Ask any Filipino if he’s ever been to Boracay and you’ll probably get a detailed, step by step description on how to get to the Philippines’ most famous beach. He’ll even give you which mode of transport you should take to get there fast and cheap.
But ask that same person how to get to the islands of Caramoan, and you’ll probably get a blank stare, a scratch in the head perhaps, and then a candid reply of ‘never heard of it before’.
And he’s not the only Filipino who’s not familiar with the place.
In the southern tip of the Caramoan peninsula in the province of Camarines Sur, lies a group of islands and islets collectively called Caramoan.
Its beauty is legendary to those who have laid eyes on its islands that even veteran and experienced travelers are amazed by its grandeur.
Picture this: dozens of islands, each boasting of magnificent limestone formations and long stretches of powdery white beaches, unspoiled by commercialization.
To reach those islands, you will pass by one of the clearest waters you will ever see, allowing you to see a rich variety of marine life even with your handy snorkeling gear.
Caramoan is so captivating that it was even chosen as the site of the French “Survivor” series in 2008 and it has since then, solidified as one of the must-see get-aways for the European market, and for those looking for a thrill of a lifetime.
It is not as famous as other beach destinations in the Philippines, but locals want it to remain so, to ensure sustainable development of one of the country’s most precious tourism secrets.
I first heard of Caramoan in 2008. Stories of its beauty had been merely hush-hush among travelers and at that time, it has not been marketed on a grand scale. It was merely an additional itinerary to those who seek relaxation after their thrilling adventures in CamSur, now the country’s sports tourism capital.
I joined a group of travel tour operators who wanted to see for themselves what it was that makes Caramoan such a mysterious destination and I found out soon enough.
Just like other ‘hidden’ tourist destinations, getting to Caramoan was not an easy task.
First, you have to take bus ride from Manila to the city of Naga, for nearly 10 hours. By then, you will take a two-hour drive to Sabang port, which at that time, was still heavily damaged by an earlier earthquake.
I thought that from Sabang, I would finally see Caramoan, but I was told that there were still several steps we have to take before I hit the beach.
The ferry from Sabang port, will take you, after two hours, to the port of Guijalo where you will have to take another 30-minute land trip before you reach the town proper.
After 15 long hours of non-stop land travel, we reached Gota Village, which at that time, was the only resort available.
It was a collection of little guest houses made up of wood, which I thought was very similar to the ones used in saunas.
Past the guest houses was the beach of the main Caramoan island and I was breathless. The limestone formations were so unreal and it was like looking at a landscape design from afar.
The beach was so white and the sand was soft as dust.
During our visit, the beach was deserted except for a group of 5 scuba divers from Finland.
And with the long stretch of beach for only 12 people (the, Finnish group, and our group), it was like having your own piece of heaven.
My exhaustion simply vanished away at the sight of the beach and I told myself that it was definitely worth the long trip.
Our group stayed in the island for four days which we spent on touring the islands and in playing water sports in our private beach.
Three years later, there are now commercial tours to Caramoan, thanks to the tales of those who have seen its wonder and shared it to the world.
But despite the growing interest among local and foreign tourists alike, Caramoan’s beauty has been relatively unspoiled, thanks to the conscious effort of the provincial government to maintain it as a secret worth discovering.