The easing of travel restrictions and reclassification most provinces into MGCQ status has ignited the desire of road warriors for long drive escapades. But under the new normal setting, it isn’t just any place, but one which has low Covid cases, compliant with health protocols, and close to nature to help us heal from the scars of the pandemic.
One such exciting destination is Antique, a tourism frontier which can spring up surprises even to grizzled travelers. With 18 towns spread out across a 155-km coastal road, a passage to this unheralded Visayan getaway is a unique blend of adventure and culture. History says the province dates back from the arrival of the ten datus (chieftains) from Borneo in the mid-1200s who bought Panay Island with a golden salakot (headgear).
According to Department of Tourism regional director Helen Catalbas, Antique is among the places in Western Visayas ready to receive visitors after undergoing rigid inspections for anti-virus measures. She said that the province is ideal for family trips because of its charming countryside where physical distancing can be observed.
There are various modes of getting there—fly to Iloilo, rent a car and drive, fly out via Caticlan, or drive all the way there via Ro-Ro vessels from Manila or Batangas.
Pit Stop 1: Anini-y. The province’s gateway town, it is about 2 hours away from the Iloilo Airport or Port via widened well-paved roads lined with Spanish-era churches, houses and bridges.
Its claim to fame are the newly-restored magnificent baroque circa-1840s church of San Juan Nepomuceno, which is noted for its 115-year old bell, and Nogas Island, a beach-bumming, snorkeling and scuba diving spot due to its lush marine life and powdery white sand.
Pit Stop 2: Hamtic. Believed to be the province’s oldest town, being the first Malay settlement was established by the migrant chieftains. Its name is a derivative of the ancient name Hantik where Antique also originated.
Malandog Marker, a historical roadside park, marks the spot where the said village was founded. Its centerpiece is a huge sculpture of two hands carrying the tell-tale golden salakot, depicting the sale of Panay to the Bornean datus.
Pit Stop 3: San Jose de Buenavista. A few minutes up north is this provincial capital which literally means “good view”, referring to the elevated areas which offer soothing vistas of the Cuyo East Pass and Sibalom Natural Park, one of Panay’s last remaining lowland rainforests.
In the heart of the town is the Evelio B Javier Freedom Park, a well-manicured public plaza named after its martyred firebrand governor, and the neo-classic Provincial Capitol building, which lend an eclectic aura to this growing first-class income municipality.
For a feel of Antique’s pace of life, spend the night at a DOT-certified boutique hotel in downtown to observe its nocturnal and early morning scenario.
Pit Stop 4: Tibiao. Regarded as Antique’s adventure hub, this rustic town treats guests to a bevy of recreation—trek through terraced rice paddies, hanging bridge crossings, white-water river kayaking or tubing, and basking at the seven-tiered Bugtong-Bato Falls, among others.
A must-try is the “kawa” bath at the Calawag Mountain Resort where you dip in a cauldron of hot water laced with herbs and medicinal plants, and your choice of either wine, beer, milk or coffee. Cap the action-packed day with a fish spa where fishes nibble on your feet to remove dead skin cells, and a good old-fashioned hilot massage for a sound sleep at the native comfy huts for a consummate rural immersion.
An exciting early morning exercise is the harvesting huge fishes at the lambakladbamboo pens yielded by Tibiao’s seemingly inexhaustible marine resources.
Pit Stop 5: Pandan. This northernmost town takes pride in Bugang River, which is perennially named the country’s cleanest inland body of water by awards-giving bodies. It can be navigated by bamboo raft or outrigger boats through forested villages, and winds up at Malumpati Cold Spring, where you can get an ice-cold dip at the river-fed natural pool.
The municipality is also sought-after for its underwater world and resorts with scuba centers which can take you to the validated dive sites in Pandan and Tibiao.
But before speeding off on your car, check out online with the Antique provincial tourism office and DOT-6 for travel advisories and list of open attractions and establishments.
Despite the constraints you might encounter, the passage to Antique will surely be a serendipitous motoring odyssey. And as you drive along the country roads, you’ll realize why the Bornean datus made the most important to real estate purchase in ancient history.