Cuyo Island, Palawan: A Travel Guide
The Cuyo Archipelago (also known as the Cuyo Islands) are a group of small islands located in the middle of the Sulu Sea between Palawan and Panay. The administrative and commercial center of the islands is Cuyo town on the western half of Cuyo Island. Pamalican Island, where the exclusive luxury resort of Amanpulo is located, is the northernmost island belonging to the municipality of Cuyo. The eastern half of Cuyo Island belongs to the municipality of Magsaysay, where Cuyo Airport is located. Meanwhile, the northeast islands form the municipality of Agutaya. The local languages are Cuyonon (spoken in Cuyo and Magsaysay) and Agutaynen (spoken in Agutaya). Filipino (Tagalog), Hiligaynon and English are also spoken.
Established in 1622, Cuyo town is the oldest colonial settlement and second capital (1873 to 1903) of Palawan province, as evidenced by its beautiful stone fortress-church and heritage houses. During the amihan (trade winds) season from December to March, consistent onshore and offshore winds blowing steadily over extensive sandy shallows make Cuyo one of the best kitesurfing (kiteboarding) and windsurfing destinations in the world. Cuyo Islands are also known for their cashew plantations and lapu-lapu (grouper) fishing.
The archipelago’s location within the rich waters of Sulu Sea would have also made it a perfect destination for scuba diving and snorkeling. Unfortunately, Cuyo Island is one of the country’s worst ecological disasters due to unabated illegal fishing that has decimated nearly all of its coral reefs. Either tolerated or protected by the local government, migrant fishermen from Cebu and Masbate continue to destroy coral reefs with dynamite fishing since the 1980s and, more recently, the harvest of lapu-lapu (grouper) for the lucrative live fish trade using cyanide fishing.
In 2008, Cuyo Island gained some media exposure when Ploning, an acclaimed Filipino drama film based on a Cuyonon folk song of the same title and starring Judy Ann Santos, was filmed on the island.
How to Get There
ILOILO – CUYO – PUERTO PRINCESA
- Passenger ferries operated by Milagros-J Shipping and Montenegro Shipping Lines traveling between Iloilo City on Panay Island and Puerto Princesa on Palawan Island stop by Cuyo Island for a few hours.
- From Iloilo City, Milagrosa-J Shipping ferries depart for Puerto Princesa every Monday and Thursday evening at 7:00 PM, arriving in Cuyo Port the following morning at 9:00 AM (i.e. travel time of 14 hours). The ferry then continues on to Puerto Princesa, departing from Cuyo Port in the afternoon at 3:00 PM. Regular Iloilo-Cuyo fares are as follows: PHP 475 for economy class (lower deck), PHP 575 deluxe class (upper deck) and PHP 750 for tourist class (A/C).
- From Puerto Princesa, Milagrosa ferries depart for Iloilo City every Thursday and Sunday at 3:00 PM, arriving in Cuyo Port the following morning at 9:00 AM (i.e. travel time of 18 hours). The ferry then continues on to Iloilo, departing from Cuyo Port in the afternoon at 5:00 PM. Regular Puerto Princesa-Cuyo fares are as follows: PHP 725 for economy class (lower deck), PHP 835 fro deluxe class (upper deck) and PHP 980 for tourist class (A/C).
- For inquiries, contact Milagros-J Shipping Corporation at Jarfel Bldg., Brgy. Lapuz Norte, La Paz, Iloilo City, Tel. +63 33 3350955 or +63 33 3378627. Take the jeepney from Iloilo city proper to Barrio Obrero. Their Cuyo booking office is located at Sandoval corner Rizal Sts, a few minutes walk from Cuyo Port.
- Alternatively, one can ride the weekly Montenegro ferry that departs Iloilo City every Sunday at 8:00 AM, and Puerto Princesa every Monday at 6:00 PM. For more information, visit www.montenegrolines.com.ph
MANILA – CORON – CUYO
- M/V D’ ASEAN Journey runs ferries to Cuyo Island from Manila, via Coron on Busuanga Island, Palawan. From Manila, M/V D’ ASEAN Journey departs every Sunday at 2:00 PM, arriving at Coron Port the following morning at 7:00 AM (Monday). The ferry then departs for Cuyo at 12:00 PM, arriving in Cuyo Port at 8:00 PM. For inquiries, contact +63 9496241871 or +639199637024.
Air Juan flies 12-seater turboprop planes to Cuyo from Puerto Princesa and back twice weekly on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Fare starts at PHP 3,899 with 10 kg baggage allowance. Flight time is around one hour. For bookings, contact Florabel Palay at +63 9399022348.
Where to Stay
Nikki’s Pension is the most popular place to stay on Cuyo Island due to its proximity to Cuyo Port and Capusan Beach. However, due to reports of environmental malpractice (i.e. disposing sewage on the beach) and location on disputed land, I suggest that you stay elsewhere and support legitimate establishments.
- Dok’s La Paz Batchoy & Homestay at 92 Sandoval St, Brgy. Tenga-Tenga is the ancestral house of the Privado family that serves batchoy noodle soup and offers spare rooms to travelers at PHP 200 per person. A homey option just a few minutes walk from Cuyo Port. Tel. +63 9771641539 or +63 9075887177
- Jade Felimar Value Inn at Juan Luna St, Brgy. Cabigsing is a three-storey hotel with nice views overlooking Cuyo Town and the surrounding islands at the unfinished roof deck. Fan double rooms at PHP 750 and A/C double rooms at PHP 1,000. Tel. +6328065958, +639228540335, +639303478084, +639301069821.
- PSU Hometel is located within the Palawan State University (PSU) campus along Capusan Beach. Fan dorm beds are PHP 200 per person (maximum of four persons in a room), or PHP 250 for an A/C dorm bed (groups of eight). A great alternative to Nikki’s Pension. Tel. +63 9199850074
- Anino Retreat (formerly Quijano Windsurfing Retreat) at Victoria Beach (Quijano Beach), Brgy. Lucbuan, Magsaysay is a secluded midrange beach resort ideal for honeymooners and water sports enthusiasts, especially kitesurfers and windsurfers. Located near Cuyo Airport. Their rustic garden villas for two start at PHP 2,450 (kitesurfing season from October to April), or PHP 1,750 (off-peak season from May to September). Contact Victoria Peralta at +639296033275.
- Cuyo is a small town and can be explored by foot or by tricycle (PHP 10 per person). A tricycle ride from Cuyo town to Magsaysay is PHP 200 per way.
- Motorcycles may be hired to explore the rest of Cuyo Island, including the town of Magsaysay on the eastern half of the island, at PHP 500 per day. Your accommodation can arrange this for you, or you may ask around town.
- Bangkas (outrigger boats) may be hired to visit the neighboring islands such as Bisucay, Pandan and Quiminatin at PHP 5,000 per day for a boat that can accommodate up to 10 people. The best time to go island hopping is April and May. Contact Rowena Muaña (+63 9471682484) for boat rentals.
What to Do
- Stroll around Cuyo Town, exploring the Fort of Cuyo and St. Augustine Parish Church, heritage houses, the old Spanish stone pier and Spanish landing site.
- Learn kitesurfing (kiteboarding) and watch the sunset at Capusan Beach.
- Hike Mt. Aguado for panoramic views of Cuyo Islands.
- Go island-hopping and explore the smaller scenic islands of Bisucay, Pandan and Quiminatin.
- Visit a cashew plantation and watch how cashew nuts are harvested and processed.
- Enjoy a romantic beach escape at Anino Retreat in Victoria Beach – also a great kitesurfing and windsurfing spot.
- Hire a motorcycle for a tour of Magsaysay, the eastern town where the Filipino movie Ploning was filmed.