“Why haven’t I heard more about these extraordinary places before?”
This was the big question hanging over my head my entire time in Zambales as I was blown away again and again by the abundance of its natural beauty. All the talks are about Palawan, Boracay, or Ilocos, but why is no one gushing about Zambales? Despite only having a short time to spend in this province, that was time certainly enough for it to captivate me. Zambales will impress with its luscious landscapes, enchanting sunsets, and waves that seem to call out. This was the case for me, as I’m certain will be yours too, once you set foot in this place.
Look. It’s almost summer and I’m sure you’re already ogling at vacation pictures on the internet, dreaming about your perfect summer getaway. You need not look so far. No need to get on a plane and spend thousands on airfare. No need to plan so far ahead. Just around three hours of land travel from Manila, you can get to Zambales and experience for yourself all that I have been raving about.
Here are a few places in Zambales that are worthy of a visit:
Crystal Beach Resort
A wide stretch of sand. Towering pine tress. Brightly colored tents. Tire swings. Hammocks. Nipa huts. Surfboards, waves, and happy people. Happy people everywhere. Crystal Beach Resort is a constant favorite for many surfers and beach lovers, and it is easy to see why. The super chill vibe of the place is its main selling point, especially for beach bums like me who would prefer this kind of setting any day over a luxurious hotel.
The rates of the cottages start from 1,550 PHP and up. But if you’re feeling more adventurous, you can rent a tent for 350 PHP a night, or just a 150 PHP pitching fee if you’re bringing your own.
And of course, you can’t go to Zambales without learning how to surf. Crystal Beach Resort is a known surfing destination, and you can experience the rush of riding a wave for 400 PHP an hour which includes surfboard and rash guard rental, and an instructor from Quicksilver Surf School.
It took me two tries (and falls) before getting to finally ride a wave. And this much I can tell you: It. Is. Euphoric.
Casa San Miguel
Ah, the beautiful Casa San Miguel. A bed and breakfast, a music school, a gallery, a restaurant, and a perfect setting for an intimate garden wedding. This quaint house slash center for arts is established by worldwide acclaimed concert violinist Alfonso “Coke” Bolipata in 1993 to foster culture and community development in his little town of San Miguel, Zambales.
I came here for dinner with my colleagues, and what welcomed us is the young ensemble of Pundaquit Virtuosi, composed of Casa San Miguel’s talented music scholars. The kids will melt your heart, especially upon learning of the stories of some of them—born of poverty, but given new hope and life because of the gift of music.
The food at Casa, on the other hand, is a whole story in itself, too. Roast chicken. Seafood paella. Pepperoni pizza. Pastries. Hazelnut choco mousse. Cheesecake. These are some of the sumptuous dishes I got to try, and these, coupled with the pretty garden setting and lanterns hanging from above us, made for an amazing dining experience that is worth going back to.
Capones Vista Resort
You wake up in the morning and an infinity pool is waiting outside your room. Walk just a little farther and the ocean is there, a magnificent view as peaceful as Zambales mornings. From there you can charter a boat to take you to nearby islands including the popular Capones Island and Anawangin Cove. And at dusk, they claim that here you can find one of best sunset spots in the country, and I wouldn’t disagree. The sunset, viewed from the coast of Capones Vista, is a magical sight that would be the cherry on top of your Zambales experience. Just stand there and watch the perfectly round, orange sun disappear into the horizon. Let the tides kiss your feet while waiting. Feel the waves roll over the shore, lusciously so, as if begging you to stay longer.
Room rates at Capones Vista Resort start from 3,000 PHP.
Capones Island and Lighthouse
If the Capones sunset is the cherry on top, the Capones Island tour is everything the cherry sits on top of. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes on a motor-powered bangka from the shore of Pundaquit, San Antonio to get to Capones Island. That’s 15 minutes of sight seeing, as the rocky cliffs and islands you will pass going to the island will be quite the view. And wait until you get close to Capones Island itself. The lighthouse will be towering from the precipice, and your heart will flutter with excitement at the sight of it.
Setting foot on the island is another adventure in itself too, as the tides are a bit strong and the shore, rocky. Guided by a rope, we had to swim our way to reach the island. And when you do get there, you will be welcomed not by a sandy beach, but a shoreline of huge white rocks. After that you will have to trek your way up the cliff, where at the end, a stunning display of both nature and man-made structure will be waiting.
Inaugurated in August 1890, the Capones Island Lighthouse was built under the Spanish colonial government during their occupation, for the purpose of guiding ships entering and leaving the ports of Manila and Subic. To this day, the lighthouse still operates, now using solar-powered lights instead of the original lamps. The structures surrounding it including the keeper’s house has long been abandoned, however. The upside, this red-bricked structure sitting atop the cliff, albeit deteriorated, is the charm that makes Capones Island all the more a place that would be hard to forget.
Zambales is like that quiet girl at the back of the class you’ve never really noticed before. She’s overshadowed by the more popular kids at school—the more popular islands in this case—like Boracay and Palawan, but that doesn’t mean she’s any less beautiful. There’s magic there, and you’ll see it, only if you take time to look.
So get to know her. Get to know Zambales. Try surfing for the first time in her waters, and understand the rush others talk so much about. Listen to the moving stories of the people. Witness the magical sunset. Trek up a cliff, to what feels like the edge of the world, and there feel small and grand all at the same time.
Go. Get to know Zambales, and you might just find yourself happily enchanted by the countless things to love about her.
Special thanks to North Philippines Visitors Bureau and Manila North Tollways Corporation for inviting When In Manila to be part of the 2015 Lakbay Norte media tour. Thank you also to Victory Liner, O+ USA, Blue Cross Insurance, Headware, Region 3 Department of Tourism, the Municipality of San Antonio, and the Zambales Tourism Office for helping put together this incredible, educational tour.
All images by Martin San Diego unless noted otherwise.
CRYSTAL BEACH RESORT
CASA SAN MIGUEL
CAPONES VISTA BEACH RESORT