Quezon Island - Hundred Islands, Alaminos, Pangasinan

This small national park off the coast of Alaminos, 35km southeast of Bolinao, actually contains 123 separate islets, although some are just large rocks. Over the centuries the tides have eaten away at the bases of these limestone islands, giving them a distinctive, mushroom-like appearance.

You have to take a boat out to the park's most distant islands to find relatively clear water, but even there the snorkelling isn't terrific, as destructive fishing methods, a few nasty typhoons and El Niño have ruined the park's coral and reduced its marine life.

The Alaminos city government took control of the park in 2005. Speedboats now patrol the park's waters 24/7 in search of illegal fishermen. Meanwhile, the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA) and the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute in Bolinao have placed giant clams, some over 1m long, in strategic locations around the islands in an effort to hasten the return of marine life to the area. But it will still take several decades for the coral to recover.

The friendly and useful Hundred Islands National Park office (%551 2505; www.alaminoscity .gov. ph; h8am-5pm) is on the wharf in barangay Lucap, the jumping-off point to the national park. The office collects the park entrance fees (P40) and camping fees, and publishes official rates for hiring boats to the islands.

Equitable PCI, BPI (Bank of the Philippine Islands) and Metrobank have ATMs in Alaminos, and there are a couple of Internet cafés.

Sights & Activities
The three most popular islands are Quezon Island, Governor's Island and Children's Island, but you're definitely better off finding your own island on weekends, as these fill up with loads of large families and beach vendors. The beaches on these main islands are nothing special, although Governor's Island has a nice lookout point.

By far the best way to experience the park is in a tandem kayak. Arrange for your boat operator to bring kayaks out to the islands, or rent one on Quezon Island (either way the cost is P250 per hour). You can rent full snorkelling gear (P250 per day) from the Hundred Islands National Park office or from your boat operator. You can snorkel at one of the giant-clam sites but they are hard to find; get directions from the park office.

A welcome new addition to the oncemoribund area is the 100 Islands Ocean Sports Centre (%551 2246), on the waterfront in Lucap. The American owner offers parasailing and deep-sea fishing trips, and has plans to rent windsurfers and open a dive centre.

Sleeping & Eating 
You can camp anywhere in the national park for P100 to P300, depending on the tent's size. Children's Island has four simple, two-person nipa huts (P650 per hut) with no electricity. Governor's Island has a guesthouse (P2200) that sleeps six to eight and has electricity. Bring your own food and supplies. Make reservations and pay at the Hundred Islands National Park office in Lucap.

Lucap's overpriced, substandard hotels are a major impediment to the area's development. They are all on the same harbour road near the wharf and there is little to distinguish between them.

Vista de las Islas (%551 4455; vistadelasislas@yahoo .com; d P1500; pa) This is the most modern place on this strip.

Seaside Haven (%551 2711; nipa huts/d P1300/ 1500; pa) This spot has a few small, whiteclapboard nipa huts over the river at the far end of the strip.

Ted's by the Sea (%551 2160; d P1500; pa) This friendly place has a good location, right on the water.

Hundred Islands Pension House (%551 2505; dm/d/q P250/800/1100; a) This formerly tatty government-run outfit on the wharf is looking better after a renovation in early 2006.

Maxine By The Sea (%551 2537) This popular seafood restaurant over the water is a relaxing place to watch the sunset and snack on tasty fried calamari.

Getting There & Around 
From Manila, take any bus to Bolinao (Victory Liner, Dagupan Bus and Five Star have several morning buses and a couple of afternoon buses from Cubao and Pasay) and get off in Alaminos (P330, six hours).

Victory Liner goes to Baguio (P126, 3½ hours, eight per day), and has buses every half hour to Iba (P110, three hours) and Olongapo (P170, five hours) with a bus transfer in Santa Cruz.

It's a 10-minute tricycle ride (P40, 5km) from Alaminos centre to Lucap's hotels.

Hiring a boat from Lucap to Hundred Islands National Park costs P900 return for a 15-passenger boat to the main islands, and P600 return for a five-passenger boat. Island-hopping costs a couple of hundred extra.

Article Source: The Lonely Planet Publications (www.lonelyplanet.com)

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