Last Holy Week, yours truly went to beaches less traveled up north, to Calayan Islands which is part of the Babuyan group of islands in Cagayan province, Luzon.
Less travelled because it’s really far, not crowded (more of close to deserted), not yet commercialized and again really far. Haha.
Sharing here a glimpse of the adventure, plus some pictures and insights along the way.
I’m used to long night trips up North Luzon, given a handful of 8-hour night trips to Quirino and Isabela but going to Cagayan is really different. It takes a lot more than that, especially going to Aparri (northern part of Cagayan) where we are supposed to ride a ferry to reach Calayan Islands. I think 14 hours on the bus is an understatement.
From Aparri, a twice a week (only) ferry ride can bring you to Calayan Islands, which is a 6-hour grueling bumpy (and barfy) ocean ride worth Php700. For the faint tummies and biyahilos (like me), be sure to prepare those plastic bags! Or take Bonamine. Another alternative is to take a lampitaw from Claveria (another town in Cagayan), a much smaller single or dual engine boat but for a shorter trip of around 3 to 4 hours. But more adventurous definitely.
Calayan Island is among the biggest of the Babuyan group and herein resides most of the population of the islands, most of the trade, plus the government. It has rotational blackouts (or conversely half-day electricity supply), very limited 4-car vehicles (only 2 such vehicles per a resident, one for the LGU and one for police) so mostly people travel by foot, bicycles, motorcycles (some with sidecars) and of course, lampitaws. Stores abound the vicinity plus the usual church, school, townhall etc. It’s a community on its own. People are very kind, and they say the place has zero crime rate.
WHERE TO STAY
As of this writing, tourists will get to choose between only 2 “homestays” that are just a few blocks apart and walking distance from the port of Calayan. These homestays are the local version of hotels where travelers can spend the night, leave their heavy baggage before hitting the beaches and island hopping. The stay is worth Php200 per night. Its beaches are all natural, with no developed resorts or commercial areas to serve you fancy foods and drinks so you better be ready to prepare and cook your own food. Good thing my friends are campers and hikers so we always had full meals by the beach! The homestays also cook food for their guests (seafood mostly) for an additional of Php100 per person.
An 40-minute boat ride (lampitaw) from Calayan Island is the Bataraw Falls with cool clean waters and if you’re lucky, no other group to share it with. Nice wood bridges too, akin to the Elvish realm in LOTR.
Around 2 hours boat ride from the falls (and here the ocean waves really get scary and bumpy) is another Calayan attraction which is a cave by the sea. Reminds me of one of Voldemort’s horcrux hiding place. It’s not as scary looking though especially on a bright sunny day. Unfortunately, since the ocean waves on the way there were really rough and tough (ourselves and our stuff were already soaking wet just on the way there), and it’s already getting late, we were not able to spend much time on that island with a cave. Had a great lunch after the ocean ordeal. The island looks like a great night campsite though.
Easily the highlight of the trip is Sibang Cove. Still accessible by boat but we chose a 20-minute motorcycle ride instead plus some 20-minute trek. There were just 3 small groups present when we got there, camping beneath the shades of trees given the intense summer heat. Sibang Cove has very fine white sand, clear blue water and sandy-not-rocky sea floor (the shallow part by the shore at least) — very friendly to those who don’t know how to swim (like me). Waves are manageable too. Travelers can opt to camp here at night too.
Accessibility of these areas is really key as to why not too many tourists dare go to Calayan Islands. It’s not like Batanes which is now accessible via airplane. And I’m really torn whether I would want Calayan Islands to be as commercialized as other well known beaches. If yes, might be good for the local economy, but how about the virginity, cleanliness, tranquility and serenity of the place? Look at what happened to Boracay.
I also wish we had more time (since bulk will really be spent on travelling), more time to swim more, relax more, try more local cuisines and seafood, and interact with the inhabitants who take pride in the simplicity of their daily lives. Oh, and there were no humpback whales to swim with us. We saw a couple of dolphins though while on the ferry.
Definitely an eye candy for nature and sea lovers. For the few who dare. A place perfect for those who want to go (very) far from it all, and just be one (and most of the time alone) with nature. For those who prefer the sound of rushing waves and cool clear ocean waters over the sound of hard partying and drinks. Really wish we could have stayed longer. Maybe when we retire early.
This site’s got even better pictures and its own story to tell on Calayan Islands: Akrosdayunibers.