Camiguin, somewhat shaped like a lanzones, its famous produce, is the second smallest province in the Philippines at barely 240 square kilometers. That’s less than half of the land area of Metro Manila. One could do a round trip of the island in a couple of hours, without seeing the sights, of course.
There are a variety of ways to get to Camiguin. Although there are no direct flights from Manila, access to Camiguin is fairly easy through a flight to Cagayan de Oro (1 hr) and a (more expensive) fastcraft ride to the island (2.5 hr). More frequent and cheaper ferry rides are available at Balingoan port, a 2 hour bus ride north of CDO. Plane connections via Cebu are also possible as Cebu Pacific now flies from Cebu to Camiguin.
Sidetrip: Whitewater Rafting in CDO
Back in 2010, we were able to get roundtrip tickets from Manila to CDO for an unbelievable 194 pesos for two! The travel dates we got was in August, which was right in the middle of the rainy season: perfect for a whitewater rafting side trip before proceeding to Camiguin. We arranged for a beginner’s course with Kagay, a CDO-based company arranging whitewater rafting trips. The beginner’s course involves Class I and II rapids, while the tougher expert course offers the more difficult Class III and IV rapids. After lunch on our first day in CDO, we were brought by jeepney upstream to the drop-off point for beginners.
The beginner’s course is easy enough as the name implies: 14 rapids ranging from Class I (Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions…) and Class II (Straightforward rapids… Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers) are spread throughout a three-hour course. There are lots of stretches of calm where it may feel that it’s just you, the river, and the insects and birds in the background. On the rapids, the Kagay staff are well-trained to provide guidance to the “crew” and direct your boat to the portions of the river where you’ll have the most fun (and splashes). (Note: Whitewater class descriptions are referenced from americanwhitewater.org)
We had fun in our first whitewater rafting experience. After the beginner’s course, you’ll most likely be asking for a bit more challenge. So when planning a trip to CDO, better set aside a free day in case you decide to take on the expert course.
The next day, we took the fast craft from CDO’s Macabalan Port to Benoni Port in Camiguin. This quicker option is more expensive but it comes with a more comfortable ride. Upon arrival at Benoni Port, you can immediately start your island tour as there are a lot of multicabs waiting in the area. The multicab rates are negotiable depending on the number of sites you want to visit (and your haggling skills). Our first stop, Katibawasan Falls, is the taller and more accessible of two famous waterfalls in Camiguin, the other one being Tuawasan Falls. The best views of the falls framed by the lush vegetation are on the stairway as you descend to the falls’ natural pool. Its ice cold waters are perfect for a midday splash. The surrounding area is managed by the provincial government, with basic facilities and salbabida (life buoys) for rent.
We also dropped by the PHIVOLCS Hibok-hibok Volcano Observatory. The office has a remarkable and grim photo exhibit of past volcanic eruptions and the resulting destruction in Camiguin. Being a volcanic island, there are a number of natural springs throughout the province. After the refreshing cold water of Katibawasan Falls, we then had a relaxing dip at Ardent Hot Springs. Pools of varying depth cater to people of all ages. Other popular spots include the Sto. Nino Cold Springs and the Bura Soda Water Pool but we skipped these in our itinerary.
Other attractions in the western side of the island are somber reminders of nature’s wrath. At the ruins of Guiob church in Catarman, only the thick walls remain after the eruption of Mt. Volcan in 1871. Not far from the Guiob ruins lies the sunken cemetery of Bonbon, Catarman. The famous huge cross was erected in 1982, a few years after the centennial of the destruction of the town. We waited for the sun to set here at the sunken cemetery.
By daybreak on day 3, we were already en route to White Island. The night before, we arranged for a boat that would bring us to the famous sandbar off the northwest coast of Camiguin. The timing of your visit to White Island is important: earlier is better as there is no natural shade on the sandbar.
More visitors arrive on White Island as the day progresses. There is not much to do on the island but swim in the clear waters and have fun on the sand.
We left White Island after about an hour. Tents or beach umbrellas are a must if you want to stay longer. We spent the rest of the morning looking for souvenir shirts and the famous Camiguin pasalubong: Pastel by Vjandep bakeshop. Afterwards, we took a van to Benoni port.
Thank you for coming, Camiguin
We took the cheaper option on our return trip to CDO. Frequent boats from Benoni to Balingoan, Misamis Oriental cost about a third of the fastcraft fare, but the rickety appearance of the vessels might make you think twice before boarding. Seats on this trip, at least on the boat we chanced upon, are on monoblock chairs bolted on wooden floors. Your eyes will most likely be gazing at the life vests and the closest emergency exit throughout the hour-long journey. Did I say hour-long? It definitely felt much longer, I can’t remember now as I just slept through most of the trip. A few hours later, we were already in the departure area of Lumbia (Cagayan de Oro) Airport, waiting for our return flight to Manila. Camiguin has a laid-back atmosphere that resonates well with visitors from big cities. There are few big resorts here, most of the accommodations are simple seaside cottages. With the limited tourist infrastructure on the island, the silver lining here is that the tourist hordes seen in popular islands such as Boracay are virtually non-existent, and we can still look forward to a rustic experience Camiguin in the future. On the other hand, bustling Cagayan de Oro is an excellent stop for a day or two before visiting Camiguin. Adrenaline junkies can choose between whitewater rafting on the Cagayan river or Asia’s longest dual zip line at Dahilayan Adventure Park in nearby Bukidnon.
Postscript: Cagayan de Oro flights now operate out of Laguindingan Airport, some 46 kilometers west of the city. Consider ample time for transfers especially if taking the Benoni-Balingoan ferry route. As a faster alternative, Cebu Pacific now also operates daily Cebu-Camiguin flights, leaving Mactan-Cebu at 6:10 am and arriving at Mambajao Airport at 7:00 am.
Day 1: Cagayan de Oro
- Early morning flight to Cagayan de Oro
- Whitewater Rafting in the afternoon
Day 2: Camiguin
- Fastcraft to Camiguin (A)
- Camiguin island tour
- Katibawasan Falls (B)
- PHIVOLCS Mount Hibok-hibok Observatory (C)
- Ardent Hot Spring (D)
- Guiob Church Ruins (E)
- Sunken Cemetery (E)
Day 3: Thank you for coming, Camiguin
- White Island
- Slowcraft to Balingoan
- Van to CDO
- Late afternoon flight to Manila