Islands

Culion Island Visitors Guide

Written by Patrick

This brief Guide to Culion Island will help you plan your trip. It contains information on what to do, eat, and drink as well as the must-see spots and the best hotels.

ABOUT SEE & DO EAT & DRINK STAY BUDGET ADVICE

Travel Insurance

ABOUT

Culion may look like many other islands in the Philippines but there’s more to it than meets the eye.  Aside from the natural resources it is blessed with, Culion played a huge part in the history of the Philippines, albeit sad and dark.  It was nicknamed the “Island of No Return” referring to the people sent to the island for isolation due to leprosy.

In 1904, the US Government issued an executive order creating Culion as a leper colony and in 1906, it welcomed its first 370 patients from Cebu carried by two Coast Guard cutters.  It was the most equipped and biggest leper colony at that time with approximately 4,000 people with leprosy living on the island.  Leprosy was abolished in 1980 but was only declared leprosy-free in 2006.

Nowadays, tourism is growing in Culion since many people are interested to take a glimpse of its sad history especially that most of its structures are still intact up to this day.

Location

Culion Island Location Map

Best Time to Visit

It’s best to visit the Philippines during the dry season.  Dry season in the Philippines spans from November through April.  These are the summer months in this country.

Be aware that temperatures and humidity levels are particularly high in April and May.

The best time to be a beach bum and explore the islands is from March to May.

TIP:  This guide recommends that booking for Culion Island summer trips should be done as early as possible, at least a month before your travel dates, since resorts get fully booked early.

The period from June to October is the rainy (wet) season and is best avoided due to the high possibility of typhoons. The typhoons can not only be destructive, but most tours and activities are cancelled under such circumstances.  Transportation via plane and boat is also seriously impacted as well.  This happens frequently so beware!

This guide recommends traveling to Culion Island in April-May or in November-December, just before and just after the rainy season. This will likely bring fewer crowds, yet pleasant weather, and is also a great time to score a travel deal.

Fast Facts

Destination Name:
Culion Island
Local Time:
PST (UTC+8)
Best Time of Year to Visit:
December – May
Population:
Approximately 23,213
Language(s):
Calamian Tagbanwa, Palawano, Tagalog, English
Currency:
Philippine Peso (PHP)
Exchange Rate:
Approximately 1 USD = 50 PHP click for exact exchange rate
Location:
Geographic Coordinates:
11°50′N 119°59′E
Area:
499.59 km2 (192.89 sq mi)
Neighboring Cities:
None
Neighboring Islands:
Climate:
Tropical
Clothing:
Lightweight casuals
Religion:
Catholicism (majority), Protestant, Islam
Best Known For:
Former leprosy colony
Major Industries:
Fishing and agriculture
Electricity:
Standard voltage is 220V
Plug commonly used is Type A but Types B and C are used as well. Bring A to B adapter(s).
International Phone Code:
+63-048-XXX-XXXX
Airport & Airport Code:
Francisco B. Reyes Airport (USU) – located in Busuanga Island
Seaport(s):
Culion Port | Halsey Port
Bus Terminal(s):
None

Getting Here

There are many ways to get here depending on your starting point. This guide recommends using the following online tools to identify all the available options and cost for each while on Culion Island:  Rome2Rio and PHBUS. The following are the major ports of entry for this destination.

BUS TERMINAL

Bus Terminal

None

SEAPORT

Seaport

Culion Port

PH Bus

Getting Around

The following are the modes of transportation available on Culion Island …

Bicycles

Bicycles

Motorcycles

Motorcycles

Motorized Outrigger

Motorized Outrigger

Tricycles

Tricycles

Rome to Rio

SEE & DO

The following is your guide to places to see and activities to enjoy while on Culion Island.

1 | Culion Museum and Archives

Found within the compound of Culion Sanitarium and General Hospital, Culion Museum and Archives is a treasure trove of information about the leprosarium starting from its establishment in 1904 up until the development of the cure and the island declared leprosy-free.  Aside from documents, the two-storey museum houses equipment, tools, artifacts, photos, and many other items explaining the disease or used by health workers and patients of the facility.  There are even replicas of a patient’s bed and nursery.

It may not be the tropical destination typical in Palawan but visiting Culion Museum and Archives is one good way to learn about the history of the disease, to understand the lifestyle forced into the patients, and most of all, to remember and honor health workers, government leaders, and spiritual leaders who dedicated their time and effort and risked their lives to help the patients.

2 | Balala Nursery

Aside from the nursery replica in Culion Museum and Archives, there is also the Balala Nursery, the actual nursery built for the children of leprosy patients.  The nursery housed the babies who were isolated from the infected parents to prevent the children from being infected with the disease.  The parents can only see their children through a glass door during weekends.

The former nursery is currently used as home to families who remain on the island but tourists can see the structure and take pictures outside.

3 | Plaza Basa Avellana

Plaza Basa Avellana is named after Dr. Jose Basa Avellana, the second Filipino chief of the colony.  The plaza hosts the Colony Hall, General Clinic, Injection Hall, and the Leonard Wood Monument to honor Governor Leonard Wood, an American governor-general who genuinely cared about the patients by helping provide better living conditions in the colony.

4 | Fort Culion

Fort Culion sits on a hill overlooking the town and Coron Bay.  The fortress was built during the Spanish era to protect the people from Moro attacks.  Part of it was demolished to build a church that is now the Culion Church.  Presently, only the old watchtower is left of the former fortress that is being used as a lighthouse.

5 | La Inmaculada Concepcion Church

Originally built as a fortress, La Inmaculada Concepcion Church, also known as Culion Church, is of baroque architecture with arched doors and brick walls.  The facade displays the royal seal of Spain’s King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, and on top is the statue of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception.  The ceiling features the painting made by Amores, a handicapped and leper patient.  Concrete stairs lead to the entrance of the church.

6 | Aguila Viewpoint

In 1926, leper patients carved a giant eagle into the hill as a tribute to Philippine health services.  Further above is a statue of Jesus Christ the Redeemer and along the way is a basketball court.  At the peak is also a radio transmitter.  The view point offers lovely views of the town and surrounding islands.

7 | Waterfalls

Tourism in Culion is not just about leprosy and everything associated with the disease.  The island is also blessed with natural formations such as waterfalls.  There are at least eight waterfalls in Culion – Balanga, Berg, Butnongan, Coring, Igay, Langit, San Pablo, and Sinangkan.

8 | Crowning Glory Reef

Go on an island-hopping tour and explore Crowning Glory Reef, a marine protected area in Culion.  The spot is one of the best places to snorkel in the area as it is richly blessed with marine life, particularly colorful corals inhabited by various marine animals.  There is also a shipwreck that is taken over by corals and barnacles.

9 | Nearby Destinations

Approximately five kilometers off the coast of the main Culion Island is Ditaytayan Island where Ditaytayan Beach is located. The undeveloped island is known for its long sand bar, white sand, and bluegreen water. Not too far from Ditaytayan Island is Malcapuya Island, a privately-owned island with clear waters and rich marine life. While Malcapuya is often mistaken as part of Coron municipality, both Ditaytayan and Malcapuya Islands are part of Culion municipality.

NOTE: The Tirimes-Times Festival occurs annually in Culion Island every May.

Klook

EAT & DRINK

The following is your guide to the flavorful food to enjoy and restaurants to try while on Culion Island.

1 | Magallanes Seafront Lodge & Restaurant

The top restaurant in Culion, Magallanes Seafront Lodge & Restaurant offers Filipino and Asian dishes such as pinakbet, lumpia, chopsuey, sushi, beef rendang, and many others. 

2 | Hotel Maya Restaurant

Hotel Maya is conveniently located close to several attractions including Culion Church and Fort Culion.  It overlooks the bay and a great spot to watch the sunrise.  The restaurant serves affordable local dishes but remember to order ahead of time.

WHERE TO STAY

There are many different types of accommodations available in this destination ranging from hostels to luxurious resorts. The following is your guide to our top choices for each range on Culion Island.

1 | Tabing Dagat Lodging House and Restaurant (Budget)

2 | Hotel Maya (Mid-Range)

This guide recommends using the following sites to conduct research online of where to stay on Culion Island or for a specific destination:

Book your room with these trusted online booking sites.  Booking online in the Philippines almost always guarantees the best price and a room when you arrive.  We use these sites frequently to get the best prices and enjoy convenient bookings. Click each of the buttons below to find the best place for you at the lowest rates:

TIP: Hotel Maya is the best property to experience this destination.

BUDGET

Suggested Budget

Use the chart below to get an idea of how much to budget daily.  Actual amounts will depend on YOUR travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages … some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less. Prices are in USD.

ACCOMMODATION
FOOD
TRANSPORTATION
ATTRACTIONS
AVERAGE DAILY COST
Budget
Accommodation: $7
Food: $5
Transportation: $5
Attractions: $20
Average Daily Cost: $37
Mid-Range
Accommodation: $30
Food: $15
Transportation: $10
Attractions: $25
Average Daily Cost: $80
Luxury
Accommodation: $70
Food: $30
Transportation: $15
Attractions: $30
Average Daily Cost: $145

Travel Costs

Accommodation

A bed in a hostel dorm costs from 350 PHP ($7 USD), but smaller dorms can cost from 500 PHP ($10 USD).  For a private double, prices start around 700 PHP ($14 USD).

Most budget hotels begin at 700 PHP ($14 USD) per night for a double room and usually include free wifi and breakfast.  For a three-star hotel, prices begin around 1,400 PHP ($28 USD) per night.  AirBnB is also widespread throughout the country, with private rooms starting from as little as 500 PHP ($10 USD) per night.  For entire apartments, expect to pay at least 1,400 PHP ($28 USD) per night.

Resorts and luxury accommodations vary greatly from 1,400 PHP ($28 USD) to 5,000+ PHP ($100+ USD).  However, there are some really nice resorts and luxury accommodations which are surprisingly affordable.

We use and recommend booking online to save money using HostelWorldAgodaBooking.com, and AirBnB

Food

Local food is extremely cheap, with street food costing under 50 PHP ($1USD).  For an inexpensive meal at a local restaurant, prices start around 100 PHP ($2 USD).  For a meal at a mid-range restaurant with drinks and table service, expect to pay from 200 PHP ($4 USD).  Knowing that their target customers are primarily tourists, Western food venues can be pricey compared to Filipino food.  Also, some of the ingredients need to be imported, which contributes to the higher cost. Western food (burgers, pizza, pasta, etc.) is much more expensive but is still relatively affordable at around 200 PHP ($4 USD) for a meal and drink.

Fast food like McDonalds will cost around 200 PHP ($4 USD).  A beer at the bar will cost around 50-100 PHP ($1–2 USD).

A week’s worth of groceries will cost between 300-600 PHP ($6-12 USD) per person.  However, food in this country is so inexpensive, and kitchens & refrigerators are hard to come by, I don’t recommend cooking your meals here since there is plenty of delicious street food to eat at very cheap prices. You won’t make it as good as they do and the food is too delicious to miss!

Transportation

There are many modes of transportation available in the Philippines and each varies greatly. 

Public Transportation is cheap.  Bus services on the islands are inexpensive.  Local buses (called jeepneys) are the most common type of transportation in towns and cities. The fare is usually between 7-25 PHP ($.20–.50 USD).

On islands without a bus system, a taxi or tricycle is the only form of transport with fares starting at 50-500 PHP ($1-$10) USD for short trips. 

Taxis are everywhere, and they’re very cheap.  Most fares shouldn’t cost you more than 500 PHP ($10 USD) around town.  

To get between islands, you’ll need to take a boat or to fly.  There are ferries that connect the island together since they aren’t too far apart but, generally speaking, flights are the most realistic option. 

Flights between islands usually cost about 2,000-3500 PHP ($40-70 USD).  However, this isn’t the cheapest way to travel.  It’s only recommended if you have limited time. 

We recommend booking online to save money using: SkyscannermomondoKayakkiwi.com.

Attractions & Activities

Most attractions and activities in the Philippines are pretty cheap. Most attractions throughout the area are FREE to enter, though some of the more well known and popular ones cost 5-100 PHP ($.10-$2 USD) to enter. 

Depending on the activity, most day tours only cost around 1,000-1,500 PHP ($20-30 USD), oftentimes less.  You have more bargaining power if you go with a group. If you are expecting to do some climbing, remember to pack some warm layers. It gets cold at the top!  

Other activities such as Island Hopping, scuba diving, helmet diving, swimming with whale sharks, jungle trekking, canyoning, ATVs, jet skis, wakeboarding, cruises, parasailing, horseback riding, cultural experiences, and tours can cost as much as 1,250-5,000+ PHP ($25-100+ USD).

The Philippines is one of the least expensive places to learn how to scuba dive. Learning to scuba dive usually costs about 15,000-20,000 PHP ($300-400 USD), but often includes FREE accommodation for the duration of the course, which lasts three or four days.

Always book your tours and activities when you arrive.  Stick to travel agents who are selling on the ground. If a travel agent won’t negotiate with you, move on to the next until you find one that will.  Booking tours online is almost always more expensive. 

Typical Costs on Culion Island in 2023:

  • Hostel Dorm Bed: 250-350 PHP ($5–7 USD) night
  • Budget Hotel:  700 PHP ($14 USD) night
  • Mid-Range Hotel:  1500 PHP ($31 USD) night
  • Street Food: 50-150 PHP ($1–3 USD) meal
  • Restaurant Meals: 200-300 PHP ($4–6 USD) meal
  • Local Beer: 50-100 PHP ($1–2 USD) bottle
  • 1.5L Bottle of Water: 38 PHP ($.75 USD) bottle
  • Tricycle Ride:  20-100 PHP ($.5-2 USD) ride
  • Public Ferry Ride: 200-300 PHP ($4–6 USD) ride
  • Island-Hopping: 1,000-1,500 PHP ($20-30 USD) trip

DOWNLOAD: Budget Planner Template

 

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ADVICE

The following is some of our best advice to guide you on traveling to Culion Island.  Learn what you need to know BEFORE you go!

Tips & Hacks

he following are our Top 10 Tips when visiting this destination in the Philippines:

  • Be aware that a tourist VISA is only 30 days. You can extend it upon arrival, or within the first 30 days, for an additional 30 days for a fee of approximately 3,000 pesos.
  • Don’t buy into the fear factor. The Philippines has an unjustified reputation of being a dangerous place. It’s true there are security guards everywhere, but that is to deter theft.
  • Manila is NOT the Philippines. Get outside of the cities to see the real Philippines.
  • Don’t over plan. Boats, buses, and even airplane schedules are notoriously unreliable. Be flexible.
  • Check the weather. The weather varies greatly throughout the Philippines daily.
  • Typhoons can have a huge impact on your plans. Account for this when planning your trip.
  • It’s not cool to raise your voice or show outward frustration in public.
  • Be polite at all times. Realize that your country’s sense of humor may be different from Filipino humor and take this into account when interacting with Filipinos and while in public places.
  • Things move at a slower pace. Accept it … don’t get frustrated … but do account for it.
  • Don’t drink the tap water… but stay hydrated! Save money by buying large bottles (6-10 liters) of water and using it to fill your water bottle or hydration bladder in your backpack.

For a complete list of our travel tips & hacks, check out the following guide and be sure to download a FREE copy for yourself.

VIEW & DOWNLOAD: The Ultimate Travel Tips & Hacks Guide for the Philippines

Money Matters

The Philippines has its own currency called the Philippine Peso. Banks, ATMs, and money-changers can be found on the island. If you are exploring the neighboring islands or provinces, make sure to bring enough cash that will last until the next time you get to an ATM or bank since most tours, transportation, and budget accommodations only accept cash.

READ MORE: Money in the Philippines: Everything You Need to Know

Health & Safety

Crime

While overall the Philippines is a safe country to visit, as is Culion Island, you need to use common sense just as you would in any country, especially when traveling, and in a city, town, or area you are unfamiliar with.

Consult your hotel or resort front desk as they are more likely to give you reliable information than a random stranger on the street. If it’s ok to you, get a local guide to help you explore Culion Island. Be careful when approaching strangers and selective about who you approach. Always pay attention to your gut feeling and follow it.

READ MORE: How to Avoid Scams & Thieves in the Philippines

Safety

There are many things to consider when traveling in order to stay safe … things that we may not be accustomed to during our normal everyday lives. The following are articles about tips on how to stay safe while traveling in the Philippines:

TIP: The best way to avoid problems and stay safe is to travel with a local resident.

Health

Staying fit & healthy can be challenging when traveling in the Philippines. 

The tropical Philippines climate requires you to prepare for illnesses that you may not normally be accustomed to. 

The following are our Top 10 Tips for Staying Healthy while Traveling in the Philippines:

  • Maintain a Balanced Diet
  • Stay Hydrated but Only Drink Bottled Water
  • Get Plenty of Rest
  • Allow Your Body Time to Adjust 
  • Keep Active
  • Sanitize Often 
  • Be Aware of Food Safety Concerns
  • Take Your Vitamins
  • Practice Safe Sex
  • Be Prepared Should You Get Sick

READ MORE: Stay Healthy in the Philippines: How to Avoid Getting Sick

Staying Connected

You need to have a local-based SIM card in order to stay connected when in the Philippines. Network giants such as Globe and Smart have SIM cards you can use to make calls, send text messages, and also to connect to the Internet. A SIM card costs around 50 PHP ($1 USD) and usually comes with a FREE load worth 50 PHP ($1 USD). You can buy a card containing a code you can enter on your phone to replenish your load or buy an electronic load that is available almost anywhere in the city.

While you may not have problems with signal strength when in the city, it is not always the case when on islands or in remote areas of a province.  So when arranging for transportation pick up, say when renting a boat to take you to and pick you up from the island, it would be best that you make it clear what time you need to be picked up before the boatman leaves.

Recommended Travel Apps

Apps for smartphones and tablets can be useful both before you leave and while you’re traveling.  Most are available for iPhones and Android phones.

The following are our Top 10 most useful travel apps on our smartphones when traveling in the Philippines:

  1. Grab (taxis/ride shares)
  2. Angkas (motorbike ride-hailing)
  3. WhatsApp (phone calls)
  4. Skyscanner (flights)
  5. Rome2Rio (transportation)
  6. Agoda (accomodations)
  7. Booking.com (accomodations)
  8. AirBnB (accomodations)
  9. Traveloka (flights, accomodations, activities)
  10. Klook (attractions & activities )

Be certain to download and set up apps BEFORE leaving on your trip to make certain each is installed and working properly.

For our complete list of travel apps that we use and recommend while traveling in the Philippines, checkout our checklist below.  Download a FREE copy for yourself as a PDF.

READ MORE: The Ultimate List of Travel Apps for the Philippines

Itinerary

Trying to decide what to do when traveling to a destination for the first time can be a bit overwhelming given your lack of familiarity with the place along with all of the available options. 

We’ve created the following itinerary to help simplify the process and ensure that you get the most out of your trip.  Although we provide a 7 day itinerary for this destination, it can always be adjusted to fit the length of your trip.

VIEW: Culion Island 7-Day Travel Itinerary

Packing Checklist

The secret to a successful and stress-free trip is to start by using a packing list.  This will reduce anxiety from the start and ensure that nothing important is forgotten when packing.   To make this process easy for you, we’ve created a detailed packing list.  Click the link below to download it for FREE now. 

Carrying your checklist with you during your travels can be useful when repacking, by helping to ensure that you do not leave anything behind.

VIEW & DOWNLOAD: Our Ultimate Packing Guide & Checklist

Things to Remember

This guide recommends to take note of the following while traveling on Culion Island or in the Philippines in general.

Smoking

There is a nationwide ban which prohibits smoking in public places including indoors, the streets, on sidewalks, in restaurants , and on public transportation, requiring smokers to use designated smoking areas.  Selling tobacco to and purchasing from or for minors is also prohibited. Violators are subject to fines (up to 5,000 PHP | $100 USD) and even 4 months in prison.

Alcohol

The minimum legal drinking age is 18.  Alcohol such as beer and hard drinks can easily be bought in grocery and convenience stores.  The most common alcoholic beverage is beer, generally served cold.  Local alcoholic drinks include tuba (coconut wine which is usually very strong) and potent moonshine-like clear liquors made from sugar or fruit.  Imported beer, wine, and name brand hard alcohol are available but expensive.

Drugs

Drugs are illegal in the Philippines.  Don’t use, buy, or sell any non-prescription drugs while in the Philippines … not even marijuana.  It is considered an especially heinous crime to buy from, for, or sell drugs to children.  The penalties are severe … up to and including death.

Nudity

Public nudity is illegal in the Philippines and is not tolerated.  Most locals consider it offensive.  There are laws which prohibit provocative and erotic clothing and swimwear, therefore carefully consider your clothings and swimwear choices to make certain they are not too revealing.

Foreigners & Expats

If you are not a Filipino citizen, remember that you are a guest when visiting this country … be certain to act accordingly.  Respect the people, their customs, and the environment and wlidlife. You can be deported and banned … so behave … but have fun and enjoy all that this wonderful destination has to offer.

READ MORE: Practical Information about the Philippines

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About the Author

Patrick

Patrick is an entrepreneur, digital nomad, explorer, and photographer. Patrick is always in search of fun and adventure. He is well travelled throughout the world, and although location independent, his home base is Phoenix, Arizona in the USA. Patrick loves island lifestyle which is no wonder why he is so interested in spending time in the Philippines with it’s over 7,000 islands. Patrick created this site to share his knowledge of and experiences in the Philippines with Filipinos as well as other foreigners.

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