The gorgeous island province of Guimaras has been synonymous with its renowned sweet-tasting mango, and for good reason. This once-obscure territory across mainland Iloilo was previously nothing but a vast orchard in a 604.57-sqaure kilometer land, which yields export-quality harvests of the country’s national fruit.
So when it created a summer festivity to mark its founding as an independent province in 1992, it could be no other than in honor of its famed tropical fruit—Manggahan Festival, an extravaganza which puts to fore the local mango industry and its cultural and historical heritage.
But beyond its succulent mangoes, which have tickled the world’s taste buds, Guimaras takes pride in its string of enticing beaches, secluded islands, religious retreats, agri-tourism farms and adventure spots which make it a consummate getaway, minus the madding crowd of tourist traps.
Islands in the sun
Scattered across the main island are chains of equally idyllic islets, each with a distinct beach character and an interesting story to tell. Needless to say, island hopping is a must-do in Guimaras.
Siete Pecados, which means “seven sins,” it is a cluster of seven legendary rock islands, one of which has a Spanish lighthouse that has guided merchant ships over the centuries.
Roca Encantadais fairy summer house built on top of a huge rock, overlooks Siete Pecados and a fascinating seascape of Guimaras Strait. Built by the Lopez family in 1910, it was declared by the National Historical Commission as a heritage house.
The cozy private islands of Isla Naburot, Costa Aguada and Nagarao are worlds unto themselves, but can be accessed by visitors with prior arrangement.
With a virtual infinity of coastline, Guimaras is blessed with pockets of white and beige sand beaches, which take you back to the essence of what an island hideaway is.
Its most popular beach resort colony is at Alubihod Cove in Nueva Valencia, a 150-meter patch of powdery sand and crystalline waters panoramically framed by two rock cliffs. The cove is dotted with no-frills family resorts that offer a mesmerizing beachfront seat.
The tranquil water and coral formations a few feet below make it ideal for snorkeling and kayaking. The more adventurous can paddle to the picturesque adjoining coves.
Alubihod is also the jump-off to the SEAFDEC aquatic farm, which breeds various species of edible fish to help repopulate fishing grounds around Guimaras. Funded by Southeast Asian countries, it is offers a unique tour to help visitors appreciate the importance of preserving the marine ecosystem.
Literally meaning “Holy Mountain,” it is a pilgrimage site for Catholic devotees especially during Holy Week situated atop the highestpoint in the capital town of Jordan. It is the endpoint of the Pagtaltalsa Guimaras passion play held on Good Friday. Along the climb are the Stations of the Cross, and on its summit is the Chapel of Ave Maria Purisima and a big, white cross overlooking the island.
This obligatory whistle-stop is the first men’s monastery in the country run by Cistercian Order of Strict Observance, established in 1972. This place is open to those who seek the solace and retreat from the ways of the world. It also has a guesthouse and a souvenir shop with products produced by the monks.
Get your adrenaline fix at Camp Alfredo with its 375-meter zipline, obstacle course, hanging bridge, and rappelling facility. Those who opt for a slower pace can laze at the camping grounds, feast on Ilonggo specialties at the restaurant, fish at the manmade lagoon, or stay overnight immersing in nature.
Meanwhile, the 28-hectare Guimaras Adventure Park offers a wide range of outdoor recreation for paintball, war games, rappelling, target shooting, and camping.
Bikers will be delighted to know that the province is positioning itself as a paradise for enthusiasts, with its scenic and bike-friendly roads. A bike tourism project has given birth to the Padyak Series, a bikathon held thrice a year to promote Guimaras as a biking capital.
An emerging outdoor spot is the San Lorenzo Wind Farm Project, a 54-megawattwindmill energy project, which has unwittingly become a tourist magnet because of its postcard-pretty composition.
Showcasung the province as an agricultural powerhouse is a travel circuit that links farms frequented by visitors.
A usual first stop is the Guimaras National Crop Research Development Support Center, an 8.87-hectare area for mango trees used for research and production. The center also features various mango derivatives and value-added products that display its culinary versatility. Guests on pre-arranged tours can watch the preparation of its own concoction, the mango pasta.
Guimaras Wonder’s Farm is an integrated agri-eco tourism destination for high-value crops and fruit trees devoted to organic farming, reforestation and food processing, while Dagsaan Eco Park is a 133-hectare protected forest area with an organized upland farmers’ group to preserve the area, and has a view deck 117 meters above sea level.
A touch of class
Enhancing the rustic setting is the upscale 70-room Andana Resort in Nueva Valencia, lending a taste of luxury to visitors who seek a consummate stay in the island. The Mediterranean-themed hotel, which will open by yearend, offers a mesmerizing vista of the coves and outlying in Alobihod beach area and promises to be the best accommodation in the island. The resort also takes pride in its well-appointed rooms, scenic infinity pool which glistens at night, and a bar and restaurant offering international and local delights.
Claiming to be an “aspirational destination,” Andana promises to be the hub for travelers seeking to explore Guimaras with the unique country style flair.
Indeed, beyond its sweet mangoes, Guimaras is a land of the sweet smiles of its warm people and sweet experiences of a tourism frontier.
Getting There: The province can be reached in a 15-minute boat ride to Jordan from the Ortiz Wharf in Iloilo City, or via San Lorenzo from Pulupandan and Valladolid in Negros Occidental.
By BERNARD SUPETRAN