Off the Beaten Path: Ticao Island, Masbate

Bulan Port, Sorsogon
Bulan Port, Sorsogon

It is a long road to Ticao Island. Mine began with a badly planned Bicol-bound bus ride from Manila, which had me sandwiched between a hairy guy wearing shorts and a petite woman who used me as a pillow all night in a non-airconditioned bus. That was an uncomfortable 12 hours. From Legaspi City, it’s another 4 hours to San Jacinto, Ticao Island, Masbate. I needed to hop from a Sorsogon-bound van to a jeep for Bulan, and finally a boat for San Jacinto. From there, it’s just another 30 minutes on motorbike to get to Ticao Island Resort, the leading resort on the island and the only one with a dive center. Effort, no?

Ticao Island
Ticao Island

But it’s all worth it. Ticao Island is a beautiful escape. Imagine a long stretch of gold and blue, its pristine sandy beach and clear waters; and, you’re the only one there. The beach has strategically-placed hammocks that are perfect for mid-afternoon siestas. Relax and read a book. Enjoy a peaceful retreat in an idyllic setting. Ticao Island is no Boracay – thank goodness!

Off the Dive Trail

Ticao Island Resort
Ticao Island Resort

One of the first things that Jessica, operations manager at Ticao Island Resort, told me was that Ticao Island is still an undiscovered beach hideaway. They have a 30% yearly occupancy, made up mostly of Europeans and Australians who arguably have days to lose in the region’s commuter maze. Very few locals come to the island to dive.

Ticao is indeed a long way out when you go by land and sea. Getting to Legaspi City by air is the less tiring option. But, if you’re looking for the same things that I do in a vacation – a nice beach, good diving and snorkeling options, and some peace and quiet – Ticao Island is worth the trip.

Manta Bowl, Ticao Island, Masbate
Manta at Manta Bowl, Ticao Island, Masbate

The main reason divers go and stay at Ticao Island is Manta Bowl, a dive site along Ticao Pass and Burias Pass that was discovered and developed by Ticao Island Resort co-manager Rico Calleja and his dive colleagues. The shoal is a cleaning station for manta rays because of its cleaner wrasse population. The possibility of seeing these graceful creatures is good during manta season (May to October). The waters of Ticao Pass and Burias Pass are rich in plankton so there’s also a good chance of seeing other pelagics, like whalesharks, tiger sharks and hammerheads.

Manta Bowl is a drift dive, with currents that average 6 knots. You need to use reef hooks at stops where you wait for mantas. You should at least be an Advanced certified diver, and have done a handful of drift dives before trying this one.

Should you want a less intense dive, check out the San Miguel dive sites near the famed Halea Retreat and Nature Park. This is a good relaxing dive, which offers an abundance of critters and other small fish. When in season, you can swim with baby sharks at Halea.

For Non-Divers
You don’t need to be a diver to enjoy your stay at Ticao Island Resort.

Ticao Island mangrove forest
Exploring the mangroves on a native boat

If you stay at Ticao Island Resort, you can spend the day exploring the field on horseback or checking out the nearby mangroves on a native boat – free of charge.

Ticao Island Horseback Riding
Explore the field on horseback

You can also commission a local motorbike driver to take you on a land tour of Ticao. Make sure to know about the places first. My motorbike guy couldn’t give me suggestions when I asked for a land tour itinerary. Places of interest include: Halea Nature Park and Matangtubig Spring in Monreal, and the biggest mangrove tree in Bongsalay Mangrove Forest Reserve, Barangay Royroy, Batuan.

cockfighting PhilippinesFor the most part, I would want to stay at the resort when not diving. Aside from taking it slow, you can explore the barangays on either side of the resort. The one on the resort’s left has cock fighting tournaments every Saturday. I went one time and it was a good immersion experience.

How to Get to Ticao Island
If you’re coming from Manila, take a bus or plane to Legaspi City. Most buses leave Pasay or Cubao at 8PM. Make sure to make reservations if you want to get on a comfortable bus with lazyboy seats.

From Legaspi, take a van to the ports of Pilar or Bulan in Sorsogon. Pilar has daily boats for Monreal, Masbate. Last boat is at 12NN. Ticao Island Resort is an hour away by motorbike from Monreal. Bulan port is the better option if you aren’t sure about getting to the port by lunch time. The port has daily trips to San Jacinto, Masbate, which is around 30 minutes away by motorbike from the resort.

Where to Eat

Barbecued chicken, fish sarciado, bamboo shoots salad
Barbecued chicken, fish sarciado, bamboo shoots salad

I stayed at Ticao Island Resort and your daily rate there is inclusive of three meals a day. The lady-cook is awesome. Masarap lagi pagkain!

You get a big bowl of soup, two meat dishes (usually pork and fish), a vegetable dish, rice and dessert. And my plate is always heaping! I’ve had to request for just a third of the rice, instead of the the usual serving. I’d be too full sometimes that I’d request to skip desserts… except if it’s their home-made ice cream.

So, don’t skip the ice cream. And, do try out their breakfast bread. That’s also made in-house by the cook.

Where to Stay
I stayed at Ticao Island Resort, the best place in the island if you go there to dive and enjoy a quiet beach. Value for your money. The cabins are big and clean, and have comfortable porches. The bathrooms are also big and have modern fixtures. I love the hammocks!

Options include Altamar Resort, a high-end resort 15 minutes away from Ticao Island Resort. I’ve heard bad reviews about the food there though so I can’t vouch for it. Try it – maybe the people I talked to are just biased.

A low-key cheaper place is the Tacdugan Beach Lodge, which is just 5 minutes away from Ticao Island Resort. The place is located in the barangay at the right of the resort.

Links and Contact Information
Ticao Island Resort
http://www.ticao-island-resort.com/
info@ticao-island-resort.com

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