After our adrenaline-pumping whitewater rafting adventure in Cagayan de Oro City, we were ready to proceed to our next destination, the volcanic paradise island of Camiguin. Blessed with rich and unspoiled natural wonders and coupled with a rural culture that is barely tainted with excessive modernity, Camiguin is considered to be a must-visit jewel in the Philippines.
Once a part of Misamis Oriental, it is presently a separate island province in Mindanao situated 10 kilometers off Mindanao’s northern coast. Camiguin has the smallest land area and population in the country next to Batanes.
A few months ago, Sweetie and I planned to visit the sights of Camiguin as a side trip after our whitewater rafting. What we didn’t expect was that our meticulously well-laid plan nearly got bumped off. You see, we didn’t have an intention to stay for our first night in Cagayan de Oro City or Balingoan; in our itinerary, we were to spend our first night in Camiguin. However, we had a late lunch and got stuck in traffic. By the time we reached CDO’s Agora bus terminal, it was already 2PM. Knowing that it will take 3 hours to reach Balingoan by bus, we were worried that we wouldn’t be able to catch the last ferry trip to Camiguin at 4:30PM. We had no choice but pay extra for a V-hire ride, which can take us to Balingoan in 2 hours. The ride was comfortable, smooth, and fast though.
We reached Balingoan in two hours, around 4PM. As we reached the pier, we could see ferries being loaded with vehicles, people, and cargo. We arrived in the nick of time!
As we entered the terminal, we saw, directly across us, our beautiful destination, the magnificent Camiguin Island with its volcanoes covered in clouds.
As we waited for our ferry to depart, these kids climbed high on the rooftops and decks of the docked ferries. They asked for alms from passengers, inviting them to throw coins in the water. As the passengers toss coins into the sea, these brave and enterprising kids dive from the roofs or decks of the vessels to chase and retrieve the coins. This money-making stunt looks amazing, but it is extremely dangerous.
We left Balingoan port at around 5PM. Within half an hour, the sun began to say goodbye to the day, painting Camiguin’s sky with a spectacular, fiery shade of orange. Suddenly, the famous moniker of Camiguin, “The Island Born of Fire,” began to make perfect sense, the purest way to describe the wondrous land before us.
During our ride, we encountered cetaceans that play in the waters between Camiguin and Misamis Oriental. Seeing them arc over the water to enjoy a late afternoon swim was nothing short of exhilarating.
Sweetie enjoyed the beautiful twilight, contemplating our upcoming Camiguin tour, as we approached Benoni Port in Camiguin. Camiguin is shaped like a pearl and has an area of approximately 238 kilometers. Four large stratovolcanoes compose most of the island with narrow plains lining the coast. The entire Camiguin island is encircled by a 64 kilometer national road.
We docked at Benoni Port in Guinsiliban at around 7PM. After meeting our guide, Sir Jojo Ocular, and finalizing tomorrow’s tour, we retired at the unique Enigmata eco-lodge.
Sunday started with a brilliant glow. Unable to hold back our excitement, we woke up early, prepared our stuff, and waited for Sir Jojo and his sidekick, Dodong. A slight delay due to a busted motorcycle wheel did not dampen our spirits, and at around 7AM, we were on our way to our first stop, Katibawasan Falls. While our guides filled up their tank with gas, we took a great shot of a clear Mt. Timpoong, the largest and highest mountain of Camiguin at 1,568 MASL.
After a short 15-minute ride, we reached the gate to our first destination, Katibawasan Falls. We were shivering by the time we reached the place. You know why? Well, even though the sun was shining brightly, Camiguin’s early morning air was quite chilly. Now we knew why our guides wore sweaters. Hehe!
Easy-to-read signs tell you what you need to know about Katibawasan Falls. Check out the incredibly affordable entrance fee. That’s really great; the affordability allows more people to enjoy this scenic wonder. In addition, Camiguin’s local government, just like Puerto Princesa’s, is keen in keeping the island clean and unpolluted.
After enduring an easy 5-minute walk from the gate, we arrived at the magnificent, towering Katibawasan Falls, the tallest waterfalls in Camiguin. Towering at 250 feet, or 76 meters, Katibawasan Waterfalls is the highest waterfall in Camiguin. This is also a jump-off point for climbers who want to climb Mt. Timpoong. Katibawasan Falls is a perfect example of a plunge fall wherein the water does not touch the rock.
Below the waterfall is a nice rock pool surrounded by orchids, ferns, and other flora. Needless to say, the water was so inviting that we dipped in for a refreshing morning swim. The water here is really chilly, much like chilled water from the refrigerator.
To give you an idea of how tall and massive this waterfall is, check out the photo below. That’s me near the bottom of the falls.
Sweetie and I decided that the water was getting a bit too chilly. So we got out and relaxed at the large volcanic boulders at the side of the falls.
After frolicking in Katibawasan Falls for half an hour, we toweled off and prepared to head off to the jewel of Camiguin, White Island. On our way to Mambajao, we stopped by to have a simple but hearty breakfast. Our “Western” concept of breakfast almost got the better of us as we ordered the usual eggs and hotdogs. Sir Jojo, Dodong and Marc, though, ordered a Filipino breakfast staple, very hot tinolang isda! We ordered the same, and we got to tell you: spicy, hot, and fresh tinolang isda with rice is the best breakfast in the world.
After eating a hearty, satisfying breakfast, we headed to Barangay Yumbing’s pier in Mambajao. We chartered a boat and cruised 1.4 kilometers from Yumbing to get to this pearl-white paradise.
It’s all sand and, well, sand! White Island is not an island but a sandbar at the edge of Bohol Sea. Technically, it’s uninhabited; but during the day, seafarers set up small temporary stores or food stalls in the sandbar to cater to a large number of local and foreign tourists who wish to experience what paradise is truly like.
With an enchanting, breathtaking view of mainland Camiguin in the background and an aquamarine lagoon on the foreground, it is not difficult to understand why White Island is heaven on earth. Mt. Hibok-hibok and the smaller Mt. Vulcan can be seen in full majesty here even if they’re perpetually covered in clouds.
White Island is shaped like a horseshoe with a large coral-littered lagoon in the middle. However, changing tides constantly reshape and resize the island’s exact shape. This is also the reason camping or staying overnight in White Island is prohibited. The island is extremely exposed to sun, sea, and wind; and a violent shift of weather can make an extended stay really unpleasant or even dangerous.
While the exposed sandbar is devoid of life, the lagoon, on the other hand, tells a different story. A vast smattering of corals and rocks on a bed of sea grass and sand make White Island’s lagoon a rich home for fish and other marine creatures.
Walkway to the Old Volcano
After spending more than an hour in White Island, we went back to the mainland to visit another recommended attraction, the Walkway to the Old Volcano. Very tranquil and beautiful scenery smiled and said hello as we cruised along the national road.
Close to noon, we reached our third destination, the Walkway to the Old Volcano and the Stations of the Cross, a small national park with a pilgrimage and penitential trail that locals use during the Panaad or Holy Week processions.
A trail, with parts of it cemented, winds up the slopes of Old Vulcan. The trail offers beautiful views of the island and light-wood forests.
Along the pilgrimage trail are life-sized relics depicting the 14 Stations of the Cross. A pilgrim’s objective is to walk up the constantly ascending trail in prayer until he reaches the 14th Station high on the mountain. With the trail cutting across quiet woods wherein bird songs and the occasional rustling of leaves are the only sounds that can be heard, a person can truly feel himself reconnected with divinity and his spiritual side as he undertakes a solemn, prayerful trek.
After the 4th station, the cemented trail ends. The remaining tree-laden trail consists of a dirt road that follows the slope of Old Vulcan. Certain areas of the trail offer spectacular views of the island, the farms below the slope, and Bohol Sea.
On the opposite side of the trail, we saw the rocky slopes of Old Vulcan. We are planning to climb this mountain someday. By the way, Sweetie and I reached the 7th Station of the Cross before we decided to head back.
Santo Niño Cold Spring
Checking our watches, it was 30 minutes past noon. It’s time to head to Barangay Santo Niño in the municipality of Catarman to have our lunch. We couldn’t help but notice how carefully maintained the national highway is. In fact, during this trip, we hardly encountered any pothole.
We arrived at Barangay Santo Niño despite a brief downpour. Notice the souvenir shops lined at the side of the road. Obviously, it means that there is an attraction here.
Several stalls in the tiny barangay sell fresh seafood, not surprising considering that fishing is one of Camiguin’s main industries. These stalls also sell flavorful native chicken. After picking your choices, you can ask the storekeeper to cook a meal for you. Simply tell him or her how you like your seafood or chicken to be cooked.
We then went Santo Niño Cold Spring, a mountain resort that serves as one of the most popular hangouts of locals as well as tourists who want to have a refreshing cold dip.
Santo Niño Cold Spring is nestled between two forest-covered mountains. Typical of a mountain resort, it has cottages, rooms, and even a conference hall. We weren’t able to get a brochure of the resort, thus, we’re not sure of what else the resort offers.
The main feature of the resort, of course, is the fresh, clear, and cold mountain spring that collects in the main pool and drains toward the river beyond the resort. The water here is so cold—in fact, colder than that in Katibawasan Falls. If you dive into the pool rather than letting your body get accustomed to the coldness, be prepared for a literally heart-stopping moment as the coolness of the water shocks your body!
Except at the sides of the pool where there are artificially made ledges, the main pool does not have any shallow areas. Wherever you go, it’s 6 feet deep! No worries if you’re a non-swimmer though. There are rubber tubes that you can rent for just P10 so you can float around the pool.
The water in the main pool feeds the children’s pool.
Feeling hungry or thirsty after all day swimming? No problem. The resort has a small store where you can buy soft drinks, snacks, delicacies, and other food products of Camiguin. You don’t have to go back outside to purchase beverages and food.
Families and friends can rent a cottage where they can relax, eat, and chat.
Within a quarter of an hour, our orders arrived. We have arranged for the shopkeeper to deliver the cooked meals inside the resort. Mmmm! We ordered delicious grilled fish, chicken tinola, and creamy ginataang manok (chicken in coconut milk). We tell you: native chicken beats any supermarket chicken. The meat is tough but vastly more flavorful than the usual Magnolia chicken.
Bura Soda Water Park
We headed back into the pool for a quick, finishing swim before we proceeded to our next destination, Bura Soda Water Park, which is around 15 minutes away from Santo Niño Cold Spring. It is a lot smaller and has fewer facilities than the Santo Niño Cold Spring, but that doesn’t mean it’s less interesting.
After paying the entrance fees, we entered the park. At this vantage, it looks like an ordinary public pool with mountains in the background.
The water in Bura is a whole lot warmer than in Sto. Niño Cold Spring. It was more comfortable for our taste, so we dived in.
We did say that there’s something unique about the water in Bura, right? Well, if you taste some of the water, you would notice that it tastes a little weird. It’s like tasting unsweetened Sprite! Well, that’s because of the naturally carbonated water, water that has been infused with carbon dioxide under pressure. The carbonation process is all natural with the gasses, pressures, and temperatures deep inside the volcanic island as catalysts of the process.
They have a playground, which awoke the child in us. Hehe!
Old Church Ruins
After another hour of relaxing in a pool of carbonated water, we headed out to our next destination, a carefully preserved ruin of a 16th century Spanish church in Catarman. The church was destroyed when Mt. Vulcan erupted in 1871. All that remains are the walls of the church and convent as well as the base of a bell tower, all of which were made of coral stone.
Trees line up the ruins, which provide shade during a hot afternoon. Looking at the walls, one can easily understand why they survived; they are extremely solid. In some places, they are several feet thick.
Those are the remains of the church’s bell tower, overgrown with vines. Looking at the tower and the church, we could almost see a vision of the 1871 eruption that devastated the old town of Catarman.
Apparently, this place was once a complex and not just a single structure. A ruin of a convent stands beside the church.
The volcanoes of Camiguin are still very active. And since they have been quiet for quite sometime, the chance of one of them exploding with immense ferocity is very much a possibility, a ferocity that wiped out an entire town. Thus, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHILVOCS) established a solar-powered monitoring tower at the side of the ruined convent. This allows the institute to constantly monitor any volcanic movement in the island.
In contrast to the ultramodern monitoring tower, a giant Narra tree guards the ruins and casts a comforting shadow on the grassy ground before it. We later found out that this place is actually a favorite venue for photographers; young folks armed with DSLRs soon arrived after us.
The rocky shoreline of Catarman composed of volcanic rocks lies just below the ruins.
After relaxing in the ruins, we drove off to see the icon of Camiguin, the Sunken Cemetery. Souvenir shops, eateries, and even a karaoke joint marked the road to the site.
The Sunken Cemetery was once a part of Old Catarman. During the volcanic eruption of 1871, this part of the land sank into the sea. The cross that is visible above the water is just a commemorative marker that was erected in 1982. The watery grave, so we were told by the guides, are almost gone, dissolved and destroyed by the sea.
We were supposed to wait for the sunset and photograph the spectacle from the cross; we were told that it’s a great place for a sunset photo. However, it was still 3PM by the time we arrived at the place, and waiting for 2 hours for the sun to dunk into the sea was a waste of time. So we decided to go to our last destination for the day.
Ardent Hot Spring
After all that riding, touring, and swimming, we were looking forward to visit the famous Ardent Hot Spring so we can melt down our sore muscles. At 3:30PM, we reached the entrance of the resort.
While waiting for Sir Mark and Sir Jojo, Sweetie and I helped ourselves with a tasty, gigantic kiping, a large, crispy pancake made of cassava flour and drizzled with chocolate syrup. Yummy!
Ardent Hot Spring is actually a mountain resort, complete with facilities such as rooms, restaurants, gardens, cottages, and grilles. They also have large grassy camping grounds for those who wish to pitch a tent. At the side of the resort is a trail that leads directly up to Mt. Hibok-hibok, making the resort the usual jump-off for mountaineers who wish to climb the volcano.
Of course, the main feature of the resort is its series of pools that are filled with sulfuric water that is heated with geothermal activity deep inside the bowels of the nearby Mt. Hibok-hibok. By varying the infusion of fresh spring water, each pool has its own temperature rating and sulfuric content. Thus, individuals can enter the pool that suits their preference.
The hot water pool is the lowest pool in the park. Immersing in the hot water (38 degrees Celsius) was extremely relaxing; we could feel all the stress, aches, and pains in our body melt away. It made us want to install a water heater back at home.
Sweetie’s favorite pool! Hehe! This is the children’s pool, being fed by a cool mountain spring.
We stayed for more than an hour in the hot pool. Then we moved to a small waterfall so the force of the water can massage our back. Yes, in Ardent Hot Spring, Mother Nature becomes your personal masseur. And she does her job better than the best masseurs in the world.
We left Ardent Hot Spring at around 5:30PM and took off in search for dinner before heading back to Enigmata. Sir Jojo and Dodong took us to Balbagon where we can find the best roasted chicken in town. After the meal was packed and prepared, the two guides had a surprise, an unscheduled visit to Balbagon Pier to watch Camiguin’s beautiful sunset. Balbagon Pier is a plaza cum baywalk where people can sit down, relax, and chat with friends while waiting for the day to end.
An old lighthouse forms the center of Balbagon Pier. We wanted to climb the lighthouse, but Sir Jojo said that climbing it was prohibited; the stairs leading to the top are rusted and disintegrating.
We witnessed a spectacle of nature, a breathtaking sunset of Camiguin. We toured an entire paradise in one day, and as the sun dipped into the sea, it seemed that she peeked at us and said, “I’m happy that you enjoyed my wonders.” Indeed, we felt our souls being lifted and refreshed, knowing we were very lucky and blessed to have the opportunity to explore the world-class paradises in the Philippines.
Thank you so much to our awesome guides, Dodong (in black) and Sir Jojo (in white). Dodong is a champion motorcycle racer while Sir Jojo is a respected Camiguin tour guide.
5:30 AM – Depart Mactan International Airport, going to Cagayan de Oro Airport
6:30 AM – CDO Airport, breakfast
7:00 AM – airport pickup c/o Great White Water Tours
7:15 AM – Arrived at Great White Water Tours office for registration, prepare for rafting
7:30 AM – Depart Great White Water Tours office
7:45 AM – Makahambus Cave, explore cave
8:00 AM – Depart Makahambus Cave, going to Uguiaban
8:45 AM – Arrived at Uguiaban, prepare rafts, briefing
9:00 AM – start whitewater rafting in CDO River (advanced course)
1:00 PM – end rafting, lunch and wash-up at Great White Water Tours office
2:00 PM – Agora Market, board v-hire
4:15 PM – Arrived at Balingoan Pier
4:45 PM – Depart Balingoan Pier, going to Benoni Pier
7:00 PM – Benoni Pier, meet guides Sir Jojo and Sir Dodong, dinner
8:30 PM – Checked in at Enigmata Eco-Lodge
9:00 PM – lights off
7:00 AM – Left Enigmata Eco Lodge for Katibawasan Falls
7:15 AM – Katibawasan Falls, swimming
7:45 AM – Depart Katibawasan Falls, going to White Island
8:00 AM – breakfast at Kainan sa Tulay
8:30 AM – Arrived at Yumbing Pier, pay permits, cruise to White Island
9:00 AM – White Island, swimming and snorkeling
10:30 AM – Departed White Island, cruise back to Yumbing Pier and the mainland
11:15 AM – Walkway to the Old Volcano, trekking
12:00 PM – Departed the Walkway, going to Santo Niño Cold Spring
12:30 PM – Santo Niño Cold Spring, swimming, lunch
1:30 PM – Departed Santo Niño Cold Spring, going to Bura Soda Water Park
2:00 PM – Bura Soda Water Park, swimming
2:30 PM – Departed Bura Soda Water Park, going to Old Church Ruins
2:45 PM – Old Church Ruins, relax, take photos
3:00 PM – Departed Old Church Ruins, going to Sunken Cemetery
3:15 PM – Sunken Cemetery, take photos
3:30 PM – Departed Sunken Cemetery, going to Ardent Hot Spring
4:00 PM – Ardent Hot Spring, swimming, relaxing
5:30 PM – Departed Ardent Hot Spring, going to Balbagon to buy dinner
6:00 PM – Balbagon Pier, watch sunset
6:45 PM – Enigmata Eco-Lodge, dinner
9:00 PM – lights off
7:00 AM – check out Enigmata Eco Lodge
8:30 AM – Benoni Pier, breakfast 9:00 AM – Departed Benoni Pier, going to Balingoan Pier
10:30 AM – Balingoan Pier, walked to bus terminal
10:45 AM – Departed by bus from Balingoan Bus Terminal to Agora Bus Terminal in CDO
12:00 NN – Agora Terminal, lunch
1:00 PM – Departed Agora Terminal, going to CDO Lumbia Airport
2:30 PM – CDO airport, check in
5:00 PM – Departed CDO Airport to Mactan International Airport (flight was delayed by an hour)
6:00 PM – Mactan International Airport, home sweet home
Important Fees to Consider*
- P 200 – Mactan International Airport Terminal Fee
- P 1,200 – whitewater rafting advanced course package c/o Great White Water Tours
- P 180 to P200 – V-hire from Agora Market to Balingoan Bus Terminal (just walk 150 meters to the pier) or;
* P 130 – air-conditioned bus from Agora Market to Balingoan Bus Terminal (rate also applies vice versa)
* P 84 – non-airconditioned bus from Agora Market to Balingoan Bus Terminal (rate also applies vice versa)
- P 170 – ferry fare from Balingoan Pier to Benoni Port (rate also applies vice versa)
- P 2.25 – terminal fee in Balingoan Pier
- P 300 per pax per night – backpacker’s room rate at Enigmata Eco-Lodge
- P 800 – guide fee with habal-habal and driver
- P 500 – habal-habal rental without driver (motorcycle rental)
- P 2,500 – van rental (good for 10 to 12 pax)
- P 1,700 – multicab rental (good for 8 pax)
- P 2,000 – multicab rental (good for 10 to 12 pax)
- P 2,000 – jeepney rental (good for 16 to 18 pax)
- P 40 – Katibawasan Falls entrance fee
- P 480 per boat – pumboat rate to White Island (back and forth)
- P 5 – Walkway to Old Vulcan environmental fee
- P 20 – Santo Niño Cold Spring entrance fee
- P 50 – Santo Niño Cold Spring cottage rental rate
- P 20 – Bura Soda Water Park entrance fee
- P 30 – Ardent Hot Spring entrance fee
- P 170 to P200 per ride – Taxi Fare from CDO City center to airport (this rate is not applicable anymore as the airport is now transferred to Laguindingan, which is almost 50 kilometers away from CDO, last June 15, 2013)
- P 8 – standard jeepney fare in CDO
- P 8 to P 12 – standard motorela fare in Camiguin
* Except as indicated, all rates are on a per-person basis. We did not include our budget for meals, snacks, souvenirs, tips, and other fees in this rate sheet as you may have different needs, preferences, itineraries, miscellaneous transportation, and sharing scheme from us. We also didn’t include the airfare, which we got as a promo. Note that all figures are subject to change without prior notice.
1. To hire a guide who can tour you around Camiguin, contact Sir Jojo Ocular at 0905-9566288. He can help you streamline your budget and itinerary. Depending on how many people are in your party, he may suggest that you hire a habal-habal or a multicab. Either way, Sir Jojo can arrange your transportation for you; he himself is a driver.
2. When planning your budget, make sure you take into account your guide’s meals.
3. When booking your accommodations, be certain if the rate you are paying is per person or per room.
4. We were forced to pay extra during our trip from Agora Bus Terminal to Balingoan. That’s because we arrived a little late, around 2 PM. The last ferry trip to Camiguin was 4:30 PM, and if we take the bus, it would take us 3 hours (due to stops and passenger pickup along the way) to reach the port. Then we would have to shell out extra money to spend a night in Balingoan.
Thus, if you wish to follow our itinerary but would want to save on your fare, we suggest you start your whitewater rafting early then forgo the lunch inclusion (i.e., get a package that does not include lunch). After you get your stuff in the office, head right away to Agora Bus Terminal. We recon a cut-off time of 1 PM so that you can reach Balingoan Pier at 4:00 PM in time to board the last ferry trip. You can take some snacks on the bus and have a late lunch when you arrive at the pier.
5. Check below the ferry schedule to Camiguin from Jagna, Bohol; Cagayan Pier, and Balingoan Pier and vice versa.
6. This is the standard rate for the ferry from Balingoan Pier to Benoni Pier and vice versa.
7. Many accommodation facilities in Camiguin are officially accredited by the Camiguin Tourism Authority. Here is a list of CTA-accredited resorts and hotels and their contact details.
8. Here is a map of Camiguin that you might want to refer to. It also lists the major attractions and locations of facilities, towns, villages, and cities.
9. Be sure to get a copy of Camiguin’s travel map in the port, at the airport, or other travel and tourism related establishments. It’s free and there is a huge amount of information you can use during your tour. It lists down attractions, phone numbers, transportation rates, accommodations, restaurants, service providers, and others. Definitely, it has a well-marked map of the island.
10. Pack light but do bring the following:
- water (at least 2 liters)
- dry-fit, comfortable clothes
- shorts, cycling shorts, or trekking pants
- trekking shoes or sandals
- umbrella, hat, or scarf (especially useful in White Island)
- bathing suit or trunks
- snorkeling gear
- face towel
- rain gear (in case of bad weather)
- extra money for emergencies
- medications (if any)
11. Don’t forget to waterproof your belongings. You can do this easily by wrapping your stuff with plastic bags or zip-lock sandwich bags before putting them inside your pack.