The home of the colorful Moriones Festival may come alive only once a year, but it’s a haven for sights and adventures all year round.
Once a year, during Holy Week, devout Catholics and adventure seekers flock to the island province of Marinduque, located in the Southwestern Tagalog Region in Luzon. Dubbed as the “Heart of the Philippine Islands” due to its shape and location, Marinduque was previously reachable only by land and boat travel — an eight-hour journey from Manila — due to the closure of its airport in 2013. In April 2019, though, Marinduque celebrated its annual crowd-puller, the Moriones Festival, with the reopening of its rehabilitated commercial airbase in the town of Gasan, cutting travel time from Manila to just one hour.
Now, more tourists can experience the famed folk-religious event as well as discover the many gems that await within and around the province: numerous heritage sites, a 9,000ha wildlife sanctuary, and a bevy of natural attractions, including stunning islets, summits and caves.
Highlights for the Traveler
For a week, from Holy Monday to Easter Sunday, the main roads connecting the towns of the island — from its capital, Boac, to the towns of Gasan, Mogpog, Santa Cruz and Buenavista — transform into one colorful stage as a parade of people take to the streets clad in Moriones costumes, replicating the garb of biblical Roman soldiers. The festival depicts the story of Saint Longines, a Roman centurion miraculously healed by Jesus during the Crucifixion.
Adding to the religious appeal, Marinduque is home to several historic churches — from the massive Gasan Church or Saint Joseph Parish Church, which is nearest to the airport (around 4.7km away), to the brick-fronted Boac Cathedral or Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception farther up north, and the majestic Santa Cruz Church, known as the oldest on the island.
But if you’re not keen on hobnobbing with the Holy Week crowd, there’s plenty of time to visit during the rest of the year. Hailed as the second–most peaceful province in the country next to Batanes, Marinduque boasts an idyllic charm all year round, making it the perfect escape for travelers looking for a laid-back holiday close to Manila.
Up for a road trip? Marinduque’s nearly 150km circumferential road loops around the island, making it a scenic route for cyclists. From the town of Buenavista, outdoor enthusiasts can hike to Mount Malindig, the highest point of the province. To wind down, you can take a dip in the sulfuric waters of the nearby Malbog Hot Spring, believed to have therapeutic powers. Nature lovers may also want to camp out at the Marinduque Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected forest zone that is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna.
Also worth a trip: The summit of Mount Mataas in Mogpog, where the Luzon Datum of 1911 site can be found. It’s a stone marker that serves as the primary geodetic reference for all the maps and surveys in the country. Simply put, it’s literally the center of the Philippine archipelago.
By Elaine N. Reyes, as of January 2020.
To be updated.