My trip to the Calayan group of islands in Cagayan was an unexpected surprise. I’m really thankful for the invitation of Lakad Pilipinas to visit the elusive island along with other bloggers Juanderful Pinoy, Blissful Guro and the family of photographers we traveled along with.
Calayan is really something special. The peaceful town is home to some of the most unspoiled beaches in the country, rugged cliffs that tower over the water, breathtaking waterfalls reachable only by clambering through slippery rocks and dense forests, and dramatic seascapes where the waves crash against the coast.
Crime rate in Calayan is zero. Everyone knows everyone else in town and the doors are just left open with no fear of theft. The experience of going to such a beautiful off-the-beaten path destination, with no pretensions was just refreshing. I’ll be writing about the different activities we did there, but in the meantime, here’s a rough “walkthrough” or travel guide for those who want to know the basics.
WHERE EXACTLY IS CALAYAN?
The town of Calayan is composed of 4 islands: Calayan proper, Camiguin Island, Dalupiri and Babuyan Claro in the province of Cagayan, located in the northeastern corner of the island of Luzon. Most people refer to it as Babuyan, because of its location within the Babuyan Channel, though locals say the proper term is Calayan Group of Islands because Babuyan is a separate island. Though relatively near it, the island of Fuga is considered part of Aparri. [MAP]
HOW TO GET THERE:
1) From Manila, ride a GV Florida bus to either Claveria (P730, 13-14 hours), Aparri (P600, 14 hours) or Sta. Ana (16 hours) in Cagayan.
2) From the fishing port in Claveria or the Aparri port, ride a lampitaw (motorized outrigger boat) to Calayan. Boats only leave between 5 to 7am in favorable weather conditions or if there’s cargo that needs to be shipped. Boat rides cost P500/person and can last 5-7 hours. It helps to have a local contact in Calayan or Claveria to arrange ticket reservations & advise you on weather updates beforehand.
3) Alternatively, ride the MV Eagle Ferry, which is supposed to travel 2x a week (P700/trip) from Santa Ana (San Vicente Port) and Calayan passing Camiguin Island (P350). I never saw the ferry during our stay there and the booking office in Calayan was closed.
NOTE: According to a reader’s comment posted on 9.12.15 below, everyone should take extra precaution when making plans to travel by sea going to Calayan Island especially during the rainy season from September to December. While boatmen are willing to travel as long as there are paying passengers, the sea is very dangerous especially for small boats and vessels. He says that the current where the Pacific Ocean and China Sea meet can be very unpredictable, and there’s a possibility of getting stranded longer on the island if boats can not travel.
WHERE TO GO/WHAT TO DO IN CALAYAN: (*separate posts on these coming soon)
BEACHES: Camp out overnight on Sibang Cove or walk along the shores of Caniwara Beach & Cababaan Beach.
HIKING: Hike up Nagudungan Hills and marvel at the amazing rock formations.
WATERFALLS: Take a hike to Bataraw Falls and Caanawan Falls or swim in a secluded pool and cave underneath Malangsig Waterfalls
BIRDWATCHING: Visit the wildlife sanctuary to see the Calayan Rail (locally called piding) a species endemic to the island (seasonal) or just watch out for other birds.
SWIM/ SNORKEL: Snorkeling is great just meters from the shoreline in the poblacion. (Bring your own snorkel gear.)
Lampitaw (motorized outrigger): Because of the rough roads and long land travel inland, some spots are best reached by boat, which can be hired from the port in poblacion area. Rates vary depending on the destination. Ex. From the Port to Sibang Cove – P2500; renting for day to go around – P3000. This works best with big groups.
Kuliglig: Very noisy hand tractors traditionally used in farming are attached with a cart for transporting cargo, bags and groups of people. An alternative to a tricycle if you’re traveling with a big group. While this can take you around town, it can not pass the steeper, elevated mountain roads.
Bicycle: Bicycles are widely available around town. Most homestays lend their bikes to guests for free or charge a minimal fee of P25/hour to non-guests. Plans are underway to offer mountain bike rentals in the future. Hardcore bikers can also bring their own mountain bikes to explore the island.
Habal-Habal (motorcycle): Aside from going on foot, single motorcycles are the only way you can reach certain areas like Sibang Cove. You can hire one for about P200-250 to bring you to Sibang and back. It will cost roughly P500/day for you to hire the habal-habal (with driver) plus gas for a day to go around to other spots. Motorcycle rental for those who want to drive on their own is not yet available though prices can be negotiated if you just want to use one around the town. I was able to borrow a Honda Wave scooter from San Jose Inn to go around.
WHERE TO STAY IN CALAYAN:
There are 2 homestay options in the Calayan town proper, both walking distance from the port where boats dock. There are 15 other residents who are in the process of registering their houses for homestays in the near future.
1) San Jose Inn & Mini Grocery Homestay
San Jose Inn is owned by the very pleasant couple Conie and Francis Agudera, with their kids Jemar and Aldrin, who became our tour guide for the trip. There are 3 rooms with a max capacity for 16 people located on top of the mini-grocery which sells a good supply of toiletries, dry goods, and fresh bread which kept us well-supplied during our stay. Ate Conie is very accommodating and a great cook and she served us a variety of home cooked meals in the inn’s snackhouse which also serves very good halo-halo and saba con yelo.
Room 1: Good for 2-4, private bathroom (1 double bed with pullout)
Room 2: Good for 2-4, shared bathroom (1 single bed with pullout)
Room 3: Good for 6-8, shared bathroom (3 single beds with pullout)
Rates: P200/head per night
Address & Contact info: San Jose Inn & Mini Grocery. J. Madella St. Poblacion Calayan (very near the church). Contact person: Conie Agudera: 0921-5349231
2) TPS First Homestay of Calayan
TPS is the first homestay in Calayan owned by Tessie Pimentel Singun, a long-time kagawad and now tourism head of Calayan. Tessie is very thankful to travel bloggers who have stayed with her like EAZY Traveler, Journeying Pinay and Langyaw, since their guides have led people to stay at her place. TPS says she can accommodate a maximum of 40 people since she has dorm rooms plus extra rooms in her house. Though we didn’t stay here, she was nice enough to show me around the rooms and I enjoyed chatting with her over a bottle of Banayuyu wine, which she brews and sells in a store beside the house.
Room 1: Good for 2 (1 double bed with aircon)
Room 2: Good for 8 (2 double deck beds with bathroom)
Room 3: Good for 8 (2 double deck beds)
Dorm room: Good for 14 people (double beds & 3 double deck beds)
Rates: P200/head per night
Address & contact info: TPS Homestay, JP Rizal Steet, Poblacion, Calayan
Contact: Tessie Pimentel Singun : 0939-9158667 (new number), 0929-8375737 (old number). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHERE TO EAT:
There are no restaurants yet in Calayan, though there are plans to put up some carinderias in the future. “Paluto” (homecooked) meals at San Jose Inn cost P50-60 for breakfast, P80-100 for lunch and dinner depending on the viands. Meals at TPS Homestay are in the same price range. TPS homestay has a network of local caterers who can also prepare food if you are checked in there. They also have a kitchen where guests can cook their own meals. Fresh fish generally costs P70-80/kilo while lobster costs P500/kilo. Red Horse Beer costs P42 per 500 ml bottle.
WHAT TO BUY:
- Banayuyu Wine – A fruit wine made from banayuyu, a wild berry from the grape family that only grows in the mountains of Calayan. Unlike most native wines which are on the bitter side, Banayuyu wine is very sweet, making it a good dessert wine. It’s said to help lower cholesterol and be good for the health. Alcohol percent: 10%. Best when chilled. Available at TPS Homestay for P75, P120 and P225 per bottle depending on size (Calayan prices, more expensive in mainland).
- Organic Wild Berry Vinegar – Also made from the same banayuyu berries, this organic vinegar is good for grilled seafood dishes. P100/bottle.
- TPS also sells a range of other products including Bagoong (made from Galungggong), Mango Wine, Banana Vinegar, Coated Peanut Honey and Forest Honey (from Camiguin Island) though not all were available during my visit.
- Calayan Keychains and shell handicrafts
- Fresh seafood like lobster (which can be packed in styro boxes) – *subject to availability/pre-orders required
- Bring enough cash as there are no ATMs or banks in Calayan.
- While traveling, dry bags for your gadgets are a must. Waterproof everything in garbage bags.
- During our stay, Calayan only had electricity from 12:00 nn to 12:00 midnight (or earlier) with generators used only for special occasions. Use the time wisely to charge your camera batteries and phones.
- Only SMART and Sun networks are available. There was no Globe signal during the duration of our stay.
- There is no internet shop in town.
- Smart Unli wifi was very slow and only seemed to work at certain times (at night and early morning). I was still able to check mail and post Instagram photos occasionally but connectivity was lost when I turned my phone into a mobile hotspot for others. The Smart Bro plugin was likewise very slow.
- The best time to go to Calayan is in the summer months of March and April. However, weather in Calayan is very unpredictable, with sea conditions greatly affected by shifting wind patterns.
- Trivia: Calayan’s Town Fiesta is held every August 25. Their patron saint is St. Bartholomew.
- Boat trips are indefinite and unpredictable so prepare to be stranded for several days. Just go with the flow and enjoy the place!