Manila, Philippines — Fancy exploring Philippine territory in the disputed West Philippine Sea as a tourist?
For a year now, the municipal government of Kalayaan in Palawan has been offering week-long tours that attract travelers who seek adventure and long to see natural wonders – and has since boosted its local tourism.
Among the first batch of tourists who visited the archipelago last April was 30-year-old Julie Ann Lope
Lope shared with The STAR that she did not hesitate to join after a friend saw the tour on Facebook and recommended it to her.
Onboard an expedition yacht where she and other tourists spent the night during the week-long excursion, the trip from the port of Buliluyan in the southern tip of Palawan to Kalayaan’s main island, Pag-asa Island, took “almost 30 hours.”
Lope recalled that they enjoyed their stay in Pag-asa Island because the town celebrated a festival at the time, with various activities in place like a boat race, singing and fishing contest and a night of partying.
She was even made a godmother for a newlywed couple in the island.
She pointed out that while their group saw sea vessels surrounding the island from afar, the island was in general peaceful.
She joked that she received a text message from a local telecommunications provider saying “Welcome to China!”
Asked what she learned from her experience, Lope answered that the “once in a lifetime” tour taught her the “need to take care of the environment and appreciate what we have, the resources we have.”
“We should support local tours like that. I also travel abroad, so my goal right now is the Philippines first,” she said in Filipino and English.
The cooperative offers two kinds of week-long tours: Pag-asa Summer Tour, where travelers can stay in the main island and take part in its festival, with tours happening in May 2024 and May 2025; and The Great Kalayaan Expedition, which will let tourists experience various activities like diving, island-hopping, bird watching and fishing, with scheduled tours in March, April and May of 2024 and 2025.
Tourists coming from Manila should pay for their flights to Puerto Princesa, aside from other exclusions like antigen test, personal gear for fishing and diving, travel insurance and van transfers.
The Pag-asa Summer Tour is priced at P30,000, while The Great Kalayaan Expedition costs P120,000, both available at website travelspratlys.com.
Those visiting the KITA’s booth at the Philippine Travel Mart until today can avail of discounts.
Both KITA and the expedition tours were launched in September last year when they joined the Philippine Travel Mart for the first time, according to Kalayaan municipal tourism officer Ken Hupanda.
“We just tested the market to see how many are interested to visit Kalayaan, and we found out that most visitors were very curious, that is why we came up with the project,” Hupanda said.