Days are slow and hot, the nights short and cold. Shortly after five in the morning – when elsewhere it’s probably still pitch dark – Mahabang Buhangin (Long Beach) is already a pale turquoise, the sky a faint hue of pink and blue. It’s difficult to stay asleep once sunlight streams through your tent. Besides, daybreak in this island is, like a child awaiting a candy treat, something you’ll look forward to day after day. Ah, mornings in Calaguas.
Getting to the Calaguas Group of Islands in the frequently storm-ravaged region of Bicol is no mean feat, at roughly 12 hours by land and sea from Manila. But this relatively quiet beach off the northeastern coast of Camarines Norte province makes all the travel through winding roads and open seas worth it.
Here are five reasons why you should spare a weekend (or maybe more) in this quiet, happy beach before the rainy season comes.
1. It’s a natural wonder.
For a country blessed with countless patches of white sand and crystalline waters, Mahabang Buhangin fits the image of a Philippine beach to the hilt: a palm-fringed stretch of powdery white sand–the same fine consistency found in Boracay Island–as well as waters so clear it’s a shame to not take a dip even under the noonday sun in the middle of summer.
While it has the fine sands of the country’s most well-known beach, it also has the laidback feel of Bantayan Island in Cebu–fresh catch for lunch and all–as well as the rugged terrain of Zambales, the remoteness of El Nido, and the rolling hills of Batanes. But it’s far from a clichéd destination. You can trek up the mountain behind the beach and enjoy a panorama of islets against the Philippine sea, or explore the nearby islands by boat.
It’s a place that forces you–in a good way–to appreciate the simple pleasures of watching the sun set, crows gliding majestically against the orange (sometimes magenta) streaks of the sky.
2. It’s (as yet) undiscovered, and therefore peaceful.
Blame the distance–approximately 10 hours by land (or an hour by air) and two hours by boat from Metro Manila–for that untouched vibe many are looking for in a true island getaway. There are no fancy restaurants, spas, and resorts here. Calaguas is very basic: there are only bamboo cottages with tables and benches where you can lounge around and have your meals, but no rooms for you to sleep in.
The solution: camping! Everyone brings their own tent and cooks their own meals, and you will too. If you’re not a happy camper, Calaguas has the most genteel environment for you to try this outdoor adventure for the first time.
To fully enjoy the beach all to yourself, go on weekdays when nary a soul visits the place. It does get its share of crowds on weekends, although if you steer clear of the big groups and stay on the other side of the beach, you’ll still enjoy the peace and quiet.
3. It’s affordable.
When other more popular beach destinations get too pricey during the summer, Calaguas is a great detour for those who want to enjoy as much sun and sea without the hefty price tag. There are no peak, high, and lean season rates here. Save for the P100-per person overnight fee and a one-time cottage fee, you’ll shell out practically nothing while on the island. Of course, you can always wait for the fishermen shortly before noon everyday and buy fresh seafood at P50 per kilo and have it grilled in time for lunch. You’ll have more control of your food, although you’ll have to be prepared to let go of certain comforts, such as ice-cold drinks.
Although distant, the Bicol Region is easily accessible by land when it’s not feasible to travel by air. There are buses plying the Manila-Naga and Manila-Daet routes everyday starting at roughly P500, or you can always take the newly refurbished Bicol Express at P665 for a sleeper bed.
Roundtrip boat rentals typically start at P3,000 for one to five people, even cheaper depending on how well you can haggle. Boatmen are readily available at the Vinzons and Paracale ports, the two jump-off points to Calaguas.
4. It’s a place to unplug and de-stress.
There is only one spot along the beach where you can receive a mobile signal, and that’s just for one network. You need to hike up the mountain behind the beach, which may take anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour, to get the signal from another network.
In short, Calaguas is not the place to check on your emails or catch up on work. So leave your phone tucked inside your bag and just enjoy your time at the beach. Surely, you’re going to miss that feeling once you’re back in your airconditioned office cubicle.
And since electricity only becomes available when the caretakers run their generator sets — which isn’t everyday — you’ll be spending most of your waking hours alternating between eating, taking a nap, and taking a dip, just like we did.
5. It’s charming and friendly.
Life in Calaguas is laidback. The locals are very warm albeit the quiet type, but there’s nothing a little chat can’t solve. They can help the less-than-skilled to light a fire for grilling, bring fresh buko from one of the countless coconut trees in the island, or assist campers in fetching water from the lone freshwater pump at the beach. The young kids are a delight to talk to as well, and having breakfast with them was one of the more poignant memories of our trip.
This is how a day in Calaguas will be like: wake up to a faint pink and blue glow on the horizon; spend most of the day swimming in the shimmering aquamarine waters; end the day staring at the fiery colors of the sunset; sleep under the stars.
If you think you’ve seen the best of the country’s beaches, wait ’til you get to Mahabang Buhangin.
Travel tips and directions:
1. Bring a tent, mosquito repellent, cooking and dining utensils; candles, lamps, or flashlights; and a first-aid kit.
2. Wrap your belongings in drysacks or sealed plastic bags as waves can get a bit rough.
3. If you don’t want to lug around everything during the trip from Manila to Bicol, source your food and drinking water from Daet. Plan your supplies well ahead to make sure these are sufficient for your needs.
4. Bus trips need prior reservation. Manila-Daet buses of Superlines and Philtranco are mostly regular airconditioned buses starting at 500 pesos and are found at the Araneta Bus Terminal in Cubao. Alternatively, you may take a sleeper bus bound for Naga at P1,000 (lower bunk) or P1,200 (upper bunk) just like we did and get off at the intersection in Calauag town (Isarog has daily 9 PM trips from Cubao). This way, you can sleep throughout the trip in time for the remainder of your land and sea transfers.
5. If you wish to take the train, call the PNR for reservations at (02) 319-0044 & 48 and visit http://www.pnr.gov.ph for trip schedules. However, note that the Bicol Express train can only drop you off at the Naga station, which means another two-hour van ride back to Daet.
6. Similarly, you can hop on a flight to Naga and head to Daet on a van.
7. To take the Vinzons route, take a 15-minute tricycle ride from the Daet bus terminal to the Vinzons fishport and get a boat from there.
8. For the Paracale route, get off at Brgy. Talobatib in Labo town (for Manila-Daet buses) or Calauag intersection (for Manila-Naga buses) and take another bus for Paracale. Proceed to the fishport (5 minutes by tricycle) and get a boat.
Source: GMA News