"Off The Beaten Path"...and then a Bit Further...
I accepted a last-minute invitation to experience these remote islands in the Philippines - I'll never forget it. These are some of my favorite photos taken in the last year! Make
sure you scroll through and see all of them...
This is beautiful Bitaog beach on Porongpong, the largest of the Palumbanes Islands.
These 3 tiny islands are about 45 minutes off the coast of northwest Catanduanes - an island province of the Philippines. Che of Backpacking Pilipinas told me about this place - she is the
famous traveler who explored all 80 provinces of the Philippines before she turned 30. A local of Catanduanes, she started BookSail, which has worked to provide these local children with books to
(Click the photos for more info)
Make no mistake - there is basically no tourism infrastructure on the islands. For me, that was part of the adventure. When our boat pulled up to the small fishermen village,
the locals seemed very excited to have a visitor. Could I be the first white traveler to experience these islands?
My host Linda (pictured above) quickly introduced me to Sir Yoy, who is the head teacher of the local school. I mentioned that I would love to climb the hill where the lighthouse was...so I
could see the sunset over the islands. He was very kind to agree to guide me, because I realized later it's quite a grueling trek!
As we started climbing the trail out of the village, I realized I forgot to change out of my "tsinelas" (flip flops), for the hike. The trail was more steep and rocky than I thought it would be. When I looked behind me, I noticed that half the kids from the village seemed to be joining us!
This little girl was very young, and she wasn't wearing any shoes. I realized that I should probably stop worrying about my flip flops.
The view from the top did not disappoint. It felt like we were on the edge of the world...and it reminded me a bit of the grassy, green hills of Calaguas Island, which I had explored a
When we returned, I thanked my unexpected local guides and followed my host back to the family's nipa hut, where I found our dinner being cooked by candlelight. Out on the edge of the
village there is no electricity, but again, it just added to this unique adventure.
Our dinner consisted of rice, langka (jackfruit) + and fresh-caught fish in coconut milk. It was delicious! I was tired after a long day, and climbed into my duyan (hammock) for the
night. Waking up overlooking a beautiful rice field the next morning was quite an experience, but so was the adventure the local kids would take me on later that afternoon!
Bitaog Beach - Part 1 of my "Lord Of The Flies" Adventure
I had heard there were some corals to see underwater at beautiful Bitaog beach. Around noon (the hottest part of the day...and in summertime), the local kids were eager to take me up and
over the hill to the beach. Again, it is much further and more steep than you imagine it would be, being on such a tiny island. It's a lot of fun trekking through the underwater
mangrove forest along the way, though.
(Click the photos for more info)
Swimming - The turquoise-blue water is quite a welcomed sight by the time you arrive at the beach (covered in sweat)! Keep in mind that you can easily hire a local boatman to take you the beach. It's just 15 minutes away. Here, we all swam and enjoyed cooling off - some of the kids climbed aboard a small banca (boat) so they could do back flips into the water.
Fishing - The boys had brought some fishing line and
homemade lures...I was amazed that they were able to catch quite a few small fish and crabs in no time at all! I imagined them turning into experienced fishermen with families of their own
"They may not have shoes to hike around the island, but they certainly have a beautiful playground", I thought to myself. Their joy was infectious.
Later, the locals had their kids take me out again for an afternoon boat tour...and these kids were young! The boat master was 15 years old, and was by far the oldest of the
group. The youngest must have been just 6 or 7. That is why I refer to it as the "Lord Of The Flies" adventure. It is amazing how capable these children are.
My "Lord Of The Flies" Adventure - Part 2
(The best photos are yet to come! )
Our first stop was the south beach of Tignob Island...I have listed it as "site #2" on the map below. It's nice, and if you snorkel out into 4 or 5 meters of water, you can see a few beautiful plate corals and colorful fish. I heard that this beach is owned by the previous Governor of Catanduanes, and maybe that's why I still noticed some fish and corals. Unfortunately, many other locations have been destroyed and overfished already.
However, the real treat was waiting in the water at Bitaog beach afterward...
(Click the photos for more info)
These are some of my favorite underwater photos I have taken anywhere in the Philippines. I didn't expect to see such beautiful coral formations still in tact! These were
taken about 15-20 meters out in the water from Bitaog beach (check "site #1" on the map below). If you are approaching the beach by boat, these corals are on the far left
side of the beach. By the way, this is an excellent beach for sunset!
The beautiful photo below was taken at "site #3" just off of Calabagio island, on the way back to the mainland. I had to hunt around to find it, but it was worth
If you are wondering, I took these photos with my Olympus TG-4 underwater camera. You can see why I like it so
Where To Stay
Coco Beach Resort and Karaoke - This rustic place is right across the water from Palumbanes in barangay Baybay. It's run by a woman named Mrs. Letty. I really loved
it there! Simple nipa hut-style rooms are just 200-300 pesos a night. To be honest, I loved barangay Baybay, they had really great, cheap food at the carinderias (eateries), and the
locals were very friendly + spoke exceptional English (especially the children)! Great job, teachers!
Pictured here are the bahay kubos you can rest in by the beach.
You can wake up very early and negotiate your boat trip across the water from here.
You can Phone ate Letty at: 0928 620 4592
Marem Pension House - Virac -This is a very affordable option right in downtown Virac. It's been around for many years, and is a very interesting and well maintained place. Note that this is still 5 hours away from Caramoran, where you would take the boat to the islands. Still, it's a good option if you need to stay in Virac.
You can book Marem Pension House HERE
Catanduanes Midtown Inn (Virac) -This is a bit more money, but a huge step up in quality...and a great value. Note that this is also 5 hours away from Caramoran, where you would take the boat to the islands.
You can book Catanduanes Midtown Inn HERE
Pacific Surfer’s Paradise Beach Resort (Puraran) - If you will be visiting the famous surf capital of Catanduanes, This was the best of the 3 options I explored there. A great value for food/lodging, plus a friendly staff. Note that this is VERY far from Caramoran, where you would take the boat to the islands. I just wanted to include it because many people visit Puraran when they are in Catanduanes.
You can book Pacific Surfer’s Paradise Beach Resort HERE
If you are looking to stay on Palumbanes longer than just one day, your only option is to speak with Sir Yoy at the elementary school when you arrive. He might know of a homestay for you, or possibly be able to set you up with a camping spot on the beach. Just ask the locals to point you to Sir Yoy, or the elementary school when you arrive.
How To Get To Palumbanes Islands
(Tip: You might want to avoid the rough seas in September, October, and November)
The fastest way is to take a direct flight to Virac,
Catanduanes from Manila, but it is a bit pricey. From there, you can take a 5-hour bus up to Caramoran (notice the spelling...not "Caramoan"). Ask the locals to point you to
the port at barangay Baybay. There you will need to find a local boatman who will agree to take you. It should cost 300+ pesos per person each way, and you should make sure and secure
a life jacket before getting on the boat.
The cheapest way to get to Palumbanes is to take an overnight bus from Cubao, Manila to Tabaco, Albay. Then you can take an early morning ferry to Virac or San Andres. From there, follow the bus instructions above, or ask the local trike drivers if anybody might want to rent you a motorbike (only for the very adventurous).
Photos were taken at the following 3 locations on the site map below:
(Click To Enlarge)
The main village is located right where it says "Palumbanes Islands" on the
Snorkeling: As you can see, there are some beautiful corals to
explore...but they need to be protected from dangerous fishing methods, damage from boats, and yes...even damage from tourists. Make sure your boatman doesn't damage any corals with the
bottom of the boat, and make sure you jump off the boat in deep water so you don't step on any corals yourself. Always wear a life jacket, and make sure the boat stays near you as you snorkel if
Note: Nobody on the island can provide you with a snorkel and
mask, and I'm not even sure you can find them in Virac. You must bring your own. If you use fins, make sure you swim with your fins up as high as possible to avoid
touching the corals. You should never touch the corals with any part of your body - for the safety of both you and the coral.
Locals: If you are lucky enough to be invited to stay in
somebody's home, please be a respectful and gracious guest. Consider offering your hosts a bit of money when you are leaving, as the people on the island are quite poor. You might
consider bringing something for the local children when you arrive. They will probably love sweet candy, but please remember they don't have access to dentists if they get
My dream is for people to be inspired to visit these beautiful places, and use their tourism dollars to breathe life into the local communities.
Perhaps the villagers can start to sell locally-made pasalubong (gifts for tourists to take to their
friends). The income from tourism may give the fishermen more incentive to preserve and protect the underwater world
as well, so it is a win-win situation!
I hope local governments will take note, and work to responsibly protect and promote places like Palumbanes Islands. Many thanks to tiya Linda and the Gurrobat family for all the hospitality, and for all the smiling faces that made my time on these islands truly unforgettable! This was the raw, real Philippines that I had been craving!!
- Nathan Allen
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