Unlike popular destinations in the country that dazzle you immediately with their obvious beauty and vibrant energy, the town of Mercedes in Camarines Norte is one of those quiet beauties that often gets overlooked. But when you dig deeper, you’ll find that she has so much substance. Mercedes has a serene and quiet charm that just grows on you. The longer you stay, the more you’ll realize just why the town is called “The Belle of the Pacific.”
Thanks to an invitation to join the #TakeMetoMercedes Media Familiarization tour along with Bicol and Manila-based travel bloggers and the crew of ABS-CBN’s Marhay na Aga Kapamilya, I got to see firsthand just how beautiful the place is. With its Siete Pecados or cluster of Seven Islands, raw landscapes, friendly locals and unique local eats, Mercedes is a rugged destination that will appeal to outdoor types and eco-adventurers. The town which was formerly known as “Barra”, gets its name from Doña Mercedes, the wife of a captain of a Spanish vessel, who devoted her life of helping the community, especially the less fortunate.
Group photo courtesy of Mercedes Tourism
WHERE EXACTLY IS MERCEDES:
The municipality of Mercedes lies along the eastern part of Camarines Norte, a province of the Bicol region in Southern Luzon in the Philippines. The Northern part faces the Pacific Ocean, while the Eastern part is bound by San Miguel Bay. Its neighboring towns are Daet and Basud, located west of the Municipality.
HOW TO GET THERE:
There is currently no direct flight to the province of Camarines Norte. It is accessible by a 45-minute flight from Manila to the Pili airport in Camarines Sur. From the airport, tourists can take a 15-minute drive to Naga City and another 2 hour van ride (van terminal is near LCC Mall Sabang) from Naga City to Daet and then take a tricycle or jeep to Mercedes.
By land, the best option is to take an 8-hour bus ride (either aircon or non-aircon) from Manila through the South Maharlika highway to Daet. Bus companies with daily trips to Daet include Superlines, Philtranco, DLTB, or Amihan with terminals in Pasay and Cubao, Quezon City. Tickets for air-con buses range from P550 to P600+ from Daet-Manila and vice versa. From Daet, visitors can take a 10-15 minute jeepney or tricycle ride to Mercedes town proper.
Visitors can get around via jeeps and tricycles, but to really enjoy the islands, you will need to charter a boat. Boat rental can cost from Php 2,000-P3,500/day depending on the size of the boat, number of passengers and the islands to be visited. Boats range in size from those that can fit 10-25 (or more) pax. For hassle-free island-hopping in the Seven islands, it’s best to get in touch with the MTDOC/Tourism Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call them at (054) 444-1261.
WHERE TO GO:
Siete Pecados: Seven Islands of Mercedes
Mercedes’s main tourist draw is Siete Pecados or seven islands, each with its own unique features. These are Apuao Grande, Apuao Pequeña, Caringo, Canton, Canimog, Quinapaguian and Malasugui. During our visit, we were able to visit 4 of the 7 islands, as some islands are only accessible in the right tide or sea conditions.
Caringo Island is an island surrounded by a white sandy beach with shells. It contains a fish sanctuary and locals engage in wild seaweed farming on the island. Caringo island also contains the oldest house in Mercedes. Known as “Dakulang Harong” or Big House, the house which was built circa 1920, is owned by the heirs of Fortunato and Eufemia Ibasco.
We got to feast on unique local specialties prepared by women from the community here, went snorkeling in a nearby site and got culinary lessons in making binut-ong (rice cakes cooked in gata) and seaweed gulaman.
2) Canton Island*
Canton Island is a small, rocky island surrounded by mangrove forests. The island is uninhabited except for a caretaker. Visitors can plant mangrove seedlings here or hike up (15-20 minutes) up a hill to get a very nice view of the sunset. The island is also ideal for outdoor rock climbing and has an unexplored underwater cave that can only be seen during low tide.
3) Apuao Grande Island*
The Apuao Islands are two adjoining islands with white sandy beach and pine trees connected by a sandbar. Apuao Grande offers beach cottages with amenities for rent that make it ideal for overnight camping, family picnics and beach bonfire parties.
Apuao Grande Island contains the ruins of an old resort that was abandoned in the 1980s. Activities here include kayaking (P150/hour) and hobie cat sailing (P300/hour).
4) Apuao Pequena Island*
With its thick grove of pine-like Agoho trees, Apuao Pequena is another good spot for camping and just relaxing by the beach.
Visitors can take a leisurely 15-20 minute hike through a Bat Sanctuary and hike up to a point with a grove of trees overlooking the rocky coast known as “Surfer’s Paradise.”
5) Canimog Island
The biggest among the 7 islands of Mercedes, Canimog Island is also called the “Crocodile Island” because of its unique silhouette. The island, which is famous for its wildlife and bat sanctuary, has terrain suitable for trekking and hiking, while the waters surrounding the island are ideal for scuba diving and game fishing. The island contains a sand-pebble and rock beach, with a stairway leading up to Canimog Lighthouse.
6) Quinapaguian Island
Quinapaguian Island is one of three islands in a cluster (along with Apuao and Caringo) with a white sandy beach.
7) Malasugui Island
The smallest among the seven islands in Mercedes, visitors can actually circle the whole island in an hour. The island’s shore is a mix of rocky and white sandy beach. Some visitors head here for overnight and bonfire camping.
A favorite spot for local and foreign tourists, Cayucyucan in the mainland of Mercedes, is home to several beach resorts which offer different amenities. Guests can walk along the sand-shell-coral beach, relax in native floating cottages or enjoy different water sports and recreational activities. The water level of the beach is very shallow and serene during low tide, making it ideal for kids. The resort is reachable by vehicles on a dirt road from the main road and has a wide parking area, so those with cars can drive all the way here.
Baybay Beach in Mercedes located at the back of the Municipal Hall offers a good spot for Skimboarding and Kayak Surfing. The shallow seabed, strong sea currents, and winds produce good waves which are ideal for these watersports. You can rent a kayak at the Municipal Tourism Development Operation Center for 150Php/hour or 500Php/Day within Mercedes. Life vest and helmets are provided for the safety of the rider, while kayak instructors are available to teach you on the basics and safety of surf kayaking. Best time to go is between the months of August to December.
Colasi Waterfalls is a 70-foot high waterfall, with 3 major cascades nestled in a secluded mountainous area with lush tropical vegetation. The waterfall is accessible by land travel roughly 1.5 hours away from Daet going to Barangay Colasi. From the jump-off point, it’s another 2 hours of trekking through mountain trails, rice fields and riverbeds.
The trek can be quite challenging at times, with steady 45-degree ascents. The last portion of the trail requires clambering down roots and makeshift ladders and over large boulders to get to the foot of the falls. Allot 1 day for the trek, so you can relax, swim and have lunch after the hike. The hike can also be done in half a day, but it can be very tiring.
Mercedes Fish Port (Bulungan sa Pandawan)
The town is the largest fishing bowl in the Bicol region so fishing plays a large role in the economic activity. Fish merchants from neighboring towns and provinces regularly visit here to engage in the fish export business, where potential buyers whisper their bids to brokers and the highest bidder wins. Visitors can visit the open-air market just beside the port of Mercedes get a look at the fresh catch of the day.
Cruise along the Catandunganon River aboard the Dona Mercedes II Floating Restaurant, which passes along fish farms and mangrove forests. The river is also ideal for kayak tours. From the floating restaurant, you can transfer to smaller rowboats and floating cottages.
Hinipaan River offers cottages for rent right next to a river with cold running water coming from mountains. Its accessibility and affordable entrance fees make this a popular swimming and picnic spot for local, especially during hot summer months.
- Entrance Fee: Adults – P7.00, Children P4.00
- Cottage Fee: Big – P400.00, Small – P200.00
- Parking Fee: 2 Wheels – P10.00, 3 Wheels – P15.00, 4 Wheels – P20.00
ACTIVITIES / WHAT TO DO IN MERCEDES:
- Visit the Fish Port to bid for the fresh catch of the day
- Cruise Aboard Dona Mercedes Floating Restaurant
- Learn how to make Binuot-Ong, Ibus and Seaweed Gulaman
- Visit the Ancestral House at Caringo
- Go Snorkeling at Caringo
- Trek up a Hill in Canton Island
- Mangrove Planting at Canton Island
- Kayaking at Apuao Islands
- Kayak Surfing at Baybay Beach
- Hobie Cat Sailing at Apuao Grande
- Bat Watching at Apuao Pequena
- Fishing at Apuao Grande
- Hike to Canimog Lighthouse
- Visit an Organic Farm at Cayucyucan
- Firefly Watching
- Trek to Colasi Falls
- Visit Hinpaan River
- Tapahan Tour
WHERE TO STAY:
If you want to commune with nature, many of the beach islands like Apuao Grande and Apuao Pequena are ideal for back-to-basic beach camping. Bring your own tent or you can hang up a hammock in the shade. There are also several beach houses with kitchen and bathroom amenities for rent in Apuao Grande, ideal for large groups and clans. Some beach houses can be rented for P2,500-P3,500/night depending on the number of occupants. Camping is free for a minimal entrance or camping fee on the island.
Apuao Grande Residential Houses, Apuao Grande Island, Mercedes, Camarines Norte. Contact No. +63 927 428 3211
Palms Farm Resort in Cayucyucan, Mercedes is a lovely native style resort with beach cottages, family rooms and dorm-type accommodations. Rooms come with ceiling fans. Family rooms range from P2,000/night with 2 double beds (max 4 ppl) to P3,000/night for 4 double beds (max 8 ppl).
Palms Farm Resort, Brgy. Cayucyucan, Mercedes, Camarines Norte. Contact Nos. +63 927 587 1001 +63 917 500 6639 +63 49 545 1683. Email us @: email@example.com. Facebook Page: Palms Farm Resort
For leisure travelers who want to stay an extra night in the mainland, Villa Criselda Hotel Resto Bar & Resort offers basic and comfortable air-conditions rooms and has a swimming pool.
Villa Criselda Hotel Resto Bar & Resort. Brgy. 1, Mercedes, Camarines Norte, Contact Person: Ms. Gliezel Napili. Contact No. +63 915 868 4692. Email: GLIEZEL_42@yahoo.com. Facebook: Villa Criselda
For backpackers and budget travelers, humble homestay options for as little as P200/night are available in communities like Cayucyucan and Colasi. The homestay options are part of the community-based tourism efforts of the local government. Get in touch with the local tourism department to arrange for a homestay.
WHERE / WHAT TO EAT:
Dona Mercedes II Floating Restaurant, operated by GoodChow Restaurant & Catering Services (located just near the Mercedes port) is a family-style restaurant where you can enjoy local specialties like tinapa (smoked fish) and Bicol favorites like laing, Bicol Express, sinantol and kinunot with videoke on the side. The floating restaurant can be booked for special events and group tours and offers eat-all-you-can promos during weekends.
For inquiries & reservations, contact Goodchow Restaurant & Catering Services. (054) 444-1263, (0917) 558-0339, (0920) 553-3452, (0918) 605-6606. www.facebook.com/goodchowmercedes
Palms Farm Resort’s in-house restaurant serves Filipino and Western dishes that make use of vegetables and herbs sourced from an organic farm right behind the resort! I never knew it was possible to grow lettuce on tropical beach islands.
Villa Criselda’s in-house restaurant also offers Filipino favorites like lechon kawali, calamares, crispy pata and sinigang na hipon, as well as Bicol specialties.
For island-hopping trips and trekking to waterfalls, it’s best to coordinate with the local tourism of Mercedes, so packaged meals and picnic lunches can be prepared by locals, which is part of their community-based tourism efforts. Get a taste of unique delicacies like laing with tabagwang (forest snails), ginataang tuhad-tuhad sa kalabasa (snails cooked in coconut milk with squash), inihaw na surahan (grilled unicorn fish), seaweed gulaman and blue rice (rice colored by edible flowers).
Binut-ong, a Bicolano delicacy made up of glutinous rice with coconut milk/
June 13: Karakol. Held in the afternoon during the feast day of San Antonio de Padua, the Karakol is an annual blessing of the fleet of fishing boats and the fluvial procession of the Saints by the sea.
August 1-7: The Kadagatan Festival is a fishermen’s celebration of thanksgiving to Mother Nature for the blessings and bounty during the seafaring, fishing expedition and fish farming endeavors.
TAKE ME TO MERCEDES
Special thanks to Tomoka Aono of JICA and the Municipal Local Tourism Development Operation Center (MTDOC) of Mercedes for making this #TakeMetoMercedes Media Tour possible.
- Facebook: LoveKoSiMercedes
- Instagram: @lovekosimercedes
- Website: www.mercedestourism.com
- Email: discovermercedes @yahoo.com
- Telefax: (054) 444-1261
VIDEO: Watch the episode of “Marhay na Aga Kapamilya” featuring our trip to Mercedes that aired last May 1, 2015 on ABS-CBN Bicol.