At first glance, it looks like your typical provincial town. There’s a church on top of a staired hill, old buildings flanking the tangling streets, a statue of a town hero standing proudly on a pedestal, and a plaza smack at the center of the town proper. Yes, at first glance everything looks ordinary except when you stop and stay a little longer, you’ll find that these structures talk. Yes, they do. And they tell stories of a stark past, one that has always been filled with constant struggles.

On May 27, 1906, two ships sailed, bringing 370 passengers from Cebu to their new home. But they were no ordinary ships, and they were no ordinary passengers. Aboard these Coast Guard cutters were the future inhabitants. Many of them were forced to abandon their lives and loved ones behind for a future in a place so foreign and isolated. Their destination: The Island of No Return — Culion.

Culion is a town small and very walkable. But it is big in history. This rich and unique history makes a walk along its streets a time travel — a trip into the dark and hopeful past. Culion Island has always been isolated, a distant, hardly accessible paradise. But isolation found another meaning in 1904 when an Executive Order was issued to create a leper colony in Culion, shutting it from the rest of the world. The patients became the first residents of an ordinary town built under extraordinary circumstances.

La Inmaculada Concepcion Church, aka Culion Church. Its walls used to be part of an old fortress
La Inmaculada Concepcion Church, aka Culion Church. Its walls used to be part of an old fortress
Fort Culion. Built in 1740 under the Recollect Augustinians, this fortress had 4 bastions.
Fort Culion. Built in 1740 under the Recollect Augustinians, this fortress had 4 bastions.
Lower gate. This barangay arc marker used to divide the town into two: the worlds of "leproso" and the "sano." All health workers passing through must dip hands in and wipe shoes with a disinfectant.
Lower gate. This barangay arc marker used to divide the town into two: the worlds of “leproso” and the “sano.” All health workers passing through must dip hands in and wipe shoes with a disinfectant.
Culion Sanitarium and General Hospital. The Culion Museum and Archives is located inside.
Culion Sanitarium and General Hospital. The Culion Museum and Archives is located inside.
The Culion Museum and Archives houses many of the equipment pieces and documents about the history of the town as a leper colony.
The Culion Museum and Archives houses many of the equipment pieces and documents about the history of the town as a leper colony.
The Culion Museum and Archives. Something you shouldn't miss when visiting Culion. Entrance fee: P150.
The Culion Museum and Archives. Something you shouldn’t miss when visiting Culion. Entrance fee: P150.
Statue of Rev. Fr. Felipe Milan, SJ, inside the Culion Sanitarium and General Hospital Complex. He was born in Spain in 1898 but he died serving in the Colony in 1926.
Statue of Rev. Fr. Felipe Milan, SJ, inside the Culion Sanitarium and General Hospital Complex. He was born in Spain in 1898 but he died serving in the Colony in 1926.
Sacred Heart Dormitory (Congregantes). A shelter for male patients from 16 above. Married men also stayed here. According to a marker, some of these married men, despite the heartbreak of being separated from their families, found new love and built new families in the island.
Sacred Heart Dormitory (Congregantes). A shelter for male patients from 16 above. Married men also stayed here. According to a marker, some of these married men, despite the heartbreak of being separated from their families, found new love and built new families in the island.
Plaza Basa Avellana. Named after the second Filipino chief of the colony, Dr. Jose Basa Avellana, the plaza comprises the Colony Hall, General Clinic (seen in the photo), Grand Stairway, and Injection Hall.
Plaza Basa Avellana. Named after the second Filipino chief of the colony, Dr. Jose Basa Avellana, the plaza comprises the Colony Hall, General Clinic (seen in the photo), Grand Stairway, and Injection Hall.
Leonard Wood Monument. The patients were said to adore Governor General Leonard Wood that in 1931, they voluntarily erected this statue at the heart of Plaza Basa Avellana to honor him.
Leonard Wood Monument. The patients were said to adore Governor General Leonard Wood that in 1931, they voluntarily erected this statue at the heart of Plaza Basa Avellana to honor him.
Colony Hall. Constructed in 1912, it was the office of the Culion Advisory Council.
Colony Hall. Constructed in 1912, it was the office of the Culion Advisory Council.
Balala Nursery. Built in 1916 for the children of patients, it housed babies that were isolated from parents to prevent contamination of the disease. The parents were allowed to see their kids every weekend through a glass window. More than 400 babies were admitted here.
Balala Nursery. Built in 1916 for the children of patients, it housed babies that were isolated from parents to prevent contamination of the disease. The parents were allowed to see their kids every weekend through a glass window. More than 400 babies were admitted here.
Some of the 333 steps to Aguila. Along the way is a basketball court where priest used to play at when it was still a leper colony.
Some of the 333 steps to Aguila. Along the way is a basketball court where priest used to play at when it was still a leper colony.
Aguila. The hill got its name from the American Eagle sigil "imprinted" on the slope. It offers the best view of the town but is accessible via a 333-step staircase.
Aguila. The hill got its name from the American Eagle sigil “imprinted” on the slope. It offers the best view of the town but is accessible via a 333-step staircase.
A closer look at the statue of Jesus Christ at Aguila viewpoint, overlooking the town.
A closer look at the statue of Jesus Christ at Aguila viewpoint, overlooking the town.
A Jesus Christ the Redeemer statue at Aguila viewpoint, overlooking Culion town.
A Jesus Christ the Redeemer statue at Aguila viewpoint, overlooking Culion town.
Culion Town as seen from Aguila viewpoint
Culion Town as seen from Aguila viewpoint
Culion Church (Inmaculada Conception Church) towering over the rest of the town.
Culion Church (Inmaculada Conception Church) towering over the rest of the town.
Neighboring islands to the south
Neighboring islands to the south
View of the hut by Safari Guesthouse from Aguila
View of the hut by Safari Guesthouse from Aguila
Our local guide Kuya Toto and my friend Mica at Aguila Viewpoint
Our local guide Kuya Toto and my friend Mica at Aguila Viewpoint
The peak of Aguila viewpoint, where a radio transmitter is mounted.
The peak of Aguila viewpoint, where a radio transmitter is mounted.
It's a great morning for catching fish!
It’s a great morning for catching fish!
Radio Telegraph Tower. It was built in 1920 as a means of communication with the outside world. In April 1942, the Japanese disabled this when they landed on the island.
Radio Telegraph Tower. It was built in 1920 as a means of communication with the outside world. In April 1942, the Japanese disabled this when they landed on the island.
Old Presidencia. An old prison. (Yes, they had a prison, too.)
Old Presidencia. An old prison. (Yes, they had a prison, too.)
A small hut sticking out into the sea from Safari Guesthouse
A small hut sticking out into the sea from Safari Guesthouse
Sandoval's House. This house belonged to Sandoval Family who were among the original residents of Culion. When the leper colony was established, it was converted into the headquarters of local police.
Sandoval’s House. This house belonged to Sandoval Family who were among the original residents of Culion. When the leper colony was established, it was converted into the headquarters of local police.

More than a century later, Culion has transformed from the largest leprosaria in the world to a rising tourist destination. The affliction has been cured; thanks to the development of multi-drug therapy. Slowly, the island gets closer and closer to outsiders; thanks to the booming tourism in neighboring Coron. Still, the structures that sheltered the patients and health workers remain standing. The past lingers around them, eager to share stories that have been locked up in the island for the longest time.

How to get here: From Manila, fly to Busuanga and take a van/shuttle to Coron town. From Coron, you may take the once-a-day ferry to Culion (P180) scheduled at 1:30pm. You may also charter a boat from Coron (P3000 per boat) or join a group day tour (around 1200). From Culion port, you may start walking to your left and you’ll spot these structures along the way.

CULION TRAVEL GUIDE


More Tips on YouTube ⬇️⬇️⬇️



Yoshke Dimen

Storyteller at Yoshke.com
Yoshke is a part-time digital marketing consultant, part-time travel blogger, and full-time dreamer. He has three passions in life: social media, travel, and --- wait for it --- world peace. Yoshke has won 3 PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS and received 9 nominations. Learn more about his personal journeys at Yoshke.com.
Yoshke Dimen

Comments

  1. Hazel says:

    Hi! I didn’t saw this post of yours! but kuya toto si my Brother! siya nagtour sayo, ansaya! hahaha…

    • Yoshke Dimen says:

      haha, cool! He was great! We loved him. Sana natatandaan nya pa kami, haha

  2. Pauline Cullis says:

    Please read wonderful book by Kieran Millwood Hargrave called ‘The Island at the End of Everything ‘ it’s a well researched story set in Culion.

Leave a Reply