Land of the Howling Winds
We often hear about Catanduanes during typhoon season. This island province’s location on the eastern-most portion of Luzon makes it as one of the reference points when a typhoon enters the Philippines from the Pacific side.
“Isla de Cobos” was how the Spaniards called the island when they first set foot in 1573. The “cobos” or “kubos” were the thatched roof houses of the island’s natives. The name was soon changed to Catanduanes, as reference to the “tandu” or native beetle that the Spaniards found in abundance on the island.
The Christianization of the island started around 1600. After subjugating the Bicol mainland, Spain returned with Franciscan missionaries. Armed with the cross and backed by the sword, the missionaries were able to convert the local population without much resistance. From 1600 to 1857, they were able to establish nine parishes as centers of local governments.
When the Spaniards left in 1900, the American tried to control the island but most local insurgents refused to recognize the sovereignty of the United States. In 1934, the American had ceased control of Catanduanes.
For many decades, Catanduanes was part of Ambos Camarines and later on as a sub-province of Albay. In September 26, 1945, the island was finally recognized as an independent province under Commonwealth Act No. 687.
After more than 70 years of being an independent province, Catanduanes has become one of the major agricultural and fishing centers of Bicol Region. It is also known as the abaca capital and the crab capital of the Philippines.
It is also becoming a major tourism destination. This off-the-tourist trail province is fast becoming an intrepid adventurer’s paradise with its friendly people, completely deserted beaches, inexpensive lodgings, scenic hilly landscapes and delicious Bicolano seafood cuisine.
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 to the central terminal in Virac.
Another way is to take a bus from Manila to Tabaco, Albay. There are buses (RSL, Cagsawa, Isarog, DLTB and Alps) in Cubao and Pasay that take the 10- to 12- hour trip to Tabaco. From Tabaco, there are ferries that go to Catanduanes: either to San Andres (three hours, leaves 7 a.m. and 1 p.m.) or to Virac (four hours, leaves 6:30 a.m.).
Those with private vehicles can drive directly to Catanduanes using the RoRo (roll-on roll-off) facilities. Travel time to Tabaco via South Luzon Expressway and then Maharlika Highway is about 10 to 12 hours. RoRo cost for sport utility vehicles (SUVs) is around P3,000 per trip. Travel around Catanduanes is now made easier with most major roads now well-paved. The newly-completed Virac-Vigo Highway makes travel time to central and northern towns a lot shorter, but the drive through the coastal roads offers a lot of breath-taking sights especially on the Pacific side.
What to see, what to do
Catanduanes is an eco-adventure paradise. It is for those who wish to get away from it all. The island offers many unspoiled and unexplored attractions.
The majestic waves of Puraran Surf Spot in Baras have been attracting novice and professional surfers from all over the world. Puraran Beach also has a beautiful creamy golden sand beach offering a breath-taking view of the Pacific.
In Palauig, Armenia Beach has cream-colored sands and crystal blue waters. But the main attraction of Armenia is that one can relax and enjoy the view of the sun as it disappears at the back of Mayon Volcano.
The island also has several refreshing waterfalls. The Maribina Falls in Bato, often called Bato Falls, is the most popular and the most accessible waterfalls in Catanduanes. It is accessible via short trek from the main road in Bato. Nahulugan Falls in Gigmoto and Talahid Falls in Cabungahan both require 30 minutes to one hour trekking. Both waterfalls offer crystal-clear spring waters and both are less frequently visited.
Also located in Bato is the now famous Bunurong Point. People come here at dawn to wait for the sun to rise. The view from the cliff is as magnificent as those in Batanes.
The towns of Panganiban (Payo) and Viga are the center for crab, shrimp and fish culture in Catanduanes. The fresh water coming from the central mountain meets the salty water from the Tabugoc Cove, and resulting brackish mixture breeds the best crustaceans in this side of Bicol Region. Visitors can try boat paddling to see rare bird species in the central wetlands or watch the locals catch the famous Catanduanes blue crabs.
Spain also left some fine legacies on the island. In the old town of Bato, several traditional wood and stone all-weather houses of the Catandueños still stand. Towering in the middle of town is the old Bato church, with its thick walls built from stones found in Bato River. It took 53 years, from 1830 to 1883, to finish this church under six different parish administrators.
In the capital town, one can find solace at the Virac Cathedral. But the most interesting religious sites in Catanduanes are the mini-chapels scattered all over the island. Every street corner in each town has one.
Where to stay, what to eat
Most tourists head straight to Puraran and use it as base for exploring the attractions on the Pacific side. In Puraran, the most popular lodging places are Puraran Surf and Majestic Beach Resort.
Those who wish to stay in Virac can either stay at family hotels like Catanduanes Midtown Inn or at affordable pension houses like JM’s or Marem’s.
For dining, there are many seafood restaurants around Virac. Be sure to check out those that serve fresh Catanduanes crabs. The preferred way to cook is steam so as to assure the freshness and juiciness of the local crabs.
Dining – like everything else in Catanduanes – need not be ostentatious. You come to the island to enjoy its simplicity.