Catanduanes: How We Best Experienced Christmastime


Christmastime in Catanduanes goes beyond its famous white sand beaches, majestic surfing waves and mountainous terrains.

I met Owen during my first job. She was this spunky girl who was your definition of a “strong, independent woman”. Owen is currently taking up her Master’s in International Studies and recently transferred to a field only for the brave – national defense. What’s more is that she hails from Catanduanes, an island at the east of the Philippines typically known for raging typhoons.

Back when we were officemates, I was already eager to come home with her. December was her homecoming month, but with Christmas parties and holiday reunions, it took us years to finally get on the bus together. 2015 was that year. Here’s what made a difference in our pre-Christmas Catanduanes trip:

We took the bus to Catanduanes

It is a much easier option to purchase flight tickets to Catanduanes than endure the chilly, pain-in-the-arse bus ride and the seasick-inducing ferry ride to the island. A total of 38 hours of our lives was spent on a road trip, back and forth.

Still, we chose land travel for the adventure, and also because local flights during the holidays are hardly reliable. Owen related how a number of her kababayan almost missed Christmas last year because of delayed flights. Our reward? We got a short before-sunrise tour to Tabaco Church and got to see Mt. Mayon!

Stayed with a family

From day one, Owen’s dad picked us up from our bus stop using his decades-old tricycle, which once had served as her sisters’ school ride. The main means of transportation around the island is via this three-wheeled ride. It’s quite actually difficult to get around Catanduanes by commute, making it an imperative to hire a tricycle for a tour. In our case, and in his excitement to entertain holiday guests, Tito already prepared the logistics and an itinerary for us — one that even Owen isn’t aware of!

CatanduanesThe Tatads also let us stay at their own house, allowed us to help in the kitchen, and toured us around like homecoming VIPs. Tito even invited us for dinner at their relatives’ house, while Owen let us to tag along her high school reunion. I was really thankful for them. Our Catanduanes trip wouldn’t have been this unique if they didn’t open the doors for us.

Listened to Simbang Gabi (even if we didn’t understand a word!)

In our short stay in Bicol Region, we witnessed two Simbang Gabi’s a row. Also known as “Rooster’s Mass”, the Simbang Gabi is part of the Philippine tradition to attend nine Catholic masses before Christmas Day. The masses are usually celebrated before sunrise.

Our first Simbang Gabi was in Albay. Since our bus arrived at 4AM and our ferry boarding isn’t until 6AM, we hailed the sikad-sikad (pedicab) outside the Tabaco Port to take us to Tabaco Church. The plaza was teeming with young and old people. Not to mention, with food stalls in which we bought street pancakes and taho.Virac CathedralOur second Simbang Gabi was in Virac Cathedral. Tito woke us up promptly at 3:30AM and took us with his tricycle to church. Tagalogs like us didn’t understand a word, of course. But I listened keenly to hymns sung in a new language. On our way home, we bought a bag of freshly baked pandesal.

Another tradition we witnessed was kagharong, a Christmas carol sang door to door. The holy family knocks on houses and asks to have a place to stay, while the choir of villagers sing to them that they are not allowed in the place. These are also sung in the local language.Kagharong

Attended the Christmas Cheers

The Christmas Cheers is a weeklong annual event participated in by students from all over Catanduanes. They usually perform song and dance numbers, and other creative shows for the audience. There are also food stalls and bars set up on the opposite side of the plaza (Thus, the “cheers” in Christmas Cheers?).CatanduanesThis event was where the balikbayan, locals who have just returned to their hometown, meet and drink. Owen introduced us to her high school friends, who likewise reminisced the rite of passage that is to perform at Christmas Cheers, and noted the improvements in their hometown. Though they have careers in the city, these young breed of Catandunganons always make it a point to be home for the holidays.

Gone on a Roadtrip to Balacay Point

On our second day in Catanduanes, Tito surprised us by arranging for his nephew-in-law to drive us to the highest point in the island located in Baras town. The van was a comfy customized five-seater in which we sat back and enjoy the view from the windows. Pag-asa Radar StationThe town of Baras was a long drive from Virac, but it was also their first time to go to Balacay Point. On our way, we stopped by Bato Church, the oldest church in the province built from coral stones, and passed by PAG-ASA Radar Station which monitors the weather in the east-most coast of the Philippines.

Balacay Point has a newly constructed concrete road. What welcomed us at its peak was a sight similar to the rolling hills of Batanes, only with the Pacific Ocean at the horizon stretching to infinity! At this vantage point, we also saw the famous “majestic” waves of Puraran Beach.Balacay Point

Warmed up the December winds at Puraran Beach

 Our final destination was the Majestic Puraran Beach. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to surf because the swell wasn’t that good at the time, and we were literally the only ones on its beige shores. Puraran Beach sands are white with a mixture of fine and rocky sands, rockier at the shallow parts of the beach. A wannabe Puraran surfer needed to get a bit farther to catch the waves.

Instead of surfing, we waded in chest-deep water, having fits of laughter over rolling waves, trying to learn how to duck-dive and relishing the mild currents of the Pacific Ocean. We also allowed ourselves to get a little tanned by the floating buoy-dock. By the time we climbed ashore, our home-cooked lunch was already laid out, together with bottles of beer.

Our road trip to Catanduanes was worth it, even if we stayed only a total of two days. Catanduanes was a beauty to come home to, with its mountainous islands and its sandy beaches, rolling hills and howling winds. Best of all, the Catanduangon Christmas spirit and hospitality made our trip a lot more special. No wonder its locals, no matter which cities the travel to, keep coming back home.

How to commute to Catanduanes: Purchase tickets in advance at RSL Bus Line (PHP 825). It’s important to remember your bus number, as there will be about three stop-overs before you arrival at the port. Upon arrival at Tabaco Port in Albay, line up to purchase your ferry tickets (PHP 220) and pay the terminal fee (PHP 30). Wait for the boarding of your bus to the ferry. Upon arrival at Catanduanes, look for your bus and ride until you get to your place of stay.


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  • Reply
    December 8, 2016 at 10:24 PM

    I believe I would love to travel here one day. I’m so happy that you wrote a little bit about how they celebrate christmas. I’m going to write another article of how different people celebrate christmas around the globe. I love the Mt. Mayon picture and the picture of the 3 wheel ride. Thank you for sharing those pictures. I could see that you really enjoyed your trip. Merry Christmas to you =)

  • Reply
    Milton Coyne
    February 22, 2016 at 1:30 AM

    I have never been to Catanduanes and I never thought that this place is also a paradise.. how come it is rarely featured in travel shows ( or maybe I’m not just really aware of it). One thing that attracts me to a place is when it is unspoiled.. and this one looks like it…. the fewer the people the better hehe!
    I really love all your photos
    thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    January 13, 2016 at 11:05 AM

    That was such an amazing adventure! I’ve never been to Catanduanes. There’s so many things to explore there. You’re so luck to know a family there who could take you around.

  • Reply
    jennie villanueva
    January 12, 2016 at 10:35 AM

    Oh great photos, i am so jealous I haven’t been to Catanduanes. Reading through your post however is like getting a visual tour already.. What a way to promote the province….Great post!

  • Reply
    January 12, 2016 at 9:46 AM

    Woahh… what an amazing place it is! It so nice to experience and interact with different people with different culture. Bookmarking this post for future references.

  • Reply
    January 12, 2016 at 9:25 AM

    Owen is her name? So cool! I thought at first you had a typo error, then I realized Owen is indeed a girl haha…

    Anyway, I’ve never been to Catanduanes, I didn’t know it has rolling hills reminiscent of Batanes. It’s so picture perfect! I’d love to get myself there and I’d probably pick the land travel too.

    • Reply
      Samantha Coronado
      January 27, 2016 at 1:32 PM

      I actually love her name! Boyish names for girls 😉 Thank you! I’m glad you’ll try land travel. Just get those Bonamin pills ready for the ro-ro. Haha.

  • Reply
    January 12, 2016 at 1:17 AM

    Wow. Our country never seizes to amaze me. Catanduanes is such a beaut. Thank you so much for sharing this! Once na grumaduate ako ng college at sumusweldo nako ng maayos pupunta ako dito. 🙂

    Lester |

  • Reply
    Heena Dhedhi
    January 12, 2016 at 1:05 AM

    Looks like a great place and am sure you had a great time. Love all the photos,
    – Heena,

  • Reply
    January 11, 2016 at 11:44 PM

    The longest bus ride I had was 12 hours going to Pagudpod. We did not notice the long hours because it was in the middle of the night so me and my friend were sleeping the entire travel. Now after reading this, I badly want to go to Catanduanes! Thanks for sharing your awesome pics! 🙂

  • Reply
    leo kevin mendiola
    January 11, 2016 at 10:29 PM

    Beautiful photos. I wish I could visit catanduanes too the soonest. 🙂

  • Reply
    Louise ღ (@louisechelle)
    January 11, 2016 at 6:22 PM

    My grandfather is from Catanduanes and we keep asking him to take us there. And even though we bug him, it was only because we wanted to meet our family there. Never thought that there’s actually beautiful sites and other activities we can do there! Probably because its where typhoons usually hit first, I really never thought there’d be great views similar to Batanes! I will be bugging my lolo more now. Haha.

    ❤ Louise |

  • Reply
    January 11, 2016 at 6:06 PM

    The Philippines has definitely a lot more to offer. Hidden gems like this makes me regret not to explore the motherland before moving overseas! I really like what you’re going for on this blog. 🙂
    Rey | MODMENCO

  • Reply
    January 11, 2016 at 6:05 PM

    The Philippines has definitely a lot more to offer. Hidden gems like this makes me regret not to explore the motherland before moving overseas! I really like what you’re going for on this blog. 🙂


  • Reply
    Janine Ella
    January 11, 2016 at 5:02 PM

    Oh my Catanduanes is paradise! If I were to choose between flying and taking the bus, I’d go for the latter too! Adventure! Haha. Wish I could spend Christmas at a far place one day!

  • Reply
    aika loraine
    January 11, 2016 at 4:23 PM

    I would be willing to travel 38 hours to experienc wat you have just experienced. If only i can travel to different provinces and swim to the beaches everyday! Question. I hope you dont mind how much did you spend all in all for the travel fees?

  • Reply
    January 11, 2016 at 4:17 PM

    What beautiful pictures of a beautiful place! I would love to spend a few days exploring this place with my family

  • Reply
    January 11, 2016 at 1:13 AM

    38 hours seems like forever but Catanduanes looks really naturally rich. The wide greenery reminds me of Batanes.

  • Reply
    January 9, 2016 at 10:42 PM

    I love the pictures and the whole post itself. The place is soooo beautiful. 🙂 I have a question though, where is the RSL Bus Line? Thank youuuu. Bookmarking this for future reference <3

  • Reply
    January 7, 2016 at 7:00 PM

    When I saw the featured image, I initially thought it was Batanes! A reason to visit Catanduanes. 🙂

    • Reply
      Samantha Coronado
      January 8, 2016 at 9:48 AM

      True! I think it’s a newer tourist attraction in the islands. We were the only ones on top, and I didn’t find it at Trip Advisor. Lemme know if you end up there Kat! 🙂

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