Mary has lived in the Philippines for over 40 years and still has a place in this particular beach in Concepcion and enjoys a holiday there.
Concepcion: Philippines' Best Island Hopping Destination
Years ago, we set out from Iloilo to bring food and general help to the typhoon victims around Concepcion. At that time, the roads were almost impassable even without a major storm, so very few people had ever been there and it was just to poke around. If you have a boat, of course, access was much easier as Concepcion is close to Boracay, now the Philippines' most famous island destination. But some good luck from the bad roads and a bit of bad luck from big storms left this piece of paradise quietly to the fishermen and their island families.
Our first trip was to help, so we were busy, but we made a vow to return when we had time to soak in the beauty of the crystal sea, the fantastic snorkeling and seafood. So, one summer (schools close March-May in the Philippines), off we went to Concepcion and what we've discovered made us go there often. In Concepcion as in most of the Philippines, every day is summer. It's been our secret for years, but alas, we've been discovered!
When schools are closed during summer vacation, what do you do with the kids for a month or two? Why not the beach and water sports? Time to learn how to swim, kayak, dive, snorkel and sail. Yes, explore the underwater world and know more about this largely unexplored world to millions of creatures and animals.
Concepcion is not that difficult to get to. The flight from Manila to Iloilo is about an hour and has excellent road links to Concepcion, the beaches and islands and to Iloilo City. In just a 2 hour journey from the airport, heaven unfolds!
The internet destroys isolation and as an outcome of sharing information and experiences, Concepcion and its beaches and ocean park have seen increasing visitors in person. And the two million-plus internet visitors are a hint of the future. This is to be expected as the place is really beautiful and you can rent a boat and swim on a different island each day.
Concepcion Is Still Pristine
The place is still not crowded. Often, you are the only one island hopping or at the most, the two boats doing it. There are no big resorts or towering hotels as many of the islands are either not inhabited except for the caretaker or still owned by fisher families that have been there for generations.
Needless to say, the international resort community has already approached many of them with amazing offers but that would be giving up a way of life and the decision is not easy. So, for now at least, some of them just operate small and really basic simple accommodations, mostly bamboo cottages.
You can come early, have breakfast in the fishing port, rent a boat and captain it, and set up camp on one of the islands to do your Robinson Crusoe imitation. What are you waiting for?
Take note that now some of the islands charge visitors to come and swim on their shores. It is still very cheap and affordable.
Island Hopping Fun
Concepcion is ideal for island hopping as there are many small islands close to each other. Each of these islands has its own personality. Sometimes, the rock formation is different or the habitat. Some are inhabited so you can interact with the people of the islands. They will always tell you about their Typhoon Yolanda experience.
Today, you can see more water life as there is now a Marine Park in the area. Except for the caretaker, some islands are not inhabited. You can claim it for the day unless other island hoppers have the same idea! For a fee, the caretaker will be happy to cook lunch for you. It's seafood galore, fresh and tasty.
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Where Is Concepcion?
Concepcion is a group of islands in Iloilo, a province in the island of Panay in central Philippines. It is in the same islands as Boracay, the most internationally famous beach in the Philippines.
Not Inundated with Tourists
This place has not been inundated with tourists as tour operators have not yet packaged it. There are still not too many facilities for tours so only small groups come. The roads have just been improved so even people in Iloilo have not really been here yet.
Things to Do in Concepcion
There are several activities for you to try out when visiting to make the most of your time on the islands.
1. Go Island Hopping
Island hopping is so much fun in Concepcion. There are 17 islands to visit so you can choose one or two each day.
To go to the islands, you can rent a boat for the day to bring you to wherever you fancy. The rent is around $50 but you can get a smaller one for less. The islands are still open for swimmers although some have charged minimal fees...$1 or less.
The area around Pan de Azucar has been declared a marine sanctuary. There is good swimming around here and very interesting rock formations. There are some very basic accommodations on the island right at Tambaliza beach. You can enjoy yourself with the locals when they celebrate the Tampisaw Festival.
Bulubadiangan has a winding sandbar, an absolute delight for the sunbathers. Agho is a white sand paradise and no one lives there except the caretaker. You can spend a whole day there and enjoy a good swim.
These three islands are often the most visited but there are other islands that are also worth visiting. There is Pulo Pina or Pineapple Island. Some of them are inhabited so you can meet the locals and have some fun with them.
If you stay longer, there are inter-island ferries you can catch and just explore the islands around you.
2. Swim in the Shores of the Islands
Each of the islands is unique so it offers different swimming places. You can even swim from one island to the next. Some islands you have to share with the sea urchins but there's enough space. Some have beautiful white sand sandbars.
Some islands are inhabited and it is interesting to visit and watch the men catch fish. You can go night fishing with them or watch the women as they dry fish.
Depending on the tide, sand bars appear and you can really enjoy a stroll, a read, or a run on the beach.
3. Watch the Sun Rising on the Waters
You can watch the sun rising and enjoy yourself as nature awakens and, once again, lets us know it rules the world.
It is so beautiful and quiet at dawn and often you can enjoy the sunrise on your own. You can always find an isolated place in the beach and contemplate the coming of day.
4. Attend the Tampisaw Festival in Pan de Azucar
The locals celebrate Tampisaw festival in this protected marine area in Pan de Azucar to promote eco-tourism and also to thank the spirits for the bounty of fish and sea food in the area.
Pan de Azucar is an easy climb when you're there. So, for those who want to climb a bit of hill, this is a good one. From the top you can enjoy the breathtaking view of the islands.
5. Snorkel in Concepcion
Concepcion islands offer different experiences for snorkelers. Several of my family members always go snorkeling and we always have fun. The corals in some places are very beautiful.
There are some interesting dive sites we have yet to check out. The fishermen have checked it out and there is even a WWII Japanese ship that had already been ransacked.
6. Head to the Fish Port in Concepcion
The Fish Port in Concepcion is a hub of activity, especially in the early morning. It is interesting to go there, have a breakfast of fish soup and just watch the fish brokers and the fishermen do their negotiations. It is very interesting. You can also buy the fish and seafood you'd like and have it cooked by the locals. You can enjoy the catch of the day as there are lots to choose from.
7. Visit the Town
Concepcion has over 43,000 people. It is often hit by typhoons so its beaches and islands have remained pristine. Before the roads were also bad so very few people visited. Nowadays, the roads are much improved so the number of visitors has increased.
The town has a good market but the more interesting place to visit is the fish port. Go early so you can see the fishermen bring in their catch and sell them to the fish brokers.
8. Cook Your Sea Food Right on the Beach
Fresh seafood is abundant in Concepcion. You can buy some in the fish port or you can go to the market where there are cafes and have some fresh fish soup. Or, choose whatever seafood you fancy and ask the locals to prepare it for you. Or you can prepare it yourself. There are facilities to do this in Sandbar resort.
When we visited Concepcion, my niece made the best paella I have ever tasted. Honestly, with the amount of fresh seafood available, how can you not eat well?
Bring your recipe book with you and have a seafood cook-out. With all the fresh seafood, you will have a wonderful foodie experience.
Getting to Concepcion
Iloilo has a beautiful airport meeting international standards. In fact, recently, there is already a flight from Los Angeles straight to Iloilo.
If you come from Manila, there are many flights to Iloilo, almost every hour and several airlines service this route. The flight is about 50 minutes to an hour. The Iloilo airport meets international standards and the flight is quite pleasant. From Cebu, you can also take a flight to Iloilo and it is shorter than Manila but compared to Manila, the number of flights are less.
From the airport, you can rent a taxi to bring you to the Northern Iloilo bus terminal in Tagbak, Jaro and from there take the HPQ bus or tourist van to Concepcion. The fare is less than $3. The last trip is at 3:00 p.m. so if you arrive later than this, stay overnight in Iloilo city. Or, try to go to Sara, a town close to Concepcion and from there ask a motocab to bring you to Concepcion.
If this is too much of a hassle for you, take a taxi to bring you all the way there or prearrange with a tour operator to book your transport to Concepcion as well as your boat for the day to go island hopping.
This picture here is of Iloilo airport with the Dinagyang Festival dancers welcoming guests to the city.
It is better to stay overnight in Iloilo as the city has so much to offer. It is an old trading port with many old ancestral homes. Then, your hotel can easily make arrangements for you to proceed to Concepcion.
Time Your Trip to Coincide With the Dinagyang Festival
This Dinagyang Festival in Iloilo is a must see as you can see in the picture one of the tribes performing for those arriving at Iloilo airport. Time your visit to have a chance to enjoy this festival.
Where to Stay in Concepcion
There are very limited choices here as the place is only beginning to draw tourists. Your best choice is the Sandbar resort at Bulubadiangan where you can rent a small villa (basic amenities) for less than $20 or pitch your tent for a minimal fee. There is Hotel Junbee in town as well. Some of the islands now offer basic accommodations as well.
Contact Sandbar resort owner Sonny at 63 906 819 7516. They have a small boat to pick you up from the mainland and also to bring you around to the islands.
Island Tourism and the Impact on Development
Is tourism destroying island destinations? While tourism spurs development, it also puts a strain on the pristine natural resources of these islands. As tourism grows, people want to earn more and take advantage of the growth that sometimes, they forget to protect the resources that give them this livelihood.
The charm of these isolated islands are lost with so many people coming. However, we cannot stop people from enjoying these beautiful places. So, more awareness on how to support responsible tourism is important.
The Impact of Tourism on Beach Islands
© 2011 Mary Norton