The island province of Catanduanes is not your usual getaway destination. Perhaps it is not even part of many’s travel bucket lists what with it being exposed to storms due to its geographical position in the easternmost fringe of Luzon.
But its location also makes it rich with natural wonders and exhilarating attractions.
Catanduanes is an exciting frontier in the archipelago’s Pacific seaboard off mainland Bicol region.
Despite its seeming obscurity, this off-the-beaten path hideaway promises pleasant surprises and lives up to its moniker as “The Happy Island.”
With an almost infinite coastline, it offers an overload of stunning beaches minus the madding crowd which will make tourists feel like a stranger on the shore.
The lack of high-end tourist facilities is compensated by the abundance of its back-to-nature offerings, each with an irresistible pull and the silhouette of the perfect-coned Mayon Volcano in the horizon.
Happy moments begin in Virac town, the aerial gateway, provincial capital, and center of commerce, transport, and tourist services. A visit to the provincial tourism office at the restored Old Capitol is highly suggested for helpful travel tips and documentation of tourist arrivals.
Include in the itinerary is a visit to Museo de Catanduanes for a glimpse of the rich local heritage. For pre-arranged tours, guests are regaled by the Padadyaw sa Tinampo, a time-honored folk dance of couples which mimics the courtship of the doves. Also called the Pantomina, the age-old dance is performed to welcome special visitors or during social events such as the recent Catandungan Festival which marked the province’s foundation day.
To add a meaningful part of the itinerary join a tree-planting activity under the “One Tourist, One Tree” program which has been going on for almost five years now.
Catanduanes Governor Joseph Cua says the program was hatched based on suggestions by foreign tourists who were impressed by the province’s forest cover.
He said they take pride in the province’s 60,000-hectare of forests considered as the largest green patch in Bicol, which includes the 26,010-hectare Watershed Forest Reserve, the 1,500 hectares of old- and second-growth forests, and vast abaca plantations which is home to rare wildlife species.
The Philippines’ top producer of abaca fiber, it is listed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as among the country’s most important centers of biodiversity.
For homebase, Twin Rock Beach Resort is hands down the ideal choice because of its amenities and recreational facilities such as swimming pools, zipline, zipbike, watersports equipment, and a customized Volkswagen vintage van guests can drive around with.
While in Virac, feast on a wide array of Bicol cuisine, seafood, and crop-based dishes which are served in homegrown restaurants. For after-dinner cravings, there are cozy coffee shops and watering holes around town.
The quaint riverine town of Bato is home to two Spanish-era religious spots—the Shrine of the Holy Cross, where the first cross in Catanduanes was planted, and the St. John the Baptist Church which sports a Baroque architecture which transports visitors back in time.
Also within the town is Maribina Falls, a three-layer cascade tucked within a lush vegetation and forms ice-cold natural swimming basins, and the stunning islets of Patag, Carorian Japanese Kaidan, Seaside Waterfalls, Poseidon’s Rock, and Pinta Beach where adventurers can hop around on board a chartered outrigger boat.
A must-see is the iconic Puraran Beach in Baras, a surfing playground nicknamed “Majestic” because of its adrenaline-pumping waves. This once-remote spot has become a tourist colony, events and party place, mecca for surfing tourneys, and a fine cream sand beach for those who want a slower pace of life.
Up north is Nahulugan Falls in Gigmoto which beautifully cascades on three tiers, creating spectacular sprays. Large nest ferns sit on the branches of these trees throwing in some shadows, giving the area a mystic touch.
Another social media star is Tuwad-Tuwadan Lagoon, a tidal pool in Pandan tucked in the midst of a rock formation endowed with crystal clear blue-green water, deep enough for a low cliff dive. En route to it is Cagnipa Rolling Hills, a majestic greenery with a welcoming vista where skies meet the sea, as if they were nature’s artwork in a living canvas.
Island hoppers will be delighted by Palumbanes and Calabagio isles whose turquoise waters teem with lush marine life ideal for snorkeling and a potential site for scuba diving.
With more attractions being uncovered and more tourist activities being introduced annually, every visit to the Happy Island always bring forth happy endings worth remembering.
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