I’ve been to a fair amount of islands and beaches in the Philippines, Boracay included, and it’s really easy to believe that the best beaches and shorelines are here at the Pearl of the Orient. I can say that, despite the fact that I haven’t been to Palawan yet. One of the greatest proofs I have that clearly makes the Philippines stand out amongst the rest is the Cagbalete Island. It may not be as famous as Boracay or Palawan, but said island, so far, is the best island I’ve been to in the Country. I may be overrating things, but I sure hope that my story can help persuade you to visit this nearby haven, just a few hours away from Metro Manila.
How to get there
Cagbalete is part of the province of Quezon. Just 5-6 hours away from Metro Manila, there are two ways to get there, as always:
1. Via Public Transport – I would say that this is the most practical way to get there.
2. Via Private Vehicle
Please see map below or click on this link:
The bluest that I’ve seen
Even before arriving at the island and while we were being cradled by the boat and calm waves, we already know that the adventure has something very good in store for us. It is not every day that I get to travel by sea but I am very well aware (despite my partial color vision impairment) that some waters are murkier than others due to pollution. However, it is definitely not the case [yet] for waters around Cagbalete.
It was the bluest and the cleanest sea that I have ever seen, thus far. As we were traveling by boat, I couldn’t help notice how clean the sea is and it gives off a distinct calming effect as you get lost watching the gentle waves. You can even catch a glimpse of schools of fish [I think they’re flying fishes] jumping out of the waters from time to time, which is pretty [freaking] amazing.
As you approach the island and the sea becomes even more shallow, you’d see how clean and clear the water is. It gives you that perfect aquamarine color that is just too difficult to unsee.
To relax or not
It is definitely a tough decision between the two. The Island is too beautiful, you would want to lie down on the sand and just bask under the sun relaxing while staring at its wondrous horizon. But it is equally magnificent, that you couldn’t help but explore all its wonders and engage yourself in so many activities the Island has got to offer.
But if you’d want to experience Cagbalete, you should choose both. Here are the things you can do:
1. Swim in shallow waters – Its water is relatively shallow compared to other islands I’ve been too. During high-tide, you can walk a kilometer or two away from the shore and still, the water will be just waist high or so. It is perfect for those who just want to wade or who don’t know how to swim (like myself). Note though that the high tides happen early morning till around 10:00 AM. The low tide will start after 10:00 AM till around 4:00 PM.
2. Visit the Mangrove Forest* – The Island has an area where mangroves grow and shelter all the marine animals. It serves as the breeding ground for fishes, too. When we were there, I’ve seen a school of fishes swimming near the roots of the mangroves. How wonderful that sight can be!
3. Snorkel* – There are snorkeling sites in Cagbalete that are rich with multi-coloured starfishes and sea urchins. Unfortunately, most of the corals are already bleached and there’s not much fish anymore.
4. Enjoy the Yang-in Sandbar* – Given the island’s sea tides, it has an abundance of sand bars. One of them is the Yang-in Sand Bar, which is a must-see and visit for photographers and sightseers alike.
5. Witness as the sun rises and sets – Sunrise and sunsets in the Philippines are simply the best. The only sunset I could think of that could probably top our sunsets were the ones I chanced upon, when inside a flying aircraft.
6. Gaze at the stars – It is really a great pleasure to lie on the cold sand and gaze at the stars from the Quezon’s night sky.
Most of the above activities with * will require you to rent a private boat. The cost of a chartered boat will start at PhP1,500.00 each.
Where to stay
Visiting Cagbalete automatically entails that you stay there at least for a night. A day-tour will definitely not suffice for several reasons including the activities that you may want to experience all throughout your vacation.
I was fortunate enough to have been to two resorts in Cagbalete, on two different occasions, and it is definitely up to you which one you would choose.
1. Pansacola Resort
If you’re looking for a sweet and quiet escape, I suggest that you go for Pansacola. The resort is quiet and you can definitely enjoy chilling in the place. When we were there, I literally just slept on the sand and enjoyed the calm sanctuary I was in. The beach is not as crowded as the other resorts in Cagbalete since Pansacola is literally the only resort on that side of the Island. There were fire-dance and hula performances at night to entertain all their guests.
In terms of food, we brought our own food and just asked them to cook it for us. The price will vary depending on the volume of the food that they have to prepare. However, if you prefer a hassle-free experience, they have catering services at a cost and they’ll take care of your meals throughout your stay. We spent PhP 3,500 for the accommodation, enough for 7 individuals.
2. Villa Noe Beach
If you’d like to relax but would prefer a beach with more activities and tourists, Villa Noe might suit you. The beach is not as isolated as Pansacola is, and if you’re more into socializing and making new friends by the beach, the resort can do just that. Villa Noe is a bit more popular than Pansacola, thus expect the volume of tourist will be relatively greater.
We stayed there for a night and spent PhP 2,800 for a room good for two, plus PhP 1,000 per head for the catering service which already includes 3 meals and a snack.
At night, they have a full sound system to entertain their guests, playing EDMs. Haha! It’s actually fun to swim in the beach by the sunset listening to ensemble of dance music. They also have fire dancers as the main attraction for the night.
Summer is definitely the best time to visit Cagbalete Island, but expect the island to be a lot more crowded over the summer weekends. Even their Tourist Centre is jam-packed with people waiting for their turn to ride the public boat.
Speaking of boats, it would be best to charter your own boat than to take the public one. You wouldn’t have to wait for the long queue plus you have the liberty to control your time of arrival to, and departure from, the island.
The Island doesn’t have electricity between 6:00AM till 6:00PM. Some resorts might offer to activate your cottage’s power at a cost per hour.
Bring extension wires. For a photographer like me who needs to charge all my gadgets and batteries, I need more than just 2 power outlets. I actually need five outlets (or more) if all my batteries are dead.
Maximise the high-tide time to swim and enjoy the crystal clear water. And maximise the low-tide time to go to the sandbar and/or relax.
On your way back home, there’s a bus straight from Mauban, Quezon to Metro Manila that leaves at 12:00PM and 2:00PM, respectively. Just ask the locals / tricycle drivers to bring you to JAC Bus Terminal.
It would be a lot more practical to travel with a big group (at least 7- 9) via public transport.
True enough, Cagbalete easily went beyond my expectations. Been there twice and and enjoyed both instances and wouldn’t mind going there again. Some islands in the Philippines are often overshadowed by the paradisal islands known around the globe like Coron in Palawan, Boracay in Aklan, and many more in the Visayas and Mindanao Region. However, Cagbalete, for me, already made put itself in the map as one of the must-visit islands in the Country, specially if you’re looking for a quick weekend getaway, a haven, just waiting hours away from the Metro.