Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Caramoan Peninsula: Sabitan Laya, Lahuy, Cotivas & Guinahoan Islands

Sabitan Laya
The gang strutting our stuff at Sabitan Laya, ala Survivor
My travel buddy Jessica and I spent our birthday weekend with friends at Caramoan Peninsula in Camarines Sur, an anvil-shaped piece of land jutting out of southeast Luzon that fractures into numerous islands, some of them boasting karst formations akin to El Nido and Coron. This island paradise catapulted to world-wide stardom starting in 2007 as the setting of the French, Swedish, Bulgarian, Serbian, Israeli and, most recently, Indian franchise of the hit reality TV show, Survivor. The islands are leased by the franchise for 25 years. (Consequently, some of the islands are off limits to tourists when there are shootings.)

Manlawi Sand Bar (Lahuy Island)
The vanishing Manlawi Sand Bar in Lahuy Island
Due to the choppy condition of the Pacific waters, our island-hopping activities centered amidst the sheltered waters of Caramoan's western isles just north of the jump-off jetty of Bikal. First stop: Sabitan Laya Beach on an arrowhead-shaped island with a cluster of karst outcrops at its tip, from which two stretches of fine beaches radiate from.
Guinahoan Island
The less-visited Guinahoan Island boasts of Batanes-like rolling pastures and dramatic cliffs
Further north is the large island of Lahuy, where a large sandbank called Manlawi Sand Bar appears only during low tide. It's a great place to have lunch; for PHP 200, local villagers can instantly assemble a makeshift bamboo cottage for your food and belongings. Make sure to finish lunch before the tide rushes in! Next to Lahuy is Cotivas Island, a smaller island with a more permanent sandbank on its eastern end, and striated rock formations on the other.

Native house at Guinahoan Island
Friendly islanders welcome us in their village of nipa (palm) huts at Guinahoan Island

Unfortunately, due to the unpredictable weather last weekend, the postcard-pretty karst spots of Gota Beach, Matukad Island and Lahos Island were crossed out of the itinerary. (I'm hoping to return within the year to check out these remaining islands.) In lieu of them, we were taken to Guinahoan Island, next to Cotivas. Because Guinahoan is not often frequented by travelers, our arrival prompted a sunny welcome by the villagers, many of them children who eagerly offered to guide our group to the lighthouse at the highest point of the island.  According to our boatman, only guests of West Peninsula Villas are permitted to visit Guinahoan Island since a staff member of the resort is from this island. Just when I thought that Caramoan Islands were all about jagged limestone islands, Guinahoan was a welcome surprise with its rolling pastures, dramatic cliffs, crashing surf and languid cattle, very reminiscent of the famed isles of Batanes!

Caramoan Church
Church of St. Michael the Archangel in Caramoan town

Back in Caramoan town, not to be missed before leaving the peninsula is the red-brick Church of St. Michael the Archangel, which harps back to the Spanish period, when the town was first established as a settlement called Baluarte amidst impenetrable rainforest by a zealous missionary named Francisco de la Cruz y Oropesa.

Guijalo Port
Small bangka at Guijalo Port, Caramoan
HOW TO GET THERE: Frequent buses ply between Manila and Naga (7 to 8 hours). A deluxe Pe├▒afrancia Bus (with onboard toilets) to Naga costs PHP 900 per way. There are also flights between both cities. 

Getting to Caramoan involves transfering from Naga to Sabang port (1 hour) in San Jose, then catching a lantsa (outrigger ferry) (PHP 120, 2 hours) or ro-ro ferry boat (PHP 150, 2.5 hours) to Guijalo port in Caramoan municipality.

Though connected to mainland Luzon, Caramoan proper is more accessible by sea because the road that connects it to the rest of the province remains undeveloped. From Guijalo, it's a 20-minute ride to Caramoan town, where most of the budget guesthouses are, halfway to the northern jetty of Bikal where bangkas (outrigger boats) take tourists to the numerous offshore islands. A full-day boat rental would normally cost 1,500 to 2,500 depending on the distance of the islands to be visited.

For a DIY budget breakdown, check out this entry by Tripadora.

West Peninsula Villas
West Peninsula Villas offers best-value accommodations!
Since we were 12 in the group, we opted for an ALL-IN hassle-free 3D/2N tour package from our accommodation, West Peninsula Villas (westpen.i.ph) in Caramoan town, at only PHP 3,500 per head. After comparing several packages promoted online, this was the best value we found, which included all of the following:


• Round-trip A/C van transfers - Naga Airport to Sabang Port
• Round-trip boat transfers - Sabang Port to Guijalo Port (Caramoan)
• A/C Villa Accommodation with CATV, CR and free wifi zone (4 pax per room)
• Six (6) meals (breakfast, lunch & dinner)
• Boat rental for two (2) days of island-hopping
• Service Vehicle within Caramoan town
• Entrance fees
• Friendly tour guide
• Free souvenir
• Free one (1) night karaoke at Lake Bar

For inquiries, contact Mr. Jean "Dens" Sancho Jr. of West Peninsula Villas at +63 9153295669 or +63 9212642538.

WHERE TO STAY: West Peninsula Villas offers the best value in town with A/C thatch-roofed rooms that accommodate 4 to 6 pax each. The 4 pax villa is only PHP 1,500. Billiards. Amenities include a floating bar, videoke room, mini gym, free wifi, dart game, pool table and basketball court. When filming the Survivor series, some of the production crew stays here. Some props and obstacles used in the show decorate the resort grounds.

7 comments:

  1. Im familiar with the islands that you've featured..
    and you're correct, the peninsula is comparable to palawan's el nido and coron..
    but I say it's very distinctive..
    caramoan has a charm of its own including mysteries..

    ever heard of caramoan's mystical milkfish??? and the Umang Cave which is known to be a seat for survivor tribal council.. normally off limits to most visitors..

    can be very frustrating sometimes as Caramoan has a lot to offer but is being limited due to survivor

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  2. Yes, a Bicolana friend mentioned the enchanted bangus and said there are many more hidden gems in the peninsula. Looking forward to exploring more in the near future, as this is just my very first visit. I've yet to visit the pretty eastern isles off Gota Beach. Aside from the Survivor series, another downside is the finicky weather, owing to the peninsula's location facing the Pacific Ocean. Thanks for sharing Simurgh!

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  3. Just looking at your pictures in Guinahoan Island makes me want to go back to Caramoan again. We were able to cover only 5-6 islands when we went here.

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  4. @killerfillers: We were only able to visit four islands, too. Guinahoan is usually off-limits to visitors. It's easier to gain access through West Peninsula Villas, since a staff member is from there. This island actually replaced Matukad and Gota in our IT due to the choppy sea conditions. It was a pleasant surprise though! And hiking through its hills and down to the white beach on the Pacific side was definitely one of the highlights of our visit =) Thanks for reading!

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  5. hi ed! saw from statcounter that a visit came from your site. naka-link pala yung isa sa mga entries ko. salamat :)

    ReplyDelete

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