The fact that the road to Caramoan ain’t for the fainthearted makes its beauty all the more raw and untainted.
Earlier in August, I won a sponsored trip to Caramoan Islands from TravelBookPH as a blogger affiliate contest winner.
I was so thrilled about this trip that I asked to cancel a year-in-the-making trip to Dumaguete with my boyfriend for our anniversary. He understood, after all, he has dated a girl who travels for two years. It’s not every day that followyouroad wins in an online contest!
Caramoan Islands’ claim-to-fame is the international reality TV series, The Survivor. Together with fellow travel bloggers, none of whom I have met before, we found island experience was kind of the same. A sponsored trip to remote islands with a bunch of strangers… Just how Survivor-esque could this trip be? Here’s why:
Read the winning entry that took me here!
Caramoan Challenge #1 The Neck-Breaking Drive to Remote Islands
Located in Camarines Sur in Bicol Region, the road to Caramoan was indeed for Survivors. Our tribe passed through the vomit-inducing trail of Bituka ng Manok. Had frequent piss breaks at less-than-hygienic gas station loos. Not to mention, experienced sleeplessness throughout the back-breaking ride. It really reminded me of my Catanduanes trip, as both are in the far east side of Luzon.
But once our feet landed on the powdery white sands of the islands, all the queasiness broke free. In a second, we realized why the producers of the reality TV Series Survivor had a penchant for Caramoan Islands. As French TV director Corinne Valliant said, “We chose Caramoan because it’s really wild. It’s necessary that contestants don’t see anything other than nature for them to believe that they’re really lost in the wilds.”
And in the wild, we were. Despite its celebrity-status, Caramoan is far more deserted than other beaches. Even on a long weekend holiday, there is an absence of huge crowds. Perhaps we owed it to the remoteness of Camarines Sur, or the saturation of beautiful beaches here that guests can visit.
Caramoan Challenge #2 Beware of the Bangus
It’s easy to think that a trip to Caramoan Islands will be mostly about eating Bicolano food and island hopping. But take a clue, because there is an island whose name literally means, “to climb”. Matukad Island, one of the most frequently visited of the Caramoan cluster, also holds the tale of the two mystical milkfish (bangus in Filipino).
Taking on the vertical challenge, we perched ourselves atop the jagged limestone rocks, leaving my knees with scratches and bruises. From the rockies, the bangus can already be seen from the hidden lagoon below. But don’t think about catching the mystical milkfish for lunch! Legend has it that its pair has once been speared and devoured by a fisherman, leading to his untimely death…
We’ll have laing, ginataang alimasag and Bicol express anytime.
Caramoan Challenge #3 The Disappearing Manlawi Sandbar
Caramoan Islands is apparently the go-to place for sandbar loving island girls who’d like to take wanderlust-inspired #OOTDs. In fact, its Manlawi Sandbar and Cotivas Sandbar have been named one of the best sandbars in the Philippines! These beauties feature rippled white sand shores that get submerged at around noontime, during the high tide.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see Manlawi Sandbar in its full glory because of the high tide. Instead, what greeted us were the floating cottages made of bamboo and shallow water hiding the sandbar underneath. And food! Fishermen would stop at each cottage to offer coconuts, halo-halo, and mais con yelo.
Caramoan Challenge #4 Find the Lost Sea Turtles and Poisonous Sea Snakes
Caramoan Islands has one of the strangest name origins.
Initially, the area where locals lived was called Gota de Leche by Dutch traders. It means drop of milk because of the white stalactites found in the port area. Upon the arrival of the Spaniards, it was renamed to “Carahan”, the name of the indigenous sea turtles in the area. Strange enough, we never saw a single pawikan on the beach. Not even one! Where have they gone?
In its place are the frequent warnings of walo-walo or highly poisonous sea kraits lurking beneath the tropical waters. Its local name meaning “eight” was derived from a local story that the snake’s venom is so lethal, bitten victims die within 8 seconds (!). They are usually found among mangroves and corals rocks. Years ago, the sightings of the walo-walo have been reported from Lahos Island and Sabitang Laya Island. But thankfully, we were able to spot nothing during our trip.
I can totally imagine Survivor cameramen going for a close up on one, though.
Caramoan Challenge #5 The 360-degree Lighthouse View
Often dubbed as the Batanes of Camarines Sur, Guinahoan Island is beautiful for two reasons.
It features the white shores and waves of Liwan Beach on one side, and grasslands leading to the hilltop Guinahoan Island Lighthouse on the other. Thankfully, our boat docked to the jump-off point of the hills. For a mountain-lover like me, after two days of white sand beaches and sea, it was refreshing to reconnect to the earth.
We passed through local villages thriving mainly through livestock and agriculture. Kids and cows alike graced our entrance. In just a five-minute hike, we were engulfed with the view of windswept grass glistening in the sunset and a bird’s eye view of distant islands. This has been one of my favorite parts of Caramoan Islands.
Don’t get too enamored by the sight, however, and watch your step for landmines (AKA cow dung)!
Caramoan Challenge #6 Beach, Please!
Compared to my other island hopping trips, the must-see islands of Caramoan are situated quite some distance from each other. As such, we are left with views of seascape and rock formations en route the islands. This just made us anticipate the white sand beaches we stopped over, each completely different from the other:
Lahos Island features a small clump of white sands between two limestone rocks, thus having two shores on opposite sides. During the high tide, it is said that the beach get submerged in water, as the waves from both directions meet in the middle! Lahos Island’s name either meant “lagoon” or “to vanish” (laho in Filipino).
Sabitang Laya Island is a large, triangular-shaped island with two-kilometer (!) stretch of white sand. It has been said that on the high tide, the entire island is divided by the sea into three, namely the main shores of Sabitang Laya, Bagting and Baliti.
Cagbanilad Island, on the other hand, is more known for snorkeling activities within its perimeter. Just a few meters away from Cagbanilad’s shore are corals and schools of fish!
Finally, there is the newbie Yupakit Island, managed by a local homestay, Al Del Rio Villa Resort. Its flat and peaceful shores are a mix of black and white sands and a sunset horizon that changes color from left to right. We heard that guests will be allowed to camp there soon.
By the end of our very own version of Survivor Caramoan: Travel Bloggers Edition, there emerged no “Sole Survivor”. We came home from paradise no longer as strangers, but as friends with good memories in paradise! Big thanks to TravelBook PH and Al Del Rio Homestay for our trip.
How to go to Caramoan Islands: For commuters, the recommended route is purely land travel. From Manila board the bus going to Bicol Central Station in Naga City via terminals of Raymond or Isarog (fare: PHP 650 – PHP 1000, travel time: 8 hours). From Naga City, board the bus to Caramoan via terminals of Florencia, Penafrancia, MRR or Raymond (travel time: 4 hours).
If you’re looking for where to stay in Caramoan Islands, read my review of Al Del Rio Villa Resort.
Best time to visit Caramoan Islands: The dry season from November to May are the best months to travel. The wet season makes island hopping more challenging for smaller boats. It also renders lower visibility for snorkeling activities. Prior to your trip, call local tourism to confirm if some islands are open for visiting, as Survivor crew sometimes close off parts of Caramoan Islands. It is also a VL-friendly destination, because a two-day trip is enough to cover most of the islands. Ask your tour operators or boatmen to visit sandbars and low-altitude islands first, such as sandbars, so you can see them in their full glory.