Romblon Province is an archipelago in the heart of the Philippines, specifically in the Mimaropa Region. It comprises numerous islands, the three largest being Romblon, Sibuyan, and Tablas. The province’s rich history dates back to pre-colonial times when it was a thriving trade center. Its strategic location attracted Spanish colonizers, who established forts and churches during the 16th century, giving the province a unique blend of indigenous and colonial influences.
The Philippines is an archipelago with over 7,000 islands, offering diverse landscapes, cultures, and experiences. While popular tourist destinations such as Boracay, Palawan, and Cebu receive the lion’s share of attention, lesser-known provinces like Romblon hold equal charm and allure. Promoting these hidden gems helps spread tourism revenue more evenly across the country. It allows travelers to discover new and less crowded destinations, providing a more authentic and immersive experience.
Romblon Province, with its pristine beaches, breathtaking landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and fascinating history, offers a unique and off-the-beaten-path experience to travelers seeking to explore the hidden treasures of the Philippines. By uncovering the province’s natural and cultural wonders, visitors can create lasting memories and contribute to sustainable tourism in this captivating archipelago.
The Three Main Islands: Romblon, Sibuyan, and Tablas
Overview of each island’s unique features
- Romblon Island – Often referred to as the Marble Capital of the Philippines, Romblon Island boasts beautiful white-sand beaches, lush green mountains, and a rich cultural heritage. Visitors can explore the island’s Spanish-era fortifications, centuries-old churches, and thriving marble industry.
- Sibuyan Island – Nicknamed the Galapagos of Asia, Sibuyan Island is home to diverse flora and fauna, many of which are endemic. Its untouched natural beauty, which includes the formidable Mount Guiting-Guiting and crystal-clear rivers, makes it an ideal destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers.
- Tablas Island – The largest of the three, Tablas Island offers a mix of pristine beaches, rolling hills, and charming rural landscapes. This island is perfect for travelers who enjoy water sports, such as scuba diving and kite surfing, and those who appreciate the laid-back provincial lifestyle.
How to reach the islands: transportation options
- Fly to Tugdan Airport in Tablas Island from Manila by air, then take a ferry or fast craft to reach Romblon and Sibuyan Islands.
- By sea – Board a 2GO Travel ferry from Batangas City to Romblon or Odiongan in Tablas Island. Once you reach your first destination, you can easily find inter-island ferries to visit the other two islands.
- By land and sea (RoRo) – Take a bus from Manila to Batangas City and then board a Montenegro Lines RoRo ferry to reach the islands. This option is often cheaper and more flexible, albeit slower, than other methods.
Recommended itinerary for visiting all three islands
Day 1: Arrival on Tablas Island
- Explore Aglicay Beach and Looc Marine Sanctuary
- Overnight stay in a beachfront resort.
Day 2: Tablas Island to Romblon Island
- Take an early morning ferry to Romblon Island
- Visit Fort San Andres, St. Joseph Cathedral, and marble workshops
- Relax at Bonbon Beach and Tiamban Beach
- Overnight stay in Romblon Town
Day 3: Romblon Island to Sibuyan Island
- Board a morning ferry to Sibuyan Island
- Discover Cresta de Gallo, a beautiful sandbar island
- Take a leisurely hike to Cantingas River and enjoy a refreshing swim
- Overnight stay in San Fernando or Cajidiocan
Day 4: Sibuyan Island Adventure
- Conquer Mount Guiting-Guiting for experienced hikers or visit Dagubdob Falls for a more relaxed day trip
- Explore the local villages and learn about their way of life
- Overnight stay on Sibuyan Island
Day 5: Departure
- Take a ferry back to Tablas Island and catch a flight or RoRo ferry to Manila
Note: Adjust the itinerary, considering the travel time and personal preferences. Allow extra days if you wish to spend more time on each island or participate in additional activities.
- Bonbon Beach, Romblon Island – Bonbon Beach is a stunning stretch of white sand and crystal-clear waters that connect Romblon Island to the small Bang-og Island during low tide. Visitors can stroll along the sandbar, take a refreshing dip in the turquoise waters, or bask in the sun while marveling at the picturesque scenery.
- Cresta de Gallo, Sibuyan Island – This small, uninhabited island offers a true escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Surrounded by powdery white sand and vibrant coral reefs, Cresta de Gallo provides the perfect setting for snorkeling, diving, or relaxing on the beach. Travelers can arrange a day trip to the island through local tour operators in Sibuyan.
- Aglicay Beach, Tablas Island – With its fine sand, clear blue waters, and serene atmosphere, Aglicay Beach is an idyllic spot for beach lovers. The gently sloping shoreline makes it perfect for swimming and snorkeling, while the nearby hills offer picturesque views of the surrounding landscape. Visitors can rent beachfront cottages or stay at the Aglicay Beach Resort for a comfortable overnight experience.
Waterfalls and rivers
- Garing Falls, Sibuyan Island – Nestled amidst lush greenery, Garing Falls offers a rejuvenating retreat into nature. The multi-tiered waterfall cascades into a crystal-clear pool, creating an inviting spot for swimming and picnicking. To reach Garing Falls, visitors can take a guided hike through the verdant forest, enjoying the sights and sounds of Sibuyan’s rich biodiversity.
- Mablaran Falls, Romblon Island – A hidden gem on Romblon Island, Mablaran Falls features a series of cascading waterfalls and natural pools. Visitors can take a refreshing dip in the calm waters, explore the surrounding forest, or enjoy the peaceful ambiance. The hike to Mablaran Falls is relatively easy, making it a suitable excursion for all ages.
Mountainous terrain and hiking opportunities
- Mount Guiting-Guiting, Sibuyan Island – Towering at 2,058 meters, Mount Guiting-Guiting is a challenging yet rewarding hike for experienced trekkers. The mountain boasts diverse flora and fauna, including several endemic species, making it a hotspot for nature enthusiasts. The trek takes approximately 2-3 days, with overnight stays at designated campsites. Hiring a local guide is essential, as the trail can be treacherous in certain areas.
- Tinagong Dagat, Tablas Island – Tinagong Dagat, or “Hidden Sea,” is a vast saltwater lagoon between rolling hills on Tablas Island. Visitors can hike to the lagoon’s viewpoint, which offers a breathtaking panorama of the surrounding landscape. For a more immersive experience, travelers can camp overnight or arrange a homestay with residents, allowing them to learn more about the area’s unique ecosystem and culture.
Marine Sanctuaries and Diving Spots
Overview of marine biodiversity in Romblon Romblon’s pristine waters are home to diverse marine life, making it a haven for divers and snorkelers. The province’s coral reefs, sea grass beds, and mangrove forests provide crucial habitats for various species, including colorful reef fish, sea turtles, and even the occasional whale shark. The local government and communities work together to preserve and protect these delicate ecosystems, ensuring that future generations enjoy Romblon’s underwater wonders.
Popular diving spots
- Blue Hole, Romblon Island – The Blue Hole is a unique underwater cavern that plunges to depths of over 40 meters. Divers can explore the cavern’s fascinating rock formations and encounter marine species, including lionfish, nudibranchs, and moray eels. The dive site suits experienced divers, and local dive operators offer guided tours to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.
- Sunken Japanese Wrecks, Tablas Island – History buffs and underwater explorers alike will appreciate the sunken Japanese wrecks off the coast of Tablas Island. These World War II-era vessels now serve as artificial reefs, teeming with marine life such as groupers, barracudas, and soft corals. Several dive operators in Tablas offer guided wreck dives, catering to various skill levels.
Responsible tourism and marine conservation efforts As part of Romblon’s commitment to sustainable tourism, visitors are encouraged to practice responsible diving and snorkeling. This includes adhering to the principles of “Leave No Trace,” maintaining a safe distance from marine life, and avoiding contact with corals. Supporting local marine conservation projects, such as coral restoration and sea turtle protection, can also contribute to preserving Romblon’s marine ecosystems. By engaging in responsible tourism practices, travelers can help ensure that the natural beauty of Romblon’s underwater world remains intact for future generations.
Local Culture and Heritage
The Romblomanon language and dialects Romblomanon, the native language of Romblon Province, is a distinct language within the Visayan language family. While the people of Romblon can understand and speak Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines, Romblomanon remains an integral part of their daily lives and cultural identity. The language varies slightly among the different islands, each with unique dialects and accents. Travelers can immerse themselves in the local culture by learning basic phrases and interacting with friendly residents.
Traditional crafts and industries
- Marble carving – Romblon is renowned for its high-quality marble, comparable to the famous Carrara marble from Italy. For generations, local artisans have been crafting intricate marble sculptures, home décor items, and souvenirs. Visitors can explore the workshops, witness the skilled craftsmen at work, and purchase unique and beautiful pieces to take home.
- Weaving and basketry – The art of weaving and basketry is a longstanding tradition in Romblon. Locals use natural materials such as pandan leaves, abaca fibers, and bamboo to create intricate and functional products. These handicrafts, including mats, bags, and baskets, showcase the creativity and resourcefulness of the people of Romblon. By supporting these local industries, travelers can contribute to preserving traditional crafts and the artisans’ livelihoods.
Festivals and events
- Biniray Festival, Romblon Island – Held every January in Romblon Town, the Biniray Festival celebrates the province’s rich cultural heritage and religious traditions. The festival features a fluvial parade, where colorful boats carry the image of the Santo Niño, the patron saint of Romblon, around the bay. Locals and visitors can enjoy street dancing, live music, and cultural performances throughout the week-long festivities.
- Saginyogan Festival, Tablas Island – Every February in the town of Alcantara, the Saginyogan Festival is a vibrant event that showcases the island’s agricultural abundance, particularly the harvest of coconut, which plays a vital role in the local economy. The festival features lively street dancing, with participants dressed in colorful costumes and performing traditional dance routines. Visitors can also indulge in various coconut-based dishes and delicacies during the celebration.
Historical Sites and Architecture
- Fort San Andres, Romblon Island – Constructed during the 17th century, Fort San Andres stands as a testament to Romblon’s rich colonial history. Perched on a hill overlooking the town and harbor, the fort once served as a stronghold against pirates and foreign invaders. Today, visitors can explore the well-preserved ruins and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding landscape from this historical vantage point.
- Fort Santiago, Sibuyan Island – Located in Cajidiocan, Fort Santiago is another example of Spanish colonial military architecture. Although less well-preserved than Fort San Andres, the remnants of this stone fortification provide a glimpse into the island’s past. Visitors can explore the site and learn about its history through interpretive signage and local guides.
- St. Joseph Cathedral, Romblon Island – Built in the 18th century, St. Joseph Cathedral is an impressive example of Spanish-era architecture in the heart of Romblon Town. The church features a mix of Baroque and Romanesque styles, with beautifully carved wooden doors and intricate stained-glass windows. Visitors can attend a mass, marvel at the religious artifacts on display, or appreciate the church’s solemn atmosphere.
- Banton Church, Banton Island – Dating back to the 17th century, Banton Church is one of the oldest churches in the Romblon Province. Situated on the small island of Banton, this historic church has withstood the test of time, enduring natural calamities and periods of unrest. Its simple yet elegant design and peaceful surroundings make it a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts and spiritual seekers alike.
Lighthouses and other landmarks
- Cape San Agustin Lighthouse, Tablas Island – The Cape San Agustin Lighthouse, perched on a cliff on the northern tip of Tablas Island, has been guiding mariners since the late 19th century. The lighthouse features a unique octagonal tower and offers breathtaking views of the Sibuyan Sea. Visitors can take a guided tour of the lighthouse and its surrounding area, learning about its history and significance in maritime navigation.
- Fuerza San Andres, Romblon Island – Situated near Fort San Andres, Fuerza San Andres is a smaller fortification that once formed part of Romblon’s colonial defense system. Although only a few remnants of the original structure remain, visitors can explore the site and enjoy its scenic views. Fuerza San Andres is a testament to the island’s strategic importance during the Spanish colonial period and serves as a reminder of its fascinating past.
Local Cuisine and Delicacies
Signature dishes and ingredients
- Romblon-style adobo – A local twist on the classic Filipino dish, Romblon-style adobo is a savory, flavorful blend of chicken or pork marinated in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and spices. This dish often includes adding coconut milk, giving it a rich, creamy taste that sets it apart from other regional variations of adobo. Visitors can find this mouthwatering dish in local eateries and households across the province.
- Sarsa ng pasayan (shrimp paste) – A popular condiment in Romblon, sarsa ng pasayan is a spicy, tangy shrimp paste made from fermented shrimp, chili peppers, and other spices. It is often used as a dipping sauce for grilled seafood or as a flavor enhancer in traditional Filipino dishes such as sinigang and pancit. To experience the authentic taste of Romblon, try this delicious and versatile condiment.
Traditional desserts and snacks
- Ube Halaya – A colorful, delectable treat, ube halaya is a sweet purple yam pudding enjoyed throughout the Philippines, with its unique version in Romblon. Made from grated ube, sugar, and coconut milk, this velvety dessert is often topped with a sprinkle of toasted coconut or whipped cream. Ube halaya is a must-try for those with a sweet tooth.
- Maruya (banana fritters) – A popular afternoon snack in Romblon, maruya are crispy, golden cakes made from ripe bananas or plantains, coated in a sweet batter, and deep-fried to perfection. These delicious treats are best enjoyed hot, with powdered sugar or a drizzle of caramel sauce. Maruya can be found in local bakeries, street food stalls, and markets across the province.
Where to eat: recommended restaurants and food markets
- Romblon Deli – Located in Romblon Town, this cozy eatery offers a wide range of local and international dishes, including Romblon-style adobo and fresh seafood. With its friendly service and relaxed atmosphere, Romblon Deli is an excellent choice for a satisfying meal.
- Agpanabat Seafood Grill – Situated on Tablas Island, Agpanabat serves up delicious, freshly caught seafood dishes in a laid-back beachfront setting. Diners can indulge in grilled fish, shrimp, and squid while enjoying the cool sea breeze and stunning ocean views.
- Odiongan Public Market – For an authentic taste of Romblon’s local cuisine, head to the bustling Odiongan Public Market on Tablas Island. Here, visitors can sample an array of traditional dishes, snacks, and desserts and shop for fresh produce and locally made products. The market is ideal for adventurous foodies eager to immerse themselves in Romblon’s vibrant culinary scene.
Tips for Sustainable and Responsible Tourism in Romblon Province
Supporting local businesses and communities, Travelers can contribute to the sustainable growth of Romblon Province by supporting local businesses and communities. This includes staying in family-run accommodations, dining in local eateries, and purchasing handmade souvenirs from artisans. By engaging with and learning from the residents, visitors can gain a deeper understanding of the culture and traditions of Romblon while helping to empower the communities and ensure that tourism benefits everyone.
While exploring the natural beauty of Romblon, travelers should observe the “Leave No Trace” principle, ensuring that they leave no litter behind and respect the flora and fauna they encounter. Visitors should practice responsible tourism by minimizing environmental impact and adhering to waste management guidelines. This includes reducing plastic consumption by carrying reusable water bottles, bags, and containers and properly disposing of waste in designated bins or recycling facilities. Participating in local conservation initiatives, such as beach cleanups or tree planting, can also make a positive difference in preserving the province’s natural environment.
Cultural sensitivity and respect for local customs To foster a respectful and mutually enriching experience, visitors should be aware of and respect Romblon’s local customs and traditions. This includes dressing modestly, particularly when visiting religious sites, asking for permission before taking photographs of people or their homes and being mindful of local etiquette during social interactions. By demonstrating cultural sensitivity and an eagerness to learn, travelers can foster positive relationships with the local community and contribute to a more inclusive and sustainable tourism industry in Romblon Province.
Romblon Province, with its stunning natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and various historical sites, offers a truly unique travel experience. From the pristine beaches of Bonbon, Cresta de Gallo, and Aglicay to the vibrant festivals and time-honored crafts, there’s something for everyone in this beautiful region. In addition, the province’s marine sanctuaries, mountainous terrain, and delicious local cuisine make it an ideal destination for adventure seekers and food enthusiasts alike.
Encouragement to visit and explore the region Travelers in search of an authentic and unforgettable experience should take advantage of the opportunity to visit and explore the enchanting Romblon Province. By venturing off the beaten path and discovering the hidden gems of this lesser-known region, visitors can create cherished memories and gain a deeper appreciation for the Philippines’ cultural and natural diversity. So, pack your bags, embrace your sense of adventure, and embark on a journey to the captivating islands of Romblon.
Final thoughts on the importance of discovering lesser-known destinations in the Philippines: Exploring lesser-known destinations like Romblon Province enriches the traveler’s experience and contributes to the sustainable development of the local communities and the preservation of their cultural heritage. By promoting responsible tourism in these areas, visitors can support local economies, help protect the environment, and foster a deeper understanding of the unique cultures and traditions that make the Philippines a truly diverse and fascinating country.