Biliran is an island province in the Eastern Visayas region of the Philippines. Formerly a sub-province of Leyte, it’s one of the country’s newest provinces, having only become independent in 1992. After our action-packed canyoneering at Sampao River ending at Ulan-Ulan Falls and island-hopping to Sambawan Island the previous days with tour operator Trexplore and some friends from Cebu, I was on my own. So, I decided to rent a motorcycle to check out what the rest of the island had to offer.
Biliran is the fourth smallest province in the Philippines and you can ride around the whole island in a day. For those who don’t know how to drive, the best option would be to hire a habal-habal driver who can serve as your guide. Locals usually charge P500/day for tours. But for some reason, I just wanted to go on a solo ride. Unfortunately, I was having problems getting a data signal during my whole stay. WiFi was pretty much nonexistent, so I wasn’t able to do any research. I decided to just wing it and go with the flow even without a clear plan.
After my companions left for Cebu and Samar, I checked into Talahid Beach Resort, a pleasant and quiet beachfront establishment along the coast of Almeria, the town right next to the capital Naval. My fan cottage room (P350/night) was spacious and comfortable, with its own detached bathroom and yard right outside. Aircon rooms are also available for P1000/night (good for 2). From here, you can take a 15-minute boat ride to Dalutan Island right across. Pumpboats charge P600 for roundtrips to the island. For inquiries contact: 0917-3608061, 0917-8269321.
While the beach resort itself doesn’t have an in-house restaurant, they have a store where you can buy basic supplies or have food cooked for a fee. There’s also an eatery right next door at Agta Beach Resort that serves tapsilog meals, short orders and vegetarian specials costing P120-150 per meal.
Talahid Beach Resort also has a few motorbikes which they rent out to guests, and I was able to borrow a semi-automatic Honda Wave 100R which belonged to the son of the resort’s caretaker for P500/day. My idea was to circle the whole island clockwise and just visit whatever sights I came across. From the resort, I turned left on the circumferential road, following the route we took the previous day to go to the port that leads to Sambawan Island.
ROUTE: Almeria – Kawayan – Culaba – Caibiran – Cabucgayan – backtrack to Caibiran – Mainit – Cross Country road – Naval – Almeria
Compared to some other island provinces in the country I’ve ridden around, Biliran doesn’t have a lot of defined “touristy” sights along the highway. Or at least not any with clear signs pointing out the way.
What it does have are places where you can just stop and enjoy the breeze overlooking the sea, open roads flanked by lush rice fields, and lots of sari-sari-stores selling gas in bottles where you can stop for cold softdrinks and a chat with locals who tell you where to go. I found myself doing those a lot early on the ride.
For those who want to see as many spots as possible, it would be better to hire a driver to take you around. But I was just in the mood to go for a ride. The scenic spots were just a bonus. It’s actually refreshing how laid-back and uncommercialized the province is. While going around, I noticed that a lot of the habal-habals here have makeshift roof attachments to keep off the rain and heat, similar to those found in Samar.
I must have been enjoying the ride because I forgot to pay attention to what town I was in. I vaguely remembered one of the vendors mentioning a junction in a town that started with “C” that I was supposed to turn into to get to Tinago Falls, one of the more well-known tourist spots. When I finally stopped to ask directions, I was already in Cabugcayan, when I should have stopped in Caibiran. This is what you get for not having working data.
So I had to double back. By this point, I was getting hungry, but I didn’t notice any restaurants or eateries along the road. But on the way back, I spotted a gate with a sign to Canaan Hill Farms, which turned out to be a gem of a find.
Opened just last December 2015, Canaan Hill Farms is a farm resort ideal for sightseeing, photography, picnics, camping and the like. You can buy natural farm products here, take tractor rides, and harvest fresh fruits and vegetables. They also serve snack packages and set meals (like manok tinola, pinakbet and tortang talong) good for 2-4 persons. The set meal was too heavy for one, so I ordered a snack meal consisting of their specialty organic burger, cassava chips and halo-halo, which cost P185 for all three, entrance fee included.
To get up to the main restaurant, you have to take a scenic hike passing landscaped gardens, sheep barns, birdhouses, fields of flowers, picturesque gazebos and trellises with flowering vines. Right beside a native hut where the staff on duty was preparing my meal was a quirky treehouse surrounded by cactus gardens and more blooms. The whole farm seems just perfect for pre-nup pictorials and OOTD fashion shoots! I kind of wished I was wearing something that would look better in photos instead of my usual get-up.
The food was pretty good. The burger was as delicious as it looked (I couldn’t tell it had a veggie patty) and the halo-halo was so filling! The staff on duty were very accommodating as well. One of the chefs/waiters gave me their specialty drink on the house and was nice enough to lend me a charger when he saw I was charging my phone with a powerbank. Since the place had WiFi, I ended up staying longer than expected.
Before leaving, JA, the guy at the reception tipped me about Tomalistis Falls nearby, which he said flowed from a hillside directly into the sea. There’s no sign going to the falls, but he said to turn left when I saw a set of houses up the road. Then he said I could go to Mainit Spring and Tinago Falls on the cross-country road.
An ominous sign etched on the cement right above a set of stairs greeted me. “Warning: This is 315 steps.” Going down wasn’t so bad. The stairs led directly to the gnarled roots of a tree which you have to climb down to see the waterfall. The falls itself is kind of small and nondescript though it’s notable for having sweet tasting water. It probably would look more beautiful if not for all the shampoo sachets littering the foot of the falls. It looks like it’s become a place for locals to rinse off after swimming at the beach. I’m glad I did the same though (minus the shampoo) because going back up was quite a workout. I should have believed the warning.
After driving back and asking around, some locals pointed me in the direction of Mainit Spring, accessible by a narrow road right next to rice fields. There were lots of locals swimming here who gamely posed for photos when they saw me take out my camera.
This is where I met Agnes, another local tourist who was also on a scooter. I got the usual “bakit mag-isa ka lang?” questions and she offered to accompany me to a nearby waterfall while her friends were swimming at the spring. We had to park our rides at a dead end and take a short hike to reach the falls. It was small, but pleasant and could be an alternative swimming destination if Mainit Spring gets too crowded.
Though I initially wanted to circle the whole island, I had to pass the cross-country road which connects Caibiran to Naval in order to get to Tinago Falls, which unlike its name is apparently one of the more accessible sights. This beautiful waterfall contains a separate area where locals can swim and cool down on hot days. It was almost 5 pm when I got there and the caretaker was about to leave and close the gates, but he let me take a few photos. Too bad I arrived late. If you’re planning to drive around, I suggest you make this your first stop.
Both the circumferential road and cross-country road in Biliran are well-paved and easy to navigate (if you know where you want to go). On the way back, I made a quick stop at Naval, the capital town of Biliran. For canyoneering and island-hopping tours around the province, I recommend you get in touch with Biliran Outdoor Shop, which is located on Vicentillo St., the same road as the drop-off point of vans coming from Tacloban. For inquiries and tours, contact 0919-2943865 or visit www.trexplore.weebly.com.
My contact Joni tipped me off by text not to miss the Almeria Church, a Catholic Church that serves as the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage. Apparently, she’s the Patroness of Travelers, so I felt it was a fitting stop.
I made it back in time to my beach resort to a beautiful sunset. It seems so cliche, to end the day with a sunset. For some people, the sun sets every single day. No big deal. But no two sunsets are ever the same. I always find myself appreciating them more when I’m in a different place. Maybe, it’s because I’m usually just glued to my phone or computer when I’m in the city back home. But this one was particularly stunning.
I may have missed a lot of main tourist sights, but I don’t mind. I had a great ride.
TIPS FOR MOTORCYCLING IN BILIRAN:
- If you’re a solo traveler, exploring Biliran by motorcycle is the best option because public transportation is not that regular. I had the roads mostly to myself.
- You can circle the island in a day by motorbike, though you will miss some spots that require hiking to get to.
- Gas is sold in 1-liter bottles around the island. There are gasoline stations in Naval.
- There are no commercial motorcycle rental shops in Almeria (where I was based), but you can talk to locals to borrow their private units for the day. Since they don’t get a lot of tourists, rates can be more expensive than in other provinces. I agreed to the rate of P500/day for the semi-automatic Honda Wave (though you can probably negotiate for lower rates), excluding cost of gas.
- In the capital town Naval, motorbikes and scooters for rent are available at Norkis at the corner of Vicentillo St. and Sabenerio St.. Norkis sells Sunriser and Haojue Motorcycles. Contact: (053) 500 9487.
- According to other blogs, habal-habals (with drivers) usually ask for P500 to P700 for day tours around the island excluding gas.
- Points of interest usually covered in the Biliran Island Tour include Pundol Falls, Iyusan Rice Terraces, Ulan-Ulan Falls, Recoletos Falls, Kinaraha Falls, Sampao Rice Terraces and Tinago Falls. Some of these are hard to get to on your own so they require a knowledgeable driver/guide.
- This site http://motorbikebiliran.com says they offer scooters and motorbikes for rent in Biliran.
- If you’re coming from Naval, I would suggest you go on the cross-country road first to go to Tinago Falls, then visit the rest of the sights on the Eastern part of the island.
- If you’re coming from Leyte, drive counterclockwise after crossing the bridge to the island to reach the more interesting spots.
HOW TO GET TO BILIRAN:
Tacloban in Leyte is the entry point to Biliran province. From the Tacloban airport, ride a jeep to the downtown area, then ride a Grand Tours Van (P130) to Naval town proper. Travel time is about 2.5 hrs. Cebu Pacific flies from Manila and Cebu to Tacloban. Lowest year-round fares may be booked through www.cebupacificair.com or reservation hotlines (02)7020-888. Check out Cebu Pacific’s seat sales and latest updates through its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.