IT’S THE PLACE OF MANGOES. The fruit is what gives fame to Guimaras, an island 16 kilometers off the coast of Iloilo City. The island has a number of secluded beaches and some great islands that beg for exploration, but it’s the mangoes that set it apart from the other provinces.
Like most visitors, my point of entry is the bustling Jordan Wharf in the norhthwestern corner of the island. This is where I get a first taste of Guimaras’ rural charm. Alighting from the boat, it’s easy to forget that downtown Iloilo City is just a 15-minute boat ride away. Riding a jeepney to central Jordan, the provincial capital, the pace slows down considerably. Here forests and fish ponds line the highways, and despite the presence of other tourists, it feels as if you have the place to yourself.
Guimaras was carved off Iloilo and became an independent province in 1992. It’s one of the smallest province in the Philippines, both in area and population, but it packs a lot of tourists’ itineraries in a day. Its accessibility from Iloilo also means it gets a significant number of tourists especially on weekends.
I start off with brunch in Pitstop in the district of San Miguel just as a burst of rainshower starts. There are no fried chicken-serving bees or golden arches here, which makes this restaurant all the more stand out in the dusty town center. Not that it needs help to stand out, given that it whips out memorable meals, particularly the trademark mango pizza. The sweetness of the mango blends well with the cheese and the peanuts and makes for a strong case for whether fruits should be added to pizza.
An hour later, I decide to stroll around town first since my check-in time at my Airbnb host’s place won’t be until four hours later. I first make my way to the provincial museum, which is closed for some reason – maybe because it’s Sunday, or maybe it’s undergoing renovation.
Just beside it is the provincial capitol where large letters spelling out “GUIMARAS” stand. A stream of vans and tricycles carrying tourists fill the place. Further out front are stalls selling mangoes and mango products, as well as signs belatedly congratulating the town for its mango festival. The event is held in May, coinciding with the main harvesting season.
Once I get my fill of mangoes, I ride a jeep to the town of Nueva Valencia in the southern part of the island, where majority of Guimaras’ resorts are.