Caramoan’s pristine beaches, mysterious lagoons and rugged mountains have already been a feast for the eyes of Serbs, Israelis, Swedes, Danes, and the French, so Pinoys really do not have an excuse to miss out on these exquisitely lovely islands in the Bicol region.
Several international franchises of the reality television series Survivor have already used Caramoan as a backdrop, but the islands are now really in the global spotlight with the worldwide premiere last week of the 25th season of Survivor US.
With Caramoan as its setting, this is the first time that the show—this season called “Survivor: Philippines”—will carry a strong Filipino flavor, down to the names of the three tribes hoping to outwit, outplay, and outlast one another: Tandang (rooster), Matsing (monkey), and Kalabaw (water buffalo).
While the show, which started filming in March, refers to the unspoiled islands as its “most treacherous location” yet, what really awaits you in Caramoan is a challenging and unforgettable adventure.
No, there is no immunity up for grabs here, but make sure you bring your athletic self as you prepare to get temporarily marooned in the islands. Pretend you can hear Jeff Probst say, “Survivors ready… go!”
First things first: Ditch the plane and brave the bumpy ride
While you can fly to Naga City to cut your travel time, you may want to start the experience in true Survivor style, by enduring the 10-hour road trip from Manila to Naga. From the city, it is still one hour by van to get to Sabang Port where scheduled boat rides to Caramoan can be taken.
The journey to Caramoan is scenic: on your right, the majestic Mayon Volcano is visible on a clear day, while you get to enjoy the sight of verdant rolling hills on your left. When your boat docks at Guijalo Port, you need to endure another 20 to 30 minutes on a tricycle to get to Bikal Port, the jump-off point to Caramoan’s many islands.
Other hostels and inns in the area arrange the transfer from Guijalo to Bikal, but why avail of the service when the bumpy tricycle ride renders a more authentic feel to your Survivor getaway?
Come on in, guys!: Get bold and spend the night on one of the uninhabited islands
The tourism boom in the area has already seen the proliferation of inns and resorts in Caramoan. Before the Survivor craze, only about three inns operated in the area, but now numerous establishments dot the way to Bikal from Sabang.
But you have an option. You can arrange to spend the night on one of the many islands if you’re prepared for it. Just make sure you have your tent, basic camping gear, and food with you as some islands are uninhabited.
Your boatmen, however, will advise you to stay on islands with caretakers, so if security concerns you, this should be the better alternative. You can arrange for the boatmen to fetch you the next day as you continue your island-hopping adventure. You can also ask them to prepare the next day’s food if you want to save energy for your next challenge.
Here’s how it’s going to work: Shape up and endure the island adventures
Hop from one island to another, take a dip, snorkel, and sunbathe. Relax, enjoy your sumptuous lunch—Bicol express, laing, and grilled seafood. Enjoy the scenery. Take a picture of your friends amidst the sweeping seascape. Climb those rock formations to get a better view of all the other islands. Take another swim, frolic under the sun, and then it’s time to move on to another island.
After some time, you will find yourself overwhelmed by the many beaches and things that you can enjoy and do in Caramoan. The islands alone do not disappoint in number—Lahuy, Matukad, Pitogo, Sabitang Laya, Manlawi, Hunongan, Lahus, Gota, Cotivas, and Tinago: each exudes a vibe different from the others.
For instance, the sandbar of Manlawi, which is an enthralling sight at low tide, asks for your carefree self. The island of Matukad, on the other hand, will require your more daring version. There’s a steep rock cliff here that hides an enchanted lagoon. And if locals’ accounts are to be believed, a sole milkfish guards the lagoon which only shows itself to people of good character.
Let’s get to today’s reward: Search for the show’s sets and do as Survivors do
When locals say that some of the islands are closed for the filming of the show, it doesn’t mean you cannot actually go to these islands. All you need is perfect timing. And if you’re really lucky, you can actually get your hands on some of their props and try some of the challenges on their set.
Back in 2009 when Survivor Israel and Turkey were filming in Caramoan, we reached Matukad Island and saw some wood and rocks tied together that could possibly be used as stilts during high tide, but crew members of the reality series showed up and shooed us away.
Just when we thought we would never get to truly experience “Survivor,” our boatmen took us to one of the islands were an abandoned set was tucked some meters away from the shore. Upon learning from the locals that the show had just wrapped filming there, we eagerly took on the obstacle race that had us balancing on a narrow wood and climbing a net made of sturdy abaca.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the coconuts that we needed to peel using our bare hands to complete the entire experience.
- As it appeared on gmanetwork.com.
- Except for the collage photograph, all other photographs were taken in March 2012 with a Canon 550d. Collage photograph taken in March 2009.
- Juan in Caramoan, spot Matukad Island’s mystical guardian (ameramor.com)