San Vicente is an almost untouched part of Palawan that is home to one of the longest beaches in all of Asia. A rather large municipality, San Vicente itself is divided into a handful of barangays, sleepy towns and villages.
Underdevelopment has seemingly preserved this part of Palawan with tourism in San Vicente being traditionally low compared to the rest of the island. But that will all be changing soon as the people of San Vicente prepare to open up their quaint and secluded part of Palawan to the rest of the world.
As tourism in the Philippines is expected to recover after a slight decline in 2017, the Department of Tourism (DOT) has implemented a series of aggressive and daring marketing schemes that appear to start revitalizing tourism in and to the country. With the Duterte administration’s controversial closing and reopening of one of the Philippines’ top tourist attractions, Boracay, the impacts from such an undertaking have yet to be quantified. But one can hope that the government can actually maintain its new regulations for tourism hotspots.
That’s why all eyes should be on San Vicente as it will be the testbed and ground zero for the DOT’s (newest branch) Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) and its bold new tourism initiatives. San Vicente is actually a chance for the Government of the Philippines to get tourism right.
New airports and air travel routes are popping up all over the country with hopes of easing congestion in busier airports and bringing in tourist traffic to newer locations.
With the opening of the new San Vicente Airport, the local government hopes to tap into the expected influx of tourists by developing local attractions and essentially building a new tourist destination from scratch.
It’s a daring plan that will take years of dedication from both the private and government sectors. So far, everything seems to be on track, and the locals seem more than eager to start this new beginning for San Vicente.
Considered a 1st class municipality, San Vicente is known for its main geological feature and main tourist attraction aptly named ‘Long Beach.’
The municipality itself is made up of 10 barangays:
- New Villa Fria (Kemdeng)
- New Agutaya
- New Canipo
- Port Barton
- Poblacion (San Vicente)
- San Isidro
- Santo Niño
With a population of over 31,000, San Vicente is scarcely populated compared to other parts of Palawan. Farming and fishing make up most of the local economy.
With the opening of the new San Vicente Airport, the local government hopes to tap the presumed influx of tourists that will be landing in San Vicente before heading to the more popular El Nido.
For this, the Philippine government has begun plans to develop San Vicente as a major tourist destination.
Getting Off On The Right Foot?
TIEZA-TEZ Office and Tourism Center
So what is TIEZA?
The Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) is a government corporation of the Republic of the Philippines, replacing the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA). TIEZA acts as the Department Of Tourism’s implementation arm, securing funding and investments for developing infrastructure in what the government designates as “Tourism Enterprise Zones” (TEZ).
The agency focuses on:
- tourism infrastructure
- cultural, historical and religious development
- heritage and eco-tourism
- environmental protection
The agency is also heavily involved in regulating TEZs, as well as securing funds via private stockholders and investors, which they hope will create jobs and opportunities for employment for the locals and vitalize the economy.
The plans for San Vicenty are grand, with a large focus on Long Beach, which TIEZA heralds as its “flagship” TEZ. In fact, the entire municipality of San Vicente has been designated as a TIEZA-TEZ, and a comprehensive and integrated “master plan” has been put into motion by the new agency.
Ongoing road and irrigation programs along with coastal development are already underway. Regular meetings with the private sector ensure that any grievances with local communities are addressed, and great care is being taken to preserve the environment as much as possible. Local culture, customs, heritage and the livelihood of Indigenous Peoples are all taken into consideration for the project.
(TIEZA’s plans for San Vicente are projected to be fully implemented by 2044.)
Read more about TIEZA here —> tieza.gov.ph/about-us/
So What Is There To Do So Far
Visit Long Beach, which is San Vicente’s main geological feature and tourist attraction. It is the Philippines’ longest beach, with a whopping 14.7 km of pristine white sandy coastline. (Long Beach is also the second longest beach in Asia.)
It is actually a marvel to behold and home to a spectacular sunset.
See the Water Falls. There are around 9 or so falls in the immediate vicinity of San Vicente, with most being easily accessible, depending on the weather.
We were only able to visit “Little Bagiao Falls” as the roads became too muddy to traverse.
Kayaking is available and probably the most outdoorsy/sporty activity readily available for tourists that don’t involve a beach. We had a great time despite it being overcast. Paddling through the mangroves was one of the highlights of San Vicente.
You can rent kayaks from Farm Belle check them out here —> www.farmbellepark.com/Farm Belle
There are plenty of coves to visit in San Vicente. Take your pick as each is unique, yet the same in a way as they are all typical coves. But, as San Vicente isn’t (yet) overly crowded with tourists, you can really bask in some quiet time and enjoy the scenery.
Where To Stay
Club Agutaya, so far, is the only resort that is directly connected to Long Beach. The fairly new resort has only been operational for around 2 years and offers a bit of luxury in an eco-friendly setting.
The resort is owned and operated by the mother and daughter duo of Maria Corazon Evangelista and Dixie ‘Icy’ Marinas.
More about Club Agutaya go here —> www.clubagutaya.net
The architecture is Filipino inspired, and great care has been taken to ensure that the materials used are local and that the resort itself has minimal impact on the environment as possible.
Most of their power is solar or wind generated, and the sewage system is the first in Palawan to purify wastewater, repurposing it for non-potable usage.
The freshwater infinity pool is the resort’s main attraction besides the restaurant and beach front.
The rooms are well furnished and comfortable, each with a tv and air conditioning. There are also larger villa type cottages that can be rented.
Another cool place to hang out around the resort is the bar.
If you’re lucky, you’ll catch Dixie aka Icy at the bar. Icy herself is known for co-pioneering drinkmanila.com and is an accomplished bartender in her own right. She spends most of her time now in San Vicente, helping her mom run Club Agutaya and being an active participant in local commerce as well. She is one of the voices representing San Vicente’s private sector as the municipality gears up for major changes.
(She makes a mean Old Fashioned.)
Where to Eat
Cafe Lily – Club Agutaya
The food is great for the most part but tailored for the Filipino palate, so expect dishes to be more on the sweet side.
Maria Evangelista spends most of her time perfecting her exceptional culinary skills at Cafe Lily.
The French Toasts are fantastic, especially because the bread is made in-house.
Pasta with fresh clams.
This was a winner for us. The adobo was packed full of flavor, and the meat was tender. Absolutely delicious.
Marina Terrace PH
The latest restaurant to join the ranks in San Vicente, Marina Terrace is an authentic Italian restaurant which specializes in Venetian and traditional Italian cuisines, utilizing local ingredients from Palawan.
Their Instagram here —> @marinaterraceph
The resturant was founded by a group of Europeans and Filipinos who fell in love with San Vicente and decided to give running a restaurant a shot.
(Chef Nico aka The Pirate is from Italy and really good at what he does.)
San Vicente is a beautiful place and a destination that I’m sure many people wouldn’t mind traveling to at this very moment, even without the plans to develop the place into a sort of tourism paradise. There is actually a part of me that prefers it stays almost untouched, and I highly recommend visiting the place before large-scale developments get underway.
That being said, development is inevitable, and I can totally see why the locals want to develop the region. Tourism would undoubtedly bring jobs and economic growth, and San Vicenty will finally get its fair share of tourists wanting to experience another side to Palawan, rather than El Nido or Coron.
But there is a lot riding on San Vicente and a few questions that beg to be answered:
- Is TIEZA’s business model viable or practical?
- How will the government ensure that the plans laid out adhere to the guidelines the agency sets for itself?
- How involved are local communities? How much of a say do these communities have in the development stages and, later, implementation?
- Are the rights and livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples being taken into consideration? Is TIEZA working with the NCIP?
- How much ‘say-so’ do these investors or stockholders have on the said projects?
- Why so many acronyms?
I really hope that San Vicente will be the standard for future TIEZA projects and that the agency’s programs will turn out to be successful but, most importantly, beneficial to the local communities they cooperate with.
All eyes should be on San Vicente.
Live an Awesome Life,
SEAN of Team Our Awesome Planet
Disclosure: Our visit was courtesy of the wonderful ladies of Club Agutaya and the good people of San Vicente. I wrote this article with my own biases, opinions and insights.
P.S. We heard island hopping and snorkeling around San Vicente are excellent; however, we were unable to try these due to high winds and choppy seas. Plan your trip accordingly.