Like a lost planet right here on the earth, Biri Island’s amazing natural rock formations will astound you. The island’s dramatic landscape carved by the fury of Mother Nature are as beautiful as they are surreal. These gigantic limestone rock formations were formed by pounding winds, raging storms and ruthless waves that battered the coast. If there’s one iconic place you need to visit in Northern Samar, Biri Island would be your best bet.
WHERE EXACTLY IS BIRI ISLAND:
Biri is a fifth class municipality consisting of several islands located just off the Northern coast of Samar Island, Philippines, facing the Pacific Ocean to the east and San Bernardino Strait to the west. The island is geographically part of the province of Northern Samar, one of the three provinces of Samar Island, the third largest island of the Philippines.
HOW TO GET THERE:
The nearest airport to Biri Island is Catarman, Northern Samar. From the airport, take a trike to the Bus Terminal (P100) and ride a jeepney going to Allen (P50). Get off at Lavezares town and walk to the small pier. Take a boat to Biri Port (P50). From Biri Port, take a habal-habal to the Tourism Center (P10) and pay Tourism Fee (P50).
Samar Island is also accessible by cheap flights to Tacloban in the neighboring province of Leyte. Tacloban is connected to Samar by a network of vans crossing the San Juanico Strait. However, it will take you an additional 5-6 hour land trip to get from Tacloban to Allen.
You can also get to Samar by sea via Sorsogon in the Bicol region in Luzon. You can take the 2-hour ferry boat ride from Matnog to Allen, Northern Samar. From Allen, ride a jeep going to Lavezares. There are also bigger boats going directly from Matnog to Biri Island.
Boats from Lavezares departing for Biri Island leave around 7 am and 1 pm. They only leave once the boat has been filled up with at least 14 passengers. If you miss this, you may have to wait for hours for the next boat (during low season) or you can charter the whole boat by paying for all the seats. The boat ride takes about 45 minutes.
This is also the system coming from Biri Island going back to the mainland. It’s best to be at the docking area by 6 or 7 am the next day so you can catch the first boat going back to Lavezares.
At just 24 sq. km in size, Biri is a relatively small island and easy to go around by foot if you don’t mind walking. The habal-habal or passenger motorcycle is the main mode of transport. The regular fare for short distances (ex. Port to Poblacion/Hotel) is P10 per person.
As of 2017, tour guides are now mandatory if you’re visiting the Biri Island Rock Formations. The habal-habal drivers serve as tour guides and take a maximum of 3 passengers (though they usually take only 2) per driver to go around. The standard tour guide fee is P300 + P195 for the habal-habal for the day.
I think this place would be a nice sidetrip for bikepackers who want to do a Samar Island Loop. If you’re in a group, you can bring your bicycles on the boat to get to Biri Island. Take note that you will still probably have to pay for the space the bikes take up and for the tour guide fee even if you explore on your own.
For those with their own vehicles, it’s best to leave it at the mainland since bringing it will entail extra costs and the island is very small anyway. I was riding a rented motorbike from Catbalogan City, so I parked at the Lavezares Police Station near the port. There were also vans and cars parked near the port. Lavezares is a short drive from the Allen Port which is connected to the Matnog Port in Sorsogon by Roll-on Roll-Off Ferry.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO DO:
The main draw at Biri Island are the seven gigantic limestone rock formations that are a result of underwater tectonic plate movements and crashing waves over millions of years. These are Magasang, Magsapad, Macadlaw, Puhunan, Bel-at, Caranas and Pinanahawan. Macadlaw is ideal for sunrise viewing during the summer months.
The rock formations are said to be named after the shapes they took as imagined by the town folk. Another unique feature of Biri Island are the natural saltwater pools at Bel-at and Caranas where visitors can enjoy swimming in clear water.
Since 2007 the community has continuously improved the mangrove ecosystem covering and protecting over 500 hectares.
There are also other rock formations in different parts of the island that require a boat to get to. There are surfing spots and dive spots too in the areas of Geron and Caranas. For surfing, contact Elton Jhon: 0915-4895975. If you’re staying in Biri Resort, you can also go kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding.
WHERE TO STAY:
For divers and leisure travelers, Biri Island Dive and Resort Center located centrally in town, would be your best option. They provide all equipment for divers and snorkelers alike. Some rooms come with their own kitchens and the resort has a fully equipped central kitchen facility which can be utilized for those who require it. Room rates start at P1,500/night.
For budget travelers, there are several guesthouses and inns in the main town area on the same road as the Tourism Center, including Gloria Vista Lodge, a homestay with basic fan rooms and common restrooms for P300/night. Take note that the island only has electricity for limited hours a day, so having aircon or an electric fan won’t really matter after midnight. For reservations: 0947-2967737, 0917-4552500
Lawud (which means Ocean) Park Restaurant is a native seafood restaurant serving local delicacies and offering food delivery in Brgy. Progress, Biri Island, on the road you pass to visit the main rock formations. They have wide grounds for pitching tents and offer tent rentals and accommodations for P200/tent.
I was planning to just sleep in a hammock here (I brought my own), but it can get really windy and cold at night and the caretakers suggested I take a tent. I liked the nice, isolated vibe here. The tent was pitched under a small roofed area, so I still stayed dry even if it rained during the night. There’s a very basic, no-frills restroom in the restaurant area.
While going around, I noticed a DENR Eco-lodge being built on the same road as Lawud Park Restaurant. There was also a rather large, unsightly looking white hotel said to be owned by a local politician being constructed near the mangrove reforestation area.
WHERE / WHAT TO EAT:
The reason I wanted to stay in Lawud Park Restaurant is so I would have access to good food and beer. This native restaurant specializes in seafood like lobster, crabs, fish, scallops, squid, shrimps and saang (the meat from conch shells,) which are a delicacy of the island.
I really wish I had a companion here because one dish is good for 2-3 persons and I could only order one meal. I tried the Ginataang Saang (really good!). The restaurant doubles as a videoke for tourists at night, but they close fairly early.
You can rent out the whole Lawud Park Restaurant for exclusive use and special occasions for P1,500 for 6 hours and P200 for each hour in excess. This includes use of sound system, V5 and DJ. For reservations, contact the management ahead of time at 0905-4895975
Note: I was traveling solo, which is really more expensive, but you can cut down costs (on food, the tour guide fee and accommodations) if you’re traveling with a companion.
- P50 – Boat to Biri
- P10 – Habal-habal to Tourism Center
- P50 – Environmental Fee
- P300 – Tour guide fee (good for up to 3 pax)
- P195 – Habal-habal fee for tour (good for up to 3 pax)
- P200 – Tent rental/camping fee at Lawud Park Restaurant
- P275 – Dinner & Beer at Lawud Park Restaurant
- P50 – Boat to Lavezares
TRAVEL TIPS AND USEFUL INFO:
- As of my visit (September 2017), it is strictly prohibited to visit the rock formations without a tour guide accredited by the LGU.
- You need to pass by the Municipal Tourism Office to register and pay the Tourism Fee (P50) before visiting the rock formations.
- The best time to visit Biri Island is during the summer season. The best time to reach the rock formations is during low tide.
- Half a day is enough to visit the main rock formations. However, if you start late or if the weather/ tidal conditions are wrong, you may have to continue your tour the next day.
- Sunrise viewing costs an additional P150 per head. It’s not advisable if the weather is gloomy.
- There’s only electricity on Biri Island from 12 noon to 12 midnight. Charge your gadgets ahead of time and bring a powerbank.
- Bring enough cash. Mode of payment on the island is by cash basis only.
- Expect to disconnect. WiFi is hard to find. Smart 3G doesn’t, only Globe 3G.
- Bring drinking water and light snacks while visiting the rock formations, since the hike going up can be a bit tiring.
- Locals are helpful and kind. The place is safe even for solo travelers.
- Camping is no longer allowed on and near the Biri Rock Formations.
- Swimming at the tide pools is only allowed until 5:00 pm.
- Locals speak a dialect that is a combination of Bicol and Waray.
- Biri Muncipal Hall, Biri, Northern Samar: 0919-6802193, 0916-6094949
- If you want a contact person/habal-habal/tour guide, contact Nino: 0935-0718822.
NOTE: My visit to Biri was part of my Solo Motorcycle Ride around Samar Island in September 2017. I just put all the useful travel guide info here for those who want the basic information. For a more experiential account, read my post: Endless Samar Part 1: Biri Island