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Top 10 Reasons Backpackers Cannot Resist Camarines Norte Edit

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Colleen Cabili  • Contributor
Opinions expressed by Explora.ph Contributors are their own.

The province of Camarines Norte has its "secrets," like the huge gold deposits hidden in its underground mines. What shouldn’t be kept secret, however, are the spectacular attractions in this unheralded tourist destination. So, we're revealing these to you: the 10 getaways that make backpackers visit Camarines Norte again, and again, and again. 

Camping at Calaguas Islands

A not-so-secret iconic getaway and a mainstay in the bucket list of beach bums, it gained the spotlight when it was named the top Tourism Gem in a 2013 online poll of Isla Lipana & Co., besting 174 other local destinations. Located two hours from the mainland, the core of the Calaguas archipelago is Tinaga Island which is reputed for its mile-long powdery sand and crystal waters. Its main draw is its back-to-the-basics approach to leisure, which includes roughing it under the stars. After testing your physical limits, pamper yourself at Waling Waling Eco Village, which offers comfortable tropical lodging.

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Mahabang Buhangin beach of Tinaga Island, an undisturbed white paradise for travelers seeking peace and relaxation.

Island hopping at Siete Pecados Islands

Thirty minutes away from the Mercedes town proper is Siete Pecados, which consists of islands Quinapaguian, Canton, Canimog, Apuao Grande, Apuao Pequena, Cariñgo, and Malasugui. Apuao Grande is the most popular because it used to be the site of a resort. Canton has caves that are believed to be enchanted. Meanwhile, Cariñgo is known for its marine sanctuary where corals remain largely untouched. Agile beach lovers can paddle around the islands aboard a kayak, which Mercedes' tourism office rents out. 

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It's fairly easy to transfer from one island to another in Siete Pecados because they're close to one another.

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Ride the waves and try out kiteboarding at Bagasbas Beach

The wide beach of Bagasbas in Daet has become a top destination for surfing greenhorns because of its consistent waves throughout the year. Acknowledged as the world’s 62nd spot in the surfing circuit and the first in the Philippines to be recognized internationally, surfing lessons on this beach are offered at rock-bottom rates. There are modest and mid-priced lodging in the area, with Bagasbas Lighthouse Resort Hotel as the best and most highly-recommended. 

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The coast is 2 kilometers long so you don't have to worry about not having enough space to maneuver!

Up the ante and go kiteboarding, an extreme sport which combines surfing the waves while being pulled by a kite. Bagasbas has become a playground for international kiteboarders because of the strong Pacific wind. Tournaments regularly held here have promoted the province as a sports tourism destination. Ideal months for kitesurfing are from November to March.

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Feeling brave? Give kiteboarding a try! (Photo courtesy of Mikes Kites.)

Trek to different waterfalls

Mountainous terrains have gifted Camarines Norte with enchanting water cascades and high drops. Nature lovers can enjoy adventure-filled hikes to the 70-foot-tall Colasi Falls in Mercedes, Nacali Falls in San Lorenzo Ruiz, and San Felipe Twin Falls in Basud. In Labo, three waterfalls stand out—Malatap, Binuang, and Maligaya. The first two falls are a few hundred meters away from the highway, while Maligaya Falls may be reached after an 8 km trek. Mananap Falls in San Vicente is ideal for trekking because it only requires a short hike, while showcasing refreshing sights and cool waters. 

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Travelers have to trek two hours to reach Colasi Falls. Not that we're complaining, since the sight that's waiting at the end is this majestic.

Kayak surfing at Baybay Beach

Ride the waves aboard a kayak at Baybay Beach in Mercedes where moderate waves and shallow sandy waters have made it a “kayak surfing capital.” Newbies can also test their paddling skills here.  

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Ever heard of kayak surfing? No? Then now's the time to check it out.

Do a Visita Iglesia

It doesn’t have to be Holy Week to practice this tradition, if only to appreciate Bicol’s 400-year-old religious heritage. A must-visit is the Nuestra Senora de Candelaria Church in Paracale, founded by Franciscan missionaries in 1581 and became a full-pledged parish in 1611. Other historic churches are St. John the Baptist in Daet, St. Peter the Apostle in Vinzons, and Capalonga Church, home of the Black Nazarene.

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The stone church of Our Lady of Candelaria plays a huge role in Paracale's history.

Travel back in time

A must-see in Daet is the First Rizal Monument, a riverine park which is locally known as “Bantayog.” This white stone obelisk, which was unveiled on December 30, 1898—two years after Dr. Jose Rizal’s martyrdom—holds the distinction of being the first monument built in honor of the national hero. A few steps away is a memorial pedestal honoring the martyrs of the 1898 Daet Revolt against Spanish colonizers. Across the park is Daet Heritage Center, located in the former municipal hall. It houses historical items and serves as the town’s socio-civic center. 

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The 20-foot obelisk was declared a historical landmark in 1961 and a national monument in 2008, both by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.

Visit museums

For a glimpse of the rich history and culture of the province, swing by the Bulawan Museum at the Provincial Capitol Complex. It showcases Camarines Norte’s noble heroes, some rare archaeological finds, and a portrait by prized Filipino artist Fernando Amorsolo. The museum also chronicles the growth of the province’s small-scale gold mining industry. Museo de Labo at the Labo Municipal Plaza showcases artifacts and antiques lent by local prominent families. The Rufino Pabico Mansion, which is considered a living museum, is a well-preserved, century-old ancestral house. It has retained its original features like its capiz-shell windows, Art Nouveau designs, ventanillas, tertulia piano, murals, frescos, and azotea. Built in 1917, it is a lasting witness to the glory days of a bygone era.

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Bulawan Museum is filled with invaluable artifacts that offer a glimpse of the province's history.
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The well-preserved Rufino Pabico Mansion celebrated its centennial anniversary last year.

Beach bumming

Thalassophiles who seek mellower shores need not to worry about the selection we have mentioned above: with an almost infinite Pacific coastline, Cam Norte has an abundance of beaches that also cater to the laid-back crowd—San Jose Beach in Talisay, Pulang Daga in Paracale, Cayucyucan in Mercedes, and Mangcamagong in Basud. The sunset in Pulang Daga is kaleidoscopic, while Cayucyucan is known for its child-friendly beach with shallow waters. Mangcamagong has the mountain ranges as a dramatic backdrop, while Maculabo and Quinamanukan Islands are idyllic with their powdery beaches and clear waters. 

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Don't be fooled by its comical moniker! In Bicolano, the word "daga" means soil. True to its name, the sands of Pulang Daga are tinged with red.
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Cliff diving is a popular activity in Maculabo Island.

Spice up your palate

The food of the Bicolanos is distinctive, with their liberal use of chili pepper and gata (coconut milk). Laing (taro leaves cooked in coconut milk), tinuktok (ground shrimp or crab wrapped in gabi leaves in gata), kinunot (manta ray cooked in coconut milk), and sinantol (ground santol meat with gata) are just some of their must-try dishes. Among their popular restaurants are Catherine's, Central Plaza, and Golden Palace for Chinese cuisine, King Fisher for seafood, and K-Sarap for Filipino dishes. Chef Mama, which has branches at Pineapple Resort and SM Hypermart, is known for Pinoy and fusion food, such as Bicol-inspired pizza and pasta.

Getting There

By air

There are no direct flights to Camarines Norte at present. The nearest airport is in Naga, Camarines Sur, which is two hours away from Daet. The plane ride from Manila to Naga takes 40 minutes. You can ride a van or bus (fare is 140-200 pesos) bound for Daet upon landing.


By land

This is perhaps the easiest method since many bus lines offer trips to Daet. The travel time can last up to 8 hours and the fare costs approximately 700 pesos. For those with private cars, turn right at the Batangas/Lucena exit of the South Luzon Expressway and then enter Sta. Elena.  


Original text and photos (unless stated otherwise) by Bernard L. Supetran


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