If one dreams of waking up to white-sand beaches tucked in a secluded island with freshly caught seafood as brunch, and make most of the day with sea-to-summit adventures, might as well make this a reality and head down south to Bicol region’s gateway—Camarines Norte
By Gelyka Ruth R. Dumaraos
Photo by Ramir G. Cambiado
There will always be places you will never get tired of coming back to. While the countless of things to try and explore is one reason to return, a place’s charm in tugging the heartstrings and leave one mesmerized even at the simplest forms is another.
Camarines Norte does just that—an irresistibly beautiful, off-the-beaten hideaway that is just an overnight drive from Manila. From simply being a province blessed with islands and bodies of water that are truly eye candy, it captures many hearts for its seemingly unending destinations to boast.
What is said to be its iconic destination is none other than Calaguas—a group of islands with calm waters caressing pristine beaches facing the Pacific, making it one of the top emerging holiday options in the country.
While Calaguas is undoubtedly a gem, Camarines Norte takes pride too on its myriad of tourist activities that goes from laidback to heart-thumping, all sprawled across its towns.
A personal favorite is Mercedes, a striking quaint town located in the eastern part of the province and just beside capital town Daet. It offers tours to its famous Seven Islands of Mercedes and its calm white sand beaches in Brgy. Cayucyucan. It has trekking activities to the cool waters of Colasi Falls and river cruising while bird watching at Catandunganon River as well.
Mercedes wasn’t called the Fish Bowl Capital of Bicol for nothing. It takes pride in welcoming fish merchants from the neighboring towns and nearby Tagalog provinces daily to purposely engage in the profitable fish export business.
What makes this port truly unique from others is its “Bulungan sa Pandawan” culture of trading. People flocking to a fish broker taking their turns in whispering their bids are ordinary early morning scenario in this port. Whoever bids the highest gets the fish broker’s fresh catch fishes—no questions asked, leaving other bidders wondering how much was it sold for.
Surrounding the port are eateries accepting paluto (to-cook) dishes so one can quickly have their fresh catches cooked in no time. Families and cycling groups would wake up at dawn just to secure a seat at the eateries’ always-jampacked dining areas so they can enjoy sumptuous grilled brunches.
Summit, land, and sea
While it is true that one can never get enough dose of the beach and the sea in Camarines Norte, it is quite interesting to note how the province is also boosting what each of their towns has to offer.
An hour-drive away from Daet is Jose Panganiban, another municipality that is unassuming yet promising.
Turayog Viewdeck is one spectacular spot to think of. Nestled in a mountain carved with over a hundred steps giving you that quick cardio workout, it gives a stunning 360-degree view of the whole town, including the long stretch of Bulalacao Beach and the Pacific, as well as nearby green mountains.
Also within the town is the JSM Farm for agritourism enthusiasts. People who wanted to know more about organic farming and animal raising are all welcome to learn a course or two while staying in their accommodations and savoring organic dishes which ingredients are freshly-picked from their farm.
A municipality that is rich in both water and land resources if Talisay. Said to have vast land for rice and coconut farming, Talisay is blessed with agricultural opportunities for its locals.
Nipa making or ‘pagtatahip’ is another income stream. Locals are experts in making nipa huts, which they pass on to their children.
Talisay also takes pride in the fishing industry and their mangrove forest as another source of income. Yearly, it holds the Bakawan Festival in its kilometer-long mangrove forest, conducting boat and crab races. Traditional and subsistence food are snails or locally called tuhoy which are turned into different dishes such as sisig, adobo, laing, lumpia, and ginataan.
Cory Aquino Boulevard
The newly-opened Cory Aquino Boulevard is Camarines Norte’s latest tourism offering.
When I was here a year ago, the construction of the boulevard was still in its final stages. This year, we are blessed to see it finally open to the public and fortunate to catch a glimpse of how it is during the nighttime.
Considered as the longest boulevard in Bicol region for its 8.7-kilometer distance, the Cory Aquino Boulevard passes through Bagasbas Beach in Daet, Baybay beach in Mercedes, San Jose beach in Talisay, and Sabang beach in Vinzons.
When it opened early this year at the provincial fiesta’s Bantayog Festival, it also welcomed tourism and livelihood opportunities for the locals.
Aside from surfing and kite surfing already offered at Bagasgbas beach, the boulevard has also paved the way for more beach activities to be opened in neighboring towns. In Mercedes’ Baybay beach, free kayaking lessons are now conducted every weekend. Soon in the future, cruises within mangrove forests and other activities may just be offered in time for the celebration of the 100th Founding Anniversary of the province slated in 2020.
Now a major hangout preference during the night, locals and tourists enjoy strolling along the boulevard in Bagasbas beach under the clear night sky. You will see some catching up with old friends under the boulevard light posts, eating streetfood like balut and mami, or just walking in solitary and listening to the gentle crashing of waves. The whole atmosphere at the boulevard makes you want to just rest for a while after a tiring day and grab a beer or two while revelling on life under the clear night sky.
It has also been a favorite for riders, cyclists, and road trippers on weekends. The extension of the boulevard to Jose Panganiban’s Bulalacao beach is also in the works, making the whole adventure ride even longer and more exciting.
These towns were just a small portion of Camarines Norte. Others have their unique offering which deserves every bit of your time once you come back.
Wait until you hear—or should I say—see, bits of real gold mined in the town of Paracale , or witness thousands of bats protecting a forest in Apuao Pequena Island, explore caves hiding in boulders in the town of Labo, dance with the locals during festivals, and many others you have yet to discover.
Indeed, one never runs out of places to see in this side of Bicol. All these experiences and more await not only the thrill-seeker who’s up for heart-pumping activities but the wild heart wanderer who finds love in an island paradise, undeniably good food, and rich culture and tradition she hopes to share to the world.