Islands and Beaches

The Way to Cagbalete Island & Its Beaches


Brendan Lee
Brendan Lee | Mar 21, 2014

I love Manila. It’s a great city with great restaurants, great people, great shopping, and great prices. However, there’s one big problem with Manila that's never going to change.

It. Has. No. Beach!

The good news is that the Philippines has some of the best beaches on the planet, some of which are not too far from the capital. If you’re after your fix of sand and sun, a little weekend road trip is enough to have you sorted.


The journey to Cagbalete Island in Quezon Province starts before sunrise. A public bus leaves every morning at 5am which you can't miss (it’s from the JAC Liner terminal in Cubao).

The bus will take you straight to Mauban in Quezon, where you’ll jump on the ferry to the island. For reasons unknown to me, we decided to take the longer, roundabout route, with a 4am bus to Lucena, followed by a second bus to Mauban. What fun is life if you don’t do things a little different now and then?

Bus to Lucena

It’s a refreshing bus ride to Lucena. The buses are modern, probably with a TV playing The Fast & The Furious, along with reclining seats and a working AC. After a short 3 hours, you’ll find yourself at the Lucena bus station, with a wealth of Filipino food to appease your growling stomach.

Lucena Bus Station

From there it’s another 2-hour bus ride, heading to the town of Mauban. Here’s where the real journey begins. It’s an old and weathered bus, which chugs along at a snail’s pace. The seats are hard and unforgiving. The only AC is the open air windows and the panels vibrate with the rattle of the engine.

But it excites you, because there’s not a single foreigner on this rickety old bus. Hell, there’s hardly any other people on it, and that alone tells you that something good lies ahead. The road less travelled is always the most rewarding one, and the road to Cagbalete Island seems to be hardly travelled at all.

Bus to Mauban

The bus ride offers a pleasant glimpse into rural Philippines. Staring out the window is like a filmstrip of banana trees and beautiful greenery, minimalist houses, and bunches of laughing kids playing with nature. After a slow but easy two hours, the bus finally pulls into Mauban.


Mauban is everything you expect it to be. A tranquil little town, where people live in peaceful simplicity. There are no rush hours here, no valet parking. Smiles? Yes, lots of them. Something tells me that’s not a coincidence.

As we make our way through the town, it seems common to buy meat, fish and vegetables at the market to take with you to the island. I’m sensing there's no McDonald’s where I’m going. However, for us there’s no time to shop; our bus has arrived late, and the boat to Cagbalete is leaving any second. For all we know, it’s already gone without us.

Mauban town

A trike takes us to the ferry and we rush out onto the jetty, stopping at the ticketing booth to pay our fares. I scamper to the boat and hurry on board, relieved that it’s still here. After all, we’ve arrived 30 minutes past the scheduled departure time.

Ticketing booth Mauban

I’m a fool. This is not Singapore. Things here run on island time, where 30 minutes late is not late at all. We’re on time, maybe even early. Patience is a virtue, and these people are among the most virtuous I have met.

Boat to Cagbalete

As workers continue to load up the boat with the daily crates of food and water for the island, we indulge in some of the local treats being sold on board. The damage on a lumpia is 8 pesos (20 cents). Those $3 spring rolls at home don’t seem like such a bargain after all…


The 45-minute boat ride is wet, crowded, and bumpy. I tough it out.

As we pull up to shore, the local kids swimming in the ocean jump onto the side of the boat and squeal at me in Tagalog. They're tanned to a chocolate brown, and talk at me with urgency. I smile and hide behind my sunglasses. I later figure out they were simply offering to hold my bags for me, perhaps for a negligible tip.

Cagbalete Island

I’ve made arrangements to stay at Dona Choleng Resort, around a 15 minute walk from the dock. Funnily enough, the owner of the resort is on board the ferry with me, so we follow him through the back alleys and out into the open brush. More than once, we need to wade through puddles of thick, sandy mud. It’s all part of the fun.

Cagbalete Island

Continue reading at

Add to your: Wishlist Done That

Be a Pinoy Wanderer!

Choose Philippines encourages writers, photographers, travelers, bloggers, videographers and everyone with a heart for the Philippines to share their discoveries and travel stories.

Share Your Journey

Other Stories by Brendan Lee

Tell Us What You Think

Related Stories