During my grade-school days, my friend and I would spend many hours at the school library looking at the Philippine map. In those days, when most kids would rather play outside, we two geeks preferred to play the geography game. “In which island-province can you find the town of Gasan?” I would start. As soon as he gave me the correct answer, this would be followed by questions like, “What is the capital of Bukidnon?” and so on.
I still remember his question that took me a while to answer: “In which province can you find my island?” His name was Paul Burias, and the correct answer was Masbate. He taught me how to easily locate Burias Island: Make two diagonal lines on the Philippine map (left to right, and right to left), and the island where the two lines intersect is where Burias is located.
I don’t know whatever happened to Paul, but our geography game in the old days inspired me to travel later in life. I have since visited most of the islands we saw on the Philippine map, but it took a while for me to finally go to Burias.
Burias belongs to one of the least-visited provinces in the Philippines. It is one of the three major islands of Masbate; the other two islands are Ticao and Masbate. Masbate belongs to Bicol Region, and the people are mostly Bicolano. However, on Burias Island, due to its proximity to Bontoc Peninsula in Quezon, there are a good number of Tagalogs who have migrated to the island.
During Spanish time, it became a haven for Spanish forces against their Dutch opponents. The church in San Pascual is considered one of the oldest in Bicol Region. The island used to be under the administration of Sorsogon before it became part of the Masbate province in 1922.
Burias Island is now divided into two towns, San Pascual and Claveria. The island is known for livestock raising.
How to get there
Those who wish to reach Burias must be ready to take a long drive and a two-hour boat ride.
The main entry point is the port of Pasacao in Camarines Sur. That’s about 390km from Manila. Drive south via SLEX and exit from Santo Tomas, Batangas. From there, continue driving along the Maharlika Highway from Alaminos, passing San Pablo, Tiaong and Sariaya. Turn right to Lucena, and continue to Pagbilao. In Pagbilao, take the winding road or Bitukang Manok at the Quezon National Park before descending to the coastal town of Atimonan. From there, it’s a scenic drive along the Pacific coast passing the towns of Plaridel, Gumaca, Lopez and finally Calauag. From there, turn right to Tagkawayan and carry on along the highway to Sipocot. At Pamplona junction, turn right to Pasacao.
There are two ports in Pasacao, one for RoRo and one for passenger boats. Proceed to the latter. Vehicle parking costs P100 per day. Travel time to San Pascual from Pasacao is two hours. Boat fare is P120 per person.
Another way to go to the island is to drive to Bontoc Peninsula up to the port in San Andres. It’s shorter by 40km, but there are no public boats there except those big island-hopping boats that cost P10,000 to P15,000 for two days.
Those going to Claveria must drive to Pilar, Sorsogon. That’s 530km from Manila. From there, you will find regular passenger boats going to Burias. Travel time to Claveria takes two hours.
What to see, what to do
The town center of San Pascual has many attractions. The St. Pascal Baylon is said to have been built in 1571. The seat of government—the municipio—was constructed in 1911 on top of the hill overlooking the sea. A few meters from the church is the well-preserved bahay na bato with its capiz windows and solid wood pillars.
But the town’s most unique attraction is the house of the Estares, which has become the home of a hundred thousand balinsasayaw or swiftlets. The owner stopped collecting bird’s nests or nido because they want the swiftlets’ number to grow. Or until such time that they need to build a bigger house.
In May, the island celebrates a rodeo festival called Isla Rancho. It’s a weeklong celebration featuring rodeo hustling, barn dancing and street parades.
Burias is also getting popular as an island-hopping alternative. And its postcard-pretty islands will not disappoint. Animasola Island has outstanding rock formations. It can rival those found on Biri Island, and it has an amazing white-sand beach. Dapa Island is a coral island with several cliffs perfect for jumping. Tinalisayin Islands—twin islands connected by a sandbar—have some nice fine sand and crystal-clear waters. Sombrero Island, the designated camping ground, has open cottages and bathrooms. It also has the widest white-sand beach among the four remote islands, as well as the best place to watch sunrise and sunset.
Where to stay, what to eat
The places to stay in are very limited. In Poblacion, there are Sunset View Tourist Inn and MSS Lodging offering comfortable but very basic lodging. There are also resorts like Virgen in Busing, and Villa Amando in Terrapin.
Most backpackers just bring their tents and camp in Sombrero, where, during turtle season, sea turtles come to the island and lay their eggs.
Dining is also very limited. In Poblacion, there’s Kan-Anan, Aliyah Vince and Pantalan Food House; they serve the usual fare like fried chicken and pork adobo. Much of the seafood caught around the island is brought directly to Manila. And the cattle are also shipped to the slaughterhouses in Batangas and Tagaytay. So it is a bit of a let-down that no restaurant on the island serves steak and seafood. Anyway, those who go island-hopping can look forward to fresh sea urchins and fish kilawin.
But you come to Burias to experience the many hidden attractions, not to try its cuisine. In my case, I was hoping that I would find my childhood friend Paul Burias there.