The Jekyll and Hyde That is Calaguas

Calaguas*, in recent years, has been the ‘it’ beach for people wanting to get away from it all. Indeed, it is an ideal location where you’ll be disconnected from the outside world. Yep, no mobile phone signal and no electricity (save for a generator that runs for a few hours at night). Just you and Mother Nature. That’s why it’s a no-brainer to add it on my list of beaches to visit.

However, I had reservations as soon as I saw pictures of its ‘crowded’ shores. It also didn’t help that I read blogs of people who’ve been there recently stating it’s slowly turning into the next Boracay.

Long story short, me and my friends still pushed through with the trip even with this not so enticing image in our minds.

After about an 8-hour long bus ride from Philtranco’s Pasay terminal, we got off at Talobatib Junction and took a tricycle to the market to buy our supplies. We then met with our boatman at Paracale port – a port brimming with small-scale gold mining operations.

Our boatman, Mang Boy Camano**, merged our group with a smaller group to save on gasoline so we got a bigger boat than what I expected, which is actually a good thing.
We were fortunate to have a nice weather that day so we had a smooth boat ride. The view along the way was an added bonus, too. We saw green rolling hills with strips of white sand and some interesting rock formations.

After two hours, or maybe less, we finally saw Mahabang Buhangin.

As our boat approached the island, I understood why it has been dubbed as a city-dweller’s paradise. Blindingly white powdery sand coupled with cerulean blue waters make the ideal beach destination…but I wasn’t exactly wowed – especially after seeing a banana boat, kayak and someone wakeboarding.

Yes, there were lots of people but there was enough space for everyone. You could still swim without worrying about another person’s foot hitting your head. Yes, there are cottages but most of it are just makeshift. At the time, I still find the ‘development’ tolerable.
There was really nothing much to do after pitching our tent and having eaten brunch that it was probably the highest definition of beach bumming.
At high noon, we tried to catch some Zs, but the heat was unforgiving. It was so hot we could probably make popcorns inside our tent. Despite the heat, some kids and locals managed to frolic on the beach.
As soon as the heat became bearable, we decided it was finally time to take a dip. We were only in the water for about an hour or so when the sun unexpectedly decided to set early that day. WTF! Seriously, sun? We didn’t have a choice but to head back to camp and shower.
Don’t expect decent toilet/bath facilities because this island was really meant for camping. There was only one T&B each for men and women in our area, and a makeshift one at the back which, clearly, isn’t enough to accommodate everyone. You also had to pay Php10.00 per bucket of water from the sole water pump in the area.
It was already dark and we don’t want to wait turns just to take a shower, so we showered right at the water pump area as like what the others did – with our clothes on, of course!
It was another first for me; bathing with the fields and the mountain as our backdrop and the full moon as our light. Sure it’s not convenient, but it was fun!
With everyone already freshened up, we had our dinner in one of the cottages that they let us use for free. We skipped on the socials — I think we’ve had enough that morning anyway. :p
Photo credit: Endette Mendoza
It didn’t look like it was going to rain, so some of us laid on a blanket and decided to sleep on the beach. We were starting to fall asleep when some idiots, a few meters in front of us, decided to light up firecrackers. WTF! I think they were with the group of inebriated men at the cottage behind us so we didn’t even think of starting an argument.
Since our sleep was already interrupted, we decided to check the other end of the beach we coined as ‘Station 1’. Yes, we were aware that beach parties were being held there, but that still didn’t prepare us for what we were about to see.
Photo credit: Echoserang Lakwatsera

 

There were at least 3 mobile bars, with blaring music and some flairtending exhibitions, offering unlimited drinks from 8:00 pm ’til midnight. There was a fire dancer and a pop-up souvenir store. My estimate is that there were at least 20 persons per tour group.

And as we made our way back to camp, we saw sky lanterns floating very near the hills. Whether they land on the hills or the sea didn’t matter. Surely, they will land somewhere they don’t belong.
I was floored.
What I cannot wrap my head around is why the hell would people travel for a total of 10 hours just to party in an isolated island? Is it not enough that we have Boracay and Puerto Galera for these activities? Personally, I’d rather go to those two where creature comforts are available.
Just like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Calaguas has a split personality. From a paradise in the morning, it transforms to every beach camper’s worst nightmare at night.

Yes, change and development is inevitable, and in some ways, it’s good especially if it helps the livelihood of the locals but I don’t think that’s the case here.

I was able to speak to a local who runs a sari-sari store. I asked her if the influx of tourists was good for business, but she says it’s just the same. I think her shanty can attest to that. I also learned she needs to pay a fee to the Baranggay for running her business and that she wasn’t able to pay this month.

She also added that the Php20.00 ‘environmental fee’ being collected is not regulated (read: no receipt). Whomever’s pocket it goes to, no one knows. Some of my friends also learned from a Baranggay Kagawad that they do not know of these parties, and that however much is being collected from visitors, only Php20.00 per person goes to the Baranggay.

Personal note:

Sure, Calaguas is pretty. But based from what I saw, it’s not my kind of beach and I wouldn’t be too keen on going back any time soon.
I didn’t write this to stop you from going to Calaguas. All I ask is that A) should you decide to go there DIY, please practice the ‘Leave No Trace’ principle, and B) shall you decide to join a tour group, please do your due diligence and do not patronize tour groups conducting unnecessary island parties.
K

*Calaguas is actually a group of islands, but the name is often used loosely to refer to Mahabang Buhangin frequented by tourists.
**Will do a separate post on DIY Calaguas Guide

0 thoughts on “The Jekyll and Hyde That is Calaguas

  1. so sad – when we visited the island years ago, we were the only guests. so peaceful and relaxing. i guess not anymore ;(

  2. Yes, lots of people said that it's very, very different from the old Calaguas. And if there's one thing I regret, it's the fact that I should have seen it years ago. 🙁

  3. I wonder if local government even bloggers can all unite to reserve some islands strictly for solitude. Package an island for that purpose serving a specific group of visitors. I agree with you, on party in Boracay and other touristy destinations but sometimes, we cannot control the mindset of every tourist.

    Thank you for the post and for sharing!

  4. I share your sentiment. I hated those parties as well. They should leave Calaguas as it is. It isn't Boracay or Puerto Galera. The sad thing about this is that a local of CamNorte initiated this. Calaguas doesn't need to be another Boracay to develop.

    People shouldn't patronize these tour operators who hold rowdy parties. The LGU should take action as well. Hay. Sayang ang ganda.

  5. Nakakalungkot, mukhang maganda pa naman sa umaga. 🙁 May isa akong friend, nilink sa FB group namin yung isang tour organizer na may mobile bar na inooffer sa package. Sabi ko sa kanila, wag nila i-avail yun. (Hehe) Not sure kung same tour organizer nung andun kayo.

    Sana magawan ng paraan para maregulate. Sayang naman kung magiging next Boracay (literal) ito. 🙁

  6. 🙁 Pupunta na lang siguro ako diyan before summer season at dapat weekday. Sana may gawin ang mga newly elected officials regarding the night parties.

  7. Yes, weekday and off-season would be best. Medyo sugal lang siguro sa waves, but should be worth it if walang crowd. Sad to say, looks like even the LGUs let these parties be.

  8. we're on the same league when it comes to beaches! the fact na mahirap na puntahan ito at wala pang peace and quiet na mae-experience, I woudn't trade Caramoan for Calaguas.

  9. That is why in my post about our trip, I will focus on the great I had with you guys…para maiba ang timpla..hope it will not become the next Boracay….oh my…

  10. Awwwww! I haven't been to Calaguas but I hope it will not turn into something like Boracay and Puerto Galera! Otherwise, it will not be a “paradise” anymore! =(

  11. I was there in 2006, and super wala pang kahit, ano. Kahit tao, wala hahaha. But now there are party places? That's just sad.

  12. Been there at Calaguas the time you go there and I saw myself at the picture you had with the mobile bars. Actually i avail the tour that have the night activities. They named Byahe Adventours. Actually, i enjoyed more the tour because of the activites they had. Maybe the only way to preserve the island is to have one tour agency that will conduct such activities and as long as walang mga hotels just like on Boracay or Puerto. It's also a good thing because the tour agency has generator so there's light at night and also the other things that we needed like drinking water, food etc. Sana lang hindi na madagdagan pa ung ganung agency, kasi napansin ko sa kabilang side is vacant nmn at walang ganung activities. So there's a part for beach party and those who wants to experience total serenity. 🙂

  13. 'Maybe the only way to preserve the island is to have one tour agency' – the only way to preserve the island is to NOT patronize any tour agencies that conduct these kinds of activities. So please do not even try to promote that particular agency here on my blog.

    If you read my post, we were on the other end of the beach and rinig na rinig namin ang music from the mobile bar. Nasaan ang serenity dun?

  14. If you want beach parties, there's already Boracay and Puerto Galera for that. Why add Calaguas to the list? And beach parties and total serenity are like oil and water. Sorry to burst your delusionary bubbles but they don't go together. Also, one tour agency is one too many. Like what Kat said, the only way to preserve Calaguas' main selling points (isolation, tranquility, etc.) is to have no tour groups at all on the island.

  15. I agree with Kat's point. If we want to preserve the island, we need to stop promoting tour groups offering beach parties. That night, we could not relax and some of us had difficulty sleeping because of the noise. Which was why we went to the other side of the beach and were mortified by what we saw. 🙁 I, my friends, and the people I know travel the long journey to Calaguas because we heard of its raw, unspoiled beauty. Personally, it was heartbreaking for me to feel Boracay's vibe in what was hailed by so many as a pristine beach.

  16. i joined one of this tours last weekend and I dont remember blaring music. Sure, there was music but the volume was turned low and in fact, I remember asking myself why they didnt turn it up a notch louder during the fire dancing. I also remember that by midnight, all lights were out and there was no more music. I get the need of some people for serenity and all that. But I also do understand those who want to party. I don't agree though that Calaguas should remain as stark as it is. The tour group I joined made for a lot of convenience that I wouldnt have been able to enjoy if I went there jst to backpack. I suppose its just a matter of different strokes for different folks.

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