If you live in Manila or are just visiting for a short time, you’ll no doubt come to the conclusion that traveling around the Philippines, while not difficult, can be time consuming. With destinations that often require a messy combination of bus, boat and tricycle you may find that you don’t have time to get where you want to go without a flight. So if you’re looking for a chilled out, go-to beach relatively close to the city…look no further! Liwliwa Beach is your spot.
Liwliwa beach is a small village that sits just west of the town of San Felipe on the Zambales coast. The town itself is tiny, quiet and has consistent surf breaks that are good for beginners as well as advanced surfers. These days the small beach town caters to a steady flow of Manila-based surfers and a few straggling backpackers. Liwliwa Beach has a handful of small places to stay, the most popular being the Circle Hostel which rents boards and tends to be the center of all the action. At the time of writing, there were two small shops that sold various packaged foods, cigarettes, alcohol and cooked hot meals throughout the day.
In the Philippines bus travel is operated by private carriers that “could” have their own private stations anywhere in the city. In this particular case you’ll want to take the “Victory Liner” from either the Cubao or Pasay station (the two main stations) to San Felipe. The price is about $6 USD (300 Pesos) and takes about 3 hours. There are two routes that you can take.
Manila (Cubao/Pasay) – Iba (ask to get off at San Felipe)
Manila (Cubao/Pasay) – Olongapo (transfer) – San Felipe
Once you get to San Felipe, take a tricycle for about $1 USD (50 Pesos) to Liwliwa Beach. Tricycles should be waiting all around the center of town where the bus drops you off.
The beach is a long strip of grey-ish sand dotted with tiny shelters made of bamboo. The breaks are close to shore with waves ranging from 2 to 5 feet. There is no real development on the beach itself and all the accommodation is set just slightly behind the sand. Most hotels are only a 5 minute walk from the sand. No Marriotts or Hiltons here!
The most popular spot is the Circle Hostel, which is an open-air dormitory. Dorm beds are $9 USD and Hammocks are $7 USD per night. The dorms are an amazing hodgepodge of handmade wooden dorm beds that are crammed into every possible corner. There is also a smaller enclosed dormitory that is typically reserved for women. They have communal toilets and showers and a couple of nice chill-out areas. The place is fairly clean and is packed with hippie/surfer/backpacker vibes. Stay here for the community! Across the street is one of the shops (sari-sari stores) where you can order breakfast, lunch, dinner and booze.
Other accommodation in Liwliwa tends to be smaller and slightly more upscale, meaning that you get your own beach hut rather than a bed in a dormitory. Stay in one of these if you want some privacy. All accommodation is close to the beach.
You really have three options here. Shop #1, Shop #2 and driving into San Felipe. Most travelers will just eat at one of these beach shops since food in San Felipe is not usually worth the drive. The two shops sell all types of canned or packaged food as well as Filipino breakfast, lunch and dinner. Plan on eating a lot of meat, egg and white rice (tapsilog, longsilog…all kinds of silog!). If you need fresh produce the supply may be limited, so plan on going into town for that. Also San Felipe has a few more “sit-down” style restaurants if you need a change of pace. The two shops in Liwliwa are:
- Ate Fely’s
- Mommy Phoebe’s
Cell phone service is pretty bad on the beach. We went all week without a signal. Internet is currently available in San Felipe, although its not easy to find. In the center of town, near the bus drop-off and just above the produce market there is a tall, nondescript building. Inside on the third floor there is an internet cafe. At the time of writing it was unmarked, so ask around for directions. Speeds are actually decent.
People come to Liwliwa Beach for the surfing!…and there’s not much else. So plan on spending your days either laying on the beach, surfing or drinking…heavily. If non of that suites you, you can always rent a bicycle and tour around the village.
Overall Liwliwa Beach is a quiet and fun little village. Its a great place if you need to escape the chaos of Manila for a few days. Keep in mind that it is not on the same level as Boracay or El Nido. The sand is not as white and the water is not as clear, nor are there the plethora of hotels and beach front restaurants to choose from. Tourism at Liwliwa is still only a trickle…and its mostly locals and backpackers. Enjoy!