Philippine Backpacking Adventures

The Philippines offers More to Explore than Clark and Subic

So, you are looking for unspoiled beauty, fun and adventure in the Philippines huh? Well, there is no better place to experience Mother Nature?s wonder than the nation of over 7000 islands.  There are so many wonderful beaches, jungles and forested areas that will keep most backpackers busy for a lifetime.  The choices are so vast for Philippine backpack adventurers that the biggest problem you will have is deciding which areas to visit. 

In this article we are going to focus mainly on the pristine beaches of the Philippines as launching grounds for fantastic backpacking adventures. The numerous and world-famous beaches of the Philippines are cherished summer refuges for hardworking and exhausted city folks.  The summer season for Filipino?s means laying in a hammock, drinking some beer and falling asleep under the balmy summer air while listening to the ocean waves.   

Individuals from around the world have transformed otherwise remote and unknown places 20 years ago such as Boracay and Palawan into well-known tourist havens.  Many Incredible white sand beach areas and turquoise blue lagoons now have mega resort facilities that include bustling hotel complexes, bars and restaurants.

Since we are going to be profiling mostly remote and pristine beaches, it is best to be aware of some preparatory points prior to making your trip. Below we have compiled a list of what we have found to be important considerations to make your trip more enjoyable and safe.

  • If you are a backpacker, I?m sure you are used to hauling in the necessary survival items and realize the limitations of remote islands and beaches.  If you are a newbie, then you?ll want to carefully consider the following.  Most of these beaches are remote and are not close to an SM Super Mall or even a sari-sari store.  It is always best to take along all of the basic amenities you will need.  A well planned trip is always a nicer experience.
  • Always remember the camping and backpacking essentials including but not limited to: swimsuits, snorkeling gear, high SPF sunblock lotion, insect repellent, flashlights, portable radio, cellphone, Sterno, canteen, water purification tablets, portable ultraviolet filter system, high-energy snacks.
  • Figure out the available accommodations in the area such as rental huts/bungalows, hostels or other basic shelter from the elements. Do this prior to leaving in order to know if you will need to bring a lightweight tent, hammock and sleeping bags or not.  While these items will add weight and bulk, if your chosen Philippine beach is dozens of kilometers from even the simplest of facilities, you?ll be glad you have the added items.
  • Many first time backpackers don?t prepare adequately for the disposal of their cans and bottles, food wrappers, paper towels and other trash items. Remember, we are all guests on this planet and need to pass it on to the next generation in the same or better condition we found it.  Never litter and always haul your trash items out with you.
  • There may be local indigenous people or others peddlers in some of these remote areas simply trying to make a living.  They may offer food items or handmade items for sale.  While some backpackers may find these people a source of irritation, they can also prove to be lifesavers for ill-prepared backpackers.  They also are great to help you find your way back to civilization if you get lost.  It usually is a good idea to patronize these individuals in order to help them maintain their livelihood and ensure they are there to help the next group of forlorn backpackers.
  • Lighting large and out of control bonfires can be very dangerous on a remote beach where you are away from medical services. While it is not recommended to set a fire directly on the sand, it is generally recommended to contain the bonfire in some sort of tray or within a boundary of stones and rocks.
  • If you will be using land or sea transportation for travel to your backpacking spot, we have found it is very important to do some research prior to leaving. Public transportation in these remote areas is very limited and many times non-existent.  Try to figure out bus, boat, jeepney and tricycle availability and/or schedules and routes prior to your trip. It is always better to actually talk with someone who has made the same trip you are planning to get a better idea of available transportation means.
  • Meteorologists can literally be lifesavers when making a trip to a remote location. As much as possible review weather forecasts from PAGASA for the area you?ll be backpacking in.  The internet is very helpful nowadays in this regard. Never follow-through on a remote backpacking adventure if a typhoon or tropical storm is on the horizon.

A Few Incredible Backpacking Beaches of the Philippines

Below you will find a list of some great, pristine beaches that provide eye-popping scenery, clear waters and fantastic hiking experiences.  Venture forth and explore the wealth of Philippine beaches. 

Camarines Norte’s Calaguas Island

As far as remote beaches go, this is one of our favorites with wonderful fine white sand and crystal clear waters. Electricity on this remote island is limited to generators and there is no cell reception nor internet 4G data.  Load up your phone or MP-3 player and don?t forget the ear buds if you must be connected to media during this trip.  There are plenty of tour services and guides offering day tours, and multi-day excursions.  If you prefer the guided excursion over trekking it yourself, then these companies are ready to take you and your friends exploring for an experience you?ll not soon forget. Besides your hiking activities, you can also island-hop, bird-watch, fish, play active games such as Frisbee or  or just lay in your hammock dreaming away the day. If you are going to be on a self-exploring adventure without a tour company, you?ll need to bring lots of your own food and supplies as the sari-sari stores on this remote island are limited and the supplies are not well stocked.

Getting to Calaguas Island

If leaving from Manila it is an 8-hour bus ride to Daet, Camarines Norte. From there, take an approximate 20 minute jeepney ride to Vinzons.  Where there ask your driver to drop you off at the port area. There you?ll find boat service to Calaguas, approximately a 2 hour trip.  

Palaui Island, Anguib Cove (also known as Cagayan Province?s Boracay of the North)

Palaui Island is at the extreme north end of the island of Luzon along the eastern side. The island is relatively close to the Luzon shore only requiring a 30 minute boat ride. But Palaui is relatively untouched and simply fantastic for its rugged, remote beauty. It is reminiscent of a Hawaiian island with its fantastic white sands and volcanic rocks.  The blue/green waters will enchant you as you prepare to go diving in the coral gardens immersed in the wealth of rich marine reserves just below the surface. Palaui is truly raw, unadulterated beauty. No one said it was going to be easy though. Getting to some of the island?s more remote spots such as Anguib Cove require extra effort as you need to trudge through muddy terrain, thorny grass, and even a mangrove forest.  If you are looking for comfort and amenities you are in the wrong place.  Here you will NOT find fancy resorts and hotels.  In fact there are no lodging facilities as of the writing of this article. The only options on the island are to bring your pup-tent, sleep under the stars or arrange a stay at a local?s home.  But once you are setup you can snorkel to your heart?s content, sunbath, fish, hike and visit Cape Engano on the extreme north end of the island where you?ll find an old Spanish lighthouse. There are several coves to explore, these include Siwangag Cove, Engano Cove and Anguib Cove that many compare to Boracay?s White Beach. Bask on the incredible white sand beach while you recharge as you relax, explore and soak-in of the beauty. If you plan on staying overnight you will need to ask permission from the tourism officer located at San Vicente port area prior to leaving Luzon.

Getting to Palaui Island: 

As Palaui Island is in the extreme north of the country, it is best to take a plane from Manila to Tuguegarao City. This is as close as you can get to Palaui by commercial plane.  The flight will take approximately 1 hour. Then you will need to take a bus or van from Tuguegarao City to Santa Ana. You?ve still got a ways to go so you are looking at approximately 4 hours of bus ride from Tuguegarao City.  Be cautioned that typically the last van going to the Santa Ana, Cagayan area leaves Tuguegarao at around 5pm. So plan accordingly. You will need to take a boat from the Santa Ana area to Palaui Island. As mentioned above, this is only a 30 minutes trip. Once on the island, if you want to go all the way to the extreme north area of Cape Engano, it will take you approximately 3.5 to 4 hours of hiking from the boat drop-off point at Punta Verde which is located at the southeast tip of Palaui Island. Guides are available for a reasonable price to help you find your way to the northern parts.

Pandan Island and the Apo Reef of Mindoro

For the full-fledged dive enthusiast there are few places that compare to Mindoro?s Pandan Island. The nearby Apo Reef has gained worldwide acclaim as a dive spot extraordinaire.  You can swim with giant sea turtles, sharks, stingrays, barracudas and many variations of colorful and unique fish and coral reefs; you?ll think you arrived in heaven. Even if you are not an avid diver, the rock formations along the coast are some of the most interesting you?ll find anywhere. Colorful exotic birds are singing their songs of beauty as you rest from the hustle and bustle of city life. Ditch the car, cellphone and computers and get in touch with nature in a way you may have never experienced.  You can also explore the Jungle Rivers of nearby Mindoro by kayak and take a trip to the coastal village of Sablayan where fishermen and the town-people are always friendly and love to greet visitors. You may be able to leave the tents behind on this adventure as you?ll be able to find bungalow accommodations starting at some very reasonable rates at the Pandan Island Resort. There are numerous beach resorts in the Sablayan area on the large island of Mindoro prior to taking the boat to Pandan Island.  Rental boats and camping gear is available at the municipal tourism office in Sablayan.  They will even arrange for food and beverage for groups while on Pandan Island. Do your Internet homework on this one prior to embarking on a trip and make necessary arrangements.

Getting to Pandan Island

It?s most convenient for most to take an aircraft when traveling to this magical island. Once you land you?ll need to take a tricycle from the San Jose Mindoro Airport to Sablayan.  When you have arrived in Sablayan, you?ll need to coordinate your trip with the municipal tourism office to go to Apo Reef.  If you are going to stay at Pandan Island, once in Sabalayan you will need to take a tricycle to the ?Punta in front of Ludi’s place.?  There you?ll find an outrigger boat for the island waiting.  The prices are reasonable and the boat ride is fun and not too lengthy.

Malcapuya Island

The Island of Coron is the general area where you?ll find Malcapuya Island, an out of the way little jewel of the archipelago that is known as the Philippines.  You need to do some island hopping to get to Malcapuya.  Expect an hour and a half trip by boat after landing in the municipality of Busuanga on the Island of Coron. The boats arrive on the north side of the island where you will disembark on your backpacking adventure. The island is not very big; it will only take a few minutes to get to the south side where your eyes will be treated to a fine, white, powdery sand beach of impeccable quality. Expect wonderful shallow waters for a significant distance from shore before you get to the deeper water areas. Crystal clear waters lend themselves to some really awesome snorkeling while at this paradise. Get ready to enjoy the many numerous and colorful fish species swimming all about the shallow waters without fear or trepidation of humans. Some neighboring land-masses to include on your island hopping/backpacking adventure are Bulog Island and Banana Island. The Coron Island area is brimming with little lslands such as Malcapuya.  So get into your rented boat and explore away while at this tropical island paradise. The tourist crowds here are non-existent; this is one island you can pretty much have to yourself most of the time.  There is a tour company called Kawil Tours based on Culion Island that does tours of Malcapuya Island to help you navigate the terrain and feed you great cooked meals if you?d like. There is a simple enclosed thatched hut cottage by the beach with and electric fan and a floor mattress for rent at a reasonable price. These not so luxurious accommodations include an outdoor shower a few meters away from the hut. There is no electricity on the island other than that provided by generator at the hut at night for lighting and such. You are provided with outlets for running electric fans and charging your cell phones. Other than this choice for lodging, you can stay at a house for rent away from the ocean shore. This house is only a single room affair but a little better equipped than the hut with a decent restroom and a decent bed.  A small sari-sari store is on the island but it is limited to very basic drinks, chips and beer.  You need to bring your own food if you are going to eat something filling and nutritious while on your island adventure of Malcapuya.

Getting to Coron and Malcapuya Island

Arrange an aircraft flight from Manila to Busuanga. From Busuanga Airport, get on a van bound for the town of Coron. This be about a 45 drive after landing. Boat rentals and boat operators for island-hopping and trips to Malcapuya Island are available at the town proper of Coron. 

Remote Island of the Sorsogon Region: Calintaan?s Subic Beach

Found towards the far southernmost tip of Luzon Island is the Sorsogon and Matnog region.  Go a little further south and you?ll find the remote islands of Calintaan and Tikli Islands.  The Matnog/Bulusan region of Luzon features many great tourist spots including the majestic Mount Bulusan volcano, Bulusan Lake, Miliga-biga Beach, San Benon hot springs, Masacro mineral springs and more. Calintaan Island has a total land area of 363.6 hectares with beach area in about the 19 hectares range. There is a lagoon with a total area of 20 hectares on the west side. The lagoon will accommodate small yachts and sailboats. On Calintaan Island you?ll find a pretty pink sand beach called Subic Beach. No, not anything like the Zambales Subic Beach, this one is much more remote and without all the tourists and commotion.  Because of its extreme southern Luzon proximity, the area is considered by many to be the springboard to the Visayas and to the rest of the Southern Philippines. The pink color of the sand on this beach is due to the pulverized red coral particles mixed with the white sand.  The pink sands beach of Harbour Island in the Bahamas and Elafonisi Beach in Crete are additional examples of other pink sand beaches elsewhere in the world. The Philippines can be proud that Subic Beach enjoys such a rare display of nature?s uniqueness.  This island offers a great backpacking adventure with lazy nights under the stars laying on a truly unique pinkish beach.  Besides the beach, a can?t-miss experience on Calintaan Island is the Juag Fish Sanctuary.  This is a private fish breeding project with a few surprises. You will get to see a 10-year-old aggressive milkfish and a huge lapu-lapu amongst many others at the sanctuary. Visitors to the fish sanctuary can participate in and enjoy feeding schools of colorful fish and experience exotic marine life of all types.  This hatchery is used for export by the owners for exotic fish buyers worldwide. You can also hang-out at the sanctuary in little native shanties on bamboo stilts in the middle of the lagoon surrounded by the many fish, gorgeous hills and ocean views. Prior to staying on Calintaan or visiting Subic Beach, you are required to register at the Municipal Tourism Office in Matnog and pay a small entrance fee for each person plus an even smaller environmental cleanup fee per group. There is a Municipal Tourism Code to be enforced while traveling in the region and on the island. Be sure you know the rules prior to your adventure. This island actually has electricity and even a mobile signal, so you won?t feel so isolated and out of touch with the civilized world. Small nipa huts are available for overnight stays from the island caretakers.  You?ll be able to get away with a night?s stay including the electricity and toilet usage for under php 1000. 

Getting to Matnog, Sorsogon, Calintaan Island, Subic Beach

You can either take a very long bus trip (13 to 15 hours) or fly a Cebu Pacific plane for under an hour to Legazpi City.  Once in Legazpi City, you have to take another bus to Daraga-Matnog, which will take 4 hours.  Be prepared, there is no air conditioning on this bus service.  The bus drops you off at the Matnog public market. You can usually get a tricycle to take you to from the Daraga-Matnog bus terminal to the Port of Matnog. From Matnog?s port, Calintaan Island is just 30-40 minutes away. You can charter a small outrigger boat that will take you directly to the island. Rates will vary depending on whether you want to go island hopping or if you?re going to be staying overnight or not.