Reach the Beach
With the limitations of these uncertain times, how can you experience the island vacation you want? The answer is simpler than you think.
I was listening to the Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another” (yes, I am old) and the album’s title hit me: “Reach the Beach.” Damn. I haven’t had mountain air or salt water in nearly two years!
Twenty months since the pandemic-induced travel ban was imposed, many also find themselves itching to pack their bags and head out to their favorite getaways. For those accustomed to taking their Peking duck lunch meetings in Hong Kong, or skipping to Como to test their newly-serviced boats, the itch to ditch the briefcase, work from home arrangements notwithstanding, has been throbbing more than ever. Unfortunately, the type of vaccine administered continues to dictate which international destination is accessible at this point. So while many foreign tourist capitals have opened up, local travelers remain strapped due to selective and vaccine-related bans on outbound Filipinos.
The good news is, you don’t have to go far to get your feet wet. For the more adventurous tourists who can shed their creature of comfort persona, there are a lot of places off the beaten path that are worth your wait. Whether you’re into photography, diving, surfing, trekking or just beach combing, we’ve culled a shortlist1 that goes beyond Balesin, Bohol and Busuanga; and we’re not even talking about Boracay. These top five under-the-radar gems, arranged from North to South, should help ease your wanderlust.
1. Kaparkan Falls. The local version of Vietnam’s Pongour waterfall, getting there isn’t a stroll. The falls sit in the town of Caganayan, Tineg up north in Abra, which is about an hour’s flight (or a 10 hour drive) from Manila. You may need to trade your Tumis for trek poles to get there, but it’s all worth it. Get those muscles moving; the reward is priceless.
2. The Caramoan Islands. Popularized by the Amazing Race, this cluster of islands is known for powdery beaches, rich marine life and raw rock formations. They sit on the edge of Camarines Sur in the Bicol Region. Visitors take an hour’s flight from Manila to Legazpi, followed by a two-hour drive to Sabang Port and another two-hour speed boat ride. Getting there may be an ordeal, but the trade-off is a tranquil, clean, unpopulated patch of paradise.
3. Apo Island. Divers, snorkelers, marine biologists and underwater videographers swear by its waters’ biodiversity. If you’re into swimming with sharks and turtles, giant corals and countless species of fish, drive for an hour from Dumaguete to the sleepy town of Malapatay, and then hop into a banca until you reach the island. It’s a spartan’s haven, given humble accommodations, rationed electricity, and food supplies that are dictated by sea currents. It’s a turn from the pampered dive spots up north, and it may be worthwhile experience.
4. Sohoton Natural Bridge Park. Sitting in Samar Island in the Eastern Visayas, this is your alternative to the more popular Saint Paul subterranean river national park. A boat ride along the Sohoton river takes you across lush greenery and limestone structures. There is Panhulugan Cave that houses weather-made sculptures that resemble Bohol’s Chocolate Hills and Banawa’s rice terraces. Further down the river, the canoe glides towards the Natural Bridge. Visitors then slide through the rock wall and into a water hole for a refreshing dip. The park is accessible by habal-habal from the village of Basey, after taking a bus or jeepney ride from the city.
5. Siquijor. Aswangs aside, the much maligned image of an otherwise pristine patch of sand and sun sits between Bohol and Cebu and is relatively accessible. Two local ferries depart from Cebu’s Santander port, while one ship kicks off from Bohol’s Tagbilaran port. On top of beautiful beaches, the island hosts several waterfalls, old churches and convents. Visitors usually hop on mopeds and take their time exploring its hidden nooks and crannies.
Why go local?
For one, Ibiza, Machu Picchu, Morocco can wait. The creperies along Champs Elysees won’t close anytime soon, and the Paris-Roubaix race will return. And of course, there are the 2024 Olympics. All akin to a jet-setter’s normal travel tastes.
More importantly, the pandemic and consequent ban on foreign travel unintendedly shifted the spotlight to sustainable domestic eco-tourism. Visiting any of these spots not only supports livelihood activities for our communities, but opens our eyes to the natural beauty of the homeland.
This is not glamping. It’s a paradigm shift from moonlit, ocean-view balconies, canapes and wine.
It’s a call to re-experience that downing a cold one on an isolated, sandy beach as the sun sets could be just as calming.
Have you switched those Salvatorres for Scarpas yet?