LIVING ASIA CHANNEL - Caramoan Islands

The Caramoan Peninsula is on the northeastern tip of the province of Camarines Sur.

(Excerpts from video narrative)

by Stephanie Dychiu

It is a story that has often been told. The story of a secluded island, ringed with powdery white sand, floating on a sea of clear bluegreen water. Behind the shroud of myth it lay quietly, shielded from the outside world by the absence of modern comforts. A secret paradise known only to locals. Until one day, it is discovered by the West, and word spreads, and the island is catapulted into instant celebrity.

This is the story of nearly every famous beach in the Philippines, and it is the story of the once impenetrable islands off the Caramoan Peninsula.

The journey to Caramoan from Naga begins with a 90-minute land trip to San Jose, where the port of Sabang is located. From Sabang, boats travel two hours to Guijalo Port in Caramoan.

Some travelers make a side trip to Aguirangan Island on the way to Caramoan. This uninhabited island is only 30 minutes away from Sabang Port, and is a popular excursion site. Its clean nipa huts are maintained by village leaders from the mainland town of Presentacion.

Upon docking in Guijalo Port in Caramoan, a 45-minute drive leads to Gota Beach near the tip of the Caramoan Peninsula. This is the jump-off point for exploring the islands of Caramoan.

Caramoan rose to international fame after word got out that the French edition of the TV show “Survivor” was shooting an entire season in the islands. It is hard to imagine how a place of such immense beauty was able to evade the spotlight for so long. No pushy touts and tiki bars taint its beaches. No shoddy resorts shatter the serenity of its coasts. Instead, there are soaring limestone cliffs, quiet coves, and immaculate islands that hark back to a more primeval time.

The Gota Village Resort opened its doors to the public after its first occupants, the Survivor TV crew, concluded their exclusive stay at the end of a three-month shoot. The wooden cabins the French crew stayed in are now available to tourists.

The name Gota comes from the phrase “Gota de Leche”, which means “drop of milk”. This was the original name of Caramoan, which was inspired by the milkdrop-shaped stalagmites in the area.

Beside Gota Beach is Hunungan. The cove in front of this beach is exceedingly calm because it is sheltered by a small island that is close enough to swim to. A fifteen-minute boat ride from Gota is Matukad Island. The white sand here is as soft as finely milled mineral powder. Near Matukad is Lahus Island, a narrow strip of beach that is open on two sides, and looks like a land bridge connecting two small islands.

Farther away from Gota, Pitogo Island has a beach made up of stones instead of sand. Sabitang Laya has a very long white beach. Cutivas is the farthest among all the islands. But the most intriguing of all is Tayak, which has a mysterious lagoon gaping at its navel. This lagoon has a combination of fresh water and salt water that has yielded a combination of fresh and salt water fish.

Cruising around the islands of Caramoan, the inevitable questions arise—how long will this paradise last? Will it survive the onslaught of tourism?

Comparisons have been made to other islands in the Philippines that are now collapsing under the weight of overdevelopment. The people of CamSur are adamant that Caramoan will not suffer the same fate. Exacting standards have been set for building and design. Seasoned masterplanners have been hired to ensure all structures blend with the terrain. Sewage treatment, water recycling, and local employment have been made mandatory. There is talk of limiting the building of resorts to the mainland, so Caramoan’s islands remain untouched.

And yet, Caramoan’s story is a story that has been heard before. The story of a secluded island, ringed with powdery white sand, shielded from the outside world, until it is catapulted into instant celebrity. Nothing is ever the same again after that.

But Caramoan’s story has also just begun. The cliffs and the coves, the mangroves and the mountains, still stand as regally as when they first welled up from the earth at the dawn of time.

Open your eyes, look at them closely, and remember what you see.
This is the way it has always been. And the way it should always be.
(End of excerpt)