If you want a beach that is unspoiled by over-commercialization, then Potipot Island is the place to visit.
Located up North in Zambales, it is a five minute boat ride from the mainland. It is considered to be the little Boracay of the North because of its pristine waters and diminutive size.
And since you can walk around the beaches of the island in about an hour, you’re guaranteed to find that little spot of your own on the beach.
I never heard of Potipot Island till last week, when my relatives invited us to stay in their summer house up North.
They told us that there was a private beach, which is known to many as Potipot Island that is forty-five minutes away from their place.
They suggested that we visit the island as it is considered to be the Boracay of the North due to its clean waters and white sand.
Well, having seen some of the beaches in the area, I wasn’t too keen about the island. My reservations were mainly due to the sand, since the sand of the beaches in the mainland were gray, I didn’t think an island five minutes away would be different.
But my relatives said that the island is still considered virgin territory, on account of the absence of any hotels, major structures, and electricity, I my curiosity was piqued.
So we packed our bags, filed our vacation requests, and headed up North on Wednesday evening for another adventure.
If remember correctly, the ban on vehicles with plates ending in five and six ends at seven at night. While the truck ban on six wheelers and above ends at nine in the evening. So traffic was heavy within Metro Manila when we left at night.
It was particularly heavy from at the intersection of Epifanio delos Santos Avenue, or EDSA, to Muňos up to the entry of the North Luzon Expressway due to the construction of the elevated tracks of the MRT.
After dodging buses, jeeps, and trucks, we finally met up with our relatives at eleven o’clock in Northwalk Complex in San Fernando, Pampanga.
Instead of heading back out to the North Luzon Expressway, or the NLEX, my relatives suggested that we take the Iba-Tarlac Road. Since there was hardly any traffic at that time of the night.
They reasoned that the shorter, toll-free route and lighter night traffic would make travel faster and cheaper.
Unexpectedly, we ended up at our relatives’ place at two o’clock in the morning.
Firstly, there were still enough slow-moving trucks and jeepneys on the road. Secondly, there was quite a substantial amount of small pebbles throughout the entire Iba-Tarlac Road. This kept our average speed below seventy kilometers per hour.
If you decide to visit Potipot Island, I suggest taking the NLEX then the SCTEX to Subic. You can then travel to Zambales from there.
Even with the toll and longer distance, the cost difference isn’t much. Not to mention you’ll also save on time as you can travel at the maximum one hundred kilometers per hour for pretty much the whole expressway.
Since there are no hotels or stores in Potipot Island, everyone is expected to bring their own food.
Most visitors bring food that is pre-cooked at their homes, while others are more comfortable just buying stuff along the way.
Since we were informed that we could cook food on the island, we decided to buy food at the market to augment pre-cooked food.
We bought and cooked the jumping shrimp and crawling crabs at my relatives’ place. We brought the
Pork Chops, Liempo, and Bangus to be barbecued on the island.
To do this, we included charcoal and cooking utensils in our picnic baskets.
Finally, we packed fresh seaweed, fish crackers, soft drinks, and water for drinking and washing.
As you can imagine, everyone woke up late on Thursday morning due to the long drive the night before. And being eleven in the morning, I doubted that we would push through to Potipot.
But when everyone finally got up, no one objected to hopping over to the island.
So after eating a quick brunch, we packed all our stuff and headed out to Potipot Island.
The trip took about an hour as we had to pass through a few towns with slow moving tricycles.
When we finally got to Candelaria in Zambales, the place looked very familiar.
It turns out that I stood at the exact spot I was and took a cursory glance at Potipot Island a while back.
I recall not thinking much of the island as the sand of the beach I was standing on was par for the course, being light gray.
I remember thinking that it was unremarkable, given that I had just come from a trip to Bolinao weeks before.
And since the island was just five minutes away, I didn’t expect the sand or water to be any different from what I was standing on.
We did some research over the internet and came across PhP400 as the standard banca rate to and from the island.
This looked to be accurate and no matter how much wrangling my relatives did in the local dialect, the rate did not go any lower.
So having found a good place to park, we chartered the Three Brothers banca to take us to Potipot island for PhP400.
Since we were nine, the six-seater banca had to make two trips to bring us and our stuff to the island. This brought the total banca cost to PhP800.
The sun was out and the water was calm as we made our five-minute trip to the island.
Halfway through our trip, I was struck by how clean the water was.
And by the time we were close to the shore, was surprised to see how white the sand was.
Whatever they say about the island is true, this place is pristine.
The sand is white and the water is crystal clear.
While I won’t say that the sand is as white or as fine as Boracay’s but the water is clear, maybe ever clearer.
There was absolutely no floating debris. Even leaves were not present in the water, despite the many trees dotting the shore.
This meant that the beach was well-kept and maintained by the caretakers on the island.
In the case of the bancas, they are only allowed to land in a small area, leaving the rest of the shore for swimming.
I was totally amazed how an island that is five minutes away from a gray-sanded commercial beach can be so different.
It was so simple and it was so beautiful.
The island is privately owned and is 7.5 hectares and you can briskly walk around the circumference in under an hour.
For a small island, it is surprising to see that each part has its own subtle difference.
To the right of the landing area for bancas, the beach is a more on the active side.
The breeze is slightly stronger, causing the waves to be a little higher in the afternoons. It is also cooler, given that the breeze comes from open water.
When we were there, the waves were about half a foot high. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to keep people who were leisurely floating on their backs from completely relaxing.
Perhaps as a consequence of the waves is that the sand is much finer on this side of the island. This makes it more suitable to building sand castles or to comfortably walk on the shore barefoot.
To the left of the landing area, you will find that the shore is a bit rockier.
Though the rocks are not razor sharp, they can be uncomfortable to walk on without the use the aqua shoes.
The nice part about the rocky area is that the place is teeming with life. Sea grass, starfish, crabs, and fish can be easily seen in the clear waters.
The air and the water are slightly warmer here, perhaps because it is very calm and doesn’t get moved around as much.
And as you wade about the beach, you will notice that the shore is roped off.
This is done to keep the swimmers safe as the sand underneath drops off quickly. In my case, a shorter relative and I were standing shoulder to shoulder as while being submerged up to our necks.
CabaÃ±as and Tables
Each person is charged PhP100 as an entrance fee to the island. This needs to be paid at a hut designated by a simple sign at the landing area.
As I mentioned earlier, there are no hotels or resorts on the island.
But as you make your way about the island, you will find an assortment of open and closed cabaňas dotted all over the island. Each one can be rented out at PhP500 for the whole day.
Anywhere between eight to fifteen people can eat in these cabaňas as they include fixed benches and a movable table.
You’ll also find a lot of wooden tables and benches dotted all over the place. They will either be carved out of massive wood or made out of bamboo or rattan.
Anyone is free to use them and they can hold anywhere between four to six people at a time.
At the center of the island, you will find four long grillers. There is no need to pay for this as their use is free for all visitors.
It would be helpful to note that this is the only place people are allowed to barbecue their food.
Not only does it keep the place clean, it is safer as accidents involving fires are minimized.
As you walk further around the island, you will come across the camping area that is also closer to the center.
Though there are no hotels or resorts on the island, campers can stay overnight after paying PhP1,200.
I wasn’t able to check out the details of the rates, but I assume this is on a per-tent basis as individuals are already charged an entry fee.
Though we were informed that there were no water facilities, we were pleasantly surprised to find manual water pumps dotted around the island.
Since there is no electricity so you will need to manually pump water by pushing a lever up and down to draw water from an underground source for bathing.
While some people may consider it to be an inconvenience, it is fun to use something which probably dates back to the early twentieth century on such an island.
Please note that the water pump is not used for washing dishes. You’ll need to make provisions to take your dirty plates and utensils home for washing.
Contrary to our initial expectations, there were rest rooms on the island.
Located beside one of the water pumps and close to the landing area, people can defecate if the need arises.
However, they weren’t very clean and I would advise against using them unless absolutely necessary.
Now if you are one of those people who doesn’t have a morning ritual and happen to do their thing at any time of the day, you’ll need to bring some toilet paper, soap, and a water container of your own.
The place is filled with a lot of trees that provide shade.
During the early afternoon, people can be found all over the island taking a nap on the benches scattered around.
Many of the trees look spectacular as many look to have fallen down at some point in their lives. But instead of dying, they continue to grow at interesting angles.
If you have an eye, they can make for very interesting pictures.
A shack where the caretakers sleep is near the restrooms. You’ll find all of the collected plastics piled up behind it.
I noticed a small sari-sari store is also located near the restrooms as well. A few bags of chips were hanging on the windows and were for sale.
The last notable structure was the tree house in the middle of the island.
According to the caretakers, this is the private home of the island’s owners and is not open to the public, even for picture taking.
Though the island is dotted with trees, the house appears to provide a good 360 view of the island when sitting on the third floor.
One afternoon was certainly not enough to enjoy the island. We only had enough time for a quick dip and a hearty lunch.
We’ll definitely be going back. And this time, we plan on leaving our relatives’ place early so we can spend the whole day at Potipot Island.
If you have the chance this summer, I suggest spending time on the island for some sand and sea. Don’t worry, if the sun gets too hot, shade is just a few steps away.
In fact, the only problem I see you having is where to take that nice afternoon nap at.
Have a great summer!
We would like to thank Anything Under the Sun for contributing pictures and videos for this article.