San Antonio, Zamabales with kids
The beautiful thing about Zambales? Gorgeous beaches just 3 1/2 hours drive away from Manila. Think: just an hour further than Subic. Gorgeous in that they are also unique-looking since they are back-dropped by breathtaking mountains.
Where we stayed:
In an airbnb house in the town of San Antonio recommended to me by a fellow school mother. It turned out to be perfect. Upon researching hotels in the area, they seemed overpriced for what they offered. This 2-bedroom house was just a little bit less than PHP4000/night for up to 5 adults (kids are free). But, there are abundant mattresses around so up to 10 adults can be accommodated. This house is modern, clean and fully equipped and had everything we needed for a comfortable stay: great kitchen, air-conditioning, generator (we experienced a brown out), patio for eating outdoors, and washer/dryer (it was great to be able to do laundry after a grimy day at the beach). Also, staying in a house was perfect for this not-yet-super-developed area in that there aren't a lot of restaurant choices around, so we ate most meals at home. And it was also perfect because it was located in the countryside, so when not at the beach, we could take in the gorgeous landscape of Zambales. Here's a photo of the house and a view from it:
The house can be viewed and reserved here.
As you can see from all the reviews on airbnb, Analyn and her husband (the caretakers of the house) were wonderful hosts- responded to questions I had promptly, made sure we had everything we needed, and arranged our island hopping tour. FYI, there is another 3-bedroom house on the same compound that is also available on airbnb if you are going with a large group, it's just not as well- equipped.
The best part about the house was the view, and the land all around it. There are also fruit trees, cattle, pigs, goats and a carabao in the compound for the kids to enjoy. One more plus of the house: there's a roof-level lanai for stargazing at night, which was pretty amazing.
What we did:
We spent one afternoon attempting to surf at Crystal Beach resort in the next town over, called San Narciso. But, there were no waves so we weren't able to. FYI, rental of surfboard at Crystal Beach is PHP400/hour. We had lunch here and it was fine. Kids enjoyed fish and chips and BBQ chicken. Their menu is pretty extensive with many Filipino dishes.
When Crystal beach didn't work out, instead of paying their day tour rate of PHP195 per person, we thought we'd try the free public beach next door to it (the one behind the town's children's playground). It did the job beautifully!
We did one day of island hopping to Camara Island, Capones Island and Anawangin Cove. The jump- off point to all of these is Pundaquit beach in San Antonio (10 min drive from the house). Analyn accompanied us to Kristel's beach resort (the owner is a friend of theirs) and helped us secure our boat for the day. For the 6 of us, it was PHP2000 for a medium-sized boat with two staff members to take us to all three islands. 10-minute ride to Camara (it's a small island so only stayed about 30 minutes), another 10 minutes to Capones (views were breathtaking here and snorkeling great so stayed about an hour), then a 20 minute boat-ride to Anawangin Cove. Here, we enjoyed a picnic lunch under the pine trees.
Anawangin Cove is divided into about 6 resorts where you can pay a fee to enter to use their picnic tables and CRs. Or you can rent hut for varying prices (PHP100 to PHP1500 for a really nice Nipa hut for the day). Or you can pay to camp for the night (which we didn't do). My only recommendation is to not go to the resort that's right in the middle of the cove called Mansayon beach resort. It seems to be the party campsite (lots of alcohol bottles lying around) and also the least maintained (garbage everywhere). It's the one we walked into not knowing there was more than one resort, and we were disheartened by the excessive littering. I was relieved to see later that the other resorts were better maintained and kinder to nature. We brought our picnic and water on the boat as there are only limited sari-sari stores at Anawangin Cove. Annalyn had brought us to the market in San Antonio to get everything we needed before heading to Pundaquit beach. After lunch, we played at the the beach. There is also some good snorkeling. If you have your back to the water, there is good snorkeling at the left of the cove where the rocks are. Here are pictures from our island hopping:
Other things to do:
- There is a mango farm in the area which you can visit. My friend Amber of A Momma Abroad went there and loved it. See her blogpost here.
- There is a short, kid-friendly hike to a waterfall from Pundaquit beach too, but we didn't do it as it's not recommended in the dry season. You can read about on Bantog Backpackers' blog.
- Visit Nagsasa Cove, which is about another hour further than Anawangin Cove by boat.
- Visit Casa San Miguel in San Antonio. It's an art gallery, a music school, a bed and breakfast and a cafe. Us and Casa San Miguel just weren't meant to be as the first time we went it was booked out for a wedding, and the second time, brown out! But look how pretty the cafe is, and more information about Casa San Miguel is on wheninmanila's website.
Finally, another blogpost that helped me plan our trip: Two Monkeys Travel Group (look under destination #5 Zambales). And it seems the boat fares are pretty standard at Pundaquit, but if you need a recommendation, we really liked Kristel's resort for hiring our boat for island hopping (which our hostess Analyn brought us too). The owner, Florante, is organized and efficient, and his staff are all friendly and kind. When we brought our friends back two days later to get them settled with a boat, he organized everything for them too. Here's Florante's info and rates: