Thanks to the popular Pagasa weatherman Amado Pineda, we got to hear about the Back in the 1980s, we got to hear about Catanduanes province when there is an approaching typhoon. The first landmass in the archipelago to kiss the Pacific Ocean, it is situated in the Bicol peninsula’s easternmost part and is composed of 11 municipalities scattered over a 1,511.5-sq. km land area.
But in recent years, the province has shed its typhoon-prone image, and has become a travel frontier which goes by the tag “The Happy Island” to emphasize the simple joys it brings to its guests who only have happy memories to bring home.
With a scenic cemented circumferential road, some parts of which are four lanes, driving on four wheels or on motorcycles is such a destressing moment.
Locals have grouped the towns into three circuits to enable guests maximize their visit. The tour circuits are—Pacasan (Pandan, Caramoran, San Andres), Paviba (Panganiban, Viga, Bagamanoc), and Gibbsam (Gigmoto, Baras, Bato, San Miguel), all emanating from the provincial capital of Virac.
Pitstop 1: Virac. This aerial gateway of Catanduanes with flights by Cebu Pacific from Manila and Philippine Airlines from Clark. Hardcore road trippers can drive up to Tabaco City in Albay, take a Ro-Ro ferry bound for San Andres port, and motor to Virac.
An almost mandatory stopover is the restored Old Capitol building which houses the Museo de Catanduanes, the repository of local history and culture, and the provincial tourism office where you can get helpful pointers on the road, and register for documentation purposes.
Just like any capital town, it is the hub of commerce, transport, souvenir shopping and tourism services. It is also the venue for the Catandungan Festival set on Oct. 22-26, which marks its 73rd founding anniversary when it was separated from Albay and created as an independent province.
A recommended accommodation is Twin Rock, a popular beach resort situated 10 kilometers away from the town proper, which takes pride in its various recreational facilities. It is so-called because of the iconic twin rock formations where one can get close on board a kayak.
With a long coastline, the town offers a beach overload—Talisoy, Batag, Marilima or Mamangal, each with a seemingly irresistible magnetic pull, and the silhouette of the perfect-coned Mayon Volcano in the horizon.
Go around the town and feast on native delicacies such as latik, ibos and barisongsong or crop-based delights such as tabogtabog, kaluko and koping, and a variety of seafood which abound in the island.
Pitstop 2: Bato. A 20-minute drive away is this bucolic river town which is home to Pagasa weather bureau’s doppler radar station which detects tropical depressions brewing in the Pacific.
Also within Bato is the three-layer Maribina Falls tucked within a lush vegetation, which has a series of 6-meter high drop which forms an icy natural pools.
The town takes pride being host to two of the most important Spanish-era religious spots—the St. John the Baptist Church and the Diocesan Shrine of the Holy Cross, where the first cross in Catanduanes was erected over the burial place of missionary priest Diego de Herrera. A natural spring emerged at the grave which natives have regarded as therapeutic and to some extent, miraculous.
A new experience is an island-hopping trip around the stunning islets of Patag, Carorian Japanese Kaidan, Seaside Waterfalls, Poseidon’s Rock and Pinta Beach.
Pitstop 3: Baras. An hour away from Virac is this once obscure beach of Puraran which has been the secret playground of foreign surfers, which they codenamed “Majestic” because of the adrenaline-pumping waves. Today, this village is the province’s tourist colony, events place, and venue of the Catanduanes Reef Break which draws the country’s home-grown waveriders.
You can learn surfing 101 in Tilod, located a few coves away, which has more manageable waves.
If you simply want to go beach bumming, Puraran boasts of fine cream-colored sand and gin-clear waters, framed perfectly by jagged limestone rocks.
A new spot which has been making the rounds in social media is Binurong Point, which is likened to the wind-swept cape in Batanes where you can witness the crashing Pacific waves and the kaleidoscopic sunrise.
Pitstop 4: Bagamanoc. Further up north is this town which opened up for tourism a few years ago, with their most-photographed Ilihan Point, commonly known as “Boto ni Kurakog.” A landmass located off the bay, it is a phallic-shaped column of earth and loose rock that rises five meters above the sea, with a healthy shrub growing on top of it.
There are boat tours to the landmark, for which a tourist hears the legend of how it came to be. Occasionally called Fertility Island, there have been cases of pregnancies of childless married women who conceived after visiting the place.
While here, swing by Villa Luna in Pugso Island, and the Loran Ruins, a former American naval base built in the early 1950s as an outpost to monitor navigation in the Pacific.
Pitstop 5: Caramoran. Another best kept-secret, this frontier town on the western coast is known for Palumbanes Island, a crude beach hideaway for whose talcum sand and turquoise waters teem with beautiful corals and fishes. Because of its marine biodiversity, it is ideal for snorkeling or diving.
Pitstop 6: San Andres. Seventeen kilometers west of Virac, this port town is known for Luyang Cave, which became a hiding place for locals during the height of Moro raids in the 1700s. While having its shares of gruesome events in the past, the cave park attracts adventurers who explore it and emerge at a clearing a hundred meters away.
A religious spot for Catholic devotees is the Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Batong Paloway whose image on a thumbnail-sized stone is believed to be miraculous.
With still many more interesting stuff off-the-beaten path, an intrepid road trip will always bring a happy ending in the