Catanduanes Island | The Happy Island
It surely took a lot of chutzpah & confidence for Catanduanes to herald a catchphrase “The Happy Island”. Yes, it may sound lighted-hearted & prosaic but it also bears a heavy promise of an emotion that is part science, part art & part luck.
It’s always the question why “The Happy Island” that leaves tourists wonders most. With over a thousand pretty islands around the Philippines, how could this place own such a bold claim when it is otherwise known to be on the usual path of typhoons?
Then there are those travelers who likened its sights to the rolling hills of Batanes, the waves of Siargao or the tidal pools of Biri. These quick comparisons made me think, is Catanduanes just a caboodle of versions of other popular landmarks in the country?
Catanduanes: The Happy Island & the Truth Behind the Bold Slogan
The only way to find out the truthfulness of this tourism slogan is to visit it. And just before summer ended, I finally got the chance to set foot in Catanduanes, closing my list of 81/81 provinces to visit in the Philippines.
Whether you’re arriving by boat in San Andres or by plane in Virac, a laidback townscape greets its tourists in Catanduanes. Ricefields punctuated by coconut trees & wild flowering bushes paint its quaint rural roadside drama.
Virac is the center of trade, education & governance. Tricycles & old-school bike rickshaws crisscross like ants as market vendors do their usual hustles. There are a lot of people & vehicle moving around. It certainly looks busy. But there’s no denying that amidst the bustles, it is still beautifully unhurried.
There aren’t many choices around like in big cities but everything here is convenient enough. Where we stayed at Lucky Hotel was way more than what I expected this small island town to have. There are a few good restaurants too. Save for some late night sidestreet barbeque stalls & few bars, Virac beds its people early.
Catanduanes made its first shot at fame when Puraran Majestic Waves in Baras stole the world’s surf spotlight back in the 80s. Today, it still draws the swell pilgrims & even attracting non-surfers for its white sand beach.
But there’s more to this island than just surfing. In fact, Catanduanes offers a smorgasbord of adventures, landscapes, seascapes & heritage sites. It’s quite astounding to think how all of these wonders fit in one tiny island.
Head Over Heels, Rolling Hills
If you love to meander on rolling hills carpeted by verdant pasturelands, Catanduanes will surely fill your fancies. Binurong Point in Baras, Cagnipa in Pandan & Batalay in Bato are three of the most dramatic spots that will leave you speechless.
The Palumbanes Group of Islands in Caramoran is without exaggeration, the next big thing on the country’s hottest beach scenes. Parongpong, Tignob & Balabagio are virgin islands that paradisically punctuate the turquoise expanse of Maqueda Channel.
Forget about those boring tiled infinity swimming pools because here they take wading experience to a whole new level. Soak in the natural tidal pools of Tuwad-Tuwadan in Pandan & Poseidon in Carorian instead. Imagine the waves crashing against a beautiful rock formation, you in bikini & the sun — babe, this one’s tough to top!
Far Flung Farm Feels
Oh yes, there are a lot of farms in Catanduanes. But one bountiful name stands out, Delicia’s Farm in Pandan. There are quite a few good reasons why I recommend this place. One is it practices sustainable farming, second is it serves fresh farm-to-table food. And third is it offers a breezy spot for all sorts of nothingess. But I think the loveliest draw here is Michael, the owner whose charm will easily win you over.
Up on the Heritage Stage
As early as 1600, the Franciscans had already evangelized the island. The church in Bato dedicated to St. John the Baptist, is the oldest living memory of this episode in their history. Also nearby is a shrine of the Holy Cross of Batalay, a 400-year old monument of the beginnings of Christianity on the island.
But if you want to see an extensive collection heritage pieces, head over to Museo de Catanduanes in Virac. Here you’ll find exquisite heirlooms like antiquated religious images, original handwoven abaca dresses & wartime pieces.
The island is also popular for producing abaca. Its fibers are turned into the finest handloomed gowns, bags, tapestries & decorative items. This abundance is celebrated every 4th week of May in a fiesta dubbed as Abaca Festival. This annual merrymaking fills the province with exciting street dancing parade, handicrafts fair, food bazaars & beauty contests.
The Riches of Beaches
Fantastic white sand beaches are a staple attraction on the island. And the only thing you need is time to experience it all. And damn load of sunblock & cold beer!
It didn’t take me long to understand why it’s called “The Happy Island”. Happiness here comes in the simplicity of lifestyle & the abundance of natural wonders. I’ve only been around about ¾ of the island, yet it already overwhelmed me with so much joy.
Catanduanes is neither the Batanes of the south nor the Siargao of Bicol. It is what it is & uniquely beautiful on its own. And when the wind howls, no problem. Just roll inside your hut, embrace the breeze or keep yourself warm with delicious Bicolano favorites.
I have to admit that Catanduanes instantly ranked up in my favorite places in the Philippines. It has uncrowded photogenic sights, vibrant art & culture scene, gentle pace of life. Above all, the people are really cool.
Traveling in Catanduanes is a wonderful engaging journey. Now I can say that “The Happy Island” isn’t just another tourism slogan — it’s boldly real.