Exploring Calayan Island: Cagayan’s Hidden Paradise

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Think about looking at the sea showing the bluest shade that it can get. It kind of pulls you in, but then it freezes you in awe. You can play along its white, sandy shores and take a dip in its shallow parts. But then waves can be so big you’d have to be careful not to be eaten alive. Meanwhile, imagine the ravaging waves as they hit a rocky shore and a rugged hill. While the sound can just get you excited and pulsated, the scenery will definitely take your breath away. Meanwhile, think about beauteous landscapes and seascapes you thought are unseen before amazingly unfolding in front of your eyes. You are standing atop a high hill, and this, along with the strong winds make you realize how small and fragile you really are. You’d ponder about how blessed you are to be witnessing and experiencing these kinds of wonders. Then you’ll realize you’re in for a big surprise.

What’s the surprise? Read along to know the one-of-a-kind experience we had in Calayan Island, one superbly beautiful travel destination that is off the beaten path.

Calayan Island, Calayan, Cagayan

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Calayan Island belongs to the archipelago of Babuyan Group of Islands located in Luzon Strait, just above the northernmost part of the island of Luzon, Philippines and below the province of Batanes. It is the largest island of the said archipelago, which is part of the municipality of Calayan, in the province of Cagayan.

Calayan is a Ibanag word that means “where laya (luya in Tagalog, or ginger in English) abounded. As Calayan is a part of Cagayan, people here speak Filipino, Ilocano and Ybanag among others. The weather here is described as having rainfall that is evenly distributed throughout the year mainly because of the northeast trade winds. The population of Calayan Island is said to be 14,309 (2,354 household) according to the 2000 Census. The sources of livelihood in Calayan include raising cattle and growing corn and sweet potatoes.

The start of a wild and exciting adventure of a lifetime

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It was early in the morning when we left Claveria, Cagayan to go to Calayan Island! Photographed here was one of our boatmen as he was making a call before leaving.

How to go to Calayan Island:

  1. There are many options on how to go to Calayan. First, hire a van from Manila going straight to Claveria, Cagayan. Doing this is wise if you’re going there in a big group because you will get there faster. In our case, that’s 13 hours. YES, it is that long but it is definitely faster than any other land travel going there even though it might be more expensive. Alternatives: Ride a bus from Manila to Vigan, Ilocos Sur or Laoag, Ilocos Norte then ride a bus (or van, if available) going to Tuguegarao, Cagayan. Ask the driver to drop you in Claveria. Another option, ride a bus from Manila to Tuguegarao. Then take a van from Tuguegarao to Claveria. Take note that vans in Tuguegarao are said to be only available in the morning and the afternoon. Also, you can ride the plane from Manila to the aforementioned places in Ilocos and Cagayan to save hours of travel time. Then ride the bus or van going to Claveria. Another option is to go to Appari, Cagayanwhere you can also ride a boat going to Calayan Island.
  2. Passenger boats called lampitaw are available in Claveria daily. It is said that they travel only early in the morning as waves grow big later at the day. Travel time is about 5 hours.

    Lampitaw
    This is the lampitaw, the boat that we rode for about 5 hours just to go here in Calayan!

Who to contact:

  1. Ate Tessie Pimentel Singun – 09085933453 | Ate Tessie can help you arrange your trip in Calayan. You can stay at her TPS Homestay for P250 per night. While meals are not included, you can eat at the local neighbor that offers a buffet of food at about P120 during lunch. She can also give advice with regards to the schedule of boats going in and out of Calayan.
  2. Ate Connie Agudera – 09075447692 | Ate Connie can also help you arrange your Calayan adventure. You can stay at their San Jose Inn for P250 per head per night. They can also arrange your meals for a fee.
  3. Rustan Villavicencio – 09064571020 | Sir Rustan is the one to call when hiring a van going to Cagayan.

What to explore in Calayan Island:

This is my favorite part of this blog post. Each travel destination has one or more pictures to inspire you to go on each one once you go to Calayan. 🙂

SIBANG COVE

Sibang Cove
The magnificently beautiful Sibang Cove

White, fine sand was what greeted us when we went to Sibang Cove. But we were surprised that it’s got a lot more to offer! I have witnessed here one of the bluest hues of sea that I have ever seen. They say that the color of the sea reflects the color of the sky, but the first time we went here, it was gloomy… even rainy! But the sea still possessed one of the most beautiful blue shades that I have seen: aquamarine. Aside from that, it’s got rocky formations that made me feel I was in another world! Warning, though, sea snakes may be present here. There was one, albeit dead, when we were there!

CANIWARA COVE

Caniwara Cove as seen from Nagudungan Hill

Nearest cove to town is Caniwara Cove, which also serves as a pathway towards Nagudungan Hill. It has a stretch of white sand just like that of Sibang, though it isn’t a popular choice for swimming probably due to its long stretch of sand and shallow waters.

NAGUDUNGAN HILL

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Having the best view of the beautiful coves of Calayan, Nagudungan Hill is one of the must-visit places when you go there. The crashing of the waves on its walls and the harsh sound of the strong, blowing winds set it apart from any other place in Calayan. Despite that, though, you won’t feel like you’re in any danger, unless you lurk along its edges where falling shouldn’t be an option. Haha. My friends who have been in Batanes said that there is some sort of “Batanes feels” in Nagudungan Hill. The inescapable beauty of its landscape somehow resemble Marlboro Hills of Batanes, and I should be updating this blog when I have been to Batanes, too!

"I'm gonna swiiiing..." Hehe.
“I’m gonna swiiiing from the chandeliiiiier!” Hehe.

BANGAAN HILL

The shrine in honor
Shrine in honor of RPS Datu Kalantiaw

 

Bangaan Hill is where the shrine of RPS Datu Kalantiaw is located. RPS Datu Kalantiaw was the Philippine Navy’s Cannon Class Destroyer Escort that befell a tragedy along the waters of Calayan during Typhoon Clara’s havoc in September of 1981. The tragedy claimed 79 lives, 7 of which were officers and 72 were enlisted personnel. As an honor to the people who have died in the naval disaster, a shrine was put up on top of Bangaan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bangaan Hill
Bangaan also serves as a good viewing point of Calayan’s waters as seen in this picture.

BASSIT CADARATAN

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Bassit Cadaratan bears a small stretch of white sand and humongous stones along the beach. Going in and out of here might be a bit physically challenging, but it’s definitely worth it considering the picturesque views one can enjoy. Bassit Cadaratan is adjacent to Bangaan Hill.

LUSSOK CAVE

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Calayan’s Lussok Cave is a beauty in the outside but wait til you see what’s inside!

This cave is no way like any other caves that I have been. Consisting of several chambers with one bearing a pool with water coming directly from the sea, Lussok can be reached via private boat for about an hour. There was also this small pool that was so calm when we entered the cave’s first chamber that we got to do cool shots while in it! Birds and sea creatures like crabs can be seen in the caves.

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Do you see the birds flying at the background? They really are that many while we were there!
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Inside Lussuk. The chamber that you see in the middle is where the pool can be located.

BATARAW FALLS

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Relatively small but definitely a haven for those who are quenching for fresh water to bathe in, Bataraw Falls is one of the several falls that Calayan has to offer.

CABUDADAN FALLS

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This beautiful waterfall can be found in Bgy. Cabudadan in the middle of Calayan Island. It took us about 2 (two) hours of trekking through wet, muddy roads and steep, slippery pathways in the forest before being able to witness this amazing wonder. Being in Cabudadan Falls was such an enchanting experience.

Helpful tips when heading to Calayan Island:

  1. Prepare to be stranded! Haha. That was the surprise that I was talking about a while ago. We had to contact our families and friends so that they would know we’re alive. Haha. And also so that they won’t worry about us for a couple of days. This also means, add additional leaves at work just in case.
  2. Bring in extra cash. You know, just to be sure again.
  3. Bring power banks and extra batteries. Electricity is distributed within the community but only for 12 hours per day (12 nn to 12 mn).
  4. In Calayan, only Smart and Sun have network signals, albeit weak. You can find spots, though, where you can call or message people from another place without difficulty.
  5. There is no Internet on the island. That’s why prepare to leave the cyber world for a couple of days. Maybe that’s for the best. You need to recharge yourself and refrain from using your phone day in and day out. If you really need an Internet connection, the school in poblacion has a computer room that has computers providing a slow Internet connection. Some of my friends used it to inform people in their workplaces about our situation (being stranded in the island) but they were able to do it for about an hour or two. To let you have an idea of what it’s like to use the Internet there, it took one of my friends about an hour just to make a status update in Facebook about our situation!
  6. If you’re going here on a DIY travel, make sure you or at least one of your friends know how to cook! While you can buy food from the local store or spend more money to buy already prepared meals, eating meals that you yourself have cooked is a lot better in many ways, isn’t it?
  7. It’s a golden opportunity for you and close friends (if being with your family here isn’t possible) to bond during your Calayan adventure. Yes, we didn’t expect to be stranded for a couple of days (4 to be exact) but maybe what happened was a blessing. Some of us were only strangers when we first met at the start of the trip but because of what happened, we became really close! Believe me, having nothing work-related or other real-life things to do in an island will make you really know each other a lot! I can hope that the relationship I have built with my friends in Calayan whom I can already consider my family will last forever. For more than a week of being together for 24 hours every single day, I know they’re reliable, dependable and most importantly, so much fun to be with.

Budget

Just to give you an idea about the expenses that you’d be spending once you’re in Calayan Island, read this:

Travel necessity/ activity/transportation Price Notes
Homestay P250 per head per night This applies to both San Jose Inn and TPS Homestay
Meals P50-P60 for breakfast

P70 to P90 for lunch and dinner

We cooked our own food back then, but if you intend to buy meals from your homestay providers, especially Ate Connie, the prices given are what they offer.
Guide to Calayan’s travel spots P300 Yes, that’s P300 per group per destination or cluster of travel destinations. Example, you can go to Lussok Cave and Bataraw Falls for a day. Going to the coves and Nagudungan Hill also entails one whole day. Same with Cabudadan Falls. Going to Bangaan Hill can take up only a half day.
Transportation (habal-habal) P300 That’s already a two-way trip. You can use habal-habal when going to the coves and the hills.
Transportation (boat) P500 Going to Lussok Cave and Bataraw Falls will require you to ride a  boat.
Transportation (lampitaw) P500 This fee goes to both Claveria and Appari ports.

*Our Calayan adventure lasted for nine full days, starting from our first meet up in Manila (Wednesday – March 23, 2016) up to the time we were able to go back (wee hours of Friday – April 1, 2016). I have prepared about P5,000 to P6,000 budget then for a planned 5-day trip. But because we were stranded, I have spent more than what I intended to spend. That’s why it’s important to bring in extra cash.

More than anything…

What I value the most in visiting Calayan Island is the special bond that I’ve made with the people I was with the entire time I was there. The whole trip was an adventure of a lifetime. By the time we rode the lampitaw, our one-of-a-kind Calayan adventure already started. After more than an hour of peaceful sailing across the sea, a sudden surge of water hit our faces. After that came bigger waves, and we didn’t have to wait for too long to get wet all over. There was only one thing left to do then: get ready for the splashing water, get wet all over again and just enjoy the ride!

By the time we were already in the island, we were blessed with experiencing its beautiful wonders: amazingly beautiful coves, ethereal rugged hills, clear, bluish waters, pristine beaches, splendid caves, and amazing waterfalls. The community there was small and tight, and the people were friendly.

The sunrise and the sunset we’ve seen on the island surely caught our attention. Feeling awed would be an understatement. Being seemingly secluded and detached from the rest of the world weren’t that bad because of these reasons, especially, of course, I was with great company all the while I was there. Being with good people who really got me: that’s the sweetest part of this adventure. Thank you to my #ShembotSquad for making our Calayan Adventure one of the best trips that I ever had!

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THE SHEMBOT SQUAD. From left: Denmark (IG @denmarkisthename), Andy (@andyfeatedchamp), yours truly (@karl_olivier), Yeye, James (@callmejames007), Babsie, Brye (@bryehero), Flip (@flipbardinas), Ardee (@ardeemd), Carlo (@carloenriquez21) and Don (@xenxei)

 

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