Many of the beaches dotted along the western stretch of the Lingayen Gulf, between Bolinao and Dagupan, are working beaches, where people fish in the gulf’s rich waters and mend their nets. The sand is generally grey and unappealing and the water likewise; much of the coral has been destroyed by dynamite and cyanide fishing. It certainly isn’t all bad news though. The gulf’s primary attraction, the Hundred Islands National Park, is worth the trip here alone. There’s more though: at the western end of the gulf around Bolinao you’ll find good beaches and some excellent snorkelling areas, while at the northeastern end of the gulf the capital of La Union province, San Fernando, provides access to beaches and resorts as well as opportunities for trekking and climbing. There is also some excellent surfing if you time it right, with surfers congregating in the resorts of San Juan.
Buses from Manila, run by Five Star and Victory Liner, ply the route along the gulf although you’ll probably need to change bus – with Dagupan one of the main hubs – even if you are passing straight through.Read More
Hundred Islands National Park
Hundred Islands National Park
These tiny, emerald-like islands – actually there are 123, but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it – are part of a national park covering almost twenty square kilometres in the Lingayen Gulf. Some islands have beaches, but many are no more than coral outcrops crowned by scrub. Sadly, much of the underwater coral in the park has been damaged by a devastating combination of cyanide and dynamite fishing, typhoons and the El Niño weather phenomenon. The authorities are, however, going all out to protect what coral is left and help it regenerate, meaning you can only snorkel in approved areas. Marine biologists from the University of the Philippines have been at the forefront of the protection movement, replanting hundreds of taklobos (giant clams).
The best place to base yourself for exploring the islands is the small town of Lucap, from which you can island-hop by day before returning to a shower and a comfy bed in the evening. Lucap can be reached by tricycle (15min; P60) from the city of Alaminos, which is on the National Highway.
The only three islands with any form of development are Governor’s Island, Children’s Island and Quezon Island. A day-trip to all three costs P800 for a small boat for five people (larger boats are also available). You’ll need to choose one island on which you will spend most of your time – the boatman will leave you there for a few hours then return, and you’ll visit the other two more briefly.
A much more appealing option is to pay P1400 for a “service boat” allowing you to visit the more interesting undeveloped islands. Some of these dots of land are so small and rocky it’s impossible to land on them, while others are big enough to allow for some exploring on foot, with tiny, sandy coves where you can picnic in the shade and swim. One of the prettiest islands is Marta, actually two tiny islets connected by a thin strip of bright white sand that almost disappears at high tide. Marcos Island has a blowhole and a vertical shaft of rock; you can clamber to the top and then dive into a seawater pool about 20m below. A number of islands, including Scout Island and Quirino Island, have caves; on Cuenco Island there’s a cave that goes right through the island to the other side. Shell Island has a lagoon in which you can swim at high tide, while birdwatchers should ask to stop beside Cathedral Island.
A dramatic crescent with big breakers that roll in from the South China Sea, the coast just north of San Juan in barangay Urbiztondo is a prime surfing beach. Most have surfboards to rent (P200/hr) and offer tuition (another P200). There are two breaks in Urbiztondo, one a beach break close to the main huddle of resorts and the other the Mona Liza point break at the northern end of the beach. Both are more suited to experienced surfers, while the best spot for beginners is the Cement Factory break in nearby Bacnotan barangay. The peak season is November to March, and at other times there may be no waves but you can get significant discounts on accommodation.