When you hear about Pangasinan, what is the top thing that comes to your mind? My bet is you probably think, “Hundred Islands” or “bangus,” as these are the things this province is mostly known for.
In my recent travel with my family though, I learned that Pangasinan, the third largest province in the Philippines, offers so much more. One of these is what I consider to be its hidden gem, Bolinao.
Bolinao is a third class municipality located at the northernmost tip of western Pangasinan, hence, I like to call it, Nguso ng Pinas. This is where I took my family for a relaxing retreat this June. We left Manila at 6:30 AM via Victory Liner in Cubao. This is the only scheduled trip of the said bus liner to Bolinao. Bus fare is ₱460 and travel time takes 6-7 hours with two stopovers in Tarlac and in Alaminos. The roads are in good condition up until we reached the town proper.
Unlike other famous tourist destinations in the country where you can see easily spot a number of bars, restaurants, café, and fast food chains, the establishments in Pangasinan are limited. In fact, we had our lunch in one of the carinderias (eateries) near the bus terminal.
We didn’t have a chance to tour around the town proper but I suspect that there is none. Nonetheless, the eateries in Bolinao serve decent and affordable food. I can therefore recommend this place to budget travelers.
We booked a family room at Casa Almarenzo Bed and Breakfast via Agoda which, in my opinion is a resort that gives you the best value for money in Bolinao Province.
+63 917 555 9128 / +63 922 858 8455
Touring the province is easy and affordable. You can rent a tricycle good for 4-5 people with a standard rate of ₱1,200. The driver will bring you to some tourist spots in the area. Make sure to start your trip as early as possible to make the most out of your day tour.
Where to go and what to do in Bolinao?
Swim and Cliff Dive at Bolinao Falls 2
Our first destination is the Bolinao Falls 2, just an hour away from the town proper. During the first half of the trip, you’ll notice that the road is in good condition; the other half though, is a different story. If you find yourself sitting inside the tricycle during the trip, consider yourself lucky, but if you happen to be seated on the outside section of the tricycle… I wish you the best of luck!
Nevertheless, I assure you that the clear turquoise green water of the falls is worth the trip. There is an entrance fee of ₱50, cottage rental is ₱200, and parking fee for the tricycle is ₱20. There is a smaller natural pool above the main falls, an ideal for swimming spot for kids.
Do swim with caution though because the stones are slippery. Because I am not exactly afraid of heights, I did one of the best activities that you can do in the falls: cliff diving. My guesstimate of the falls’ height is about 15 to 20 feet high. As per our guide, the water is 18 feet deep.
My only concern about the place is the cleanliness of the cottage area. I think we should all be responsible enough to help maintain the cleanliness of the place while enjoying the natural beauty of the fall. Remember to leave no trace whenever you travel.
Visit Saint James the Great Parish Church
Built in the 16th century by the Augustinian friars, Saint James the Great Parish Church has become one of the attractions in Bolinao. The church, which is of the High Renaissance style, is made of black coral stones.
The façade of the church looks centuries-old but it has undergone several renovations over the years due to some calamities, such as the 1788 earthquake, the 1819 fire incident, and Typhoon Emong in 2009. I am not sure but I somehow got an impression that the structure inside the church is already a re-creation of the original.
Relax inside the Wonderful Cave
The Wonderful Cave is like a smaller version of Ogtong Cave in Bantayan Island. Entrance fee is ₱100 plus a parking fee of ₱20. It’s a cool place for swimming and a nice place to relax. For a short time, my family and I had a chance to have it all to ourselves. The water inside the cave is crystal clear and the deepest part could be less than 6 ft. If you want to explore the cave, it is recommended to bring aqua-shoes because the floor is rocky and rough.
The cave is decorated with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites formations. They say you can see shapes and images in these rock formations with the help of your imagination. Unfortunately, mine didn’t seem to be working at that time because I saw nothing. Further into the cave, there is a small hidden entrance going to the other side. I saw some local kids go inside for a swim. I couldn’t help but be amazed that they are brave enough to swim in the dark.
Enjoy the fine sand of Patar Beach
Others consider the sand in Patar beach as white, but upon closer inspection, I think the sand is more of a golden brown. There is no major development within the beach area except for some bahay kubo (traditional nipa hut) built for an overnight or day trip. We rented a cottage for ₱200 and spent most of the time swimming. I admit that I was a bit disappointed with some visitors who just left their waste and garbage inside the cottages.
If given a chance, I’d love to place a banner in there to remind people about responsible tourism or ecotourism, probably one with a message that says, “Take only photographs. Leave only footprints.” Apart from this sad fact though, the beach area is generally clean. With its turquoise-colored water, fine sand, calm waves, and small crowd, I can say that this is one of the best beaches I’ve ever been.
Rent a small boat and visit the nearby province of Bani
One boatman approached us and offered a tour to a more private beach in Bani. He offered his standard rate of ₱500 for 10 people. We negotiated the rate with him since we were just a group of five. Instantly, he gave us a discount.
In less than 30 minutes, we were treated to the amazing view of the untouched golden coastline and lush trees. The beach is so private, even local people don’t know its name. Most people who go there are local children, out for a swim. Like Patar beach, the water in Bani is crystal clear and the seashore is covered by fine, golden brown sand. Because it’s secluded, I expected that the area would be a lot cleaner than Patar, sadly, I was wrong.
My guess is that the place might have been visited by some irresponsible tourists who camped in the area and left their trash as they departed from the island. Because it’s a secluded area, I think no one is really taking care of the beach. It’s just sad that a place like this, which is full of potential, is slowly dying because of some careless visitors.
Have “selfie” or “groupfie” with one of the tallest lighthouses in the Philippines
Aside from my fascination with century-old churches, I also have a fair share of admiration for lighthouses. There’s just something about a lighthouse that looks very dramatic. If only they could talk, I bet they’d have a thousand stories to share.
In Bolinao, there is a lighthouse that is considered to be as one of tallest in the country. Cape Bolinao Lighthouse was built on top of the hill of Punta Piedra Point in 1905 by American, British, and Filipino engineers. It’s about 351 feet above the sea level, while the lighthouse itself stands at 101 feet. For over a decade, this lighthouse served as a guide to ships and boats traversing the sea. This is a recommended place to catch the sunset.
Our tour guide offered more places to visit but we politely declined since we were traveling with my two-year old baby sister.
Where to eat?
Aside from some carinderias that we tried in the town, you may want to try Bicol Express Restaurant. It is the only eatery in Patar beach that serves affordable delicious food. Their seafood Kare-Kare and Bicol Express are delightful. Also, don’t forget to dine at Giant Taklobo.
All the food that we tried here tasted so good that we went there for dinner twice. Their Inihaw na Sungayan is one of the best grilled fish dishes I’ve ever tasted. Moreover, the couple who owns the place is very generous, they even gave us sweet mangoes fresh from their backyard when we dined there.
I have high hopes that one day Bolinao will be one of the top tourist destinations not only in Luzon but in the entire country. I believe that this can easily be achieved if the local government of Pangasinan becomes more active promoting their province.
Bolinao has premiere beaches to offer, affordable tours and accommodation — even delicious food. As for interesting places to visit, they also have plenty of them: from having one of the cleanest rivers in the Philippines to a number of beautiful falls and to even having a centuries-old church and lighthouse. Truly, Bolinao has all the makings to be at par with the rest of the famous tourist spots in the Philippines.
Do you know the only thing that is missing in Bolinao? It’s YOU! Visit now! Visit #BoliNOW.