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Oh, Olango!

Stacy Danika Alcantara (The Freeman) - February 15, 2015 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - Olango Island is a tiny shard of land lying off the coast of Mactan Island, Cebu.  Between the two, Mactan is the more famous and affluent, being home to a string of world-class resorts, and much more accessible as well.  Olango, for its part, has remained an isolated beauty fringed with virgin mangrove forests and pristine surroundings that those who are after island life in the truest and rawest sense of the word are sure to find it here.

Olango is best known as a favorite stopover of birds that make their arduous annual journey from Siberia and China en route to Australia, to escape the winter.  The birds' epic migration does not happen all year-round, thus this yearly visit is always a much-awaited opportunity for wildlife photographers, bird watchers, and nature trippers alike. 

Yet while the birds' visit is seasonal, Olango's marine life sanctuary is lush and beautiful all year round.  For the price of a song, nature trippers are treated to a long scenic traipse through a bamboo boardwalk and a narrow walkway that threads through thick mangrove forests that usher them into the island's crystal waters.  There's a 360-degree view of one of Cebu's best seascapes - rich, green foliage of  the mangrove forests behind, propping up the sliver of white sand fronting the vast expanse of seawater edged by flickering waves. 

The boardwalk takes one to a floating wooden platform which is the jump-off point in boarding a tiny boat for going farther into the sea to spend some time with various schools of fish.

The best thing about Olango is that it hardly creates a dent in the visitor's wallet. Mainland Cebu residents, who need a little beach fix but are broke, now know where to head to.

Getting There.

From Cebu City, go by taxi or jeepney or own car past either bridge towards Punta Engano in Mactan.  Head to the Hilton Pier right beside Movenpick Resort.  A tiny path from Movenpick leads to the port where boats sail every 30 minutes from Punta Engano to Santa Rosa in Olango.  The boat ride takes roughly 20 minutes.

When to Go.

For a great Olango experience, it's best to go anytime from November to February,  when most of the 92 identified migrant bird species are enjoying their winter vacation on the island.  Some of the birds still stay around until March to May, but don't expect to see an entire flock.

If it's Olango's marine life you're after, March-April would be perfect for that bright and breezy summer weather.

Going Around.

Tricycles line up along Santa Rosa Port ready to take you wherever you wish to go on the island.  Tricycles are best if you come in a group of four or five.

Motorcycles or "habal-habal" are also available if there's only two of you or if you're alone.  Three people on a motorcycle, driver exluded, would be stretching it.  For safety reasons, opt for a trike if you're in a group.

Biking has become a popular choice lately. It costs only P10 to load a bike on the boat to Olango. Motorcycle is also okay to bring but bike is a much healthier and more environmentally-friendly option for seeing the island.

Of course, walking is probably the best way to savor the sights and smells of the island. Just be sure you have the time - and the energy too - since the Marine Sanctuary and Bird Sanctuary are both a little far from Santa Rosa Port.

Where to Go and What to Do.

Although Olango can be enjoyed as an easy day trip if you're short on time, better to plan out the trip carefully and mark two days off to thoroughly enjoy Olango. Here's what you shouldn't miss:

The Bird Sanctuary.

Egrets, whimbels, and herons are just a few; many more species are   known to regularly come to the island. Olango's Bird Sanctuary is sheltered amidst thick mangrove forests.  A small house maintained by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is the first thing you'll see the moment you enter the sanctuary's gates, and where you register and pay the entrance fee.  You can either hire a local guide or simply borrow binoculars and bird watch in peace. 

Follow the path lined with glass bottles all the way to the viewing area at hectares of shallows fringed by mangroves.  Stone slabs serve as narrow pathways to two viewing decks where you can linger in while waiting for the tide to recede and the birds to come swooping in.  Pay close attention to the sides of the rocky platforms - you'll be amazed to find various kinds of tiny fish eagerly trying to swim against the tide or just hiding by the sides of the stones where the birds will find difficult to swoop down on.

You'll also find a few urchins by the sides of the platforms, some crabs scuttling by the shore and the shallows, pond skaters on the water's surface, and mollusks huddling on top of each other in what seems like a colony in their attempt to switch homes discreetly.

The best time to bird watch is when the tide is low, when certain birds like species of egrets are carefully digging on the soft ground in search for dinner.  When the tide has receded a bit, you still see whimbrels circling the water doing carefully timed dives, only to reemerge with a fish in their beaks. Sunrise or sunset are great times to be at the viewing deck, with diffused color and light all over while the birds are in a feeding frenzy.

A camping area is available near the main office of the bird sanctuary, for those who are more adventurous and don't require the comforts of a hotel room. This is also encouraged for beating the birds to the sunrise. 

Mangrove mean fireflies so be sure to bring your stand-up paddle board when you're in Olango Island.  This activity is best done on a moonless but starry night.  This way, you're treated to a full lights show, with the stars overhead and the fireflies in the mangrove forest.  You can also stand-up paddle in broad daylight since the bird sanctuary is just as breathtaking during the day.  It's calm, shallow waters are very much ideal for this kind of activity.  Just be very careful not to run into the mangroves.

 The Marine Sanctuary.

Only a stone's throw away from the Bird Sanctuary is the Marine Sanctuary.  It is run by the barangay.  The area is a little rough and raw here and there, but this is easily compensated by the warm hospitality of the locals in charge of the place. No need to bring packed lunch since "tinola," a local soup made from the day's fresh catch, is available for only P20 per serving.  Freshly picked coconuts are also available for refreshments at P20 each.  You can grill your own food, too, at the marine sanctuary grounds.  Just make sure to bring what you need to cook.

You can snorkel, swim, feed the fish, dive, go island hopping, or camp overnight at the marine sanctuary.  You can have the best panoramic view of the sea from here.  The water surrounding Olango is teeming with marine life, from crabs to fish.  You may also get the chance to swim with a sea turtle!

Feed on Seafood.

What's the point of being in Olango if you're going to miss its seafood feast?  Fresh seafood is available in any of the floating restaurants around the island.  One of island's specialties is the "saang," a kind of shellfish that's abundant there.

Where to Stay.

Again, you can camp out in either the Bird Sanctuary or the Marine Sanctuary.  This is the most budget-friendly option. Resorts are also available on the same path to the Marine Sanctuary.

What to Bring.

Swimsuits or swimming trunks, shades, sunblock lotion, snack packs and drinks, flip-flops, towels, tents (if camping), stand up paddle boards (if this activity is part of the plan), binoculars or telescopes, snorkel, goggles, underwater camera and action camera.

 

Tips.

-If you only have a day to be at Olango, come early in the morning so you can explore the town and enjoy the marine sanctuary first.  Save the Bird Sanctuary for mid-afternoon to sunset.

-If you have two days to spare on the island, camp out at the Bird Sanctuary, then enjoy the Marine Sanctuary first.  End the day at the bird sanctuary.  Rise early the next day and open the new day with the sunrise at the Bird Sanctuary's viewing deck.  Enjoy a nice cup of tea or coffee at the viewing deck while savoring the chilly breeze.  Remember to clean as you go.

-Bringing your own snorkels is more hygienic.

-Research on the phases of the tides so you'll be able to be at the right place at the right time.

-Travel light so you easily be very mobile as you explore the island.

-Bringing a bike let's you explore the island at your own pace.

-Don't forget to ask for the tricycle or motorcycle driver's contact numbers as transportation is very rare in the bird sanctuary and marine sanctuary areas.  Agree on the pick-up time for a hassle-free excursion.

Olango is easy to fall in love with.  It's one of the most romantic little islands in the Philippines with one of the most captivating sunsets.  If you're traveling to Olango by yourself, the locals are warm enough to make you feel comfortable.  Goof around with the local children or pick shells among the shallows.  Allow the island's natural charm to make your spirit soar.

BEST BIRD BIRD SANCTUARY BIRDS ISLAND MARINE MARINE SANCTUARY OLANGO SANCTUARY
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