There are adventure destinations that are so isolated and so well tucked that getting to such destinations is actually an adventure in itself. These places radiate so much splendor, mystery, and secrecy that they deserve very special trips. That is basically what I had in mind to celebrate my Sweetie’s birthday last September 8, 2013. As a special birthday gift, we decided to visit and explore Aloguinsan’s version of a secret coastal shangri-la, The Hermit’s Cove.
As its name implies, the Hermit’s Cove in Kantabogon, Aloguinsan, is a small coastal bay facing the serene Tañon Strait that separates the islands of Cebu and Negros. The cove is definitely secluded; it isn’t named Hermit’s Cove for nothing. According to locals, a hermit used to live in this cove a hundred years ago, surviving on the bounties of both the sea and the mountains.
We started our adventure at Aloguinsan’s white-sand Hidden Beach early Sunday morning. Sweetie’s relatives were already there, having spent Saturday night at the beach. We were supposed to camp there with them, but heavy rains in Lutopan during Saturday night stopped us from proceeding to Hidden Beach.
The morning’s low tide exposed Aloguinsan’s vast tidal flats. Early beachgoers and locals foraged the sea grass, sand, and burrows for treasures that the sea has left behind during its retreat.
With warm sands, tranquil waters, swaying palm leaves, and refreshing salt spray, beaches never fail to energize people. While waiting for breakfast to be done, Alexa and her young cousins enjoyed a game of beach soccer while older folks chatted the morning away.
Excitement surged through us as we finished breakfast for we know that it was adventure time! Sweetie invited two of her cousins, Trisha and Cherry, to come with us. Both beautiful young ladies have always been curious about outdoor adventures but usually don’t have the time to join us…until now. By the way, Trisha shared the same birthday with Sweetie, so this adventure was a double treat!
We hiked all the way back to the highway where we were able to negotiate a reasonable fare with a couple of habal-habal drivers who agreed to take us to the remote barangay of Kantabogon.
As we rode beyond the town of Aloguinsan, we couldn’t help but wonder: why were we going further inland if our destination was a coastal bay? Indeed, we travelled on rough roads leading high up in the mountains. If our reckoning is right, we rode eastwards (toward Cebu’s center spine) before descending westwards towards Aloguinsan’s shores.
It was a long, hot, butt-breaking, 20-minute ride to Kantabogon. But at the end of the road, we were rewarded with an incredibly tranquil and stunning view of the vast expanse of Tañon Strait. It is spiritually mesmerizing!
After telling the drivers to come back for us and taking photos of the breathtaking vista, we descended further down the road. Except for motorcycles (and perhaps, the most daring drivers) and bicycles, 4-wheeled vehicles won’t dare go down this steep, slippery, pebbly road.
To get to the secluded Hermit’s Cove, we had to trek down a rocky and slippery trail surrounded by razor-sharp plants. The inaccessibility and the relative difficulty of reaching Kantabogon help make Hermit’s Cove concealed to people.
After 20 minutes of a sweaty, rocky descent, we finally entered the mystical beach of Hermit’s Cove. The place did not disappoint us; it was simply spectacular! Check out that clear, aquamarine water. As you can see due to the clarity of the water, sea grass gardens and coral reefs start less than a hundred yards from the white-sand shore.
Hermit’s Cove houses and protects a tiny fishing village of no more than ten houses. When we arrived at the cove, there were less than 10 souls in the area!
Even though times have changed and technology has developed faster than ever before, fishermen here still use the same ancient fishing techniques that their ancient forefathers handed down to them.
The right side of the sandy cove (when facing Tañon Strait) is bordered by jagged rocks. This is the only place in the cove where the sand extends down a gentle slope. The cove, in fact, is bordered by deep drop-offs.
Hermit’s Cove is definitely full of life. What’s more, we found lots of hermit crabs crawling around on the sand. Could it be that the cove is named after them and not about some loner?
The left side of the cove is safeguarded by a short but beautiful, forest-topped limestone cliff. Here, the shore gradually and gently extends to a slope. Just a few yards from the tide line are huge coral-encrusted rocks.
As rock climbers, we’re always drawn to rock formations and cliffs that look very promising. We checked out the cliffs at the left side of Hermit’s Cove. It has excellent holds, and the top forms a nice overhang. Such factors make this crag perfect for bolting although stainless bolts should be used to avoid corrosion brought about by the salty moisture and sea spray. At the bottom of the cliff are overhangs and roofs that are very ideal for bouldering.
Now, rock climbing is still unheard of in Aloguinsan, and the logistics of reaching and staying in Hermit’s Cove does not permit a sufficient level of convenience and comfort offered in Cantabaco. But who knows? The crag is perfect for short, single pitch routes, and a high-ranking Aloguinsan official might read this and think of ideas . . .
We wasted no time in looking for a guide. To our dismay and disappointment (thankfully, brief), they don’t have snorkeling guides there. We were told to coordinate with the Aloguinsan Municipal Tourism Office before coming to Hermit’s Cove for snorkeling. What? Does that mean we have to go back all the way to the town center just to have a permit to snorkel? On a Sunday?
Fortunately, the friendly members of the Kantabogon Ecotourism Association (KEA) were there to help us. They gave us the cell phone number of the officer-in-charge who was stationed at the tourism office. We were able to negotiate for a very fair rate and a sound arrangement despite the impromptu booking.
KEA members set up this nice traditional open-air shelter made of nipa and bamboo where visitors can eat, chat, or take shelter from the hot sun. They also set up portable toilets for their guests’ convenience.
While waiting for our boat, we couldn’t resist the temptation to frolic in the cool, aquamarine water of the cove. What a way to have fun and to find relief from the heat!
Look how clear the water is! The ladies had great fun!
After almost an hour of waiting, our boat along with the Reef Rangers of the Aloguinsan Tourism Council arrived. Sir Froilan (the guide wearing a white shirt) and his fellow guides wasted no time in giving us a comprehensive briefing about snorkeling. It was such a surprise for us; we thought that snorkeling is simply just floating on the water and breathing through a rubber tube. We didn’t know there were techniques (even hand signals) that make snorkeling easy, fun, and safe.
The Rangers also brought along high-quality equipment. We were particularly impressed with the snorkels. They have sump valves that allowed us to fully empty trapped water. Compare that to ordinary snorkels wherein a little water still remains in the tube even if the person attempts to “blast clear” it through a forceful and sharp exhalation.
After donning and checking our snorkeling gear, we were ready to head off to the snorkeling area, which is as vast as an entire barangay.
We’ve mentioned earlier that the water in this area is exceptionally clear. To let you have an idea of how crystal clear the water is, take a look at the photo below. You can clearly see the corals even from the boat. And mind you, although as if they’re just a foot or two below the water’s surface, they are actually around 10 to 15 feet below the boat!
After a 5-minute ride, Sir Froilan told us to put our masks and flippers on and enter the water. It was time to dive!
The sight that greeted us as we submerged our heads in the water was a spectacular alien world. That’s the beautiful, mysterious world under the sea.
Just check out that coral encrusted rock! The corals are absolutely gorgeous, and this photo says very little about the magnificence of the real things. The coral reefs that face Tañon Strait are largely undisturbed due to the strict implementation of maritime and environmental laws. Thus, corals here grow and bloom to their full majesty.
Corals come in many shapes and sizes; this one looks like a puffball. While many people would classify them as unusual rocks, corals are actually marine animals. They are invertebrates that start out as soft and fragile polyps. They secrete calcium carbonate around their soft bodies. In time, the calcium carbonate hardens to form a rock-hard exoskeleton.
The Rangers led us to the very edge of the kantil, or continental shelf. Sir Froilan said that the sea floor of Tañon Strait is more than a hundred feet in depth. Sometimes, we half expected some gigantic sea monster to peep or rise out of the kantil.
Healthy corals are important reef builders and are integral to a healthy reef system. They provide protection, shelter, and even food for other marine creatures.
Corals come in innumerable shapes and varieties. For example, the photo below shows a large brain coral.
Just check out those majestic corals. In many parts of the world, that majesty is under threat. You see, coral mining, runoff of agricultural and urban activities, organic and inorganic pollution, illegal methods of fishing, digging of canals, and reclamation projects have killed approximately 10 percent of the world’s coral reefs. Around 60 percent of the planet’s reefs are in danger because of human-related activities. In Southeast Asia, 80 percent of the reefs are actually endangered.
As we snorkeled along the kantil’s edge, we saw the entrance to a large underwater cave. We wonder if there’s a kraken or mer-humans hiding there. You may be surprised that we know more of outer space than we do of the mysterious alien world under the sea.
By the way, Sir Froilan told us that sea turtles, or pawikans, often swim here. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any graceful sea turtles in the vicinity.
We saw schools of fish around the reefs. Reefs serve as homes, protection, and hunting grounds of a variety of marine organisms.
Can you find Nemo? Here, a clownfish swims around, perhaps coming from the cluster of sea anemone, which can be seen at the bottom right corner of the photo below.
Let’s check out some creatures other than fish. That’s a flower-like anemone.
This blue starfish is actually hunting for prey, usually a clam. Once it finds a live clam, it embraces the bivalve with its arms. Thousands of tube feet steadily pull and pry the shell apart by wearing out its adductor muscle. It only takes an opening of a fraction of a millimeter for the starfish to gain access the soft meat inside. The starfish then inserts its stomach (yes, you read it right—its stomach) into the opening to devour the mollusk inside.
That’s a crown-of-thorns starfish. The creature feeds on corals, and an outbreak of crown-of-thorns can devastate entire reefs. It has a very effective defense mechanism; the starfish is covered with venomous thorn-like spines to protect itself from predators.
Our guides are excellent free divers (diving without scuba equipment). They can hold their breath for quite sometime while they dive around 20 to 30 feet under the water. See Sir Froilan? He is right at the lip of the abyss!
Whenever we saw something interesting and we would like to check out what it is, we signal to the guide to indicate that we’d like to let him check something. He dives down, points at the thing we want him to check out, and gives him an okay sign. He then rises to the surface and explains what that thing is.
Of course, the divers will also point out interesting marine organisms to us. If we can’t find it (such as the case of the crown-of-thorns), he dives down and points to the organism, coral, or reef feature he is referring to.
It is not difficult to understand why Sir Froilan and his fellow Rangers are very knowledgeable about the reef and the creatures that inhabit it. You see, they were once fishermen who harvested the bounties of Tañon Strait. When they learned about the concept of ecotourism and realized the importance of environmental conservation and protection, they joined seminars, workshops, and trainings to become professional divers and guides. Today, they are the hardworking guardians of the sea.
Some of us wanted to dive down to take a closer look at the beautiful corals and the weird sea creatures under me. However, we were wearing life jackets, which made it impossible for us to dive. We could have asked the Rangers if we can remove the jackets, but, well, that might be against the rules.
After more than an hour, we reached the end of the reef. We were quite tired from kicking (propelling yourself with flippers on your feet is quite exhausting, you see). However, those smiles on our faces were evidence that we had an amazing, educational time.
We cruised for a few minutes and reached the picturesque entrance to Bojo River. Just look at that aquamarine water, those clean limestone crags, and that light forest! The island of Cebu is truly wealthy with stunning, unique, and priceless natural wonders that deserve protection and care.
As a side trip, we went inside the mouth of Bojo River. We didn’t encounter any river tours at that time.
As we headed back to Hidden Beach (we asked the guides to take us to Hidden Beach rather than drop us off at the Aloguinsan Port), we saw these beautiful rock formations lining the shore.
Nearing Hidden Beach, the underwater landscape changed. From spectacular coral reefs, the land under us became equally spectacular sand fields.
We arrived at Hidden Beach at last. Sweetie’s relatives there were very much surprised that we came by boat; they expected us to return to the beach through the normal entrance.
Sir Froilan and our wonderful, professional Reef Rangers struck a pose. Thank you so much, Aloguinsan Tourism Council and the Kantabogon Ecotourism Association for giving us an adventure-filled, educational tour of your breathtaking natural treasure.
Hermit’s Cove is definitely an adventurer’s and eco-tourist’s must-visit destination. The coves and corals are still in excellent and pristine shape, and the locals still preserve their traditional ways of life. Most importantly, Aloguinsan’s hardworking local government is visibly investing a lot of time, money, and effort to protect their natural treasures and to instill a sense of social responsibility and environmental awareness to the locals.
Update (3/30/2016): Quoted directly from the Aloguinsan Tourism Office
“Starting March 7, 2016. The Centralization of the tours in Aloguinsan will be implemented. All bookings and transactions should be made directly to the Tourism Office. Otherwise, all tours in Aloguinsan not coordinated with our office ARE CONSIDERED colorum.
Once you are in the Tourism Office, our staff will give you an orientation and we make sure you understand and follow our tourism policies while in Aloguinsan, before we will give you a PASS to enter our destinations.
Why we are doing this? For many reasons. We want to establish a statistics to better manage visitors and visitor facilities, we want to regulate the carrying capacity of our destinations and we want our guests to feel safe and comfortable.
Please deal with accredited habal-habal drivers and licenced boat operators only.
Kindly call (032) 469-9042/ 0997 371 5698/ 0933 120 9480 or message us directly on this page.”
Update (3/19/2016): The Hermit’s Cove is now a semi-public beach, and a lot of people are now starting to encroach it. There is now a set of wooden stairs affixed to that lovely cliff. Furthermore, there are now fees to enter and stay in the beach. Check out this announcement from the tourism office:
“All tourists going to Kantabogon Cove (Hermit’s Cove) will have to call for reservation. Please contact Tourism Office (032) 469-9042/ 0997 371 5698/ 0933 120 9480.
ENTRANCE FEE: Php100.00 per head
NO RESERVATION. NO ADMISSION.
Please be guided accordingly.”
Important Fees to Consider
- P400 – snorkeling fee per person without lunch*
- P600 – snorkeling fee per person with lunch*
* Minimum of 5 people. Fee is inclusive of boat rental, which includes transfers from Aloguinsan Port to Hermit Cove and vice versa; snorkeling equipment rental; and the guide service.
We called the Aloguinsan Tourism Office a week before our trip. The representative told us that the rate for snorkeling is P600 (P600 when Sweetie called them, P650 when I called them) per person for a minimum of 5 people per boat. She also said that the rate includes lunch, guide service, and snorkeling equipment BUT NOT the boat. The boat fee, she said, is a separate fee.
Sweetie and I thought that this was too expensive. So we decided to simply head to Hermit’s Cove and take our chances there in finding a guide. As mentioned earlier in this post, they don’t have snorkeling guides/equipment there. We were instructed to call the Aloguinsan Municipal Tourism Office before coming to Hermit’s Cove to coordinate the activity.
We got in touch with the KEA president, Maricel, when we reached Hermit’s Cove on the day itself. She informed us of the fees and their inclusions as stated above.
- P 70 – non-aircon bus fare from South Bus Terminal to Toledo or vice versa (there are also V-hires to Toledo if you wish to travel in an air-conditioned vehicle. Fare is P100, and you can ride on one of these vans at the Citilink Terminal)
- P 35 – jeepney fare from Toledo to Aloguinsan town center or vice versa
- P 40 – Habal-habal fee from Hidden Beach to Kantabogon (if you wish to start at Hidden Beach)
Note that we don’t have control over the prices, and that these might change without prior notice. Check with the Aloguinsan Tourism Office for updates on the price.
1. For snorkeling activities and beach hopping, contact the Aloguinsan Municipal Tourism Office using the following contact details:
- Landline: (6332) 469-9042
- Cell phone: 0997-371-5698/ 0933-120-9480.
- Facebook Page: Aloguinsan River Eco-Cultural Tour
2. As far as we have observed, the rates for snorkeling depend on how many people are in your group. Presumably, the more group members, the lesser the rate. In any case, contact the Aloguinsan Municipal Tourism Office to negotiate the fee.
3. Hermit’s Cove is quite a remote place. However, it can be easily reached via a boat ride from the Aloguinsan Port. We don’t know the boat fare since we availed of a package. Just ask the boatmen there on how much is the fare from the pier to Hermit’s Cove and back.
4. For convenience, we strongly suggest starting and ending your trip at the Aloguinsan port since the boat fee already includes the transfers. You can also ask the guide to pick you up/drop you off at other places that are near the Aloguinsan port (we asked the guide to drop us off at Hidden Beach).
But if you want a little bit more adventure, you can go to Kantabogon the way we did—by hiring and riding a habal-habal from the town center or Hidden Beach to Kantabogon.
5. Bring the following:
- drinking water, soda, or juice
- trekking sandals or flip-flops
- hat or sarong
- extra clothes
- extra money for emergencies
- waterproof bag or pouch for your gadgets