There are some surprisingly beautiful islands located in the Municipality of Concepcion, Iloilo; a hidden pearl of the Province of Iloilo I would say. Most of the tourists associate places like Western Visayas or Panay island with Boracay. That’s the first question most of the locals usually ask me: “Have you been to Boracay?” Yes, I’ve been to Boracay and, sure, it is a beautiful little island with lots of great beaches, water activities and exciting nightlife. But it is also crowded and quite expensive, especially regarding the accommodations. So if you want to spend your vacation in a beautiful, secret place with white sand beaches and swim in a crystal clear water, feeling that you and your companions are the owners of a secluded tropical island, I would recommend to go island hopping in Concepcion, Iloilo.
Sure, you can find a peaceful, quiet beach as Puka Shell Beach or Ilig-Iligan Beach in Boracay as well, but if you would rather not spend a fortune on your vacation and would like to go off the beaten path, islands of Concepcion is a great alternative. To me Boracay seems a bit overrated, since there are many secluded and breathtaking places around the Panay island, that are more pristine and peaceful, and the best thing is that they are so affordable. Nevertheless, I would still definitely choose Boracay when I’m in a party mood and want more action, but this time the serenity and picturesque landscapes of islands of Concepcion were the ones that draw my attention.
Concepcion, the municipality of the Province of Iloilo, is located on the northeastern part of Panay Island. The municipality includes not only the part of the Panay Island, but also 16 other, smaller islands. These gorgeous, pristine islands are the ones that got my attention. Concepcion itself is about 2 h 30 minutes bus ride away from Iloilo City. After 2,5 h of admiring the beautiful scenery along the way from the bus window, hop into the boat arranged a few days in advance through the local tourist office and after about 15-20 minutes you will already be stepping on the dreamlike Sand Bar Island (also known as Bulubadiangan Island).
You will find nothing but a few cottages and a whole lot of beautiful landscapes on the Sand Bar Island. A place for complete relaxation and escaping from the hustle and bustle in the city. Serene and quiet white sand beach with a beautiful sand bar to walk and have a lot of fun with your friends. If you are thinking of staying overnight, there are few open cottages as well as one semi-closed nipa cottage for that purpose. Nothing fancy, just a simple place to spend the night while listening to the sound of waves. You can also pitch a tent on the island if you want.
The next stop arranged through the tourism office of Concepcion is the stunning Agho Island. The sand here is almost just as fine as the one found in Boracay. And the scenery is more that picturesque! This is my favorite island from the islands of Concepcion. It is quite small, but definitely worth visiting, especially if you want to experience the views of Boracay without all the crowds and intrusive vendors. Spend an unforgettable day with your friends, swimming and having fun on a deserted, incredibly beautiful island. You can walk around the island within an hour or less. You will also find lots of sea shells in beautiful colors on the Agho Island.
The final stop of our one day trip is the famous Pan de Azucar Island. Why famous? First of all there is an impressive mountain called Mt. Pan de Azucar (same as the island) or Mt.Manaphag. It’s a two-day hike, quite challenging as I have heard. As we only went to the Concepcion for one day, we didn’t climb it. We chose the small hill called Little Baguio instead. And we didn’t regret it all. I would definitely recommend it to everyone who goes to Pan de Azucar Island. It’s just a 15-20 minute trek and you are rewarded with a breathtaking view of Pan de Azucar Island itself together with the nearby islands afterwards! Other major highlight of Pan de Azucar Island is the Tampisaw Festival, held on the fourth week of April to celebrate the Earth Day. Different events and activities such as Fluvial Parade, Agro-Fishery Fair, Game Fishing Festival, Tree Planting and others are organized during the festival to emphasize the necessity of conserving our natural resources.
Bulubadiangan, Agho and Pan de Azucar, the trip to these three wonderful, serene islands is a perfect one day trip from Iloilo City. If you want to extend the great time spent with your family or friends you can also stay overnight. Either way if you happen to be in Iloilo don’t miss out on visiting the hidden pearl of Iloilo Province – the beautiful islands of Concepcion.
How to Get There:
If you are traveling to Iloilo by airplane, take taxi at the Iloilo Airport and go to Tagbak Bus Terminal in Iloilo City. The easiest way to go to the Concepcion from Iloilo City is to take a bus at Tagbak Bus Terminal. I couldn’t find the bus schedules online, so I got the information from the drivers at the terminal. They informed me that there is a bus going to Sara (11 km from Concepcion) or Concepcion every 30 minutes starting from 2:00 AM until 2:00 PM. When we got there, we had just missed the bus at 4:30 AM, but luckily for us there was a bus going to Sara also at 4:40 AM. The travel time is between 2.5-3 hours. When you arrive in Sara, take public jeepney going to Concepcion and drive until the final destination. The jeepney ride takes about 15-20 minutes.
Remember that the last bus from Concepcion back to Iloilo City leaves around 3:00-4:00 PM.
If you don’t want to worry about the organization and arrange the boat yourself, just contact the Municipal Tourism Office of Concepcion. They will help you with arranging the boat, planning your trip and and explaining the directions.
Contact person: Michelle
Contact No.: (+63) 921 518 2294
Bus fare: about 110-150 php one way (depending on the bus type: air-condicioned or not)
Accommodation: A tent for 300 php; open cottage for 800 php overnight (400 php for using it during the day); 1000 php for semi-closed nipa cottage
Boat trip to 3 islands: 2500 php
Environmental fee: 25 php per person for each island you visit
Guided snorkeling and looking for clam shells near Sand Bar Island: 100 php tip to guides
Fruits, snacks, water: 350-500 php
Where to Stay:
- Sand Bar Island Beach Resort:
Location: Sand Bar Island (or Bulubadiangan Island), Concepcion, Iloilo, Philippines
Contact No.: (+63) 906 819 7516
Room Rate: Starting from 800 php for night (cheaper option is to pitch a tent for 300 php)
- Bring your own snacks, fruits and water to have a picnic at the beach. The only island you can buy some snacks and water is Sand Bar Island, but there is not much of a variety and in case they’re out of stock you will be thirsty and craving for food all your trip. There is a market near the port in Concepcion where you can buy some fruits.
- Go snorkeling with a local guide near Sand Bar Island. He will bring you to the place where you can see lots of beautiful, old clam shells underwater. Just remember to bring your snorkeling gear if you have one. They offer you the goggles but they are quite old and the water gets into your eyes easily. Also there is no snorkeling gear on the boat, so if you would like to do some snorkeling at other places during the trip, you would be happy that you would have brought your own.
- Make your reservations in advance, if you plan to stay overnight.
- Don’t expect a luxury service at the Sand Bar Island Beach Resort. The cottages are very simple and most of them are open. So you will be basically sleeping outside under the sky with a small, simple roof on your head, but no walls, unless you will stay in the semi-closed nipa cottage or in the tent. The electricity is available on the island just for a certain period of time.
- The Tourism Office is located just a few minutes from the bus stop, however to avoid getting lost it’s best to arrange meeting with the contact person right at the bus stop.
- To have the most of your island hopping trip in Concepcion, Iloilo, it’s important to talk through all the details of your trip not only with the contact person from the tourism office but also the guide they will arrange for you. We had a little bit of misunderstanding, since the lady at the tourism office promised us the 20 minute trekking on the Pan de Azucar Island, but our guide had the first hearing about it and he didn’t even know where we could trek on the island. Fortunately he talked to the locals and managed to find a local boy who guided us up the hill.