Ask most travellers in the Philippines about their time in Manila and they will probably tell you that they used its international airport and then transferred to an island province as quickly as they could. Some take a few days to stock up at the city’s huge malls and a few take a tour of Intramuros, but not many make it over to Corregidor Island.
Located in the entrance to Manila Bay, Corregidor played an important role in the liberation of the Philippines from Japanese forces during WWII. It now serves as a memorial to the soldiers from the Philippines, the United States and Japan who fought there and lost their lives.
Tours are most popular with locals and with those who have a personal connection with the island (i.e., they served in the war or are related to someone who did), but Corregidor Island should be on every tourist’s itinerary too. It has a lot to offer, from historical relics to adventure activities, as well as a comfortable inn for overnighters, an isolated beach, a swimming pool and a small bar. It’s a scenic and peaceful haven compared with the busy metropolis of Manila, and there isn’t anywhere else so close by that offers such a contrasting environment in which to unwind.
HISTORY OF CORREGIDOR
From 1570, Corregidor was ruled by the Spanish. It served as a defence fortress, a penal facility, a signal outpost to warn Manila of the approach of hostile ships, and a customs inspection station. The name Corregidor stems from the Spanish ‘corregir’, meaning ‘to correct’, but it is unclear whether the name originated because of the ‘correctional facility’ or the fact that customs had to ‘check and correct’ entry documents. The island is also frequently referred to as ‘the Rock’.
The Dutch took over Corregidor in 1647 but withdrew just seven months later, and the British launched a failed attack in 1762 on their way to invading Manila.
Spain surrendered Corregidor to the States in 1898 and the resulting American colonial period lasted until WWII. During this time, the American Army fortified Corregidor, building concrete emplacements and bomb-proof shelters, including the Malinta Tunnel, which is – today – one of the island’s main attractions.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND ON WWII
When the Japanese invaded the Philippines in 1941, Corregidor became the headquarters of the allied forces as well as the seat of the Philippine government. The allied forces were defeated and surrendered the island to the Japanese in May 1942 having halted the Japanese Imperial Army’s advance on Australia for 27 days. Just three years later, in March 1945, they recaptured Corregidor and gained independence for the Philippines.
As a result of the island’s turbulent past, there’s a huge amount to see there. A day trip or, better yet, an overnight stay on Corregidor with Sun Cruises is the perfect way to learn more about the island’s history while exploring some gorgeous locations and having a lot of fun in the process. What’s more, many of the guides can tell you fascinating stories passed on first-hand by soldiers, paratroopers and nurses who were stationed on Corregidor during the war and have since returned on a tour to see how it’s changed.
WHO ARE SUN CRUISES?
Sun Cruises have been in operation since 1988 and they offer daily tours of Corregidor Island from Manila. The Sun Cruises boat to Corregidor departs at 8 am from the Mall of Asia Jetty Terminal just north of the SM Mall of Asia. Check in opens at 7 and closes at 7:30 and, for this reason, it’s a good idea to consider booking into a hotel in the area the night before, especially considering Manila’s reputation for traffic jams. The journey takes 1.5 hours and is usually very smooth. The boat isn’t your typical banca style outrigger so you don’t need to worry about waterproofing your bags before you board. You’re each assigned a comfortable seat and the outbound journey features movies about the island’s history. There’s also a small shop on board selling drinks and a few snacks. From there, you can choose from the following options.
DAY TOUR PACKAGE
Including the return ferry journey, a guided island tour, buffet lunch and any entrance fees, this trip is a good option for those short on time who just want to get a feel for the place and see the most famous attractions. During the week the day tour package costs 2350 Php and on weekends it’s 2549 Php. The return ferry departs at 2:30 pm.
To have a chance to fully appreciate the island you should definitely consider staying overnight. Corregidor Inn has single rooms for 1500 Php per night, and twin or double rooms for 2000 Php, including breakfast. Accommodation is clean and comfortable, with a homely feel, and staff are on-hand at the reception desk to answer any questions. An overnight stay allows you to explore the tunnels in more depth, witness a stunning sunset and sunrise, enjoy some fun adventure activities and relax with free time on the beach or by the pool. Especially after such an early start you won’t regret extending your stay.
TOP ISLAND ATTRACTIONS
You’ll see most of the island’s top attractions if you take the day tour package. Regardless of whether or not you’re staying overnight, you’ll spend around four hours touring the island by open-sided bus. The guides are very entertaining and they let you hop off to take photos and explore. When the tour is fully booked, there will be numerous buses working their way from site to site, but they’re very good at taking different routes so that they avoid each other. Some of the top spots are listed below.
Malinta Tunnel was constructed by the US Army to protect its military stores, medical supplies and food rations in the event of war. During the retaking of the island by allied forces, a few thousand Japanese became trapped inside the tunnel and, rather than surrender, they committed mass suicide by blowing themselves up. Many of the collapsed lateral tunnels have never been excavated.
As part of the day tour, you can see an optional Lights and Sound show, which takes place along the main passageway, costs an additional 200 Php and takes about half an hour. It’s not always easy to make out the words and people occasionally block your view, but the bronze statues are entertaining and you’ll probably see some bats. As our guide put it, ‘If you don’t see the Lights and Sound show, how can you tell your friends back home it’s no good?!’ If you’re on the day trip, it’s worth it just to see what the tunnel is like, but if you’re staying overnight and doing the outdoor activities (see below), it’s not really necessary because you’ll see Malinta Tunnel in more detail later the same day, as well as exploring the much smaller Japanese tunnel in the morning.
Some of the most interesting ruined buildings on Corregidor include the iconic mile-long barracks, a hospital, an old cinema, and numerous artillery batteries with huge guns and mortars. Interestingly, before WWII happened, the island had 65 miles of paved roads, a high school, a baseball field and a swimming pool, most of which were destroyed by heavy bombing.
The biggest memorial on Corregidor is the Pacific War Memorial, which was completed in 1968. It has a circular altar underneath a dome with an oculus reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome. Light from the oculus hits the altar on May 6 at 12 pm to commemorate the troops who were stationed there. This date is the anniversary of their surrender after 27 days of defending the island against heavy attack. This is also the location of the Eternal Flame of Freedom sculpture and a great spot for sunrise viewing.
The Filipino Heroes Memorial is made up from 14 murals depicting battles from Filipino history, and the Japanese garden of peace was built to remember the Japanese who died during the war. This was the only Japanese cemetery in the whole of the Pacific during WWII.
There are also a few small museum exhibits showcasing paintings and artefacts that have been recovered from all over the island, and featuring plaques with information on WWII events.
Corregidor lighthouse was built in 1953, making it one of the oldest landmarks on the island, although it was bombed heavily and the building that stands there now is a reconstruction from the 1950s. You can climb to the top of the lighthouse for panoramic views of the island.
For those who choose to spend the night on Corregidor, there’s the option of joining a sunset and sunrise tour for 250 Php each. This includes a one-hour evening exploration of Malinta Tunnel’s lateral passageways. They’re much narrower than the main passage you walk through during the Lights and Sound show, and the fact that it’s nighttime makes it even more exciting. Among other things, you’ll learn about the ventilation systems, visit the old 1000-bed hospital wing and see a human tibia. Hard hats and torches are supplied by the guide.
Corregidor is the perfect location for getting active, and there are plenty of ways of doing so. Those organised by Sun Cruises are listed below. In addition, you’re permitted to bring your own bike and cycle around the island’s roads. Team building exercises can also be organised for large groups and there are opportunities to camp, fish, bird watch, hike, or visit nearby islands by boat if you enquire when you book.
A zipline named ‘the Rocket’ extends from a platform beside Corregidor Inn to the beach. It’s 40 feet above the ground and 200 m long. Costing just 100 Php per person, it’s certainly a more exciting way of reaching the sea than taking the steps. Staff provide a harness and helmet and help you on and off at each end.
ATVs (or quad bikes) are available to rent between 7 and 9 am and between 2 and 5 pm. They cost 300 Php per person for a half hour and 500 Php for a full hour. There’s a marked track for you to follow and, on your first lap, a guide will show you the way. After that you’re free to drive around by yourselves, but the guide will stay close by in case you need his help. Once again, helmets are provided.
Two seater kayaks cost 300 Php for half an hour or 500 Php for a full hour. You’re given life jackets and advised to stay within sight of the beach. It’s a great way to view the island while getting a bit of exercise out on the open water.
Corregidor Inn is in a lovely elevated spot with views of both bays as well as the entrance to Malinta Tunnel. It has a swimming pool very nearby and a there’s a small bar that’s open until 10 pm. The food served at La Playa restaurant is delicious and can be enjoyed from a rooftop terrace. In the evenings, live music entertainment is provided and you might even be invited to join in.
One of the best places to chill out is down by the beach. It’s a five-minute walk or 30-second zipline if you turn left after you leave the main entrance to the inn. Walking has the advantage of passing a small convenience store where you can purchase snacks, cold sodas and beer. Look out for the native goats and monkeys!
To make a booking and view the location map, click here.
Disclaimer: Sun Cruises kindly provided us with a complimentary tour. They did not request a favourable review and any opinions expressed in this article are my own.