With the Philippines’ thousands of islands, there’s no surprise that there are still a few that are relatively untouched by development. One which has been making a buzz among backpackers and adventure travelers these recent years is the Mahabang Buhangin Beach (Long Sand Beach) in the Calaguas Group of Islands in Camarines Norte. It has even become one of the top contenders for the Philippine Gems, a campaign spearheaded by Isla Lipana & Co. (PwC Ph) to recognize the emerging destinations in the country. Despite the erratic weather, I gladly took the invitation by folks at Fleishman Hillard and PwC for an ocular trip to see why this Calaguas Islands is making waves at their campaign.
Jump-Off at Vinzons Camarines Norte
We were a small group of three, which is great so we can easily move around. From DLTB Bus Station in Edsa, we rode the 8-hour Daet bound bus, took breakfast, then jumped in a jeep for a short ride to Vinzons. Vast agricultural land flanked our views inside the jeep until we reach their small town center where the tallest structure seems to reach only 3-story. Calaguas Group of Islands is under the municipality of Vinzons in Camarines Norte (except for Maculabo Islands which is part of Paracale, the other jumpoff point). It may be a bit longer to get to the islands from here but we have an appointment with the local tourism office. Vinzons is a small municipality that thrives on rice agriculture. They have just begun realizing the potential of tourism in their area. They even have no lodgings in their town yet.
A Splashy Ride
It seems people are getting used to visitors here. People, from the lady at the store or our tricycle driver, would suggest boatmen that can take us to Calaguas Islands. Since there are no standard boat rates yet, we had to haggle for a good price. We got a good deal on a boat that would stay with us overnight on the island. From the fish port, we rode our way to a lovely mangrove-fringed river. Stopping by Baranggay Sula just by the river mouth to the sea for a short boat chore. Baranggay Sula doesn’t have potable water so they had to get containers filled from the town.
The open waters between the mainland and the island is rough. Expect to get wet and splashed throughout. It’s a good idea my companions brought big garbage bags to secure our items. More than half of the 2.5 hours of travel time is through the Pacific Waters. It gets really interesting as we approach the islands. We thought we already reached our destination when we saw Guintinua Island which teased us with its own beautiful stretch of white sand beach. Our boatman signaled it is still at the back. We marveled at the hills, ridges and beaches we passed by. They were so green and fertile it could pass as a golf course.
Mahabang Buhangin Pure Shores
We reached Mahabang Buhangin, the popular beach in Tinaga Island, the poster boy of Calaguas Islands. It was midday, the sun was out and the beach sand showed it all blinding white glory. It was wide, and long, surrounded by sloping hills, an all too-friendly dog’s welcome, and there was almost nobody around except for a family on one side of the beach. Mahabang Buhangin stretches 2.5 to 3km and the sand quality is excellent, white and powdery, perfect against the clear turquoise waters. Suddenly all that long travel seems nothing as we were rewarded by this pristine beach. I can see why people gave rave reviews as it really defines what a “beautiful tropical beach” is like.
We came in an off-peak season, and on a Sunday that’s why there weren’t many people around. We searched for our contact, Bert’s Resort up north of the stretch, and secured our cottages from the enthusiastic old man who likes to share stories and jokes. The weather went awry so we decided to just enjoy the afternoon swimming. Mahabang Buhangin sand is really wonderful, the beach slopes gradually and there are no rocks in the area. The waves are gentle and there are no known undertows as well so it is really ideal for swimming.
There was no sunset that day, so I just waited for the clouds to the part that evening and fortunately, it did. The stars showed themselves on this moonless night. The galaxy stretched through the sky.
Exploring Beyond the Beach
South of Mahabang Buhangin beach, there’s a 15-20 minute trail leading to Baranggay Mangcawayan. A fishing village of about 500 people. Their beach is not really attractive but we heard if you are into snorkeling, they have beautiful corals on this side of Tinaga Island. We found fresh cuttlefish catch in this village which our boatman cooked ala “Inadobo sa Gata“, it’s one of the best squid dishes I had from the coconut-rich soup with a spicy kick and the really tender squid meat. There are general merchandise stores here as well for basic supplies or cold drinks.
There are hiking potentials in the area. North of the beach there’s an easy hike overlooking the beach. On the other side there’s a much steeper trail. We explored this one hoping to find a clearing by following the Water Buffalo’s trail. It led to a low lying forest. I wouldn’t recommend people exploring the area by themselves as I encountered three grass snakes in one hike. The one inside the forest was about 3-feet long. I made sure I have a stick to rustle the path ahead of me and trample the ground to make sounds. An island is an ideal place for birding too. I’ve seen several colorful birds I don’t normally see.
A Touch of Development
It won’t be long before large chain resorts start to notice Mahabang Buhangin Beach. In fact, Waling Waling, the same resort from Boracay already have its Eco Village set up in the area. It will be challenging though how to market this to the middle to upper-class markets. I guess distance would benefit the island to hamper any mis-developments. With our talk to the Mayor of Vinzons, Agnes Ang, and Tourism Officer Nilo, they are studying how to develop the island very carefully. So far I like the island and the beach. I’m sure beach lovers would crowd this place come summertime. I would surely come back here in better weather.
Mahabang Buhangin Beach is found west of Tinaga Island, which is part of the Calaguas Group of Islands under the municipality of Vinzons, Camarines Norte.
Ways to go to Calaguas Islands
- From Manila the easiest and budget-friendly way is to take a 7-8 hour bus ride to Camarines Norte. There are two jump-off points, Vinzons and Paracale.
- Vinzons offers more flexibility as there are more options for buses going to Daet and they are mostly air-conditioned. DLTB Bus would be a good option (Php 500). From Daet take a 20-minute jeepney ride to Vinzons (Php 16) to the fish port. At Vinzons you can buy necessary supplies like water and food to take to the islands. Haggle for boats to take you to the island which usually costs about Php 2500-3000 or more depending on how big the boat or conditions. Most boats have life vests here.
- Paracale is much faster in terms of time as it only takes less than 2 hours to Calaguas Islands. Superlines have direct buses to Paracale but is not airconditioned. One can take Daet bound buses and get off at Baranggay Talobatib in Labo then ride an hour-long bus to Paracale. Boats can be hired here much cheaper from Php 2000 up. There are also regular passenger boats here to Calaguas Islands that leave at 10 am. The fare is Php 100 one way to the Tinaga Island. The same boat leaves the island daily as well.
- If you wish to fly, take a flight to Naga then take a 2-hour Van to Daet. Follow the instructions to Vinzons above.
- Currently there are no accommodations at Mahabang Buhangin Beach aside from beach cottages and tents. It’s best to bring your own drinking water. Food is optional as this can be arranged in the island with fresh catch but still for contingency best to bring along some.
- Bring a torch/flashlight.
- Waterproof your things for the boat rides.
- Bring insect repellant.
- There are toilets in the area and water pumps to freshen up.
- In Vinzons there’s a store in front of the Fishport where people can use the restroom and shower for Php 20.
If you think Calaguas Island’s Mahabang Buhangin Beach deserves to win the Philippine Gems, you can cast your vote here. Deadline for voting is at September 25, 2013.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.