The Bicol Region may be a popular choice among travelers, but Catanduanes, one of its island provinces, isn't as well-known to tourists. This is probably because it's a challenge just to get there (there are only four flights a week) and it has a long-standing reputation as the "Land of the Howling Winds" (it's the first Philippine island that bears the full-on brunt of storms from the Pacific). Thanks or no thanks to climate change, the winds have shifted and there are plenty of reasons why Catanduanes should be on everyone's travel bucket list—starting with a picturesque group of islands on its northwestern seaboard, the Palumbanes.
The Palumbanes Islands, also known locally as Parumpong or Parongpong, comprise three islets that can be reached by boat from the shoreline of Caramoran (not to be mistaken for Caramoan, Camarines Sur, which is also in the Bicol Region). After an hour in the water, visitors first pass by Calabagio Island. Its verdant hills and rock formations make for perfect photographs; unfortunately, its rocky shores make it impossible to dock on this small piece of paradise.
But the next stop, Bitaog Beach on Parumpong Island, makes the long wait worthwhile. It's lined with a handful of cottages (which you can rent for P300 each), making the strip an ideal stopover for lunch. The local community lives on the other side of the island, so it's not impossible to have the whole stretch to yourself. Don't forget to bring your snorkeling gear and explore coral formations 20 meters away from the shore.
If we're talking about exclusivity, though, Tignob Island tops the list. It's completely uninhabited, which means you can take a dip in crystal-clear waters in peace. Boulders at the end of the beach strip can provide some shade if you'd rather not squint on your profile pics. You can also set up camp on this remote island if you're comfortable with roughing it.
WHERE TO STAY
Coco Beach Resort
Barangay Baybay, Caramoran, Catanduanes
Contat: 0926-057-1940 / 0928-620-4592
Rates start at P300
Coco Beach Resort is the only accommodation option that stands right at the jump-off point to Palumbanes Islands. For P300, you get a room for two with a private bathroom. There's no WiFi, flat-screen LCD TV, air-conditioning, and even a working shower—but really, you'd hardly notice the absence of those things when you feel like you're in paradise. Letty Dizon, the owner, can cook your meals for at least P60 per head. She can also arrange your island-hopping and in-land tours: boat rental (P2,500 for up to six people) for Palumbanes Islands in Caramoran and Tuwad-tuwadan Lagoon and Cagnipa Rolling Hills in Pandan; and habal-habal rental (P800 for up to two people) for Hiyop Point, Delicia's Farm, Carangyan Beach, and other points of interest in Pandan.
HOW TO GET THERE
Philippine Airlines flies from Clark to Virac every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Cebu Pacific flies from Manila to Virac every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. From Virac airport, you can ride a tricycle to Virac Town Center (P10); then an air-conditioned van (P150, two hours) to Caramoran. First trip is at 5:30 a.m. while last trip is at 4 p.m.