IT’S almost the end of summer and you haven’t gone to a beach yet. Or are you still waiting for a promo for a flight to Boracay? Or you still can’t get a booking for a cottage in that popular beach destination near Manila? Or are you still working out to get that beach body that comes with washboard abs?
Well, the good news is there’s a beach where “dad bod” is in and washboard abs is out! And that beach is just south of Manila, and there is no need to make advanced reservations. Oh, yes, the people there do not mind if you walk around showing your beer belly.
Cagbalete Island in Mauban, Quezon province is a beach destination for people who would like to vacation in summer destination, even if it isn’t summer. Cagbalete has a Type IV climate pattern, where the dry and wet seasons are not well pronounced. This means there are more sunny days there than the rest of the country.
This 1,640-hectare island belongs to the quaint and rustic town of Mauban that has an area of 410 square kilometers and a population of about 60,000. Mauban is the gateway to Cagbalete Island and is said to be named after the leader of the town’s early settlers in the 17th Century. He was called Gat Uban because of his trademark white hair (uban is white hair in Tagalog). The locality’s main source of income is agriculture and fishing.
The town still has rows of many old houses. It retraces Mauban’s rich past as an important trading center serving the islands on Cagbalete, Alabat and Balesin.
The port of Mauban is always busy with the traffic of people and goods moving to and from these islands. The port has become even busier with boats taking visitors to Cagbalete Island.
From the port, it takes 45 minutes to reach Sabang on the western side. From there, visitors may either take another boat or walk inland to reach the beach located on the eastern side of Cagbalete.
While there are new resorts with modern facilities being built around the island, Cagbalete remains a destination for backpackers. They come with their own provisions all inside their backpacks: tents, sleeping bags, hammocks, cooking utensils and food.
This seems to be norm as all resorts there have designated camping areas for backpackers. Sleeping inside a tent by the beach is simply the best way of enjoying the purity of Cagbalete.
How to get there
Mauban town is about 150 kilometers south of Manila. Those going to Cagbalete must time their departure from Manila based on the time the boat for the island leaves: the first trip is 10am and the second trip is 3pm.
Those going via public transport can take the Jac Liner Bus from Cubao that goes straight to Mauban. It leaves Cubao at 5 am and arrives five hours later just in time for the 10 am boat trip for Cagbalete. Fare is P250 per person one way. For those who cannot take the direct bus ride, the alternative is to take any bus going to the Lucena central station which takes four hours, then take another bus going to Mauban which can take 1.5 to two hours.
Driving to Mauban with a private vehicle takes a shorter time because there is no need to pass through Lucena. The first option is via Lucban, or take SLEX, turn left to Calamba, go straight to Pagsanjan, turn right to Cavinti, go straight to Lucban, and turn left to Sampaloc before finally reaching Mauban. Option two is via Tayabas or take SLEX, turn right to Santo Tomas, turn left to Alaminos, go straight to San Pablo, go straight to Sariaya, turn left to Tayabas, and then go straight to Mauban. Either option takes around four hours of driving to reach Mauban.
In Mauban, private vehicles can be parked either inside the church compound or beside the municipal hall. From there, take a tricycle to reach the port. That takes five minutes and costs P50. Non-residents are required to pay an environmental fee of P50.
A big outrigger boat ferries people and supplies to the island. The scheduled times are not fixed. The boat sometimes leaves earlier when it does not have enough passengers. Fare is P50.
What to do, what to see
The town of Mauban is already a destination in itself. There are several dozen ancentral houses still standing around the poblacion that give visitors a glimpse of its rich past. A Spanish-era public bath built in 1725 at San Buenaventura Street and a 1925 Rizal monument at the Calvario promontory still stand.
The island itself offers many surprises for those who come to enjoy its natural beauty. Its white sand beaches and turquoise waters are enough to make the six to eight hours trip to the island seem all worthwhile. But the great reveal is during low tide, when the sea moves back up to a kilometer from shore that exposes a vast seabed of sand with its remarkable ripples.
It is also during low tide when one can walk to Bonsai Island, which got its name because of the many miniature mangrove trees thriving on it. Another attraction is the Yang-in Sandbar on the western side. It is more than two kilometers wide during low tide and it is empty most of the time as going there requires some trekking.
North of the island, there’s a small river that flows out to the sea. Here one can swim in the warm water of the sea then cool down at the fresh water of the river. Southwards, there are long stretches of secluded white sand beaches shaded by giant agoho trees.
There are several activities one can do on the island, such as skim boarding, kayaking, diving and snorkeling, but you have to bring your own equipment. But for the many urban dwellers that come to escape to the island, most are just contented sleeping on the hammock all day long.
Where to stay, where to eat
There are several resorts on the eastern side of the island: Villa Cleofas; MVT Sto. Nino; Joven’s; Villa Noe; and Dona Choleng. Their rates do not vary much: P1,000 for a small cottage for up to three people; P2,000 to P3,000 for a medium-sized cottage that can accommodate up to six people; and around P5,000 for a cottage that can accommodate a big group. Entrance to the resorts is P50 pesos and camping fee is P250 per tent.
On the Sabang side, there are several houses being offered for homestay. Lodging is cheaper but don’t expect beachfront accommodations and privacy.
For dining, some of the resorts offer a meal package of P800 per head. It includes two lunches, one dinner, one breakfast and two meriendas. Visitors can also buy fresh seafood from the locals who go around the resorts in the morning. The resort can cook them for a minimal fee.
Cooked food is available at the carienderias in Sabang. They are mostly fresh and inexpensive as they come from the fresh catch of the day. Those on a tight budget can bring their own food.
In Cagbalete, you sleep, eat and drink without worry. Just like your “dad bod,” the island comes to you real, natural and authentic!