Camiguin, the island born of fire in The Philippines
Where is Camiguin island?
Camiguin island is located in the Bohol sea, just 90 kilometers away from the north coast of Mindanao. The island has a road that goes entirely around its 64 kilometers. So yes it’s quite small.
History of the Camiguin island volcanoes
Camiguin island’s name “island born of fire” is well deserved, and is quite interesting.
Mt. Vulcan was the first known recorded eruption in 1871 as it burst up through the island in a series of violent earthquakes. In late 1875 the Challenger expedition (British scientific ship) noted the still smoking volcano.
During this period the land where the islands cemetery was located sank during a violent earthquake. Thus creating todays popular and historical site “The Sunken Cemetery” where in 1982 a huge cross was erected as a memorial.
The last main eruption was in December 4, 1951 when Mt. Hibok-Hibok took the lives of 1000 people. Today Mount Hibok-Hibok is silent, and an easy day climb.
Today, Camiguin island is perfectly safe and a beautiful place.
What is there to do on Camiguin island?
The island was born of fire and has to be explored.
- Climb mount Hibok-Hibok
- White Island – a tiny sliver of pure white sand beach 5 km out to sea
- Mantigue Island – a true tropical island, with only a fishing village to see, aside from white sand beaches and pristine blue water
- Waterfalls – Both Katibawasan Falls and Tuasan Falls offer scenic tropical areas. But ask around for some of the more remote, local waterfalls to avoid the tourists!
- Ardent Hot Springs – natural hot volcanic water makes for a warm soak. Get there early to avoid the rush!
- Soda springs, Clear springs … lots of springs – Someone on Camiguin got a bit carried away with naming “springs” everywhere. Most of which are far from natural looking. In fact many just look like small man-made swimming pools. But, locals enjoy them, so they are a national favorite here. There are a few small hidden natural ones, though. And, no. I am not telling.
- Sunken Cemetery – This is by far my favorite place on Camiguin. Take a small boat over coral covered tombs lying under the sea. It’s only about 5 minutes across. Or, swim around the tombs. It’s not creepy as they look just like rocks now. But, please see my criticisms of Camiguin further down in this article as it might be gone soon!
When is the best time to visit Camiguin Island?
Any time really. But you should be aware of public holidays in The Philippines, as the island / ferries are often swamped with local tourists.
Festivals of Camiguin Island
There are two main festivals in Camiguin:
The Camiguin Island Lanzones festival which is held on the 3rd week of every October. It’s a week-long celebration of the Lanzones fruit. There’s a beauty contest to crown miss Camiguin island, a music show and just recently it looks like they’ve tried to adopt a German Octoberfest style scenario there.
Easter Holidays – Camiguin Island is a popular destination during this time. With many people taking a walk of devotion around the whole island, which takes 16-18 hours or more depending on your fitness level. Many people do this walk at night to avoid the heat. Christians also embark on a hill top walk to visit the “stations of the cross”.
How to get to Camiguin Island?
Flights to Camiguin Island
- From Manila / Cebu you could try SEAir, but the flights are seasonal, so call them beforehand as they don’t always update their website www.flyseair.com. SEAir Call Center – +63 2 849 0100
- The other option is to fly into Cagayan De Oro city, and take a short ferry ride from there, details below
- Or, leave from Bohol Island on a ferry, details below
Ferry schedule’s to Camiguin Island
From Bohol to Camiguin on Paras Sea Cat
- From Bohol (Jagna) a ferry leaves for Camiguin at 1.30pm
- From Camiguin a ferry leaves for Bohol at 11am
You will also find several connecting larger ferries that stop off at Camiguin. Find a Super Ferry desk, or ask your hotel / guest house which one is best for you as they change schedule’s regularly.
From Cagayan De Oro you have
two only one ferry choice. Paras Sea Cat departs daily to Camiguin Island at 8.30 am Paras Sea Cat leaves Camiguin at 4pm Parras Sea Cat leaves from Cagayan De Oro’s own port. It’s a fast, and good ferry with prices starting at around 500 pesos per person. But, the service is irregular, so call them first to make sure they are running. +63 (088) 8572727
As of 2014/15 the above Sea Cat service is no longer running. So you’ll have to make do with the options below.
- From Cagayan de Oro to Camiguin island via ferry you leave via the port at Balingoan ferry terminal. You can either take a taxi to Balingoan from Cagayan De Oro city (2000 pesos) or take a jeepney / bus from the Agora bus terminal (150 pesos A/C). It’s a 1.5 hour trip to the ferry terminal.
- Ferries leave Balingoan from as early as 5.30 am. Call Super Shuttle Ferry at +63 (088) 3873587; +63 (088)3874034 or +63 (088)387 7009) for more details.
You arrive into Benoni port which is 17 km from the capital of Camiguin, Mambajao. Once you get off the ferry, there is sometimes a tourist info desk. Otherwise take a jeepney to Mambajao, or hire a Motorella (tuk tuk), but bargain hard if you take the latter. Resorts and guesthouses offer pick-ups for 450 pesos.
Flying into Camiguin island
The airport in Camiguin is very central with daily connections via Cebu, Manila and Cagayan de Oro. If you are thinking of flying to Cagayan De Oro the airport is located 1.5+ hours out of the city in a town called Laguindingan. So if you are flying to/from Camiguin Island via Cagayan De Oro you will need to keep this in mind. Better yet would be to simply fly to/from Bohol (Tarsiers, Chocolate hills) or Manila/Cebu.
Accommodation on Camiguin Island
There are many resorts in Camiguin so it’s worth booking a recommended Camiguin resort online. Budget travelers should show up very early as public transport is sporadic on the island and it will take time to find a place.
As of 2015 budget places start at 550 but 800 per room can still get you very nice accommodation.
Check out my Camiguin island resorts online.
Tourism problems with Camiguin Island
As I mentioned at the start of this article I have spent a lot of time on Camiguin island. And, was really hoping to make a return to the 2014 Lanzones festival my last destination in The Philippines before leaving.
But sadly Camiguin island seems to be caught up in “financial tourism” these days. I desperately searched to find some information regarding the Lanzone’s festival. Only two weeks before hand did a third-party website put up the information. And, it was scattered. Most of the festivities had been moved to evening times it seemed, and there was a huge push on Octoberfest via San Miguel (national brewing company).
Contacting the Philippines tourism board for tourist information …
I tried contacting the tourism office through the official Camiguin island website (which has not been updated in 2 years) only to find their contact page does not work. http://www.camiguin.gov.ph/contact_us.html
(update: it would seem in the weeks following the publication of this article, someone has updated the official Camiguin website, a little. However, the Camigiuin website is still seriously lacking, and the contact us page continues to not work. I’ll leave it at that for updates on this topic.)
Emails to random departments I found online went unanswered, and/or bounced back. Still, they have improved in the sense that they are no longer using yahoo.com email addresses.
Then again you can always call into the Tourism office on Camiguin. Only to be faced with a huge office, and lots of staff. The problem is, all they seem able to do is hand you a tiny photocopy of the island map, with official prices attached. That is if they have copies, or can be bothered to walk 5 feet to make a copy for you.
Less staff, more efficiency and more information would be good. Otherwise, just use your guidebook and avoid the tourism office there.
In the end I called one of the boat men I hired previously to confirm dates, along with a hotel there to give me some updates.
Invest in Camiguin island
Before I left I found “sectors” of Camiguin island devoting most of their time using tourism as a cover for “investing in Camiguin.” It’s hard not to talk with anyone there without being pounced on to buy property. This latest festival seemed geared to woo national investors to the island rather than to publicize a previously fantastic festival.
Tourism gone mad on Camiguin island
The mad push to make Camiguin Island a tourist destination, or investors paradise has resulted in some very annoying traits. As a foreigner don’t be surprised to now see an official price for “foreigners”. This really is the only time I have seen “official” foreigner prices in The Philippines.
Argue about prices and who can afford what e.t.c., by all means. But, either way this system is not administrated well. Hire a local motorbike and you will be “unofficially” charged extra on top of an “official charge”, not including the fuel (be warned). Likewise with a volcano climb. So yes, what’s happening here is everyone is trying to make a buck, just like the next person. The result, disorganized annoyance, and ultimately disappointment.
Something that wasn’t there before.
Killing the Sunken Cemetery
In 2008 the local boat people told me tourists were no longer able to swim around the sunken cemetery as there was a conservation protection order placed on it (was I the last?). This could have been a good thing if eco tourism was being planned …
Then recently I’ve been told there are plans to open a new ferry port beside the sunken cemetery.
The ferry port is planned about 150/200 feet from the cemetery, and will kill off the coral along with the delicate eco system around it. Also, I for one also don’t want to visit this tranquil place when there’s a ferry chugging into port.
The good news is that someone listened and the ferry port near the Sunken Cemetery has been stopped. The bad news is that since 2014 Camiguin tourism office have introduced a plethora of fees to snorkel or swim there (it used to be just 20 pesos).
- Environmental fee: 150 pesos pp
- Eco-guide fee: 100 pesos
- Optional boat fee: 100 pesos
- snorkel 50 pesos
- lifevest 50 pesos
Snorkeling around the sunken cemetery is about 45 mins and is still very beautiful with great tropical fish, shell fish and underwater statues to view.
Last port of call
As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to do a full feature on Camiguin during the 2010 Lanzone’s festival. But, canceled my trip as to be quite honest I prefer to keep my memories of the place as they were when I first visited in 2008. in 2015 Camiguin island has improved in many regards. There are many more new (clean) resorts and a lot more restaurant than before (Rocky’s Resto is recommended)
A stunning sunken cemetery at sunset. The friendly local boat people taking you out on a paddle boat. The sparkling blue waters around white sandy beaches. Volcano climbing within a tropical forest. And, some of the best Manok (roast chicken) and chocolate cookies in The Philippines (just go to down town Mambajao).
How to fix tourism on Camiguin island
I am sure the numbers are booming. Free expense trips, accommodation, and investor meetings will do that. In the short-term.
I promised some of the local people who were so nice to me when I was there that I would write this article for them. They feel their voice cannot be heard anymore. I would sadly agree.
I really believe a place as ecologically diverse as Camiguin island could be the start of something great for tourism both nationally and internationally for the Philippines.
There are a host of additional fees on Camiguin island that mount up. Take a boat to the white island (sandbar) and you pay for the boat, then additional charges for life vests and then there’s the “user fee) of 20 pesos per person. It all grates terribly as you find yourself constantly handing out small change.
An overall “conservation” fee for the island at the port would be better. Then again providing litter bins on the streets, beaches or cleaning up the volcanic beaches from local refuse would also be nice.
Camiguin island has lots of potential, makes for a lovely weekend away but still needs a push in the right direction.
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The biggest obstacle of this journey (and on many people’s travels )- “Miscommunication”