#CaramoanMoreChance: Sun, sand, solitude on a budget

MANILA, Philippines – I am not a Boracay person. I love the beach, but Boracay has pretty much become a strip mall on sand. I understand the appeal for party-goers, but my idea of a day on the beach involves far, far less EDM and drunk people.

If you're of the same mind, the Caramoan Islands on the southern end of Camarines Sur in Bicol is a good bet, and cheaper too!

My friends and I decided to go there for a quick weekend reprieve, and the islands did not disappoint. It's no wonder they've become a mainstay venue for the many international iterations of the reality show Survivor; everything is flat-out gorgeous. 

Going to and from Caramoan is a bit of a journey if you're from Manila, however, so prepare for a lot of hours in transit, and hopping from one vehicle to another:

Don't worry; as intimidating as the journey sounds, it's truly worth it once you start hopping from one island to the next. Tip: Schedule your travel so you get to Caramoan proper early morning; that way the whole day can be spent exploring. Renting a 10-person motor boat costs P3,500, so the bigger your group, the better for your budget!

Two of the more popular islands that you should definitely visit are Matukad and Sabitang Laya.

THE HIDDEN LAGOON. The climb up is definitely worth it.

THE HIDDEN LAGOON. The climb up is definitely worth it.

Besides being a deep stretch of fine sand perfect for tanning and picknicking, Matukad holds an awesome secret: a hidden lagoon home to a pair of mind-bogglingly enormous, "magic" bangus. Nobody knows how they got there in the first place, and locals refuse to catch and eat them out of deference. 

Catching a glimpse of the lagoon, however, will take some genuine effort. To get there, you have to climb up a wall of rock and petrified coral over 20 feet high. If you're already a rock climber, it should be a piece of cake, but if you don't normally climb for sport, just make your way up slowly but surely. Just think of the gorgeousness you're about to witness and you should be at the top without too much trouble!

Sabitang Laya, which in English means "castaway" (so cool, I know), is one of the best islands for swimming I've ever been on. The sand is ridiculously fine and feels soft and smooth when barefoot, and stretches far out enough in the sea that you can do some serious swimming.

It also has small coves and formations to explore and that make for great photos. The word "paradise" is bandied around a lot, but this place really fits the bill. 

Now, while most tourists rent a room on the main beach and then spend the day island-hopping, our group decided to take things one step further and go camping.

Local government has prohibited camping on most islands as an environmental measure, but there are a few spots where you can still rough it for the night – just make sure you leave the island as it was when you arrived.

You can arrange with the boatmen who took you island-hopping to pick you up the morning after. 

TENT CITY. It's not u0022roughing itu0022 when you're on a gorgeous island.

TENT CITY. It's not u0022roughing itu0022 when you're on a gorgeous island.

In our case, Lahos Island was our home away from home. Lahos also has great sand, but it's a far better camp site than swim site. You can buy a tent fit for two for just P500 online, and then just stock up on water and canned/packaged food – P150 per person should be enough for dinner and breakfast.

We were incredibly lucky that there were no other campers there, and up to now I'm still kind of floored that we had basically owned our island for a night. Just drop all your creature comforts and really soak in the fact that you're on a beautiful patch of sand, surrounded by miles and miles of deep, blue water, with an endless sheet of stars above you. 

All in all, Caramoan is proof positive of how gorgeous the Philippines is. It's easy to forget this especially when you live in the metro, and when the more popular beaches are far too crowded and commercialized for you to truly "get away from it all".

If the photos above aren't proof enough, here's an awesome glimpse of our trip in video!

No matter how long the journey may be, the effort really pays off, and you'll come home with a great tan, memories of a fun adventure, and a renewed passion for the country's natural beauty. – Rappler.com

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Marguerite de Leon

Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon heads Rappler’s Opinion section, and is (happily) wrangled into voice over and hosting work. She has been with Rappler since 2013, and also served as its social media producer for 6 years. She is also a fictionist.