Head to the coast for under-the-radar beaches or journey inland to see the province’s well-preserved culture and meet a critically endangered species.
About San Jose
Like many coastal towns in the Philippines, San Jose in Occidental Mindoro has its fair share of under-the-radar beaches and island attractions. But take the time to journey inland and you’ll find much more waiting to be discovered: The well-preserved culture of the Mangyan — the indigenous people of the province who were already thriving in pre-colonial times — as well as the mighty tamaraw, a critically endangered species of dwarf buffalo that is native to Mindoro.
Classified as a first-class municipality, San Jose is the most densely populated town of Occidental Mindoro. It has the largest commercial seaport and airport in the province and is known as an economic hub not only of Mindoro but also of the region of Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan). It used to be the capital of Occidental Mindoro (now it’s Mamburao) and has the highest number of banking, commercial and business establishments in the province. Despite that, San Jose still has all the charm of a small coastal town.
Highlights for the Traveler
San Jose has some beaches that are lesser known than, and therefore not as crowded as, the usual island destinations. There’s Aroma Beach, located near the airport and lined with restaurants and beach resorts. San Jose’s three major islands — Ambulong, Ilin and Manadi — offer travelers a quieter and less commercialized beach holiday experience. The largest island, Ilin, is known best for the secluded Inasakan Beach, the brick-adorned Santisima Trinidad Church and the Adoration Chapel, revered for its in-house spring and for housing the miraculous image of the Holy Trinity. The smallest island, Manadi, is a tiny islet known as White Island for its light-colored sand. Ambulong, known for its white-sand beaches and coral gardens, is not only the location of Grace Island — one of San Jose’s popular island resorts — but also a jump-off point to popular dive sites in the area.
Aside from its gorgeous islands, San Jose also has a few attractions on the mainland. There’s the Central Heritage Park in Barangay Central, the site of the first sugar mill in the Far East. The relatively new Dap-ayan Center for Culture and the Arts in Aroma showcases photographs of the attractions and traditions of the town. Not far from it stands the Bantayog-Wika para sa Mangyan ng Occidental Mindoro, a structure that is part of a project celebrating the many languages of the country.
You can get to know the Mangyan — the umbrella term for the eight indigenous peoples of Mindoro — by paying a visit to Barangay Naibuan. A peaceful people, the Mangyan chose to settle in the mountains rather than fight the Spanish colonizers and thus protected their culture from outside influences. Their centuries-old Mangyan scripts are used to this day and have been included in the Unesco Memory of the World Program. Local artisans also keep the Mangyan traditions of loom weaving and beaded jewelry-making alive.
Around San Jose
San Jose is a gateway to what the rest of the province has to offer, such as Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park, a protected area and Asean heritage park located about 43km away, in the central part of Mindoro. The park is home to several endemic species, including most of the remaining population of tamaraws — the only endemic Philippine bovine — and a few communities of Mangyan. With a permit and a guide, visitors can hike through trails, trek up Mount Iglit, try to observe tamaraws in the wild or visit a Mangyan village.
If you decide to visit the park, be sure to drop by what was once the Tamaraw Gene Pool Farm in Rizal. The tamaraw breeding program was started in 1980 and only produced one tamaraw, named Kalibasib, in 1999. The program is no longer running and the farm now serves as the Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation, Research and Education Center. The facility is still home to Kalibasib, the last captive tamaraw, and is open to visitors who want to learn more about Mindoro’s conservation efforts.
If you’re more of an ocean lover, you can go to Sablayan, around 79km away, where one of the most popular and treasured attractions in Mindoro is found — Apo Reef Marine Park, Asia’s largest atoll reef and second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef as largest in the world. It’s home to incredibly diverse marine life and is every diver’s dream. The Apo Islands (there are three) also feature white-sand beaches, a lighthouse, a lagoon and a mangrove forest, so there are lots of other things to enjoy in the park aside from diving and snorkeling. In Sablayan you can also find Parola Park (also known as Presing Park), and the Sablayan 3 in 1 Adventure, where you can enjoy outdoor activities like rappelling, wall climbing and ziplining. It’s also where you can experience the longest island-to-island zipline (1.76km!) in the world.
By Leah Angue, as of January 2020.