Sabang Palawan

The struggle of natural explorers is always what to do and where to go first. There is often a trade-off of sorts: if you want to go to the beach, you can’t go to the mountains. If you want to rock-climb or go spelunking (cave exploring), you can’t go on the river cruise. If you’re bringing a pet, sometimes you can’t do any of those.

One place that completely avoids such struggle is Sabang in Palawan. Are you up for the beaches and some surf waves? Cave-exploring? Ziplining? River cruises? You can do three or more of those in a single day; and even bring your pets along.

The Sabang Waterfall

Now here’s something you won’t see every day, no matter where you live: a water source that is so pure it can still be drunk from. The Sabang Waterfall is the locals’ drinking water source, and they collect from the top in a natural basin occurring right before the falls.

However, you and other locals can swim in the pool right beneath the falls. You can even put up your head and drink from the falling water. It is partly hidden, not as popular with tourists, so it’s a perfect place to start a Sabang adventure.

The Sabang Beach

Sabang Beach is more a stopover point for most tourists on their way to other attractions, but by all rights the beach should be an attraction in itself. It is a long beach, perfect for a relaxing stroll, and the calm waters are accompaniment enough.

Even better, it is labelled one of the Philippines’ pet-friendly tourist spots. Both locals and tourists bring their dogs along to the beach. A long leash or transmitter with a receiver collar should work in keeping the dog contained when needed. There are specific wireless dog fences for traveling, here is a site that has detailed electric dog fence reviews.

The Sabang Mangroves Tour

The calm, sheltered cove is a growth spot for a mangrove forest (mangroves grow in saltwater, and often signal proximity to the ocean even inland). You can rent a paddle boat and guide, and travel into the quiet undergrowth of this forest.

A low tide trip is best, since it narrows the river and you will have a better view into the forest. You will be able to see more of the importance of the mangrove ecosystem, including its role as shelter and protection for young fish.

The Sabang Underground River

This is the best-known attraction of Sabang, but it is still something that should not be missed. The natural cave is large enough to tower over the long boats, and stalactites form above. The cave has life as well: bats and birds fly overhead.

The tour lasts an hour and is considered the longest underground river in the world that can actually be travelled on. It is also one of the 7 New Wonders of the World. The river is safe and calm except in extreme condition, when all tours are cancelled.

Other Attractions

Other things to do in Sabang include climbing inside rock caves, taking the minute-long Sabang zipline, and surfing  (when the timing is right) on Sabang Beach. If you plan your day right, it can all be accomplished in one.


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Starfish Island

Starfish Island is situated among the group of islands in Honda Bay, near Puerto Princesa, Palawan. It is often included in the Honda Bay island-hopping tours, since the islands are so small and close together. Despite that, Starfish Island does have the highest population of starfish among its sibling-islands.

Coral Beaches

It may not have the pristine white sands of Snake Island (one of its sibling-islands), but Starfish Island has the richly colored pink-and-white of ground coral. The protected position of the bay allows for very little buffeting waves, so the sands are partly grainy underfoot, with others still holding the cores of the shells and coral pieces they once were. Filtering through those pieces is white sand like powder.

Like all other pink-and-white sand beaches, the water promises to be the clear blue that sustains sea life, rather than the murky harbor waters which have mutant fish randomly hopping into the air. Starfish Island’s waters do not disappoint. The presence of quite a few tourists does not allow for absolute clarity, but the water is still a sky-mirroring blue.

Snorkeling Areas

The Honda Bay protects its family from the harshest of winds and waves, and sea life thrive in those conditions. The calmer the sea, the closer fish and their coral beds can live to the ocean surface. In Starfish Island, a few steps out into the water and you can float, watching the fish darting in and out of crevices in rock and coral.

Further out, with a mandatory life-vest, you can feed the fish with pieces of bread saved from your own food, or bought from the locals. The fish are used to the feeding and cluster around you. There’s no danger in them, and it’s a fun change to see them excitedly coming near instead of hiding in the coral and anemones.

Starfish Everywhere

In healthy ocean waters, it is quite normal to see a few starfish sunbathing on the sands and near-surface rocks. What gives Starfish Island its name is the unusual number of starfish colonies you can see everywhere. Starfish pepper the bottom in groups, and you can pick them up and hold them–they don’t bite. Many are bigger than your hand.

Other Parts of the Island

Lunch nipa huts stand large enough to contain small parties for lunch. Anything sold on the island will cost an eye and an ear. It’s best to bring your own food and drinks, especially water. The drinking water on the island will cost an arm and a leg besides. Starfish Island is the best place to end your Honda Bay island-hopping trip, or you could just stay there the whole day. The winding arms of sand stretching from the island disappear as the tide comes in, but until then they are perfect places for beach walks.

Why Go To Starfish Island?

It is a lesser-known island in the Honda Bay, so there are fewer, much fewer, tourists. Besides quickly finding a lunch spot, you can relax and swim on the beach in peace and quiet. It is becoming harder and harder to find less-touched beach paradises, so enjoy this one while you can.

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Camarines Norte

Assuming your starting point is Metro Manila (the Philippine capital), Camarines Norte is south-easterly to the Metro, around six hours drive. Being where it is, it brushes the Pacific Ocean and is made up of several coastal towns. True to historical form, the name is all Spanish: camarin stands for “rice warehouse” or “granary” and norte stands for “North.”

The mines in the area–especially the rumors of gold mines–drew Spaniard Juan de Salcedo and his soldiers there in the early 1570s. Not only the mines, but the Chinese and Muslim pirates caused the Spanish administration to develop the area and keep a garrison there. While Camarines Norte may be overlooked (the internationally-known whale sharks, Mayon Volcano and Naga City are in Camarines Sur), it has its attractions; all the more pronounced because they are relatively untouched.

What’s In Camarines Norte?

A road trip to Camarines Norte should begin and end with its capital city of Daet; yes, every day. Since Camarines Norte is not a tourist magnet, the best (and safest) places to stay are in the capital. Simply drive out to the surrounding areas when you need to.

One reason you might want to commute in the area (take buses or trains instead of driving out) is the flood of tricycles you’ll hopefully avoid colliding with in Daet. These small sidecars hitched to motorcycles are the main forms of local transportation, and they create traffic for anyone who’s not a tricycle driver. On the plus side, you get an automatic GPS system in the form of the all-knowing trike driver.

You don’t need to go far from Daet to find unique sights to see. The very first monument to the Philippine national hero, Jose Rizal, is in Daet. It was built starting 30 December 1898, when First President of the First Philippine Republic Emilio Aguinaldo declared that day a national holiday in honor of Rizal’s death 2 years earlier.

Most fascinating about the monument is that its origins are not completely patriotic–there are more Masonic (Free Mason) influences to be found even in the monument itself. One loyalty binding many of the freedom fighters of the Philippines, from Jose Rizal to Emilio Aguinaldo and General Antonio Luna was their membership in Masonic Lodges.

Go just a little way off to Vinzons, and you will find the burnt remains of oldest church in Region V (Bicol Region), the St Peter the Apostle Church. Although the centuries-old church was destroyed by fire in just 2012, the walls are still standing in testament to the strength of the building. For more natural attractions, find the San Vicente town’s Mananap Falls, Mercedes’ Colasi Falls, and the surf waves in Bagasbas.

Why Camarines Norte?

First of all, there are considerably less tourists. Everyone is in Camarines Sur, which is completely to your benefit. There are white sands beaches in the Calaguas Group of Islands just off the coast, with barely any other non-locals to compete with. There are less places selling artificialized gift-shop items, so you have a chance to discover more of the true local culture and cuisine. Why Camarines Norte? Because it is a trip back in time to the authentic local Camarines.

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Calaguas Island

For a sense of impossible beauty and a thrill on the edge of danger, climb the perfect cone of Mayon Volcano in Albay. For a journey back in time to the Spanish era of the Philippines, find the Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Naga City, one of the older testaments to the spread of Catholicism in this nation. But for a taste of the world-famous beaches of this archipelagic nation, take a boat to white-sanded Calaguas Island in Mangcawayan.

White Sands

Calaguas Island is made of white sands, caused by most of the sand being coral pieces ground into millions of extremely fine grains. White sand beaches are natural signs of amazing snorkeling and scuba-diving areas, as well as clean swimming areas–the whiter the sands, the more likely the water is clean and clear.

Calaguas Island sands blush the soft pink of red and white coral grains near the sea. Farther into the shore, the sands turn a sun-baked whitish-gray, almost soft as powder, perfect for drying feet after a dip into the water. It is bound to get everywhere, as sand does, but even better it is perfect for taking home as a souvenir in a glass bottle.

Aquamarine Waters

The color “aquamarine” would be an exaggeration anywhere but in Calaguas Island. True to the white sands’ promise, the sea is so clear that the depth is impossible to guess from the boat. It’s the kind of water that is impossibly blue from afar, but incredibly clear when you are actually standing inside it.

The water nearest the shore, the section that rises and ebbs with the tide, is the best part for just swimming in. The growing parts (coral, anemones, seaweed, sea creatures) live a little farther on. Anyone tired of playing in the sand and water can snag a pair of goggles and hover over the rocks and corals near the shore. Even that close, bright-colored fish abound.

Almost-Perfect Lack Of Signal

For anyone trying to get away from the incessant slave-chains of vibrating phones, bold-lettered emails, and bleepy-bloops of Facebook messages, Calaguas Island is the perfect paradise. Signal is so rare that the locals have one (1) location for it and a sign that says so. Despite the honor, signal rarely drops by there either.

No Modern Resort Buildings

Some may violently disagree, but what is a paradise without a hint–more than a hint, in this case–of its virgin state? The only modernity to be found in Calaguas Island is whatever is brought by the tourists. Bring tents if you want, or rent one of the nipa huts (we suggest the tents, they have so much more protection from the elements). There is no running water on the island. On the positive side, everyone’s muscles will get quite a workout with the old-fashioned pump. At least the pipelines can’t break, but the water will always be cold.  

Calaguas Island: Pristine Paradise

Calaguas Island is not as well known as Boracay, for example, or Palawan–both examples of  over-crowded tourist spots. The island draws the hardier tourists, and even the hardier citizens escaping modernization or attracted to nature. When it comes to travelling in the Philippines, there are few places better to go to sense the peace of its once upon a time.

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