Caramoan Peninsula National Park

Insane-looking limestone karsts formations, deep gorges, snaking rivers, white sandy beaches and clandestine coves characterize the remote Caramoan Peninsula National Park, a beautiful reminder that indeed, the Philippines is a nation of incomparable natural wonders in just about every nook and cranny of this archipelagic country.

Caramoan Peninsula National Park is located in the town of Caramoan, a sleepy and remote town of Camarines Sur. The peninsula barely received any attention outside of Camarines Sur until it was used as a setting for an edition of Survivor France, a franchise of that wildly popular reality TV show Survivor based in the United States. Since then, Survivor Israel, Bulgaria and Serbia followed suit and used the same location for their own Survivor franchises. The media then turned their sights on this erstwhile forgotten corner of Bicol and coupled with an aggressive tourism marketing campaign by the provincial government of Camarines Sur – Caramoan Peninsula is now high on many Filipino travelers’ lists of must go destinations.

Philippines Caramoan Natioanl Park

Caramoan Peninsula National Park
Photo by YTK23

In 1867, Franciscan Missionary Fray Francisco dela Cruz y Oropesa penetrated the dense forests of Caramoan Peninsula and probably liked what he saw there as he founded a Christian settlement in a place called Balwarte. This settlement was turned over to the Sagrada Mitra in 1696 for administration and a chapel was built out of nipa, bamboos and wood. The settlement grew into a bigger community which is now called as Caramoan which was apparently derived from a sea turtle abounding in the area at the time and which the local inhabitants called “Carahan.”

The chapel underwent several repairs and renovations and after almost 200 years, a permanent building was finally constructed made out of adobe, local stones and clay. The church was basically constructed out of slave labor under the direction of well-known artisans and masons. The current building withstood the ravages of time, as well as natural calamities such as typhoons and earthquakes as well as the challenges of the last World War.

Philippines Caramoan Church

Caramoan Church
Photo by Dave Ryan

Fast forward to present day Caramoan reveals a town still trying to adjust to the sudden deluge of tourists and travelers to the area trying to get to the much-vaunted islands off the coast. There are two main island groups off the Peninsula. The south islands (nearer to the province of Catanduanes) are composed, amongst others, of the most popular Matukad Island (with the islet lake on top with a rumored huge fish living in its waters), Lajos/Lahus Island, Hunungan Island, Gota Island (different from Gota Beach which is across it), and of course further away is Tinago (a cove with three small white sand beaches) and whose topography is strongly reminiscent of Coron Island in Palawan. The triangular shaped cream-colored sandy beach of Sabitang Laya Island (and the coral beach of Tagas Island) meanwhile, is just about a third of the way to another set islands in the north which include Cotivas, Lahuy, Pitogo, and Minalahos Islands amongst others. However, some of these islands are closed off to the public whenever there is ongoing filming of any of the Survivor franchises. We were lucky to have met some of the eliminated contestants of the Survivor Serbia edition and even had the chance to share a few bites of a Serbian dish made by one of the contestants.

Philippines Caramoan Natioanl Park, Rock Formations at Sabitang Laya Island

Rock Formations at Sabitang Laya Island
Photo by Dave Ryan

Sea kayaking, island hopping, rock-climbing, trekking, spelunking, snorkeling and camping are some of the most popular activities in the peninsula. However, challenges remain for the traveler and the local community as well. When we went there, Caramoan town had the feel of a shell-shocked town and whilst they were extremely helpful and friendly, you can definitely sense a reluctant vibe with the sudden rush of tourists to this peninsula. And we can fully understand why, mass tourism is an ugly and destructive form of tourism with travel agencies trying to cash in with this sudden interest in the area by sending heaps of tourists to Caramoan.

Having said that, tourism infrastructure in Caramoan is minimal to almost nonexistent. The roads are mostly dirt and gravel with some areas paved. Houses were hastily turned into inns and there seems to be no close coordination with the provincial government and the local government of Caramoan in anticipating the massive influx of tourists in the peninsula. From our sources in Bicol, the people of Caramoan were not too happy with this tourism phenomenon, considering it as a threat to their culture and laid back lifestyle as well as the local environment. Already we were seeing the reality of these threats – we saw vandalism on the surface of what would have been beautiful rock formations on Matukad Island, and we saw broken glass and pieces of garbage at Hunungan and Sabitang Laya. While what we found was largely manageable, we noticed that there were no sentries guarding or maintaining the national park. This problem should be addressed as soon as possible while it is still small and manageable.

You can also go spelunking at the national park in Omang Cave, Manipis Cave and Culapnitan Cave.

Philippines Caramoan Natioanl Park At Tinago

At Tinago
Photo by Dave Ryan
Philippines Caramoan Natioanl Park, Quirky rock formation

One of the quirky looking formations in Caramoan
Photo by Dave Ryan


Why Not Go

Skip Caramoan Peninsula when there is another Survivor filming as some of the islands will be closed off to the public. We heard from locals that the Survivor has a four year franchise set to end around next year at the earliest with Survivor USA apparently filming there..

Philippines Caramoan Natioanl Park, One of the boats used in the challenges for the reality show Survivor

One of the boats used in the challenges for the reality show Survivor
Photo by Dave Ryan


Why Go

Caramoan Peninsula does give island hopping a new meaning and coming there gives a feeling of being away from it all. This beautiful National Park offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and its many islands seem to duplicate the equally gorgeous Calamianes in Northern Palawan (although we do think that Coron is still more beautiful).


Best Time to Visit

Head out to Caramoan Peninsula during weekdays. Never ever go there during long weekends or holidays as in some popular islands – there are a lot of people trying to do that annoying and kitschy travel photography fad called the group jump shot.


Where to Stay

Philippines Hotels and Resorts

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Gota Village Resort ( is the only beachfront resort/hotel that has passable international standards and offers most of the other activities in the peninsula but of course it comes with two downsides – rooms are very pricy, and it is totally closed off to the public when there is Survivor filming. Check their advisories on their website to be sure.

You may also check in with Rex Tourist Inn (Centro), and BC Hometel (Tawog) for cheap air-conditioned accommodations. We tried BC Hometel (+63.921.8357454) and save for some bugs (ants and an occasional bee) in the room and the air-conditioner leaking into the room – it was alright. A/C room for two is PhP500. The lodging places usually accept payments through Smart Money transactions so you may have to pay a deposit or the full amount in advance through Smart Money (you have to go to a Smart Telecom Office to remit money).

Philippines Caramoan Natioanl Park, Cruising through the Mangrove Forest

Cruising through the Mangrove Forest
Photo by Dave Ryan


Where & What to Eat

There are not many of decent eating places in Caramoan. For travelers, there are probably two obvious choices – Lutong Bahay which makes uninspired mainstream Filipino dishes or the Kamalig which has a better ambience, pricier and fortunately has better menu choices. Bicol Express (pork in coconut milk and chilies) and Laing (taro leaves in coconut milk and chilies) are passable and their own version of fish soup (Tanguige Kusido) was quite interesting. The menu says that there is a maximum of 2-3 beers per person. Of course no one really follows that rule.



Caramoan town by itself is a very sleepy town with not much going day or night save for some karaoke joints. While stopping over at Bikal, we heard a guy screaming his guts out over a karaoke song. Horrible. Other than that, quiet dinners or just lazing by the beach with a drink in Gota is the best way to celebrate a night in Caramoan.


My to do List

1. Take a bottle of beer or two and go island hopping!**
2. Check out the lake on Matukad Island.*
3. Explore Tinago.*
4. Take photos! And if you have the money for it, take a plane and view the dramatic karst formations from above.*
5. Visit the centuries old church of Caramoan town.*
6. Do a river cruise along the dense mangroves.*
7. Rent a kayak and go sea kayaking.**
8. Camp! (Head out to the Municipal Hall first for this and mostly you have to bring your own gear.)
*- Highly Recommended
**- Recommended by Locals

Philippines Tanguige Kusido at Kamalig

Tanguige Kusido at Kamalig
Photo by Dave Ryan


Stay Away From

1. Mosquitoes! – just bring bug repellent to be sure
2. Stray animals: monkeys – rabies is prevalent all over the Philippines.
3. Getting wet, take Ziplocs with you for your gadgets and valuables.
4. Protect yourself from UV rays by putting on a sunblock.
5. Wear your flip-flops just to protect yourself from broken glass.


Getting There

From Naga City in Camarines Sur, it takes about 1.5 hours by van (PhP 90 last time we went there in August 2009) from the CBT (Central Bus Terminal) to the “port” of Sabang. This is not a real port but a beach where passengers sit on the backs/shoulders of porters who carry them over to the boat for PhP20.00- nothing more than that. From Sabang to Guijalo port, it is a 2 hour journey on a boat which seemed to be filled to the rafters with people (we did not sign any passenger manifest in Sabang) and with the life vests at the far end of the boat. Fee is about PhP 120-130 per person. From Guijalo to Caramoan Town is about 20 minutes (fee is about PhP100 for two people- same amount you pay from Caramoan town to Bikal port- the jump off point for the island hop) on mostly bad roads. The island hop costs about PhP 1,800 for the day for either but not both island groups.

Philippines Caramoan Natioanl Park, Van to Sabang from Naga City CBT

Van to Sabang from Naga City CBT
Photo by Dave Ryan

You can also drive to Caramoan from Naga, but from Sabang to Caramoan – the roads are notoriously bad and the trip could take 6 hours in a four-wheel drive.

Camarines Sur (through the Naga Airport in Pili) can be accessed via plane (45 minutes ride). Zest Air, Philippine Airlnes and Cebu Pacific from Manila and vice-versa. Buses also ply the Manila-Naga route – Isarog, Peñafrancia, RSL, ECSI and Philtranco buses serve this route. There are also mini-vans and buses servicing Naga to other points of Bicol through it’s Central Bus Terminal. A more comfy ride through the Philippine National Railways is set to commence at the end of 2009 as well (+63.2.2549772) but can be a very, very slow way to reach Camarines Sur. If you are driving, make sure that you pick up a map and follow the scenic but sometimes hair-raising Pan-Philippine Highway.

Philippines Caramoan Natioanl Park, Caramoan rides

One of the Caramoan rides
Photo by Dave Ryan