Leyte Travel Guide
Leyte is an island in the Philippines which is lesser known by foreigners but has plenty of attractions for those willing to step off the beaten track. It has a number of beaches which approach the quality of Boracay, but a fraction of the crowds. It has war history, as it is here where MacArthur began his quest to take the Philippines back from the Japanese. More recently, it suffered a devastating blow from one of the most devastating typhoons in history, but the place has come back strong.
If you are looking for an intriguing destination no one else knows about in the Phils, Leyte is a spot you ought to check out.
Looking for your tropical paradise in the Philippines, but disheartened by all the over-touristed islands you’ve found so far? Soon after arriving in Leyte, you’ll quickly hear about Kalanggaman Island from locals, and once you arrive, we are confident your search will be over.
With powdery white sand extending in a long sandbar straight out to sea, crystal clear water, and a cute grove of palm trees defining its interior, it is the place you’ve been searching for your entire life. Unless that is, if you require power – with no electricity on Kalanggaman, you’ll be hanging out by the campfire after dark and strolling its deserted shores under moon and starlight.
For a few years during the Second World War, the Philippines languished under the jackboot of the Imperial Japanese occupation. However, it wasn’t long before General MacArthur and his soldiers stormed ashore in Leyte to liberate this South Pacific theatre from their iron grip.
As such, it would be a shame to leave this part of the Philippines without first visiting the Leyte Landing Memorial. Initially driven from the country by the Japanese invasion, it was here where the famed American general fulfilled his promise that he would return to the very spot where the memorial is located.
Adjacent to the memorial is a museum which contains artifacts, photographs, and a copy of the speech MacArthur gave upon securing the beach he lost just a few years earlier.
Indulge in culture, art, religion, and a controversial piece of Filipino history by spending time exploring the halls of the Sto. Nino Shrine and Heritage Museum. Built during the Marcos regime for his wife Imelda, this grand mansion contains finery from all corners of the world.
Within, you’ll find paintings from Spain, carpets from Argentina, tile from Italy, and porcelain vases from China – given the plight of the average Filipino, it can be easily understood how this sort of excess inevitably led to the downfall of Ferdinand Marcos.
You will also find a well-loved shrine on the grounds of this museum. Constructed in 1979, it pays homage to Jesus during the time when he was an infant. Consisting of a small image of the Holy Child, its presence will prove to be an interesting contrast to the obscene show of wealth the rest of this complex is.
Leyte, like many places in the Philippines, is lauded for the quality of its diving sites. The Napantao Marine Sanctuary is no exception to this rule, as the wall dives this park provides are routinely described as being world-class by those who get to see it in person.
With a maximum depth of 50 metres, the opportunities to see a variety of marine life are many – from gorgonian fans growing on rock walls to various species of shark which pass by regularly, you’ll have plenty of amazing discoveries during your time here.
Think there are no lakes in the tropics like there are back at home? A trip to Lake Danao National Park will prove this notion wrong. Thanks to its location more than 2,000 feet above sea level, the coolness surrounding its placid waters makes it a place that many locals and travellers in the know enjoy.
Along its shores, there are floating cottages which can be rented for those looking to spend a day with family and/or friends, and boats are also available for only 150 pesos. Check out the viewing deck, which allows photographers to shoot panoramic photos of the lake and the surrounding area.
Looking for another paradise isle to spend a day on? Be sure to check out Sambawan Island. Unlike Kalanggaman Island, this place is not a low lying coral atoll – it is defined by a modestly high hill at its centre and a series of low cliffs at both ends. The popularity of this place is slowly increasing, so make time for it in your travels before it becomes overrun by day trippers in the not-so-distant future.
While things have improved a great deal since 2014, there is no doubt Super Typhoon Haiyan made a huge impact on the island of Leyte. When in Tacloban City, don’t leave without paying your respects at the Yolanda Memorial.
Built using the remnants of the hull of the M/V Eva Jocelyn when it was pushed ashore by Yolanda (the Filipino name for the storm), it pays tribute to residents lost in the neighbourhoods affected by the unprecedented storm surge driven by winds which reportedly reached 315 kilometres per hour.
Finally, if you have time, take a second to drop by the Monte Cueva Shrine. Built in a cave high above the town of Maasin to honour the Virgin Mary, it has retained many of its subterranean characteristics despite being modified to accommodate worshippers.
The statue of the Holy Virgin is located outside, with arms outstretched to the town below – if you are Christian or are into sacred places, this is a wonderful place to visit to end your time on Leyte.