Bicol Express Chronicles: Caramoan

Caramoan is a first-class municipality located in the province of Camarines Sur.  It is located at the tip of a peninsula bearing the same name, and it is also the first stop of our Bicol Region adventure.  Off the coast are numerous islands, some of which has been the site of several editions of the reality show, Survivor.

View of Caramoan from Guijalo Port

Caramoan is around 500 kilometers away from Metro Manila.  There are various ways of getting there, one of which is a 10-hour long drive.  You may drive all the way to the town proper of Caramoan but a slightly faster way would be travelling to Sabang Port and take the rest by sea, just as we did.  Overnight (or longer term) parking spaces are available around Sabang Port.

You could actually use Google Maps or Waze for driving directions to Caramoan
View from Sabang Port
Schedule of boat trips

But since we missed the second trip and the next one would take a while, we decided to arrange for a special trip.  I don’t know what the standard rate is but for our group of eight, we paid for ₱2,500.  Our trip from Sabang Port to Caramoan (Guijalo Port) took around two and a half hours.

Travel Tip: UV Express (van) shuttles bound for Sabang Port are also available from Naga.  Their terminal is in front of Jessie Robredo Coliseum and travel time is about an hour and a half.

A typical passenger boat to/from Caramoan
You may opt for special trips to Caramoan using smaller boats like these

Travel Tip: You may want to bring along ear plugs or some sort of noise cancelling headsets as the noise of the boat’s engine can be uncomfortably loud.

Upon arriving in Guijalo Port, you’d be asked to register and pay for Environmental Fee (₱30 per person).  From here you may take a tricycle to take you to the town proper (Sentro) or your hotel.

On our way to our hotel via a tricycle

After some quick unpacking and settling down, we were again on our way out to the beach.  Our next itinerary: island hopping!  It was just around lunch time then so we took our lunch in our first island destination, Matukad Island.

Island hopping starts here
Approaching Matukad Island: look at how clear the water is

Prior to arriving in Caramoan, we had already booked a tour package (via Koh Lanta Travel and Tours) that included our meals and overnight accommodations so it was really hassle free.  Our guides brought our lunch with us on the island so all we had to do is find a spot and enjoy our meal.

The very fine powdery white sand of Matukad Island
Our simple but delicious lunch
The way I love my coconut (only ₱25 each!)

And then this milkfish (bangus) story was mentioned by our guide.  As first I didn’t quite understand what the big deal was about a fish in the island as I thought it was a sculpture of a fish or something, but then it got more interesting.  Apparently, there’s a small fresh water lake in this island and there’s a milkfish in it!

The small lake in the middle of the island where the lone milkfish reside

Legend has it that once upon a time, there were a pair of milkfishes in that lake.  Then one day someone decided to get one of the milkfishes to serve to his family, but then they died because of the fish.  I don’t understand why you’d get a fish, just one fish, in a lake when you can get a lot of fishes in the surrounding sea, but nonetheless I feel sad seeing that lonely milkfish in that lake.

Seeing this lone milkfish is no easy task though.  You’d have to do some rock climbing to get across that “wall” that surrounds it, and from the top you can spot the lake.  You may be able to get a little closer by climbing down a few meters but you’re still some meters above the lake.  Nevertheless, you can still spot from that vantage point this lone milkfish.  I don’t know how big they’re supposed to grow but this one should be pretty big (and old) for it to be visible from meters away!

Get ready for some rock climbing if you want to see the lone milkfish of Matukad Island

Since it was a holiday that day, there were so many tourists also doing island hopping with us so viewing this milkfish was a challenge.  Not only that you have to deal with sharp rocks, you also have to deal with the crowd that also wanted to see the milkfish.  Our guide was quite helpful though in assisting us through the climb, pointing at where we should step on the way up and down.  And since it’s not exactly an easy climb, I was a bit concerned with bringing my camera so I ended up taking photos with my cellphone wrapped inside a plastic.  Thus, I’ve really no decent shots to show of the milkfish, but I was contented with seeing it with my own two eyes.  The story of how that milkfish got there escaped me so your guess is as good as mine.  If anyone knows, feel free to share! 😀

Taking a selfie at the top with the small lake on the background
Panoramic view of the beach

After that adrenaline-pumping climb and some quick dip in the sea afterwards, we were off to our second island, Lahos.  This island is pretty small compared to Matukad, but it’s so narrow that it only takes a few steps from the beach to get to the beach on the other side.

Approaching our second island, Lahos
Jagged rocks are a common feature of the islands here

Our next stop is on an island with a “sunken” beach—either it was already high tide at that time or its beach is really below the water.  Anyway, this island has a small cave that we curiously went into and took some photo.

A small cave in our third island stop
I need to have a picture here 😀

Finally, it was time for some snorkeling.  We went near an island where that water was shallow enough to see the corals down below from the surface yet deep enough if you want to swim and look around.  I don’t have a waterproof camera with me so I only took shots from the surface.

Approaching the snorkeling area
The corals as seen from the surface

And so with that, it was time for us to head back.  So soon!  Our guides told us normally people take a two-day tour when doing island hopping as there are certain islands we won’t be able to go to if we only had a day (like a sandbar that we didn’t get a chance to see).  If you have enough time, consider taking a longer tour.

Heading back to the mainland
Always nice to see mangroves lining up the coastline

That afternoon we went around the town proper to scout for food.  The town proper is really a small, provincial town with no malls or big commercial centers, but they do offer simple but good food and good souvenir shops.  Ask around and people will tell you the town’s favorite pancit store!  We also found some nice barbecue around a corner that’s quite cheap as well.  There’s also an old church in town that you can visit.

Travel Tip: Power and water supplies are a bit of a challenge in Caramoan.  Ensure that all your gadgets are fully charged whenever you can as power interruptions (aside from the normally scheduled brownouts) are normal.  There are deep wells (poso) all around so water isn’t strictly a problem but you may want to consider having bottled drinking water ready.

There was no power in our hotel when we first arrived, again during the early evening, and again while we slept.  Our hotel has a generator, but it’s not enough to make the air conditioning run so sleeping was a bit of a challenge.  Apparently, commercial establishments have different power lines and they’re the first to experience power interruptions as they’re the ones capable of having generators.  We found out about this as our hotel had no power yet street lights were on.  If you have power banks and USB fan, they could be of great use!

Our home in Caramoan

The following day was our last day in Caramoan.  And for our last day, we managed to experience a water interruption.  Drinking water was not an issue as our hotel was prepared, but taking a bath and similar tasks were daunting.  Hotel staff were busy getting water in pails from deep wells for their guests but we know how inefficient that would be given how much water they can transport at a time.  And so some of us decided to find a nearby poso and wash in there.  I sure would’ve wanted to take a full bath but there are some residents also waiting for their turns to get water so I only ended up brushing my teeth and washing my face.  Still, what an experience!


On our way back to Sabang Port, we took the regular passenger boat (₱120 per person).  The regular passenger boats may be more crowded, but it’s much faster than smaller boats.  And even though they’re still noisy, they’re much quieter than smaller boats.

Travel Tip: There’s still another small fee to pay at this port before leaving (Terminal Fee, ₱30) and at the destination port as well so better have your coins or small bills ready.

Guijalo Port
Inside the passenger boat

To our surprise, we didn’t exactly arrive in the same port that we departed from in Sabang.  For some reason, the port doesn’t have a platform that would lead us directly to dry land so they have this curious “shuttle” to bring us out of the boat:

Those men in orange pulls this floating platform to/from the beach to transfer us from the boat; once across you have to pay ₱10

Caramoan is such a lovely place.  I love that it’s not yet commercialized but still offers modern perks for city dwellers like me.  For one, mobile coverage in Sentro and nearby islands is good and my 3G connection here is actually faster than in Quezon City.  And although distribution is a problem, there’s still electricity and tap water.  There aren’t any five-star hotels or fancy restaurants, but that feeling of an old rural small town is quite charming.  You get to meet the locals as they are and you feel their genuine hospitality.  It’s not only nature and the islands that are worth visiting here.  Hopefully though the power and water issues improve so that the already great experience become even more pleasant.  And since I did not have a decent photo of the milkfish and have not seen that sand bar, I still have some unfinished business here so I shall return! 😀

In case you need a refresher in Philippine geography, here is the location of Caramoan:

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Bicol Express Chronicles:


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