Camiguin is an island province in the Philippines commonly associated with two things. First, it’s known as having the sweetest lanzones in the country. Second, it’s home to a sunken cemetery, driven underwater when Mt. Vulcan Daan erupted in the 1870s. A large cross in the sea memorializes the departed buried there and serves as the province’s most iconic landmark. According to locals, tombstones encrusted by corals beneath the cross can still be seen by snorkelers and scuba divers, which sounds both eerie and fascinating at the same time.
Camiguin gets its name from the word kamagong – a tree from the ebony family. Dubbed “The Island Born of Fire,” Camiguin is home to seven volcanoes, only one of which remains active. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the tiny island contains lush forests, waterfalls, springs, relatively unspoiled beaches and diving spots for adventure junkies as well as ancestral houses, Spanish-era churches and heritage sites for history buffs.
WHERE EXACTLY IS CAMIGUIN:
The pear-shaped volcanic island is located 714 kms. South of Manila, 120 kms. Southeast of Cebu and 90 km North of Cagayan de Oro in the southern part of the Philippines. Camiguin used to be apart of Misamis Oriental until it became a separate province in 1966.
It is currently the second smallest province in the country after Batanes and maintains the similar peaceful laid-back island vibe commonly seen when everyone knows everyone else. It is geographically part of Region 10, Northern Mindanao, which includes Bukidnon, Lanao del Norte, Misamis Oriental and Misamis Occidental, but has the same vibe as other islands in the Southern Visayas region like Bohol and Siquijor.
HOW TO GET THERE:
As of November 2015, there are no direct flights from Metro Manila to Camiguin. The island is accessible by air travel from Cebu and sea travel from Cagayan de Oro and Bohol. From Cebu, Cebu Pacific Air flies to Camiguin once daily leaving Mactan International Airport at 6:10 am and heading back to Cebu at 7:20.
From Cagayan de Oro City, take a bus from Agora Market to Balingoan Port in Misamis Oriental. Ferries from Balingoan bound for Camiguin make the one-hour crossing to Benoni Port in Mahinog, Camiguin. From Bohol, Super Shuttle caters the Bohol-Camiguin route, which docks at Balbagon Port, Camiguin and Jagna in Bohol. Fast crafts are also available from Jagna in Bohol to the Benoni Port in Camiguin.
Camiguin is a small island composed of 5 towns including Mambajao (the capital town), Mahinog, Guinsiliban, Sagay and Catarman. The island measures just 29,197 hectares with a well-paved 74 kms. circumferential road that is very easy to navigate.
Most locals get around via the motorela, a local version of the tricycle that originated from Cagayan de Oro City, which contains an extended jeepney-like cabin at the back of the motorcycle that can seat from up to 10 passengers.
I noticed mountain bikes and motorcycles available for rent in Bahay-Bakasyunan sa Camiguin for visitors who want to explore the island on their own. Rates for bikes cost P200 a day, while it’s P500-P750 for scooters and motorbikes depending on the make and model. Rates could be cheaper in other areas as the hotel caters to foreigners. You can easily motorcycle around the whole island in a day. I would love to go back here and motorbike around the island at a more leisurely pace.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO DO IN CAMIGUIN:
Camiguin is composed of more than seven volcanoes, which offer a challenging hike for trekkers. At the top of Mt. Hibok-hibok, the only active volcano, one can see rare plants or swim in the crater lake. The island is also a rising destination for diving, with more than 30 marine sanctuaries in the island. Professional diving instructors and dive shops are readily available in the island.
White Island is a beautiful white sandbar located about 1.4 km off the Northern Shore that offers a scenic place for swimming and picnics. Small outrigger boats from the shore cost P400/boat (can fit 6 passengers). Locals say it’s best to go in the morning because it can get very hot at noon since there’s no shade on the sand bar.
The Mantigue Island Nature Park is 6 hectares of evergreen forest fringed with white sandy beaches ideal for swimming and snorkeling.
Camiguin has 3 natural springs, where locals can enjoy swimming and picnics. Ardent Hibok-Hibok Spring is a hot spring with fresh and hot sulfuric waters heated by Hibok-Hibok Volcano ranging from 33°C to 38°C. In contrast, Sto. Nino Cold Springs in contrast is a large pool with 20°C waters.
Soda Water Park is a pool filled with natural streaming soda water, which is pletniful on the island. Visitors can also try drinking soda water from a drinking fountain nearby.
Camiguin has many waterfalls, the most popular of which are Katibawasan Waterfalls (75 meters), Tuasan Falls and Binangawan Falls.
RATES for all springs and waterfalls: Regular rate: P30 for adults, P15 for children below 10, P24 for senior citizens. Picnic shade: P75. Table & chairs: P50.00
Much of the island was formed through earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In 1871, the eruption of Mt. Vulcan submerged the old town of Catarman, pushing it below the sea, leaving behind ruins of a church and belltower (known as the Old Church Ruins) and of course the iconic Sunken Cemetery marked by a huge cross.
Old Spanish-era churches, ruins of past towns and ancestral homes from Spanish and American periods can be seen all around Camiguin.
We weren’t able to visit this, but other interesting places include: Camiguin Nightscapes, a stargazing park located at the top of Hibok-hibok volcano in Itum, Baylao and Enigmata Treehouse Ecolodge Art Camp, an artistic and environment-friendly homestay-style accommodation.
WHERE TO STAY IN CAMIGUIN:
There are numerous beach resorts, cottages and homestays available throughout the island of Camiguin. During our visit, we stayed in Bahay-Bakasyunan sa Camiguin, said to be the best resort on the island, with charming nature-inspired interiors, nipa hut style villas, a swimming pool and its own oceanside bar & grill that serves buffet breakfast.
Bahay-Bakasyunan sa Camiguin is located in Balbagon, Mambajao, Camiguin. Room rates range from P3,600 to P5,150/room (good for 2) with extra person P800-P1000 depending on type of room (premium, supreme, superior and deluxe). For inquiries and reservations, please call: Tel now (088) 387-1057, 387-0131. Mobile: 0917-77212798/0998-5599377. Website: www.bahaybakasyunan.com, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
More humble options and dorm rooms for groups are available in resorts like Ardent Hibok-Hibok Spring and Resort and J & A Fishpen Resort & Apartelle starting at 1,000/night per room.
WHERE TO EAT IN CAMIGUIN:
I love the fact that there are no fast food joints or malls in the island province because locals really want to preserve homegrown restaurants and cafes.
Located in an elevated portion of the island, Camridge Inn offers “a taste of Camiguin” with their set lunch meals and bed and breakfast with a view. Luna Ristorante Italiano offers Italian specialties like pizza. J & A Fishpen Resort and Restaurant offers seafood and Filipino specialties like grilled tuna, crabs, pancit, squid adobo and sinigang.
La Isla Cocina is a charming ancestral house with a coffee shop on the ground floor that offers a wide range of meals and snacks.
WHAT TO EAT IN CAMIGUIN:
Camiguin is best known for having the sweetest Lanzones, a tropical fruit that grows abundantly in the island. Camiguin lanzones is so sweet, that it will ruin all other varieties of lanzones for you. Once you start snacking on this, it’s hard to stop.
I encountered a few unique local snacks here made with local ingredients like coconut, which is plentiful on the island. Kiping is a thin, crispy wafer shaped like a plate that’s made from dried sweet potatoes, mixed with water then fried and drizzled with latik, a sweet caramelized coconut sauce. Nilabog is a local cooler made with coconut strips, milk, crushed biscuits & peanuts.
Other local delicacies include Piniato (peanut brittle bars glazed with honey), Guinsiliban’s Coco Sugar, La Salud Turrones de Mani and Soling’s Ampao.
Koter is a concoction of coconut wine mixed with ground cacao, evaporated milk & beaten chicken eggs that is locally produced in Camiguin and can be ordered for special occasions.
Sinaging is a mixture of banana (saba), sugar, ground mixed rice, condensed milk and coconut wrapped in puso, packets made of woven coconut leaves. This makes a very filling snack with Maestrado Tablea, pure cocoa prepared in a traditional way.
While not only found in Camiguin (it’s a delicacy enjoyed in many coastal areas), I enjoyed tasting uni (sea urchin), which vendors were selling in White Island for P50 for 3 pieces.
Special mention goes to Lechon de Camiguin, which is one of the best varieties of lechon I have ever tasted in the Philippines. With perfectly crispy skin, soft tender meat with just the right amount of fat that has soaked up the flavors of the herbs and secret spices. It has just the right amount of fat that complements the lean meat and doesn’t taste too fatty or sinful, that you will just keep wanting to eat more and more. It was so good I actually forgot to take a photo because I was too busy savoring the goodness! (That’s saying a lot.)
WHAT TO BUY:
A local specialty and pasalubong favorite, Pastel de Camiguin is a dessert or snack bun filled with yema, purple yam or macapuno. Sweet Island Pastil and Vjandep Pastel are the major producers of this delicacy, which is widely sold in Cagayan de Oro.
Another interesting product you can buy is San Vicente Camiguin Lanzones Vinegar made from pure Camiguin lanzones fruit and other natural ingredients.
The Lanzones Festival is held during the 3rd week of October, as a thanksgiving celebration for the progress of Camiguin through the years and the abundant harvest of sweet and quality Lanzones which Camiguin is known for.
Panaad is a yearly devotional expression of penitence and spiritual enrichment during Holy Week, where people gather and walk around the island and trek up the Old Volcano.
San Juan sa Hibok-Hibok Festival is a celebration in honor of St. John the Baptist held every 24th of June characterized by a variety of water and ball games and fluvial parades.