Islands and Beaches
How to Tour Catanduanes: 7 Days in the Happy Island
Christa De La Cruz | Jan 29, 2015
In the summer of 2014, the Choose Philippines team spent a week getting wet...in an exciting Catanduanes adventure.
Suffice to say, the trip ended a long time ago. But how can one forget getting up before dawn, turning in a little before midnight, and find out that the day is still not enough just to take in what the Philippine island has to offer.
We were alternating between skimboarding and drying off in the sun, between carabao-riding and spelunking, and, of course, between taking naps by the beach and pigging out on the island's delicacies. They call it the "happy island," after all.
Catanduanes is geographically situated at the easternmost part of the Bicol Peninsula, separated from the mainland Bicol by Maqueda Channel and Lagonoy Gulf. It is the Philippine land mass closest to the Pacific Ocean, making it susceptible to tropical cyclones. For this reason, the island has been called "The Land of the Howling Winds."
PAGASA says, however, that because of the cyclones' behavior (and climate change, perhaps) in the last five years, Catanduanes may actually be the "The Land of the Howling Winds, No More."
And so, our adventure in the 151,150-hectare island began.
It all started with an early flight to Virac and it's all uphill (then downhill, then uphill again) from there, literally.
A Lost History
Not much is written about the island's history because its best source of information, the "Ex Libris Canonicus," was destroyed in one of the encounters with Moro pirates.
In the early 1900s, Catanduanes was a sub-province of Ambos Camarines and, later, of Albay. Provincial autonomy was approved on September 26, 1945 and subsequently signed into law on October 24, 1945 by then president Sergio Osmeña.
Legend Has It
Two stories try to explain the origin of the name "Catanduanes". One claims that it originated from "tandu," a native click beetle abundant in the island, thus "Katanduan." Hispanic corruption of the word made it "Catanduanes."
Another legend says that instead of "tandu," it actually originated from "samdong," a tree that was once abundant in the province. The place was then called "Kasamdongan." Hispanization again occured, due to the Spaniards' difficulty in pronouncing /ng/, thus becoming "Katandungan," and eventually "Catanduanes."
Day 1-3: Surfing at Puraran
No, not really. But saying that I did could've been way cooler!
We just sat on the sidelines as the first ever Catanduanes Reef Break (Surf & Music Festival) unfolded before our eyes.
Puraran Beach, an isolated cove in the municipality of Baras, is a world-renowned surfing destination. Locals say that on a good day, the waves can reach more than six feet.
It has its own swells coming in from the Pacific that break on an offshore reef. Dubbed as the “Majestic,” it has one of the “fastest, most hollow, and right-handed barrels in the world” (from majesticpuraran.com.ph). The term was coined by Hawaiian photographer Warren Bolster in the June 1988 issue of California-based Surfer Magazine.
Most of the room accommodations don’t have WiFi, a flat screen LCD TV with 100+ cable channels, and Dolby surround sound. They offer something better: friendly local surfers who will share with you stories of waves conquered, a picturesque beach that has an interesting terrain at low tide, and the rhythmic crashing of the water as the wind blows in from the ocean.
Day 4: From Virac, to San Andres, and Back
After three days of watching the best surfers riding the waves in Catanduanes' surfing spot, it was time to explore the rest of the island. We went back to Virac and started our tour of the various municpalities.
Hicming Falls (Virac)
Found in Barangay Hicming, thus the name, this waterfall has two main levels.
The first leg is a 12-minute walk which will lead you to the 10-feet drop while the second can be reached through another 8-minute walk. The two-tiered basin has a 30-feet drop so be careful.
Twin Rock Beach Resort (Virac)
Fifteen minutes from the capitol center, Twin Rock in Barangay Igang offers an all-in-one beach adventure—from the extreme ones like ziplining and rock climbing to the most laid back one like…sleeping.
Our Lady of Sorrows (San Andres)
This chapel in Barangay Batong Paloway houses a miraculous stone said to be bearing the face of the Virgin Mary. Not just any ordinary rock, the image is believed to have grown over the years starting from being as big as a thumb when one still needed a magnifying glass to see the mystical face.
Luyang Cave (San Andres)
This underground cave in Barangay Lictin does not only house countless bats and colossal rock formations. With its winding paths and chambers, the cave was a silent witness to the massacre of locals who tried to hide from the Moro pirates in the early years of the 18th century.
Legend has it that the natives started a bonfire at the cave entrance in an attempt to ward off the invaders. Ironically, the winds howled and have blown towards the cave, suffocating those who fled.
Near the mouth of the cave is an altar where a "Requiem Mass" is held every April 28 to appease their souls.
From Luyang Cave, one can see Cagmasoso — one of the highest mountain peaks in the province of Catanduanes.
Perched on one side of the mountain is a private residence (Alberto's Farm) that provides a vantage point to the most romantic sunset backdropped by the beauty of Mt. Mayon.
Taste Buds (Virac)
Fried frogs (palakang bukid) and eels in coconut milk are just some of the best-sellers in this local restaurant fit for the adventurous foodie.
For the less bold traveler, Taste Buds also serve burgers that could be a big challenge for your jaw. And, of course, it's called the "Jawbreaker".
They also ferment their own wine — perfecting the "farm to table" adage. Their cocktail "Pina Colada" would just make you want to sing along the 1970s hit (Rupert Holmes"Escape" a.k.a. "The Pina Colada Song").
Rakdell Inn (Virac)
Located right in front of Taste Buds, this four-storey building is an ideal location for going in and out of the capitol, and the whole island. It is a three-minute walk from the seaport and a three-minute ride away from the airport.
Rates cost as low as PhP 350 for a standard fan room and PhP 3500 for a whole family suite.
Day 5: More Fun in the Water
Mamangal Beach (Virac)
At this point, another trip to the beach is not a surprise anymore. After all, Catanduanes is an island blessed with the most beautiful coastline.
If Puraran Beach boasts of waves for surfing, Mamangal has calmer waters fit for the skimboarder. Its creamy beach is also dotted with shady trees perfect for afternoon picnics with the whole family. Entrance is just PhP 10 for adults and PhP 5 for children.
Amenia Beach Resort (San Andres)
The municipality of San Andres has a cave, a miraculous shrine, and...(surprise!)...a beach resort.
Also boasting of white sand and tamed waters, a family or a barkada can stay in their rooms with a price range of PhP 2000-2500 fit for 10 to 12 persons. Tables and cottages are also provided for those who just wants to spend the day swimming or kayaking.
Kuripdas Fishing Lagoon (Virac)
A portmanteu of kuripot and waldas, Kuripdas can bring out the fisherman in you. A kilo of tilapia and bangus that you have to catch for yourself in their fishpens costs PhP 150. Table rentals by the beach are at PhP 300-750 for 6-15 pax while tables at the lagoon are at PhP 500 for a group of 8.
Try to arrive early as you might have to spend hours trying to reel in your lunch.
PAG-ASA Weather Radio Station (Bato)
Catanduanes' weather station uses the new Solid-State Meteorological Radar System technology developed in Japan. Inaugurated in 2012, the radar system was one of the three facilities funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) through a PhP 1.7 billion grant in 2009.
The other two radars are stationed in Aparri, Cagayan (2013) and Guiuan, Samar. The latter, however, was destroyed when Yolanda struck the region and is expected to be functional by September 2015.
Geekery aside, the station provides front row seats to a breaktaking 360º view of Baras, Bato, Virac, and the Pacific Ocean — making it a photographer's dream location.
Holy Cross of Batalay Shrine (Bato)
Declared a Diocesan Shrine on April 1, 1973, the Holy Cross of Batalay is the site where the first cross in Catandaunes was planted and where a miraculous spring can be found. Posted inside the shrine is a short account written by one Mariono Goyena del Prado as claimed by references "Labor Evangelican" by Colin Francisco and "Estadismo" by Martinez de Zuñega:
"When the passengers of the galleon Espiritu Santo set sail on November 8, 1579 from Acapulco to Manila, amidst wild cheers and canon bombs, little did they think that they would never reach their destination. But in the midnight of April 23, 1576, the galleon struck the reefs of Nagngangang Buaya (Catanduanes) and was wrecked.
Among the survivors were Fr. Diego de Herrera with the Augustinian missionaries Lesmes de Santiago, Francisco Villa, Francisco Martines, a native Visayan, Geronimo Galves and several members of the crew including some military personnel.
The survivors were stranded in Batalay, a native "balangay" located in the southern tip of Bato, Catanduanes, where they were given shelter and provisions by the ruling datu. The friars started to preach the Gospel and to introduce new methods of agriculture and better ways of community living.
The "indios" took them to the neighboring forest. In no time, the Spaniard found themselves on the verge of starvation. This prompted them to set out in search of the natives to bring them back to Batalay. Sporadic encounters then ensued between the Spaniards and the natives with advatange to the latter for their familiarity with the terrain.
No sooner, on one rainy night, the "indios" swooped down to Batalay, killing the Spaniards, except Galves who buried the dead and placed a wooden cross on the grave of Fr. Herrera. Tradition has it that a crystalline spring sprouted at the foot of this cross which the native regarded as a miracle and rumours that the spring waters had curative properties for all kinds of sickness spread throughout.
Bishop Manuel Grijalvo of Nueva Caceres (Naga City, 1849-1861) ordered the construction of a stone monument over the grave of Fr. Herrera on top of which the original cross was placed.
It is a common belief that the cross presently enshrined in the Batalay Chapel is the original cross planted by Galves more than 438 years ago."
St. John the Baptist Catholic Church (Bato)
Not far from the Batalay Shrine is the oldest church in Catanduanes. The church is said to be built in 1830 and was finished after 5 decades. It also shares the municipalities' history of being the site of Augustinian Friar Diego de Herrera's death.
Built from coral stones, the church shaped like a cross when viewed from the top has weathered Catanduanes' countless storms and other natural calamities.
The Fin (Virac)
After checking three municipalities on the southern part of Catandaunes, a seafood feast was the only way to recharge our tired selves.
Day 6: From Opposite Ends
The fourth day started even before the sun was up as we were bound for the opposite end of the island. We tried our best to sleep while inside the coaster but the view outside as the morning drizzle came down was too surreal to miss.
Padre Falls (Bagamanoc)
After hours of jumping inside the coaster (because of the rough road), we were too tempted to jump into this seemingly-harmless water falls. Upon learning that it's 30-feet deep, resting by the cottages and boulders seemed to be a better idea.
Kurakog & Irihan Rock Formations (Bagamanoc)
Called "Boto ni Kurakog" ("Kurakog's penis") because of its shape, this rock formation is the subject of many legends in Catanduanes. One of which says that Kurakog is a giant whose body was washed away by the waves after a deep slumber. It was only the pointed column, rising at five meters above the sea, that remained.
LORAN Ruins (Bagamanoc)
Thirty minutes from the main shore of Bagamonoc is an abandoned American Naval base tucked behind the turquoise water, white sand, and palm fronds.
Short for "Long Range Aid to Navigation," the base was used as an outpost to monitor movements in the Pacific Ocean. It was built in the early 1950s and abandoned by the Americans in the 70s. Local coastguards then took over before it was abandoned yet again. An old lady who used to be the laundrywoman in the station now took the reigns in telling the ruins' story.
Hiyop Point (Pandan)
At the northernmost part of the "Land of the Howling Winds" is a Batanes-like grassland overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Devoid of man-made structures, Hiyop Point offers an exhilirating view of the rolling terrain and the vast ocean.
Best part of it? You can talk to the locals of Barangay Hiyop in Pandan and ride a carabao as you sing "The Hills are Alive."
Pandan Seashore Park
The budget resort is perfect for a family picnic, swimming, and fishing. Barkadas can even rent a V5 (or videoke) and sing their hearts out beside the non-judgmental ocean.
It is owned by the municipality and taken care of by Nanay Meling. Cottage rental is at PhP 100 while huts are at PhP 600.
Carangyan Beach Resort (Pandan)
This hidden cove in Pandan is owned by Dolores and Geoff Lyre, a retired couple from California. The beach resort was originally just their retirement home until they saw the potential of the place.
The view at night is one of the resort's highlights. Geoff says that he tries to minimize the post lights in the evening to better enjoy stargazing. I can attest to that simple yet dazzling view — the dotted black sky kissing the seemingly endless ocean in the horizon.
Come sunrise, the calm water mirrors the heaven from which all the beauty comes from.
Day 7: A Bit of History
After a well-deserved respite in Pandan, it was time to come home...almost.
Museo de Catanduanes (Virac)
Situated in the Old Capitol Building in Barangay Sta. Elena is a one-stop-show for showcasing the island's culture and history.
The same building houses the Provincial Tourism Office, which is probably the best place to consult about all the other places in Catanduanes we may have missed.
You know where to find them for when you want to do this all over again. I know, I would!
How to Get There
Cebu Pacific flies from Manila to Virac every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday morning (travel time: 1h 10m).
Numerous bus lines operate air-conditioned coaches from Manila to Tabaco, Albay (travel time: 9-10h). From the seaport of Tabaco, hop on either at MV Calixta 2, 4 and 5 or MV Eugene Elson to reach the island of Catanduanes via Virac seaport (ETD: 0630; travel time: 4h; aircon: Php 310; non-aircon: Php 240).
Jeepneys and buses ply from Virac to the island's various municipalities.
Where to Stay
Majestic Beach Resort
San Pedro, Virac
09103743230 / 09269455826
Twin Rock Beach Resort
09288362648 / 09096335489 / 09489987932 / 09175629597
Amenia Beach Resort
Palawig, San Andres
Kuripdas Fishing Lagoon & Resort
Sitio Labanay, Magnesia del Sur, Virac
Carangyan Beach Resort
Pandan Seashore Park
Where to Eat
Taste Buds Dine and Drink
Sta. Elena, Virac
The Fin Bar & Grill
G/F Center Mall, Virac
Many thanks to the Provincial Tourism Office of Catanduanes (Tourism Officer Carmel Bonifacio Garcia; Armie Villanueva, Maria Glenda Borja Tablate, and Kuya Buboy) and the Catanduanes Reef Break Organizing Team (Festival Director Ezra Efondo † and Sponsorship Coordinators Jean Garcia & Moireen Espinosa).