Exciting Ventures. This is the tagline given by the Department of Tourism to portray Eastern Visayas (EV), a charming region which is largely unexplored despite its natural allure.
If I would be allowed to do some sloganeering and wordsmithing, I could liberally use all the EV acronyms I can think. To say EV is “exciting” is quite an understatement considering the wealth of wonders it offers.
Composed of the provinces of Samar, Northern Samar, Eastern Samar, Leyte, Southern Leyte and Biliran, EV has Enigmatic and Vivid destinations, often unfairly associated with wind-swept and typhoon-prone islands.
According to DOT regional director Karina Rosa Tiopes, EV is a treasure throve of Eco-tourism Vacations which will surely capture the fancy of true blue adventurers and nature lovers who want innovative tourism products.
Topping the list of new must-try for an Exhilarating Visit is the Ulot Torpedo Boat Extreme Ride at in Paranas, Samar which offers visitors an adrenaline-pumping 60-minute ride in the white-water rapids of Ulot River, the longest inland body of water in Samar Island.
Made out of dug-out wooden motorized canoe, the Torpedo (acronym for Tour guides and boat Operators for River Protection and Environmental Development Organization) takes riders to a roller coaster ride deep into the heart of the Samar Island Natural Park (SINP).
Guests can also go kayaking or water tubing near the staging area of the boat ride, the core of the Ulot Watershed Ecotourism Loop which covers a series of waterfalls, springs, small caves and an ecotrail.
Established in 2003, SINP is one of the most biodiverse forests in the archipelago encompassing the three Samar provinces. With an aggregate area of 455,700 hectares, it is habitat to some 38 mammal species, 215 bird species, 51 reptile species, 26 amphibian species and over 1,000 plant species. The famed Philippine Eagle, the national bird, was first spotted in this area 100 years ago.
Other spots in the Park which offer authentic adventures are Borongan-Llorente Closed Canopy Forest, Mt. Huraw, Amandaraga Falls, Taft Philippine Eagle Sanctuary, Bangon Falls, and Pinipisakan Falls.
Tiopes said that the novel activity was a result of the DOT’s collaboration with various stakeholders in the area, most notably the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Municipal Government of Paranas, and community organizations.
Zip line addicts can zoom their way into a new thrill in the 860-meter cable in Agas Agas Bridge, the country’s tallest (and perhaps among the most expensive) located in Sogod, Southern Leyte. This new spot is quite unique because of its steep which will send riders flying over a P 1.02 billion, 75-meter tall bridge with a panoramic mountain view.
Agri-tourism proponents will find a haven at the Visayas State University, regarded as the bastion of agricultural education in Central Philippines and the “garden” of the newly-proclaimed city of Baybay in Leyte. The 1,479-hectare campus stretches from the shores of the Camotes Sea to the Pangasugan mountain range, offering a beach, farm and hilltop experience. VSU also operates a beach resort with swimming pool with a soothing view of the charming Camotes island chain.
Baybay is also gaining reputation as a heritage city in the province because of its postcard-pretty Immaculate Conception Church and rows of well-preserved colonial-era ancestral homes in its “heritage lane”.
Meanwhile, health watchers will find a refuge in Paru-Parong Bukid Nature Conservation Center which is known for its healthy locally-raised and grown organic food, butterfly farm, mangrove forest and quaint tree houses.
Situated in Babatngon, some 20 kilometers north of Tacloban City, the resort farm also offers a kayak trail amidst its lush mangrove forest which empties into a tranquil river and islet for bird watching.
A short drive away is the Balinese-inspired Rafael’s Farm, a landscaped resort which is a hands-down choice for pictorials, private functions and receptions with its stunning mountain view and tranquil environs.
Beach bums will get their dose of sun and sand at Kalanggaman Island, Palompon’s best-kept secret whose main magnet is its powdery white sand, azure waters and lush marine life. Strategically located between the rich seas of Leyte and Cebu, the coconut-tree lined island takes excursionists to a back-to-basics experience which seemed to have been lost in the flurry of concrete infrastructures in popular beach hideaways.
A few kilometers off the mainland is Tabuk Fish Park and Marine Sanctuary, a sprawling mangrove forest which is a birthing area for various fish species and a habitat for fruit bats.
Palompon relives its genteel past in Plaza Libertad and its Spanish cannon, its 18th-century church, and century-old Casa Esperanza which has witnessed the town’s glorious years before and after World War II.
In addition to these natural wonders, Eastern Visayas has two well-known eco-tourism spots—Calbiga Caves in Calbiga and Sohoton Cove Natural Park in Basey.
The former is touted as the most extensive cave system in the country, while the latter boasts of an amazing river ecosystem, limestone cliffs, a natural stone bridge and breath-taking formations of stalactites and stalagmites placed to be millions of years old.
A new attraction at Sohoton Cove is the floating restaurant which guests can charter for a relaxing river cruise amidst the mangrove forests, limestone cliffs and riverine villages.
Basey also takes pride to its mat-weaving cottage industry which produces exquisite mat products. and the hilltop San Miguel Church, and Spanish-era image of the Sto. Niño when Tacloban was still its daughter parish.
Tiopes concluded that there are more Exciting Ventures under product development which will be introduced in the future to make Everything Vibrant in the region.
Tacloban City, provincial capital of Leyte, is the gateway and regional center of EV. It can be accessed via the Daniel Z Romualdez Airport with daily flights from Philippine Airlines, Zest Air and Cebu Pacific Air.There are also smaller airports in Calbayog City in Samar and Catarman in Northern Samar serviced by Zest Air.
For more information on Eastern Visayas, email the writer or log on to www.visitmyphilippines.com.