Discover An Isolated Paradise In Zambales: Hermana Menor And Hermana Mayor Islands


Since it’s the again the season of sea, sun, and sand, I’m sure most of you are looking for the perfect beach escapade—not too far from Manila, affordable and sulit, pristine waters perfect for swimming, white beach, instagrammable, not too crowded, and with a chill vibe. Am I right?! You’ve come to the right place as I’m about to share with you a wonderful discovery in Zambales that can easily rival some of the best beaches in the Philippines. And the best thing is, you don’t need to travel far for this!

We all know that most tourists coming to Zambales flock to Subic, Anawangin, Nagsasa, Capones, Magalawa, and Potipot. But did you know that aside from these popular islands, there is a lesser-known pair of paradise sitting pretty off the coast of Sta. Cruz, the northernmost town of Zambales?

These two sister islands are called Hermana Menor (little sister) and Hermana Mayor (elder sister). They may not be as famous as the other islands of Zambales but their raw, isolated beauty and crystalline waters are beyond compare.






When I recently went home (proud Zambaleña here!) for the Holy Week break, I was itching to discover something new in my province. The lure of the two mysterious islands of Sta. Cruz, which I’ve only encountered through pass-on stories, kept me on my toes. I researched on the best possible and affordable way on how to go to Hermana Menor and Hermana Mayor—since I was told countless times that the islands are privately-owned and are off-limits to the public.


Read this related adventure: Masamirey Cove Resort: A Sweet Escape to the Coastal Life 

Fortunately, we have a neighbor who hails from Sta. Cruz town and from her, we learned that we can visit Hermana Menor but Hermana Mayor is really a no-go.

Still, I insisted. So on a sunny Thursday morning, we set off to an adventure of discovering the islands of Hermana Menor and Hermana Mayor.

HERMANA MENOR
(aka MAKATIRA ISLAND)


Our first stop was the smaller of the two islands—Hermana Menor. Truth be told, I lowered my expectations for Hermana Menor because someone told me it isn’t that breathtaking. But as we set sail in a narrow outrigger boat, my anxiety and pre-disappointment was blown away by the sea waves and the salt air.  I was ready to be awed.



After 30 minutes or so of sailing, we were finally approaching the shore of Hermana Menor and a stretch of dazzling creamy white shore welcomed us. There is an entrance fee of Php100 per head. From a further distance, we could see Hermana Mayor but the unspoiled beauty of her younger sister distracted us so much that we hurried to disembark the boat and into the glistening emerald sea.




Secluded and undiscovered, Hermana Menor is privately owned by Palawan Governor Jose Alvarez and the Hernandez family of Zambales. To the locals of Zambales, Hermana Menor is also known as Makatira Island. According to the caretaker, Manong Dodong, Hermana Menor used to be an inhabited community but eventually, locals sold their lots. Today, Hermana Menor or Makatira Island, which spans 102 hectares, is the ideal beach escapade for someone looking for seclusion and serenity.

The beaches of Hermana Menor Island

There are five spots or mini-beaches where you can enjoy the wonders of Hermana Menor Island.

The first one is the main beach—a crescent shore foaming with malt-shaded fine sand. This is where the boats dock and where the four available cottages and the basic resort facilities are located. The owner’s rest house, which is currently unoccupied, is also here. Ideal for swimming and snorkeling, the water here is almost the same color as the skies on a sunny day.

Read this related adventure: Travel Guide: Masamerey Beach in Sual, Pangasinan


At the center of Hermana Menor, coconut, talisay, and pine (aguho) trees form a mini-forest were lambs, deer, goats, horses, and chickens freely graze. The island also has its own airstrip for light planes. 





On the left side of the main beach is another splendid spot, dotted with crushed corals and towering limestone and rock formations, great for taking photos. The water here is shallow and the seabed is rocky.

Read this related adventure: Calaguas Island: Are We There Yet?





The main attraction of Hermana Menor or Makatira Island is its long stretch of snowy sandbar, jutting out into the sea, which is actually a marine sanctuary to a variety of aquatic life and coral reefs. The sand in this area is off-white but it’s not as fine and powdery as the rest of the island.







At the opposite side of the sand bar is my favorite beach in the island—untouched, with soft powdery shore, and best of all, ombré-colored turquoise water! The color of the sea on this side starts cream, and then gradually turns into seafoam green, aqua blue, and cobalt.





Further to this side is a rocky shore with wild bushes and a mini-cliff. No one wanders in this side so you’ll be rewarded with alone time and sweet serenity.







Seeing how clear the water was and how fine and powdery the sand was pure bliss! This place is unfiltered and immaculate as it can be! The vast tapestry of blue hues—from the skies to the sea—will make anyone’s jaw drop with amazement.



Facilities in Hermana Menor Island
For the longest time, access to the island was restricted. The place was recognized as a marine wildlife sanctuary in 2004. In 2010, they started to welcome select guests to the island. Today, Hermana Menor is open to the public, but still with limitations as the owners are keen on preserving the splendor of the island.

Read this related adventure: 25 Photos That Will Make You Want to Visit Batanes 





At Hermana Menor, guests have to embrace the ‘back-to-basics’ principle. Facilities are not for fussy and maarte travelers. If you’re looking for comfort, you won’t find it here. Instead, they have the following: 

  • Four picnic cottages. You can rent a cottage good for 15-20 persons for PhP 1000. Three cottages good for 8-10 persons can be rented for PhP 500 each cottage. There’s also a Victorian-inspired dining set available.
  • Separate comfort rooms for women and men are provided but do take note that the restrooms are super basic.
  • Clean water supply is an issue; only water for rinsing is provided. So don't forget to bring drinking water
  • There are no stores in the island so bringing your own food and everything you need is highly recommended.
  • There’s a grilling station where guests can cook their food. This is free of charge and the caretakers will help you fire up the grill.




Other than that, it’s all sea, sun, and sand in Hermana Menor. Who needs luxury anyway when you’ve got an unspoiled crescent of a creamy shore? We spent the day lazing around, taking countless photos, swimming with the fish, and just soaking the spectacular view.

There are NO accommodations for staying or camping overnight as this is strictly prohibited by the owners. Want to know why? Read on.

Travel responsibly: Respect the island! 
This is a private property, first and foremost, and it’s a privilege to be able to set foot on this island. As guests, please do remember to respect the island. 





As I’ve said, the owners are very particular about preserving Hermana Menor. There were instances in the past when they had to close the island to the public again because guests were abusing the place. Please don’t be like these travelers. Follow these tips:

  1. Leave no trace. This is a basic principle when traveling anywhere. Don’t leave your trash behind and do not vandalize.
  2. Don’t trespass in the main house. Curiosity might get the better of you but just admire the house from afar. If you want to go nearby the mansion, ask permission from the caretaker first.
  3. Swim at your own risk. Don't stray too far from the shore as some parts of the beaches gradually turn deep in just a few steps.  
  4. Respect the marine and wildlife. Never feed the animals. Observe them from a distance. 
  5. Bonfire is NOT allowed. Yes, it’s cute and perfect for Instagram but it leaves ugly patches along the shore.
  6. Most importantly, flying a drone is NOT allowed. This, along with the bonfire, is the reason why staying overnight is already prohibited in the island. The caretaker told us that a group, which stayed overnight, started a bonfire and flew a drone around the island, without permission. This irked the owners and for a time, they closed the island to the public. When they opened it again, they became more cautious and restricting, and for good reasons.

So, if you want to experience the beauty of Hermana Menor, be a responsible traveler. When in doubt about your actions, ask the caretaker. Let's help in preserving the raw beauty of this undeveloped island. 

I actually admire the management of Hermana Menor because unlike other islands in Zambales, they are not after commercializing the island to gain profit. Instead, they are more focused on preserving Hermana Menor.  





HERMANA MAYOR
As we prepared to leave Hermana Menor to visit its elder sister, which is 30 minutes away, we were told by the caretaker that currently, Hermana Mayor is not open to the public as they are in the process of developing the island into a recreation and resort site.

Hermana Mayor is privately-owned by the Toda family, whose business is in aviation. The island rose to fame when it hosted the pre-pageant pictorial of the candidates of Miss Universe 1974. Temporary ownership of the island was also a part of the prize package of the eventual winner of Miss Universe 1974, Amparo Munoz.

Hermana Menor’s caretaker also told us that Hermana Mayor has a longer stretch of golden beach. There’s also a golf course, a man-made lake, some cottages, and a well-marked airstrip.

Unfortunately for us, Hermana Mayor will be reserved for another time. 


We didn’t mind as the sublime appeal of Hermana Menor or Makatira Island was enough for us. We basked in the island’s zestful charm until we baked to a golden perfection—an impeccable end to a truly refreshing summer escapade.




HOW TO GET TO HERMANA MENOR 
AND HERMANA MAYOR

Option 1: DIY 
  • From Caloocan/Pasay/Sampaloc terminal, ride a Victory Liner bus bound to Sta. Cruz, Zambales. Fare is PhP 451 each and journey will take 5-6 hours. Note that there’s no direct Sta. Cruz bound bus in Cubao terminal.
  • Ask the conductor to drop you off at the Petron Station in Brgy. Lipay, Sta. Cruz.
  • There’s a talipapa/mini-market just across the gas station. If you did not bring any food, buy food here—vegetable and fresh catch, like fish and squid, are available here.
  • From the gas station, ride a tricycle going to the port. Fare is PhP 10 per person and the ride will take 3-5 minutes.
  • From the port, rent a boat to take you to Hermana Menor and/or Hermana Mayor. This will take around 30-40 minutes. 
  • Boat contact: Kuya Gabriel Arcelao (09502508569 or 09466861680). You can rent his boat going to Hermana Menor for around PhP 1,300-1,500, two-way. The boat’s maximum capacity is 6 persons.
  • Alternatively, you can directly get in touch with the caretaker of Hermana Menor Island, Manong Dodong. They have a boat, good for 10-12 persons, which can fetch you going to the island. Cost is PhP 1,500, two-way.


Option 2: Stay at a resort in Sta. Cruz
  • If you’re staying overnight in a resort in Sta. Cruz, Zambales, ask if they have a boat for hire so you can go on a daytrip to Hermana Menor and/or Hermana Mayor.
  • Try Seasun Beach Resort (0928 855 5125). Ride a Victory Liner bus bound to Sta. Cruz, Zambales and ask to be dropped off at Seasun Beach Resort, Brgy. Sabang Sta. Cruz.
  • Seasun Beach Resort offers a daytrip to Hermana Menor. Boat costs Php1,200, two way, good for four persons only.



Option 3: Join a tour group 

  • My recommendation is to get a local operator. There are Northern Zambales locals who operate tours to Hermana Menor from Manila and they can efficiently advise you if it is safe to go to the island on a particular date and if the island is closed or off-limits for the day. Contact Leave No Trace Travel & Tours on Facebook, highly-recommended! 
  • Alternatively, Hermana Menor/Mayor can be a side trip to an overnight in Potipot Island in nearby Candelaria town. Ask your tour coordinator.


RECOMMENDED DAY TOUR ITINERARY FOR HERMANA MENOR

12:00 AM Ride the midnight bus of Victory Liner bound to Sta. Cruz
5:30   AM Arrival in Sta. Cruz town (breakfast, buy food, etc.)
6:30   AM Leave port going to Hermana Menor
7:00   AM Arrival in Hermana Menor
7:30   AM Swimming, explore the island, pictorial, socials
12:00 PM Lunch at the island
1:00   PM Swimming, explore the island, rest
3:00   PM Leave the island
4:00   PM Ride Victory Liner bus bound to Manila 
10:00 PM Arrival in Manila 

STAYING OVERNIGHT? CHECK OUT THESE NEARBY RESORTS

  1. Seasun Beach Resort | Price starts at Php800 | Check updated prices on Booking.com and Agoda
  2. Potipot Gateway Resort | Price starts at Php3,500 | Check updated prices on Booking.com and Agoda




Did you like this article? Hope you'll find your way soon to Sta. Cruz, Zambales! 

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Follow more of my adventures on InstagramTwitter, and 
Facebook by searching for the hashtag #GirlChasingSunshine. Thank you for dropping by! :) 

30 komento

  1. Thanks for sharing! We will definitely consider this.

    TumugonBurahin
  2. Hello po! I sent a pm po to your fb page :) ask ko po sana ang number ni Manong Dodong ;)

    TumugonBurahin
    Mga Tugon
    1. If you want to go there, check in at Brivas Resort, Sabang sta Cruz, Zambales.
      Check this out: brivas.sta.cruz.org
      They will arrange your trip to this island


      Burahin
    2. Hi, Zaldy! Currently answering PMs now sa Facebook page. Sana madaanan ko yung sayo Ang dami kasi! :)

      Burahin
  3. Nice Blog! Maganda yung lugar. I sent a message to your fb page. Thanks!

    TumugonBurahin
    Mga Tugon
    1. Hi, Allan! Thanks! Targeting to finish all PMs on my Facebook page now. Pasensya na ha kung natagalan ang reply. :)

      Burahin
  4. Hi I also sent a message to ur fb page about sa kung may safe na parking lot dun if ever na pwedeng magdala ng sasakyan? And pwede po mahingi number ni manong dodong? Thanks and God bless

    TumugonBurahin
    Mga Tugon
    1. If you want to go there, check in at Brivas Resort, Sabang sta Cruz, Zambales.
      Parking is safe;

      Check this out: brivas.sta.cruz.org
      They will arrange your trip to this island

      Burahin
  5. Hi! Pwede po ba mag overnight stay sa island? we'll bring our tents na lang.

    TumugonBurahin
    Mga Tugon
    1. Hello! As written above, HINDI PO PUWEDE mag-overnight and magcamping sa isla. :)

      Burahin
  6. Mga Tugon
    1. Hello, Sir Jaime! I saw your comments above. May I know how much is Brivas charging for a boat ride to Hermana? Maybe I can recommend it to those asking. :)

      Burahin
  7. Hi, anong name po ng Port sa Sta Cruz? :)

    TumugonBurahin
  8. Hi Ma'am,

    Can we ask a favor. Alam nyo po ba contact number si Mnong Dodong caretaker ng Makatira.

    thanks.

    TumugonBurahin
  9. Hello, do you have the contact number of Manong Dodong? Thank you :)

    TumugonBurahin
  10. Hi, can we have the contact number of kuya dodong?

    TumugonBurahin
  11. Hi, can we have the contact number of kuya dodong?

    TumugonBurahin

    TumugonBurahin
  12. love the blog. the island looks amazing. love the reiteration ng pagiging responsible traveler. i agree with that. keep it up

    TumugonBurahin
  13. Helo po.. Pde po b nmin mahingi ung contact number ni manong dodong yung caretaker ng hermana menor island s zambales.. Plan po kc nmin magrent ng boat.. Thanks po..

    TumugonBurahin
  14. Hi, nice blog.. can we have mang dodongs number pu mam? Thanks. Safe

    TumugonBurahin
  15. Hi miss �� pwede ko po ba mahingi contact number ng caretaker ng island. THANK YOU SO MUCH.

    TumugonBurahin
  16. I love this blog, mam can I get contact no.of manong dodong? thank you po!

    TumugonBurahin
  17. I love this blog, mam can I get contact no.of manong dodong? thank you po!

    TumugonBurahin
  18. Hello po. Pwede po malaman kung sino contact sa island hermana mayor? I am from Iba,Zambales and owns a hardware store. We just want to give quotation on materials and we can also do contract works. Thanks. Please contact 09153005227.

    TumugonBurahin
  19. Wow Anne Grace! I would live in that water. All afternoon, every day. I am a sucker for a tropical paradise and this beach seems to be one of the prettier I've seen. The Philippines in general has some of the most stunning beaches in SE Asia. Brilliant. Hey great pictures! Thanks for sharing.

    TumugonBurahin
  20. Haha, I've been intending to visit Hermana Mayor since 15 years ago when i was invited by the owner to spend a night or two there. Made a serious attempt in 2005 and even went as far as arranging to meet Mr Toda at San Fernando for the car ride to Zambales on a Friday but had to cancel the appointment the night before due to unrelated reasons. Sigh.
    I met up with Mr Toda again in Manila a few weeks ago and I will likely finally take up his long-standing invitation in early February.

    TumugonBurahin
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