Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A day adventure at Palawan's Last Frontier

After a sizzling lone adventure in Caramoan a few days ago, Pinoy Explorer is on the go again. This time around, with my office mates for our company outing. The Destination.... Coron.

Let me start by sharing my travel last year which I have missed to post because of some work I have to finish. Let me recall the days I have spent in this wonderful place of Mayor Hagedorn.

When I was in Puerto Princesa City, I attended a conference. Right after it, I decided to make my own extra trip to the places here I have never been explored yet. Oops, it is not part of my official visit here. On our way to the place, I met Mang Rudy, a tricycle driver who was also a boat operator. Btw, I decided to contact some participants from the conference to join me. So when we agreed, we headed off for a 1-day adventure to the Philippines' "Last Frontier" —Honda Bay.

As you know, Puerto Princesa City is also the home of the famous Subterranean River National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which features a spectacular limestone karst with an 8.2 kilometer navigable underground river. (Please vote for they need your support). It would take you a two-hour drive from the city and even not sure if you can really go through the subterranean experience. Palarong Pambansa was being held when we got there so the place is crowded of locals and tourists alike. 

Anyway, to all backpackers who want to get an idea for a day adventure in Palawan, here's my itinerary: For a day adventure in Honda Bay, this would cost you around P4,500 for 3days and 2 nights accommodation of any hotel of your choice.

Going to Honda Bay

The bay is situated in Sta. Lourdes Tagbanua, Puerto Princesa City. It is about 12 kilometers east of Puerto Princesa City. Sta. Lourdes wharf is where pump boats can be rented to the island/s of your choice. Some islands require an entrance fee; others are privately owned. But to those interested for the private, you will be permitted to use them only with an authorization. Sta. Lourdes wharf is 25 minutes away by hired tricycle or jeepney. A pump boat ride from the wharf to the different islands is from 15 to 50 minutes.

The fastest way to reach Honda Bay is via Barrio Tagburos. Honda bay has dozens of islets with wonderful beaches and good sites for diving that lie along the bay. Boats to the islands can be rented in Tagburos.

    * From the city proper to Sta. Lourdes wharf is 25 minutes away (rent a tricycle if you are in a group (P150)
    * Boat for island hopping (1,200 for a group of 6)

Some islands are private which require you an entrance fee, but sometimes if you are in a small group, they offer it for free. Along Honda Bay, if you have plenty of time, you can reach the following islands; Bat Island, Lu-Ii Island, Cannon Island, Starfish Island, Meara Marina, Snake Island, Pandan Island and Senorita Island.

I found out that from these islands you can have plenty of activities  to do from snorkeling, scuba diving and even fishing especially at Snake Island. The water is crystal clear and you can actually feed a school of fishes  once you get near them. The island has the longest sand bar among other islands and its very romantic and have picturesque location. Now I know why it was chosen to be featured in one movie of Aga Muhlach and Claudine Barretto.

There’s no need to worry about the food here. For this island is abundant of eatable marine life and is being preserved for this purpose. We ordered a kilo of tilapia in the island for inihaw and sinigang and it was cooked for us in an hour and served with hot rice.

After we ate our delicious meal, we proceeded to Pandan.This island is also a good location for campers. The 20-hectare island is one of the most peaceful places you could go to in Palawan. You have to pay a minimal fee of P25 if you want to stay for hours. It has a long shoreline and nice rocky spots for snorkeling. If you have plenty of time you can explore the entire island on which you can see lots of Pandan plants (which is why it’s called by its name). If you are a tourist wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, this island is definitely a nice respite.

If you want to stay longer in the island, there are several huts and cottages that are available. The caretakers will be of help for whatever you need. Snorkeling is great around Pandan Island, and it is fun feeding the fish which swarm around you as you hold out a piece of bread.

We also reached Dos Palmas-a private island that became famous because of a kidnapping incident and death of a very popular young actor named Rico Yan. We are not allowed to dock but after persuasion with guards and its management, we are able to grab an instant island tour for P500. This island as seen in travel glossy is really expensive. It has a span of 20 hectares and fully equipped to provide plenty of opportunities for adventure, fun and relaxation.

It is surrounded by nature, yet embraced by the comforts of modern facilities and accommodating staff. The eastern part of the island has been designated as the Dos Palmas Eco Zone (DPEZ), where all environmental programs and facilities of the resort are situated.

Caption: Bay Cottages of Dos Palmas

For those who are interested to visit Dos Palmas, here are the packages:

Bay Cottages & Beach Villas (on a per person basis)
  • ADULT PhP 2,500.00
  • CHILD PhP 1,200.00
Package inclusions
  • Scheduled round trip land and boat transfers (city-resort-city)
  • Lunch

    Use of the following facilities and equipment:
  • Children’s playground
  • Ocean kayaks
  • Snorkeling equipment (mask, snorkel, fins)
  • Courts and equipment (tennis, basketball, beach volleyball, beach badminton)
  • Recreation center (darts, billiards, table tennis, videoke and mini-library)
  • Resort bikes
  • Speedboat transfers to nearby snorkeling and sites
  • Complimentary coffee and/or hot tea throughout the day
  • Welcome drink
  • Service charge and applicable government tax at time of booking

PUBLISHED RATE (on a per person per night basis) Bay Cottage
Single PHP 14,500.00
Double PHP 12,000.00

Beach Villa
Single PHP 13,500.00
Twin PHP 11,000.00
Triple/Quad PHP 10,000.00
Child Rate PHP 3,000.00

Package Inclusions
  • Accommodation in an air-conditioned cottage or villa
  • Full board meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) per night stay
  • Scheduled round trip land and boat transfers (city-resort-city)
  • Picnic lunch at nearby island (minimum 2 nights stay)
  • One DISCOVER SCUBA DIVING per person per stay (for non-divers) inclusive of diving gear OR One FILIPINO MASSAGE/HILOT service from our Paranarian Island Spa (for a minimum of 2 nights stay)
  • Complimentary use of the following facilities and equipment:
  • - Swimming pool and Jacuzzi
  • - Children’s playground
  • - Ocean kayaks
  • - Snorkeling equipment (mask, snorkel, fins)
  • - Courts and equipment (tennis, basketball, beach volleyball, beach badminton)
  • - Recreation center (darts, billiards, table tennis, videoke and mini-library)
  • - Resort bikes
  • Speedboat transfers to nearby snorkeling and picnic sites
  • Complimentary coffee and/or hot tea throughout the stay
  • Welcome drink.
  • Services of a guest officer and marine sports guide.
  • Service charge and applicable government tax at time of booking
  • Child rate is applicable to children 6-11 years old sharing room with 2 adults. Below 5 years old is free of charge..
Since, we can't accommodate ourselves for a night stay, I contented myself for a souvenir items and a shirt that can only be bought on this private island.

In my next post...Coron, Palawan

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Caramoan: Backpacker's Adventure Part-3

I have discovered the untouched beauty of Caramoan during my second day of stay. Complete with my backpack and other arsenals, I roam around and explore its wonders. Truly, it has something to be proud of. It's about time to tell the whole world that Caramoan Peninsula has an extra ordinary group of islands that can be compared to Phi Phi Island of Thailand and Coron of Palawan.

Caption: View of the Peninsula at the top of Our Lady of Peace Grotto

I have seen the entire islands of Caramoan Bay from atop. At 700 feet above sea level Mt. Caglago's famous Marian image welcome's everyone with a stretch arms. My legs tremble as I trek the 530-steps Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Grotto (see my article here). It's a 90 degrees ascension with 4 landings in between. Tired and thirsty you may become but its a relaxing experience after you reach the peak. You will be treated with 180 degrees of view of the islands plus the cold air that refreshes you.

This becomes a pilgrimage site of Bicol and a must see place in Caramoan. You can reach Mt. Caglago by boat or by land. Kuya Inggoy, my guide brought me here with his Larga (motorbike). It took us 45 minutes to reach the place. We passed by several barrios, several wooden bridges and irrigation site. You can feel the simplicity of life in the barrios and houses are rarely seen in the highway...they are literally separated kilometers apart. Roads are rough and sticky when wet, so if you are planning to visit the place make sure, its summer.

Before lunch, we decided to step down the grotto and plan to visit Kulapnit cave. We walked at the middle of the fields to locate the house of the caretaker but unfortunately, kerosene lamp was out of gas. The Kulapnit cave is known to the locals because it has hundreds of bats hovering the place. The rock formation is unique and one should be ready to get wet. While inside the cave, you have to pass through a running water to reach some exciting part of the cave. The sun is so intense and it made me so thirsty. We saw a family passing by and they have walked kilometers away to bring their fresh harvest to the market. I thank Manang Asing, she manage to gave me a fresh buko as refreshment. People like them despite their simple and difficult life are kind and very hospitable to any tourist who visited their place.

After a while, we decided to have our island hopping. Kuya Inggoy brought me to Bikal port and got a small bangka (motorized boat). Since it's lunch time, we took time to take a rest in a small carenderia while enjoying our kinilaw na bangus for lunch. At 2 pm we started to move going to the island. I rented it for P1,000 and its just the three of us. The sky seems to cry that afternoon but still we go. I just secure my camera and covered it with plastic. After 30 minutes we reach Gota beach and its neighboring islands. We are greeted by the Explorer's rock which beauty is a large chunk of the allure. The islands of Caramoan, when approached by boat it rise from the sea like a fortress. Sheer cliffs tower overhead, then give way to beach-fronted jungle. Truy, It's a love at first sight.

Caption: Explorer's Rock along Gota Beach

Caption: Hunungan Beach

Gota is closed as of this writing and it is being used by Survivor Israel. But still, we manage to pass by for me to have my paparazzi's shots hehe. I even wanted to come ashore but some crews from afar signaled us saying "No". The place is a private resort and being managed by the Camarines Sur provincial government. It is so far the most developed island next to Hunongan beach. Major development will still push through but the sad part according to Kuya Inggoy, more people with ancestral domain will be displaced.

I content myself in a small Minalahus island facing Hunungan. The water is clear and sands are at par with that of Boracay. At the middle of the 50 meters shoreline is a rock formation that is perfectly sculptured by its water in many years. Just be careful if you plan to hop in, the rock has sharp edges in both corners.

We also sneak at the forbidden grounds of the location shoot of Survivor and manage to took some images. Its good that I have my 200mm lens that it can zoom up to the level that I desired. Service speed boats are seen from all directions and patrolling the area. From time to time there's a helicopter roaming the island presumed to be their way for an aerial shots. Gota is truly has breathtaking backdrop of green lush of forest and gorgeous mountain cove. As seen in my Google imagery, the location is just superb.

After a while, we proceeded to another island where the public can set foot. I've seen many tourist on the beach with their snorkeling gears. Matukad island is white long beach with a span of approximately 200 meters. A must visit and for campers and a perfect location for a wide view of the Caramoan group of islands.

Our next stop is the Lahus island. White sand resides in between the twin hilly rock formation. It has also a mini-cave if you want to go for an overnight stay. A good view of the surrounding islands and perfect to capture the sunrise and sunset. Catanduanes island is very visible from afar and I think you can reach it in a 5-hour boat ride. Jay Ruiz, an ABS-CBN reporter was also there and we shared our own views about Caramoan. He is also on a vacation and just like me, looking for a new place to discover.

Rain suddenly pour and we were stranded for a while. I have decided to take a dip in the warm water of Lahus. Sands are refined and I played along with school of fishes that can be easily seen from the crystal clear water. Unfortunately, I don't have my goggles with me and I can't took advantage of the unique coral reef formation is some part of the island.

Aside from this island, you can also visit neighboring islands like Lahuy, Pitogo, Sabitang Laya, Cotivas and Tinago. The waves are strong and we can't manage to visit the other islands. Beside's, my boat is too small that it can easily be rampage by the unruly waves. Tsk, tsk, It's an erratic summer but its part of the adventure :) We decided to go back and contend myself with sight seeing.

Overall, its been a wonderful experience going to Caramoan. Anyone can be closed to nature as possible with its pristine beaches, majestic caves and diverse marine wildlife. I have not completed the entire islands but hopefully I can go back to Manila with stories that can make others explore its wonders. President GMA during her visit and inauguration of the electricity project on the island was convinced that Caramoan would be the next destination for both local and foreign tourist. 

With this development, The Caramoan Islands is embodied in Republic Act 9445 declaring the islands of Lahuy, Covitas, Guinahuan, Luksuhin, Malibon and Masay located in the northern coast of the Caramoan town as national tourism zones.

Special thanks to Kuya Inggoy Clores, (0910-546-1219) my ever trusted tour guide cum driver who's service is beyond compare. Very kind and down to earth. Live a simple life and wants every tourist feel at home. He guided me in every details on my visit to Caramoan and give me pointers on some of the best places in Caramoan.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Caramoan: Backpacker's Adventure Part-2

Guijalo port is your gateway to Caramoan. Upon your touchdown, line of tricycles are waiting to bring you to Centro- the commercial area of Caramoan. If you have no booking in the resorts, the centro is your best choice. Just walk along the main highway, you can see several inns, hostels and transient houses.

Holy Week is a peak season in Caramoan. So expect for a competitive rental for a night stay. Even the most affordable Inn had doubled its rate but considered to be the cheapest choice if you want a modest sleeping quarters when you relax at night. And since I'm alone, Mang Roger or Chong Inchiong' Villa Juliana is my choice. For P400 I had my double queen size bedroom. Rooms here was fully booked and this room is the only available. Room rates varies from 400 for non aircon and 600 with aircon and private CR. Starting April, they will no longer accept reservation. It's a first come first serve basis.

I have seen some renovations going on at Villa Juliana and painted everything in yellow including the walls of my room. Mang Roger told me that It was planned ahead to make sure the Inn is ready for their forthcoming fiesta by May 8. He said that more visitors will be coming and he wants to make sure that tourist would be comfortable during their stay. Here's some places to consider to those who wishes to visit Caramoan:

  • CMC Villa Caramoan - Look for the owner Ms. Marvie Cabrera. Rates start at P1,800 /day during peak season. With Aircon, Cable TV and CR. (0928-4825845)
  • Villa Juliana- Look for Roger Reyes. Rates start at 400 (non aircon) 600 (airconditioned).
  • La Casa Roa - 0917-5801850. Rates starts at 800-1,200
  • Kuya Jay Tourist - 0921-299-8866
  • Rex Tourist Inn - look for Mr. Rex Hernandez (0919-882-1879) 2 Single Bed Room - Php 1,400 per night with air-condition room, hot and cold bath plus cable tv. Single occupancy start at P650.
  • BC HomeTel - Ate Fely (0921-8357454)
  • La Playa Beach Camp (Paniman Beach front) call: 0919-8136766/0920-2816362/0918-6249091
  • Vista Del Mar Guest House (Brgy Bikal-near beach) (same no of La Playa)

Foods are not available at Villa Juliana, but if you are in a group, you can request for a menu and they will cook it for you. In the meantime, I decided to roam around the centro proper. Its almost 1:30 and have to look a place to have my lunch. Along the highway, I see a fine dining place called Caramoan Bed and Dine (formerly Camalig Grill). As the name suggest, it also offers transient. The food varies from Japanese cuisine to a regular restaurant menu. Mind you, you can also get a topping set for only P60. There's Lutong Bahay just across Camalig which also serve typical house blend from tinolang manok to your favorite adobo. If you are travelling by group you can also make reservations 0r paluto.

First Stop

After eating my lunch, I decided to walk back going to the church which I passed by when I arrive in Centro. Its the Parish of Saint Michael - a historic old church built in 15th century. Its wide grounds was also serve as mini park to the resident of this town.

I stayed for a while, recite some prayers and thank the lord for given the chance to reach this place. After a few shots with my Nica, I decided to roam around and have some chat with local villagers. I walk down to centro and think on where to go. It's only 3pm and I want to go to the beach.

Fortunately, I have met Kuya Inggoy Clores- a LARGA driver (single motorbike of Caramoan) and had become my instant tour guide to Caramoan. Beaches are kilometers away from Centro so, just for a tour ride back and forth I gave him P200. Gota Beach as of this writing is still closed. Survivor Israel is still shooting some scene and have to finish some final shots by May. We sometimes bump some service vehicles being rented and have seen some voted out contestant roaming in Caramoan.

Second Stop

We drove 8 kilometers going to Paniman Beach. This is the second closest beach from Centro. The roads are rough and its not advisable to travel during rainy season. It's getting stickier and muddy. According to Kuya Inggoy, It is much difficult if you're on a tricycle. One needs to get off during steep roads and push the tricycle when stickied on a muddy road. So, If you are traveling alone or want an easy ride, the Larga is your best companion.

Along Paniman beach front, I reach La Playa Beach Camp. It is the gateway to many beautiful white sand beaches and island hopping destinations in the Peninsula. By sea, any directions is only 15 to 25 minutes of fun boat ride and by land, is only 20 minutes away from the town proper. They offer camping gears in a 12 acre of empty space. They also have the accommodation in a native-made cottages, rooms, Club House, BBQ spots, ample Clean water supply, Shower and Restrooms. Rates start at 800 for single cabana and P1,500 for air conditioned rooms. If you have your tent, you can freely set it up and enjoy the view of the islands.

With this tour, I have made up a plan and Kuya Inggoy help me organize it. Aside from island hoping, I want to reach other places of Caramoan. So for my second day, I want to visit the Marian image of Mt. Caglago in Brgy. Tagbon. It's an 18-kilometers rough ride and will try to enter Kulapnit Cave if time permits. In the evening, I treat kuya for a cold beer and have a very informative chat about Caramoan. By 10pm he drop me off at Villa Juliana for we have a long day to start by tomorrow....view my Caramoan Gallery on FLICKR

Related post:

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Caramoan: Backpacker's Adventure Part 1

A year ago, I was intrigue by the news that the sleeping and remote town of Caramoan made an international news when it becomes the venue of Koh-Lanta, the french version of Survivor- a reality show that is being watched by millions worldwide.
Watch the first episode

This year, upon learning that we have another long vacation, I grab the opportunity, invited friends, plan my itinerary, research the net about the place and when I woke up, I find myself at the Naga Central Terminal wandering... walking in my backpack with Nica.

My friends back-out the last minute due to family affair, my own family can't also come 'coz my little boy has his swimming lesson. So to think that having to trek alone to a newly discovered paradise may sounds crazy to you but it's an exciting experience for me. But don't worry, I am here with my wife's blessing and support to my sometimes crazy adventure :)

So to all backpackers who wishes to ride with me. Pack your things and join me as I explore a newly discovered paradise at the heart of Bicolandia.


It's my usual routine every time I travel in an unspoiled territory to have a prepared research work. Thanks to those who posted their stories on the internet. It gives me everything I need from reviews to directions and people to talked to.

If you are also traveling this holy week like me, expect the intense heat. Just prepare tons of sun block if you are afraid to get dark :) Prepare yourself with light clothings and better travel on shorts and sandals. If you're planning to stay on a beach or camping with your friends, don't forget to bring an emergency flash light and mosquito repellent or sort. Lastly, bring something to record your travel like a video or a camera. It's good that you have something to share when you return.

Good for me I have my Nica who always on the go whenever I travel. She's a witness to all the places I have been through and she never upsets me. She always guided me to get that perfect shot as she glide and hug on my shoulder. Her long barreled legs that I admire..her misty eyes that I sometimes kissed is enough to give me that wow feeling. She's armed with extended batt, filters for her eyes and an amazing 8GB of flash drive enough for a long weekend adventure. I know what you think, huh? My Nica is a Canon DSLR with 18-200 mm zoom lens that I have acquired 2 years ago :)

The Travel

I travel by bus 'coz I don't got an early booking by plane. It takes 10-hours to reach Naga City with stop over (dinner at Lucena City Terminal in Quezon). For P700 fare I would recommend Pe├▒afrancia Tours for a comfortable travel. If you have lots of budget, you can book for a 29- seater with CR.

After an early breakfast at 6:30 I start roaming around the terminal and went to the Van terminal located beside the newly constructed SM City Naga. Unluckily missed the 7 am Van going to Sabang and folks instructed me to have a bus going to Partido instead.

So I hop in a bus going to Lagonoy, paid my P55 fare and we traveled more than half and an hour. We passed by Pili-the Capital of Camarines Sur and from there it took 4 towns before the kind conductor told me to jump off at San Jose junction.

At the junction, I was welcomed by flock of tricycle drivers offering a ride going Sabang. I first visited the ongoing construction of the church of San Jose while observing if there's an alternative transpo aside from tricycle. I spotted a single motorbike LARGA- the counter part of Habal-habal of the visayas. So for P40, you have a better view of the lush green surroundings and the simple lifestyle of the community. Aside from that, you can have an instant tip from these hired drivers and can tour you to any place you like.

We traveled 8 kilometers, dropped by Talisay port hoping for an available boats then we have reach the Sabang beach. The tide is low and boat are far from the beach shore. I ask Mang Boyet about it and told me that boat operators such as M/V Harry finds it more convenient and cost effective if they are in Sabang rather than using the nearby Talisay port. Sabang has no working port so to speak you have to depend on local porter to help you hop on the boat. This add to the inconveniences of local residents but it add thrills to a first timer like me.

For a P10 tip, local porter gives you a back ride. Skinny as they were but they are strong. You have to relax yourself for they make sure that you hop in the boat secured and dry. After a while, two more groups followed me plus some cargo that needs for shipment and by 11:30 noon, the anchor was hanged up and the 50-seater boat started to maneuver in the starboard side.

According to my printed review, the trip to Caramoan would be for 2 hours. You may experience a bit of unsustained waves but according to some folks, this is normal because of the scattered islands that made up the famous peninsula. I have positioned myself near the boatman so i did not feel the intense banging of waves and an advantage for a clear view of the ocean floor.

About an hour, we passed by the lone island in the Caramoan Bay going to Guijalo port. (see my Google Satellite Imagery) The island called Aguirangan is small white sand islet and folks in the boat told me that it is a common camper's paradise in the area. Nipa huts were installed and being rented P300 for a day. Food in the island is not available, you need to pack or you get starved.

I almost got sleep because of the warm air lingering my face and while watching the vastness of crystal blue water. Good to know that I have my iPod with me and manage to spin some favorite local rock bands. I also manage to ask Mang Ruben (who is seating beside me) on why there is no direct bus going to Caramoan. He told me that roads are still not safe for commuters but the local government is making ways to have that project funded and this would ease their travel to 45 minutes. We had talked so much about Caramoan and give me some pointers on what to do when we reach the port. When you are alone better take the jeepney instead of tricycle, he told me. S0, when we docked the Guijalo port, I saw some jeepneys plying centro (poblacion) route and this only cost me P20.

I bid farewell to my short acquitance and here I am at the foot of Caramoan ready to start my own SURVIVOR adventure. Follow me in my next post. In the meanwhile, view my gallery at FLICKR.

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