Calaguas: Paradise on a Budget! (A DIY Guide)
Are you contemplating on a perfect summer getaway but being held back by your tight budget? Do you prefer the quiet and laid back beach experience over the beach parties and active night life? Are you into adventure and want an unforgettable one?
If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, then Calaguas is for you.
It is true. With less than two thousand bucks, you can have your ultimate island experience in the hidden paradise of Calaguas. Calaguas is a group of islands in the northern Camarines Norte consisting of unspoiled islands decorated with fine white sand – a picture perfect paradise that promises everyone their best beach experience.
The P2000 Challenge
With me were my travel friends Donna, Jonah, Ems, FM and Jill with her plus BJ, and my virtual friend Rina with her officemate Ruby.
Our initial plan was to avail of the service of an outfitter, but they were charging us P1800 per person from Daet. Jill brought up the idea of a doable P2000 budget to Calaguas. The challenge was to explore the cheapest and alternative route since Vinzons route (the common jump off point to the islands) is getting expensive nowadays due to influx of tourists taking that route. It is a simple economics: higher demand = higher price.
Since we were all game for an adventure and we all want to explore the different route of going there, we decided to take the Paracale route instead of Vinzons.
Manila to Talobatib
We met at Philtranco Terminal in Pasay for our 9PM trip. We reserved our seats earlier via Amihan bus bound to Daet at P580.00 each. The bus left at 9:30PM and we asked the driver to drop us at Talobatib junction where the buses to Panganiban and Paracale pass. It was 4:30AM when the bus conductor woke us up, we were already in Talobalib, a merely seven hours trip.
We got off and the cold breeze of Camarines Norte greeted us. While summer already enveloped the Metropolis, bringing burning heat at noon and humid nights, it was unbelievably cold in the town at dawn. In fact, the air outside was cooler than the artificial cold inside the bus.
Right at the junction, we were lucky that a carinderia/bakery was already open that early. They provided us shelter for a while, where we had our breakfast while waiting for the first trip to Paracale at six in the morning. An order of pancit bato and hot coffee costs not more than P25.
Talobatib to Paracale
It was already 6:30 in the morning, the sun was already up and the buses to and from Panaganiban and Paracale were already passing the junction. We crossed the street from the carinderia and waited for the bus to Paracale. After 30 minutes of waiting, an empty provincial bus from Paracale made a U-turn in the junction and loaded us. It was the start of an hour trip from Talobatib junction to Paracale fish port that costs P25.00.
The bus dropped us at a small alley leading to the fish port. While walking towards the port, I met Ate Annie. She was also going to the port to buy bagoong alamang fresh from the fishermen from Mangkawayan and other neighboring barangays. I asked her of the public boat going to Barangay Mangkawayan and she led us to the port where small fishing boats are docked.
Paracale port is not a usual port – no light house, no concrete platform – just a shore where a river meets the sea. It is not a port designed for public transport but more of docking place for fishing boats.
We then asked Ate Annie of the private boats going to Calaguas and Maculabo and she introduced us to a boatman who happened to be her friend – Mang Rolly.
Prior to going there, we already estimated the private boat to cost not more than P2000 or we will opt to wait for boat going to Barangay Mangkawayan, a half an hour walk to Mahabang Buhangin. One way ride costs P50.00 per person although the boat schedule is unpredictable.
While Jill and I were busy negotiating with the boatman. Donna, Jonah, Ems and BJ went to the market to buy some items we need – rice, fish, ice, hotdogs, fruits, condiments and other necessary camping supplies aside from our baons. They also rented a gallon of drinking water. The bill amounted to P1450.
Luckily we bargained the boat ride to P2000 for a small fishing boat without safety vests, a trip with overnight stay in Mahabang Buhangin plus side trip to Maculabo and Cumalasag islands. We told Mang Rolly not to worry about their foods and made him promise that no more additional charges will be imposed – and the deal was sealed. With Mang Rolly was his companion named Maton.
Paracale to Maculabo
We left Paracale at 9:30 in the morning. After an hour, the white sand of Maculabo welcomed us.
Maculabo does not belong to the Calaguas Group of Vinzons. It is under the jurisdiction of the town of Paracale. There are inhabitants in the island. Concrete structures, a basketball court, an elementary school, and some nipa huts and cottages lined up the beach front. Nevertheless, the island is still stunning.
On the eastern side of the island is a hill that gives a perfect 360 degrees view of the place, while the shore on that end is covered by big rocks. The view of the island from that end is picturesque.
There is mobile signal in the island, so we decided to contact the bus line to reserve our return trip to Manila before we disconnect to the virtual world (there is no signal in Calaguas). We called Amihan Bus and asked them to fetch us at Talobatib junction with their last trip to Manila on the next day. Their Manila bound bus leaves Daet at 9PM and will be in the junction after 30 minutes.
After exploring the island, we then had our lunch at a cottage lent to us by a very kind town councilor. We cooked some rice with our butane powered camping stove and opened some of our canned goods – tuna, bangus and Vienna sausage. It was a perfect time for stories, bonding and getting-to-know-you stuff.
We finished lunch around noon and the direct heat of the sun was already starting to burn us, so we took a dip to the cold waters of Maculabo. It was refreshing.
Maculabo to Calaguas
It was already past noon when we bid adieus to Maculabo with a promise that we will go back there again someday. We headed to Calaguas islands around 2PM. It was a smooth ride, the waters were calm compared to Vinzons route were the waves seem angry the last time we took the route. Actually, locals call the area of Vinzons as basagan due to its huge waves, a total opposite if you are coming from Paracale.
As we sail away from Maculabo, the islands belonging to Calaguas group started to enlarge. From afar, the white sand beaches of these islands started to appear. I asked Mang Rolly to name some of the islands, he pointed Cumalasag to our right, and Pinagtakpan on our left, while the bigger island ahead of us was Tinaga, where the beaches of Mahabang Buhangin and Pinagtigasan are located.
There were few big fishermen’s boats near the shore of Calaguas with a lot of people in it. They were fishermen trading their catch from the rich waters of the surroundings.
Landing in Mahabang Buhangin
After an hour of boat ride from Maculabo, our boat docked to a long stretch of white and powdery sand. I was mesmerized as if it was my first time to see the place. Except for some colorful flags installed on one area of the beach front, nothing much has changed since the last time I visited Mahabang Buhangin. In fact, it was even more beautiful than the first time. The blue skies and the sunshine reflected a postcard perfect image of a white sand beach in green and blue waters, and I fell in love with the place the second time.
Jill, Donna, Jonah and Ems quickly got off the boat and jumped for joy shouting “Happy beach! Happy beach!” They were like kids, and their eyes reflected happiness and excitement. I also saw happiness and fascination from the eyes of BJ, FM, Rina and Ruby.
When all our feet landed in Mahabang Buhangin, I sensed that it was going to be a perfect trip.
Mang Bert, owner of a part of the Mahabang Buhangin welcomed us. He told us that we were the only group occupying the island for the day and we all rejoiced. We set up our camp near the water source and arranged our supplies on the table. Mang Bert offered us fresh buko for P20 pesos each and we never resisted.
After setting up our camp and arranging our supplies, we ran to the waters and took a dip. We strolled and lied down to the powdery sand and surrendered to the breathtaking beauty of the place. We owned the island on that moment – it was just us, the sun, the sea and the sand.
The sun was already setting when we decided to walk to the rocky northern side of the beach. During low tide, one can cross the rocks and walk further north. But it was high tide so we just sat there and waited for the sun down. That was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever witnessed.
Ems and I were busy capturing the sunset when others went back to the camp to start preparing our dinner.
While Donna, Jill and Ems were preparing the soup, rice, chicken adobo and fried hotdogs for our dinner and I was arranging our green mango salad bar, Jonah was busy preparing for our surprise bonfire birthday party by the beach for Jill. She was inside their tent blowing the balloons.
When the dinner was ready, we offered a prayer and enjoyed our simple dinner with Mang Rolly and Maton while exchanging stories and laughter.
Jill volunteered to clean the table after our supper, a perfect timing for us to prepare the bonfire and the party. Meanwhile, others already gathered at the bonfire with the party props, foods and some alcohols. The heat of the bonfire made some balloons explode, fortunately Jill didn’t hear it, and when everything was set, we then called Jill, wore our party hats and greeted her “Happy Birthday!!!”
Jill was surprised.
Stories after stories, laughter after laughter, pictures after pictures, burned mallows after burned mallows, and shots after shots, we all had fun under the moonlight, with stars adorning the dark sky and the waves serving as our music. We lost track of time as we were enjoying the night, the last image on my mind was when all of us went back to our camp to call the night off.
Good Morning Calaguas
I woke up early morning, dizzy and weak. Ruby and Rina, the two most sober during the night party woke up early to prepare our breakfast. Donna, who was drunk during the party, was surprisingly awake so early and helped the two. I wanted to help but I couldn’t stand the dizziness and weakness, so I decided to take a power nap.
Wake-up call was announced when the breakfast was ready. The power nap was effective. I felt better and stronger. Pancit canton, breads, hotdogs and some canned goods were enough for all of us.
The Other Sides
We repeatedly made a call to explore the southern part of the beach since we arrived. This was the part of Mahabang Buhangin that we failed to visit last year. So we walked approximately one half kilometer and reached the southern tip. Rocks, huge and small, are scattered along the shore of the edge. I climbed one and took a picture of the entire stretch of the beach and adored the place once more.
We spent some time swimming there while exchanging teases and stories of what happened last night. I borrowed Donna’s mask and snorkel set and surveyed the underwater of the area, there are small population of fish and corals there, an ideal place to snorkel.
After sometime, we decided to go back to the northern tip since it was already low tide. We walked from one end to the other. There were already other tourists’ boats arriving for a day trip.
On the northern end were bigger rocks that can be crossed to reach a different beach side of Tinaga Island. The sand is golden and not as fine as the sand in Mahabang Buhangin. It was like the beaches of Jomalig.
Before noon, we went back to our camp and prepared our lunch. Ruby and Rina already marinated the pork to be grilled. Mang Rolly and Maton refilled our already empty gallon of drinking water from a water source nearby, they also took charge of the grill, while Donna prepared the rice. Others were busy packing and washing up.
Mang Bert came and we handed him the fee for our stay, P150.00 per person overnight. We even tried to haggle and lower the price, but he resisted, instead, he gave us free buko as birthday treat to Jill.
We had our last meal on the island at lunch time.
We cleared the area past two in the afternoon and had our group picture with Mang Bert, Rolly and Maton before we board the boat back to mainland. The sun was up; the sky and the sea were blue; and the sand perfectly white – that was the last image of Mahabang Buhangin I could remember.
The moment I board the boat back to mainland, I already missed Calaguas.
As agreed before, we will pass by Cumalasag Island before going home. Mang Rolly and Maton maneuvered the boat to the direction of Cumalasag. But later on, the waves started to become bigger. Mang Rolly was surprised; they expected the water in the area to be generally calm especially during summer.
Jill and the other girls decided to call off the Cumalasag side trip as the waves continued to batter our small boat. They were already afraid and worried since we don’t have life vests. The strong waves didn’t stop until we reached the area near the shore of Paracale port.
We hugged each other when we arrived at Paracale. That was my longest two hours boat ride. The first time I got afraid during a boat trip considering that I already survived the bigger waves of Cuyo and Jomalig seas.
We opened our mobile phones and that was when we knew of the powerful earthquakes that hit Japan and Chile that triggered tsunamis in the coastal areas of western South America and the islands and continents in the eastern Pacific. A tsunami warning to the coastal areas of the eastern Philippines including Camarines Norte was raised by various local and international agencies. That explained the big waves.
Timestamp was five o’clock in the afternoon. The last bus trip from Paracale to Talobatib was at 4PM, so we had no other choice but to rent a tricycle at P250.00 per trike that fits up to five people.
Before six, we were already in the Talobatib Junction. We had our dinner at the same carinderia where we had our breakfast the previous day. The bus was scheduled to fetch us at 930 PM, so we took the break to rest and unwind. Donna, Jonah, Ems and Jill decided to kill the time in videoke bar across the street, while Rina, FM, BJ, Ruby and I preferred to stay and rest. After some time, I decided to follow the other girls in the videoke bar.
Around 930PM, the Amihan Bus to Manila parked across the carinderia and we boarded. As soon as we settled on our seats, we all closed our eyes to sleep and when we woke up, we were already in the city and realized that our vacation was finally over.
Day 0: Feb 26
Day 1: Feb 27
0500H: Arrival in Talobatib,Labo
0500H – 0600H: Breakfast in Talobatib
0600H – 0700H: Talobatib to Paracale by bus
0700H – 0900H: Arrival in Paracale/Survey for boat to Maculabo-Calaguas/Shop for other needed items (ice, meat, fruits, fish, drinking water, etc)
0900H – 1000H: Paracale to Maculabo by boat
0900H – 1330H: Explore Maculabo: beach bumming, photo ops, hill,
trekking, swimming, lunch
1330H – 1430H: Maculabo to Mahabang Buhangin, Tinaga Island, Calaguas by boat
1430H – 1530H: Set-up Camp
1530H – 1800H: Explore Mahabang Buhangin: beach bumming, photo ops, swimming, snorkeling
1800H – 1930H: Dinner Preparation/Wahs=up/Fix-up
1930H – 2030H: Dinner
2030H: Socials, Bonfire, Lights off
Day 2: Feb 28
0700H – 0800H: Call Time, Breakfast
0800H – 1130H: Free time, explore, discover, play, pose, packup, prepare lunch
1130H – 1300H: Lunch
1300H – 1430H: Wasg-up/Fix-up/Break Camp
1430H – 1630H: Calaguas to Paracale by boat
1630H – 1700H: Arrival in Paracale/Wash-up/Fix-up
1700H – 1800H: Paracale to Talovatib by bus/trike
1800H – 2130H: Dinner/Rest/Fix-up
2130H: Departure from Daet to Manila
Day 3: Mar 1
0430H – Arrival in Pasay
0530H – Home Sweet Home
P580.00 – Manila to Talobatib (Amihan Bus)
P30.00 – Breakfast in Talobatib
P25.00 – Talobatib to Paracale (Provincial Bus)
P165.00 – Foods and Supplies (P1450 / 9 pax)
P245.00 – Boat rental and tip (P2200 / 9 pax)
P20.00 – Buko Juice
P150.00 – Camping Fee
P55.00 – Paracale to Talobatib by Tricycle (P500 / 9 pax)
P50.00 – Dinner in Talobatib
P580.00 – Talobatib to Manila (Amihan Bus)
P1900.00 – Total budget for a DIY Calaguas
P.S. Since we cannot contact Mang Rolly anymore (he has no cellphone) , we highly recommend Kuya Nelson, a boatman based in Paracale, you may contact him at +639095259821