In the westernmost portion of Central Luzon facing the South China Sea , the province of Zambales walks a dangerous tightrope between the economic boosts of rampant tourism and the sustainability of its frail natural resources. When Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991, the resulting ash flow transformed the entire Zambales landscape, burying towns and wiping out huge portions of coral reefs that used to provide shelter for many marine species. Zambales has since recovered from this catastrophe, and is now blooming into one of the Philippines foremost centers of trade and development.
Olongapo City in Zambales is the hub of industrial progress, propelled by the commerce once generated by the Subic Naval Base and the American troops stationed there, which continues today, as the base has now been converted into a free port and special economic zone. Imported goods abound in Subic Bay , but you should plan your trip around Ocean Adventure, the only open-sea marine park in the Philippines , the Zoorobic Safari to watch animals in a natural habitat, and the Pamulaklakin Nature Park , where you can encounter and commune with the indigenous Aeta population, and learn their secrets of forest survival.
The Subic Bay Freeport Zone is far from the only attraction that Zambales can provide, and a more adventurous tourist willing to veer off the beaten track will be amply rewarded by what lies beyond Subic s commercialized charms. Wreck divers in particular will appreciate the sights that await beneath the waves off the Zambales coast, where many Japanese ships were sunk during the Second World War, along with a number of other beleaguered vessels, and a wooden gunboat known as the San Quentin, which went down in 1898.
Campers may be tempted to head to Anawangin Cove, located near the coastal village of Pundaquit, but honestly, they would be better off avoiding what has become a garbage laden, overpopulated campsite. Further south of Anawangin are more pristine areas like Nagsasa Cove, which have comparable sand quality but are certainly much less crowded, and less polluted. You may also want to charter a boat to take you to the islands of Capones and Camara, which boast lovely cliffs and white sand beaches, though trash seems to have found its way to these places as well. Talk directly to boatmen and try to haggle the fees down, as they charge relatively high prices for the fare.
Surfing enthusiasts will probably head straight for the town of San Narciso , where good surfing spots abound. Crystal Beach Resort in the area is a favored destination, with the surf breaking left and right, and the waves getting pretty big under the right conditions, which are usually between May and October. There are reliable waves at the mouth of the Macolcol River , and the aforementioned Capones Island also offers surfing, but the reef breaks make it a challenge that only serious surfers should check out.
Overall, there is plenty to see in Zambales, and plenty more to do, though the rush of tourism that has inundated the province is starting to ruin the natural beauty of the area. If you venture into this region, be responsible and clean up after yourself, so that future generations of visitors will have more than a huge dumping ground to look forward to.