Last weekend, I became an accidental tourist and was given a Herculean task by a friend. Pack my camera gear and rucksack under 30 minutes and hit Cubao terminal en route to Daet, Camarines Norte – some 324 kilometers Southeast of Manila. I thought I would not make it but the picture of me basking in the shores and white sands of Calaguas was in my head ever since I got back from Singapore the week before. Another beach to cross out on my bucket list. How can I turn that down!
So after I packed my all my stuff in a breakneck speed, I met my couple friend at Gateway and made our way to Philtranco terminal to board on an 8-hour trip to Talobatib, a baranggay in Labo, Camarines Norte. There we will change for another bus or tricycle to go to Paracale, a fishport town known for its gold that will serve as a jump-off point to Tinaga Island where the famous Mahabang Buhangin or Halabang Baybay in Bicol is situated. Mahabang Buhangin is a long beach with fine white sand, crystal blue waters, with scattered volcanic rock on it’s both ends and valued for its untouched beauty and well-preserved nature. This tropical island paradise is located on the northern part of Barangay Mangcawayan, Tinaga Island (Calaguas group of Islands), the entire beach is facing northwest, best for an inspiring sunset, and it is an image of wonderful paradise with its long stretch sand with crystal clear water perfect for swimming/snorkeling.
Upon reaching Paracale, you can find a nearby wet market where you can buy your food and supplies for prices of it in the island itself is quite hefty. I would advice you buy all the things you need in the market before taking the boat.
Since we didn’t had a pre-arranged boat that will take us to the island, we look for one right there at the fish port. Good haggling skills can be very much in handy in this situation. Within minutes, we managed to find one that will take us to paradise for a reasonable price. All aboard for the two-hour ride!
Houses on stilts in Paracale
I’ve been reading couple of blogs about Calaguas and most of them are narrating how scary their experiences crossing the rough sea. Luckily, for us, it is a smooth sailing two-hour trip from the jump-off point to paradise. Upon reaching the shores of Calaguas cove, this is what greeted us:
Pure, powdery, white sand. Torquoise-colored water. A kilometer stretch of pure, powdery whiteness. You can’t see any seaweeds, driftwood or any impurities washed along the shore. It’s been a long 12-hour trip going there but the vista that will welcome you alone makes all the effort worth it. We spend the whole morning swimming, sunbathing and snorkeling.
Now I can understand why the beach is often compared to Boracay. Boracay’s sand quality is still a little bit superior but I think the real advantage of Boracay is the convenience as everything you need and some can be found within footsteps away. I can imagine Boracay in its early days looked something like Calaguas. You can bask at the cool clear waters not minding where you are or what time of the day it is. There’s something hypnotic about The beach for you to just lie down, read a book and relax. Now the question is will this turn up to be the next Boracay? Many people certainly hope not. Me personally think it wouldn’t. The location alone of the island being exposed to rough waves of the Pacific Ocean and Bicol region being on the typhoon path means it’s not commercially viable for 5-star hotels to be put up here.
What Calaguas lacks is its make or break appeal to tourists. Lack of electricity and cellular signal (at the moment) is a big turn off to some, but for others it adds up to its virgin, unspoilt appeal. My guess is that people don’t actually mind judging the flock of tourist that are already there when we arrive. To those who wonder if there’s any decent toilets, you can breathe a sigh of relief as there’s one for both gender.
At present there are huts and cottages that are for rent in Calaguas but the more popular means to experience the beach life there is to camp. Bring your own tent and pitch it anywhere within the kilometer stretch of the beach. When we got there, we were surprised that a construction of big rows of cabana in the beachfront are in full swing, so expect a more convenient stay in Calaguas in the near future.
construction in full swing
Calaguas cove is facing west so get ready to experience breathtaking sunsets. The couple can’t help but have a romantic pose while the sun sinks to the horizon
As evening slowly crept in, we decided to put something in the sand so we can sit on it while waiting for our dinner to cook (we just had our entire meal during our stay cooked for us by the caretaker of the nearby store for a fee) while waiting, Tin lit up hundreds of handmade paper lanterns to surprise his husband for it was their anniversary that evening.
these lit up our dinner and the entire evening
Bonfires soon started to dance and friends huddled up around it, some piped-in music can be heard nearby, some reggae music coming from the couple’s iPad filled the cool summer air and me, I am lying in the sand watching the stars. I didn’t knew what time I fell asleep. Soon the moon had set and I woke up wee hours in the morning. I can’t help myself but to went out and search the Milky Way again and I was not disappointed.
By 5:30am, the couple is still sleeping, I decided to head back to the hills and determined to reach that good vantage point for my photography which I saw the day before. We had tried climbing the hill on our first day but decided to go down midway because the sun is about to set and it’s not a good idea to hike down in total darkness.
I’m telling you, the hike will leave you breathless, but the view on top will take your breath away.
nature high at its best
Aside from water activities and hiking, frisbee, beach volleyball, kiting, yoga, boodle fights you can just lie in the sand and soak up the sun all day long. The things you can do when you’re in paradise are endless. We head back home that noon, I still don’t want to go home. I am at home.
•3D/2N would be the ideal length of stay to enjoy and experience Calaguas.
• If youre planning to commute, start early, so you can reach the jump-off point early. Crossing the sea to go to the island is smooth during early morning as the sea is calmer than the rest of the day. Buses bound to Bicol are usually night trips so don’t worry. Just don’t oversleep.
• buy all the things you need on the wet market before stepping on the boat and head to the beach for you to get everything cheap as prices tends to be higher in the island.
• You can either rent a boat in Paracale or travel with locals (cheaper) in Vinzons to reach Calaguas.
• If you decided to rent an outrigger boat to go to Calaguas, try to haggle for a good rate. Ideally, boat rental fetches 2,000php to 3,500php for 3-6 persons and 4,000php up for bigger groups.
• When you’re taking the Talobatib-Paracale route, remind the driver that your party will be alighting at Talobatib after they made the first and only stop over.
• Discretion is yours specially when you’re paying for some services. Twice we encountered locals saying “kayo na po ang bahala” (It’s all up to you) when we asked how much their services cost us.
• There is small market in the island (barrio). Go to Brgy. Mangcawayan and look for the small fish store. Freshly caught fishes are cheap.
• There are a lot of travel packages to Calaguas that are offered online but I think the best way (and not to mention cheaper) is a DIY trip with your friends.
• If you want to have the beach all by yourself, go there during weekdays.
• -Ber months are not advisable to go there said the boatmen for waves are big and rough. Summer is the perfect time to experience Calaguas.
• if you are on a camping mode but do not have tent, worry not because the stores in Mahabang buhangin offers tents for rent (250php for 2 persons, 350php for the one that could fit in for 3 people) just inquire at the store.
• if you think cooking on firewood and charcoal is messy, have someone do the cooking for you for a fee, just ask the people from the store.
• here’s some fee that you need to pay upon arrival:
Beach Entrance- Php 100/head (per day)
Cottage- ranges from 300php – 500php
• Mang Pogi (+63912 903 8213) is our contact in Paracale, a good-natured man who can give you reasonable price on boat rental and his boats are big and have makeshift roof. Just discuss to them what time and date you wanted to get picked back for they will go back to the mainland and there’s no cellular signal in Calaguas.
Just to give you an idea how much a weekend getaway in Calaguas would cost you,
1,000 – 1,500php – Fare
200 – 500php – Food
200 – 500php – tent/hut rental
100php – entrance fee
2,000 – 4,000php – boat rental
huts for rent on left, a sari-sari store on the right
Getting There and Away
If you are coming from Manila, the most straight forward and hassle-free option is to take Philtranco (other option inclues Raymond Lines, Peñafrancia, Amihan, Superlines and DLTBCo.) buses that are bound straight to Paracale. If theres no available direct trip you can find, Daet is the next best option (580php – 700php one way, travel time 8hrs) Just get off at barangay Talobatib, a junction in Labo, Camarines Norte then take the bus (45php, travel time 35mins) or tricycle (250php, travel time 1 hr) going to Paracale. From Paracale, make your way to the fishport, the jump-off point to Calaguas Island (boat rental starts at 2,000php depending on how big your group is, travel time 2hrs)
In Daet, board a jeepney to Vinzons or Mercedes (15php, travel time 20-30 mins) and ask around for the fish port (pandawan). Hire a boat to take you to the island. At Vinzons fish port and pier, there are daily schedules of boat trips to Brgy. Banocboc at 11am. Return trips to Vinzons town proper from Banocboc is 6am. From Banocboc you can hire a banca to take you to Calaguas Islands for as low as 500php – 1,000php or even lower depending on your haggling skill. Travel time is 2-3hrs.
There are no commercial flights directly from Manila to Daet, Camarines Norte. Naga Aiprort is the closest in the area. Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, AirPhilippines and Zest Air have daily trips to Bicol. From the airport, head to Naga Van terminal, in front of SM Naga, and look for vans bound to Daet. Fare is 150php, travel time is 2 hours. From Daet you can take a van to Paracale for 80php, travel time 45mins or alternatively you can take a jeep to Vinzons 15php, travel time is 30mins