I AM off the grid. Untethered from my digital life. No electricity, no phone reception, no WiFi. The last time I was this digitally isolated was when I did a meditation retreat in Thailand and had all my smart (and dumb) devices confiscated for a week! This may sound like a nightmare to some but, for me, for now, it is bliss.
After living in overcrowded, chaotic Manila for almost a year now, this is exactly what I need. I take a moment to take all of this in as I step from the powdery white sand into my tent with a crackle of artificial plastic beneath my feet. I lie down and feel the air disperse around my body as I sink slightly into my cheap air mattress. My tent has a mesh roof and, as I lie down, I can see thousands of stars brightly piercing through the deep blackness.
The moon is out. It's 3 days before a 'Super Moon' and it's already so bright that I can make out the peaks of the mountains as their jagged tops refract the moonlight around us. I smile and close my eyes, and listen to the soft woosh, clack and sizzle of the waves licking the dark beach only metres from my tent.
This is the very landscape that was set ablaze by lava during the violent eruption of Mount Pinatubo only a couple of decades ago. This eruption breathed new life into the beaches and created the spectacular scenery which exists today. Even now there's evidence of volcanic ash, magnetic sand and scorched mountains.
Where am I? I'm in Anawangin Cove camping in Zambales, Philippines. I've come here for remote beach camping and well, that's exactly what I've got.
As an Australian, camping and being with nature is part of life. It's always been important for me to escape the harsh, right-angled artificial concrete city and blend into the fluid wilderness as often as possible. However, this is the first time I've been camping in the Philippines and I can say that Anawangin Cove camping is sensational by global standards. It is true remote beach camping. We've arrived midweek and have a large chunk of the beach to ourselves. Our temporary beach home isn't near any other campers and the days and nights and quiet and peaceful.
This will be briefly interrupted on Saturday when the groups of call centre workers arrive after their night shift on their weekend team building trips. They'll spill off boats and onto the sand before erecting selfie sticks like giant antennas, waving them in the air as if trying to pick up a TV signal. They will gaze at smartphones with smiles and poses and spend entire afternoons trying to get that perfect beach 'jump shot'. But, for now, late on a Wednesday evening, the beach is ours.
The beach camping zone stretches along the shoreline with a tea-coloured, brackish water lake on one side and the bright blue ocean on the other. It's refreshing to be able to swim in the ocean and then rinse off in the colder river. We've pitched 2 small tents but, we've also taken advantage of hiring one of the cabana-style straw huts with table and chairs to cook and eat at as well as store our things (see prices below).
If it's a crowded weekend or if you prefer a tree-change, you can camp back from the beach amongst the pine trees. This area is on the other side of the river and the only way across is to wade through the water. There are public toilets and even (cold) showers in both camping areas. Note that there are three different camp grounds at Anawangin. Depending on which boat company you take will usually depend on where the boat lands closest to. We stayed at the camp ground to the far right (when facing the beach with your back to the ocean) which is near the beginning of the hiking trail. (See details at the bottom of the page).
We've arrived from Manila and it's a 4-hour journey north by land. The trip begins with the grind through traffic out of the city, then highway, then the road slowly gets narrower, the pavement gives away to dirt, then finally to sand as laneways abruptly meet the ocean at Pundaquit beach where it's a boat from here.
Don't do what we did and arrive in Pundaquit without food as there is nothing at Pundaquit Beach. Make sure you stop in San Antonio Market to buy everything you need before proceeding to Pundaquit. The Market has plenty of fresh produce you can buy to barbeque at Anawangin.
After buying our food, we head for the ocean. We've tried to not pack too much but with 4 adults and a 2-year-old, it's not easy. Fortunately, the guys from Florante Lavesoria tours are helpful and carry all of our things carefully onto the boat.
After a 30-minute boat trip past spectacular cliffs, coves, caves and mountains, we round a headland into Anawangin Cove. Before long, we set foot on the damp sand as the crew begin to shuttle our luggage up the beach and onto one of the wooden cabana tables. I instinctively head up the beach and as far away from people as possible to find our own private spot. I don't know if it's a cultural thing but all the other groups seem to want to camp right next to each other! This suits me well as we have the whole end of the beach to ourselves. We pitch 2 tents and start a small charcoal fire to grill our fish from the market.
As we wait for our fish, we play some badminton and guitar. We swim, explore and I get a chance to get my drone up in the air.
As the evening approaches, the sky turns a vivid orange and lilac and the deep red sun slowly falls behind the ocean horizon creating an array of spectacular colours and some wonderful photo opportunities. Growing up in Sydney on the East coast of Australia, I never got to see the sun set into the ocean, so I sit on the white sand, grab a cooler box to use as a tripod and start snapping this amazing scene.
Once the ocean swallows the sun, we build a campfire. We drag one of our air mattresses up to the fires edge and play guitar as the fire pops, crackles and hisses, sending sparks up into the bright milky way above us. The solitude, night sky, and sound of the ocean create the perfect environment to relax.
Now, there is no electricity at Anawangin cove so, take plenty of powerbanks and spare batteries. This became a problem for me as I only had one battery with 25 minutes flying time for my drone. Luckily a kind boatman offered to take the battery back to the mainland with him that evening, charge it and bring it back the next day. However, don't rely on the kindness of others... I was lucky!
Whilst there's no generator or power, there is a series of 12V batteries which are charged by solar during the day. If you hire a cabana, the staff will give you a light globe at night to screw into the cabana roof when they turn the power on. Now, where there's light, there's power. I would highly recommend bringing a 'light bulb socket adaptor' (pictured below) and instead of wasting your only precious power with a light globe, use it as a socket to charge your devices!
The mornings in Anawangin are beautiful. There's nothing like waking up, crawling out of your tent, treading across fine white sand and diving into the refreshing ocean! In the mornings, the sun slides over the backs of rippled mountains, slowly illuminating the headland in a golden glow. Smoke wafts over the cove and out to sea from breakfast charcoal barbeques from campsites along the beach creating a magical atmosphere.
The water is so clean and clear that it's like swimming in liquid glass. The bright sun penetrates the emerald-blue surface creating colourful patterns that look like bright electrical currents pulsing over the corrugated sandy bottom. I float and bob around in the water staring through the surface at my large disproportionate feet that are magnified by the clear ocean.
The landscape around Anawangin Cove is simply out of this world. The best way to see it is to hike the trail that goes up the headland. From the top, you get an awesome birds-eye view of the cove as well as hidden surrounding beaches. Be warned, the trail is steep and slippery in parts. My Fitbit registered that we had climbed 15 floors! So take water, take it slowly and spend some time sitting under the shade of the trees at the top and taking in the view (and cool breeze). It IS worth it!
Now, coming into the second night, our food (and more importantly beer) was looking a little scarce. We were very lucky that the friendly owners of the camp site offered to go to the market for us and deliver more food the next day. So we gave them a list of things and obviously tipped them for their trouble. I'm not suggesting this is always possible, so do not rely on being able to re-stock your food. There are some small stalls around the camp grounds that sell instant noodles, coffee, beer and snacks, however, it really depends on the demand during the time that you go.
I would suggest investing in cooler boxes and fill them with food and ice from San Antonio markets. As mentioned, you can just use charcoal, however, we also invested in a portable stove which made it easy to cook eggs, fry food and boil water.
Overall this was one of the most incredible places I've ever camped. It provides anyone with an opportunity to get back in touch with nature, swim at pristine beaches and recharge the soul. Like most places close to Manila, I think that Anawangin is underrated and is really a spectacular hidden gem. So, pack your things and head out to Anawangin Cove. You won't regret it!
***Please note that this is not a sponsored posts and any recommendations below are unbiased and based on my authentic first-hand experience***
How to get there
• Hire a van / drive north on NLEX towards San Fernando & Clarke, go through Olongapo around Subic Bay to Pundaquit Beach.
• Take a Victory Liners bus heading to San Antonio from a Manila Victory Liners terminal. They leave approx. every hour.
• Take a trike from San Antonio to Pundaquit Beach
Costs & Services
• Private van from Manila to Pundaquit: 5-6k PHP one way.
• Recommendation: Vigan: Van for Rent. Call Ronald 0927 200 5134
• Victory Liners Manila - San Antonio (Iba bound bus): 350 - 380 PHP per person one way
• Trike from San Antonio to Pundaquit: 30 PHP per person
• Boat from Pundaquit to Anawangin Cove: 1000 PHP round trip (capacity 4 people). Bigger boat for 10 people is also available.
• Recommendation: Florante Lavesoria: ph 0910 805 3388 / 0917 739 1949 (cheapest rates & friendly service)
• Camping fees: 100 PHP per night
• Cabana hire: 350 PHP per night
• Fire wood: 150 PHP
• Staff at camp ground to cook rice for you - 50 PHP :)
What to do
• Beach swimming
• Island Hopping from Anawangin Cove
• Mosquito repellant
• Battery operated torch / lamp with spare batteries
• 'Hurricane' lamp and kerosene
• Cooler boxes
• Something to sit on - mats, beach chairs, hammocks etc.
• PLENTY of drinking water
• Rope (to make a clothesline)
• Sachets of washing powder/soap/shampoo
• Tissues (dry and wet)
• Inflatable mattress and pump
• Sand pegs - the normal pegs that come with tens do not work in the sand.
• Music - guitar, portable speaker, someone who can sing?
• Camera, power banks, batteries, light socket adaptor (see above), cables (USB, Micro USB etc). waterproof smart phone cases.
• Portable stove / charcoal and grill
• Frypan and utensils
• Plastic cups and cutlery
• Candles to keep away flies
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