We often get to hear about this island province from the weatherman as a reference point to incoming typhoons. But beyond this unenviable distinction, Catanduanes brands itself as “The Happy Island” with its diverse natural wonders to promise a happy ending to a travelers to this tourism frontier.
But that’s getting ahead of the story.
With a 202-km circumferential paved road, mostly hugging the Pacific seaboard, the road trip is as exciting as the destinations with the many surprises along its 11 towns and 1,512-sq. km land area. And with only few vehicles going around, driving is bliss whether you’re on four-wheels, a motorcycle or even a bicycle.
Pitstop 1: Virac. This rapidly-urbanizing municipality is the capital, aerial and sea gateway, and hub of commerce, transportation, and tourist establishments of the province.
A must-stop is the restored the Old Capitol Building which houses the provincial tourism office where guests register for documentation purposes and get pointers in navigating. It is also home to Museo de Catanduanes which has a remarkable compendium of antiques and vintage photographs of its storied past.
Virac boasts of a beach overload—Talisoy, Batag, Marilima and Mamangal, each with a unique character and the silhouette of the perfect-coned Mayon Volcano in the horizon. An old guard is Twin Rock Beach Resort which is so-called because of the iconic twin rock formations where one can get close on board a kayak.
Feast on mouth-watering specialties such as tabogtabog, kaluko and koping, and an assortment of seafood which you can have at rock-bottom prices. Shop for export-quality novelty items and home furnishings made of abaca, the province’s top product and considered among the world’s sturdiest fibers.
Pitstop 2: Bato. This bucolic river town is home to PAGASA’s doppler radar station overlooking, is the archipelago’s first landmass to kiss the Pacific Ocean.
It also takes pride to being home to two important Spanish-era religious spots—the St. John the Baptist Church and the Diocesan Shrine of the Holy Cross in Batalay village, where the first cross in Catanduanes was planted over the final resting place of missionary priest Diego de Herrera. A natural spring emerged at the grave which residents regard as therapeutic.
An accessible roadside attraction is the multi-layered Maribina Falls, which has a series of 6-meter drops forming several natural pools.
Pitstop 3: Baras. Once an obscure coastal town, its Puraran surfing spot is now a tourist colony, events place for surfing tournaments and beach parties, and simply a place to hang around with the plethora of bars, restaurants and tropical-themed resorts. Non-surfers can bum around at the fine cream beach, framed perfectly by jagged limestone rocks.
Binurong Point, which became a social media sensation, is likened to a wind-swept cape in Batanes with its crashing waves and the kaleidoscopic sunrise.
Pitstop 4: Bagamanoc. If you’re fond of myths, do not miss going to the intriguing “Boto ni Kurakog”, a phallic-shaped column of earth and loose rock with a shrub growing on its tip. A most-photographed image even before the Instagram era, it is sometimes called Fertility Island for the documented cases of childless women who conceived after visiting the place. Aside from this folklore similar to Obando, Bulacan, this islet also packs a lot of amusing legends and mysterious stuff.
Across the town proper are the islands of Late and Panay, where the Loran (long range navigation) Station of the United States Coast Guard once stood.
Pitstop 5: Pandan. The province’s northernmost municipality, it has a concentration of unique natural spots which evoke a raw and rustic allure. Among these are as the Tuwad-Tuwadan Blue Lagoon, Cagnipa Rolling Hills, and Hiyop Highlands (in main photo), which resemble certain portions of Batanes because of the confluence of the mountain and the ocean.
Those willing to spend a longer interlude in this mesmerizing landscape can stay at the newly-opened Catanduanes Halfway Resort Hotel and spend the night stargazing.
Pitstop 6: San Andres. Known in the olden days as Calolbon, this port town is the most popular entry point from mainland Bicol. Not to be missed along the provincial highway is Luyang Cave, a hiding place of residents during the Moro raids in the 1700s. While having its share of gruesome and unsavory events, the cave park attracts outdoor lovers who explore it and emerge at a clearing on the other end.
Catholic devotees can swing at the Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Batong Paloway whose Mother Mary’s image on a thumbnail-sized stone is believed to be growing progressively over the years.
If the sights and sounds of the Happy Island in its off-the-beaten path doesn’t bring you a happy ending and memories, I don’t know what will.
A true-blue day tripper since age 19, he has travelled across the archipelago by land, air, and sea. As a communications trainer, travel photojournalist, tourist mapmaker, scuba diver, environment advocate, or simply a family road tripper, he has imbibed the diversity of the Philippines by learning the basic way of life of the places he visits.