Despite its relative proximity to the “world’s best island” of Siargao, Southern Leyte lies outside the tourism radar and unfortunately only makes it to the national news when a natural calamity such as a typhoon or landslide hits this remote province in Eastern Visayas. It is this obscurity that got me excited on the first day of our Samar-Leyte tour organized by the Tourism Promotions Board of the Philippines when we departed Tacloban City and made it as far as the municipality of Liloan, which straddles the islands of Leyte and Panaon. Aside from being a gateway to Mindanao, I knew little about this corner of the archipelago.
The municipality of Liloan occupies a peninsula of mainland Leyte and the island of Panaon, east of Dinagat Islands and Siargao, off the northeastern tip of Mindanao. Our group was welcomed by the municipal government with an energetic performance by costumed street dancers and generous spread of native snacks like bingka (rice cake), suman (sticky rice roll) and sinaging (banana mash) at the jump-off point to Tagbak Marine Park.
But before we set out to explore the marine sanctuary, we stopped by Liloan Bridge (also known as Wawa Bridge), the steel structure painted in red orange linking the islands of Leyte and Panaon. The bridge traverses the narrow Panaon Strait, between Sogod Bay and Cabalian Bay. As the water flows through the strait, one can observe the whirlpools or lilo, which gives the municipality its name.
We backtracked to the jump-off point to Tagbak Marine Park, walking down some concrete steps from the highway to an inlet where we boarded a bangka to Puy-aw Islet, which was essentially a cluster of rocks situated in the middle of the marine sanctuary. It was surrounded by turquoise waters marbled with the dark shadows of a submerged coral garden. A wooden gazebo sits next to this small outcrop, linked by a bamboo bridge, serving as a 360-degree view deck and a shaded spot to prepare for your snorkeling and paddling activities. Best of all, we had the islet all to ourselves.
Lured by the vibrant hues of the surrounding water, I quickly put on my mask and fins and gingerly climbed down from the gazebo onto the rocky shore. The coral garden – populated by blue-green and black-striped damselfish – offered some decent snorkeling but I had to be cautious because of the clusters of black long-spine urchins. I wanted to spend more time at this snorkeling spot and see better-looking portions of the marine sanctuary but unfortunately we were afforded little time at this stop.
In less than an hour, we returned to the bangka and headed to our next destination. From Puy-aw Islet, we puttered eastwards, passing along the narrow strait of Panaon and offering a different perspective of Liloan Bridge from below. Our bangka encountered some engine problems and we had to be tugged by another outrigger boat, following the eastern coast of Leyte to Molopolo White Beach. This stretch of white-sand beach had low-key vibe with no other tourists; only the locals were out here enjoying the weekend. We ate lunch before hopping over to the the foliage-covered islets that flanked the beach, where we snorkeled some more and leapt off some cliffs into the water.
Overall, Liloan was quite a revelation. Its relatively remote location would appeal most to beach-loving adventurers looking for rustic coastlines and snorkeling spots minus any other tourists. Get here before everybody finds out.
Molopolo’s islets are great for snorkeling, paddling and cliff jumping! Photo by Noel Amata
How to Get There
Ormoc and Tacloban are the nearest gateways by air. Alternatively, one can fly to Cebu and take a fastcraft or ro-ro ferry to Maasin (3 hours away). Take a van to Sogod, then transfer by jeepney to Liloan. Liloan is a four-hour drive from Ormoc or Tacloban. Mindanao-bound buses traveling through Leyte also pass by the municipality.
Tours of Tagbak Marine Park and other water activities must be arrange in advance. Contact +63 9973721452 or the official Facebook page.
This blog post was possible through the media tour of Samar-Leyte from August 19 to 23, 2018, organized by the Tourism Promotions Board of the Philippines, under the Department of Tourism (DOT).