Caramoan: Sole-searching at Limestone Islands

2017 was my island-hopping year. I achieved my dream to visit the Pacific islands offcoast of Luzon known as Four CAs: CagbaleteCalaguasCaramoan-Catanduanes. This island-hopping destination should be the second in my list but due to weather conditions last August, it was replaced by Calaguas, only turned out to be a solo trip (due to my housemate’s schedule conflict). Good thing I grabbed a promo return flight from Virac. Hence, the Caramoan-Catanduanes bundle solo trip.

If you heard of the international series called “Survivor”, then you already know that they shoot some of the scenes here at this quiet town within Camarines Sur province. Because of series’ popularity, this merely isolated fishing town became a tourist destination offering white beaches hidden on its peninsula and most especially on its scattered limestone-clad islands. Land travel will take 15 hours but it can be cut short with bus-ferry-trike/habal combination. I took the former because transfers were hassle and I have time to sleep at a bus, despite the bumpy ride Caramoan buses known for.

Then October came and finally embarked on a solo journey to Caramoan. By reading blogs and tips scattered on the internet, I decided to get the services of Kuya Ramil (09074351962) as he is known to offer good rates for backpackers. Why not give it a try? I booked a bus ticket (Php950) at Raymond bus in Cubao a week before my trip. There’s only one trip direct to Caramoan at 3pm and will arrive at town proper the next day at 6am.

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Caramoan Bus Terminal beside public market

While waiting for Kuya Ramil to pick me up, I visited the nearby brick church and said a prayer, for a safe trip at this quiet town.

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St. Michael the Archangel Parish is a red-brick church sitting at Centro (Caramoan town center). It was built in the 16th century and has said to withstand countless calamities and two world wars. Many visitors drop by this church to pray before they start sight-seeing. You can see the municipal hall and Carahan monument a national highway.

Kuya Ramil came and fetched me at church’s gate via habal-habal (motorcycle). We stopped at market to buy food then head back to Paniman, where they live.

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Stay for a night (Fan room at Php500)

We arrived at Paniman and took a quick rest before heading to island hopping. I spoke with Ate Myrna (Kuya Ramil’s wife) about the tour. I initially took SHORT TRIP for a lower cost but there was no available slot where I can join, so she offered me “ROUND TRIP”. I was a bit surprised (as I haven’t read this trip before on blogs I’ve read) and asked me if I’ll take another island hopping the next day. I explained that I need to leave tomorrow for Catanduanes and I only have this wholeday to take island hopping. So she gave me this option that will include “all 8 major islands included in SHORT (usually at Php1500) and LONG (usually at Php2000) TRIPS” bargain at Php3000. In my mind, it would be worth it to visit major islands and have plenty of time to spare so I gave in. To my consolation, she gave me FREE cooked rice and accompanied me to buy viands at nearby eatery. I refilled my drinking water bottle as I was informed that it would be a LOOOONG trip. FYI, the trips on Caramoan islands are usually grouped into two: LONG TRIP and SHORT TRIP:

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Paniman Beach is the usual jump-off for island hopping as most inns are located here. each trip takes a day. A trip from Paniman to Manlawi takes an hour. Hence, LONG TRIP. On the other hand, SHORT TRIP takes less than 30 minutes to get on the islands seen already from the jump-off. In my case: LONG TRIP + SHORT TRIP = ROUND TRIP!
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LONG TRIP ISLANDS
1-Manlawi Sandbar
2-Cotivas Island
3-Guinahoan Island
4-Sabitang Laya Island (Bag-ing beach at southern side)
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SHORT TRIP ISLANDS
5-Lahos Island
6-Matukad Island (climb to see Mystical Bangus) 
7-Cagbanilad Island
8-Minalahos Island
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Paniman Beach: our jump-off to Caramoan islands. Here, I met with Kuya Willy (my personal guide) and manong bangkero. Together, they steered me to go on sole-searching…hehe (n_n)
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I have the boat all by myself…lol
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Manlawi Sandbar: My first destination. You can see the floating cottages (for rent as you can take lunch here) and as we docked on one side, many will approach you to buy seashells and fish. I went down to take selfie and walk along the sandbar.
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Kuya Willy turned to be my personal photographer. With waterproof camera on his hand, he asked permission from cottage owner to take pictures for FREE. Happy kid!
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This is my way of expressing love: I heart Caramoan! (n_n)
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Cotivas Island: Pay an entrance fee of Php50. You can eat your lunch at one of the cottages. I stayed for few minutes to roam the island. On the far right, there are interesting stone formations you can take pictures of.
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Guinahoan Island: Pay an entrance fee of Php50. Then kids will accompany you for a short hike up to the lighthouse. The island is known as grazing field for cows and offer views of nearby islands.
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Lighthouse family
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Mahangin sa labas!
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Sabitang Laya: This island has the longest stretch of powdery sand beach. Aerial view shows two sides of white sand, where the southern side is called Bag-ing beach. We took lunch here and stopped for an hour.
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Sabitang Laya rock formation by the beach. The rocks are climbable but be careful of spiky and slippery ones. Better to remove footwear to get grip. Impromptu hiking it is! (For the sake of nature pics…lol)
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Bag-ing Beach: the southern side of Sabitang Laya island. With kilometer strectch of fine sand, Survivor series film here. Hence, when there’s shooting, tourists cannot set foot here.
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Photoshoot before lunch

After visiting the LONG TRIP islands and taking lunch, we took off again for an hour-ride to the SHORT TRIP islands closer to Paniman.

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Approaching Lahos island, our 5th island on the list
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Lahos Island: Coined from Visayan word meaning “vanish”, its twin beaches vanish at high tide and you can only see two rock formations few meters apart. Waters are perfect for quick dip and you can climb the limestone formations. Just be careful.
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At one point, I wonder: How did I get here? What made me do this sole-searching? (n_n)
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After Lahos island, we went to the opposite way to Matukad island where you can see the Mystical Bangus. At one side of the beach, you can see the climbable rocks up to viewpoint. There are no ropes so better hold onto rough rocks to get there. Safety first! (Picture first pala…haha)
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I approached this far and to my amazement, I saw not one but TWO milkfish (bangus) in the area! They are regarded as guardians of the island. It is said that anyone who’ll catch and eat them will die. Mystical it is!
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Matukad Island: For me, this is the most beautiful of all Caramoan islands (my personal favorite). This is the exact view promoted on tourist posters depicting Caramoan islands. The unspoilt beach reminds of Boracay’s so I stayed here longer. After descending from this point, I went on that rock on the other end of the beach.
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Here I am at the other side! You can also see the white beach  as well as the other islands nearby. After too much photoshoot, I swam for a while then went on to our next island.
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Cagbanilad Island: The beach area is small and when I arrived, a family is having fun jumping from one small rock. I satisfied myself watching them and took some pics.
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Diving from that small rock. Caramoan islands won’t be short of swimmer-friendly waters.
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Minalahos Island: Last island on my list. Before heading back to Paniman beach, I climbed again on limestone cliffs and swam a bit. The short beach can accommodate only handful of visitors. Imagine the people at peak season/summer time. Feels like I have the island all mine!
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Getting back sooner? I surrendered almost after more than 6 hours of island hopping. It was a great experience disconnecting from the stress of the metro and embarking on solo travel. I had good chat with Kuya Willy, a relative of Kuya Ramil from nearby town and appreciative of job he has when tourists flock to Caramoan. I was grateful that in my simple way, I helped them to have sustainable job aside from fishing.

Back to my accommodation, I was notified by Ate Myrna that I’ll be fetched and dropped at Guijalo port at 6am. The next day, I bid my farewell to Cruel family and their son Ramir took me to the port. On the way, we had quick stop at Caramoan marker and municipal hall.

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I heart Caramoan! Truly a secluded paradise of Camarines Sur! (n_n)
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This town came to be called “Carahan” for the sea turtle, which was at that time to be found in great number along the shores of the Peninsula. Then it was corrupted and became Caramoan.
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The neo-classical municipal hall of Caramoan.
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Port of Guijalo. This is where I waited for a boat bound to Catanduanes, only to find out that there’s only one trip: at 11am

I bid farewell to Ramir as he went back to Paniman and sat on the waiting area. Killing my time watching K-dramas on my smartphone, I saw the simplicity of life in Caramoan. I realized that sleepy towns can have other source of income aside from fishing and with tourism, we can help them as long as coupled with government assistance and responsible travelers like us. I guess the next time I’ll go back to Caramoan, I’ll try to visit other spots and islands, and be with someone else…hihi (n_n)

NEXT: Catanduanes: The Rustic Island Province

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