companies in Panay Island: Las Islas Travel and Tours and Katahum Tours at their respective Facebook pages.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.