After a busy main season on Alona beach Heini and I were looking for a long weekend getaway that would be easy on our budget without limiting our enjoyment. But where to go, so many places we want to visit and experience and so little time. After hearing rumours of schooling manta rays only 8 hours away from Panglao, we decided to head over to Camiguin island, situated northern coast of Mindanao island. We heard from people around us, that Camiguin is truly a virgin island, that is still to be colonised by sunburned backpackers seeking adventure.
Getting there was relatively easy from Alona. First you have to get to nearest city Tagbilaran (bus 25 pesos, tricycle 300 pesos), and from Tag bus station (next to ICM mall) local buses run from morning ’till evening to the port town of Jagna on the main island of Bohol. From Jagna there’s a 4 hour ferry ride to Camiguin island, ferry goes 3 times a week. Beware of busy times regarding the ferry, tickets cannot be pre booked and are sold on a “first come first served” basis. There’s also a flight from Cebu to Camiguin once a week.
We had some anchor issues with our ferry, and 6 hours later we finally arrived in Camiquin in a beautiful sunset. On the pier we were met by Jack – owner of Soul Divers, a cosy budget dive operation with a few cheap bungalows, bar, and diving. We rode about 10 mins to our bungalow, and headed for a beer and chat with Jack.
Identifying the rays
The first priority was getting in the water and diving with the manta rays. It has been over 8 years for me since I was lucky enough to dive with them in Thailand’s Similan islands and Koh Bon, so I was excited to say the least. We headed out at 07.00 to a underwater plateau where the rays were sighted by local fishermen. Once we arrived, we were greeted by the unmistakable signs of strong currents and clear waters. Pulling ourselves through the ripping current down the anchor line we soon reached 20 meters. Heini and I hovered close to the bottom and waited.
Soon a fair sized mobula ray swooped down and gave us a quick fly by rapidly heading for the deep and not at all interested in the three divers who had traveled all this way to receive a glimpse. With our no-stop time decreasing (unfortunately no enriched air nitrox), we headed for shallower waters and another glimpse of a passing mobula as we negotiated the current and reef.
Unfortunately for us we only had two dives on this trip, while the reef was beautiful and colourful we also wanted to explore the island, boasting seven volcanoes and many waterfalls, viewpoints, and hidden jungle tracks. So we headed back for some lunch, cold pizza, and rented a bike from Jack.
Getting the sights in
Camiguin is very different from Panglao, for a start the infrastructure is vastly superior. Roads, public areas, schools and churches are pristine tidy and well maintained. The coastal road was a treat to drive along enjoying some of the most stunning views I’ve seen since our Sri Lanka road trip. Police have regular checkpoints and enforce helmets being worn, bikes having the proper registration, as well as the riders having a proper in date driving licence so beware if you don’t have as it may cost you. Also I advise to make sure your helmet is the correct fit as I felt like “the man in the iron mask” as my undersized helmet squashed my brain smaller!
We navigated the island easily and found many breath taking views and trails, most are well marked with big signs on the coastal road. Also we were extremely lucky with the weather on our trip, no rain and great sunshine for 2 days. On the far side of the island the closeness of Mindanao can be seen boasting pristine beaches and untouched jungle and countryside, though at the time of writing the security situation there makes Mindanao currently a no go area for tourists.
No chlorine needed here thank you
We took the first afternoon looking around at several local swimming pools fed from the rivers and streams, it was a nice change to the square infinite swimming pools usually associated with holidays. We followed signs for Katibawasan falls, a site full of friendly locals enjoying an afternoon with the family and BBQ lunch. This is really what I think a close knit community feels like, people only too happy to point you in the direction of the next sight and advise on things not to miss. The falls flowed into a widened pool where people cooled down from the heat with lots of shade and space.
We turned up the hill between two ridges and headed to Tuasan falls, this was an amazing place, green jungle surrounded the 20m waterfall. Lifeguards were looking out for the local kids who fearlessly jump and play around the waterfalls and streams. We wasted no time in jumping in and cooling off, though previous experiences with Heini and waterfalls kept me on my guard, as she swam towards the fall I looked around for AED and spinal boards that would be required if she again got too close to the edge! I couldn’t see a first aid post so I’d have to settle for a car battery and a plywood board should I need to spring into action! This was one of my favourite falls with simply stunning beauty and calming sound of the falls and jungle surrounding.
Yoga and good eatin’
Kurma Resort was a lucky find, people we met along the way recommended the food here, so on the second day we headed straight here for breakfast. Immediately feeling very very welcome we sat on the beach front tables, made from surf boards and salvaged wood with the shade being provided by salvaged nets and sundries, a great spot to start the day. We ordered way too much as usual, but couldn’t resist all the fresh delicious things on offer, great vegan options as well as plenty of meals on offer.
Kurma’s owner Christian came over for a chat and we really felt like we had met before, conversation was easy adding to the great ambiance of the place. Daily yoga practices, kayaking, land tours, and free diving on the reefs. Also trips to the nearby atoll where you can enjoy a lazy day on your own patch of sand, but beware although we never went ourselves we did see others who ventured there without suncream.
Camiguin aka “Come again”
We had a very short trip over to the island, almost like a recognisance trip before we go over for a week or so. Friends who have been there have told us the weather can be pretty wet and not to expect a week of non stop sun, but for us we had it perfect. Looking forward to discovering the jungles of this island on our next trip. As we said, we initially went to the island to find the manta rays, but the only rays we saw were mobula rays, probably misidentified as manta rays by the fishermen. The rays caught by the fishermen are happily the last to be legal fished in the area, as laws protecting manta and mobulas rays are now in place in the Philippines.