Philippines > Catanduanes
Catanduanes lies in the easternmost section of Luzon, the Philippines' largest island group. Facing the Pacific like a front-line warrior in battle, this island province gets clobbered by several typhoons each year – it's not dubbed the "land of the howling winds" for nothing. But the Catandunganon, ever optimistic and resilient, just take life in stride. After all, there sure is calm after each storm. And when the sky clears and the wind dies down, the worry turns to wonder at the sight of a rugged beauty – verdant mountains, breathtaking cliffs, sparkling waterfalls cascading through emerald forests, and stretches of beach boasting azure waters and golden sands.
How to Get There
A local carrier flies to Virac from Manila four days a week. Travel time is an hour or less. You can also take a 1-hour flight to Legazpi City in Albay, another possible transit point. Though, it will take a quick land trip and up to 4 hours of ferry ride to get from this city to Catanduanes.
There are no direct sea trips to this island province except via Tabaco City which can be reached by land. From the port of Tabaco, there are two possible entry points: Virac Port (4 hours away) or San Andres Port (3 hours away).
Tabaco-bound buses have regular overnight trips from Pasay, Cubao, or Alabang – all in Manila. A trip takes up to 12 hours. Alternatively, you can ride a Legazpi- or Sorsogon-bound bus, with Ligao City or Legazpi City as drop-off points. Tabaco City Port is just 30 minutes by jeep or van from both cities.
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Where to Stay
Virac is home to a handful of no-frills accommodation and a few fancy ones, most are located within the town proper. A stay in any of these inns or pension houses would mean easy access to the town's amenities such as shopping malls, grocery stores, church, hospital, and restaurants. But if you want to stay out of the capital, look no farther than Baras, where you can find awe-inspiring views of the sea, the sunrise, and the mountains. Here now are some recommended places in Catanduanes which can be your home away from home for a few days – and perhaps even, who knows, forever?
- Marem Pension House, Virac - Located at the heart of vibrant downtown, this quaint three-storey accommodation is an ideal choice if you're looking for an easily accessible place to stay. Its hospitable owners also offer affordable group tours around Catanduanes and even to Caramoan Islands. Guests can also savor some fresh baked goods from its bakeshop. An air-conditioned room for 4 costs as low as Php 1,250 per night. Book in advance as there are only 6 rooms up for grabs. Reach them through this number: 0929162000.
- Rakdell Inn, Virac - Situated also within the town center, this modern inn exudes a tropical vibe with its Hawaiian- and Southeast Asian-inspired rooms. And with its amenities which include a restaurant, a convenience store, and a beauty shop, you may have no reason to leave its premises. For Php 1,000 per night, you can have an air-conditioned room for 2. If traveling solo, you may opt for a single fan room which costs only Php 350. For inquiries, you may call them at 09103743230.
- Kemji Resort & Restaurant, Virac - Resort as it is, Kemji boasts of a swimming pool surrounded by well-furnished rooms and a beautifully-landscaped garden. It's also as accessible as the other Virac accommodation. To further up the ante on customer experience, it also maintains a spa, a fine dining restaurant, and a bar with regular comedic and acoustic performances. Bring a friend and stay the night in an air-conditioned room for Php 1,000. You may reach them at 09183615015.
- Puraran Surf Beach Resort, Baras - Set against the mountains and lush greenery, this small beachfront resort welcomes visitors with the perfect vantage point to watch the majestics of Puraran. Guests can choose from 6 homey cottages and a dorm-type surf house that can accommodate up to 15 people. A fan room for 2 only costs Php 500 a night while an air-conditioned room with triple occupancy has a nightly rate of Php 1,500. Contact them at 09771827537 to inquire.
- Majestic Puraran Beach Resort, Baras - Though the facilities are simple and basic, as is typical of island living, this cozy resort enjoys stunning views of the Pacific and the Puraran Beach. There are also only 6 rooms open for booking. Cottages are at Php 650 per night while air-conditioned rooms cost 800 per night. Both room types can accommodate at least 2 guests. Surfing lessons are also being offered and taught by the wave-loving owners themselves. For reservations, call them at 09294243818.
Where to Eat
While Jollibee is in town to whip up some Chickenjoy, nothing still compares to trying out some homegrown recipes or eating familiar meals with a local twist. After all, your Catanduanes experience won't be complete without getting a taste of its seafood and signature Bicolano spicy dishes. There's a number of good restaurants offering affordably-priced food in the capital town of Virac. Here's a few names that should form part of your "eatinerary" on your visit to Catanduanes.
- Blossoms Restaurant, Virac - Arguably the best pastry shop in town, Blossoms also serves a wide array of dishes, mostly Filipino cuisine. Aside from appetizing food, diners are also treated to a relaxing ambience with the restaurant's warm lighting and Spanish-inspired interiors. You would want to eat here everyday. Too bad it's closed on Sundays. Standout dishes are sizzling blue marlin steak, caldereta, and crispy fried chicken. After a meal, don't leave just yet without trying their highly-acclaimed halo-halo. Eat to your heart's content for as low as Php 100.
- Sea Breeze Restaurant, Virac - Set just beside the port, this restaurant features alfresco dining sections overlooking the sea. It also impresses with a great selection of dishes with seafood playing lead roles. Starring on their menu, and must-try needless to say, are the saucy and spicy crabs, kinilaw na tanigue, and grilled blue marlin. For Php 150, you can already have a hearty meal.
- The Fin Bar & Grill, Virac - Located along the main road at the town's center, this place is not hard to find. It's set up like one of the better fast food restaurants but their food costs much cheaper. It's perfect then for those on a tight budget. It can also transform into a drinking and karaoke place especially at night. Set meals are priced as low as Php 70. While the food they serve is nothing extraordinary, it's good enough for the price you pay.
- Cafe de Au, Virac - There's probably no other place in Catanduanes that brews coffee better than this charming little cafe. But there's more to Cafe de Au than just great-tasting coffee. It serves some snacks and basic meals as well. It's also one of the few places in the province with decent internet connectivity. Have a dose of caffeine for just Php 70 per cup. Add a little more if you want to pair it with a pie or pasta.
Top Things to See and Do
True to its tourism slogan, Catanduanes is indeed the happy island. This island province offers a lot of reasons to smile – from the majestic waves of Puraran down to the stunning beaches of Virac. But leaving this place may well break your heart. Consider yourself warned.
Click on each destination for a detailed travel guide. As preferences may vary from person to person, I have listed down different options on how you can visit these attractions and the things you can do in each of these. Below you can also find a suggested itinerary and sample costing to help you plan your trip.
Two days could be enough to go around the southern half of Catanduanes. But technically, your stay in Catanduanes could span at least 3 days since flights are not daily. You need more if you're visiting some places in the north or if you want to make a side trip to Caramoan Islands.
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Food and lodging in Catanduanes are both cheap. Though public transport is also cheap, it's highly irregular that you might opt for vehicle rental instead. It's good to travel in groups then to minimize the rental costs per head. Also take advantage of promo airfares as air travel can be a huge cost item. Below estimates are based on a 5-person tour.
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The town of Baras offers breathtaking views of the Catanduanes countryside. It is home to the famed surf waves of Puraran and the rolling hills of Balacay Point. It is here where the best seascape and landscape converge.
Connectivity issues are common all throughout the province except perhaps in some areas in the capital town of Virac. But this could also be a good thing if you really want to unplug from the world. Another red flag is the irregularity of the public transport service. Waiting for a ride from one town to another could take forever so you might just end up renting a vehicle.
Palumbanes Islands in the northern portion of Catanduanes holds a lot of promise and might be well worth a visit. And while I'm sure all that Catanduanes has to offer could already satisfy your wanderlust, you might also want to add Caramoan Islands in the neigboring province of Camarines Sur in your itinerary. Besides, Catanduanes provides an easier and faster route to the islands.
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