Discovering the beauty of the Camotes Islands by accident

Dindin Reyes
How post-Sinulog plans gone wrong led to the accidental discovery of a hidden island paradise.

DISCOVER CAMOTES. A small group of islands in the Visayan sea, the Camotes islands are ripe for discovering.

MANILA, Philippines – The words below are the writer’s account of how post-Sinulog plans gone wrong led to the accidental discovery of a hidden island paradise. 

It’s 7:30 am, the morning after Sinulog and I’m completely alone. 

By some miscommunication with my friends, I woke up at the hostel completely alone, except for some hostel roommates I had met only the day before. 

One thing I did not have: an itinerary. 

In this state of flux, I somehow managed to get an invitation to visit the Camotes islands from one of my hostel roommates. With absolutely no idea where it was in Cebu, how long it would take, and what I would see there, I responded with a resounding yes. 

It ended up being one of the highlights of my entire trip, though it was not without its share of hurdles, bad weather being one of them.  

Here are a few of my takeaways that you might find useful:

1. The middle of nowhere is not that far

Camotes is a group of 4 islands found in the Visayan Sea. Look for it on a map and it will be the tiny speck in the middle of Cebu and Leyte. For the average traveler, the only way to get there is by ferry. For those with a lot more money to spend, locals say private planes can land on the islands.

Two major ferry lines make the trip daily from the Danao Port at Danao City: Super Shuttle Ferry and the Jomalia Shipping Corporation. The latest schedules are below.

Super Shuttle Ferry

Danao Port – Poro, Camotes

1pm

Poro, Camotes – Danao Port

5pm

  

Jomalia Shipping Corporation
Danao Port – Consuelo, Camotes 5:30am, 8:30am, 11:00am, 2:00pm, 5:30pm, 9:00pm
Consuelo, Camotes – Danao Port 4:00am, 5:30am, 9:00am, 1:00pm, 3:00pm, 5:00pm


If you want to catch that ferry, be there at least an hour before because the schedules aren’t set in stone. Basing it on the weather, the authorities decide if the trip will push through and what time the ferry will depart.

In my experience, the trip took approximately 5 hours. From Cebu, my new friend and I took a public van to Danao City and a pedicab to the Danao port. Because of the huge waves, the ferry ride totaled 4 hours, though it usually lasts for two. After hours surrounded by nervous passengers speaking in a dialect I didn’t understand, you can imagine my happiness when the Canlusong port came into view. On a normal trip though, boats usually dock at the Consuelo port in the island of Pacijan.

Lesson learned: the middle of nowhere is not that far, but you still have to check the weather right before you get there, especially since you’re traveling by sea.

2. Be prepared to be mostly self-sufficient

THE SIMPLE LIFE. Traveling to Camotes will prompt you to go back to the basics with their small roadside sari-sari stores and limited means of transportation.

Many of us may be more attached to city living than we think.

Stepping on land, we were immediately approached by people all saying the same thing: “Sugat?” In Filipino, “sugat” means “wound” but in the local dialect, it apparently refers to your ride. The men approaching us were motorcycle drivers. Motorcycles, locally called habal-habal, are the main means of transportation in the islands. There are no jeeps, no taxis, and few cars. Our habal-habal was good enough for the two of us and our huge backpacks, but it’s a good idea to pack light.

Like in other places frequented by tourists, the island was equipped with convenience stores and Internet shops. Still, keep in mind that most of the stores in Camotes are stocked with only the bare essentials, so if you have some other items you are unable to live without, get them at Cebu City. Be prepared. 

3. Reserve at least a day for seeing the sights

Not only had I discovered Camotes by accident, but I was also to stumble upon its other sightseeing spots by chance.

The bad weather postponed our trip back, giving us an extra day to explore. My travel companion and I were blessed with a chatty habal-habal driver and after spending a few hours with him, we trusted him enough to let him handle the itinerary.

Zipping to and fro across fields and houses, we were able to see his favorite places in Camotes: Lake Danao, the Holy Crystal Cave, Timubo Cave, and Santiago white beach.

There are more places to see in the Camotes islands but if you’re running on limited time, a day will be enough. Plus it gives you an excuse to keep coming back. It’s worth the trip. 

4) Meet the locals

As in any place you go, it’s best to speak up and find out about the place from the people who live there.

Aside from our habal-habal driver, we made friends with people who worked in restaurants, jewelry vendors, and hotel receptionists. They gave us good advice for future trips to Camotes, and even invited us to lodge in their house for a fraction of the cost of a hotel.  For the curious, it’s the best way to explore the culture and lifestyle people adapt to in this part of town.

MEET THE LOCALS. Camotes is full of interesting people, like this artisan from Santiago beach who sells unique ornaments and pieces of jewelry from wood, bone, crystal and clay.

5) Draw up a plan. Then draw up plan B, C, and D.

The only plan we ever deliberately made was to leave Camotes the day after we arrived for fear of being stranded. Since the element of surprise played its hand during this trip, our worst fears came true and we were delayed because of bad weather. Paying for the lack of foresight, my friend had to rebook her flight and we had to look for a new place to stay for the night. Dealing with the delay, my friend and I got priority passes from the ticket vendors before leaving the port.

A priority pass guarantees you’ll be able to buy a ticket to the first ferry out of the islands the next day, despite the number of people. The following morning, we were at the port at 3:30 am. At 4:30 am, we got our ticket out.

Uncertainty can be fun, but it’s not exactly for everyone.The Philippines is constantly affected by tropical depressions, low pressure areas and typhoons – a small group of islands in the middle of the sea will definitely feel the impact of bad weather. So if you’re going to the Camotes islands, have a backup plan for your backup plan.

 

I like to describe myself as the most boring adventurous person I know. The unexpected always comes with a little fear. But surrendering to spontaneity on this trip to Camotes islands paid off in spades. Good people, new friends, and getting to see the beautiful, isolated paradise of Camotes were all part of the best kind of accident that could occur while I was on this particular trip. –Rappler.com