Story & photos by Bernard L. Supetran
UP until the late-1990s, commuters to the Bicol region consider Camarines Norte a pit stop for a toilet break to the passengers and a free meal to the bus crew in a run-of-the-mill roadside eatery.
I myself spent my younger years repeatedly passing what seemed to be an eternity of road twists and turns, which have earned the province the unofficial title of “Zigzag Capital”.
With the opening of the Quirino Highway in 1998, nearly all Bicol-bound buses skipped it, trimming travel time to two hours by skipping the 89-kilometers zigzag road and doing the meal stop elsewhere.
Ironically, Cam Norte, as it is fondly called, became a byword in recent years because of its aggressive charm offensive tourism to travelers looking for an interlude with beach getaways, minus the madding crowd of the more developed islands.
And soon enough, we Bicolanos in the nearby provinces were stunned with the unadulterated allure of the proverbial girl next door we took for granted for so long. Today, visiting it is like a homecoming with our common regional culture and the warm hospitality of the townsfolk.
The province can be easily reached via daytime or overnight bus trip via Philtranco or Super Lines or about a six-hour drive by private car. If you’re a motorcycle lover, cruising around on two wheels is an exhilarating ride because of the scenery and challenging terrain.
The capital town of Daet is the best place to settle and start the exploration because of its strategic location and presence of good hotels, dining outlets and other tourist establishments.
Bagasbas Lighthouse Resort Hotel is the hands-down choice with its comfy amenities, aquasport facilities, Bicol cuisine, live evening music and its proximity to center of action—Bagasbas Beach, the world’s 62nd surfing spot and the country’s first to be recognized globally.
Budget travelers can stay at the Bagasbas Bed and Breakfast, which is also operated by Camarines Norte’s leading tour operator, Northlink Events, that can help you plan out your trip.
With its shallow water and sandy bottom, you can get surfing 101 lessons here at friendly rates. The beach is also emerging as a haven for paramotor and kiteboarding, and has hosted the prestigious Kiteboard Tour Asia tournament a few years back.
Located in downtown is the First Rizal Monument, a white- stone obelisk built in 1898 by local revolutionaries in honor of the national hero. Across is the Daet Heritage Center, the old municipal hall, which serves as the town’s sociocultural center, and the spic-and-span Provincial Capitol Complex.
One of the country’s most postcard-pretty government buildings, the complex also houses the Bulawan Museum, which is the repository of the province’s history and material heritage.
A must-see is the Calaguas Islands, which is about two hours away by boat in Vinzons town. Calaguas islands were among Bicol’s best-kept secrets for the longest time. It is now sleepy shores hugged the limelight when it was named the top Tourism Gem in an online poll of Isla Lipana & Co. The heart of the Calaguas archipelago is the Halabang Baybay of Tinaga Island, which is reputed for its mile-long powdery sand and crystalline water. Many are tempted to call it the “next Boracay”, but locals would rather like to have it called Boracay of 30 years ago.
Its back-to-the-basics allure of roughing it out under the stars is its main come-on. For a dash of modest comfort, a handful of small resorts offer tropical lodging that blends with the environment.
On the way back, you can stop over at the Quinamanokan and Maculabo islands for snorkeling before heading home.
A closer island getaway is the Siete Pecados chain of islets in Mercedes where you can go beach bumming, snorkeling or kayaking, which municipal tourism office rents out. Apuao Pequeña is the most popular because of its powdery sandbar, Canton boasts of caves believed by many to be enchanted, while Caringo is known for its marine sanctuary of largely untouched corals. At the mainland, you can do kayak surfing at Baybay Beach, where you can test your paddling skills as you ride the moderate waves.
For a beach overload, you can hide off to the interior town of Jose Ma. Panganiban, which recently unveiled its own hideaways—the idyllic islands Parola, Calalayan and Carol, and the Bulalacao Beach.
Turayog viewdeck, the highest point in the area, offers a breathtaking 360-degree panorama of the town, the ocean, the rolling hills and everything in between. It is open for camping, pictorials and other close-to-nature events.
Also known for its old name Bulawan, which means gold in Bikol language, Panganiban was once one of the country’s richest gold mines. The mining industry might have ceased, but the town’s hidden natural wonders are its new gold mines waiting to be explored.
San Lorenzo Ruiz town is another virtual waterworld where you can refresh, rinse and cool off after beach-bumming. You can get a hydro-massage and laze at the natural rock pools with icy water rushing down the Mampurog River at the various resorts lining the river bank. The facilities are basic, but its back-to-nature allure makes it worth the trip. Come to think of it, it’s not every day that you can have a river as your pool and jacuzzi.
If you want an adventure trek, Nacali Falls won’t disappoint with its moderate and challenging trail and the tall and voluminous drop that will welcome you.
For a dose of adrenaline rush, try out the newly opened tramline cable car and the 700-meter dual zipline, which will glide you over the cliffs. The view down below is so scenic and arresting that you won’t have the time to scream your lungs out.
The town also takes pride in its sweet-tasting Queen (Formosa) pineapple, the sweetest variety of the fruit, and the durable walis tambo, which find their way to Baguio City.
Tucked in the nooks and crannies in Capalonga, Santa Elena and Basud townships are a host of unexploited natural playgrounds awaiting intrepid travelers.
With the unique confluence of nature, adventure and culture, and an emerging farm tourism sector, every visit to Camarines Norte is always a memorable homecoming.
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