Caramoan's Matukad Island. Simply beautiful, don't you think?
By this time Caramoan is already on everyone's radar, especially since the French edition of the hit reality series Survivor filmed its 8th season there in 2008. Since then, around ten other seasons from different editions of the show have been shot there, the latest of which was the "Fans vs Favorites" season of the U.S. edition. The Caramoan Peninsula is home to at least ten main islands and a host of other small islets, making it a great place for island-hopping with white-sand beaches and limestone rock formations.
However, ever since the place became Survivor capital, I've both heard and read stories from disappointed visitors who have gone to the peninsula at such inopportune times when some filming is ongoing. Call it an ill-timed visit because a lot of these islands that make up the Caramoan Peninsula are off-limits to tourists when filming is underway and hence, the disappointment.
Once a sleepy town
My Bibe and I, however, were lucky to have visited Caramoan long before all this on April 2006. I don't know about the Caramoan municipality today but back then it was a sleepy town with no malls, no banks, and no gasoline stations. There were no hotels or resorts either, so lodging houses were our only bet. Nonetheless, it had its own charm.
The town church, taken from my Nokia N70.
There were no banks, no gasoline stations...wait, this was their gasoline station! Gasoline and kerosene were simply kept in plastic gallons and containers. Quite the risk actually.
Where we stayed
We went there with no reservations whatsoever. We just hired a tricycle and went around town in search of a place to say. We eventually settled for this pink-and-yellow lodging house called Villa Juliana. It's a residential property and the owners simply built a small complex of rooms within their compound. At the time, our air-conditioned room with two queen-size beds only cost us Php 500 a night. I do remember the bathroom had no door, though.
My Bibe at the front of the shockingly colorful Villa Juliana.
For meals, it was home-style cooking, and there was no menu or anything. Instead, they'd just ask us if there was anything we wanted or we simply asked what was available. It was that unstructured and relaxed! We either ate inside their videoke bar or alfresco under one of those beach umbrellas.
I miss the place. However, I have no idea how they've held on with the advent of beach resorts in Caramoan.
Outside our room at Villa Juliana.
It's a colorful world out here!
The beaches are actually quite far from the town. We had to hire a tricycle to take us to where all the boats for hire were. If my memory serves me right, travel time was, give or take, 30 minutes. And because the place was still an off-the-beaten-track destination then, we bought enough food beforehand.
Okay, so I used to be a tricycle driver.
I no longer remember how much we agreed to pay the boatman but I'm sure it was reasonable considering the tour was for an entire day. We sailed past mangroves, away from all the boats that were docked there, and soon sped off for the islands. We really aren't the type who would milk every ounce out of the amount we paid and were happy to check out even just a handful of islands.
We went to Sabitang Laya, which has this gorgeous stretch of beach; the tiny Lahus Island, which has a small patch of beach at the center and is accessible from both sides of the island; a small cove which name escapes my mind; Tinago, which is reminiscent of Coron in Palawan with its limestone cliffs; and finally, Matukad Island, which supposedly had a hidden lagoon accessible only be climbing a section of its limestone structures. We were told there was this grotto atop a hill that afforded spectacular views of the surrounding islands but we didn't fancy climbing a flight of stairs.
The gorgeous beach at Sabitang Laya Island.
My Bibe soaking up the sun at the tiny Lahus Island.
Were any of those Survivor contestants exiled here at Lahus?
Forgot the name of this small cove with cream-colored sand.
Tinago Island; reminds me of Coron. There's not much beach here actually, especially during high tide.
Her expression says it all. After negotiating some sharp rock formations to get a glimpse of the hidden lagoon, this was it. Haha!
Her expression also says it all. My Bibe obviously loved the fine white sand on Matukad.
That's Lahus Island in the background.
On our third day in Caramoan we just spent the whole day at Gota Beach, which was maybe 30 to 45 minutes from the town. And because it was on the mainland, no boat ride was necessary. We just hired the same tricycle from the day before to take us there and then pick us up in the afternoon.
Feeling the soft waves at Gota Beach.
Gota is bordered by towering limestone rock formations and is blessed with a nice beach with cream-colored sand. While it may not be white, the sand, however, is fine and very foot-friendly. There were some jellyfish in the waters then but they didn't sting.
The beach was a popular destination with day trippers and campers then but since the first Survivor, Gota is now home to a resort.
Love that glorious limestone formation in the background.
My Bibe working it!
Kids enjoying the clear turquoise waters of Gota.
Views reminiscent of Coron, although I still haven't been to Coron at the time.
Following the first Survivor taping here, Gota Beach is now home to a resort.
Taken by our tricycle driver right before heading back for the town.
And then it was time to leave.
Get yourself to Naga City first. Your options are:
Via plane. Naga is serviced by daily flights from Philippine Airlines / PAL Express, and Cebu Pacific, all leaving from Manila. Check schedules with the airlines to time your arrivals properly.
Via bus. Philtranco, and Isarog Line / RSL / Peñafrancia Tours have multiple daily trips from Manila to Naga. Travel time is 8 hours. As such, I recommend taking the night trips so you'll be in Naga early in the morning.
Via train. The PNR Bicol Express has trips from Manila to Naga. I don't know much about this but I've read the trip is 10 hours, with options for reclining and non-reclining seats.
Once in Naga, head for the East-bound Terminal (a.k.a. Van Terminal) located between the Naga City Central Bus Terminal and SM City Naga. If you're coming from the airport or train station, you need a taxi or tricycle to get there.
Take a van to Sabang port. Travel time is between 1 to 1.5 hours.
Once in Sabang, board the boat going to Caramoan Guijalo Port. This is my least favorite part of the whole trip because it takes two hours, the seas can be rough, and the boat can get a little claustrophobic. I think the last boat trip is at 11am, so time your trips and arrivals accordingly. Else, you'll have to charter a whole boat.
At Guijalo, take a jeepney to the town proper and then maybe a tricycle or habal-habal to your inn. However, if you've booked via a tour company or some resort, there's usually a party to welcome you already at the port.
One of my favorite camera phone selfies of us. I must say the Nokia N70 was pretty decent back then.
I definitely should go back.