The sight of the Calamian Group of islands dotting the ocean welcomed us as our plane prepared to descend. The landscape below was a gradient of sea, shifting from a rich turquoise to powdery blue before morphing into rolling forest green hills. If I had thought the view from above was stunning, I would soon find out that it was nothing compared to the view from below.
After a (hot) afternoon of walking around the Coron town proper, hiking up Mt. Tapyas to catch the sunset, and biking to Maquinit Hot Springs the next morning, we were all ready to cool down and explore the water-based attractions that Coron is well-known for.
Elee of Kawil Tours, our guide for the trip, met us at our Pension House & brought us to the public market so we could buy supplies for our overnight stay at the beach. Then we headed to the Kawil Tours boat docked at the port all ready to set on our adventure around Coron and Culion.
Judging by the number of tour operators, restaurants, hotels and establishments in town, you can tell that Coron is a very popular tourist destination. Its neighbor Culion, meanwhile is still a bit off the tourist radar, which immediately made it of special interest to me. Through a series of fortunate events a few months ago, I got to meet the Manila-based founders of Kawil Tours including Jun Tibi, Guido Sarreal & Fr. Xavier Alpasa SJ and have since been determined to set foot on the island.
Kawil Tours is Culion’s lone tour operator. While most tour operators in Coron offer full-packed day trips to several sites, they offer a more laid-back and authentic experience around the islands beyond the usual sights. The thing about package tours is that you are often lumped with a bunch of strangers and get to spend 30 minutes to an hour at each site before rushing to the next destination.
But if you’re after quality experiences and have time to spare, booking a tour with Kawil Tours is a great way to explore the islands of Coron and Culion. Their service is top-notch and what’s great is that the guides are really passionate about what they do. They don’t treat the trips as purely a business, but as a social enterprise.
Our first destination was Kayangan Lake, one of Coron’s most popular sites. The towering limestone cliffs and hills along the way was one long panoramic postcard and I just sat back and enjoyed the view. There’s really something about being at sea that’s so relaxing. I always enjoy long boat rides because it gives me time to think and reflect.
The crystal clear waters as we docked our boat at the wooden walkway leading to Kayangan Lake would please even the most jaded traveler. Like many sites around Coron Island and its surrounding waters, Kayangan Lake is part of the ancestral domain of the indigenous Tagabanua people. Entrance fees go towards the Tagbanua Tribe of Coron Island Association Inc. (TICIA).
After a short but steep hike up, we reached a lookout point. The most photographed site of Kayangan is actually a view of the sea from an elevated cliff on the way to the lake, and not the actual lake. With trees framing an island in the background surrounded by clear waters and the tiny boats below, it’s a perfect shot everytime.
Then, we headed down to the lake itself for some snorkeling, which is always a relaxing activity. Kayangan Lake is said to be the cleanest lake in the country. Visitors can see some surreal and interesting rock formations underwater. There’s even a small chamber in the rocks that you can swim to. The small cave is illuminated by a ray of light from a hole in the rocks above, which bathes the place in a serene and almost mystical glow.
From there, we proceeded to Twin Lagoons. The outer lagoon provides a docking area for boats while the inner one can only accessed by passing through a cave-like passage. If it’s low tide, you can swim and pass under a small opening in the rocks. If it’s high tide, there’s also a short ladder on the rock formations that you can climb up to jump into the water below.
The lagoon was deceptively larger than it looked. We snorkeled around, trying to swim to a small sign in between two rocks on the other side of the entrance. Swimming there and back to the boat felt like a great workout. We boarded the boat again, passing by some other islands where flocks of people were swimming near the shores, on our way to our last destination for the day – Malcapuya Island.
As the sun set, I thought about life in Manila. If I were back there, I would have probably been either stuck in traffic or sitting in front of the computer, randomly clicking away at Facebook, most probably envious of everyone else who seemed to be enjoying their life. But for the moment, as the sun cast a warm glow on the landscape and the island loomed in the distance, I felt at peace.