San Jose and Sablayan: The Hidden Gems of Occidental Mindoro

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The Philippines, teeming with its magnificent island destinations is indeed a force to reckon with. Armed with its famous tourist spots and renowned cultural and heritage areas, the archipelago still has tons to offer that are yet to be discovered.

Longest island to island zipline in the World I I Photo by Godwin Josef Gasacao

Lurking beyond the southwest coast of Batangas lies a province that glimmers with a natural luster that even the jaded traveler cannot ignore. Occidental Mindoro, clustered within the MIMAROPA (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan) region is located 15 kilometers from the southwest coast of Luzon.

Photo by Godwin Josef Gasacao

Those who desire to visit the destination could opt to visit the destination through ferry or plane as it is accessible by sea and air. Flights from Manila to San Jose are available from Sunday to Friday and travel time is around one hour. There are also chartered and commuter flights from Manila to Lubang Island that take about 45 minutes. Travelers can likewise take a ferry from Batangas port to Abra de Ilog. Travel time takes about two and a half hours. From Abra de Ilog, there are air-conditioned vans plying the route to Sablayan and San Jose.

The said province also boasts of its tourist destinations that are not found anywhere else. Among those are Apo Reef Marine Park, Tamaraw Gene Pool and Pandan Grande Island.

Apo Reef Natural Park | Drone Shot by Godwin Gasacao

Apo Reef Natural Park
The Apo Reef Natural Park is the largest atoll-like reef in Asia. Dubbed as the diving mecca of the Philippines, this 34-kilometer reef has a narrow channel dividing the reef into two lagoon systems. Beneath the clear water of these lagoons, divers can explore the fine white sand bottom with its colorful array of approximately 400 to 500 coral species.

Photo by Godwin Josef Gasacao

Its crystalline blue waters is a tropical aquarium for almost 500 marine species. Its waters are brimming with colorful fishes, schools of jacks, snappers, barracudas, crevice-dwelling moray eels and gobies. A variety of sharks, stingrays, and manta rays can also be spotted around the area amid gardens of soft and hard corals.

The 29-hectare, white-sand Apo Island is a favorite nesting grounds for hawksbill and green sea turtles. The other two islets are favorite rookeries for migrating birds and an assortment of resident birds, notably the endangered Nicobar Pigeon. Bird-watchers can also visit the fascinating bird-populated islands of Binangaan and Cajos del Bajo, which are also part of the Apo Reef Marine Park.

Hanging Footbridge going to Tamaraw Gene Pool Farm | Photo by Godwin Josef Gasacao.
The Last Captive Taramaraw | Photo by Godwin Josef Gasacao.

Tamaraw Gene Pool Farm
Established in 1980 in Manoot, Rizal, the Tamaraw Gene Pool Farm (GPF) serves as an off-site breeding facility for the tamaraw, scientifically known as Bubalus Mindorensis. The farm facilitates captive breeding purposes while at the same time showcasing the tamaraw’s typical habitat. Under the wing of the Tamaraw Conservation Program (TCP), GPF will also act as Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation, Research and Education Center. It will also serve as a repository to various wildlife species found in Mindoro, especially those confiscated or apprehended from illegal traders and owners. Mindoro island, after all, is home to many endemic species such as the Mindoro Tarictic Hornbill, Mindoro Bleeding-heart pigeon and the Mindoro pine. The center can also be transformed into an ecotourism destination that would serve to educate the public about biodiversity conservation.

Photo by Godwin Josef Gasacao

Pandan Grande Island
The tropical island retreat is among the top resorts of the Philippines. Pandan Grande Island is a 30-hectare islet that has a curving white sand beach dotted with native style cottages which are used as diver’s lodges. The beach isle surrounded by coconut trees contains an unspoiled forest teeming with colorful tropical birds. The beach is popular with snorkelers and divers, as it is located within swimming distance of a submarine drop-off inhabited by schools of reef fish. The said destination also offers a wide range of activities to choose from including scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming, kayaking or just a nature retreat from the noise, hustle and bustle of the urban life. Surprisingly, this island getaway is just a twenty-minute boat ride from the Sablayan mainland.

Photo by Godwin Josef Gasacao

Santissima Trinidad Church
Santisima Trinidad otherwise known as the Holy Trinity Church looks far different from the typical churches found in the Philippines. Located in Ilin Island, the said church was dubbed to be the first permanent place of worship founded by Fr. Fernando Suarez who was known to be a healing priest. The architecture of the Santissima Trinidad resembles that of a Byzantine one, wherein an altar with a total of 40 religious icons including the 12 apostles were seen. The entire building is made up of bricks as inspired by a Romanesque style. All the paintings were imported from Greece following the traditional egg tempera painting.

Photo by Godwin Josef Gasacao

As Occidental Mindoro shines and glistens before the eyes of those who find its beauty, may the locals and tourists alike share its wonder and maintain its glimmer. Like any other hidden gem, the island will continue to flicker with its utmost beam and radiance if the people around it would express their care and concern for the destination, its culture and its inhabitants.

Photographed by Godwin Josef Gasacao

Nathalie Robles
Nathalie Robles

A 20-year old who is passionate about art, music, poetry and travel. She plans to take on the world, one article at a time.

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