Marinduque is an island province at the geographical center of the Philippines touted as an accessible and affordable alternative to Boracay. Find yourself embracing nature’s innate beauty and basking in the island’s rich and colorful history and cultural heritage without the hassle of distance and cost.
Marinduque. What do we usually know of it? Usually, this island province is associated with the Moriones Festival, the trademark revelry and tourist magnet of the island. For some, Marinduque is also a reminder of a grim past when mining was an important industry in the island – an industry which took a toll on its environment and locals. But there is more to Marinduque than just Moriones and mining. It is a treasure trove of suprising and awesome finds.
The island province of Marinduque is part of the MIMAROPA Region (Region IV-B) of the Philippines situated some 11 miles (18 kilometers) from the capital Manila. It lies in the northern portion of the Sibuyan Sea, bounded by Quezon Province in the north and east, by Mindoro Island and Batangas Province in west and Romblon Province to the south. This island of volcanic origin has a population of almost 230,000 (as of 2007) and is sub-divided into six municipalities: Boac (the capital), Mogpog, Gasan, Buenavista, Torrijos, and Santa Cruz.
Photo by ederic
The locals owe the origins and the name of the island to the legend of Marina and Garduke – two lovers whose romance ended tragically. It is said that Garduke, a prince from the nearby kingdom of Balayan (now Batangas) fell in love with Marina, the daughter a local chieftain the kingdom of Tayabas. Their parents were opposed to their love and so they sought to elope by going out to sea where they perished and eventually their remains formed the island which bears their names.
Historically, though, the name Marinduque came from the Latinization of local place names by the Spanish who found it hard to pronounce Tagalog. When the Spanish at the command of Martin de Goiti and Juan Salcedo arrived at Marinduque in 1569 after a successful conquest of Mindoro and Romblon, they caught sight of island’s tallest point, Mt. Malindig. After conquering the island province, they named it after Mt. Malindig whose name they Latinized for better pronunciation. Since the 17th century, Marinduque has been part of Mindoro province (the two still has cultural links today as evidenced by an existing trade route between Gasan and Pinamalayan town in Mindoro Oriental). But it also forged relations with the nearby Quezon province and the islands in Romblon. During the American period, it finally enjoyed independence as a separate province. It became witness to the wartime struggles during the Filipino-American War (1899-1902) particularly in the Battle of Pulang Lupa between Col. Maximo Abad and Capt. Deverieux Shields, and during the Second World War wherein the province was known for its stiff resistance to Japanese imperialism.
Today, Marinduque is known for farming, fishing and tourism, the last being seen as the next catalyst for development in the province. One industry that bloomed in the island in the past is mining. However, the industry came to a halt during the Marcopper Mining Disaster of 1995 when mining company Marcopper allowed at least 80 million metric tons of copper mine tailings to leak into the Boac River and into the sea destroying the island’s vast network of marine life and endangering the lives of almost 4,500 locals who thrive in the rivers and seas for their livelihood. But more than a decade since the disaster, the island is struggling to rise up from its past through endeavors in tourism. In the 90s up to the present, the island gained popularity among tourists for its annual Moriones Festival (see article on Moriones Festival). However, in recent years, the six towns of Marinduque have also adopted new forms of celebrations and revelries to cater to the influx of local and foreign visitors. Two of these festivals are the Kangga Festival in Mogpog and Bila-Bila Festival in Boac.
Hospitality and friendliness are a common trait among Marinduquenos. Local and foreign tourists alike are treated to a warm and generous welcome called putong (which literally means crowning or crown) wherein crowns are placed at new-comers together with the traditional singing and dancing, giving of palms and coin tosses to attract good luck for visitors. Each village has come up with its own version of the putong in recent years. In some areas, the putong is even thought to have healing effects on the sick.
The Best of Marinduque
Marinduque is a treasure trove of exquisite natural beauty. This island of 370 square miles is dotted with various white sand beaches, well-preserved diving sites, enchanting caves, rejuvenating hot springs and tranquil islets that provide for the perfect getaway. The best beaches in island can be found in Boac, in the barangays of Balaring, Caganhao, Cawit, Ihatub and Laylay. The fine white sand beach in Barangay Poctoy in Torrijos town is breath-taking, as well as the beaches at Maniwaya Island in Sta.Cruz town. Most of these beaches are situated in local resorts and spas which offer rooms for tourists at affordable rates. Some resorts also have equipment for watersports such as snorkeling, windsurfing and diving.
Photo by Nicklai
Being an island of volcanic origin, hot springs are a common feature in the island. The hot springs of Malbog in Buenavista town offers tourists a rejuvenating experience similar to that of Beppu in Japan and Los Banos in Laguna. Hot spring resorts in the area offer swimming pools warmed by hot water from underground, cottages, rooms and camping grounds for campers. The waters from these springs are said to be of medicinal qualities, perfect for health conscious individuals. If you are not into springs, you can also try the island’s crystal clear waterfalls. Bulusukan Falls in Barangay Bagtingon, Buenavista is nestled in a natural forest inhabited by endemic butterflies. Paadjao Cascades in Barangay Bocboc, Mogpog, meanwhile offers a trek to the source of its refreshing water.
Caves are also a natural feature of the island. Spelunking enthusiasts may find Bathala Caves in Sta. Cruz and Tarug Caves in Mogpog a thrilling experience as the local legend add to the enchantment of these subterranean masterpieces. For diving enthusiasts, the best dive sites in the island can be found in Buenavista town in the vicinity of the Tres Reyes Islands, three uninhabited islets named after the three Magi. Another majestic dive site is the waters in the vicinity of Polo, Maniwaya and Mongpong Islands in Sta. Cruz. For history buffs, you might find a tour of the various Spanish era churches, the site of the Battle of Pulang Lupa and the Luzon Datum of 1911 (a 1906 USGS marker signifying the center of the Philippines) intriguing.
Photo by storm-crypt
Why Not Go
If you are a tourist looking for good company and awesome nightlife in a tourist destination, then Marinduque is not the place for you. There are no clubs, bars and discos in the island to enjoy. There is limited access to water sports as not all resorts offer such amenities. If you can find a resort that has one then good for you; But if not then you might want to consider before going. The roads are not good in Marinduque although it stretches through out the whole island. If you plan to bring a vehicle or commute, you might find the land and sea travel uneasy.
This is the closest thing to Boracay or Palawan that you can find affordable and closest to Manila. With the wide array of activities in store for you, you can’t get wrong with your decision. Accommodations are flexible as you have a spectrum of places to choose from beginning with the affordable to the high-end. The locals are friendly and easy to get along with – a big advantage for those who want to embrace to local history and culture.
Best Time to Visit
For most tourists who want to see the Moriones Festival, the best time to go to Marinduque is during the Lenten Season which usually starts in the Philippines at the last week of March or the first week of April. The height of the festival usually occurs around this time wherein all the six municipalities showcase their own version of the festival. After Lent, the months of April and May are also witness to other festivals such as the Kangga, the Gasang-Gasang and the May Flower Festival. History and culture appear more vibrant and colorful at this point in time. Also, airline and ferry fares usually go cheaper at this time of the year to cater to the influx of tourists.
There is a spectrum of places to choose from in Marinduque, from the high-end to the affordable. For tourists who just want to splurge on their money, try the newly-opened 6-star Bellarocca Island Resort and Spa located at Elephant Island (formerly Isla Perro) in Buenavista town. Guests are treated in this resort in a very Mediterranean way that resembles the vibe of the Greek island of Santorini. Amenities include seaside pools and Jacuzzis, a 9-hole golf course, a function/dining hall and bar. From the Marinduque airport, guests are transported to the island via a private yacht or helicopter. Rooms and terraces cost from $350-1,100 (food not included). For reservations you can call (+632) 817-4211/ (+632) 328-8831 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For tourists who are keen on keeping their budget, there are affordable choices. Eastpoint Hotel by the Sea: (042) 332-22-29 and the Boac Hotel: (042) 332-1121 or 332-2065 (both in Boac) offer air-conditioned rooms with toilet and bath, WI-FI service, function halls and coffee shops. Rooms should be around P600-1500 a night. There are also other affordable resorts, inns and hotels in all six municipalities.
Where & What to Eat
There are many restaurants, cafes and bakeshops in Boac, Sta. Cruz and Torrijos that serve Filipino food. Most hotels also do catering to guests for an additional fee. You can try their own version of dinuguan (pork meat cooked in chicken/pig blood) which includes a hint of coconut milk. Try the tasty uraro (arrow root) cookies as snacks and souvenirs. But for visitors with a very discriminating palate, two restaurants in Gasan offer a variety of dishes. Barbarossa Pub (042) 342-1383 serves international cuisine while Ristorante D’I Jose (042)342-1426 serves Italian and Chinese aside from the usual Filipino cuisine.
There are various drinking establishments in Marinduque especially in Boac that mostly cater to the locals. There are also karaoke pubs scattered around town. But there no clubs and bars that feature dancing and revelry. So if you are looking for nightlife here, you might find yourself disappointed.
Photo by ompoint59
1. See the Moriones Festival and don the costumes of the Roman soldiers.
2. Go diving at Poctoy Beach in Torrijos.
3. For mountaineers, scale the heights of the tallest mountain here, Mt. Malindig.
4. Go island hopping at Balanacan Bay in Mompog.
5. Snorkel around the waters of the Tres Reyes Islands.
6. Dip into the hot springs of Malbog in Buenavista.
7. Join the ritual putong and discover its healing effects.
8. Enjoy the exclusive first class treatment of Bellarocca Island Resort and Spa.
9. Buy uraro cookies as souvenirs.
10. Take a historical tour of the Marinduque churches.
Stay Away From
Marinduque is one of the safest places in the country with an almost zero crime rate. However, this no reason to don your prized possessions in public so refrain from doing so. At the port of Balanacan in Mompog, avoid entrusting your luggage to non-official luggage handlers as you might end up losing your luggage. When traveling, never trust drivers who offer you a ride around Marinduque for a steep price. Always ask and negotiate for fares before agreeing to board a vehicle. Never leave your valuables inside your hotel room when you plan to go out and stroll.
BY AIR – Zest Air (formerly Asian Spirit) offers affordable flights from Manila to Marinduque four times a week with discounted fees ranging from almost P500-P1300 and regular rates for P1400-P4200. Travel time is around 45 minutes.
BY LAND AND SEA – From Araneta Bus Terminal in Cubao take buses that leave for Talao-Talao Port in Lucena City, Quezon. The fare should be around P140-P160. If you are bound for the eastern side of the island, take a ferry for Buyabod Port in Sta. Cruz. If you are bound for the western side of the island, take a ferry for Balanacan Port in Mompog. Fares should be around P350-500. If you plan to take a vehicle, you can load it up a roll on-roll off (RORO) ferry. Montenegro Shipping has a 4-storey RORO that leaves Lucena for Cawit port in Boac daily.
BY BUS (DIRECT ROUTE) – Jac Liner Incorporated, the biggest bus operator in Southern Tagalog offers direct bus routes from their terminals in Kamias, Quezon City and Buendia, Pasay to Buenavista, Marinduque. For reservations call (02) 404-2073.
Epi Fabonan is a history teacher with a wide array of background on local history and geography. He loves to travel and document his adventures through photo-essays, slideshows and short films.