The search for the next Boracay: Calaguas, Camarines Norte
There is no restaurant in sight, no phone signal, and no electricity. But the place teaches you why having none of these can actually be a good thing.
Calaguas is a group of islands around 200 kilometers east of Manila. It can only be reached via boat from either the Vinzons or Paracale port in Daet, Camarines Norte.
You brave choppy waters aboard a motorized banca to get there. Waves can be rough so you are likely to get reminded to put on a safety vest at some point during your ride, which will include a pass-through of a portion of the Pacific Ocean.
Nearing the main island, you will see a couple of islets that have cream-colored sand. But the real treat is when your boat docks onto the Mahabang Buhangin -- a white sand beach about two kilometers from end-to-end -- and your feet touches the fine, powdery sand under the water as you disembark the boat. You won’t need aqua shoes or flip-flops here. The sand is that fine.
HOW TO GET THERE
The first decision point of your trip will be how to get to Vinzons or Paracale in Camarines Norte, one of the six provinces of Bicol or Region 5.
Boats from either ports will take you to the Calaguas group of islands and the hub, Mahabang Buhangin. Travel time, locals say, is shorter from Paracale by 30 minutes to an hour. Either way, be prepared for a two-hour boat ride to reach Calaguas.
Also consider this tip from the Camarines Norte provincial tourism office: Vinzons is nearer if you are coming from the Camarines Sur capital of Pili, or the Camarines Norte capital of Daet.
However, if you are traveling by bus from Manila, see if you can get a trip straight to Paracale. All you need is a tricycle going to the port when you get down from the bus.
Depending on how fast you drive, how familiar you are with the route, the weather, and the road condition, driving from Manila may take anywhere between six and nine hours.
Numerous blogs and Internet resources have documented road trips across Bicolandia; you will be served well to determine a route that works for you. Read up as well on places where it is good to stop for snacks or for using the bathroom. Waze may be helpful for an overview of your route, but it will not inform you of road closure or road diggings.
A fast route to Vinzons may be via Atimonan, Quezon. But there are stretches of unlighted roads, and there is the challenge of the Bitukang Manok – a seemingly endless zigzag road between Daet and Naga.
There are very sharp curves in this zigzag road, some parts are one-way because there are closed lanes due to road work, and it is generally dark.
Yield if you must, stay on your lane, and be grateful for the locals guiding motorists. It is customary to drop coins their way because they guide motorists when roads are narrow or when lanes are closed, and help light up an otherwise very treacherous and dark road.
You will have to leave your vehicle overnight on either the Vinzons or Paracale port where you will ride the boat, so it is a good idea to ask beforehand where you can park. Ask about the fees as well.
There are at least four bus lines plying the routes that will take you to Calaguas. Reservations are done by going to the bus station and buying your tickets. Phone inquiries are rarely entertained.
- DLTB Bus Company: This bus company has daily trips to Daet from its terminal in the LRT-Buendia, EDSA Pasay area. Regular air-conditioned buses leave 7:45 a.m., 7 p.m., 8:30 p.m., 9:30 p.m. Tickets may be bought in advance for these trips. There is a 9:30 p.m. first-class bus with a toilet, but it has only regular bus seats. The first-class bus with reclining chair leaves at 9:45 p.m. but this trip, along with others supposedly scheduled to leave at 11 a.m., 12 p.m., and 2:30 p.m. can only be booked on the day of departure itself.
- Superlines: The Superlines located in EDSA-Cubao, Quezon City has one bus with a toilet going to Daet. It leaves between 4 and 5 a.m., and the fare is P650. All other Daet-bound buses are regular-air-con. Priced at P515 per seat, the buses leave at 7:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m., and 12 a.m. One bus leaves for Paracale at 7:45 p.m. It is also regular-air-con, and costs P515 per seat.
- Philtranco and Amihan: The addresses https://www.phbus.com/philtranco-bus/ and https://www.phbus.com/amihan-bus/ point to supposed bus schedules of Philtranco and Amihan going to Daet. ABS-CBN News tried but failed to verify these entries.
If you get off at the Daet bus terminal via any of these buses, take an P8-tricycle ride going to the terminal of Daet-Vinzons jeep. Ride that jeep going to Vinzons for P20. Then ride a tricycle going to the Vinzons port for P8.
If you have arranged your trip with a tour agency or a resort in Calaguas, they will likely take care of your boat going to Calaguas, which usually comes in a package together with the food, accommodation, and cost of the guided tour activities. They will either tell you to show up at the port, and be ready to board the boat at a certain time, or they will arrange for a vehicle to pick you up upon your arrival at Daet or Naga. Some resorts are able to pick up tourists all the way from Manila.
There are commuter boats leaving Vinzons port to go Calaguas, but they do not seem to have a scheduled time. The Coast Guard, which has a small office near this port, said better to approach them or the nearby Tourism office if a visitor is unable to get a boat ride.
Vinzons boats can usually carry 25 to 35 passengers each. There are bigger boats in Paracale that can accommodate 70 people, the Coast Guard said. This is because Paracale is not usually as affected by low tide which prevents boats from coming near the shore.
Either way, traveling by boat is best done in the morning when the waves are not as choppy as they do midday or afternoon. Fare is about P250 per person.
You can charter a boat for a couple of thousands of pesos, but best to check first with the Coast Guard if this is in their list of those cleared for registration and franchise with the Maritime Industry Authority, and has insurance.
All boats are also required by the Coast Guard to submit a complete passenger manifest before leaving shore.
The nearest airport to Calaguas is in Naga, the Pili airport, where Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific have regular commercial flights.
Philippine Airlines also flies to Pili from Clark.
For those coming from Manila, Cebu Pacific flies to Naga every day at 5:40 a.m. The same plane, usually a 72-seater, goes back to and leaves for Manila at 7:35 a.m.
From the Pili airport, you may ride a bus to the Naga terminal, which collects P12 per person. From there, ride a tricycle to the LCC mall for P8. There is a terminal of vans there en route to Daet, which costs P180 to P200. Upon arrival in Daet, take the tricycle to go to port.
WHERE TO STAY
There are about 10 resorts and accommodation places in Mahabang Buhangin, with accommodations ranging from suites to tents.
The biggest is possibly the Calaguas Paradise Resort, which has a beachfront presidential suite consisting of a couple of adjoining rooms, dedicate toilet and bath, and an outdoor, enclosed seating area overlooking the beach. The suite could house up to four people, and costs P15,000 per night.
Other resorts like the Waling-Waling Ecovillage, White Sand, I Love Calaguas, and the ‘LGU area’ also offer a variety of room options, from rooms with double beds and electric fans, to cabanas, cottages and tents.
Toilet and bath options also vary. For those opting for a tent, the toilet is usually a shared facility.
Arranging to stay in a resort means agreeing to a package consisting of the transfer from the port to Calaguas, food and water, and the cost of the guided tour activities.
WHAT TO DO
There is no electricity in the island during the day. But the generator sets of the resorts run 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The device-dependent might want to stock up on charged power banks before crossing over to the island. But then, since there is also no signal anywhere in Calaguas, the only real use of those phones would be for taking pictures, or for consuming stored music, movies, or books.
Resort packages usually include island hopping or trekking. But this would usually be done by a couple of hours at most, because there are few islets to hop around in.
The best activities here would be swimming, hanging out by the powder-white sand, and snorkeling. Bring your own snorkeling gear, and be prepared to swim far out into the sea for a closer look at corals.
You can tell the seawater is clean because you can come out of the water, sun-dry a bit, maybe island-hop, have your clothes dry up on you, and all the while not feel the urge to hit the shower.
Among the most popular souvenir is the picture atop a hill on one of the islands at dawn, just as the sun is breaking. Either that or one where you have sand all over your back. Don’t forget these in your to-do list.
WHERE TO EAT
The resort will provide the food, and you can expect it to resemble a home-cooked meal.
Anything that says ‘laing’ or ‘sinantolan’ is usually spectacular. Shrimp and other seafood taste like they were literally fished out of the water and brought directly to the kitchen.
Fruits, especially the pineapple, are very good.
But some locals say the quality of the food could also depend on where you are staying.
To be sure, bring in your supplies like canned goods or noodles, and just ask your resort if they could cook them for you.
There are many shops in Daet or Naga, make sure to buy supplies before heading off to the port.
WHAT TO BUY
There is little that can be bought from the island – maybe just a couple of T-shirts and knick knacks stored in display glasses that seems they have not been opened in a while.
The best souvenirs are probably from the shops lining up Daet’s downtown.
Here one can buy shirts, bags, pouches, wallets, display pieces, craft works, keychains, and refrigerator magnets. Expect everything to contain the words Daet, Camarines Norte, or Calaguas.
Among the most famous pasalubong are the pili tarts and candies that come in various shapes and sizes.
The search for the next Boracay series: https://news.abs-cbn.com/specials/next-boracay
Photos by Arlene Burgos, Val Cuenca and Yeka To-ong
Aerial shots by Val Cuenca
TIPS FOR RESPONSIBLE BEACHGOERS
1. Respect the surroundings. Don't leave your trash on the beach. Better yet, don't create trash. Avoid buying drinks in plastic bottles, using plastic straws and plastic bags.
2. Respect marine life. Don't disturb turtles, fish and other creatures. Don't step on corals because those things are fragile.
3. Respect people. Avoid playing loud music that disturbs others. Be sensitive by wearing appropriate clothing. Wearing bikinis near churches, schools or offices may offend the locals.
4. Patronize establishments that don't pollute. If your hotel's drainage leads directly to the sea, maybe it's time to check other accommodations.
5. Pick a beach that doesn't get a lot of people as congestion puts stress on the environment.