It’s an otherworld of rolling green hills, coconut forests, limestone cliffs, and scattered islets rising up from the glittering blue. After months and months stuck in the city, it feels like I’ve landed on another planet.

The following is the story of our trip to Caramoan, along with notes on our budget, itinerary, and routes that may help fellow Manilans do the same if they want to (and that I need to keep on file to help us plan future trips).


In this article: Miscellaneous Details | Transportation | Accommodation | Itinerary | Budget | A Note on Safety | The Story of Our Trip


Caramoan Travel Guide

  • Number of travelers: 4
  • Destination: Caramoan, Camarines Sur, Bicol
  • Home base: Metro Manila, NCR
  • Trip duration: 4 days, 3 nights (plus some travel time)
  • When: November – December 2018
  • Cost per person: ₱4,762
Tour Guide
Whing Fernandez. +639095008300 | Facebook
Tricycle Driver
Erwin. Number to Follow

Season

We scheduled our trip on the first week of December 2018. As with most beaches in the country, the year end is the off season. People generally go to beaches during summer, that is, March to early May.

Panoramic view of Matukad Island, Caramoan, Camarines Sur, Philippines, taken from the north side of the east-facing beach
View from the northwest rock outcrop of Matukad Island

Visiting during this time is great, because it’s less crowded. You get whole islands to yourself, and it’s easy to book accommodation if you need it on the spot. I’d recommend it if you don’t mind dealing with the occasional rainfall and lots of island-hopping improvisation: choppy waves can make some islands off-limits.

Connectivity and other amenities

Cell signal is satisfactory in Caramoan, but connection can get spotty. Smart and Talk ‘N Text have a stronger signal and more users: 3G . I got along fine with Globe. The signal is actually better in the islands than in town — we actually got 3G while camping.

Drinking water is easy to come by in the bayan or municipal center. There are a few water filtration providers; there’s one in Barangay Paniman, near the beach. You can save a few pesos by bringing your own refillable containers. Stock up on water before island hopping or camping.

Stores and diners are easily available: the town center has a market for fresh ingredients and several convenience stores. It’s not hard to find places to eat.

Banks are in short supply. There are a UCPB and a Banco De Oro ATM in the bayan. When we got there, the BDO ATM was offline or being repaired. Pro tip: as much as possible, don’t do your banking in remote places.

A Catholic church can also be found in town. But with the rush to leave on our last day, we weren’t able to get up close to St. Michael the Archangel Church. It’s a pleasingly symmetrical red brick structure on a well-kept grassy courtyard. Quite honestly, it’s one of the prettiest old churches I’ve seen, maybe because of its bright color.

Places to stay range from very cheap transient guest rooms (₱500-₱1500 perhaps) to beautiful resort villas (in the ₱10,000’s). They are very easy to find during the off season, but locals warn us that’s not the case in the summer: during the peak season, it’s best to pre-book lodgings.

Transportation

How to get to Caramoan from Manila? We booked round-trip tickets from Peñafrancia Tours, three weeks ahead of time. You can check their schedules and book online, too. However, what we did was buy tickets in person at the Victory Liner Pasay Terminal. These were the only tickets we had to book in advance.

Manila to Caramoan

VehicleFromToRough duration
Bus – Penafrancia BusVictory Liner Pasay Terminal, Pasay City, Metro ManilaBicol Central Station, Naga City, Bicol10 hours
TricycleBicol Central StationUV Express Terminal near St. Joseph, Naga5 minutes
VanUV Express TerminalSabang Port1 hour 30 minutes
BoatSabang PortGuijalo Port1.5 – 2 hours
TricycleGuijalo PortCaramoan town center and Barangay Paniman20-30 minutes

Caramoan to Manila

VehicleFromToRough duration
TricycleBarangay PanimanCaramoan town center15-ish minutes
Bus – SuperlinesCaramoan town centerBicol Central Station, Naga City6 hours
Bus – Penafrancia BusBicol Central StationAlabang Station / Victory Liner Pasay Terminal, Metro Manila9 hours

The Experience

The Penafrancia Bus with CR tickets cost us ₱800 per person, each way (so ₱1,600 total). It was comfortable. There are some La-Z-Boy type seats in front which cost around ₱300 more, but our seats were okay. You could recline them quite far, and there’s ample legroom. Ample legroom = Mao is 6’5″ and he was comfortable.

I also tried using the comfort room once on the way home. It was my first time to use a bus toilet, so I was scared it might be horrible. It wasn’t; I’ve seen worse plane toilets. It was rather shaky (of course); I had to hold on to this side rail so I wouldn’t bounce against the walls, or worse, the toilet bowl. There were a few mysterious buttons around and I had to try them all before finding the flush button. It’s near the sink, for some odd reason.

So we tried two ways of travelling between Naga and Caramoan. From Naga to Caramoan, we took a van and a boat. This took around three hours of travel, plus two hours of waiting/chilling in Sabang Port. From Caramoan to Naga, we simply took a bus, which took longer: six hours on the road. On the bright side, there were no transfers and less waiting time, plus it was cool and comfortable.

There was only one stopover on the way there and on the way back: McDonald’s Villa Escudero, Quezon Province.

The bus ride home probably took an hour less because we didn’t have to go through horrendous city traffic, like we did when setting out.

Other Options

  • Book bus rides from the Cubao or Ermita terminals instead of Pasay, if those are more convenient to you.
  • Drive. You can drive there on your own, but this involves roughly sixteen to twenty hours of travelling through remote, curving roads. If you’re up for a long road trip, this is a good way to make sure you have plenty of supplies — you’ll have a car to keep them in.
  • Fly. You can fly to Naga airport instead of taking the overnight bus like we did. The flight generally takes only 1 hour & 20 minutes, a whole nine hours shorter than our travel time. There are no direct flights from Manila to Caramoan, so you will still have to travel between Naga and Caramoan by land or sea.

Accommodation

As mentioned earlier, there are a variety of places to stay in Caramoan, from homely to luxurious; again, if it’s the peak season, pre-booking is a must. We opted to spend our first two nights camping, and our third night in a transient air-conditioned room for ₱1,500 near Paniman beach.

Panoramic view of Matukad Island, Caramoan, Camarines Sur, Philippines, taken from the southern rock outcrop of the east-facing beach
We camped under that canopy of trees!

We got to stay in Matukad Island because it’s not a busy season. Camping is free, and it gives you the best experience of a place. Instead of retiring to a hotel at the end of the day, we got to enjoy the beauty of the island all day, all night.

We just had to invest in our equipment and pack wisely, not to mention plan our meals and buy our food and water in advance. Here’s our list of camping essentials.

Itinerary

Caramoan travel itinerary
DateTimeActivity
Thursday, Nov. 298:00 PMDeparted from Victory Liner Pasay Terminal, by bus
Friday, Nov. 306:30 AMArrived at Bicol Central Station, Naga City; departed immediately by tricycle then van
9:00 AMArrived at Sabang Port, settled down to wait for a boat
11:00 AMDeparted from Sabang Port, by boat
12:30 PMArrived at Guijalo Port, Caramoan Peninsula
1:00 PMStopover at Caramoan bayan for lunch and water refill, by tricycle
2:00 PMIsland hopping “short tour” — islands nearer to Paniman
4:00 PMBoat left us on Matukad Island
Set up camp; cooked dinner before dark
NightfallAwesome stargazing + coffee + ukelele session
11:00 PMBedtime on the island. We were the only campers
Saturday, Dec. 14:30 AMWoke up because of a hard rainfall. Reinforced tent
6:00 AMWoke up to a beautiful sunrise
All dayExplored Matukad Island and relaxed all day
10:00 PMBedtime on the island. There was one other group of campers
Sunday, Dec. 25:30 AMWoke up and made breakfast
7:00 AMBroke camp. Kuya Whing + boat arrived to take us on the “long tour”
9:00 AMDropped off our belongings at a transient room in Brgy. Paniman
9:30 AMStarted the “long tour” — northern group of islands
5:00 PMGot back to Brgy. Paniman
7:00 PMDinner at Angie’s Place (yum)
10:00 PMBedtime in rented room
Monday, Dec. 37:30 AMWoke up and started to pack
9:00 AMTook tricycle to bayan
9:30 AMDeparted from Caramoan on bus
3:00 PMArrived in Naga City
Killed time at Starbucks and Bigg’s Diner
8:00 PMDeparted from Naga City on bus
Tuesday, Dec. 44:30 AMTouchdown Metro Manila. We get down at Alabang Station and Victory Liner Pasay Terminal

As you can see in the week-view calendar above, if you’re travelling by land from Metro Manila, you spend a lot of time travelling. That’s why we wanted to stay in Caramoan for longer than just two nights — because the travel time is basically two nights.

Budget

ItemCost/PersonCost/Group of 4
Bus Roundtrip Tickets₱1,600.00₱6,400.00
Groceries (for camping)₱500.00₱2,000.00
Tricycle from Bicol Central Station to UV Express terminal behind St. Joseph School, both in Naga₱12.50₱50.00
Van from Naga to Sabang Port₱120.00₱480.00
Boat from Sabang Port to Bikal Port₱150.00₱600.00
Tricycle from Bikal Port to Caramoan bayan (town proper) to Barangay Paniman *₱100.00₱400.00
Lunch at carinderia in Caramoan bayan₱84.50₱338.00
Water refill from water purifying station ⁑₱10.00₱40.00
Island hopping “short tour” including conveyance to Matukad island (Php500)₱500.00₱2,000.00
Buko (coconut), 4 pieces, in Matukad₱25.00₱100.00
Buko and ensaladang lato (seaweed salad) for 6 in Guinahoan ⁂₱50.00₱200.00
Spare change for the kids hanging out in Guinahoan ✢₱15.00₱60.00
Cotivas island fee₱12.50₱50.00
Island hopping “long tour”₱625.00₱2,500.00
Last night accommodation₱375.00₱1,500.00
2nd water refill from water purifying station₱10.00₱40.00
Dinner at Angie’s Place₱217.50₱870.00
Tricycle from Paniman to Caramoan bayan ❀₱100.00₱400.00
Bus from Caramoan to Naga City₱255.00₱1,020.00
Total₱4,762.00₱19,048.00

⁎ The tricycle only originally charged ₱150, one way. We thought it would be appropriate to add to this amount because Kuya Erwin really went the extra mile in helping us. He helped carry our bags, carried our 20L water container when it was refilled, showed us somewhere to eat and waited while we did, and put us in contact with a tour guide.
⁑ We brought our own 20L water container. It’s the blue 5-gallon one with the little faucet. We figured it would be possible to refill in the bayan and take the water to the island.
⁂ This includes snacks and drinks for our guide, Kuya Whing, and his companion.
✢ Kuya Whing told us the kids on that island were used to getting spare change from the tourists. They’d guide you up the hill and take your pictures, if you wanted. We gave three kids ₱20 each.
❀ Again, we paid more just to show our thanks. Kuya Erwin’s help was much more valuable.

We’re pretty satisfied with our budget/experience ratio (okay I made that up). It would have been a little cheaper if there were six of us instead of four. However, take note that exceeding that number might ramp up the cost again — six is the maximum number of tourists per boat for island hopping.

A Note on Safety

Before the trip, we were quite aware that earlier this year, in July, a little girl died after being stung by a box jellyfish in Sabitang Laya, Caramoan. I read somewhere that estimated death toll for box jellyfish is 20 to 40 people a year in the Philippines. In Australia, where box jellies are also common, a similar number of box jellyfish stings are reported annually — around 40 — but they only result in one death every three to four years.

The fact is, this is a remote place. The Philippines is full of remote places. Unfortunately, we’re very capital-centered; in a way, everything is in the cities. The provinces are just not very good places to find yourself in trouble. First aid knowledge is extremely elementary, even among the people who will guide you; hospitals are few and distant. Once you’re out of town, you’re on a total adventure.

n. adventure \əd-ˈven-chər \ an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks

The Caramoan Municipal Hospital’s Wikimapia entry calls it a “small, minimally funded hospital” with “no adequate facilities.” With all the tourists coming in and out, plus the fees that the Survivor series probably paid, there should probably at least be a medical helicopter.

Once you’re out of town, you’re on a total adventure.

So remember, everything you do, do at your own risk. The government can be held responsible, sure… if you’re hurt or if you die, that’s when they’ll say sorry and change things. Hold on tight to your life vest if you’re not a great swimmer; if you forget to wear it, you probably won’t be reminded. Bring your own vinegar (jellyfish first aid!) and other first aid items. If the guide says there might be sea venomous sea snakes at night, just get out of the damn water before sunset. Establish a group or buddy system. Hope and pray you’ll be okay. In short, survive. It’s going to be a while before things get better.


Story Time! Let’s start with the trip…

It’s almost 8:30PM, November 29th, Thursday. The bus is due to leave any second now, and I’m around 60% nerves because we aren’t all here yet. I think some chocolate milk would calm me down, but they only have water and sad warm cans of pineapple juice.

The traffic is especially bad today. S. already cancelled a few days ago, but M. and R. are still on the way. M. doesn’t make it; R. barely does — she sprints onto the bus when we’re already half in EDSA, lugging two big bags and a ukelele. So now, there’s only four of us on this trip instead of six. It’s a shame, but life goes on.

Friday, 6:30AM. November 30, 2018

Through the bus windows I can see Mt. Isarog. We stop at Bicol Central Terminal. Unceremoniously and sleepily, we get off, unload our things, and take a five-minute tricycle ride to a backstreet UV Express terminal. Here, we get on a van to Sabang Port.

The ride takes one to two hours. I’m a little hungry, but entertain myself with the scenery and listen to the lady beside me chatter on her phone in Bikolano.

9:30AM

Still hungry. We should have had breakfast at the terminal in Naga. Sabang Port is a small place. The waiting area is simply a roofed row of benches with public restrooms. There are only two trips for commuters to Caramoan, and the 7AM one has left. We’re waiting for the next one to come at eleven.

Friday, 12:30PM. November 30, 2018

We’ve been on the boat since 10:50AM. I’m counting the minutes, because I made the mistake of sitting too close to the engine for comfort. And perhaps I’m still a bit hungry and cranky and nervous, so fresh from the stresses of home.

The water is so blue and glittery. It’s sapphires and emeralds, it’s the gem of gods, it’s a shimmering Cinderella fabric, and my soul is soothed. I’m going to nod off again, but we pass some beautiful, light brown beaches. We see an island, perfectly round and compact, with a circle of sand, rock, and forest on top. Like a cupcake.

Then the islands begin to rise. The hills of Caramoan are so very green, carpeted with grass that ripples soft and silver in the sun. Slightly disturbingly, I’m reminded of the world where the Teletubbies live, except that looked like a golf course and this looks like heaven.

Day 1: Paniman and Matukad

A little after lunchtime, just a few minutes before I get officially seasick, we dock at Guijalo Port.

Main road of Caramoan, Philippines

Hills and forests…

The scenery is exceedingly pretty, the type of tropical pastoral stuff we learn to draw in kindergarten. Except here in Bicolandia, it’s real and before our eyes.

We get on a large tricycle, which takes us to the Caramoan bayan. Along the way we ask our driver where we could possibly have lunch, have our water container filled, withdraw some cash, and find a boat. Just in case he knows.

On a tricycle on the main road of Caramoan, Philippines

Zipping through the main road

From our southern starting point, Guijalo Port, we travel up across the bayan of Caramoan. Then it’s on to Barangay Paniman on the northern shore, the little town closest to the seaside where the adventures begin.

Our driver, Kuya Erwin, is a lifesaver. He shows us a good carinderia for lunch (we invite him, but he says he’s already eaten). We have our water container refilled, and he even carries it back to the tricycle for us. There’s a BDO ATM (offline) and a UCPB ATM (online) where R. withdraws some cash. (My personal credo is, don’t do banking far away from the city. Haha.) Kuya Erwin also calls someone up, and by the time we get to Paniman beach, a guide is ready and waiting.

Boats waiting in Paniman Beach, Barangay Paniman, Caramoan, Bicol, Philippines
Brown-sanded Paniman beach is the jumpoff point for many island adventures

We plan out the next few days with advice from our now-guide Kuya Whing. The strategy is: short island tour today, then set up camp at whichever island he’d leave us on; we’d chill all day tomorrow (Saturday); on Sunday, break camp, Kuya Whing would come back for us, then we’d do the long tour (farther group of islands); Sunday night, set up camp on Paniman beach, then start for home on Monday morning. (We don’t end up camping on Paniman on the third night; we get a room, haha.)

We set off on the “short tour,” and the scenery is fabulous.

Island hopping in Caramoan, Philippines

Finally, not wanting to be too late to set up camp and make dinner, we return to Matukad (which was the first island we visited) and start getting settled.

Island hopping in Caramoan. We tourists are shielding our eyes against the afternoon sun.
Matukad beach, Caramoan, Philippines
Matukad is a playground!
Camping by the beach in Caramoan, Philippines. Matukad Island

Off-peak privileges.

We set up camp on Matukad Island, something that isn’t normally allowed during the peak season — it’s too much of a tourist draw for its soft white sand, proximity to the town, hidden lagoon, and shores ideal for swimming.

We have two sleeping tents plus one bivouac-type shelter. Tips: Look out for crows, fireflies, butterflies, and cute crabs. Beware mosquitoes, ants, and occasional wasps.

We set up our tents, make dinner, and make ourselves comfortable. We take out the ukelele R. brought, try to sing the Campfire Song Song. Soon enough, night falls. The beach faces east, and there are limestone cliffs towering behind us mysteriously; there’s no real sunset view to speak of. The last tourists get on their boats, which speed away. We’re alone, and it’s getting dark.

Matukad at Night

The stars are more brilliant than I could have wished for. In a few weeks, back in the city, the true image will slip easily away from me. There are no night skies like this in Manila.

Starry night sky with Milky Way as seen from Matukad Island, Caramoan, Philippines
Brilliant night skies over Matukad Island

If a faint vestige of the Milky Way’s Great Rift is visible here via long exposure, it’s probably just the tail end. The Milky Way is best seen from the Philippines in summer.

I’m far away from home for the first time in what feels like forever. There’s no knowing how beautiful a place is until you’re there. But imagine a scene from a movie, where the hero is running as fast as possible away from the explosions and the bad guys. Finally, he’s free. He breathes a sigh of relief — it’s a happy ending — but the adrenaline drains away, and he crumples up in pain as he realizes he’s been shot in the leg.

Starry night sky as seen from Matukad Island, Caramoan, Philippines
It’s getting cloudy!

In short, I’ve been powering through the past couple of years. Not complaining; it’s been good. But the fact that things have gotten okay enough for me to be on vacation now… it’s like the injured hero in the middle of his happy ending. And, if instead of celebrating, I feel like panicking, maybe that’s only to be understood.

I’m far away from home for the first time in what feels like forever. There’s no knowing how beautiful a place is until you’re there.

I can’t sleep even when it’s three AM, and a glaring silver chip of a half-moon paints the island paper white. I don’t sleep until it’s almost five, after a hard rain falls and the wind almost rolls our tent over. And when I wake up after sunrise, it’s like the moonlight and rain has given me adequate rest and serenity. No, really, like a whole night’s sleep, a bottle of wine without the hangover, and about three days of meditation.

Day 2: Magical Milkfish

CJ brought a few cans of butane and a very small portable stove. After splashing around in the water a bit, we start making breakfast.

Cooking and camping in Caramoan.
Looks messy now, but I promise we left the island cleaner than we found it! We’re feeling very much at home with our bedrooms, kitchen, and legit sampayan.

R. heats the oil for the danggit; the boys start cooking the rice, and I chop up some garlic and onions with a pocketknife for the corned beef.

Tourists come and go, buko sellers arrive, and it rains on and off all day. CJ has hung a hammock by our little campsite, so it’s super cozy.

After lunching and resting, R. and I go off to look for the way to the hidden lagoon — we’d heard that there was one we could swim to. We ask the buko seller, and she points us to the north end of the beach.

We stand there wondering where to go. There’s nothing but the shore and a limestone cliff, two to three stories high. We ask the buko seller again. She tells us that the hidden lagoon you can swim to is in Pitugo Island. The lagoon here in Matukad, you have to climb to see.

Sure enough, we see a group of people nervously but happily negotiating their way down what looks like the sheer rock face before us. We go get Mao, and we climb up, up, up, holding on for dear life to crevices and branches. It’s not too hard a climb, but you have to be super mindful of where you put your hands and feet. Totally at your own risk, but we’re all the way here, so…

It’s high noon, and quite hot. But the scenery is very much worth sweating for.

Matukad Island, Caramoan, Philippines: a bird's eye view
We climb up to see the lagoon, and this is the view from northern limestone formation.

The limestone cliffs are like walls. Once we’re up, it’s downhill again. Pictured above is the view from behind us, the beach we just left. Below is the lagoon in front of us.

We climb up, up, up, holding on for dear life to crevices and branches.

Hidden lagoon, Matukad Island, Caramoan, Philippines

It can’t be that deep, and while the water is clear, it’s full of algae. Mao and CJ (who climbs up after we do) see a pair of large fish swimming together. They say the fish are pretty big, about child-size. CJ tells us he heard there’s tilapia here, but later we learn that it’s actually bangus, or milkfish. In the picture they took above, it looks like the fish are camouflaged near the bottom right of the picture, but it could be algae.

We learn that it’s bangus later on, after a small watery misadventure. Our fresh water supply, being halfway finished, is wedged in a tree. Since it’s gotten lighter, a gust of wind could knock it down, and that’s what happens. We lose most of the water, and we hear a few tourists snacking nearby say “Oh, shit.” Indeed. We try catching rainwater from a sudden squall using a clean garbage bag, but… yeah, it doesn’t work that well.

Speaking of that passing squall, we also take advantage of the rain by bathing in it. When the rain stops, we rinse off just beside our campsite with salt water. Yes, it’s salt water again, but at least we’ve shampooed and soaped…

Before we finally call Kuya Whing to ask him to bring us extra water before the long tour tomorrow morning, he arrives that afternoon aboard the “Paniman Express” with another group of tourists. Anticipating that we might need more, he’s brought us another batch of fresh water.

Hidden lagoon in Matukad Island, Caramoan, Philippines

Can’t see anything from here…

Maybe the engkanta who lives here doesn’t want to show us girls her pet fish today. My Piscean self would really like to pay another visit, take a closer look, and say hello to the fish couple.

Not only that, he also tell us a story. It’s bangus, not tilapia, and as far as they know, there have only been two fish in this lagoon for forty years. No more. And they always swim together.

But not always always. In the not-so-distant past, someone took one of the fish, presumably to eat it. Within a year, the man’s family all sickened and died. I forget whether he died, as well.

So one gigantic bangus was left swimming in the Matukad lagoon. A few years later, people noticed there was a new bangus, just a little smaller than the other. They were swimming together again, never more than two.

Kuya Whing says he doesn’t necessarily believe in paranormal stuff, but what happened after to the man who took the fish, it just happened. Regardless of what the locals believe or not, who’s about to try the same thing? In the first place, it would be quite unnecessary. It’s also a hell of a hard place to fish. Plus, our old folks, hearing this story, remarked that bangus that big and old wouldn’t taste so good.

So, any way you cut it, there’s no earthly reason to take a child-sized milkfish, only one of a pair, away from Matukad Island. Some things are meant to be left alone and enjoyed where they are. This paradise is one of them.

White sand of Matukad Beach, Matukad Island, Caramoan, Camarines Sur, Bicol, Philippines
The limestone outcrop (left) creates a southern mini-beach. It’s fun to lie in the middle, waves crashing on either side. This is where we listened as Kuya Whing told us the story of the enchanted bangus.
Matukad Beach, Matukad Island, Caramoan, Camarines Sur, Bicol, Philippines
This is the view from the limestone outcrop in the previous photo.
Still sitting atop the limestone formation, taking a look at the islands beyond.
White sand of Matukad Beach, Matukad Island, Caramoan, Camarines Sur, Bicol, Philippines
R. is trying to get our absent friends on video call.
Climbing the limestone formations on Matukad Beach, Matukad Island, Caramoan, Camarines Sur, Bicol, Philippines
The cameraman’s gone down, but this guy’s still up there…
Sunset, Matukad Island, Caramoan, Philippines
The long, delicious day is ending.

On our second night, we’re joined by another group of campers. They’ve got a drone, so I bet their pictures are amazing. They’re a big group, but a little older than us, so they’re not super rowdy; late at night they set up a table on the beach and share a few beers. A few fireflies hover in the trees, above the campsite.

Mao and I lie on a tarp a little distance away, listening to the funny croaking sound of crabs under the sand.

The other two have fallen asleep after a bit of rain interrupted our ukelele session. A grasshopper who seemed fascinated with the music hung out with us, and even tried to get in CJ’s tent with him, but got kicked out. It then sat just outside our tents for a while.

Mao and I lie on a tarp a little distance away, listening to the funny croaking sound of crabs under the sand. (Yes, they make weird kkkkkkkk kinda sounds.)

Day 3: Pacific View

The sun rises on Sunday, the 2nd of December. At seven in the morning, the Paniman Express arrives to fetch us. We break camp and have a quick breakfast and some instant coffee.

It’s such a hassle to pack up, we’re not looking forward to setting up a campsite again this evening among the boats on Paniman beach. Kuya Whing suggests we stay at his brother’s rental tonight, since we’re leaving tomorrow. Yup, good idea. We agree.

First, we go to Lahos Island, which is only a few minutes east (we could see it the whole time). The sand there isn’t as fine as Matukad’s, but the limestones are taller and more imposing. And the best part is, the island is basically a sandbar connecting two big rock formations. The east and west sides are completely open, making it ideal for watching sunrises and sunsets.

Sunday, 9AM, December 2, 2018

We check into a room in Barangay Paniman, not two minutes away from the beach. It’s clean, with air conditioning and a TV and two twin-sized beds and a couch and an okay bathroom. We refill our water supplies yet again, and this time it’s a relief that we’ve got different fresh water for drinking and running water for cleaning up. Oh, the little things.

Well, we freshen up, and at 9:30AM, we set off for the “long tour.” It’s called the long tour, and is more expensive, because it features more islands, and because the nearest destination is more than an hour away from the main peninsula.

Manlawi sandbar, Caramoan, Bicol, Philippines
Manlawi beach: Sandbars are cool, but I love the huge stretches of shallow water even better.

There may be a “long tour” and a “short tour,” but those simply aren’t enough. The whole area is simply dotted with islands. There are islands you can’t get to because the waves are too choppy; there are islands you can’t get to for lack of time. Caramoan may be worth a quick visit, but really, there’s so much more to see than can be fit into a few days.

Limestone formations, Caramoan, Bicol, Philippines

Before the trip, I made a list of the islands I most wanted to see.

But there are just a lot of options, and like I said, seeing them would still depend on time and weather (and Survivor productions). So I gave that list up. No one island is a must-see; all I know is it’s worth seeing every single one. Leave it to your guide and just let things happen as they happen.

Little archways like these usually have sudden dips, so watch your step.

That said, I won’t be outlining all the islands we’re visiting on the long tour. We spend most of our time, though, hanging out in Guinahoan, the island farthest north.

The lighthouse on the high point of the island is called the Guinahoan Lighthouse, that much is a certainty. But on Google Maps, the island’s name is Basot. I don’t know which is correct, so for know, I’m calling it Guinahoan, like everyone seems to do.

Buko and lato in Caramoan. Coconut juice and seaweed salad.

Snacks on Guinahoan: buko and lató!

After we drink the buko juice, the buko guy chops it in half so we can eat the meat, and cuts out a shard of the fruit that we can use as a scraper.

Lató is the seaweed that people call sea grapes. It’s more of a side dish, so eating it has me hungry for meat and rice. But it’s delicious by itself, ensalada in spicy vinegar with tomatoes and onions… damn.

Boy and chicken in Caramoan

It’s a pet chicken. It’s really a pet chicken.

R. took this picture of a little boy and his pet chicken. He was throwing it at a few dogs, screaming “Manok! Manok!” while the chicken flapped around, and the dogs stared undisturbed.

When the boy put it down and let it go, it just stood there and even followed him around. We even pet it. I hope they don’t end up eating it, I guess?

They probably will.

The way to the lighthouse is up a long, winding path… it’s great that there’s a path.
View of the pacific from Guinahoan island, Caramoan, Philippines
View of the Pacific from near the lighthouse at Guinahoan Island
The shores of Guinahoan Island or Basot Island, Caramoan, Philippines
A cow in Guinahoan Island or Basot Island, Caramoan, Philippines
The ocean view from the top of Guinahoan Island or Basot Island, Caramoan, Philippines

After Guinahoan, we go to a few other islands including white-sanded Cotivas and Survivor-famous Sabitang Laya, cut through a fascinating mangrove forest, and swim at a sadly rather brown coral reef. The schools of little fish are active, and inquisitive, and so very colorful and shimmery.

And then it’s late afternoon, and we head back to Barangay Paniman. After indulging in the pleasures of running water and nice dry clothes, we have dinner at this wonderful little restaurant, Angie’s Place. It’s right by the beach next to a few souvenir shops; not hard to miss. With its pretty interiors, and reputation for “where the Survivor producers go to eat,” it’s probably the closest to fine dining you can get in Paniman, and it’s not expensive, either.

We ask Kuya Whing for recommendations, and he tells us to try the laing. Of course, being in Bicol we had to have the Bicol Express, too. Both dishes use coconut milk, and this must be a coconut wonderland, because the food is heavenly. We also have stuffed grilled squid, and share a huge bowl of warm, fragrant rice.

Supremely happy, with bellies full and souls sated, we head back to our room, where, too tired to talk for too long, we all fall asleep.

It’s time to go home.

Monday morning, December 3. We have a long journey ahead. Remembering the long wait and the hot ride, we decide not to take the boat back to Sabang Port on the way to Naga. This time, we take the bus, which would cost us much the same as the boat and the van rides combined. And though the ride is longer, it’s only one trip and it’s more comfortable. (Pro tip: if you plan to sleep on the bus trip from Caramoan to Naga, sit on the right side. But if you don’t want to miss a wonderful view of jewel-like shores, forests, and mountains, sit by the window on the left.)

It’s mid-afternoon when we get to Naga, and we hang out for a while at a Starbucks and a Bigg’s Diner (a Bicolano food chain; we don’t have a Bigg’s in Manila).

At eight, we board the Peñafrancia bus. At around 1:30AM, we sleepily have coffee at the stopover, which is a McDonald’s in Villa Escudero, Quezon Province.

4AM, Tuesday. December 4, 2018

Mao and I get off when the bus stops in Alabang Station; it’s closer to home than the Pasay terminal. It is the most gratifying thing to be back at home, welcomed by our family of cats.


The landscapes I dream of (literally dream of) the most are ones of huge rocks and water. They seem to me the purest places in the world. As I see more of my country, though, I realize that it’s a distinctly tropical, archipelagic, Filipino landscape. In other words, it’s home. I dream, all the time, of home.

Hopefully, we’ll be able to return to Caramoan, stay for a longer time, and take with us the two guys who weren’t able to make it to this trip. ★

Categories: Out of Town

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