Have you ever seen those epically amazing photos of bamboo huts standing on stilts over perfect turquoise water in the tropics? Chances are, they were photos of the Maldives, the famous small island nation south of India that is known as an exotic paradise for travelers, honeymooners, and vacationers. However, the Maldives comes with a price tag equally as startling, and it just ain’t cheap to cross that one off your Bucket List.
But one of the best-kept secrets among travelers in Southeast Asia, the Philippines has its own “Poor Man’s Maldives” complete with stilted structures over perfect water, the Manjuyod Sandbar.
The Manjuyod Sandbar is Out of This World!
The Sandbar sits off the Eastern shore of the island of Negros in the Central Visayan island region of the Philippines. It’s closest to Dumaguete, the charming City of Gentle People you can reach by plane from Manila or Cebu, or you can reach Duma or the sandbar easily by bus and boat from Cebu – the neighboring island.
To get there from Dumaguete, just jump on a local Ceres bus headed for Manjuyod, which will cost you about 65 Pesos (a little over $1) if memory serves. You can stop at the village of Manjuyod and then take a habalhabal (motorcycle taxi) through a tiny village to boats that will take you to the sandbar, but this will cost you more and leave you with fewer options. I’ve don’t it this way, and you’re sort of stuck in the middle of nowhere, and at the whim of what motorcycle and boat drivers want to charge.
A better way is to stop short of Manjuyod at Bais City, which is a bigger area where there will be more transportation options and the main launching point for the sandbar. A small local boat, or barka, will take you the half hour across the waters to the sandbar, and cost around 2,500 Pesos, or $55, although you might have to haggle to get that price. The good news is that 2,500 should be the price for the whole boat – not per person – so the more, the merrier.
The actual sandbar is a huge area spanning probably a couple of square miles that’s just a big flat mound of sand during the lowest of tides; unremarkable except for the five one-room structures that hover about 15 above the sand on stilts. During this time, you can wander around and collect starfish that have been beached but little else.
But don’t worry – just wait a moment, and the tide will start coming in. It’s like someone opened up the faucet in a bathtub, as the water fills in the sandbar and covers the ground slowly but steadily. Within only an hour or two, the whole area is covered in ankle-deep turquoise sea water, and not a patch of sand is visible. It seems like you can walk around in circles forever and the water remains the same depth – truly incredible for photos!
However, the tide does start rising rapidly, and soon you’ll be knee deep, and then up to your waist and chest. It’s still super fun to swim and play and hang out then, but it’s best when the water is shallow.
That’s why it’s key that you find out the local tide schedule and get to the sandbar as early as possible – usually in the early morning. You’ll want to go on a clear, sunny day, too and it will be one of the most brilliant sites you’ve ever seen. You can rent those structures – either for the day for barbecuing, hanging out, etc. – or to sleep in, although there is no electricity and no fans, aircon, etc. and I’m not even sure if there is a toilet. It’s also pretty expensive (maybe $80 if I remember right when I inquired) to rent one.
But you don’t need it, because you can splash and swim and have a blast in the water all day, and the stilted houses offer perfect perspective in photos. I also love that there are locals that come around on tiny 2-person outrigger boats selling Redhorse Beer (usually warm), fresh coconuts, and amazing seafood caught that morning. You can chow down on big prawns, sea urchin (yummm!) and squid, and they’ll barbecue them for you over charcoals right there on their boat.
Speaking of boats, definitely use yours as a place to store all of your stuff without worrying about your valuables or getting things wet – just remember which boat you are on when it gets crowded. Bring sunscreen, a big hat, life vests for the kids or people who aren’t comfortable swimming, and definitely get ready to take lots of photos with your underwater camera.
You’ll soon find out why I love the Manjuyod Sandbar – the Maldives of the Philippines – so much!