Beaches don’t get much better than this one.
As the turquoise waves gently lick the white powder shoreline, I look around to see most of the other groups of day trippers to the island have vanished. Either taking a rest in one of the small palm hut shelters, or they’ve been whisked off to a nearby dive site in one of the bangas (local style boats).
Kalanggaman Island, Leyte, Philippines, is the stuff holiday brochures are made of.
Kalanggaman Island looks like a castaway’s paradise. There’s no accommodation on this island, meaning it’s open for day trips only—or, for the more intrepid traveller—overnight camping is possible. You’ll just need to bring all of your own food and water (and tent) with you and be sure to get permission from the Eco Tourism office in Palompon, Leyte.
I took a day trip to this postcard perfect sandbar together with several other bloggers as part of my trip around Leyte that was organised by the Philippines tourism board. On arrival at Palompon, Leyte, we had a briefing from the local tourism office, who gave us a short history of Kalanggaman.
Kalanggaman Island was until relatively recently just another sandbar, or uninhabited micro-island—of which there hundreds in the Philippines. But that all changed in 2013, when a large cruise ship stopped close to the sand bar to allow its passengers to enjoy the island for a few hours. These days, it’s all the local tourist board can do to keep the large cruise ships away.
Since 2013 the local government has invested in basic bamboo shelters to provide shade for visitors, a toilet block, and even a pair of tourist policemen who ensure the safety of visitors on the island (or in any case ensure the visitors have got their permits and are not doing any harm to the island!).
Since 2013, Kalanggaman island has exploded in popularity, and it’s easy to see why.
After all, aren’t we all in search of that illusive piece of paradise? That patch of white sand and turquoise water that we’ll have to ourselves? Arguably, it’s our pursuit of paradise which has lead tourism to have had the negative environmental impact that it has already had on many former paradises today. Look no further than Koh Phi Phi. And it’s no accident that the headline image of this post is a white sand beach. We all want paradise. But at what cost?
What we can learn from Kalanggaman Island, Leyte
So what can we learn from this case? Firstly, Kalanggaman has the ‘benefit’ of being a prize for the resourceful traveller. Forget Air Asia or direct buses even. Kalanggaman is the reward for the intrepid traveller. More on that in the ‘getting here’ section.
And that’s why this island is still so beautiful.
An even bigger contributing factor is that the local tourism board has taken decisive action and understood the need to protect Kalanggaman from mass tourism before it is too late. A visitor cap has been set at 500 people per day who can visit Kalanggaman. In high season, this means that boats of would-be day trippers from Cebu and Leyte are refused and are turned away from the Island. Initially this was quite an issue for the Leyte tourism board. But then, thanks to some creative planning, they got to work in creating other attractions, such as an outdoor adventure park, that could be used to accommodate overspill visitors for Kalanggaman.
Each visitor to the island needs to purchase a permit—for either a day trip or an overnight camping trip. And that makes it relatively easy for the tourism body to enforce limits. The friendly tourist police on the island double as ticket checkers, as well as ensuring the safety of visitors. Part of the revenue from permits is then reinvested into other ecotourism projects around the islands.
I visited the island during low season, and there can’t have been more than 100 people on the Island, but the picture, I’m assured, can look quite different during peak months.
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Planning a trip to Kalanggaman Island Leyte
For travel to Kalanggaman Island, there are essentially two options.
Option One: Independent Travel from Leyte
The closest large island to Kalanggaman is Leyte Island, part of the Eastern Visayas. Palompon is the small town which serves as the jumping off point for Kalanggaman. Palompon is where the tourist office is located and from where you can buy your entry passes for Kalanggaman. Do call ahead to schedule your trip and arrange your entry passes. If you leave it until on the day be warned that you may find either the quota for the island is sold out, it is difficult to arrange a boat, or during low season the weather may not be suitable for the boat trip. You can find the information for the Palompon Eco Tourism office here. Also ask if it is possible to share the boat with other visitors, otherwise you’ll need to pay for the boat yourself which can be pricey.
There are a few places to stay in Palompon town, you can find a list here. I stayed at the new and modern XYZ Hotel in Tacloban, Leyte’s capital city. It’s around a 3 hour drive from Tacloban to Palompon, so means an early start! You can find a list of Tacloban hotels here. From Tacloban there’s no public transport to Palompon but you can easily arrange a car or van via your accommodation.
Tacloban was the part of Leyte that was worst hit by the terrible typhoon Yolanda in 2013. The city is now re-built, but your tourist dollars really have a great impact in this and all other parts of Leyte as it is one of the poorest parts of the Philippines and needs to grow its tourism economy in order to provide an additional source of income for many of its residents.
Option Two: Day trip from Malapascua, Cebu
This option is much more likely to be via organised tour or as part of a dive trip. Malapascua is one of Cebu’s top diving destinations and as such there are no shortage of dive outfits that offer a diving trip to Kalanggaman. If scuba diving is not your thing then you’ll find no difficulty in finding someone willing to sell you a tour to Kalanggaman island with the typical lunch and stops for snorkelling type setup. Malapascua is quite a lot further from Kalanggaman so the boat trip is two hours + each way.
If staying in Malapascua and not diving, I highly recommend the beautiful and environmentally friendly Tepanee Resort. Complete with private beach to watch the sunset from, the owner is a former professional swimmer and is currently engaged in training local kids to swim in national competitions. For the divers out there, Evolution Dive & Beach Resort is part of ‘Green Fins’, has good local eats (definitely recommend the fish curry with coconut milk) and is doing their bit to dispose of waste properly. You can find a full list of places to stay in Malapascua here.
Lessons from Kalanggaman, Leyte
The clear lesson—for me—from Kalanggaman is that in order to protect the beauty of small and fragile places we have to take those difficult decisions. Difficult decisions in this case to turn down extra money that locals need when the Island is already at capacity. It may not always be an easy choice, but it will be a choice that means that Kalanggaman survives while other places may not. This is a great example of destination planning for sustainable tourism on a small scale.
So next time I get turned away from an Island—or other attraction—becuase they have already reached their quota? I shall have to smile and thank them.
If you find yourself planning a trip to Leyte, then I highly recommend using Leyte Gulf Travel & Tours. Mr Butz was our Tour Guide for three days and his knowledge and passion for Leyte were amazing. Not to mention his kindness and photography skills!