Masbate is located slap bang in the centre of the Philippines archipelago and is fairly easy to reach either from the Luzon ‘mainland’ or heading north from Cebu. Most facilities and infrastructure are in Masbate City but Masbate province also comprises the islands of Ticao and Burias.
If time is short or you are heading straight here from Manila, there are daily flights from Manila to Masbate City airport with ZestAir (website:www.flyzest.com). AirPhil Express runs less often. Regular prices are around Php2,000 and flight time is around an hour.
Masbate is often an early port of call on an island hopping adventure heading south through the Philippines and there are several options for getting to and from the island without having the extra hassle of retracing your steps.
It is a long 10-hour bus ride from Manila to the port of Pilar, in south Luzon, from where you can catch a fast ferry to Masbate. Montenegro Shipping (website: www.montenegrolines.com.ph) has several services a day running from early morning until 14:00 and the journey takes around two hours depending on the weather.
Fares are around Php240 one way in economy class. There are also infrequent ferries to Burias Island from the port of Donsol–a popular scuba diving haven–and to nearby San Jacinta on Ticao Island from Bulan. There are ferry services three times a week for the long journey to Cebu in the Visayas with Trans Asia Ferries or Sulpicio Lines. Another more romantic alternative is to take a cruise ship all the way from Manila, an overnight journey of 18 hours.
Once on dry land most travellers merely pass through sleepy Masbate City on their way to the island’s popular beaches such as Bagacay, Aroroy Beach and Talisay. For short journeys within the town itself tricycles are available in abundant supply around the port. Longer trips to the island’s main towns and coastal resorts are well covered by public utility buses although many services are infrequent and travel can be slow and overcrowded.
Due to poor maintenance of roads in some less visited areas, a more comfortable option may be to take a scheduled jeep service, especially when travelling inland. Prices for bus travel are pretty good value with virtually all journeys anywhere on Masbate Island less than Php100.
A further option if comfort and speed is important is to flag down one of the modern air con vans that ply a few major routes. Fares are only around an extra ten percent more expensive and well worth it, particularly if you want to fit in a few sights and attractions in a day. Routes include Masbate City to Araroy and Balena, Dimasalang and Cataingan.
While exploring under your own steam using public transport is always an adventure, many visitors choose the convenience of a tour shuttle bus to visit the many off the beaten path attractions such as the Limestone Hills and Catandayagan Falls.
In most of the main traveller centres and in the island capital itself there are a handful of tour agents who organize excursions or even full day tours taking in a few sights and attractions. VTI Masbate Travel (website: www.masbatetravel.com) is the most professional set up on the island and offer a wide range of itineraries.
It is possible to take a more leisurely route to the north of the island with a trip by boat from Masbate as far as Baleno. From here there are small pumpboats which have a very irregular schedule to Aroroy, although it is always possible to charter a vessel with some confident haggling.
With a little charm you may even be able to persuade a local fisherman to take you to some of the more remote bays and beaches not easily accessible by road. Inter-island pumpboats leave from Masbate City harbor through the day to and from Ticao and Burias and the journey takes around 20 minutes.