As soon as I got off the ferry, I spent my first morning on Romblon island attending the local festivities at the capitol grounds. Romblon town is the geopolitical heart of the archipelagic province of Romblon, which includes the larger islands of Tablas and Sibuyan.
Serendipitously, my arrival last March 16 coincided with the province’s 121st Foundation and 77th World War II Liberation Anniversaries. A scaled-down edition of the Marble Festival, usually held in January, was also held. The Romblon Provincial Tourism Office invited me to attend the celebrations. I was thrilled. It was my first time on Romblon island. I’ve only been to Tablas and Carabao islands nine years back, and I’ve been wanting to visit for years.
After lunch, I started my exploration of the island. I was excited to explore the heritage sites first. Romblon town proper is compact enough to explore on foot. But since I would be checking in at Dream Paradise Mountain Resort, located 10 km away, at the end of the day, I decided to rent a scooter for efficient sightseeing. (For scooter rentals on Romblon island, contact Arnold Mendez at +63 928 4162999, ₱400 per day).
(Note: As of March 2022, Dream Paradise Mountain Resort is still the only accommodation on the island approved to receive tourists since tourism restarted. A booking confirmation from a DOT-accredited accommodation was required to procure the S-PASS to enter Romblon island.)
The Twin Forts of Romblon
Driving up San Antonio Hill, I arrived at my first stop. Fort San Andres is a centuries-old Spanish fortress overlooking the entire town and Romblon Bay. (If you’re exploring on foot, there are steps on the western side that lead up to the fort.) It is one of the most scenic fortresses in the entire country. Rehabilitated in 2012, this quadrilateral structure with four turrets is actually one of two hilltop fortresses, dubbed the Twin Forts of Romblon. These fortresses were built from 1644 to 1650.
While Fort San Andres has been well-preserved, the other fortress, Fort Santiago on Calvary Hill, unfortunately, remains in ruins. Only the base its walls survived, swallowed by surrounding forest. The Spanish government built these forts to guard the settlement from Moro raiders and Dutch pirates. In 2013, the twin forts were declared National Cultural Treasures.
Descending from the hill, I made my way back to the heart of town, lorded over by St. Joseph Cathedral Parish, also known as the Romblon Cathedral. A replica image of the Holy Child Jesus of Cebu, enshrined here since 1728, was stolen in 1991 but was returned in 2013. The Baroque-style cathedral was declared a National Cultural Treasure in 2001.
The remaining heritage sites were just a short walk from the cathedral. In front of the church stood the Old Municipal Hall, which was under restoration. Right across this two-storey building, I admired the Traida de Aguas, otherwise known as Fuente de Belen. Topped with an image of the Virgin Mary, this charming fountain served as the town’s water supply at its original location. It was erected in 1864.
The Historic Bridges of Romblon
Walking past the historic fountain, I came across the first of five colonial-era bridges, known as the Historic Bridges of Romblon. Puente de Belen is one of three coral-stone bridges constructed in the 1860s. From this bridge, one can see the next one down the dried-up river. Puente de Romblon (also known as Puente Zaragosa) stands out with its prominent parapets. The third stone-arched bridge, Puente de Rio Casalogan, can be found south of the cathedral. Walking down to the shallow river below (sadly littered with a lot of trash), one could enjoy the better views of this heritage structure.
Finally, I went to see last two bridges built from concrete during the American period. East of Puente de Rio Casalogan, I strolled across Puente Progreso, built in 1925. Next to the public market, I found Puente dela Paz, built in 1934. Labeled with their names in relief lettering, these American-era bridges were far simpler in design. All of these historic bridges span over the Casalogan River, except for Puente Progreso, which crosses a tributary, Basiao Creek.
While these bridges are small compared to other colonial-era bridges I’ve seen elsewhere in the Philippines, to find a handful of them in such close proximity to one another is quite special! Together with the Twin Forts, the National Museum declared these five bridges Important Cultural Properties in 2013.
How to Get There
Inter-island ro-ro ferries travel to Romblon island from Lucena and Batangas cities, a few hour’s bus ride south of Metro Manila. Starhorse and Montenegro have daily overnight trips from Lucena City to Romblon island. These ferries stop by other islands like Banton and Tablas before reaching Romblon . Montenegro has twice-weekly Batangas-Odiongan-Romblon trips, departing Mondays and Thursdays. Schedules frequently change, so it’s best to contact the shipping companies to confirm.