The tadpole-shaped island of CORREGIDOR, less than 5km long and 3km wide at its broadest point, is a living museum to the horrors of war. Lying 40km southwest of Manila, it was originally used by the Spanish as a customs post. In 1942 it was defended bravely by an ill-equipped US and Filipino contingent under continual bombardment from Japanese guns and aircraft. Some 900 Japanese and 800 American and Filipino troops died in the fighting; when the Americans retook the island in 1945, virtually the entire Japanese garrison of over 6000 men was annihilated. Little wonder Corregidor is said to be haunted. The island was abandoned after the war, and was gradually reclaimed by thick jungle vegetation – it wasn’t until the late 1980s that the Corregidor Foundation began its transformation into a national shrine.
Most visits to Corregidor are by guided tour; the only way to wander around on your own is to stay the night. Perhaps understandably, the tours tend to focus on the heroism, bravery and sacrifice of the men who fought here, rather than the grisly nature of the fighting itself, but it is still a moving experience – Japanese tourists also come here in numbers to pay their respects to the dead of both sides.Read More
Touring the island
Touring the island
Tours begin near the ferry dock, with the statue of General Douglas MacArthur, who was reluctantly spirited away from the island before its capitulation. His famous words, “I shall return,” adorn the statue’s base, though he actually made the pronouncement in Darwin, Australia. From here tours take in all the main sights on the island, including the Filipino Heroes Monument, commemorating Philippine struggles from the Battle of Mactan in 1521 to the EDSA Revolution of 1986, and the Japanese Garden of Peace, where the Japanese were buried in 1945. Overgrown and lost, it was discovered in the 1980s, when the remains were cremated and brought back to Japan. A statue of the Buddhist bodhisattva Guanyin (or “Kannon” in Japanese) watches over the site. At some point you’ll reach the Malinta Tunnel, a 253-metre-long chamber and connected network of damp underground bunkers where MacArthur (and President Manuel Quezon) set up temporary headquarters. Access is through an optional light-and-sound show that dramatizes the events of 1942 and is well worth the extra P150.
Elsewhere you’ll see the ruined concrete shells of the once vast barracks that dotted the island, and the remains of various gun batteries, peppered with bullet and shell holes. You can also visit the Pacific War Memorial and its small museum containing weapons, old photos and uniforms that were left behind. Finally, clamber the 57 steps to the top of the old Spanish Lighthouse at the island’s highest point (191m), for stupendous views across to Bataan and Mount Mariveles.
Away from the reminders of one of the war’s most horrific battles, Corregidor is unspoiled, peaceful and a great break from the city: you can walk marked trails that meander through the hilly interior (look out for the monkeys and monitor lizards), rent a mountain bike or circle the island in a bangka and do some fishing.