The most impressive structure on Cuyo Island is the 17th century Cuyo Fort lording over Cuyo town, the oldest colonial settlement and second capital of Palawan province – after Taytay – from 1873 to 1903. Spanish missionaries arrived in Cuyo Island in 1622 and, surprisingly, faced no resistance from the natives. They were able to convert them to Roman Catholicism, baptizing over 500 Cuyonons on their first mission.
In 1636, a Moro fleet from Mindanao raided the villages on Cuyo Island, before continuing on to Agutaya and Culion. The Fort of Cuyo was subsequently built in 1680 to protect the residents of the island from further attacks from Muslim pirates. The 17th century Spanish fortress of Cuyo town is unique because it also houses the town church, convent and adoration chapel within its walls. It is similar to the 18th century fortress-church of Culion Island in northern Palawan, but far grander in size and design.
A second fortress was built on the eastern coast of Cuyo Island in present-day Magsaysay, 7 km away from Cuyo town, but was never finished. The ruins of the unfinished fortification can still be seen along the shores of Barangay Lucbuan, Magsaysay in an area locals still call kuta or “fortress”.
The fortress-church can be easily reached on foot or tricycle from Cuyo Port. Two-meter thick coral stone walls form the ten-meter high perimeter of the rectangular fortress. Statues of saints stand on the walls next to small cannons, while a pair of larger ones guard the front entrance to the church. The triangular pediment and belfry of the St. Augustine Parish Church rises from inside the walls and can be seen from the outside.
I walked into the stone church through the side entrance. Unlike the renovated convent and adoration chapel, the church still retains its old world charm. It was so quiet inside I could hear the somber murmuring of a lone old woman praying the rosary. She was kneeling on a frontmost pew facing the silver-paneled retablo (altar).
A flight of stairs to the right of the fort entrance leads to the bell tower. Having disturbed their roost upon my arrival, a flock of red-eyed starlings that has populated the tower flew away noisily to the trees across the fortress. I climbed to the top of the belfry and emerged onto the wraparound balcony overlooking the fortress complex. From here, I could see the rest of town, the nearby sandbar of Capusan Beach, and even the nearby islands of the Cuyo Archipelago.
How to Get There
Cuyo Fort and Church is only a few minutes walk from Cuyo Port. From Cuyo Port, walk up Sandoval St and turn left at Rizal St, strolling past the Municipal Hall and Palawan State University. For more information, read my travel guide on Cuyo Island, Palawan.