The Camarines Sur peninsula and its many islands became popular because the Survivor series was shot there.
To find out what makes it a hit reality TV setting, take a trip to this rustic beach destination and experience what it is to truly go on vacation
Once in a while, when the pressures of work, duties at home and the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle become a bit too much to bear, a trip to a quiet and secluded vacation spot is the perfect remedy to revive the weary— and i found mine in the simple fishing village of paniman beach in the town of Caramoan, Camarines Sur Province.
Forty-five minutes on a plane, a heart-stopping, cold sweat-breaking hour in a cab (our driver “flew” at an average speed of 100kph), two dizzying hours on a boat that is usually filled over capacity, then 30 minutes on a motorcycle passing through winding hillside roads and rolling muddy paths along rice fields— by air, land and sea, getting oneself to Paniman Beach can sure be an adventure in itself. It’s an exhausting, distressing and time-consuming journey, but the destination is worth it.
To get to CamSur, it’s better take a plane ride to Naga Airport because it’ll only take less than a tenth of the time compared to traveling by land, which can take up to 10 hours. Most airlines fly to Naga and a roundtrip ticket will cost around P4000-7000. Make sure to choose the earliest flight because you need to catch the boat in Sabang Port. The last boat in Sabang leaves at noon, so if you miss that, you’ll have to stay in town and catch the next trip the next morning.
To reach Sabang Port, you can opt to ride a cab or a van. A cab will cost P1000, while a van ride is P100 per person. The port is one to two hours away from the airport, depending on whether you take a cab or a van, since a van will have several stops along the way.
Sabang Port is just a brown sand beach; no jetty here. If at this point in the trip you’re still wearing your pricey designer shoes, then I suggest you change into your comfy Havaianas because your feet will get wet. To get to the boat, you have to hop on a floating bridge, which six or seven porters will pull closer to a raft. Then you hop onto the raft, which another group of porters will then pull closer to the boat. It’s a rustic system, but it’s much better than the way they used to transport passengers from the shore to the boat—by carrying them!
From Sabang, it’ll take around two hours to the next port, Guijalo, which is a land trip away from the beach. Be prepared for a tight squeeze since the rows of seats barely provide leg room. That’s why it’s best to arrive first at the port so you can request the boatmen to reserve the front row seat for you. A boat ride costs P120 per person.
Once you dock at Guijalo Port, look for a habal-habal (motorcycle) to take you to Paniman Beach. You can take a tricycle or a jeep, but it can only take you to a certain point because the bridge that connects the town proper to the beach area collapsed. There is a temporary bridge, but it is wide enough for just people and motorcycles to cross. What’s also nice about the motorcycle ride, which costs P100, is that it will give you an unobstructed panoramic view of both the town proper and the farm lands.
Paniman Beach will remind you of what Boracay used to be—like an endless Sunday afternoon with only the crashing of the waves, the laughter of children and occasionally some locals belting out tunes on the videoke machine as the only sounds you’ll hear. In fact, you won’t even hear your mobile phone ring since there’s hardly any signal. A resort, aptly called Breeze and Waves, is the only fully functional cemented structure you will find on the beach. Walking along the shore, you’ll pass mostly houses and cottages made of nipa and bamboo, plus several camping tents.
There isn’t much to do on the beach (which exactly should be the purpose of a workaholic’s vacation), but to soak in the sun, swim in the water, feast on fresh seafood and mingle with the fisherfolk. The soft, slate-gray sand is peppered with small pebbles, which still feel soft enough to walk barefoot on. Take the time to walk along the whole shore. On the western end, the ocean funnels into a river, while on the eastern end are huge rock formations that lead into a lush forest.
Paniman Beach, though, shouldn’t be your final stop. In fact, the beach is the jump-off point for the most popular tourist activity in Caramoan: island-hopping. For P1500, you can rent a boat manned by a couple of boatmen to take you on a tour. Depending on the tide and what time you wake up (the earlier, the better), you can visit up to seven islands in a day. The ones I was fortunate enough to see were Lahus Island, Matukad Island and a small cove near Gota Beach (the chosen shoot location for the Survivor series).
Lahus Island boasts back-to-back white sand beaches surrounded by limestone formations. Matukad Island also has white sand, but the bigger attraction there is the so-called enchanted lagoon. With courage and the proper footwear, you can climb the sharp rocks to take a peek at the lagoon, which locals claim is guarded by a huge lone milkfish. They say that anyone who sees the fish will get a stroke of good luck.
My favorite stop is the small cove near Gota Beach. The color of the sand is a mixture of creamy-white and slate-gray. Compared to Lahus and Matukad, the powder-fine sand is free of rocks and corals so you can sprint across without worrying about scraping your feet. Just swim a few meters out into the sea and you can see Gota Beach. When I was there, workers were constructing the set for a series of Survivor: Sweden. Apparently, several countries, including France, India and Belgium, have already shot their Survivor series there. If you’re looking for a more sophisticated resort to stay in, Gota Beach boasts wonderful cabanas for the discerning. However, locals now encourage guests to try Hunongan Beach, which is an exclusive 12-villa resort. Both the resorts in Gota and Hunogan are run by the government of CamSur.
Other island hopping must-stops include Hunongan, the sand bars of Cotivas, the triangular- shaped Sabitang Laya and the very secluded Tinago, which young boatmen don’t even know about.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best time to go is during the dry, summer months of April and May—or whenever you feel an itch to leave the city. For a city-slicker like me, it would take courage and an adventurous spirit to let go of the comforts and conveniences that urban living provides—but Paniman Beach in Caramoan was exactly what I needed to unwind and recharge.
Aside from the beaches, the Caramoan town proper also has interesting places and activities to offer. Lakwatseradeprimera.com gives a list of things to do
- Visit the Parish Church of St. Michael the Archangel. This 17th century red brick church was founded by Franciscan missionaries. Locals say you can even see the bullet holes that date back to World War II. Unfortunately, the church’s structure hasn’t been preserved well, so many sections have been replaced by modern materials.
- Climb the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. This 26-foot-tall shrine is located at Caglago Mountain in Barangay Tabgon, which is a 30-minute boat ride from Paniman Beach. If you have the endurance, scale the 524 steps to get a scenic view of the nearby islands.