The Philippines: Exploring Subic Bay and the Bataan Peninsula

Exploring Subic Bay and the Bataan Peninsula

Exploring Subic Bay and the Bataan Peninsula
Subic Bay, The Philippines

We spent four days in Subic Bay and the Bataan Peninsula.  During this time, we took a trip to Corregidor Island, explored the towns of Subic Bay and Olongapo, and visited as many of Bataan’s attractions as we could. Here’s what we found:

1. Subic Bay: the Town and the “Boardwalk”

Subic Bay is not a resort town. This part of town was all part of a large US navel operation until 1991 when the Philippine government decided not to renew the agreement.  Now it is a mere echo of that time.  The streets are wide, and have curbs and sidewalks that conform to US standards and the administrative style buildings each have large numbers painted on the side in large military script.

Subic Bay and Bataan Peninsula
The streets of Subic Bay are wide, and have curbs and sidewalks that conform to US standards while the style of architecture is characteristic of a small town in America.

Subic Bay has no boardwalk and no bay-side entertainment. Aside from a small collection of hotels and restaurants at one end of Waterfront Road, the bayside area of town doesn’t actually have much at all.  The Subic Bay “boardwalk” (at least that’s what my map calls that stretch of coast) is really just a dirty stretch of sandy beach at the center of the bay. While is a nice setting for a pretty dinner, it has little to offer beyond that.

For ocean swimming, one must go to the other side of the point where cleaner waters from the ocean break on the sandy beaches of All Hands Beach and Dungaree beach. Taxis will take you out there from town for about 200 pesos.


2. Olongapo and the Public Market

While the town of Subic Bay boasts quiet and wide tree-lined streets, her neighbor – Olongapo – is every bit as noisy, chaotic, and lively as Manila (except without the traffic).  To get into Olongapo from Subic Bay one must pass through one of the two gates that once served to restrict access to the military base.  Today, the gates stand open but still mark the boundary line between the towns of Subic Bay and Olongapo.  They also serve to restrict certain kinds of vehicles. Jeepneys and Taxicle Trikes are forbidden in Subic bay but are everywhere in Olongapo.

Olongapo’s Public Market

The public market is the heart of Olongapo. This collection of vendors is surprisingly comprehensive. The narrow walkways are lined with shops selling shoes, clothes, cell phone accessories, fresh produce, jewelry, rice, souvenirs, meat, juice and just about anything else you can think of.  I was expecting a small-town public market but instead I found an exciting Bazaar.  The Olongapo Public market is well worth your time.

Location: At 20th and the Bataan-Olongapo road – about 2 Kilometers inland from the Main Gate to Subic Bay (map).


3. Three Forest Walks Near Subic Bay

Subic Bay is home to the International School of Sustainable Tourism, and the effects of that operation are becoming visible in the region.  If nature is your thing, then you should definitely check out the forest trails open to visitors.

Apaliin Trail in Ilanin Forest West

Apaliin Trail Hike near Subic Bay
The protected areas of the Bataan Peninsula are covered in virgin forests where centuries old trees tower above bamboo thickets

Past the airport and the All Hands beach resort, past the Red Cross Training and Operations Center, past the park checkpoint – un-manned and with the gates thrown upwards, a small sign marks the trail head of the Apaliin Trail – a 2 kilometer jungle walk that leads down to a tiny, isolated little sandy beach. Covered in leaves and shaded by towering trees, this forest trail is a delightful way to get away from the roar of the city.  The trail is not difficult or steep. It is narrow and minimally maintained.  I hiked it in sandals, but wished I had on my trainers.  It took us two hours to hike the trail, round trip.  We were moving at a very leisurely pace.

How to get there Unless you have your own car, your best bet is taxi – Our taxi driver charged us 350 for the drop off.  He came back to get us and took us to another trail.  The total cost for the morning was 1,100 Pesos.

Subic Bay Hiking
The Apaliin Trail near Subic bay runs for about 2 Kilometers through the jungle from the road to the beach

Pamulaklakin Trail

The Pamulaklakin Trail is very different from the Apaliin Trail.  located at the edge of the Subic Bay town, this trail is broad and well maintained.   Visitors must pay for access to this trail, guided eco walks will cost 250 Pesos. This trail is widely visited by tourists and the eco tour is a great way to learn something about the native forests.

El Kabayo Falls

The El Kabayo Stables run trail rides up to these falls. If you don’t know how to ride a horse, don’t worry. The guides run along side leading the animals.  All you need to do is sit and enjoy.

Exploring Subic Bay and the Bataan Peninsula
El Kabayo Falls near Subic Bay

Alternately, (if you don’t feel like sitting on a horse) you can hike the trail.  A leisurely 10 minute stroll along a road-like trail will bring walkers from the trail head into the falls. The falls themselves are not that impressive. The forest is also aless interesting than the virgin forests on either the Pamulaklakin Trail or the Apaliin Trail.

4. Down the Bataan Peninusula: Corregidor

Corregidor, The Philippines
The mile long barracks of Fort Mills stand in ruins – a reminder of the fierce battles that once raged on this ground

Most tours to Corregidor leave from the Mall of Asia in Manila. it is also possible to get to the island from the Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific Port  on Camaya Point near Mariveles at the tip of the Bataan Peninsula.

Corregidor Island is the sight of the Pacific memorial to lives lost during the second world war. There is also a Japanese Memorial to the thousands Japanese soldiers who lost their lives when the US re-took the island in 1945.  During a visit to Corregidor Island you will ride through the park with a guide who will tell you story of the island from the time of Spanish colony until today.  As you drive among the batteries and through the ruined remains of Fort Mills, the lives of those who lived and died to keep this ground becomes a little more real.

The Pacific Memorial at Corregidor Island in the Philippines was financed by the United States

The boat ride to Corregidor from Bataan costs about 3,500 Pesos for groups with fewer than 14 people. It must be booked in advance.  The website is your best bet for booking information. The bottom of the page has phone numbers and email addresses for booking tours to Corregidor from the Bataan Peninsula.


5. Mount Samat

Mount Samat on the Bataan Peninsula
Valor Cross on Mount Samat

Toward the top of the Bataan Peninsula, near the city of Balanga, a giant cross reaches to the sky from the top of a mountain. This is the Valor Cross on Mount Samat.  The sight commemorates the brutal fighting on the front lines of the Bataan Peninsula and those who were subjected to the Bataan Death March.

Large words engraved in the marble walls of the memorial detail the battles won and lost on the ground the mountain overlooks.  Relief maps in the museum show the assaults on the Philippines during the war.  At the top of the mountain, the Valor Cross towers into the sky. A lift inside the cross carries visitors to the top, but it wasn’t operational when we visited in January, 2017.

Mount Samat on the Bataan Peninsula
The memorial and museum on Mount Samat outside of Balanga City on the Bataan Peninsula


6. Other Things to do on the Bataan Peninsula

Jungle Survival Training – JEST stands for Jungle Environment Survival Training and JEST camp offers just that. From day-long introduction courses to overnight adventures you will be better equipped for the Jungle, and more confident in your own skills after one of their courses.  Their main camp is near the Subic Bay Airport.  In addition to survival training courses, the camp offers a bird show, team building, and real life Angry Birds.

Hit the Beach – If you are looking for clean water,  you should stick to the beaches that face the sea rather than Manila Bay.  There are a few beach resorts outside of Subic bay, but there are more down by Morong.

Pawakan Sea Turtle Conservation Center If nature is your thing, then you might pay a visit to the Pawakan Conservation Center just south of Morong.  The center helps ensure the hatch and release of baby sea turtles into the sea.  The best time to visit is during the Pawakan Festival at the end of november, but the staff will show you the operation and help you understand the importance of what they do no matter when you visit.

If you prefer creatures that fly to creatures that swim, the Barangay Tortugas bird area near Balanga city is a good option. For public transit directions (and a heads up for what to expect) check out this post from Filipino Explorer.

Hiking and Mountain Biking If you are looking into a guided biking adventure Tourismo Pinoy’s “Brilliant Bataan” tour is a good place to begin.  Alternately you can plan your own hiking and biking trip using the list of trails on The Bataan Peninsula has tons of other activities for the out-doors enthusiast.  Visitors can hike, kayak, snorkel,  and even dive some of the shipwrecks.

Where to Stay

My parents and I stayed at The Reef Hotel and Residences on one end of the Subic Bay. We had a room with a small kitchen, and a lovely view of the water.  For the price, though, you can do much better (the  Best Western, for example). Here are a few hotels that offer something a bit different than the ordinary hotel stay.

Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar – Billed as a “heritage hotel” Las Casa Filipinas de Acuzar takes you back to 18th-century Philippines.  Each building is a reconstruction of an 18th Century building from different places around the Philippines.  They offer all of the luxury amenities of a major resort as well as heritage shows and tours of the facility.

Kamana Sanctuary Resort and Spa icon– Kamana Sactuary Resort is one of the nicest in the Subic Bay area.  The real draw, though are the natural amenities the resort can offer. A private beach, kayak and snorkel rentals, along with the resort’s proximity to the Apaliin forest will give nature lovers a chance to explore the sea and the forests of the Bataan Peninsula.

Native House – If you are interested in a more local experience you might try one of these local huts. The complex boasts traditional rainforest huts in a forest environment with many of the amenities of a resort.

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Bataan Peninsula
The Bataan National Park at a distance (as seen from Mount Samat)
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