Southern Leyte Diaries (Part 1): A Weekend in Maasin City

In Monte Cueva

While others were going crazy over the congested Boracay and Baguio for the long weekend, Travelogues and the Trip Republic opted to stay away from the crowd for that well-deserved and much-anticipated escape. Our first trip for this year: the quiet, unassuming province of Southern Leyte. 

It was not our first time in Eastern Visayas. In fact, this was our fourth, with our previous destinations being the picturesque falls and islands of Biliran and the pristine Kalanggaman Island in Palompon, Leyte. The region's untainted beauty beckons us to return time and again, and I bet, this trip won't be the last. Eastern Visayas features myriad destinations, which offer activities to satisfy your wanderlust--from exhilarating climbs and water sports to tranquil beaches and marine sanctuaries. There are so many things to do here, so a once-in-a-lifetime three-days-two-nights stay will never be enough to cover everything. It's worth it, after all.

Southern Leyte lies on the southern quarter of the island of Leyte, and is bounded by the province of Leyte to the north, by Surigao Strait to the east, Bohol Sea to the south, and Canigao Channel to the west. Its capital is the city of Maasin.

The province was fortunately spared from the wrath of typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in 2013, with only minimal damages incurred. If you could also recall, Southern Leyte is home to St. Bernard, where Brgy. Guinsaugon is located. The village was buried 10 years ago due to a massive rock slide-debris avalanche in February 17, 2006. Death toll reached 1,126 (according to Wikipedia).


How to go to Southern Leyte:
By Air
From Manila, take a one-hour flight to Tacloban. Domestic airlines such as Airasia, Cebu Pacific, and Philippine Airlines fly daily to Tacloban City. From the airport, ride a jeepney or a tricycle to the downtown. If riding a tricycle, you may ask the driver to bring you directly to either Duptours or Van Van's terminal. These shuttle services both have regular trips to Maasin City, your jump-off point to the many destinations in the province. Travel time from Tacloban to Maasin is about four hours, passing through Dulag, Baybay, Inopacan, Hindang, and Hilongos, among others.

By Sea (from Manila)
There are buses that ply the Manila-Maasin route like Philtranco.These will pass along the provinces of Quezon, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay, Legazpi and Sorsogon where it will board a barge from Matnog to Allen in Northern Samar. The journey continues on to Samar and Leyte, and off to Southern Leyte. It's a long, butt-numbing ride!

By Sea (from Cebu)
From Cebu, take a ferry to Ormoc City and from there board a van shuttle to Maasin City. Travel time from Ormoc to Maasin is around three hours.


Where to stay in Maasin City:
There are a number of accommodation options in Maasin City and the nearby towns of Macrohon, Padre Burgos, and Sogod. In Maasin City, we stayed at Angela's Bed and Breakfast, a relatively new B&B along Tomas Oppus Street.

Spacious, clean, and well-designed, the rooms at Angela's Bed and Breakfast are perfect for travellers who are looking for a decent place to stay without breaking the bank. Room rates start at Php 1,200, inclusive of continental breakfast and wireless internet connection. The family room, which is good for three persons, is very affordable at Php 1,500. The bathroom was spotlessly clean albeit it lacks a hot shower. You can also add an extra bed for a minimal fee. For big groups, there is a dormitory room good for seven persons, priced at Php 3,500.

The location is very strategic as it is right on the highway and public transportation is available most of the time. From Maasin terminal, tricycle fare to Angela's Bed and Breakfast is only Php 8 per person. Restaurants such as Kinamot sa Abgao and eateries are also within walking distance.

The Family Room

The Family Room's bathroom
The common area
Al fresco dining area
What to do in Maasin City:
While Southern Leyte's capital is home to an array of destinations, both natural and man-made, we only had a day to explore it and so to maximize our time, we chose to explore two destinations only: Maasin Zoo and Monte Cueva.

Run by the local government, the Maasin Zoo is one of the family-friendly destinations in Maasin City. The only zoo in the region, the 10-hectare property (out of 320 hectares that is) features a selection of animals from all over the world. Upon entrance, you will be welcomed by two lovely camels from Australia and a pair of ponies. It was as if you were on a safari in Africa! There are tigers, lions, peacocks, monkeys, crocodiles, and a lot more.

Maasin Zoo shuttle
Entrance fee to the zoo is Php 200 per person inclusive of a scheduled shuttle service to and from Maasin terminal. Should you wish to bring your own car, entrance fee is Php 150.

The journey starts here
The seven-year-old Australian camel
Touchdown Africa! Kidding!
Miniature horses
Feeding time
The not-so-friendly tiger


Freshwater crocodile
Albino Burmese Phyton
The lion

Peacocks


Look at that tail!!!

The cassowary, the most dangerous bird in the world
On our way back to Maasin city proper, we asked the zoo shuttle's driver to drop us off in Monte Cueva, another must-see destination in Southern Leyte. Perched on a hill, Monte Cueva features a chapel within a cave and a shrine of the Our Lady of Assumption that commands a 360-degree view of Maasin City.

Going up the cave isn't that easy as you have to climb about 300 steps through concrete, winding stairs. It definitely requires endurance. I must admit I wasn't prepared for a hike like this, but as if I was guided by God, I successfully reached the finish line. Kidding aside, I really prayed hard while forcing myself to go up, and I made it!

The steps


The chapel inside the cave exudes serenity, a perfect spot to reflect and thank God for all the blessings you have received.

A peek into the chapel
The chapel within the cave

At the cave's entrance
For your prayers and petitions
Pieta
Our Lady of the Assumption
It was already sunset when we reached the peak of Monte Cueva. From the deck, you can have a sweeping view of Maasin City. You might be lucky like us to catch the sun setting into the water, as if painting the skies orange and blue. Going down was quite a challenge as it was already dark and there were no lights along the trail.

Steep stairs
There are two choices when you go up and down Monte Cueva: one is through the concrete broad and winding stairs, and another, through the steep stairs. We chose the former.

Other places to check out in Maasin City:
If you have more time, you can check out the Jaleca Hills, another shrine of the Our Lady of the Assumption that is also perched on a hilltop. The only difference is that it does not have a cave. This is relatively lower than Monte Cueva, so if you feel you can't stand a long trek up, you might want to consider visiting Jaleca Hills instead.

You may also visit the provincial capitol and have your photo taken at the "I Love Southern Leyte" mark. The signage faces a verdant lawn where events and activities are usually held.





Where to eat in Maasin City:
We had our meals at Kinamot sa Abgao, a seaside restaurant located in Villa Romana Hotel, also along Tomas Oppus Street. It is walking distance from Angela's Bed and Breakfast where we stayed for a night. Servings are good for sharing and the price is reasonable (average Php 200-250 per person, depending on what you will order). For lunch, we had tinolang tanigue, mixed veggies, and fried chicked, while for dinner, we had fish with tausi, lechon Macau, and crab and corn soup. Of these, I love the tinolang tanigue and the lechon Macau. There are also breakfast sets available that includes your usual silog (fried rice and egg) meals.


Fish tausi
Lechon Macau
Mixed Veggies
Fried chicken
Tinolang tanigue 

Longsilog

Cornsilog 
Tocilog
Kinamot sa Abgao's cozy interiors
A table overlooking the sea
Villa Romana Hotel beside Kinamot sa Abgao

This tour was made possible through the assistance of the Region 8 Tourism Office as well as the Provincial Tourism Office of Southern Leyte. For questions, you may reach them at dotreg8@yahoo.com and tourismsouthernleyte@gmail.com.

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