For such a small country, the Philippine islands have a colorful history. This makes traveling around the country not only visually satisfying but also knowledge-enriching.
Personally, I got several reasons to celebrate the month of February. But my idea of celebration is rarely a fancy dinner or some house party. My preference for minimal human interaction makes me a bad event organizer and a lousy party host. I instead celebrate by inviting people to travel and/or try out new stuff. And that, thanks to a dear person who arranged the trip, was what I did.
Corregidor island is by far the biggest World War II memorial in the country. It is situated at the opening of the Manilay bay 1 hour southwest of the shores of Manila near Bataan. Quite surprisingly though, it is a part of Cavite. The semi-circular shape of the island can be attributed to its being a caldera of an extinct volcano. With it being the fortress of defense of the Spaniards in the late 1500s and where American soldiers took the last stand against the Japanese in the second world war, it’s historical significance is worth countless books.
The island is accessible both by air and by water. Being a functional and high class military base once, it has docks and airstrips for helicopters. But since chopper rides are normally costly, the ferry ride across Manila bay is the one preferred by most travelers. We booked our trip with Sun Cruises, got to their waiting area around 7 AM, and left on time.
The Guided Tour
Regardless if one is visiting the island for leisure or for some research, first-timers would enjoy the guided tour. A lot of us love reading for sure, but when you’re visiting an island meant to be experienced visually, you would certainly appreciate just having someone to tell you the interesting things about it.
Our guide has been with the tour provider for twenty nine years and showed genuine interest on the history of the place. Amidst the jokes and funny remarks, he really had a lot of interesting things to say. So if you’re a first-timer with some money to spare, take the guided tour. The island is about 900 hectares anyway. Exploring it on foot can be a little less leisurely.
The Day Tour
The tour package is divided into three: the day tour, the sunset tour, and the sunrise tour. The day tour is packed with stories and and other information about the island. After the guide is done telling the history of one location, tourists are given time to walk around and take photos of the place just like any guided tour.
And as like any guided tour, taking good photos of the place can be a challenge with all your fellow tourists walking around and the limited time. Photographers who want to take good photos have two options. You can either extend your stay and go around on your own the following day or ditch the entire tour and simply avail of the photographer’s package offered by Sun Cruises.
The Sunset Tour
The sunset tour which actually extends further into the evening includes a visit to the ruins of the hospital, sunset viewing, and an exciting visit to the Malinta tunnel at night. Unlike in other ruins, tourists are allowed to enter the hospital. There’s really nothing much to see but the guide has a lot of fascinating things to say about it.
Sunset viewing happens at Battery Grubbs; probably the coolest-sounding battery name we heard in the entire tour. It offers a view of the same sunset seen from Manila bay which is quite famous. The sun setting in the horizon while you sit on a grassy war ruins alongside cannons with the gentle breeze blowing from the sea, what can be more dramatic than that? It’s like a soap opera on its own. Aside from that, you are also offered a view of the well-mentioned La Monja island which is one of the smaller islands around Corregidor.
The day ends with an exploration of the Malinta tunnel, an impressive tunnel complex initially built for storage and as personnel bunker that became a hospital during World War II. It was where thousands of Japanese soldiers chose to die than surrender to US forces. Before restoration, it was literally littered with human bones.
The tour requires comfortable outfit as tourists would have to bend and walk on unpaved passages. During the tour, the guide shall tell stories about the harsh conditions inside the tunnel during the war. And to cap it all off, tourists shall be asked to turn off all their flashlights and experience a moment of deafening silence in the dark. With zero light source, the experience is no different from being blind. It’s thrilling. But above all, it makes you feel grateful that you didn’t live to experience the war.
The Sunrise Tour
The sunrise tour or the sunrise viewing activity happens on the other side of the island near the Pacific War Memorial just in front of the interestingly named metal sculpture, Eternal Flame. It takes quite an effort as tourist would have to get up very early in the morning to catch the sunrise. But the beauty of the scene and that feeling of peace is totally worth it.
The activity ends with a visit to a short Japanese tunnel that involves going through a really small space and going up a steep path connecting the tunnel to a pre-war building erected in the middle of the forest. If you’re into hiking, this works as some sort of appetizer as the island also offers hiking activities.
We get tired touring places so before we even booked our trip, we already decided to allot an additional day to rest. We thought it’s a common thing even in Corregidor. We were wrong. All other guests left by lunch time after the sunrise tour. There were literally only two guests left by noon time. Us. It was rather odd but it felt like we owned the entire island. Imagine a 900-hectare island with paved roads and several establishments and you only share it with concessionaires. You can walk in the middle of the road and not expect any vehicle or another human being.
We got plenty of time and we forgot to book a hike the day before so we decided to explore the place on our own. We met our guide at San Jose Church in the morning, asked for directions, and walked several kilometers to our destination, the Topside Barracks. Walking your way from Corregidor Inn, the only hotel in the island, to Topside area is challenging. While the road is paved, the rather steep incline, humidity, and the heat of the sun can be a real source of discomfort. Or maybe we were just not mentally prepared for such a thing. We could walk. But since we were surrounded by trees and couldn’t see any landmark, it gave us a feeling that we were heading nowhere near our destination. In addition to that, while network coverage is okay, both Android and iOS won’t give you a detailed road map of the island. You are stuck with placing a pin on your destination, moving around, and checking if you’re getting any closer to it. But we did it! Two unprepared couch potatoes did it. We got to Topside area. And with all navigation uncertainties gone, we were sure glad we tried it.
The Topside area is where you can see the Topside Barracks, Cine Corregidor, the army headquarters, officers’ quarters, the lighthouse, the traditional parade grounds, and many other structures erected in the golden days of the military base. In short, it used to be the center of activities in the island and is now the best place to take photographs.
Additional Notes for Travelers
- The food in the inn’s menu is comparable to other middle class restaurants in Manila in terms for price and quality. Other items like sodas and bottled water are quite pricey though. For instance, a Coke in can costs PHP 79.
- If you want the same experience of having the island and the hotel to yourself, try booking a weekend trip then extend your stay until Monday.
- If you are staying in the hotel, a regular room doesn’t have television. You can either stay out late exploring or bring other source of entertainment. You can also use the swimming pool until 11 PM. It’s only 5 ft. deep though.
- They allow camping in the south beach grounds for PHP 50 a night. If you don’t mind bringing a tent and are used to camping, this is a good alternative to getting a room in the hotel.
- They offer other activities like hiking, kayaking, and zip-lining. They can even host team building activities for your group.
- If you are curious about the path we followed to Topside area, leave a message and I’ll give it to you. It’s a stupid path. You can laugh at our misfortunes all the way to the destination.
Visit the island. It’s quite laid back and a good refresher. -aB