Not a lot of people have heard of Culion Island, the place that was once considered to be the world’s largest leprosy colony. Located in the northern tip of the Province of Palawan and only two hours south of Coron Town, this district was the ultimate destination for all Filipinos suffering with leprosy during the American period. Along with nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals, the lepers lived in Culion with the chance of getting treated and living a normal life away from the judgmental eyes of the public.
Although Culion Island has been declared to be leprosy-free since 2006 by the World Health Organization, the fear, disgust, and stigma still remain. With its stark past, the island is still unpopular amongst tourists visiting nearby Busuanga. Only a few of the brave and the open-minded has set foot in this paradise that remains hidden from the rest of the world. It might be a blessing in disguise but because of the low visitor influx to the island, it has maintained its charming and unspoiled state.
If you are interested in discovering Culion’s secret and natural beauty before tourists come pouring in, here are some of the important things that you should not miss:
- La Imaculada Concepcion Church – Sitting on top of an old coral-stone fortification built in 18th century, this beautiful, coral-walled church dominates the entire town and gives you a good overview of the island. It has a beautiful indoor painting created by a leper without hands and beside it stands an antiquated lighthouse that gives a remarkable panorama of the neighboring land masses.
- Culion Museum and Archives – At only Php150 entrance fee, you can go back in history and learn about how the colony came to be and discover the different methods of and equipment used for leprosy treatment in the early 1900s. This peculiar museum contains a wide archive of detailed patient records and photographs, therefore broadening your knowledge about the disease and those who suffered from it. You can also take a look at the collection of special coins that were exclusively used as currency by the lepers back then.
- Languyang Bayan – Take a swim at the most popular destination for those who want to cool down in the pristine, blue waters of Culion. This is where you can also start off with kayaking, island hopping and diving.
- Crowning Glory Reef – This Marine Protected Area is one proof of the immaculate seas of Culion. The crystal clear water allows you to snorkel and see beautiful fishes, amazing sea turtles and dolphins, colorful corals, and other underwater life without difficulty.
- Agila Viewpoint – Walk through 330 plus steps and enjoy the scenery of the town and surrounding islands from a bird-eye’s view. Do not worry as the hike will provide you with amazing views from left and right. Just before reaching the peak of the hill where a statue of Christ the Redeemer is erected, you will pass by stone-formed logo of the Philippine Health Services with an eagle in the center. The said logo was specially created by the lepers to thank PSA and the work they have made.
If you have more time to spare, try to visit and take a dip at the Pulang Lupa Waterfalls. You can also use your time to ride a boat headed to a hot spring located within the Mangrove Forest. Lastly, take a walk around town and really get to know the stories behind the stigma that surrounds the island of Culion. Talk to the locals and listen to their experiences so that you will have a better understanding of the place.
** Thanks to Mica of Senyorita.net and Cyrus Lobrigas (cc via flickr) for the photos above.