Panay Island is a wonderful place to spend a vacation in, especially if you like beaches and island hopping trips. Aside from Boracay, there are up-and-coming destinations you can visit: Malalison Island and Seco Island, which are both under Antique Province.
Malalison Island (locally known as Mararison Island) is under the municipality of Culasi. It’s a community island famous for its rolling hills. In fact, it’s also called the Batanes of Visayas. (I will just refer to it as Malalison Island to recognize its own merits.)
Meanwhile, Seco Island is under the municipality of Tibiao, although it’s also accessible from Malalison Island by 2-3 hours of boat ride. Seco Island is known for its pristine sand bar.
Our trip to Malalison Island & Seco Island
Hali and I visited these islands as part of our backpacking trip in Panay Island.
From the port in Culasi, we took a boat for 15-20 minutes to reach Malalison Island. The island didn’t seem impressive at first, but I liked the aquamarine water on the beach area at the far-end of the island. We passed by breakwater stones that look like giant jackstones and get off on the shore across the residential area.
We deposited our bags in our selected homestay and rested for a bit. Then we started the trek to the rolling hills. Our tour guide Kuya Petron told us the trek usually takes 1.5 hour in all, including the time for picture taking and the trek back to our homestay.
The trek was easy enough and the trail was mostly flat. We passed by pitcher plants (Bellsprout!) growing on both sides of the trail. It’s interesting to me — Bellsprout! Pitcher plants store water and trap insects inside. We took a peek inside one plant and indeed there is a dead insect at the bottom.
Kuya Petron informed us that some residential houses were relocated to the hills after a strong typhoon. The houses would soon be transferred elsewhere to preserve the view. I noted his apologetic tone. Personally, I don’t mind — Malalison’s rolling hills look nice either way!
In fact, this is perfect for picture taking. So of course Hali and I took this opportunity for lovely snaps!
There is also a nice viewpoint at the first hill. It offers a view of the residential community along the beach and, further to the right, the deep-blue patches in the ocean. The patches look like sunken islands, but they are actually coral sites.
We also saw Gui-Ob Cave (a small cave that you can skip) and Nablag Islet, which is separated form the island during high tide.
After the trek, we headed to the sand bar area, which stretches 100 meters from the beach. I was disappointed because it wasn’t as fine or clean as opposed to photos online. We found pieces of garbage buried in the sand.
Hali and I spent the rest of the day drinking coffee from the balcony in our homestay which instantly lifted our mood.
The morning after, we set out to Seco Island.
Seco Island is located about 3 hours away from Culasi. We went out at about 4AM so we could have a smooth journey. As our boat launched toward the ocean, Hali pointed at glittering lights in the water, like fireflies. He said they are bioluminescence. It was my first time to see them so I got excited and watched them until dawn arrived.
Further along, we saw dark clouds & thunderstorms ahead. This struck me as something remarkable. Because I live in the city, I’m not aware if it’s raining somewhere else because buildings and trees obscure the view. There in the sea, it was clear we were delving right through a sea storm.
Our boat operators removed the tarps in our boat. We endured being pelleted with angry rain drops and swaying along with the waves. After about an hour, we finally made it out of the sea storm. As we get near Seco Island, we saw a school of dolphins flipping out of the water. Apparently, dolphins are common in this area.
We finally got to Seco Island. Our boatmen secured the boat and set to cook breakfast in a cottage. Hali and I walked to the sand bar. To be honest, I was disappointed. The island is surrounded by floors of seaweed. It has a sand bar though which is surrounded by clear water.
We stayed in the stand bar area. The clear water reminded me a bit of Candaraman Island in Balabac. The sandy floor is dotted with small corals and stones covered with lime-green moss.
We enjoyed swimming in the sand bar. As I said previously, it wan’t up to my expectations especially with how it’s built up as an IG-worthy sand bar. Hali as usual is more forgiving. He liked it there. There are more beautiful islands in the Philippines, but I suppose the remoteness of Seco Island sets it apart. It can make you feel like you’re alone in the world and this island is yours.
After a few hours in Seco Island, we went back to the mainland for our return flight to Manila.
Travel Guide to Malalison Island and Seco Island
Malalison Island is an off-beat island with rolling hills, a beach & sandbar, and snorkeling & diving sites. Some people spend only a day trip in Malalison Island before going back to the mainland.
If you visit here, consider going to Seco Island as well.
How to get to Malalison Island
There are different ways to get to Malalison Island.
- From Iloilo: From Molo Terminal, take a Ceres bus or van bound for Culasi or Pandan. Travel time is 5 hours. Fare is around P200 per person.
- From Kalibo or Caticlan: Take a bus bound for San Jose (Antique) and get off at Culasi. Travel time is 2 hours. Fare is around P150 per person.
Once you get to Culasi, walk to the port and proceed to the tourism office for registration. A boatman will be assigned to you. Travel time from Culasi Port to Malalison Island is only 15-20 minutes.
Let them know if you want to proceed to Seco Island as well. (Seco Island is accessible from either Culasi or Tibiao, both 3 hours away.)
Malalison Island is a budget-friendly destination. Here are the current rates (Updated as of 2020):
Here are the rates for boat transfer:
- Terminal fee – P10 per person / Environmental fee – P30 per person
- Culasi Port to Malalison Island – P750 (good for 5 people)
- Malalison Island to Seco Island – P1500 (good for 2 people)
Seco Island is under the municipality of Tibiao, so getting there is considered a special trip.
- Tour guide to Malalison – P250 (good for 4 people)
- Seco Island entrance fee – P150 per person
A tour guide is required. This helps the livelihood of the locals in Malalison Island.
Where to stay in Malalison Island
You can choose whether to stay in a homestay or a beach resort.
Homestays are available for P250 per person.
We stayed at Marife’s homestay and though I was happy with our caretakers. That saying, there are over 40+ homestays in Malalison Island but only a few are posted online. If you can, give chance to other homestays as well. Coordinate with the tourism office on how you can book other homestays.
- Marife homestay: 0920 857 6379
Beach resorts are more expensive but can accommodate groups. Here are beach resorts you can contact:
- Aloma Island Inn: twin room (good for 6 people) – P1500 + P150 per additional pax | Contact: 0915 449 7360
You can rent a tent for P150 (double size) to P250 (family size).
What to Bring
- Bring enough cash. There are no ATMs in these islands.
- Bring sunblock. We trekked to the rolling hills without applying sunblock and got sunburnt.
Reminders and Tips
- As a general rule, it’s best to go with other people so you can share expenses. If you’re solo, schedule your visit on weekends so you can join other tourists.
- There are stores in Malalison Island where you can buy toiletries and other necessities.
- There are eateries selling meals for reasonable prices (P60-100). You can also buy fresch catch and ask your homestay to cook it for you for a fee.
- The island runs electricity via generators, which is available from 6PM to 10PM. But no worries, some accommodations have their own generators or solar panels so you can ask for overnight electricity for an additional small fee.
- Other activities in Malalison Island include snorkeling and diving. Other activities in Seco Island include kitesurfing.
- Manage your expectations. We visited Malalison Island and Seco Island in 2016 and we noticed garbage in both islands. I’m not sure if this has been already addressed.
If you’re going to contact Kuya Juni (our boatman) of Orange Wave, please tell him we said Hi. 🙂
- Culasi tourism office: Facebook
- Orange Wave (boat service to Malalison Island and Seco Island): 0950 316 7749/0909 085 3316
What to read next:
This is part of our backpacking trip in Panay Island. Here are the places we’d been to:
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Katherine Cortes is a long-time backpacker and a freelance writer/editor. She likes beaches, snorkeling trips, and relaxing staycations (preferably with bath tubs!).