Ever wonder what’s on the easternmost side of Luzon?
It’s the laid-back town of Baras in Catanduanes, where mighty tides of the Pacific bring their forces to the eastern side of the Philippines. As the town takes a beating from the ocean, it allows the forces of nature to shape its land.
Baras is a paradise continuously shaped by nature. Surfers come here to take on the challenge of Puraran, trekkers come to scale the cliffs of Guinsaanan to see the hidden beauty of Binurong Point and artists brave the early morning climb to see the spectacular sunrise at Balacay Point.
“Isla de Cobos” was how they the Spaniards called the island of Catanduanes when they first set foot in 1573. The “cobos” or “kubos” were the thatched roof houses of the natives of the island. The name was soon changed to Catanduanes, as reference to the “tandu” or native beetle, which the Spaniards found in abundance on the island.
During the early days of Spanish colonization, Baras was called Badas because of the abundance of the “badas” plant in the area. This was a fishing village located on a small mountain projecting toward the sea. It has a good vantage point to see pirates as they approach from the sea.
At the end of the Spanish era, it was established as a town. But because of its small population and income, it was reverted to a barrio in 1907. But after strong lobbying by its religious, civic and business leaders, it was finally returned to municipality status in 1910.
Today, this municipality of 13,000 people living mostly on agriculture and fishing is now slowly adjusting to eco-tourism.
How to get there
Cebu Pacific has four times weekly direct flights from Manila to Virac. Travel time is around one hour. From the airport, a tricycle can be rented to go the central terminal in Virac. From Virac, Baras is about one hour by jeepney or van.
Those with private vehicles can drive directly to Catanduanes using the RoRo facilities. Travel time to Tabaco via South Luzon Expressway and then Maharlika Highway is about 10 to 12 hours. RoRo cost for SUVs is around P3,000 per trip. Travel around Catanduanes is now made easier with most major roads now well-paved. From Virac, drive 40 kilometers along the scenic east coastal road to reach the town of Baras.
What to see, what to do
Most of the attractions of Baras are not easy to find, so it is best to ask the friendly locals for directions.
But it is not necessary to ask for directions to reach the town’s most popular attraction: Puraran Beach. There are signages along the road that direct visitors to the location of Puraran. This famous surfing area was discovered by Australian surfer Peter Sutton in the 1980s. For several decades, it was one of the best-kept secrets by the community of surfers. It was a place to chill out for a few days, to enjoy the quiet beach and to ride the waves of the Pacific.
For non-surfers, Puraran has a cream-colored sandy beach that never really get crowded except for a few days of summer during Holy Week. It also has a nice, shallow water perfect for swimming.
Another hidden attraction that is slowly gaining popularity is Binurong Point. It is not an easy destination to find. Look for an almost faded signage that says “this way to Binurong Point” and follow the narrow road that leads to Barangay Guinsaanan. Continue drive up to the beach of Guinsaanan where guests to Binurong Point are required to register and get a guide.
Guides are mostly local residents trained by the municipal tourism office to take visitors to Binurong Point. Guide fee is P200 per guide. The 30-minute trek to Binurong starts at the beach, climbs up a cliff, crosses thru several wooden bridges, passes thru rice paddies and shaded trees before finally reaching the viewpoint at Binurong.
Binurong’s breath-taking landscape is often compared to those of Batanes. It’s true. It’s the perfect place for catching the sunrise and for watching the blue Pacific waves.
Another place to watch the Pacific is at Balacay Point. It does not require heavy trekking to get there, but is also not easy to find, so asking the locals for directions is necessary. The view deck allows visitors to get a magnificent view of the mountain ranges of Baras, the two islands on Balacay Bay, namely, Balacay and Benticayan, and of course, the vast Pacific.
Those who wish to cool off can further travel to the next town of Gigmoto and visit the beautiful Nahulugan Falls. All it takes is going up on a hidden trail and trekking for another 30 minutes.
Where to stay, what to eat
There are several places to stay in Puraran, such as Puraran Surf Beach Resort, Putting Baybay Beach Resort and Majestic Beach Resort. They offer mostly basic lodgings in native cottages for the surfer crowd. But they also have air-conditioned family rooms for weekenders.
In Barangay Guinsaanan, camping is allowed at designated areas in Binurong Point. Visitors just have to bring their own camping provisions and plenty of water. There is a water-source at a small waterfalls along the trail but its water is not recommended for those with sensitive stomach. It is also possible to buy fresh fish at Guinsaanan Beach.
For dining, the resorts at Puraran offer set meals of seafood and rice for about P200. Another option is to bring your own supplies from Virac and cook your own food at the resorts.
The good news is there’s now a Jollibee store in Virac. The bad news is that they don’t do delivery. Definitely not when you are staying out-of-reach on this side of the Pacific.