Camiguin Island - Staying Cool on the "Island of Fire"
A tiny plane to a tiny island with BIG volcanoes, waterfalls, hot springs, and perfect white sand beaches = one unforgettable trip. A death-march up a volcano in the sun, a purple stubbed-toe and bee sting to-the-neck weren't even enough to ruin such a beautiful place for me!
I looked up photos of the Philippines on the Internet many months before I ever came. I came across a travel blog that featured Camiguin island, and I knew I had to see it for myself! I lived in Cebu City at the time I took my trip to Camiguin. I was lucky enough to score a 500 peso ($13 USD) promo ticket each way through Cebu Pacific airlines.
I woke up at 4AM to catch a taxi to the airport, but in the spirit of this adventure I decided to take a motorcycle taxi (habal habal) instead. It was a long trip over to Mactan island as the sun came up.
I was nervous about taking this small plane, but the flight was as smooth as can be! The views of the islands from above were not too shabby, I must say.
This plane route is brand new...the island
was only accessible by boat previously. I was amazed how quickly we had to drop down from the sky to make the landing, and wondered how many times these pilots have even actually done it. Only 3
planes a week, for 2 months since the route began. No problems at all! Excellent flying, I must say.
I wasted no time renting a motorbike
for my 4 days on the island. I don't have much of a budget for my long-term travel, so I find that renting my own motorbike instead of paying for transportation saves me a lot of money. It also
makes the whole experience much more exhilarating and adventurous for me. It appeals to my sense of freedom - and I thrive on that!
However, if you are concerned for your safety, I definitely recommend
getting a guide and/or paying for transportation. You can feel good knowing that the money is likely going to the driver's family, and then back into the local economy of
The map they gave me at the airport was a bit
misleading, but eventually I did make it to beautiful Katibawasan falls. (On the way I took a wrong turn and ended up at a beautiful resort where I stopped and
cooled off by the pool. I love "happy accidents" like that!)
I believe these falls are the most accessible, and by far the most popular in Camiguin. Sometimes in the Philippines I can't believe what I'm seeing is real, and as I arrived, my first glimpse on the left was one of those times! Can you believe this place? This is definitely the kind of scene I always dreamed about.
It's 250ft high, and reminded me of Yosemite falls back home in California. On the right you can get an idea of how tall the falls actually are, even though the top is still cut off in this photo! Swimming here on a hot day is very refreshing, and hiking around the area you can also find orchids growing. It's truly a sight to see.
OLD CHURCH RUINS AND SUNKEN CEMETERY
The next day I continued touring the island on my motorbike. Here are some ruins from an old Spanish church from the 1500s. I believe it was destroyed by an eruption in the 1700s. I'm kind of a history nerd...I love the fact that here I am very likely walking in the explorer Ferdinand Magellan's footsteps.
Nearby is the "sunken cemetery", which I
believe sank into the sea during the same eruption. Apparently snorkeling over it is a really incredible experience, and unfortunately the ONLY thing I didn't do while here. For some reason what
I chose to do instead was take a 2km hike straight up the side of the volcano during the heat of the day (and with all my gear on me). Brilliant, especially when I stubbed (or sprained?) my toe
on the way back down. Ouch.
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People go CRAZY for the NBA here in the
Philippines. Sometimes out in the provinces they can't speak any English, but that doesn't stop them from running up to me yelling "Kobe Bryant!!" They have makeshift basketball hoops all
over the villages, and even out in the jungles. At 6ft 2 inches, I can't count how many times they have joked about me joining their teams. With these old
ARDENT HOT SPRINGS
The next day I headed to Ardent hot springs
to (ironically) cool off. It's summertime already in the PI, and VERY hot. I usually don't enjoy manmade stuff like this too much, but I must say that I love this place! The staff was quite
friendly and I met some locals that wanted their photo taken:)
Katibawasan falls might be the most popular
on the island, but my favorite is Tuasan falls. After Ardent hot springs I journeyed deep into the mountains to try and find this place, which turned out to be slightly challenging. Totally
worth it once I made it, though!
When I first arrived, I had the whole place to myself. There's
really nothing like being in such a magical place, alone with your thoughts. I have been fortunate to experience this at 4 different stunning waterfalls in the Philippines so
I guess what I loved about Tuasan falls was the isolation and natural beauty. It's a bit of a trek to get there, and they hadn't yet put any shops or tourist facilities nearby. Isn't it stunning?
Eventually a few locals did come by for a swim, and they were really nice, of course. That's something I have noticed about far-flung and beautiful natural places. If you run across people out there (and I mean anywhere in the world), they are always very nice people! I have never proven wrong with that theory, not even once. Eventually I got tired of watching other people swim, so I decided to give it a try. Surprise!! It's freezing. Well I shouldn't have been surprised...but maybe the hot springs right before had spoiled me. Haha.
It was nearing sunset, so it wasn't very hot outside anymore. I only lasted a few minutes in the water, but I'm glad I made myself do it! For various reasons, I think this might be my favorite waterfall in the Philippines...but I don't want to build it up too much for you.
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SNORKELING AT THE GIANT CLAM SANCTUARY
It's tricky to find this place on your own if you're traveling solo. There didn't seem to be a sign, but maybe that's a good thing. If you have a map, just use other landmarks around there and stop and ask somebody when you feel you are close.
The road down the beach is rough, but beautiful. When I arrived, I was really struck by the place. By far the most beautiful beach/area I had been in Camiguin (White Island came later, but I still think it's a tie).
Here is a typical "sari sari" (store) in the Philippines, at least outside of the big cities.
It's kind of like a drive-through, but you just walk up to the window instead. I suspect it's for economic reasons, but rural Filpinos usually buy supplies like shampoo and laundry soap in small single-use pouches that are draped over hanging wire (kind of like laundry hanging out to dry).
NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE IN THE LAND OF THE GIANT CLAMS
I paid for admission and noticed how nice and helpful the people running everything were. Later I was led out into the water by my guide. I assumed if I wasn't able to touch the bottom, there would be a boat to hold onto and rest, or at least a floatation device to keep me from drowning. I'm quite sure my entry fee provided a floatation device, but for some reason I wasn't given one. I swim with no problems, but I am very lean, with hardly any body fat. That means in deep water, I sink more easily. It's much harder for me to stay afloat than people with even a little body fat (fat floats, muscle sinks).
My guide had some small floatation device with HIM, so after flopping around for a bit and getting tired, I informed him that I needed to use it. He looked at me with a bit of shock, and told me he would "be right back". Then he proceeded to swim off WITH the floatation device, leaving me flopping around in the water. Haha...I was in disbelief. I didn't want to put my feet down and risk damaging any clams/corals...though I couldn't touch the bottom even if I wanted to. Luckily I had enough energy to find a small mound of sand which enabled me to drop my feet and get my nose and mouth out of the water so I could catch my breath. He came back with an extra device and I then I got back to enjoying the tour. Whew!
As for the experience itself, I absolutely loved it. The massive clams were beautiful and fascinating, and when we ventured out into to deep water (10 meters) it was quite awe-inspiring.
I've never been snorkeling in water that deep. It really was exhilarating, and the giant corals and various sea creatures really amazed me. Please note that this isn't my photo. I didn't have an underwater camera, so I
found this picture (on the right) HERE.
My guide was very nice and informative, and I'm sure now they are much more careful about providing guests with floatation devices, regardless of how well they can swim. I suggest paying extra for flippers, because they will help you move through the water faster and stay afloat if you choose to not take a floatation device with you. I have swam my whole life, but never was certified to dive or learn any technics to help me float. This is a goal of mine for my next trip:) Highly recommended, this place was spectacular.
Every day I was here it rained at least some
of the time, and Hibok Hibok volcano was always obscured by clouds, making it much less photogenic. The last day ALWAYS works out perfectly for me, though. It's like magical clockwork. I
knew I needed a clear view to photograph "White Island", and I got it!
It's basically a small sand bar out in the water, and it is known as the "crown jewel" of Camiguin. I was hoping to split the cost of the boat journey with other tourists, but I waited around as long as I could, and nobody came. So I got my own private boat...but told the boatman I wanted to stay on the island late to take photos. He reluctantly agreed.
What an incredible place! I walked out to the edge of the "island"
and then continued very far into the sea, because the water was only about a foot deep. Eventually another sand bar popped back up out of the water resulting in the picture
The only two fisherman parted ways as the sun
dropped lower and lower. In a few hours this "island" would be swallowed by the sea...I stayed here until well after dark, it was just my boatman Gerald and I. I used the Tanduay that I brought
to barter for some Bisaya language lessons...we became fast friends (as is the case with a lot of my taxi and trike drivers and I), and I hope to see him on my next trip.
As the locals say, I'm sure I will "come again to Camiguin". I loved the warmth of the people and sense of adventure on this island. What a great introduction to Mindanao! There is so much more to see. Next time, next time.
Sunriser Pension House
If you're a backpacker and looking for something on a real budget, this place had the cheapest room I ever found in the Philippines. I loved the older couple who run it, they were truly unforgettable! I just had a simple fan room, and for 150 pesos ($3.80USD) a night, I really can't complain! I was impressed with the place, especially considering the price. There isn't too much information about it online, so I hope I'm remembering the name correctly. Once in the main town of Mambajao, just ask the locals and they should know where it is. It was very close to the public market.
Action Geckos Dive & Adventure Resort
This is a nice midrange place, and it's a bit more secluded if you're looking for a real getaway. The food is not as cheap as some places on the island, but it is a good value, considering how nice the place is. You can organize a boat trip from here to White Island as well.
I took this photo while talking to the manager at the bar. They have different rooms and rates depending on what you're looking for. The manager talked to me about another hotel his family owns in Sipalay I believe...ask him about it, I'm pretty sure each room has it's own music them (jazz, metal, rock n' roll...etc)
If you're looking to book a room here and find more info, I recommend going through Agoda HERE
Paras Beach Resort
If you're on a proper vacation and are looking to spend a bit more money, you can check Paras out. It's very centrally located, and also very close to the dock with boat trips to White Island. Amenities include a full restaurant, TVs in the rooms, billiard tables, swimming pool, and ping pong. You can book through Agoda HERE.