By Nathan Allen
(Scroll down if you want to go directly to Antique hotels and attractions)
About a year ago I was researching new places to explore in the Philippines. I came across a photo of Filipino blogger Melo Villareal "cooking" in giant pot. It was in a little-known province called Antique, and from then on, I knew I had to see this place for myself!
Found south of Boracay on the western side of Panay Island, the sleepy province of Antique provides many opportunities for adventure and relaxation - and all off the beaten path.
While the province has some pretty good beaches, that's not where Antique really shines - it's more about the lush mountains, rice fields, cascading waterfalls, and warm smiles from the people that call it home.
Oh yeah, that, and the unique experience of being "cooked" in a hot KAWA bath! In truth, it's very relaxing after a good hike and chilly swim in Bugtong Bato Falls:)
(Some of my favorite photos from Antique - click to enlarge)
One of my favorite things about Antique is that it spans the the whole west coast of Panay island, so there are so many opportunities to photograph beautiful sunsets. Walking barefoot in the mud with a stunning sunset over the rice paddies - that was was something I'll never forget! I also loved how affordable food and accommodations were, and the fact that for some reason, mosquitoes in Antique don't find me very delicious! Ohh how I loved that...anyhow, here is the story of Antique and I...
"Kkkruhayyyy!!!" my local guide Flord enthusiastically yells out upon my arrival. The language here is called "Kinaray-a", and kruhay means welcome.
Then he handed me a packed schedule of activities for the next three days of filming. Wait...filming?
It turns out ABS CBN's "Rated K" crew was covering Antique on the same weekend, and they wanted to use footage of me exploring as well. I was hesitant at first, but life is like a river, I say...so you just go with the flow.
The next morning we began touring the province to meet and dine with many of the provincial mayors. I want to thank all of them for their warmth and hospitality! We were even treated to a musical performance in one of their homes.
Later we attended a lively singing performance called "Istorya-Kanta Kinaray-a". I was so happy that these two talented singers are working hard to promote and preserve the local Karay-a culture. The colorful young dancers added a nice dimension to the experience as well.
Kinaray-a is a fascinating language - and it's quite descriptive! One very interesting example is how they have 3 different names for male and female genitalia - depending on the age and development stage of the person in question! Kinaray-a is also one of the only Filipino languages I know of that has uses a "schwa" vowel sound. An example is the Cebuano word 'hubog', which in Kinaray-a would be pronounced "hubug" - except the "u" is pronounced like the English words "hug" or "bug".
Tibiao is known for its exciting eco-adventure park. The Tibiao River offers kayaking at all skill levels. After a brief kayaking session, I took a swim in the river to cool off. Then I explored the surrounding area a bit and met some very friendly locals.
(Click for full size images)
After all the kayaking footage was finished, we began the beautiful, brief trek to Bugtong Bato Falls.
The trail starts in the village of Tuno, where our presence cause many curious smiles. The scenery on the way to the falls was just stunning. Shown here are some rice terraces we passed along the way. Note: There are some other beautiful rice terraces that I didn't have a chance to explore. Ask the locals!
We arrived at the falls, but had lunch waiting for us at Bugtong Bato Falls Inn (formerly Peter's Lodge). I was so happy to finally have good Filipino food after being away in the States for so long!
Afterward, they filmed members of our group repelling down the falls, and I took a swim in the chilly water. Then I was finally ready for a soak in the hot kawa! What a day - and what a beautiful place!
Malalison (also known as Mararison) island is part of Culasi, and is just a short boat ride away.
We boarded the boat before sunrise, and first made our way toward far away Seco Island (in the process of being rehabilitated).
We hit some rain and rough water on the way. I fell asleep, but when I woke up, the skies had cleared up and the perfectly calm water looked like glass!
To add to the magic of the moment, flying fish began to shoot out of the water and soar through the sky - I've never seen them before!
There are a few pretty good snorkeling sections with corals and fish. I saw a very large puffer fish, some clownfish, and a few lionfish, which was a first for me. Ask the locals where the best places to snorkel are. You will need to bring your own snorkel, mask, and fins.
The children of Malalison island (Culasi) are just adorable. They love to sing - and in fact prepared a special Karay-a (local language) version of the Frozen song "Let It Go" for us! A few of them took me on a hike over the of of the island. If you are familiar with Batanes island, Malalison has dry, grassy hills that are a bit similar. It seems quite uncharacteristic for this region of the Philippines.
On the hike, I also noticed "pitcher plants", which are fascinating insect-eating plants! Since I was a kid, I always wanted to see one in real life. I really loved the experience of being on this humble little island.
Again, Malalison Island can be reached via a brief boat trip from Culasi. Ask the boat men on the beach, or use the contact info mentioned later.
I almost skipped Lambaklad fishing, but I'm so glad I didn't...just look at what an incredible experience this was!
The name Lambaklad come from the word for "net" (lambat) and "fish corral" (baklad).
You can join the fisherman very early in the morning, or at 3pm in the afternoon.
The tradition is to leave your tsinelas (flip flops) on the beach, wash your feet in the water, then board the giant bamboo raft.
As the name suggests, there is a large corral and net under the water. As far as I know, the fisherman slowly pull the net in, which brings the raft toward the fish, and pushes them into net.
Afterward, the fisherman take their share, and the rest is bought after a negotiation. I loved witnessing this!
(Click To Enlarge photos)
Tibiao Fish Spa - Don't forget to "feed" the fish at Tibiao Fish Spa afterward! It is directly across the street from the beach entrance for Lambaklad fishing. I have tried a few different fish spas now, but the experience here is much better. The fish are not so timid, and they will really nibble away at your feet! It tickles at first, but I got used to it very quickly. If you are brave enough to dip your feet into the pool with the bigger fish, my advice is to not keep them in too long:)
I am very independent, and when I was told that I would have guides accompanying me to Igpasungaw Falls in Sebaste, I was a bit frustrated.
However, this hike was MUCH more challenging and confusing than I thought, so the guides were actually very much appreciated! Go to the municipal hall in Sebaste to inquire about guides to this incredible place.
I learned that Antique got its name from "hantik", which is the word for the black ants which can be found on Panay. Island Here at the falls, I put my hand down and was bitten by one! I always knew red ants bite, but I've never heard of black ants that do as well! You learn something every day, they say:)
Later I was fortunate to visit a brick making facility, and not only did I see where the clay was excavated from, but also the giant kiln which bakes the handmade bricks. Nearby I attended a pottery demonstration as well. You could see the fascination in her grandson's eyes as she showed us the age-old tradition of this barangay.
On a last-minute trip to Nogas island in southern Antique, I was sidetracked by bad weather and instead ended up at the colorful Binirayan Festival. What an
experience! This was a perfect reminder that “when one door closes, another opens”.
All the cities in the province came together to compete in the capital, San Jose. While I was quite impressed with all of the performances (I only witnessed 6, to be fair), two really caught my attention. Caluya and Sibalom.
Wow, they really went all out! I was thankful to have a great view to take photos from the stage. I was seated next to the governor, and they announced that “I Dreamed Of This” was visiting. What an honor to be there. This festival is technically 29 days long, because you know, it really is more fun in the Philippines!
(Click for full size images)
After the festival, I finally had a chance to visit Nogas island in southern Antique. Thanks to the local tourism officer, Mrs. Karen, I explored the famous “Kalachuchi” flower walkway and lighthouse at the end. The island has kubos (beach huts) you can rent, but no place to eat, sleep, or buy snacks.
We hiked to the opposite end of the island, and on the way, experienced a fascinating rubber tree, along with unique mangrove forests along the shore.
The snorkeling and diving here is quite underrated if you ask me! I recommend taking a trip with The Divehouse - you can depart from the mainland in Anini-y. There is more info about this below in the “Where To Stay” section.
What a unique "I Dreamed Of This" experience! To say that Mrs. Violetta loves the color purple is an understatement. She has decorated her entire house (and family) in the color purple!
(Click To Enlarge)
She is a very sweet lady, and once filming was finished, we were again treated to a nice meal (with purple snacks!) Even the bedrooms, furniture, and kitchen utensils were purple! I felt like I was Alice In Wonderland.
While here, I also had a chance to explore the surrounding barangay (neighborhood) People were so curious to see me taking photos on the side of the road! It was truly an unforgettable experience to be immersed in the day-to-day life of Antiqueños!
If you are looking for a beach resort in Antique, Phaidon in Pandan is the #1 recommendation online. Great for couples, divers, or just those looking for a peaceful alternative to the crowds of Boracay. Staff is gracious, wifi is good, and breakfast is included. Your money goes further in Antique.
This cheaper and more "native" alternative is located directly on the Tibiao River, and has a view of the rice fields as well. It is the original location of the "kawa" bath, and is great for a photo op.
Book Kayak Inn HERE
Kasa Raya is a great budget option in Tibiao, and they recently even added aircon rooms. Conveniently located on the main road where the junction to Tuno and Bugtong Bato Falls is. There is a Petron station attached to the inn. The falls are just 5km away from here.
I have to be honest, I am friends with the nice little family that runs it, but you can feel better knowing that I became friends with them by staying here:)
I like the feel that the bamboo construction gives the place. The restaurant has a modest but solid menu with some great value options, and the budget rooms even come with breakfast!
I was particularly impressed by the lechon manok and fried chicken. They also serve a good brewed coffee. The best part is that you can enjoy your meal overlooking the rice fields out back.
You can contact the owner Alex by phone here: 09175247875 I believe Kasa Raya is also listed on airbnb.com. Please say hi for me, and tell him I sent you...Alex also gives incredible personalized tours around Antique & Panay!
The first photo is from Zipline Inn, which offers native-style rooms in a beautiful setting. Zipline Inn is located on the road before you get to Tuno. Yes, there is an actual zipline, but I'm not sure if it's currently operating. The rest of the photos are from Bugtong Bato Falls Inn - which is a bit more adventurous, as you have to hike in a bit to get there. Don't worry, it's a mild 20 minute trek:) Nearby the falls, they have a beautiful setting for a meal or hot kawa bath - and they have budget options as well!
The rest of the photos are from Bugtong Bato Falls Inn - which is a bit more adventurous, as you have to hike in a bit to get there. Don't worry, it's a mild 20 minute trek:) Nearby the falls, they have a beautiful setting for a meal or hot kawa bath - and they have budget options as well!
Dalaag Resort and Campsite is a complex under
development, but the 800 square meter pool (yes, you read that correctly) and 3-story water slide is open now. You can also rent the kubos (huts) for the day or
evening. There are many more exciting plans for this property, including the possibility of an obstacle course, zip line, and even fishing facilities!
The Divehouse is rustic resort on the beach has been constructed in large part from reclaimed
wood from old ships and sailing vessels. I really got a sense of history from all the bits and pieces that comprise the beams and railings of the property. I quite enjoyed
taking photos of everything.
The owner “Boy” and his cast of characters here are entertaining as well. They are very welcoming, and a lot of fun. The place is definitely more on the rustic side, and if you ask me, that’s what’s so charming about it - don’t come expecting an updated resort with a modern design. You can stay overnight with all meals and 3-4 dives included. In my opinion, Anini-y is an underrated snorkeling and diving destination! Ask the staff where the most beautiful corals are.
There is a nice veranda with a hammock and reliable wifi if you want to stay in and relax. Great company and freshly prepared meals cooked over an open flame - this is what it’s all about. Also make sure to witness the locals pulling the giant nets in right from the shore - it's called “sahid” fishing!
Antique province can be reached by bus or van from Kalibo or Caticlan airports, and also by bus or van from Iloilo city. Depending on where you are going, it can be anywhere from a 2 hour to 5 hour trip.
If you have time and are very adventurous, the region can be explored independently, and you can contact Karmila Dimamay if you need any assistance. I recommend connecting with Alex @ Kasa Raya Traveller's Inn for tours. He is focused on providing excellent environmentally conscious tours, and he is a great guy. Alex can be reached at phone # 09175247875
(Tip: I think there is an international ATM in San Jose (BPI, I believe), but as far as I know, there are no others around Antique. You might want to get cash in Iloilo, Caticlan, or Boracay if you are a foreigner)
I felt so comfortable there, and I have a feeling I'll be returning over the years. I'd like to thank Flord + Katahum, Karmila Dimamay, and Alex de Moscoso+family for all the hospitality and help during my stay. Like I mentioned at the start, while there are a few decent resorts here, this province is really great for the off-the-beaten-path adventures - the ones who want to roll up their sleeves and get dirty trekking to a stunning waterfall, or be invited to an impromptu dinner with a rice farmer and his family.
Antique may have been over-hyped a bit in the past, but as long you're realistic about what to expect, I think you'll love it. If you go and experience some of my recommendations, please give me your feedback! I will update info in my listing if needed.
Thank you for an incredible, unforgettable experience, Antique.
Hope to see you again soon!
Like the "I Dreamed Of This" page below to follow along.
- Nathan Allen