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Discover Ticao Island

A low-key island in the Philippines, Ticao packs loads of adventure between South Luzon and Masbate. By MARCO FERRARESE. Photos by KIT YENG CHAN.

Published on Nov 30, 2015


Imagine cowboy hats, leather lassos, bucking broncos. Now set that scene on a powder-white beach in the Philippines. It may seem a strange pairing, but that's the outlook at Ticao island.

This brushstroke of emerald thickets and white sand is ringed by intense open blue. It's one of Masbate Province's three offthe-beaten path islands floating between the more famous shores of southern Luzon and Cebu. You'll find snorkeling and diving here, but the region is most famous for the Rodeo Masbateño held every April.

Stilted houses
Stilted houses are built to withstand the tides.

Besides cowpokes and cattle, Ticao Pass's constant currents and plankton-rich waters lure manta rays, and hammerhead, thresher and whale sharks. The island's only claim to tourism fame is the Manta Bowl, an underwater atoll offering five different dive sites ranging up to 29 meters deep. Divers flock here on boat trips from Donsol, 90 minutes north across the pass in Sorsogon Province, Luzon, while between November and June, touristsladen bumboats rock by in search of whale sharks. Visitors, however, rarely stay on to explore. A pity because, apart from the dive sites, the rest of Ticao's coast is still virtually untouched. Shores dotted by local fishing communities and a jungle-clad, waterfall-sprinkled interior are the perfect springboards for adventure seekers. Ticao Island Resort's  romantic beach cabanas are the ideal setting to overnight under a carpet of blazing stars, keeping toes constantly tucked in the sand, without sacrificing comfort. The resort also offers an onsite SSIaccredited dive center and free kayaks to paddle out at sea and explore.

Ocean aside, there's much more to discover on Ticao if you're willing to follow the rhythms of nature. We rise before the first rays paint the horizon purple to take a stroll on the beach and watch how the sea powers the ebb and flow of local life. It's easy enough to convince a group of young, energetic fishermen to let us charter their banca, which balances over waves using four curvy outstretched poles. They welcome us on board, but business comes first: we agree to wait quietly as they complete their morning fishing outing to the southern tip of the island. The banca glides over the turquoise ocean like a spider crawling on glass until we moor at the tiny village of Gibraltar to unload the morning's catch. The beach has turned into a lively early-morning market where everybody, children included, smiles and sings as they go about their daily fishing chores. As soon as the catch has been sold, one of our guides turns to us, ready to make good on his promise.

Ticao boys
Loading up the banca for a day of fishing.

"I'll show you Rock Island," he says as we gain speed over gentle waves. Originally called Minalayo, this tiny atoll across from Ticao's southernmost tips emerges like a stony forehead topped with green, unkempt hair. Our boat glides into the fresh, shady embrace of the island's caves.

"Look out for snakes before jumping in," our de facto guide warns us. It was here that famous Filipino TV host Dr. Nielsen Donato spotted yellow-lipped sea kraits, one of the most poisonous sea snakes in the world. We look around, scanning for scales, but it is all clear, so very clear. Standing in the rocking banca, the water is so crystalline the coral underneath looks sealed under a plasma screen. We bite on our snorkels and dive into high definition.

Rock Island
Tour Rock Island's waters on a banca.



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Loading up the banca for a day of fishing.
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