A Complete Trip Guide To Magalawa Island, Zambales

A month after our Magalawa jaunt and I’m still hung over. Its still, clear waters, powdery sands and soberness, a constant memory. If you wish to be hung over the way I am, here’s a comprehensive guide on this secluded Zambales getaway. I included transport options, directions, food, accommodations, dangers, activities, and nearby destinations you can check out.





Directions on How to Go To Magalawa Island
By private vehicle

From Balintawak, take the NLEX and then SCTEX. Magalawa Island is about 4-5 hours by car. Same route going to Subic. Make your way past the Subic Tipo Road to RH5 and exit the gate (fronting the cemetery), turning left going to Iba. There's a huge Iba signboard by the cemetery, you won't miss it.


SBMA gate/ exit to Iba, Zambales

You will pass by the towns of Castillejos, San Marcelino, San Antonio, San Narciso, San Felipe, Botolan, and Iba before finally reaching Palauig. Just follow the road straight up and you won't get lost. There’s practically no street light for miles from San Antonio all the way to Botolan, so better drive early, the latest 12 noon.

Head north of the road going to Masinloc, past Iba market. There are two junctions in Palauig: Amungan and Banlog. Keep right at the first junction/ fork toward Banlog. Turn right when you reach Banlog Triangle (marked by a statue of a farmer on a carabao) and drive north to Brgy. Pamolingan (some say it's Pangolingan, but Pamolingan is more apt).



Zameco


Drive past Zameco Electric Cooperative and Salaza Bridge, after which you’ll see the Pamolingan welcome signage, followed by a narrow road at the left side of the highway, with a tricycle shed and a JB store next to it. Turn left. This is the road going to Luan Port. It’s a 20 to 30-minute rocky but scenic ride to the port, passing by Radyo Veritas to the left.



Parking


You can park your car at the port. It is a huge, beautiful and secure port, with a guard near the entrance (Michelle Hill). From there, a boat takes you to Magalawa Island in 5 minutes tops.




By public commute (from Manila, Bulacan, or Pampanga)

1. Take a bus bound for Sta. Cruz, Zambales.

  • Via the Iba-Sta. Cruz bus:
From Manila, take any Iba-Sta. Cruz bound bus. Victory Liner is one and is preferable as they have regular schedules posted on their site and WiFi on board! 

Their dispatchers reply quickly to texts too even in wee hours. Tell the conductor to drop you off at the tricycle terminal to Luan Port/ Radyo Veritas at Pamolingan. There’s a JB store beside the tric shed. This is perhaps the only landmark you’ll see for miles.

Bus fare ranges from P381 to P450, depending on whether you're taking the buses that ply SCTEX or not.




Some terminals have hourly trips, some every 2 to 3 hours. There are schedules for Iba-Sta. Cruz via SCTEX too (non-SCTEX buses use the old Olongapo road) in their terminals in Sampaloc (1PM) and Pasay (not in website; phone rep said it was 11 or 1pm. Call to check). Trips via SCTEX cut travel time by 30 minutes, as per Victory reps.

Victory Liner Monumento is located from the street across Edsa Grand Central. I suggest taking the LRT to there, ‘cause it’s the nearest one to NLEX and will significantly cut your travel time than if you’re boarding a bus from the others (from VL Pasay or Sampaloc, the travel time could take 7 to 7.5 hours; from Monumento, it’s 6 hours).


View of Luan Port and Matalvis Island (foreground) from Magalawa


If you're coming from elsewhere in the north (i.e. Bulacan or Pampanga), the Iba-Sta. Cruz Victory buses pass by the back of Robinson's Star Mills San Fernando, Pampanga, then stops for a 5-minute pee break at Double Happiness in Lubao, Pampanga. 

You could make your way there instead of traveling back to Monumento, but be advised that it might be standing room already by then especially on weekends. Half the passengers alight by San Narciso in Zambales.

The bus also makes a stop at the Olongapo terminal and lastly at the Iba, Zambales terminal. There’s plenty of Sta. Cruz-bound buses in both. I also saw some Sta. Cruz-bound buses at the Victory Liner San Fernando, Pampanga terminal, but call Victory as I can't assure that these are regular trips.




  • Via the Iba bus:
Since there are no restaurants in Magalawa, some visitors opt for Iba-bound buses to buy fresh meat for cooking at the Iba market.

From Iba, you can take a Sta. Cruz-bound bus (A/C bus fare is less than P100; P30+ for ordinary) or ride a jeepney (P20+). Both Iba and Iba-Sta. Cruz buses run through the same route.




Important note: Take the jeepney bearing the Masinloc signboard, not the ones going to Palauig. While Magalawa Island is located in Palauig, Palauig jeepneys go directly into Palauig town proper. Magalawa is en route to Masinloc, not central Palauig.

All the same, tell the driver to drop you off at the tricycle terminal to Radyo Veritas, approximately 20 to 30 minutes away.


2. From the Pamolingan tricycle terminal, tell the driver to take you to Luan Port. Be ready for a bumpy 30-minute trip. The fare is P100/ head for two or more passengers. Lone ones, prepare P150. If you’ll be staying at the Ruiz Resort (which I strongly suggest you do), the resort caretaker, Kuya Mulo, will arrange a tricycle for you. Just advise him around what time you'll be arriving and a tricycle will be ready when you arrive.

Kuya Mulo's number is 09294670505 or 09288568242. If those don’t work, contact Kuya Raymond at 09127894571.


Trike shed beside JB store where you'll alight from the bus. The road to Luan is the one on the left.

3. Boat ride to Magalawa Island
Kuya Mulo will be waiting at the port an hour before you arrive. He's awesome like that. It's a short, uneventful 5-minute boat ride to Magalawa Island. Boat fee is P100/ head. Free for toddlers. Adult vests are available, but if you have an infant or toddler, better bring one.  There’s virtually no current whatever time of day it is and Kuya Mulo uses big, stable boats, but as we say, safety first. ALWAYS.

The water is this still all-day at Magalawa Island. Super kid-friendly!


Going back
Advise Kuya Mulo of your check-out time ahead of time (since tricycle drivers travel from the shed all the way to the port) and request a tricycle pick-up.

Few buses pass by the tricycle shed, much less buses headed straight for Manila. Lia and I took the mini-bus (ordinary, no A/C) to Iba, but there are also jeepneys. Both are recommended, unless you're willing to wait for long for an A/C bus that goes straight to Manila. 


Ruiz Resort

From Iba, board a bus going to Cubao or Manila. Buses that ply the SCTEX-Manila route are only available in the Olongapo terminal (so if you prefer that, then take a bus from Iba, alight at Olongapo, and take another bus from there).

Manila-bound buses DON’T stop at the Bocaue tollgate, so we took the Baguio-bound bus at the Olongapo terminal. These buses pass by SM City San Fernando in Pampanga. This is advisable if you live near SM Pampanga too.


Accommodations


There are 2 resorts at the island: Armada Resort (western side) and Ruiz Resort (eastern side). There’s an ongoing legal dispute between these two. Though their accommodations are more rustic, I chose Ruiz because THEY ARE THE ORIGINAL OWNERS and have the land title and court approval to prove it. They're much nicer too, even according to guests who've been to Armada. 



Armada Resort
They even discreetly sent a staff to accompany Lia and I as we combed the other side of the island (there have been incidents when the Armadas have manhandled Ruiz Resort guests who visit the western side of the island, which they claim as theirs). 

There are two types of accommodations in Ruiz Resort. Tell Kuya Mulo you were referred by Demeter or Francis of libot.blogspot.com for discounted rates.

UPDATE: Ruiz Resort now has a full list of packages for both fan room and ten accommodations. Including full-board meals and the two-way boat ride, accommodations are priced at P1,500/head for tents and P1,700/head for the fan room, respectively (prices as of May 2014).



1. Nipa cottages 
Got the cottage for P1,200/ day; Original rate is P1,700, if I’m not mistaken. Room can be shared by up to 5 persons. Extra mattress available for a nominal fee. The resort isn’t strict with the check-in and check-out time.

The room has a double bed, a fan, a wall mirror and a broom. There’s a 220V socket. No TV and no A/C.


Our home for the night. We were assigned cottage #4, which happens to be the dates of our birthdays. #eniwey

For groups of 2 or more, there’s a special rate of P1,500/head which includes the cottage and full-board meals. Unfortunately, they don’t offer that for singles.

You’ll be handed your own key to a basic shackle padlock. Common toilets (three cubicles) for everyone with the good old buhos and tabo system. If you run out of water, advise the staff and they’ll motor-pump a barrel for you.





Electricity is available from 6pm to 7am only using a generator, so make sure to charge your gadgets during that time. Cell signal is available for Sun, Smart and Globe users.



2. Tent pitching
P200/ head for campers. Free use of facilities (i.e. volleyball, hammock, beachside bamboo cottages). Bring your own tent, needless to say.






Ruiz package with van transpo: For those who prefer a fuss-free stay, you may opt for the package with two-way aircon van transpo (Manila to Zambales and vice-versa), which is P2,800 and P3,000, respectively for tent and fan room accommodations. This includes an island hopping trip to San Salvador and Bakala Islands.

You can view the packages in detail on their Facebook fan page HERE.


Food

Because there aren’t any restaurants in the island, you can either bring canned goods/ instant stuff or fresh meat and rice for cooking (don’t forget the charcoal!). There are cooking stations at the beach. Cookware can be borrowed for free.


Plenty of cooking bunks like this one where you can cook fresh meat on charcoal!

Alternatively, you can have Kuya Mulo cook food for you. P200 paluto fee, food not included. I heard they also have a store on the island. If you’re traveling in a group, take the P1,500/day package with full-board meals for convenience.

Bonfire setting is prohibited to protect the sands.


Watch out for

Sandflies. Got bit by the little rascals while in the water and boy, do they sting (harmless though, but not fun). Regular Off lotion doesn’t work. I read you can make your own anti-sandfly lotion using Citronella. Demeter has details.

Rip tide. There’s a rip current at the western part of the island, fronting the Armada Resort. There’s a huge warning sign posted at the exact location area, so please, try not to do anything silly. People have died from rip tides. Otherwise, the rest of the island is perfect for kids. Almost no current, and the sand slopes gently.


Part of the island with rip current, seen on the right as a white hued area in the water (next to the sand).

Heed that warning when you see it!

Food-ransacking dogs. Please don’t make the same mistake that I did and leave your food outside the cottage, no matter how sealed it is (unless it’s stored inside a thermochest or a sturdy cooler). 



Mine were sitting on our table outside, sealed in plastic and in microwavable containers and still, when I woke up at 2am, all that's left were canned tuna, Lia's meds, and pieces of torn plastic. Found out the culprit is a dog from the adjacent Armada Resort. Thankfully, Kuya Mulo and his wife were kind enough to give us rice for free and a cup of instant coffee.


Activities you can do

Relax on a balsa. Both Ruiz and Armada resorts have roofed balsas for rent (P100 per balsa), which many use when snorkeling in the deeper parts of the beach.


Balsa

Snorkeling. There’s an amazing coral garden just 10 meters off shore (fronting Ruiz Resort). Vests are free, but the snorkeling gear you need to rent for P50 per set.

Volleyball. There's a volleyball net at the back of the beach cottages, fronting the toilet. Usage is free.



Nearby destinations to check out


Mangrove forest. Located at the western tip, at the end of Armada Resort. About a 20-minute walk from Ruiz Resort. You may also ride a boat going there - ask Kuya Mulo. Lovely, tranquil place to spot egrets.


Mangrove forest at the end of the western tip. Can you spot the egret?

San Salvador Island. Visible to the east from Magalawa Island. Accessible via a 10-minute boat ride from Magalawa, San Salvador is home to various taklobo (giant clams) species and a small coral garden as well. Two-way trip costs P1,000 plus P200 maintenance fee for the island’s caretakers. Kuya Mulo offers free rides if he’s headed to the island (for fishing, I presume), so do ask beforehand.

San Salvador Island, seen at the right.

Matalvis Island. Not sure if this one’s open for visitors as it’s a titled land for sale, but you might want to ask Kuya Mulo too. It’s the island near Luan Port, across San Salvador.


Potipot Island. Though farther than Magalawa, Potipot is more popular and more frequented by tourists. It is a small 7-kilometer island located off the coast of Uacon in Candelaria, two towns further north. Accessible in a one to two-hour land trip from Palauig, plus a 5-minute boat ride from any resort in Uacon.



So many starfishes in Magalawa!

Masinloc attractions. A visit to adjacent Masinloc after your Magalawa trip is great for maximizing that uber looong trip. Wasn’t able to check these out though due to time constraint. There are jeepneys passing by the Pamolingan tricycle terminal going to Masinloc. It’s easy to ask around. Locals are super friendly and helpful. If you’re driving, I’d suggest using Google Maps.


1. Masinloc Baywalk

2. Masinloc Church

3. Coto Mines/ Kidz Pool Mountain Resort
A nature park cum resort fit for the adrenaline junkie (oddly, not too much for kidz). Complete with falls, humongous rocks, a mountain, and a river. I read you need a bad ass 4x4 going there because the road can get disastrously rocky – and it that’s way for two hours.

Surfing at Liwliwa or San Narciso. Zambales has great swells especially during the summer season, making it a suitble alternative to San Juan in La Union or Baler.  If you’re headed home to Manila, drop by the neighboring towns of Liwliwa in San Felipe or San Narciso (home to the famous Crystal Beach resort) for some surfing. Or drop by either town before heading to Magalawa. They are just along the way.


Iba resorts. Being the provincial capital, Iba is perhaps the most popular of all coastal towns in Zambales. It is teeming with resorts, both basic and upscale, lined side by side. It’s more mod and more convenient (in terms of the trip) than Magalawa. Sand’s black and coarser and can get quite crowded too.


Approximate expenses per head for overnight trip (2014):

1. DIY trip (excluding food):

Bus from Manila (Monumento Victory Liner terminal to Brgy, Pamolingan) = P762/ head RT (P381 one-way)
Tricycle to port = P200/head RT (P100, one-way for 2-4 pax; P150 for solos)
Boat ride = P100/ head RT
Accommodation at Ruiz Resort = P200 (camp with own tent); P1,200 (fan room)
TOTAL = P1,262 (tent); P2,262 (fan room)

2. With full-board meals c/o Ruiz Resort:

Bus from Manila (Monumento Victory Liner terminal to Brgy, Pamolingan) = P762/ head RT (P381 one-way)
Tricycle to port = P200/head RT (P100, one-way for 2-4 pax; P150 for solos)
Accommodation at Ruiz Resort inc. full-board meals and RT boat ride = P1,500 (tent); P1,700 (fan room)
TOTAL = P2,462 (tent); P2,662 (fan room)


3. With van transpo c/o Ruiz Resort: P2,800 for tent/ camping and P3,000 for fan room accommodations



Inclusions:
- Two-way aircon van transpo (Manila to Zambales and vice-versa)
-  Tent or fan room accommodation
-  Island hopping trip to San Salvador and Bakala Islands

Gretchen Filart Dublin

Gretchen is a freelance travel writer and social media manager. She writes for print and digital publications for work and weaves travel stories on her blog for fun.

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