Zambales, whose entire western stretch is rimmed by the crystal-clear waters of the South China Sea, is off-the-beaten path of Philippine travel destinations. Its land area was separate from the mainland in prehistoric times. Violent tectonic and volcanic upheavals joined it with the main island of Luzon. The resulting topography- undulating mountain ranges, coastal plains and valleys, and lush virgin forests – makes Zambales one of the more panoramic provinces on Luzon.
The outflow of lahar from Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption in the 90’s cut a wide swath through central Zambales giving this area a stark and surreal beauty. The eruption forced the aboriginal Aetas to abandon their mountain domain and seek refuge in the lowlands.
Perhaps Zambales’ most well known attraction is the former US naval base in Subic Bay, now an all-in-one tourism destination. Water sports, wreck diving, surfing, bay cruises, wildlife adventures, jungle trekking and other eco-adventures await the Subic visitor. Here you can see tigers in the wild and a marine show with whales, dolphins and seals; wild monkeys often scamper out of the tropical rainforest cover and hang out by the side of the road. You can go deep into the jungle and learn survival techniques from the Aetas who trained the Green Berets during the Vietnam era.
For the more urbane, there are duty-free shops, fine dining restaurants featuring global cuisine, classy casinos and Vegas-style shows. Those who prefer their nightlife on the raunchy and rowdy side can cross Subic’s gates over to Olongapo town, where there are bars, bars and more bars featuring live cover bands that sound just like the originals. Other nocturnal delights await party animals in Olongapo, a 24/7 kind of place.
From the northern tip to its southernmost end, the coast of Zambales is virtually one long beach. Some of the finer public swimming beaches are in the Iba area. Along the way to Iba, one passes orchards of mango trees heavy with fruit. Zambales mangoes are famous for their sweetness and succulence. North of Subic is one long coastal stretch with many surfing spots. San Miguel and San Antonio towns have several breaks along its beaches. Nearby Pundaquit has a little bay with great waves when it gets too big on the outside reefs.
A wonderful day trip is an outrigger cruise to the Capones Islands, just a couple of kilometers offshore from Pundaquit. These are two completely uninhabited islands with absolutely no facilities. All you get is its pristine little coves and beaches and the surrounding coral reef.