15 July 2019.
Across the glassy sea, a hazy line of palms appears in the distance offering up the first glimpse of Kalanggaman Island.
Anchored between Cebu and Leyte of the Philippines’ Visaya region, it’s the kind of paradisical castaway isle that many of us can only dream of; a delicate thread of powdery white sand, pristine turquoise water and palm trees in full supply.
The slight kicker however is that you certainly won’t have this place all to yourself.
These days, this tiny blip on the map is an exceedingly popular day trip and weekender destination for locals and international tourists alike, but for anyone looking to enjoy one of the prettiest stretches of sand the archipelago has to offer, chances are you’ll love your visit here all the same.
Here’s everything you need to know to plan the perfect day trip to Kalanggaman Island.
* This post includes affiliate links and any purchases made through these links will earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you. *
The Philippines have a clearly defined wet season which occurs between June and October and while most days remain hot with just an hour or so of heavy rain, there’s also the chance of arriving to a full day of dreary weather – hardly a good accompaniment to this postcard-perfect island.
The best time to visit Kalanggaman Island then is between November and May when days are hot and humid with little chance of rain. This is also high season so expect crowds, but weatherwise, you should be afforded clear skies.
Try to avoid weekends at any time of year as well as any major holidays.
There are a few different ways to experience Kalanggaman Island depending on how much time you’ve got and your budget.
Most visitors coming from Cebu choose to use nearby Malapascua Island as a base, combining their trip to Kalanggaman Island with a few days of diving to see the elusive Thresher Sharks at Monad Shoal and array of nudibranchs around Gato Island, or just taking some time to relax on the beach.
Despite many other guides suggesting you visit from Cebu City via Ormac and Palompon, or from Bogo which also requires a change in Palompon, both of which are somewhat convoluted and longwinded options, I’d suggest arriving directly from Malapascua or from Palompon if you’re already on Leyte.
Cebu To Malapascua Island
First, you’ll need to make your way north from Cebu City to Malapascua Island.
From the airport or anywhere in the city, take a Grab to the North Bus Terminal and find your transport for Maya Port – either a yellow Ceres bus or a minivan. Buses which tend to be slower, cheaper and more comfortable with some having air conditioning, while the minivans leave when full and make very few stops, but they do cram people in so don’t expect much in the way of comfort.
A bus with no air conditioning will cost around 200₱ (€3.50) and take anywhere between 4 and 6 hours, while a minivan will cost around 250₱ (€4.50) and take around 3 hours.
If you’re travelling as a family or large group, you may prefer to book a private transfer between Cebu City and Maya Port in a comfortable air-conditioned minivan. Check rates and availability here.
From Maya Port, ferries leave every half hour from early morning until 5 p.m. and cost 100₱ (€1.80). When you arrive at the port, you’ll be allocated a departure slot and asked to write your name on the manifesto. If there are too few people to justify taking the trip, you may be asked to pay more to make up the difference (only foreigners will be asked) or you can choose to wait for a later departure and hope more people arrive.
As you approach Malapascua, if it’s low tide you’ll be transfered to a small dinghy which will take you to shore for an extra 20₱ (€0.35).
Budget-Friendly Day Trip To Kalanggaman Island
The cheapest and easiest way to reach Kalanggaman Island is on a day trip from Malapascua. Day tours are offered through all hostels and resorts on the island and guests are pooled together and spread across a few large outrigger boats for the trip.
Each boat can only take a certain number of passengers and the coast guard will come around to check before departure which thankfully means the boats never get too crowded.
The Kalanggaman Island tour includes hotel pick-up, transport to and from Kalanggaman on a traditional banca boat and a simple buffet lunch with soft drinks.
Schedule | Hotel pick-up is around 8:30 for a 9 a.m. departure which should get you to the island around 11 a.m. This gives you a couple of hours to relax and explore before and after lunch at 12:30 p.m., ready to return at 2:30 p.m. Admittedly, it’s not a great deal of time on the island, but it’s more than enough to walk the entire coastline, have a quick snorkel and laze on the beach.
Price | The trip itself costs 800₱ (€14) plus a 500₱ (€9) entry fee to the island for international tourists. Snorkelling gear is not included so either bring your own or rent it from the beach at Malapascua when boarding the boat. A mask and snorkel will cost 150₱ (€2.50) for the entire day, just be sure to check it works before setting off.
Private Boat Tour
If you’re keen to spend a little more time on this idyllic isle and beat the hoards of day trippers, a private boat tour is definitely the way to go.
Previously, it was possible to hire a small boat for around 3,500₱ (€60), not including the Kalanggaman Island entrance fee, but I’ve recently read that these small boats are no longer allowed to make the trip as a safety precaution against the big waves which pick up in the afternoon. Large boats still make the trip but cost around double so are probably only viable for those travelling in a group or family.
Chat to your hotel when you arrive about options for a private boat, or ask directly to the captains on Bounty Beach. Many wait around for their slot to run the ferry back to Maya Port, a trip which is often cancelled due to low numbers, so I’m sure they’d be happy to organise a tour instead.
Organised Tour from Cebu City
If you’re short on time, it’s also possible to organise a long full-day tour from Cebu City.
This does mean a very early hotel pick up in Cebu (around 4 a.m.) but will allow you to reach the island relatively early in the morning, before the rest of the day-trippers arrive, giving you time to enjoy the beaches at your leisure without the crowds. An early lunch will be served on board the boat before making the journey back to Cebu.
Palompon to Kalanggaman Island
If you’re not arriving from Cebu, the alternative is from Palompon on Leyte Island. In Palompon, make your way to the Tourist Office, next to the Town Hall, where you’ll need to register for the trip, pay the Kalanggaman Island entrance fee and find your boat.
Some reviews suggest it’s possible to take a ferry trip for as little as 200₱ (€3.50) per person, while others rented a private boat. The price you pay may depend on how many people are on board.
Dive Kalanggaman Island
Want to explore the rich underwater world that surrounds this pearly strip of white sand? It’s also possible to visit Kalanggaman Island on a diving trip. Most dive excursions leave well ahead of the day trip boats so you’ll have the opportunity to see the island while it’s still relatively quiet before drifting off and explore the reef as well.
Dive trips to Kalanaggaman are generally run only a few times a week so be sure to enquire in advance to avoid missing out.
I’d highly recommend Evolution Dive Resort on Malapascua who run a well-organised operation, promote eco-friendly dive practices and have a beautiful garden and private beach where divers are free to relax.
Devotion is another highly-rated dive shop that came recommended to me as well.
Want Longer Than A Day Trip?
Despite being low season, I arrived at Kalanggaman Island to find the place in full swing. Between the trees, families had set up sprawling picnic areas and camping spots, the sandbar was a string of elaborate photo shoots and as the afternoon wore on, boats continued to rock up leaving less space for beachgoers to enjoy the crystalline water.
It is undoubtedly a beautiful spot, but it may not be long before you start to lament what it could be without the crowds. These days, the only way to get that castaway island experience is to stay overnight and enjoy the tranquillity of the place once the beaches have emptied and the hoards of day-trippers have sailed away.
To stay overnight on Kalanggaman Island, there’s an additional 250₱ charge for a total entrance fee of 750₱ (€13).
Either bring your own tent to camp overnight or rent one when you arrive. At the far end of the island, you’ll also find a cluster of small A-frame wooden cabins available for rent.
Don’t swim around the sandbars | At both ends of Kalanggaman Island you’ll find a narrow swath of powdery white sand snaking out between the perfect aqua water that just begs to be explored. The currents here can get incredibly strong though, especially when the tide is turning, making swimming here just plain dangerous. Try to stick toward the middle stretch of the island where you’ll find plenty of beach perfect for taking a dip.
Use reef-safe sunscreen | If you love exploring the marine environment, you wouldn’t want the chemicals in your sunscreen to destroy it. Honestly, I’m still trying to find a brand that I love, but these are a few that are recommended: Stream2Sea, Sun Bum Mineral, Tropical Sands and Blue Lizard.
If you haven’t got any with you, try to apply regular sunscreen at least 45 minutes before jumping in the water and be sure to cover up as much as possible.
Use your time wisely | Admittedly, you don’t get to spend all that much time on the island so try to make the most of it. I’d suggest getting all the exploring done as soon as you arrive so that you can use the time after lunch to just relax on the beach and snorkel. Also, keep an eye on the tides so you don’t miss the moment the famous sandbar is finally revealed.
Veggies, bringing snacks | As in most of the Philippines, the buffet was fairly heavy on the meat. Unless you want to be stuck eating white rice and a small portion of noodles, consider bringing along a few snacks to get you through the day.
Don’t miss the far side | The famous white sandbar that stretches out from the east end of the island is the main attraction here and as the water sinks away a constant stream of people filter onto the sand to get their photos taken in this idyllic setting, an act that has caused many locals to nickname this place ‘Instagram Island’. The western end however receives few visitors and, if you can time the tides right, provides a beauiful setting as well to take some snaps.
It does get crowded | In case it wasn’t clear already, don’t expect to have this place all to yourself – the secret is well and truly out.
Snorkelling is pretty average | Perhaps it was the grey weather or the fact that I’d just come from one of the best dive destinations in the world, but I found the snorkelling around the island to be pretty average. The diving further offshore is reportedly much better, but just off the beach, the reef looked to be in pretty bad shape. If you’re still keen for a look, the north side of the island is the best place to go.
Toilet situation | There is a basic western toilet on the island but you’ll need to bring your own toilet paper.
Bring a warm change of clothes | When you’re sprawled out on the beach cocooned in a cosy halo of sunshine, a jumper may be the last thing on your mind, but as the afternoon rolls around the wind does pick up, as do the waves, making the boat ride back rather chilly. I’d recomend bringing something warm to throw on, or at least a dry towel to use as a blanket, just in case.
Malapascua Budget Inn | Pretty much the backpacker hostel on the island with well set up dormitories complete with a light, powerpoint and curtain for each bed, air conditioning and lockers. The staff are incredibly helpful, rooms are spotless, the small chillout area includes a handfull of hammocks and beanbags and Malapascua’s local market is just a few steps away. Prices start at 500RM (€9) per night.
AABANA Beach Resort | A decent budget option for those wanting to avoid the hostel scene, Aabana offers private ensuite rooms right on the beachfront at the far end of Bounty Beach. Facilities are simple but breakfast is included and prices are very reasonable.
Tepanee Beach Resort | Set on the far tip of Malapascua, Tepanee offers a tropical island getaway with access to a private beach, onsite restaurant, spa, gym and dive shop. Rooms are simple and colourful with a balcony facing toward the garden or ocean. A top-rated spot in Malapascua.