Even though its northern part is just less than an hour away from Aklan (which is known for Boracay), Antique is not exactly a top-of-mind destination for travelers.
Those who take time to get to know Antique, though, will be treated to sprawling white beaches, seemingly endless mountain ranges, clear mystical springs, hot baths, and more.
During a trip with friends to Panay island, we were able to explore Antique for a day. While one day is not enough to explore all the natural beauty the province has to offer, we were able to experience the beaches and hills of Mararison Island, the clear turquoise waters of Malumpati Spring, then capped the day off with a relaxing kawa hot bath.
Mararison Island is around 30 minutes away by boat from the province’s mainland, particularly Culasi port. Worth seeing are the island’s beaches – some with fine white sand, others with coarse coral – and its grassy hills teeming with pitcher plants of a particular specie endemic to Mararison.
According to local legend, Mararison is one of the children of Mt. Madjaas, the highest mountain in Antique, and Mt. Kanlaon in Negros. Its name roughly means “tuyong katwiran” (dry humor/wit), from native Kinaray-a words in Antique. Ilonggos, meanwhile, usually call the island Malalison.
After we took in the sights of Mararison’s white shore and sandbar, our group was led by Mang Isong, a local guide, to trek along the island’s hills. We walked for around 20 to 30 minutes, enjoying the pine trees and abundant pitcher plants in the terrain, as well as a view of the surrounding blue seas.
We came down the hills to a white coral beach, part of a local resort, Enrique de Mararison.
At the farther side of the beach are zen-like piles of stones and a cave.
To save on time, we took a boat back to Mararison’s main shoreline instead of trekking the same route back. We then had a deceptively simple but surprisingly delicious fresh seafood lunch.
We had a swim in Mararison’s quiet waters before heading back to the mainland.
Malumpati Cold Spring and Bugang River
After our island adventure, we then headed to our forest adventure in the municipality of Pandan, which is the closest to Boracay among the places we went to.
Malumpati Cold Spring’s turquoise waters are part of Bugang River, the cleanest inland body of water in the Western Visayas region.
A local guide led us to a trek through the forest along Bugang River. We walked through a deep, almost eerie silence as we took in the clear emerald waters and the surrounding trees. Our guide related that every year, locals placed offerings in the river for the spirits.
We passed by the supposed starting point for the river tubing, but because of the low water level that summer day, we could not push through with the activity. River tubing is best done during the rainy season, when the waters are high and flowing.
We were able to see the breathtaking lagoon at the end of the trail, though. Here, the waters and the silence felt almost hypnotic.
Kawa hot bath
Soaking in a hot bath is a perfect end to a day of trekking, beach bumming, and river tubing. What we experienced as we headed back to Tibiao was no ordinary hot bath, though, as a kawa, which looks like a cross between a giant cauldron and a wok, was filled with water floating with flowers and medicinal herbs. The water was heated with firewood at the bottom of the kawa. I first saw a kawa being used to cook calamay in Jagna. It appears that in Antique they use it for delicacies too.
Where to stay:
Rustic yet with comforts, Kasa Raya Inn is a charming, locally owned bamboo stilt house with a backdrop of rice paddies along Tibiao’s main road. It is the perfect jumpoff for the Antique day tour, being just around 15 minutes from the kawa bath, and less than an hour away from Mararison and Malumpati Spring. Rate per person is P500 with breakfast. There are rooms good for two and for groups, with toilet and bath.
How to get to Tibiao, Antique:
Take a flight or boat to Caticlan. Ride a bus to Iloilo or any bus passing by Tibiao, Antique. Travel time is usually 1 1/2 hour or more. You can also take a flight to Kalibo, then ride a bus to Caticlan, then another bus to Iloilo. Travel time is 2 hours or more.
Where to book:
We had our tour with Las Islas Travel and Tours, which focuses on underrated destinations and responsible tourism. As it is based in Panay, and is run by an Antique local and a Manila-based traveler who immersed herself in Panay destinations, Las Islas has a professional yet local approach to tours.
My friends and I are also grateful to Department of Tourism Region 6 (especially Atty. Helen Catalbas) for welcoming us to Panay and also providing our transportation.