CATANDUANES — located in the archipelago’s Pacific seaboard off mainland Bicol region — promises pleasant surprises and lives up to its moniker as “The Happy Island” despite its seeming obscurity.
With an extensive coastline, this island province offers stunning beaches minus the madding crowd. The lack of high-end tourist facilities is compensated for by the abundance of its back-to-nature offerings, all withthe perfect-coned Mayon Volcano as a backdrop.
In Virac town — the aerial gateway, provincial capital, and center of commerce, transport, and tourist services in the province — it is highly recommended that visitors drop by the provincial tourism office at the restored the Old Capitol for travel tips and documentation of tourist arrivals.
A tourist’s itinerary should include a visit to Museo de Catanduanes for a glimpse of the local heritage, and if a tour of the museum in pre-arranged, guests can be regaled by the Padadyaw sa Tinampo, a folk dance of couples which mimics the courtship of the doves. Also called the Pantomina, the dance is performed to welcome special visitors or during social events such as the recent Catandungan Festival which marked the province’s foundation day
A meaningful part of a traveller’s itinerary is planting a tree under the “One Tourist, One Tree” program which has been going on for almost five years now. The program was was the result of suggestions by foreign tourists who were impressed by the province’s forest cover. Catanduanes has 60,000 hectares of forests — considered as the largest green area in Bicol — which includes the 26,010-hectare Watershed Forest Reserve, 1,500 hectares of old- and second-growth forests, and vast abaca plantations which are home to rare species of wildlife.
The Philippines’ top producer of abaca fiber, the province is listed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) as among the country’s most important centers of biodiversity.
One of the province’s resorts which can be used as a home base while exploring the area is the Twin Rock Beach Resort. Among its amenities and recreational facilities are swimming pools, a zipline, a zipbike, watersports equipment, and a customized vintage Volkswagen van that guests can drive around with.
While in Virac, foodies can try the wide array of Bicol cuisine, seafood and crop-based dishes served in home-grown restaurants. There are also a number of cozy coffee shops and watering holes around town.
Nearby is the quaint riverine town of Bato, home to two Spanish-era religious spots — the Shrine of the Holy Cross, where the first cross in Catanduanes was planted, and the Baroque-style St. John the Baptist Church.
The town is also the home of the Maribina Falls — a three-layer cascade which ends in ice-cold natural swimming basins all tucked away within lush vegetation — and the islets of Patag, Carorian Japanese Kaidan, Seaside Waterfalls, Poseidon’s Rock, and Pinta Beach, all of which can be accessed via a chartered outrigger boat.
A must-see is the Puraran Beach in Baras, a fine cream sand beach which is now a surfing playground nicknamed “Majestic” because of its adrenaline-pumping waves. This once-remote spot has become a tourist colony, events and party place, and hosts surfing tourneys.
Up north in Gigmoto is the Nahulugan Falls, a three tier cascade which creates spectacular sprays.
Then there is the Tuwad-Tuwadan Lagoon, a tidal pool in Pandan town. Tucked in the midst of a rock formation is a pool of crystal clear blue-green water, deep enough for a low cliff dive. To get to it one passes the Cagnipa Rolling Hills, a welcoming vista where sky meet the sea.
Island hoppers will enjoy Palumbanes and Calabagio isles whose turquoise waters teem with 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 Catanduanes is a new adventure.