I fell in love with Pandan Island, a private island with a small resort established by a French adventurer in 1986 located in the West coast of Mindoro Occidental. This very unassuming place has no TV, no ac or electric fan or even a decent lighting in its rooms. There is no night life, not even videoke in its bar and playing of music at night was tamed as it would wake the other guests who wanted to sleep early. At first I was wondering, what in the world am I doing in this place and why of all places in Mindoro we ended up traveling for almost nine hours only to end up in this kind of resort. I could have traveled to Bicol instead have I known it would be a long, bumpy and sometimes dusty butt-numbing ride just to get here.
But I discovered its natural charm too just like many others who keep coming back to this tropical paradise. The days were spent lying in the hammock reading my favorite book or simply doing nothing but not daydreaming as I was already in a paradise I have always imagined myself to be frolicking when I wanted to escape the daily hustle and bustle of my life in Manila. Its sand may not be as white or powdery as that of Boracay but it was more than enough to do sun bathing, take really good pictures of a white-sand tropical beach and enjoy playing beach volleyball. But the best part of it all was snorkeling in the coral garden and even just near the shores I was already greeted with schools of colorful fishes and amazing coral formations. Others were luckier though to see the gigantic sea turtle and its smaller companion who seem to make that area its permanent residence.
Pandan Island resort prides itself as one of the top resorts in the Philippines in terms of quality of life and personalized atmosphere. Its French owner and his Filipina wife Tita Marina were so warm and accommodating. I spent a night playing Uno Stacko with him and the other guests and hopelessly solving his numerous puzzles at the bar. The staff was really nice and had been my winning allies during our so called Philippines vs World beach volleyball tournament every afternoon. From the chef to the bartender, waiters and room attendants, our all Filipino team has beaten the mostly European guests. We were constantly joking around that the rice team won over the potatoes team. At first I was rather curious why this secluded island and not so accessible resort from Manila was flocked by many foreign tourists when it offers the simplest amenities. But after spending my first day in Pandan I also fell in love with its natural charm.
But the main attraction of Pandan I guess was that it is one of the gateways for Apo Reef exploration. This resort is mainly known as a diving resort and its owner has partnered with another European who manages the Diving Center in the resort. Apo Reef is a protected Marine Park and is considered as second largest contiguous coral reef in the world and the largest one in the Philippines. It is also voted as one of the top diving sites in the world. Our Danish neighbors in one of the budget bungalows had been raving about the marine life just in front of our cottages and had recommended many spots for snorkeling. I wonder now how much more Apo Reef can offer when it comes to teeming underwater life. But that will be for another visit. The resort offers different diving packages that will suit your budget and time. Although diving courses are relatively expensive, it’s something worth saving for.
Other highlights of my Pandan experience were meeting the two little Dutch girls, Faya and Nicolina who proudly showed their collection of hermit crabs to us when we arrived, meeting Chili the resident parrot who was so used to people it always tried to pick on our food and made the beach bar its favorite spot for resting. The buffet especially the ones at dinner was also good and highly recommended by the girls’ parents. The sunrise that I missed to capture because my battery got drained was also breathtaking. Watching the lightning show and listening to Carlito’s life lessons were also memorable and the best part of it all was just lying in the hammock and recuperating from trekking Mt. Daguldol.
Now being in Pandan was one of a kind experience but getting there and getting back to Manila was a whole new adventure itself. It started with an almost two-hour drive to Batangas Pier where Carlitos left his car. We arrived five minutes before the 6:00am ferry departure so we took another three-hour RO-RO boat ride to Abra de Ilog Port via MV Maria Gloria. There was already a non-ac bus waiting for the passengers so we took this one instead of the shuttle van as Carlitos has a penchant for commuting with the local transport. The travel was fairly pleasant except for some parts where the roads were not paved yet so it was quite dusty and bumpy. But Mindoro Occidental’s outskirts was fresh and verdant. It is peppered with nice hills, towering mountains, rice paddies, and clean rivers. It was a four-hour butt-numbing drive to Sablayan with two stop-over so I was standing in the bus during some parts of the trip. The highlight of it though was traveling with some Mangyans (indigenous people of Mindoro) inside the bus. I don’t have to go to some remote villages or trek a mountain just to see them. Finally, the bus ride ended at Sablayan bus terminal. We bought some supplies first in the local market before taking the twenty- minute flatboat ride to Pandan Island.
We were supposed to be back to Manila on the third day but we were stranded in Abra de Ilog Port due to another typhoon. We booked for a shuttle van on our way back since it only takes 2-3 hours to go to the port by van but we missed it so we took the bus again. The weather was already bad that time so it was raining the whole time we were traveling but the good thing about it was that it wasn’t dusty. We spent most of our time at Anjanna restaurant and bar located in the port where we met the other guests of Pandan who left earlier than us. Getting stranded in the port wasn’t really worth sharing except getting an overnight accommodation worth 100 pesos per head. I also met another group of mountaineers who climbed Mt. Igkit of Mindoro.
As a whole, my Pandan experience was one of the best beach trips I ever had. I highly recommend this for those who want to have a quite time alone in a tropical paradise, for families who want to have a safe and fun adventure and for those who love diving or simply enjoy the underwater life. We may have taken the long way to get to Pandan but there are easier ways to get there.
What to do in Pandan Island
Paddle in the mangrove river near Sablayan
Go on a night safari in the jungle
Therapeutic massage (Japanese shiatsu and acupressure)
Read a book under a palm tree
Play beach volleyball, pool or darts
Kayak in the nearby jungle river
Explore the two secluded beaches Wild Lagoon and Spanish Nose
Relax in the hammock and do nothing
Accommodation in Pandan Island
Choose from the different Bungalows (rates are per night)
5 Budget Rooms -700 (single and double occupancy)
10 Standard Bungalows – 1400 (single and double occupancy)
1 Bungalow with two standard rooms – 2400 (good for 2-4 persons)
2 Family Bungalows – 3000 (good for 3-6 persons)
How to get to Pandan Island
Note - There is no generator on the island, all electricity needed to run the lights is produced by a solar system (12V), installed in each cottage so that explains the very dim light in the room and. 220 V are available for charging the batteries of video camera, laptop or flash. Internet is also available for 150 pesos an hour in the Dive Center.