Corregidor is a small island at the entrance of Manila Bay that served as an important defense fortress of the Philippines, from Spanish to American and then Japanese colonists. The US, in particular, made it into a world-class military encampment, before they themselves destroyed the facilities in WWII during the retaking from the Japanese. It is now a famous tourist destination for people interested in history, or even for those who just want to have an interesting get-away. Corregidor is very near Manila and is therefore a very convenient day tour or overnight trip for tourists and locals alike.
Trips to Corregidor from Manila can only be arranged by Sun Cruises Philippines, which offers day tours and overnight trips. I highly recommend the overnight trip based on my experience. There are a lot of things that Corregidor has to offer, and 5 hours in the island would not cover it.
Rates are posted in the website of Sun Cruises. Day tours are available daily for 2,099 Php/person, inclusive of roundtrip ferry transfers, entrance and terminal fees, fuel surcharge, guided tour of the island and buffet lunch. Overnight trips cost an additional 1,500 Php for a double-occupancy room. You can reserve in advance by calling their reservation hotline (contact information here).
We went to Corregidor last June 2011. We called for a reservation and we were advised to be at the CCP Bay Terminal before 7 am (yes, it’s very early!) to secure a slot for that day’s tour (Recently though, they added an online booking feature in their website). And so we were there by 7 am… and they were still closed! Ugh. I hate waking up early, but I hate it more when it turns out that there was really no need to do so. The guard let us in a little past 7 am, but the staff arrived at around a quarter past. At around 8:20 am, they rounded up the passengers and took them to the dock area by a mini bus, which took all of 5 minutes. (The delay in the schedule might have been caused by the typhoon a few days prior to this trip. Tours were cancelled for a few days before our tour schedule.)
At the dock area, they checked our tickets before letting us board the ferry. Inside, seats were pre-assigned and the passenger area was air-conditioned. During the trip, they played a documentary from the Department of Tourism that showcases different scenic sites of the Philippines. Hmm and also, a few people were not feeling very good (the waves were higher than usual because of a recent typhoon), so make sure to drink meds if you easily experience motion sickness.
We arrived in Corregidor at around 10:30 am (I think the journey should take around an hour and 15 minutes, but the strong waves made our trip longer) and were greeted by colorful tramvias that would take us around the island. That day, there were three vehicles available: two for English-speaking tourists and one for Japanese speakers. We hopped on one tramvia and were easily captivated by the stories of Sir Armando, our tour guide. He told us we would have a war memorial tour, and he proceeded to tell us about the structures and bombed areas in Corregidor, as well as the important events that occurred. The engrossing war stories and some bits of nice-to-know trivia here and there really made the ‘history lesson’ interesting. Oh, and there were a lot of monkeys in the island! We spotted some along the road.
We first visited the Battery Way (“battery” means a group of guns in an area) and the Topside Barracks during the first part of the tour while the guide told us about the modern (at the time) amenities that America built for the island, such as cinemas, swimming pool and other sports facilities, commissary, and hospital.
The Topside Barracks, almost a mile long, was the world’s longest military barracks at the time is was built. The US really invested in Corregidor!
We visited the Spanish Lighthouse next. The windows of the lighthouse were made of Capiz shells, similar to the rest of the buildings in the island. We were told that this is the reason why we couldn’t see any glass shards around the bombed buildings.
After that, we visited the Flame of Freedom sculpture and the Pacific War Memorial dedicated to Filipino and American soldiers. Beside the memorial is the Memorial Museum, which houses photos, guns, model airplanes, and even money that were used during World War II.
We then went to two more batteries, Battery Geary and Battery Crockett. Battery Geary was one of the worst-hit batteries in Corregidor since the Japanese air-raided it.
Battery Crockett was the location of the ‘disappearing guns’. The giant guns required 30 men to service each weapon (talk about labor intensive!)
We had lunch at Corregidor Inn at around 1 pm. The buffet lunch was part of the tour package. The feast consisted of Filipino dishes, but the menu lacked seafood. We were told this is because Corregidor has its own power generator so food preservation of seafood is not in their priority.
After lunch, we were brought to the Filipino Heroes Memorial. It consists of bronze wall sculptures of major uprisings and revolutions in Philippine History, from the Battle of Mactan in the 1500s to the Edsa Revolution in 1986.
The epitaph says that it was “dedicated to the Filipino who knows how to die for love of freedom and liberty.” There was also a monument for the two presidents (Quezon and Osmena) during the American colonization, as well as a statue dedicated to the Filipino Woman.
We then went to the Mindanao Garden of Peace, which was dedicated to the Moro youth victims of the Jabidah Massacre in Corregidor in 1968.
The next stop was the Japanese War Memorial. Most of the structures built after the war were for Filipino and American soldiers, but this area is a “Tribute to the Brave Japanese” (though the word Japanese was scraped off by an angry American war veteran, or at least that was what we were told).
The last part of our tour was the Malinta Tunnel Light and Sound Show. It costs an extra Php 150 per person, but I think anybody interested in Corregidor war history should not miss it.
Malinta Tunnel is a bombproof shelter that protected Americans and Filipinos during the Japanese air raids. However, the tunnel was only bomb-proof from the outside. Parts of the tunnel were destroyed when the Japanese soldiers bombed themselves inside before they can be captured by the Americans.
The day tour ended at around 3:30 pm, and the other tourists took the ferry back to Manila.
Since we were staying overnight, we checked in at the hotel after the tour. Our tour guide joked that it is the only 31-star hotel (uh… each of the 31 rooms is a one-star accommodation? 😉 ) The amenities are basic (airconditioned but no TV), but the rooms are generally clean. They also have a swimming pool.
We realized that there were one or two more inns in the island with cheaper rates, and camping in the island is also allowed for Php 50 per person. However, the hotel accommodation included sunset tour and ‘ghost hunting’ in the hospital and Malinta Tunnel in the late afternoon, and a sunrise viewing tour and exploration of Japanese Tunnels in the early morning.
Just before the sun set, a guide brought us (at the time, the hotel only had four guests, I think it was because of the typhoon that just passed) to the western end of the island for the guided tour. We visited the hospital first. For me, this was one of the creepiest part of the tour. The big empty rooms and the dusk make for a good horror ambience. It was eerily silent and the only sounds we heard were our own voices.
We also went to Battery Grubbs, which also has disappearing guns. We tried to explore the destroyed buildings on the other side of it, but we only got to the entrance, cowards that we were haha. The place gave me the creeps, with the encroaching vegetation and being reminded of the fact that several soldiers died there.
We waited there for the sunset. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy (as I said, the typhoon just came), so no beautiful sunset for us 😦
When it became dark, we proceeded to the Malinta Tunnel. We were made to wear hard hats and they gave each of us a flashlight. We explored the lateral tunnels (only the main tunnel was accessed in the day time), and our guide led us to the ruined areas where the Japanese soldiers were said to have bombed themselves rather than surrender. We got to see the backstage control room of the Lights and Sounds Show, some of the rooms of the military officers, the hospital wing, and other interesting parts of the tunnel. There was one part where the guide showed us a charred human bone. We also found some interesting animals inside the tunnel like the crab, hermit crab, and tuko (gecko).
We were also made to walk in total darkness, and we ended up bumping into each other before the exercise was over. The entire experience was pretty cool. Of course we didn’t see any ghosts (nor did we expect to), but there were some moments when I felt a little spooked out (but only a little! :p)
The next morning, we had to wake up before 5 am to catch the sunrise, but the sun was still elusive (boo!). After the failed sunrise viewing, we took a short hike to visit the ruins of the commissary and then went inside the Japanese tunnels. The tunnels were built by the Japanese when they occupied the island. They were not cemented like the Malinta Tunnel. They were just small tunnels dug in the clayey soil, just big enough for one man (or woman) to pass through. The tunnels reminded me of the small-scale mine tunnels that I usually see during my fieldwork.
Oh, and because I did not bring shoes, my sandals gave up on me while we were walking in the clayey soil. Fortunately, I was with my Macgyver, who fixed my slippers with a coconut leaf! 🙂 I had to buy slippers at the hotel after that. So if you ever visit Corregidor for an overnight stay, wear shoes!
After the tour, we had lunch at the hotel along with the day tour participants of that day, and then after lunch the hotel car brought us to the dock. The last statue that I saw before we went back to Manila was that of General Douglas MacArthur with his famous words, “I shall return.” And indeed, I shall! (Hopefully with a bike and a tent next time 🙂 )