My first two trips to Caramoan were not exactly a walk in the park. My first visit was in 2001, when Caramoan was not even on the map as a tourist destination. I remember being invited there by a group of adventurers who were visiting the island for the Holy Week respite. Since it was a virtually unknown destination at the time, it took several jeepney and bus rides plus three boat transfers to get there. Our group of intrepid travelers took 24 hours of continuous commuting to reach this hidden tourism gem.
On my second trip in 2006, we were more ambitious and drove all the way to Caramoan. It was a bad decision. In Presentacion, about 50 kilometers to Caramoan, a military checkpoint held us up and advised us that the road ahead was controlled by communist insurgents. For our safety, we had to secure clearance from a military detachment before being allowed to travel but only during daytime.
So when I heard that there’s another way to reach Caramoan Peninsula, I got excited. This is the backdoor route via Catanduanes. This is actually the oldest route as this remote peninsula is actually facing Catanduanes on the east. And trade between these two places has always existed since Spanish times.
The discovery of Caramoan may have been launched from Catanduanes, which was earlier discovered by Juan de Salcedo in 1573. There is in fact a place called Camaroran in Catanduanes facing Caramoan in Camarines Sur. Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards in 1619, Caramoan was called Gota de Leche because of the milkdrop stalagmites found in the rocks of Gota Port. The name was probably changed to Caramoan as the place is facing Camaroran directly, separated only by the 2-kilometer Maqueda Channel.
I always wanted to try this historic route to Caramoan, but it took me many years before I got to visit it from Catanduanes.
How to get there
Going to Caramoan from Catanduanes is actually the fastest way to get there but only if you fly. From Manila to Virac, flying time is about 1 hour. From Virac, there are UV Express vans going directly to Codon Port in San Andres, with the ride taking less than an hour to cover 20 kilometers. In Codon, boats can be rented for an island-hopping tour of Caramoan, which can be reached in less than an hour.
But if you wish to cover both Catanduanes and Caramoan, it is best to drive. From Manila, drive 480 kilometers south to Tabaco port in Albay. From the port, take a ro-ro ferry bound for San Andres in Catanduanes. This takes about four hours. Upon arriving in San Andres, drive north-west to Cadon. This takes less than 30 minutes. Boats can be rented in Cadon port to go to Caramoan. Prices depend on the size of the boat and the duration of your stay. There is a parking area for private vehicles at the port.
The regular route via Sabang in Naga City (capital city of Camarines Sur) is still the most popular way to Caramoan. Park at Sabang Port and take the 2-hour boat to Guijalo Port in Caramoan. From there, take a tricycle to Barangay Paniman where boats can be rented for island-hopping tours.
Driving from Manila to Caramoan? I do not recommend it.
What to see, what to do
Going thru the backdoor to Caramoan allows travelers to see many of the peninsula’s hidden attractions not usually seen by those going via the popular routes.
The crossing on Maqueda Channel already gives the visitors a spectacular view of Mayon Volcano. As they get near Caramoan, they will see the eastern tip of the peninsula and its beautiful limestone cliffs and empty white sand beaches.
The boat will take visitors to the popular Matukad Island and its long stretch of powdery white sand beach. It has a limestone rock formation on the south side. A lagoon would surprise you when you reach the top. The lagoon is said to be the home of a mythical giant fish.
There are other islands like Tayak, Lahos, Kagbalinad, Sabitan Laya, Cotivas and Manlawi Sandbar, each one boasting of gorgeous white sand beaches and surrounded by the cool clear waters of Maqueda.
Inland, visitors can visit several caves like Omang, Calupnit and Manipis. It also has a lovely 16th century red brick church dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel.
The Gota Beach where I used to camp during my early years of travel to Caramoan has been converted into a resort. The beach and some of the islands are sometime closed whenever there are shootings for the “Survivor” TV series.
But the highlight of going by the backdoor to Caramoan is the rarely visited island of Catanuguan. This island has a long stretch of white-sand beach that hardly get crowded with tourists. You can also try freshly-picked young coconut that is best enjoyed while watching the magnificent sunset of Caramoan.
Where to stay, what to eat
Most of the visitors in Caramoan stay either in the resorts near Gota or in Poblacion, where there are more options for affordable lodging.
Those preferring the backdoor route can stay at the many beach resorts in Virac and just go to Caramoan on a daytrip.
Visitors can also try camping in one of the islands. The most popular island for camping overnight is Matukad Island. Just inform your boatman that you are staying overnight so that he can make necessary arrangements.
For dining, there is nothing to eat on most of the islands except halo-halo and fresh buko juice. If you are coming from Virac, there is plenty of fresh seafood available from the local market that you can bring when you go island- hopping.
But for the best Survivor Caramoan experience, try catching fish by hand, making fire using stone tools, grilling the fish and eating them fresh out of the fire!
PHOTOS BY JOSEPH T. BAUTISTA