In my opinion, every special occasion deserves an extra special location. In this case, I took Raina out of town for her birthday weekend getaway to the clear blue waters and fine powder white sands of Calaguas. Located in the Philippine province of Camarines Norte, this underrated piece of paradise is a place where you can turn off, unplug, tune out, and just relax while enjoying the immaculate, natural beauty of this far-flung island.
First off, I didn’t want to stress Raina at all for her birthday weekend getaway. Therefore, I opted to purchase a full service stress-free, 2-night tour which included: van transfer, boat rental, accommodation, full set meals, a local tour coordinator, trekking, and island hopping. Normally, most people choose to stay in small tents further from the beach for accommodation. Albeit, I chose to spend the extra dough and rented a cabana by the beach complete with surprise birthday preparations. Total cost for the premium package was PHP 11,500. Some people say love doesn’t cost a thing, but I say spending a little definitely makes it sweeter.
Before heading over to SM MOA for our van transfer, we diligently packed our bags with island tour essentials:
- Swim wear
- Extra Clothes
- Power bank
- Smart phones
- Russian Standard Vodka
- The Golden Duck Co. Salted Egg Yolk Potato Chips and Fish Skin
- Extra Pocket Money
After a dizzying 7-hour drive from Manila, we embarked from the shanty town of Port Paracale at 0700h on a large boat rental and it took us nearly three hours getting there!
Soaking wet, cold, and sore from clashing against huge waves in the lengthy boat ride with 20 other travelers, we finally reached Tinaga! Without a cloud in the sky, the sun lit up the crystal-clear water and the powdery white sand beach–it was unreal. The purity of Calaguas makes the long, wavy ride totally worth it.
Once a quiet coastline, Tinaga is now lined up with mini resorts and yet it amazingly still retains its shining, natural beauty. We checked our bags into our cozy cabana by the beach and as usual, proceeded to take cute couple pictures on Mahabang Buhangin, the long stretch of beach made of fine white sand, and sprinkled with volcanic rocks at its ends.
Shamelessly frolicking on Tinaga’s white sand, swimming on its refreshing turquoise water, and making friends the local island dogs got us quite famished. Thankfully, our tour coordinator prepared our tasty island-inspired lunch just in time:
Their Bicol Express with Boiled Crab and Rice was so satisfying after a long morning of moving around. The Lain they paired with the dish was unusually zesty as it was added with calamansi, it was lip-smackingly scrumptious! From now on, I will only eat laing if it’s got calamansi on it. Soon after lunch, Raina and I felt lethargic and took a nap to recharge for our next excursion.
The sun had already hid behind wispy clouds when we reached one of the smaller, neighboring islands called Balagbag (Entrance Fee PHP 20). Awkwardly positioned between Tinaga and Pinacuapan island, the beach is coarse as it’s peppered with crushed coral.
Balabag looks and feels so different from Tinaga. The entire island looks like a hairy gargantuan beast sitting on fresh volcanic rock. It’s ridgy back is covered with long, stringy grass brushed and flattened by strong winds.
We had our second photo shoot location by the windy picturesque cliffs with intimidating waves smashing against the cliff side. The character and atmosphere of this place is reminiscent of Raina’s persona: a force to reckoned with.
As soon as we landed back on Tinaga, the tour coordinators scurried to our cabana in order to prepare Raina’s birthday surprise. My only part in the set up was to distract her with a walk down the beach while taking shots of vodka as we admired the setting sun on the horizon. The tour coordinators did a great job making the setup real cute and personal: curtains were decorated with Raina’s favorite pictures, hearts with pictures of Raina and I hung on the ceiling, rose petals arranged into a heart surrounding a bouqet of roses on the bed, and an adorable cake with our chibi counterparts to top it all off.
We woke up late and hammered the next day. Unprepared for the morning hike up Tinago Hills (Entrance Fee PHP 20), we hastily packed our trekking essentials and clumsily dragged our feet up the slippery hillside to catch a glimpse of the sun rise.
There is no cell signal in Calaguas except on top of Tinago Hills. If you absolutely need to make a call in Calaguas, you need to trek the trail up.
The top of the hill provides a 360-degree view of the entire island. You can even see Balagbag Island from up here. It’s nice see that the area is well-kept by the locals: the grass is maintained and the hill is adorn with breezy kubos that you can rest in.
Drained from our early hike, the tour coordinators have prepared a Filipino breakfast for us (Daing, Fried Eggs and Tender Juicy Hotdog) so that we can restore our energy for our nine hour long trip back to Manila.
Raina was genuinely happy about her birthday weekend getaway to Calaguas. For someone who has been to countless beaches here in the Philippines, it’s rare for her to be truly impressed. Calaguas’ comeliness compelled her to regard Mahabang Buhangin as the best beach she’s ever been to. Calaguas Island is a rare, remote island in Camarines Norte. We only hope that its unspoiled natural allure should stay this way.