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Guest: Caramoan, Philippines
limestone rock and turquoise waters, Caramoan

A Survivor's Paradise
Caramoan, Philippines

Story and photographs by Julio Natividad

Meet Our Guest Writer

A former practicing civil engineer, Julio shifted to working for a non-profit organization where he met his wife Nina. His work has taken him to different countries all over Asia. He and his wife also worked and lived in the U.S. for a couple of years before returning back to their native Philippines. They share a common love for travel and adventure. After visiting and briefly living in other parts of the planet they now appreciate their native country and people more.

Julio Natividad

warm breeze softly blew into our faces as our motorized outrigger boat slowly made its way through the shallow, crystal-clear waters. Within minutes the next destination on our second day of island-hopping came into view: a sand bar that stretched several hundred meters from where our boat came to a rest. As we hopped out from our boat, we could only gasp in amazement at the sea of creamy white sand around us and marvel at the peace and tranquility of the beach and of the ocean lapping at our feet.

motorized outrigger boat in very shallow water, Caramoan
A motorized banca or outrigger boat near the Manlawi Island sand bar. This type of boat is the main means of travel between small islands in the Philippines.

The gorgeous sand bar of Manlawi Island is just one of several postcard-perfect islands, coves and lagoons that make up the Caramoan Peninsula in Camarines Sur province, Philippines. Largely unknown even by Filipinos in their native country, Caramoan only began hitting tourism headlines after the shooting of one entire season of Koh Lanta, the French edition of Survivor in 2008. Other countries - Israel, Bulgaria and Serbia - have followed suit, bringing with them tourists from Europe as well. Trying to beat the inevitable tourism boom that normally follows the discovery of yet another "secret paradise," my wife and I, along with some friends, went off on a short 3-day vacation to Caramoan.

pictures of Manlawi sand bar and Cotivas island
Top two photos and bottom right picture: the sandbar at Manlawi Island. Bottom left picture: wading through shallow waters towards the pinkish-white sand of Cotivas Island. The Pacific Ocean is barely visible in the background on the right.

We came back home thinking we needed at least a week to explore what Caramoan has to offer. I can only paint so much with words the feast that our eyes enjoyed. Let me share instead some other pictures from our short adventure:

the sandy beach and limestone rock at Matukad Island, Caramoan
The powdery, creamy white sand beach and limestone rock formation at Matukad Island. The sand is so fine it's almost like talcum powder. There's also a hidden lagoon that can only be seen by climbing the rocks at one end of the island.

bathers swimming in the shallows of Lahos Island
Lahos Island. Ideal for swimming and just lazing away in the shallow, crystal-clear waters. At high tide, the sea can wash over a part of this narrow island.

outrigger boat coming in to dock on the beach, Minalahos Island
The limestone rock formations at Minalahos Island. Another pretty island with a nice sandy beach easily accessible from the mainland.

turquoise waters with Cotivas Island in the background
Sailing towards Cotivas Island from Lahuy Island. We didn't have time to explore Lahuy, the biggest island in the group with an almost endless stretch of white beach.

two pictures of the limestone rock cluster at Sabitang Laya with a sandy beach in the foreground
Probably the most majestic of them all: Sabitang Laya in Balibagan Island is a beautiful, triangle-shaped, fine sand beach with an impressive cluster of limestone rocks at its apex - like a towering fortress guarding the island.
Travel to Caramoan is not as ideal as one might want. I believe the very remoteness of the place has actually protected its beauty. We had to take a 2-hour boat ride in addition to two other land trips from the provincial capital of Naga City to get to our resort. Travel facilities are slowly improving, but for me, getting to Caramoan is just part of the bigger adventure. Once in Caramoan, however, you will soon forget the lengthy travel time you've just been through as you go island-hopping, kayaking, trekking, snorkeling and camping. You can also go rock-climbing on the many limestone cliffs at the Caramoan mainland or at the islands offshore. There are caves for exploration in the area as well.

With limited time, our group did island-hopping for the most part. But we also enjoyed interacting with the locals on Paniman Beach, site of a fishing village where our resort, Breeze and Waves Cottages, is located. Particularly interesting was waking up early morning to catch the sight of fishermen arriving to haul in their catch and of small village boys fishing right there on the beach.


fisherman bringing in his catch at the beach; inset: part of his haul
One of the newer and better resorts is Gota Village Resort, located on a beautiful cove on the Caramoan mainland and ideally situated for island-hopping and kayaking to several nearby small islands. It seems, however, that this particular resort is used to house the staff and participants exclusively during shootings of Survivor. However, there are many smaller budget resorts and "hometels" or houses with rooms that are available for rent either in the town of Caramoan or on one of the many beaches in the mainland. There is also a nice upscale resort at Hunongan Cove, adjacent to Gota Beach. Like Gota, its beachfront has beautiful views of islands less than a kilometer away.

The Philippines is an archipelago of over 7,000 islands. Many of these islands have huge tourism potential but remain largely undiscovered. Caramoan may just be one of its many jewels.

 

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FEEDBACK FOR PATTI

I enjoy your newsletters -and particularly Patti Nickell's article about the 'Pudding Club' in the Cotswold's. An old friend of mine is taking a holiday there this year and plans to try their Jam Roly Poly and Spotted Dick - amongst many!

--- John & Maggie - UK

FEEDBACK FOR JULIO

The way I read this article, you stayed at the "Breeze and Waves". Do you have any pictures of the cottages, and would you recommend to some first time visitors to Caramoan?

--- Richard Simons, Stockton, CA

Hi Richard,

Breeze and Waves was still under construction when I stayed there in Feb. 2010. It should be finished by now. You can see pictures of the resort on this page. We got to stay in one of the small cottages in the picture. I'll recommend it to budget travelers but you might want to look at other options. We chose it because of its location right by the beach. You can try other resorts in the Caramoan town proper (you have to get a ride to get to the beach and the jump-off point to go island-hopping but it's a relatively short distance). There are also two higher end resorts located on a cove and very near the islands: Gota Village Resort (unfortunately there is something wrong with their website right now) and its twin resort Hunongan Cove. Caramoan is a relatively new tourism development so resorts are just now being built.

You can go to this site for a good list of choices for accommodations in Caramoan.

I should add that it might be good to go to Caramoan (and almost anywhere in the Philippines) during the dry season from December to May. June to November are the typhoon months and sometimes typhoons will still come during early December.

Julio

* * * * *

Hi, I'm planning to go to Caramoan this coming May. Would you know the number of Breeze and Waves Cottages? Thanks!

--- Ann, Manila, Philippines

Hi Ann,

Breeze and Waves' phone number is 0908-2911072. Look for Freddie. Hope you have a grand time at Caramoan!

Julio

FEEDBACK FOR WENDY

For Nature's Playground: The South Island of New Zealand

Hi Wendy,

In winter, Heritage Heights Apts. now offers free shuttle service to and from Queenstown 24/7 to guests without cars. We own a 7-passenger 4-wd Toyota Highlander used specifically to taxi guests up and down the hill during winter months. We also run advance purchase winter promotions which include a 4-wd rental.

If any of your readers head over this direction, I will enjoy extending Heritage Heights hospitality!!

Cheers

--- Ailey, Owner, Queenstown, NZ

* * * * *

New Zealand text and pix top drawer! Almost as good as making the trip. ( but one still wants to. . . ) Full of useful detail. Only trouble with the website: It's tough figuring out which feedback goes with which article, and the more there are, the tougher it gets!

--- Ken W., Camarillo CA

Thanks Ken..."álmost" is right, you really have to experience the South Island firsthand. Granted this piece is long, but still all I can think about is how much I left out! I agree abut the relevancy factor re the feedback--it can be confusing...sometimes I have a "Wait a minute...what?" moment myself.

Thanks for writing,

Wendy

* * * * *

Okay Wendy, from now on whenever you book your travel, please reserve space for me. I will carry your luggage, bring you cold drinks, massage your shoulders, and change the film in your camera (oops, I guess you don't have to do that anymore). Wonderful ideas and recommendations. Can you get to New Zealand from Boston in less than a week?

--- Carl A., South Easton, MA

Ha ha ha Carl, you're quite the comedian! But you'd be surprised how short that flight feels. I suspect Qantas isn't the only airline who's figured out that 3 movies, 2 full meals, lots of snacks and a complimentary travel pack (eye mask, warm socks and neck pillow) equals a quiet, well-behaved cabin. It really isn't bad. Just fly direct--pick the shortest flight w/ no lengthy layovers and you'll be fine. Re: signing on as my Super Sherpa...why not? I think you know I seldom travel in anything less than Party mode. There's just that pesky background check...

Thanks for writing,

Wendy

For Excellence Riviera Cancun:

Wendy, I truly enjoyed your info especially since we leave in a week to celebrate my 50th Birthday. Was it necessary to make reservations at the restaurants? Was there a dress code for the restaurants? What would you recommend not missing while there? Was the spa experience worth it? Did you travel away from the resort while there? Thanks,

--- Kim P. Fuquay, Varina, NC

Hi Kim.

Sorry for the delay in responding...you had heavy competition with the holidays. Reservations at Excellence restaurants are not necessary and you will not find a wait. The dress code is basically no bathing suits and flip-flops...with a decided a mix of atmospheres. Mostly the open-air beachside spots are super casual, the rest slightly more formal. Truly, as long as you are clothed, I don't think you'd be turned away anywhere, though most people seemed to enjoy dressing up at night...I suspect more for their own pleasure than any sense of decorum.

The spa experience was worth it, though my favorite part wasn't the actual massage. The precursor was a 45 min. or so rotation from sauna to a series of (kind of wild) water jets which was very different and very cool, not just for women. In its' entirety, and with the serenity of the beach/champagne/strawberries, it was memorable.

We did not travel away from the hotel this trip, but the hotel is very helpful in arranging day excursions to fit your desires and you do not have to book these until you arrive.

Have a great time!

--- Wendy

FEEDBACK FOR NINO

I enjoyed Nino's contribution, since we all read about the frightening terrorist attack. Having travelled somewhat through India years ago, I am continually impressed with this country and the gentle spiritual aspects of this nation. Some day I look forward to going back. Nino has encouraged me. Thank you!

--- Yoka Y., Westlake Village, CA

FEEDBACK FOR RUSH & CHUCK

Dear Mr.s/counselors Brown and Koro,

Thank you for a very informed and succinct article on motorcycle accidents and the law. It inspired me to think about getting a motorcycle, but not have an accident. But, if I do I am now well informed with the basics of what to do providing I do not perish in the accident. Any tips about that too?

--- Unnamed

Dear Rush and Chuck,

I wish I had read your article before our camping trip the Friday prior to President's Day.

My wife and I were in a car accident on our way to a camp ground. We were "rear-ended" and the impact caused our car to crash into the car in front of us. The contents of the truck that we were riding scattered onto several lanes. It's a miracle our two dogs decided to stay inside the car. My wife and I were shaken up badly but despite the mess, I was still able to walk out of the car. I got the license plate of the driver in front of me but, to my surprise, after reviewing the little damage on his car, he then sped off. I didn't know you could do that! The driver who hit me from behind gave me his information and then he too left the scene without saying good 'bye. When the police arrived all I had to go by was the little information I had jotted down which I hope was truthful. What if it was bogus? What if I had written the plate number incorrectly? How would that affect my insurance? What if we were unconscious, who would have written down all that information?

I do have one suggestion if you are injured in an accident. The police asked if my wife wanted an ambulance to bring her to the hospital but we declined the offer. I remembered when I rode an ambulance years ago that it was not a comfortable ride. I was strapped to the stretcher and there were all sorts of medical equipment dangling noisily above me. As long as you are able, it is a more relaxful ride inside a car. Besides, isn't there a fee for ambulance service?

--- Dave S. of Pasadena, CA



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