One of four provinces occupying the triangle-shaped island of Panay, Aklan is host to the rambunctious Ati-Atihan festival held every January (to be celebrated online again in 2022 because of the pandemic) and the tradition of piña handloom weaving. Often overlooked by tourists en route to its more famous neighbor, Boracay, it is rich in natural attractions such as mountains and waterfalls that are now being rediscovered by its residents.
1. Visit the highlands
Libacao, around 25kms from Kalibo International Airport, is a municipality known for its abaca and coconut crops. During the pandemic, its highlands gained popularity among bikers missing the wide-open road; if you are riding a motorcycle instead of a car, make sure your two-wheeler can handle rough terrains. A big chunk of the route follows the flow of Aklan River and takes you through nondescript rural towns in Central Aklan. But as you approach barangay (village) Manika, the landscape changes to lush mountain ranges and a panoramic view of the snaking river, the longest of its kind in the province. Just a few meters below the free-access Manika Viewpoint is The Happy Place, a private property where you can rent cottages and picnic tables and take lots of photos amid the beautiful sceneries.
2. Commune with nature
A popular tourist spot in Kalibo since the 1990s, Bakhawan Eco Park is a 15-minute car drive from the airport. This nature reserve was a popular beach until the 1970s, when it was damaged by frequent flooding and became muddy. The altered landscape made it ideal as a mangrove forest, so a reforestation effort to prevent flooding and storm surges that damage the local towns and communities saw the local community – incentivized by the government – planting bakhawan trees in the area. From an initial 50ha, the ecological park now occupies 220ha. Its main attraction is a 1.6km boardwalk in the middle of the mangrove forest, where visitors can reward themselves with a picnic at the end of their walk. For PhP300, they can also sign up for an eating challenge involving the tamiloc, a wood worm that lives in dead mangrove trees and tastes like sweet oysters.
3. Dip into the water
From Kalibo International Airport, hop on a habal-habal (a private motorcycle ride) for your two-hour scenic ride to barangay Tangalan to visit Jawili Falls and Jawili Beach. Having been closed from June 2020 until September this year because of the pandemic, these natural attractions are now almost pristine – and a good spot to hang out with locals enjoying the laidback provincial life. Jawili Falls itself is impressive, boasting seven naturally formed basins of different sizes; the largest can easily fit 100 people, but with safe distancing in practice, group sizes are monitored. Near the falls are restaurants, videoke bars and two private resorts where you can stay overnight. Jawili beach is a mere 2kms from the falls and though not quite as breathtaking as nearby Boracay’s white sand beaches, it is still a lovely place to unwind and admire a view of Sibuyan Island in the province of Romblon; there are 12 private resorts offering overnight accommodation.