“Prepare to get wet.”
I took this instruction by heart as I gave the last minute reminders to the viajeros participating in @viajerongpinoy’s Instaviaje 5, reminding them to make sure that they water-proof their bags. This was the fifth trip that our Instagram travel hub had organized but still we cannot contain the thrill of discovering new friendships and new destinations even among us. Besides, we were out to discover a destination that everyone kept comparing to Boracay back in the 80’s so it was a trip that we were all looking forward to.
As we re-organized the bags inside the van during a brief stopover at South Luzon Expressway, I was mentally going through our checklist. This particular instaviaje, our version of an Instagram instameet with a travel twist, was exciting and also nerve-wracking because of the groundwork that went with the trip. It was unlike the others in a sense that none of the punong viajeros have ever gone to Calaguas so our planning was basically based on the extensive research done. We had the most preparations on the eventualities of the trip. We were confident, though, that the trip will go fairly well with the group that we were with as most of them are go-getter travelers.
Calaguas Group of Islands in the province of Camarines Norte has attracted many off-beat travelers because of its white sand beaches. It has two major islands, Tinaga Island and Guintinua island, and one minor island – Maculabo. The major islands are both under the jurisdiction of Vinzons while Maculabo is under the local government unit of Paracale.
Mahabang Buhangin, in the island of Tinaga, is the poster destination of Calaguas because of the long stretch of white sand beach that others claim to be comparable to the white sand beach of Boracay Island. The island in itself lacks tourist amenities and camping is the way to go to when you visit Calaguas.
Touchdown: Paracale, Camarines Norte
We decided to make Paracale the jump-off point to our intended trip to Calaguas because it is closer to Tinaga Island and boat travel time is the shortest at about 2 hours. Out itinerary also included a short stop at Maculabo Island which is along the route if you are coming from Paracale. Itinerary-wise and with a boat loaded with non-swimmers, it was the best option.
Paracale is one of the old towns of Camarines Norte after a Franciscan mission post was founded in 1581. It is a mining community after a huge gold reserve was discovered in 1626. Presently, small mining operation still persists as an industry. It is good though that the tourism industry is also starting to pick-up as it is a convenient jump-off point to Calaguas.
Paracale was a laid back community. I really felt the peace and calm of the place as soon as I stepped out of the van. The fresh air and the cool sea breeze was a relief after almost 9 hours of land travel from Manila… I guess it was a relief to be outside of Manila. The locals did not seem to mind the chatter of guests as we slowly trickled in, one van after another. They seem to have grown accustomed to the influx of tourists on weekends.
Our first stop for the trip was the public market of Paracale. The small market located, near the seaport, is a small piece of land where guests can purchase the items that they need for their stay in Calaguas. Incidentally, the market only had a few vendors when we got there. I also got a bit frustrated that there were limited seafood available for us to purchase, one of the things that I was looking forward to this trip. So we had to settle with the usual fare of pork, chicken, and tilapia for our overnight stay in the island.
After the trip, we then headed to the port area where we met Kuya Oliver, our contact who provided for our banca going to the island. We have already made prior arrangements with him. Tip for those going to Calaguas – make sure that you have everything that you need before leaving Paracale, including drinking water. Although, there are small sari-sari stores in Mahabang Buhangin, the prices of their commodities can be relatively expensive.
This was on our list on what we had to bring to Calaguas for our group:
The Calaguas Vibe
Donning our lifevests, we were all ready to start the two-hour boat ride to Calaguas. The sea was calm and the amazing seascape was very serene that we all enjoyed taking pictures and sharing stories. These are the main goals of our instaviajes – creating friendships and discovering destinations. We create new friendships and the travel experience enhances the relationship. By this time, we were all ready for the adventure.
Maculabo Island is a minor island that falls under the political jurisdiction of Paracale. Blessed with powdery white sand, clear waters, and a serene beach front that offers a great view of the mainland, Maculabo was a stopover that everyone in the group enjoyed. It was definitely love at first sight for most of us.
Maculabo raised everyone’s expectations and excitement as we stepped into its sand. It was paradise that was free of tourists. Except for a couple of local kids frolicking under the sun, everyone wanted to stay a little bit more in the island. I didn’t notice any tourist facilities in the area which is actually good as the place was able to maintain its natural untouched beauty. The fascination and curiosity of tourists to Mahabang Buhangin has shielded Maculabo from the inflow of visitors.
Don’t get me wrong but Maculabo is a great destination to go to for those wanting that peace and serene atmosphere. The island gives you a feeling that you own the island. Maculabo Island is a good escape from the world.
Mahabang Buhangin, Tinaga Island
When they mentioned that we should expect to get wet, I guess they failed to mention that getting wet meant dripping wet from head to foot. The one hour boat trip from Maculabo to Tinaga was one exciting ride. It was a mix of sun, sea, and splashes. The seawater between the two islands was so excited to welcome us that it cannot wait to get us wet so the waters just kept splashing. I guess the splashes made the ride more exciting for our group.
The excitement gave way to more excitement when we entered the calmer waters of Tinaga. From the boat, we were treated with amazing views of rolling hills and blue waters. The scene was like straight out of a movie – perfect. I could actually compare it to the rolling hills of Batanes and it all looked magnificent.
As we entered the Mahabang Buhangin area, we were caught by surprise by the scene that welcomed us – the beachfront of Mahabang Buhangin was full of tourists. It was a complete contrast to that of Maculabo. The beach had a blanket of tents of different colors and sizes. It had a lot of boats anchored along shore. It had people milling and swimming around. It was complete chaos. It was in contrast to the pictures that I have seen previously. Two of our fellow viajeros who have previously been to Calaguas felt disappointed but I actually felt excited. It shows that a lot of people are there because it captured their curiosity. It didn’t also help that we came in on a long weekend.
Now, we need to find a camping spot.
I guess luck was on our side as we were able to pitch our tents right at the beachfront and we also didn’t have a hard time finding a kubo for our “central operations”. After making arrangements with locals who will serve as our cooks during our stay, we had to focus on our planned activities – anything that we can think of.
Despite the island gaining popularity, Calaguas offers a more spontaneous “at the moment” activities. No telecommunication signals. It is rustic and it only has back-to-basics facilities. I guess, you are really left to do whatever you want at your own time with your companions. It is a great destination if you want REAL communication to happen. The island left us getting to know each other, sharing our stories, and appreciating its natural beauty and its laidback atmosphere.
Here are my suggested activities when you find yourself in Calaguas:
1. Be creative and hunt.
We had a grand time hunting for scenic spots and elements for our pictures. I was with a group of Instagrammers so creativity was overflowing. Our group chanced upon a lone tree on a hill and it was something that most of us have been looking for to capture. Everyone had the same subject but we were taking it from different angles. It was also a great time to share ideas and techniques with fellow viajeros.
Yes, we literally threw out all diet plans into the sea when we were in Calaguas. Nothing beats pigging out while on the beach. We had lots of food to share, more than enough so we can spend more time swapping stories.
3. Play around and capture these moments.
We are never too old to play around. Calaguas gives you the freedom to play around the beach, along the fields, on rock formations, and even on a hilltop. Our trip made me realize that a colorful umbrella, a pink inflatable, and even a pineapple can be played around and you get to capture these great moments.
Have fun by enjoying the sun, the sand, and the sea.
5. Watch the Sunset.
Our group decided to hop on our banca and head off to the nearby Balagbag Island to catch the sunset. The rock formation at the island’s edge is a great venue for photo opportunities and everyone gamely played around. The best part was the play of colors and the drama of the sun setting in the horizon. Everyone was trying to look for their spot to capture the grand moment.
6. Walk the Beach.
You can walk the length of the beachfront at anytime. Enjoy the sand as it is comparable to that of Boracay’s White Beach. We did walk the strip that evening and the beach was alive because of the influx of tourists. There were acoustic bands playing on one side. It was relaxing and laid-back. Find your spot and chill out with friends under the Calaguas evening sky.
The best way to enjoy evenings in Calaguas is to camp out. It is the way to go when you are in the island.
8. Watch the Sunrise.
Calaguas Island is one of the destinations that allow you to view both the sunrise and the sunset. We hiked one of the hills in the area to get a full view of Calaguas Island and I was captivated by the rolling hills of Tinaga Island, illuminated by the morning rays. It reminded me of pictures that I have seen of Batanes’ rolling hills. Calaguas had its own beauty to impress tourists.
The breeze was refreshing as we watched the sun come into full view. It was nice to catch the first rays of sunlight as it brings you that smile on your face that will you will bring with you the whole day.
9. Walk around.
Go around and speak with locals. Walk around inland. Borrow a bike and bike around. Find the local cemetery and count how many tombstones are in the cemetery. You might be surprised how close it is from your campsite. Keep exploring and enjoy Calaguas better.
The absence of telecommunication facilities allowed us to spend more time with our fellow viajeros. We communicated the old fashion way – face to face. You get to see the sincere smiles and infectious laughter of your companions. You get to see the true person and not just the virtual person behind the gadget.
I really felt the vibe of Calaguas. I think what made Calaguas unique is that it brought us to the basics of friendship. Void of the world’s perceived necessities, we had more time talking with each other and discovering our similarities and understanding the differences.
Calaguas is my heaven. The island is beautiful, despite the increased number of visitors during our visit, and its serene and undeveloped beauty gives it the natural charm. I just hope that locals and guests would be responsible enough to keep the islands’ natural beauty.
Our group came in via van rental from Metro Manila so my suggestion on how to get there via public commute is a rough research on my part.
Calaguas Island has two access points – Paracale and Vinzons. The only difference is the travel time as Paracale is closer to Tinago Island.
One can take a bus to Paracale or Daet. From Daet, one can take a public transport to Paracale or Vinzons. From the jump-off point, you can hire a boat to bring you to Mahabang Buhangin.
There are cottages and tents for rent in the island. You can also hire a local to do the cooking for you. You just have to make sure that you bring all ingredients with your from the mainland.
Post Travel Notes:
Our Instagram travel hub, @viajerongpinoy, holds our own version of an instameet with a twist. Our “instaviajes” work on creating or reinforcing friendships while we discover or re-discover Philippine destinations. Calaguas is our fifth instaviaje and we are currently working on the next instaviaje this October.
If you are interested to join us on our next instaviaje or our pencilwalks, follow us on instagram (@viajerongpinoy) or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can also subscribe to this site where I will get to update you with our upcoming activities.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.