Camiguin: Unspoiled Paradise
The Lanzones Festival showcases the arts and culture of Camiguin.
Photos by JVM Francisco
Camiguin: Unspoiled Paradise
JVM Francisco (The Philippine Star) - November 3, 2019 - 12:00am

Unlike other tourism destinations in the Philippines, Camiguin is like a magnet that has drawn me back six times since I first visited in 1989.

Tuwasan Falls, a hidden gem.
Photos by JVM Francisco

MANILA,Philippines — During that first visit, I was with a group of friends who wanted to see some islands in the country yet unspoiled by hordes of tourists. Camiguin in the late 1980’s was pristine, unsullied by tourism and progress, and was a best kept secret among adventure tourists. My friends didn’t even know where it was located. We roughed it up but were nonetheless awed by its natural wonders – lush forests, beautiful waterfalls, white sand beaches and volcanoes and peaks that can be reached by hiking. 

Thirty years hence, the island province hasn’t changed much. It’s still as green as when we first visited it and life has remained tranquil, almost lethargic.

Lanzones galore at the Camiguin Trade & Tourism Fair.
Photos by JVM Francisco

But during the third week of October of each year, the island comes alive with the Lanzones Festival that includes a slew of cultural, tourism and trade events culminating with the colorful street dance parade and competition.

The festival showcases the arts and culture of Camiguin but focuses on the produce for which the island is best known – the sweetest lanzones in the country. It is harvested annually in October so it’s in abundance during the festival period. The fruits sell anywhere from P30 to P40 per kilo compared to P100 per kilo in Manila.

Mount Timpoong, one of the peaks in central Camiguin.

One of the reasons why the Camiguin lanzones is so sweet is the island’s rich volcanic soil. Camiguin has seven volcanoes with around 20 cinder cones, and with a land area of only 238 sq. km, it is said to have more volcanoes per square kilometer than any other island on earth. The tallest peak is Mount Hibok-Hibok, an ASEAN Heritage Park and one of the most active among the volcanoes in the island.

These volcanoes and mountains provide an imposing silhouette that can be explored via a 64-km circumferential road along the coast of the island. This well-maintained road also provides easy access to inland mountain passes, waterfalls, hiking trails and numerous hot and cold springs. Some jaw-dropping sceneries for the Instagramming crowds include the Sunken Cemetery and the Guiob Church ruins, both of which were destroyed during the 1871 earthquake caused by the eruption of Mt. Vulcan.

The Guiob Church ruins
Photos by JVM Francisco

The Sunken Cemetery, which is marked by a huge cross seemingly floating off the coast of the town of Catarman, is also a popular snorkeling and unique dive spot.

But the best diving spot for clearness of water and variety of marine life can be found around the small island of Mantigue located just 3.5 kilometers off the coast of the town of Mahinog. The island is a must-visit for tourists who just want to swim and snorkel in the clear waters, laze around its gleaming white sand beach or have a lunch picnic under the coconut trees. But one word of advice – bring your own lunch because there are no restaurants in the island.

Fishing off the coast of Mambajao.
Photos by JVM Francisco

If you’re looking for the best Instagram worthy spot, it’s hands-down the White Island, a sandbar largely submerged during high tide. At low tide it becomes one of the most visited spots in Camiguin where visitors could swim and picnic.

Camiguin is an ideal destination for a 4-day nature and adventure tourism itinerary. Everything is accessible within a few hours so a day’s schedule can bring you to several destinations. And there are various modes of transportation easily available – motorbike, tricycle, jeepney or rented van.

A visitor dwarfed by a century-old kapok tree.
Photos by JVM Francisco

I think this is why most of the tourists that go to Camiguin are return visitors and adventure junkies. One develops a proprietary sense to the place which makes you wish that no deluge of tourists will ever spoil the island.

Local humor in weather forecasting.
Photos by JVM Francisco

Toward this end, Camiguin has taken the lead in implementing sustainable and responsible tourism initiatives, including banning the use of plastic bags for groceries and declaring a number of marine protected areas to preserve its pristine dive sites.

The provincial government will put up solar panels and windmills to minimize use of fossil fuels for the energy needs of the province. A province-wide agricultural program will also be implemented, so residents will not have to totally depend on mainland Mindanao for their food requirements.

Such measures have won for the province the Most Competitive Province award for seven years in a row, given by the National Competitive Council in recognition of exemplary practices by local governments. – With Catherine Talavera, Gerry Lee Gorit

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