I have long been intrigued by the island of Culion. I’ve heard of stories from intrepid travelers who have gone there of how amazingly beautiful the islands and the waters are and how warmly the people welcome them wherever they go. It’s not a surprise, since many of its inhabitants were cast off by their own families onto the island. Visitors are rare so they are warmly welcomed by all the locals.
Unlike more well-known destinations in Palawan like Puerto Princesa, Coron, and El Nido, Culion, on the northernmost tip of Palawan in the Calamian Archipelago, is mostly known for being a former leper colony. While the cure for leprosy was developed in the 1980’s and the island has been declared leprosy-free by the World Health Organization (WHO), the stigma has somewhat remained. Its isolation for more than a century has kept the island understandably off the tourist radar.
But Culion is slowly emerging from its dark past. With its rich history and raw, natural beauty that has remained untouched for decades, there is something about this mysterious island that appeals to travelers looking for something different.
Helping the people emerge from this stigma of the island and achieve community empowerment is Kawil Tours (The Coron-Culion Palwan Expeditions), a group managed by young and dynamic operators and partners who believe that promoting tourism on the island will help provide livelihood and progress for the island and its people. Kawil Tours works with locals from the island in operating historical, cultural and island-hopping tours there. Thanks to an invitation of Pepi Casas of Rotary Club Makati East last week, I got to learn more about Kawil Tours from their Manila-based co-founders Guido Sarreal and Jun Tibi together with mentor and advocate Fr. Xavier Alpasa, SJ.
According to Fr. Alpasa, Kawil Tours aims to go beyond the usual concept of tourism. Instead of a typical vacation, they offer meaningful journeys on the island and advocate responsible travel. Meals served to travelers are prepared by partner families, guests get to stay in small hotels/inns managed by residents, and the tours provide income to owners of local stores and tour guides. Every tour around the town and the island is considered a personal journey for the tour operators, the travelers, and the community.
In order to increase its presence as a tour operator, Kawil Tours is presently raising funds for their own tour boat, which will grant more freedom for guests to journey and explore the neighboring islands of Culion. They are harnessing the power of social media through crowdfunding site The Spark Project to raise funds to buy their own tour boat. With just two weeks left, they are almost at their target goal of Php 300,000! They just need to raise less than Php 50k in order to provide more meaningful journeys on the island. If anyone is interested in donating online to this very worthy cause, visit the site: The Spark Project: Kawil Tours Tour Boat. For those interested in visiting Culion for themselves, check out Kawil Tour’s Facebook page for upcoming Advent Retreats, Volontourism trips and package tours for meaningful journeys.
All photos courtesy of RadManila Communications, Inc. (formerly Creative Juice\Manila) and Ruben Hamahiga Dela Cruz in The Spark Project Website.