Corregidor Island, one of the most important and celebrated places of battle in the Pacific Theatre during World War 2- now that guns are finally silent, the island serves as a distinct destination for people of all ages and walks of life in order to understand, learn and appreciate the courage and bravery of Filipinos amidst the indescribable horrors of war.
Corregidor Island is a small rocky tadpole-shaped island of volcanic origin guarding the mouth of Manila Bay- remnants of Corregidor Caldera, a volcano last active 1 million years ago was the site of the fiercest battles of World War 2 between the Allied forces (Filipinos, Americans) and the Japanese Imperial Army.
The thing with Corregidor Island is, it’s mainly a history destination, the island does not have the amenities for a resort-type vacation- I figured that it would give the Philippines a different face other than being a purely beach destination. One of the most common misconceptions about the Philippines is there is not much culture and history in the country for first-time travelers.
Tours to Corregidor Island begin by jumping on a boat leaving from the small jetty at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines on Roxas Boulevard in Manila. The terminal is a small cramped building right next to the posh Manila Yacht Club. Usually, it is best to get a package tour from a licensed tour agency or one can purchase it from the terminal. There are usually two tour options, one can pick a day tour (which would usually be around PhP1500-PhP2000++) which most tourists do, or have an overnight stay in the island. Overnight stays should be booked in advance. There are limited accommodations on the tiny island at the elegant but unassuming Filipino-Spanish-style Corregidor Hotel. Usually lunches for the day tour are held on its airy verandah.
Image by storm-crypt
A day tour would usually include a trip on colorful Spanish-era coaches called “tramvias” with a choice of English-speaking, Tagalog-speaking and Japanese speaking guides (Japanese-speaking guides usually sanitize the history being dished out to the busloads of aging Japanese tourists that come to the island- minimizing the atrocities of war that the Japanese Imperial Army committed against the Filipinos and other nationalities during the war – a fact that still brings a stinging commentary to the continuing denial of the Japanese government in its own version of what happened during the horrible period) that are very much well-versed in the island’s tumultuous history (With Koreans, it was a different story, a local guide acknowledged the fact that apparently according to most Philippine and Western historians- the cruelest prison guards were hired Korean guards who took up the opportunity to escape the brutality of Japanese oppression in their own backyard.). The trip has scheduled stops around the famous sites of the island, although, if one must get away from the crowd, try approaching the guides if one can hire a car and a guide to go around.
Corregidor Island was named from the Spanish word “Corregir” which means “to correct”- all ships that sailed into the Philippine capital city of Manila had to pass through Corregidor for the required check and correction of papers, the island was also used to signal the Manila government of the coming of hostile ships (although another version claims that the island was used as a penitentiary and corrections institution- which probably explains another affectionate nickname for the island- the Rock- reminiscent of the notorious Alcatraz), thus, the Spaniards called the biggest island of the five islands straddling the bay between the shores of the provinces of Bataan in the north and Cavite in the south – “Isla del Corregidor” – “Island of Corrections”.
The Rock was a key bastion of the Allied Forces during the war. When the Japanese Imperial Army descended upon the Philippines in December 1941 immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Gen. Douglas MacArthur carried out a delaying action at Bataan and the island became the operations center of the Allies as well as the de-facto seat of the Philippine Commonwealth government. It was from the island that Philippine President Manuel Quezon and General MacArthur fled for Australia in February 1942 with Lt. Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright left in command.
After the fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942, the Filipino and American forces held out at Corregidor for 27 days against the greatest odds. Alas, May 6, 1942 saw their rations depleted; the Allied forces surrendered Corregidor to Lt. Gen. Homma Masaharu of the Japanese Imperial Army after having successfully halted the Japanese advance on Australia. It was two years and ten months later in March 1945 when General MacArthur recaptured Corregidor.
Disappearing Gun, Image by storm-crypt
The island is divided into three parts: Topside, Middleside, and Bottomside. The topside consists mostly of the fortifications and is where most batteries are located, the most famous bunch of which are Battery Way (which was named in honor of 2nd Lieutenant Henry N. Way of the 4th U.S. Artillery who died in service in the Philippines in 1900; this battery was built at a cost of $112,969US and completed in 1914), Battery Geary (which was named in honor of Capt. Woodbridge Geary of the 13th U.S. Infantry who died in 1899 in the Philippines; this was built at a cost of $145,198US and completed in 1907), Battery Crockett (one of the 6 “disappearing guns” that formed an interlocking field of fire encircling Corregidor- it is armed with 2 12-inch seacoast guns that are mounted on a “disappearing” carriages behind a concrete parapet , Battery Hearn and Battery Grubbs (which was named in honor of 1st Lieutenant Hayden Y. Grubbs who belonged to the 6th U.S. Infantry and who died during the Philippine-American War in 1899, built at a cost of $212,397US and completed in 1909). Building the guns of Corregidor was massive and one of the biggest American military expenditures in the world during its time- a timely move to protect its interests in the region.
The Topside also plays host to the most photographed part of Corregidor, the now-ghostly remains of the Topside Barracks also known as the Mile-Long Barracks – a three-storey structure that is about 1,520 feet long (not exactly a mile, although, if you run all the three floors from end to end, it does come to almost to a mile.) If you are on a package tour, the tramvia would usually stop at the Pacific War Memorial, a few meters away from the Mile-Long Barracks. Once, the tramvia stops- run over to the Mile-Long Barracks to walk around it and take photos– and literally RUN- Tramvias leave almost on the dot, and there are no taxis on this island. After you are done with the photos, head back immediately to the Pacific War Memorial. It has a museum that houses interesting war regalia and paraphernalia – from American flags with bloodstains to Japanese katanas and Commonwealth-era coins. There are two major memorial structures one of which is the “Eternal Flame of Freedom” (left), a tall steel structure erected to commemorate the hopes, struggles, sacrifices and aspirations of the Philippines and the United States. This is located on a raised concrete platform at the rear of the circular altar, and affords a stunning view of Manila Bay, Bataan Peninsula and the Cavite shorelines. The other major memorial structure is the circular altar which is covered by a dome with a whole on the ceiling- according to guides; sunlight falls directly on the altar once a year.
Other notable structures in the area are the ruins of Cine Corregidor (a former cinema), the Spanish lighthouse (the highest point of the island), the Spanish flagpole, the expansive parade grounds and officers’ quarters.
The Middleside meanwhile is home to the ruins of the Middleside Barracks, and Army Hospital as well as to a YMCA and the Youth for Peace campsite, an aviary that houses endemic and foreign varieties of birds and the Filipino-American Friendship Park. A visiting American might be overwhelmed how Filipinos value this friendship- a friendship that sometimes, to Filipinos, feels unreciprocated by the Americans. The Filipinos are still waiting for the return of the two church bells looted by American soldiers during the Philippine-American war from the island of Samar.
The Bottomside is where the docks are located, including the Lorcha Dock where MacArthur uttered his famous message “I Shall Return”. Whether MacArthur indeed meant to return is the stuff of debates between war historians. One thing was for sure, MacArthur would have wanted to return to Manila since it was an open secret that he kept a mistress at the Manila Hotel. The Japanese Garden of Peace as well as other parks is located in this area. Just east of the Bottomside is the Malinta Tunnel (left)– a tunnel 835 feet in length (East-West Passage), 24 feet wide and 18 feet tall. The tunnel has been dug out of solid rock under Malinta Hill (elevation -390 feet). There is an optional tour through the tunnel- usually with a light and sound show that dramatizes the events that happened in the Philippines and specifically on the island. The tunnel served as the headquarters of the US Armed Forces in the Far East during this time and was effectively shielded from the massive bombardment.
You must be a history buff with a huge interest in the events of World War 2 in the Pacific. For sons and daughters of the war veterans, it is an emotional and learning experience. For the young, it serves as a painful reminder of what a war can bring to humankind.
Why Not Go Corregidor?
Corregidor is not a place for historical kitsch, and overly loud conversations are frowned upon. It is not a beach destination either, although apparently there is one that was advertised right next to a former concentration camp although most visitors to the island do not necessarily stop there. It is just bad taste.
Best Time to Go
Anytime is the best time to go to Corregidor, just be sure to check any weather disturbances in the area before going, as the seas could turn rough- you may have to stay overnight if suddenly a storm comes up. Supplies to the island are ferried. Hotels run on generators basically. We didn’t see any ATMs on the island- so bring extra cash with you to cover emergencies.
Where & What to Eat
Either you bring your own food or have your food at the Corregidor Hotel. Meals at the Corregidor Hotel are decidedly a mix of Filipino and Continental cuisines.
The meals at Corregidor Hotel are included with the tour package so you dont need to pay extra for meals- and it is usually buffet. Some people though, especially those on a tight budget can opt budget or on school tours usually bring food with them or if the meals are to be taken with another place aside from the Corregidor Hotel it has to be arranged with the tour agent in advance. For convenience sake, Coregidor Tour + meals, which almost always end up at the Corregidor is the best way to go. If one is looking for haute cuisine found in Makati’s posh restaurants- you will not find it there. No sushi or coq au vin in the menu last time I checked…
Corregidor Hotel is by far the best option to stay in the island and seems the only center of activity in the island at night. Food is passable, not spectacular, but good enough. Don’t expect haute cuisine here, but it does the job and the staff are friendly and attentive. Book your suite in advance if you plan to stay overnight. The architecture is Filipino-Spanish and there is an in-house artist that can do a quick sketch of your portrait while you wait.
Hotel is perfect for everyone. Families with kids are fine here as well.
Most travel guides would advise that Corregidor Hotel is the only inn in the island (and as told by the travel guide himself), but further research turns up quite a smattering of other places like the Corregidor Cove Cafe (basic accommodation- Bottomside); Sea Calm Inn (at the hill between Middleside and Bottomside); MacArthur’s Café (near the Lorcha Dock) and camping at South Beach (PhP50person- bring in your gear just in case). These are other options you may want to explore with your tour operator and in this case Sun Cruises to verify the quality and the exact price of these accommodations.
The best place for a nightlife or what seems like it is a peaceful drink of beer at the restaurant of Corregidor Hotel. Don’t expect clubs here.
#1Have picture taken at the Mile-Long Barracks. *
#2Explore the Malinta Tunnel. At night.**
#3Hike through the steep trail drilled through the dense tropical forest.*
#4Ride the tramvia!
#5See the sunrise from the Bottomside and sunset at the Topside.**
#6Go ghost-hunting at the ruins of the old hospital.**
#7Check out the markers of Jabidah Massacre- one of the events that sparked the ongoing Muslim rebellion in Mindanao (ask your guide about this- this is not included with the official tour package.)*
*- Highly Recommended
**- Recommended by Locals
There was an essential tip when travelling to Corregidor (especially on a group tour) – When stopping by a tourist site (say any of the batteries) – don’t go in the same direction of the entire group. Go opposite. This would give you better chances of getting good relatively people-free photographs. That’s what we did, so we basically had less people on any our shots.
Stay Away From
1. Mosquitoes! – just bring bug repellent to be sure
2. Stray animals: monkeys – rabies is prevalent all over the Philippines. Monkeys apparently inhabit this island, and we doubt there is proper control of these animals.
3. Don’t stray too much from your guide especially when hiking around the island – Corregidor was the second most bombed island in the world after Malta, even until now, vintage bombs turn up all over the Philippines, one cannot be too sure that an innocent looking rusty, metallic thing won’t blow up when you hit it hard enough. Some people do find old coins or bullets. (You can see the bullet marks in the picture on the left.)
Sun Cruises virtually cornered the tourism market for Corregidor and unless you hire a yacht to sail to Corregidor, you don’t have any choice but go with them. There are trips daily unless advised otherwise. Please visit their website for bookings and further information.
Most, if not all, package tours regardless of which tour agent you will go through will arrange it with Sun Cruises as they have the monopoly of the entire Corregidor Package Tour- all the boats there if I am not mistaken are owned and/or operated by Sun Cruises.
CCP Terminal A, CCP Complex
Roxas Boulevard, Manila
(02) 8318140 /(02) 8346857 to 58
Ryan supports socially and environmentally responsible and sustainable tourism, as well as the promotion of the Philippines as an alternative Asian tourist destination.
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