A fter three weeks of traveling around the Philippines, we simply wanted to kick back for a few days in Crusoe-esque splendor – and on Sumilon Island we did just that. Located 10 km from Cebu island, it might be just a hop away from civilization but it sure felt like a world apart. Landing on the island’s sandbar, we stepped foot on the fine bone-white sand and clear-as-glass water; while the smiley and relaxed staff greeted us by our first names and handed us fresh fruit punch — it was as though we’d arrived on our very own private island.
Sumilon Island is an untouched island, run by an exclusive property, Bluewater Sumilon Island Resort, which gives near meaning to the experience of being castaway. Thick virgin rainforests and rugged coral terrain are kept in their original conditions, while the sparkling clear water surrounding it are protected even more so by Bluewater and relevant research groups. A clusters of stylish, and tastefully designed bungalows stand on the waterfront and an infinity pool is perched on a hilltop overlooking the sea.
On Sumilon, we spent our days eating fresh fish and snorkeling with live ones, collecting shells on the empty beach, and swaying on the hammock right by the spearmint blue sea. By day, we sipped mango juice on our verandah and whiled away the afternoon on the beach, and by night, we dined under the starry skies with sand running between our feet.
Landing on the island’s sandbar, we stepped foot on the fine bone-white sand and clear-as-glass water; while the smiley and relaxed staff greeted us by our first names and handed us fresh fruit punch — it was as though we’d arrived on our very own private island.
But it’s obvious there’s much more to Sumilon island than relaxation. Teeming with lush virgin rainforests, the island is a patchwork of wilderness that’s easy to explore on foot. After days of beach bumming, we strapped on our hiking boots to criss-cross the island. Sumilon is mapped out with a network of trekking trails that cuts through the interior of the island and runs along the craggy coastline. With the ocean right by our sides, we trekked past scuttling crabs and wound along lava rock paths with the sea cliffs plunging vertically into the water right beneath our feet.
Within the dense rainforest, we stumbled upon several natural caves including the Yamashita Cave, a dark refuge tucked within banyan trees. For centuries, these caves provided shelter for fishermen to escape from the storms. They were the people who gave the island its name — ‘Sumilon’, translated to mean ‘to take refuge’.
We followed the trail through acres of natural forests, before ending at a lighthouse and an old Spanish baluarte, a historical watchtower built in the 19th century during the Spanish colonial era. This baluarte was built by the Spanish frays to deter slavers and marauders from attacking local communities. Despite being a hidden isle these days, Sumilon evidently played a vital role a few centuries ago.
Kayaking in the Mangroves
On the other end of the island, a natural lagoon lies inland teeming with mangroves and swampy waters. We paddled out on kayaks, close to the mangroves to observe the myriad of insects and birds that flew overhead. Huge spiders spinned their web around the green mangrove trees, while tiny toads leapt from one root to another. Under the shadow of tall granite cliffs that towered over the mangroves, we splashed through the brackish water and saw a different type of eco-system on this tiny island.
Snorkeling in the House Reefs
In the afternoons, we often grabbed our snorkeling masks and fins and plunged into the water just on our doorstep. The sea surrounding Sumilon is home to some of the most biodiverse systems in the world: with coral-rich dive sites bursting and a huge abundance of tropical marine species. This was the first marine protected area in the Philippines and has been a marine sanctuary since 1974.
Unfortunately, its corals were severely ravaged by the Muro Ami fishermen with their dynamite fishing technique a few decades ago. Thanks to the combined efforts of relevant research groups and Bluewater, it has now flourished into a world class 39-hectare sanctuary that serves as a home to thousands of aquatic animals.
Snorkeling off the sandbar, we found patchworks of multi-hued coral beds sprawled across the seabed that extended into the horizon. It was rare to find such a colorful coral garden right off the beach – something we’d usually dive deep into the ocean to find. Soon enough, we were swimming with schools of silvery barracudas, rainbow-colored giant parrot fish and even black eels. Black-tipped sharks have been seen in this area too – a pity the creature eluded us.
Back in our room, we idled away the evenings sitting out on the verandah – either reading a book, sleeping on the hammock or typing away on our laptops (it’s so relaxing to work in such an environment!). Our room was simple and luxurious both at once – with large comfortable beds, teak wood tables, lounge chairs, TV and air-conditioning – all within ten steps from the beach.
For those on a budget, the resort also has a glamping option – in beautiful and spacious tents right on the beach, with outdoor tables and chairs to enjoy the sand and sea all to yourself. You can also visit the island on a daytrip, with meals and island activities at your disposal. Whatever the choice, Sumilon Island definitely gives the sensation of being castaway on a lost island in the middle of the ocean – although in reality, civilization is just a hop away.
Prices: Room rates start from 12,000PHP (US$280) per night; glamping packages at 9,500PHP (US$225) inc. full-board meals for two persons and one child; and a daytrip starting at 1,500 PHP (US$35). For more packages, check out this page.
Disclaimer: Our stay was made possible by Bluewater Sumilon Resort, but all opinions expressed above are our own.