Thursday, November 20, 2014

Footnotes from my travels around the 80 provinces of the Philippines


Growing up in a small, remote village in Catanduanes made me appreciate the value of travel through books and dreams.

I remember leafing through my Sibika at Kultura book --  making sense of our country's history and culture, and enjoying the pages showing the "Magagandang Tanawin ng Pilipinas." 

Back then, my idea of Manila was not about huge shopping malls or skyscrapers or traffic jam. Manila, back then, was about Luneta and Fort Santiago.

Early on,  the books taught me that the Philippines is dotted with famous tourist spots like the Banaue Rice Terraces, San Juanico Bridge, Magellan's Cross, Maria Cristina Falls, and Chocolate Hills.

More than anything, books taught me to dream.

For the past five years, I've been fortunate to have visited all the destinations that I have once read about and dreamed of seeing when I was a kid.

But my travels did not end there. Instead, I challenged myself to visit the more remote destinations in our country. I dared myself to visit 80 (of the 81) provinces of the Philippines before I turn 30 years old, a challenge I have completed last year.

Let me share with you some discoveries and lessons I learned while doing the 80 before 30 challenge.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Remembering Guiuan before Typhoon Yolanda



At 4:40 a.m. on November 8, 2013, the strongest recorded typhoon to have made landfall hit the shores of Guiuan, Eastern Samar. The town was never the same after that. 

It would take years before many of us could get over the devastation brought by Typhoon Yolanda. Unfortunately for many people in that town, maybe never.

With the magnitude of its strength and gust, Yolanda's wrath was unimaginable. Watching the horrific scenes of its aftermath shown in the news was heartbreaking.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Walking Around Bangued, Abra





Abra is landlocked province and is bordered by the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Apayao, Mountain Province, and Kalinga.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Panay’s “dakong lingganay”: the biggest church bell in Asia



The quiet town of Panay is home to several national cultural treasures —the Santa Monica Parish Church (commonly known as Panay Church) is considered the oldest in the whole island of Panay, and dakong lingganay is known as the largest church bell in Asia and third biggest in the world.

These were the reasons why going to Panay was on top of my head when I visited the province of Capiz. This place has a great historical value that I simply couldn't pass up.

Monday, September 8, 2014

On starting a new career at 30





We didn't have a television set at home until I was 10 years old -- so when the colored TV landed a space in our living room, it immediately became a part of our family. It was the center of attention. 

My horizon widened when it arrived. Suddenly, I was opened to the reality that we live in a huge universe. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Inside the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao City



Haring Ibon, Agila, Monkey-eating eagle, Banog. These are some of the names we call our national bird, the great and mighty Philippine Eagle.

This critically endangered bird is endemic to Philippine forests, and can be found in several areas in Luzon, Samar, Leyte and Mindanao.

With height averaging one meter (3 feet) and wingspan reaching up to two meters (the broadest in the world at 7 feet), the Philippine Eagle is among the rarest and most powerful birds in the world.

However, due to massive deforestation and hunting, estimates are that there are no more than 400 pairs left in the wild. Despite the laws protecting these birds, the Philippine eagles are still severely threatened.

I had the chance to visit the Philippine Eagle Center (PEC) located in Davao City. It houses more than 30 Philippine Eagles, of which some are captive-bred. These eagles are also living with some mamals, reptiles and other species of birds. 

The center aims to educate people about the importance of wildlife conservation, especially the Philippine Eagles.

Unlike the zoos I've visited before, this center has a tropical rain forest environment which show the visitors a set up of the Philippine eco-system. Exploring  the facilities and exhibits was fun, easy and really enlightening. 

I consider seeing Pag-asa, the 22-year old captive-bred Philippine Eagle, the highlight of the trip. Although the sad fact remains that he should ideally be allowed to freely spread his wings into the vastness of the wilderness, his existence in that small cage, somehow, gives hope to the conservation efforts of his own breed. 

An interesting behavior I learned about the Philippine Eagles is their being monogamous, taking only one mate for life. These eagles lay only one egg every other year. So imagine the rarity in the reproduction of these eagles. Their existence is precious and should, therefore, be protected. 

Philippine Eagles are highly territorial occupying 7,000 to 13,000 hectares of forest per eagle pair. Although staying in a small facility is downright limiting for them, but on the other hand, letting them out in the wild also pose a more dangerous threat. This is a very sad reality for our national bird. 

**Education and reforestation are key in the conservation and protection -- No to buying, selling, and killing of Philippine Eagles. Let's help!**

If you have an upcoming trip to Davao, don't forget to include the PEC in your itinerary.

How to get there:


The Philippine Eagle Center is about an hour drive from the city and can be reached either by private or public transport. Buses going to Calinan depart every 15 minutes from the Annil Terminal located at corner Quirino and San Pedro Extension. Bus fare is at P30. From Calinan, take a pedicab going to the PEC. The ride is about 10 minutes and will cost you P6. Before entering the PEC premises, the Davao City Water District will collect an entrance fee of P5 for adults and P3 for kids.

Entrance Fees:

Adults - P50
Youth (18 years old and below) - P30

Schedule:

8am to 5pm daily, including holidays

Spending a morning in Tabuk City, Kalinga


The night before I visited the province of Kalinga, I was watching a documentary about the production of civet coffee in Indonesia.

Known as the most expensive coffee in the world, this exotic coffee, called locally in Indonesia as Kopi Luwa, is nothing like your ordinary brew. It is produced in the forests of Java where civet cats are fed with coffee berries. These coffee beans are not digested by the civet cats and are excreted. These civet "poops" are then processed to become one of the most aromatic and tasteful brews in the world.

There inside my small hotel room in Tugegarao, I fancied on having my own cup of civet coffee. I made a few research about the local production of civet coffee in the Philippines. I was elated to know that an hour away from where I was at, a civet coffee is being produced.

The following morning, I took the earliest van going to Tabuk City, the capital of Kalinga. As the van sped off the scenic and well-paved road connecting the province of Cagayan to the landlocked  province of Kalinga, I couldn't help but think of my morning coffee -- a civet coffee.

The road going to Tabuk offers a nice view of rolling mountains that resemble those I've seen in Batanes. Although the van was cramped with regular workers, leaving me to squeeze into a tiny space inside the van to survive the one-hour trip, I didn't mind because the view outside was such a welcoming sight.

Rolling and sloppy hills covered in grassland are a common sight going to Tabuk City. Photo courtesy of Noks Sosa of Tripapips.com

It was chilly when I arrived in Tabuk. Instead of heading straight for breakfast, I decided to first explore the city as it waked up to another new day.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

My sister’s budget-friendly dream island wedding




KISS- keep it super simple. I know that we, Filipinos, have the propensity to make important events in our lives grand and festive, and a wedding is definitely not an exception to that.  Pulling off a standard wedding ceremony usually takes months or even years of taxing preparation. Very often, a couple allots a big chunk of their savings for the wedding, but sometimes, long after the visitors left and the ceremonies ended, the newly-wed find themselves in dire financial needs.

While weddings are important as it marks the start a couple’s lifetime of togetherness, in my honest opinion, the preparedness for what comes after it should be a top priority.

But tell you what, being short on budget should not hinder you from pulling off a wonderful wedding ceremony. The key is to keep things low key and practical. Just like how my sister, Cielo, did.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Think Green: Puralytics SolarBag for backpackers



I support green innovations and it's cool to know that nowadays, more and more companies are turning  into eco-friendly products and services. As a travel enthusiast, I'm excited to see this trend penetrating the world of backpackers, hikers, and beach bummers.

In my travels around the Philippines, especially in remote areas, one of the challenges I experienced was the access to clean and potable water. Sometimes, I find myself in places where the only available water source are tap water and natural streams or rivers. Other than these, I rely heavily on bottled water which, sadly, eventually goes into the waste basket.





I got to try a product called Puralytics SolarBag in my recent trip to Batangas. It is a sunlight activated water purifier that uses a nanotechnology coated mesh to remove contaminants and microorganisms. I like the idea that it harnesses the power of the sun and does not use electricity or any chemicals to treat water.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Coming Home Now: A Story of Passion for Surfing and Love for Catanduanes



The news spread like wildfire over the internet last night. I was in total disbelief. Probably like many people, I couldn't grasp the idea that a man who seemed to be in a perfect physical form and someone living a life most of us could only dream of, could be gone too soon.

But your online profile confirmed the unthinkable. The ocean is now forever yours, Ezra.

One of Ezra's last posts (Photo Credit: Ezra Efondo)
I remember one of our conversations during the BookSail event in Palumbanes Island, you shared how you left the corporate world and chose to go back to our home province. I remember how your eyes lit while you talked about Jack Johnson, sunsets, and surfing in Puraran.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

10 favorite memories in Masbate




A college friend introduced me to the sweet carmelado from Masbate, a local version of pastillas de leche which is made from carabao milk and sugar. This delicacy, wrapped in a thin white paper, got me at first bite, and I promised myself to horde as much carmelados I could afford if given the chance to visit Masbate someday.

Fast forward to a few years after, I visited Masbate’s capital, Masbate City, as I was completing my 80 before 30 challenge. Of course, carmelado was included in the order of business.

Masbate is a first-class province located in Bicol Region. It is composed of three major islands– Masbate, Ticao, Burias—and the capital is the City of Masbate. As an island province, it’s endowed with rich marine life in which many people in the coastal areas engage in fishing as their main source of income. Agriculture, such as livestock, raising cattle, and farming also contribute to the local coffer.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

GMA 7 Summer Break: Travel to Cagayan Province


Two years ago, I challenged myself to do my first solo trip to two provinces I haven't been to -- Cagayan and Kalinga. What I thought was just a short simple trip turned out to be one for the books.Recounting the exciting road trips, beautiful sunrises, and meeting kind people in these provinces left a mark that I will recall for a long time.

But in every trip, there's at least one episode that stands out among the smorgasbord of experiences. For my adventure in Cagayan...it is Palaui Island in the town of Sta. Ana. 



Whenever I'm asked about my favorite destinations around the country, Palaui Island always makes it on the list. So when I got an email asking if I could share my Palaui Island experiences for GMA's Summer Break series, I didn't hesitate and jumped in immediately. 

The remote island of Palaui is definitely worth sharing. But somehow there's a part of me guilty of the possibility that if I keep promoting unspoiled beaches and islands like Palaui, what are the chances that these may also fall into the ugly trap of commercial tourism? I could only hope that stories like mine will create awareness and promote a sustainable eco-tourism that will benefit the local community without damaging the environment.

Here's the video courtesy of GMA 7. 




Monday, April 28, 2014

Think Green: 10 Eco-friendly Travel Tips



Traveling the 80 provinces in the Philippines was by far one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. Not only did I earn so many amazing memories that are worth a lifetime, but more than that, it reinforced my belief that we have an incredibly beautiful country—a place we all have the duty to protect.

Recently, I’m glad to have caught up with my friend, Kidd, an environmental activist, one of the people I look up to when it comes to sustainable practices and mitigating environmental impact when traveling.  Over lunch, we’ve come up with some doable tips to guide you in when planning an eco-friendly trip.

Here are some ways to avoid or reduce the negative impact of tourism to the environment.

Explore within your area. Before eyeing the hottest destinations featured in your favorite travel shows or magazines, you might want to consider checking your neck of the woods. Interesting destinations could be lurking near where you live, it saves you a hefty plane fare and a soaring carbon footprint. For us living in Manila, a change of pace and scenery prompts us to go somewhere far and isolated, but you know what, Manila is not too bad to explore! In fact there’s quite a lot to see and do around here.  Spending time in Intramuros and Fort Santiago may be a great way to revisit our history. We also have museums (National Museum, Ayala Museum) where some of the best art works and historical artifacts are housed. If you want to commune with nature, the waterfalls in Rizal, the cool weather in Tagaytay and the beaches in Batangas are only few hours away. Exploring your own city and its neighboring areas is cheaper and an easier way to cut down on your carbon footprint.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hotel Review: Experience ibis Singapore Bencoolen


The lobby at ibis Bencoolen, Singapore 
When traveling abroad, I rely heavily on free WiFi access to stay connected to my family and friends back home. Purchasing a local SIM in the country I visit is not on top of my mind and is costly for a budget traveler like me.  

So when the staff at ibis Hotel Bencoolen told me and fellow blogger, Mica, that we'd be staying in a premium room with a free Handy smartphone that has unlimited data access, and with free local and international calls, I knew instantly that my 2-day stay in Singapore will be fun.

When I entered my well-lit room at the 11th floor, my eyes rested easily on the phone sitting adjacent to the comfy-looking bed. It didn't take long before I started dialing my mother's number to inform her that I've arrived safely and finally settled in my hotel.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Skyscanner 2014 Bloscars: A 48-hour Singapore trip



I stared out the windows as the plane took a descent few minutes before we hit the runway of Changi Airport. The bleak and overcast afternoon sky did not dampen my spirit as the familiar sight of this metropolis came to view -- Singapore is still breathing with a lot of trees and skyscrapers. 

I was on this all-expense paid trip for the Skyscanner Bloscars 2014 Travel Awards in Singapore, a trip that was made possible by Skyscanner.

Just a background, Backpacking Pilipinas won second place in the Philippine Skyscanner 2014 Bloscars Travel Awards. And quite unexpectedly, along with the runner up title came the prize for a free trip to Singapore. What a surprise!

My travel companions for the two-day trip were fellow travel bloggers and Skyscanner winners - Allan of Lantaw (country winner), Carla the Blissfulguro and Mica the Senyorita. I'm glad to have represented our country together with this crowd of inspiring bloggers!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Support Catanduanes Reef Break: Surf Music Festival




This summer, something really exciting (and majestic!) is about to happen in my home province, Catanduanes. The first ever surf and music festival will be hosted by our homegrown surfers and will be held at Puraran Beach, Baras on May 16-18. 

This festival, entitled Catanduanes Reef Break 2014, aims to generate funds for the local surfers who are short on budget when competing in local and national surfing competitions. It will also promote tourism in Catanduanes -- visit our unspoiled beaches, vibrant waterfalls and heritage churches.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

GMA7's Unang Hirit features Backpacking Pilipinas' travel tips

In my recent interview with Unang Hirit, I shared some tips on how to make your summer getaway more fun even on a shoestring budget. It's important to plan your trip ahead of time, book your flight months earlier to score for some cheaper fares, allot more budget on food and tours, read travel blogs when researching your destination, and explore unique and unspoiled places this summer. 

For more details, watch this video, courtesy of GMA7. 



Thursday, March 13, 2014

Backpacking Pilipinas wins 2nd Runner-Up in the Philippine Skyscanner 2014 Bloscars Travel Awards




To be among the top 10 finalists, together with some of my favorite travel bloggers, was already a big surprise, so imagine how special it was for me to wake up one day to the news that I made it to the top 3! Yes, I was elated! The nomination and the 2nd Runner Up finish in the Philippine Skyscanner 2014 Bloscars Travel Award are great kickstarters for Backpacking Pilipinas, and I can feel that we're off to an awesome year ahead!

A month after the finalists were named, the Philippine Bloscars winner was announced last week via the Skyscanner's websiteThe winner was assessed by Skyscanner based on several criteria and the votes from the public. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Summer 2014 Travel Guide: 16 Best Unspoiled Philippine Beach Destinations


Summer hasn't officially kicked off yet, but the blue sky and the sun beating down hard outside are nature's way of reminding me that my favorite season is just around the corner.

I love summer! It's the season we see flowers in full bloom, the skies clear and the beaches are postcard-perfect; we get lazy basking under the warm summer sky and get much longer sleep; we go out at night for firefly-watching, camping, and road trips; and doze off to sleep in the cool afternoon breeze while on a hammock underneath a mango tree. For most of us, summer is synonymous to vacation. It's the time of the year when we plan out getaways, travel with our family and friends, and head to our summer refuge --the beach. 



With our endless coastlines, there's definitely no shortage of white sand beaches we can go around here. But in the recent years, beach-goers have been mostly concentrated in the world-famous island in the Visayas-- Boracay. Year after year, this paradise has been seeing huge man-made developments to cater to the demands of the growing influx of foreign and local tourists. Yes, huge amount of money goes to the island's coffers, but I have to say that too much commercialism is also taking toll to this once pristine, quiet and immaculate island. I wonder how beautiful it must have been there before madness settled in.

This summer, my advise is to try to veer away from Boracay and explore the lesser-known but equally pretty beaches (without the party crowd). 

After visiting the 80 (of the 81) provinces in the Philippines, I'm blessed to have been to many splendid beaches that boast of quality fine sandy shoreline, spectacular sunsets and sunrises, amazing dive sites, lush mangrove forests, and clear emerald-colored waters. The beauty of these beaches will blow your mind!

Friday, February 21, 2014

80Before30 Recap:30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines





The best part with traveling the Philippines is that it offers unlimited adventures-- not to mention that it's dirt-cheap going around here. A country with 7,107 islands will surely never run short of fun and adventures. With our vast coastline offering numerous white sand beaches, magnificent mountain ranges, diverse culture, and delightful dishes, we offer endless fun to everyone.

Here are some reasons why it's more fun in the Philippines.

Beaches. 

It’s no secret that our country is home to some of the best beaches in the world. Allow me to rave about the fine sandy beaches of Panglao Island, Calaguas Island and Boracay Island, the remoteness of Caramoan, Cagbalete Island, Palaui Island and Malcapuya Island, the rawness of Palumbanes Island, the vast shoreline of Pagudpud, the  clear blue waters of White Island in Camiguin and the beauty of Anawangin and Nagsasa Coves.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 30. El Nido


And we're down to the last spot... finally. :) 

So last night I thought it would be fun to ask my Facebook friends to help me find the perfect place that deserves to be on this Top 30 Favorite Spots list. I got a few interesting answers, but one stood out and seemed to have won the hearts of many. My sister, Cha, even noted that this place deserves a higher spot on the list. Hands down, the readers' choice is El Nido. 

Fact is I haven't been to El Nido, yet. It's that one destination I've been meaning to go for a long time, but had to be put off for a while because I had to finish my 80Before30 challenge. I've been to Palawan's Coron and Puerto Princesa, but I guess I'm reserving El Nido for a special trip this year. This coming September, I'm finally booked for El Nido  (many thanks, Anchi!). 

So what's in El Nido, anyway? I've seen very tantalizing photos and heard great stories about its dramatic towering cliffs, enchanting lagoons, gorgeous sunsets, secret coves, pristine beaches, caves, waterfalls and mangrove forests. All amazing! Many travel magazines and blogs hailed it as one of the best travel destinations in the world. 

All these raves and accolades elevated my El Nido expectations to a level much like what I had before with Batanes, but I have to wait a bit more. Hopefully, September comes a little sooner. 

Sand, sea, and limestone cliffs  (Photo courtesy: Cha Gurrobat)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 29. Baguio

Much has changed in Baguio since my first visit decades ago. Back then, only street vendors and local businessmen compete among each other. Now, the retail giant SM has already invaded the city, making the competition tougher for the locals. Back then, ukay-ukay has not been introduced yet, now, it covers a significant space along the busy stretch of Session Road. Back then, a trip to Baguio is never complete without a photo-op with the Igorot tribesmen clad in their local costumes at Botanical Garden. Now, not so many people do that. Over the years, this vibrant city known as the Summer Capital of the Philippines, has caught up with the demands of the modern times. It is the face of an ever-changing metropolis. 

Although some has changed in Baguio since the first time I visited it, I still consider it one of my favorite destinations. I may have been to other beautiful places in the country, but there’s no denying that taking a trip to this city once in a while offers a lull from my daily urban grind. Those fog-kissed pine trees and the morning mist on the windows of Victory Liner bus as it ascends through the long and winding road to Baguio still brings a warm fuzzy feeling to my heart. 

The topography, the people and even the climate may have changed a bit, but some things will never change in Baguio. It's still the best place to go sight-seeing, food trip, museum-hopping, shopping, and trying out new adventures. 

Check out my blog on the must-do activities in Baguio. 

A Baguio trip favorite must-do -- boating at Burnham Park

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 28. Cebu


Cebu has a perfect slice of everything that keeps tourists drawn in. From historical sites, heritage churches, museums, delicious food, world-class beaches, dive spots, waterfalls and mountains... it delivers. Who wouldn't fall for this amazing province? 

Although Cebu is highly urbanized already, a lot of its old charms are still preserved. Much like Manila, but not quite so. When I visited it in 2010, the first thing that struck me was its certain semblance to Luzon counterpart. And like Manila, it gives an impression that it is just a place with the accumulation of buildings and people. But at the end of our day tour, I realized that Cebu is not called Queen City of the South for nothing. It offers a lot more.

To jump-start your Cebu adventure, explore the oldest city in the Philippines, Cebu City. It is home to some notable spots that are worth visiting like the Basilica Minore del Sto Nino, Magellan’s Cross, Taoist Temple, Fort San Pedro, and Lapu-lapu Shrine (Lapu-Lapu City).

Cebu is also known for its immaculate and pristine beaches that many travelers rave about. The beaches at Malapascua and Batayan rank high among the best in the country. For adventurers, head straight to Kawasan Falls in Badian or try scaling the scenic Osmeña Peak at Dalaguete. 

Cebu has a lot for you. More of my Cebu story here.

The wooden cross, also known as Magellan's Cross, symbolizes the spread of Catholicism in the Philippines 


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 27. Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte

Solo traveling to Siargao and surfing near the Cloud 9 will always be two of my favorite moments in 80 Before 30. That afternoon, as I was gazing at the surf actions happening close to the iconic wooden boardwalk, I felt daunted by the idea of surfing that I almost decided to put it off and just bask in the afternoon breeze and sunset. After a while, I decided that a trip to Siargao without surfing is like a trip to Boracay without swimming. So a few minutes later, I was out in the sea, riding the waves. 

As the Surfing Capital of the Philippines, many people travel to Siargao to surf. But I learned that there's more to this tiny island than just to try its 9-shaped waves. It also boasts of some of the most beautiful islands in the country. Off its coast, you may rent a boat and have a day trip to the picture-perfect Naked Island, Daku Island and Guyam Island.

Close to Siargao, another must-see destination is the town of Socorro, home to Bucas Grande Islands which is also known as Sohoton Cave National Park. Enjoy the natural wonders of that place which include the Sohoton Cave, the Blue Lagoon, and the Tojoman Lagoon, a unique sanctuary where you can see and play with millions of non-sting jellyfishes

Wonderful sights, adrenaline-pumping waves and a peaceful environment, Siargao and Surigao del Norte are definitely some places you should consider visiting soon. 

The iconic wooden boardwalk leading surfers to the break

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

From the Philippines to the World:Thank You, Salamat!





On November 8, 2013, an exceptionally catastrophic typhoon ravaged the southern part of the Philippines. Known internationally as Haiyan and locally as Yolanda, this super typhoon was extraordinarily powerful that it's considered the deadliest typhoon ever recorded in history, leaving in its wake an estimated death toll of 8,000 people, hundreds of thousands of families displaced, and a widespread devastation to agriculture and infrastructures.

Days after Yolanda left the country, we were all glued to the news casts shocked as heart-wrenching tales of loss and survival started to figure in the tube. The once verdant Visayas mountains were reduced to brown denuded lands-- everything flattened, misery spelled in so many levels. 

In the rubles of pain and grief rose the indomitable courage to survive and the selfless spirit to help. Days after Yolanda, relief aids started to arrive in the disaster zones, soup kitchens were set up at Villamor Airbase to provide temporary relief to the victims fleeing the affected areas, fund-raising campaigns were initiated left and right, and people from all walks of life went out of their way to help (cash and in-kind donations, and some offered prayers). 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 26. Camiguin

Completing my 80Before30 Challenge tore down a lot of  my personal biases against traveling in Mindanao -- the threats and dangers of exploring the southern region specially for a solo backpacking woman. But while there are indeed some volatile areas that are better left off from the tourist trail, a vast area in Mindanao is generally peaceful and safe to explore.

A fine example of this is the tourist-magnet island province of Camiguin, located in the northern part of Mindanao. Often called the "Island Born of Fire" because much of it was formed through earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and  considered the second-smallest province in the country, Camiguin will surely hit the sugar spot of those travelers gunning for natural wonders. Must-visit destinations in Camiguin are: White Island ( a sandbar with super clear water and fine sand), Mantigue Island ( a divers' paradise), Ardent Hot Spring (waters coming from Mt. Hibok-Hibok), Katibawasan Falls (cold and gentle cascade) and Tuawasan Falls.

Another interesting spot in Camiguin is the Sunken Cemetery which is marked by a huge cross. This cross serves as the island's reminder today, a ruin when the old town of Catarman was pushed down below sea level following the eruption of Mt. Vulcan in the 1800s.

There's indeed a lot to like about Camiguin. For me the one that really stood out when I visited it back in 2011 was when we saw a pod of dolphins freely wading through the waters of Camiguin, which is often said to be a frequent sight in the island. I still consider it as one of my favorite moments while traveling around the Philippines, and the one that consistently tickles my itchy feet to come again to Camiguin.

My short blog about my quick Camiguin trip here.

Mt. Hibok-Hibok seen from White Island

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 25. Sorsogon


There are a lot of reasons why you should choose Sorsogon as your next travel destination -- the gentle whale sharks of Donsol, the surfing spots in Gubat, boating at Bulusan Lake, a trek to Mt. Bulusan, the centuries-old churches in Barcelona and Gubat, and the beaches off the coasts of Bacon, Sta. Magdalena and Matnog.

Of the many times I've been to Sorsogon, probably my most favorite was when I visited a beautiful unspoiled beach in a small island located at Matnog, the southernmost municipality of Luzon. I've heard a lot about it from my friends so I reckoned it must be worth checking out, and I'm glad I made it there. The beach is named Subic, well... not to be confused with the Subic in Zambales. 

This one appeals to me most because it is achingly remote and serene, a perfect getaway from the madness of Manila. It took us 15 hours to get to Matnog and another 45 minutes to finally get to Calintaan Island, where Subic Beach is located. But the butt-numbing bus ride and the rowdy boat ride were the pains worth-taking. We enjoyed our stay there (my second favorite in Bicol) and basked in its glorious clear blue waters and powdery pink sand. 

More of my stories about Sorsogon here


The pristine Subic Beach


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Vote for Backpacking Pilipinas!



Hello Backpacking Pilipinas friends,

I have some very exciting news for you!

This blog, backpackingpilipinas.comis one of the finalists for the Skyscanner Philippines Travel Blog Awards. I'm super excited since it's my first time to be nominated for something like this, and quite an honor to be included in the list along with nine other awesome travel bloggers. 

You may actually help me win by voting for me. Yehey! 

Click this link to vote: Vote for www.backpackingpilipinas.com


And here's something for you... Skyscanner Philippines is giving  free flight vouchers worth P18,000 weekly just by simply voting. Yep, yep!

Vote now and share this to your friends, too. :) Thank you so much!


Sending you good vibes,

Che Gurrobat
Blogger

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 24. Tawi-Tawi


Tawi-Tawi, the southernmost province of the Philippines, was a revelation to me.  

A remote province that is often portrayed negatively in media for violence and kidnapping, Tawi-Tawi isn't exactly the place most people would want to go for vacation. I had qualms going there and had seriously considered ditching the whole plan since the trip was scheduled a month after the infamous Zamboanga siege. But after doing careful research and contacting several people before actually going there, I was all the more convinced to give this place a chance. And I'm glad I did. Tawi-Tawi is the fulfillment of a dream, the final destination of my 80 Before 30 challenge.

Far from what we often see in the nightly news, at least in the capital town of Tawi-Tawi, I saw a market bustling with people trading their goods, a place with some breathtaking views and with unspoiled beaches that really wowed me, and I met some friendly people who introduced to us their unique culture, and extended much of their help for us to easily explore their town. 

One of my favorite Tawi- Tawi experiences was when we got to the summit of the imposing Bud Bongao. The trek wasn't exactly a walk in the park due to heavy downpour days before we arrived, but the view from there made the painful hike totally worth it. Considered a sacred Muslim burial site, locals there believe that if they make the sacrifice of hiking  this mystic mountain and saying their prayers, their wishes will be granted. If their wishes do come true, it's part of the tradition to go back and hike again as an expression of gratitude. I did utter a wish hoping it will come true, and hoping to see this place again in the future.

More of my stories about Tawi-Tawi soon. 

Bongao Peak 



Thursday, January 16, 2014

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 23. The Waterfalls in Iligan City


One of the things I like best about backpacking Pilipinas is the chance to fulfill some of my childhood wishes. I remember in grade school, I've always wanted to visit Banaue Rice Terraces, San Juanico Bridge,  Fort Santiago, Zamboanga, Magellan's Cross in Cebu, tarsiers in Bohol, and to see the  stunning Maria Cristina Falls. I had the chance to see all these wonderful sites while completing my 80 Before 30 challenge, and in each place I visited, I learned a bit more. 

I knew that Maria Cristina Falls is located in Iligan City, Lanao del Norte, but I didn't know (until my visit there) that this city is also home to about 22 other waterfalls. Known as the City of Majestic Waterfalls because of the many waterfalls located within its area, Iligan is drawing in many tourists  because of these stunning cascades. Other famous waterfalls in the city are: Tinago Falls, Limunsudan Falls, Mimbalut Falls, Abaga Falls, and Dodiongan Falls.

I have been to only two waterfalls in Iligan -- Maria Cristina and Tinago, and I hope to see the rest in the future.

Full blog about Iligan City will be posted here soon.  


Tinago Falls

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 22. Manila


Noisy, crowded, and with a tiny respectable breathing space, I find something oddly cathartic living in this city with million other people. This place throbs with human spirit -- in the busy metroway, roads, and even along the narrowest alleys, people thrives with grit for survival. In a place where more than half of the population lives below poverty level, there is very little room to be meek and still. It is a must to move and do something to eke out a living; to be courageous to live well for another day. And this constant human movement and energy around me makes me long for and appreciate silence and solitude a little bit more. 

But more than the many stories of poverty and survival, Manila is a great place to explore (even on foot). As the capital city and one of the oldest cities in the country, Manila is home to many historical landmarks (Malacanang Palace, Fort Santiago, Intramuros), churches (San Agustin Church, Manila Cathedral, San Sebastain Church, Malate Church, Binondo Church,  Quiapo Church), museums (National Museum, Museo Pambata) and parks (Rizal Park, Paco Park). And one of my favorite things to do in Manila is to sit by the bay waiting for the unobstructed and stunning sunset at Manila Bay while eating kwek kwek or a cup of taho. 

Oh yes, there's a lot to see and do in Manila. Check it here.  


The Manila Metropolitan Theater

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 21. Ilocos Norte


Bangui windmills, Kapurpurawan Rock Formation, Paoay Church or Church of Saint Augustine (A UNESCO World Heritage Site), Pagudpud beaches, Patapat Viaduct, St. William Cathedral (a National Cultural Treasure), the Sinking Bell Tower, La Paz Sand Dunes, Malacanang of the North, Paoay Lake, Cape Bojeador, Kaibigan Falls, and Museo Ilocos Norte.  These are some of the famous attractions around Ilocos Norte.

Many tourists who are up for a complete vacation have this province included in their list of places to visit. Ilocos Norte has it all -- history, churches, food, sea, sights, heritage, landmarks, waterfalls. And these are some of the reasons why I keep coming back to this province. There seems to be always something to look forward to in every trip up there. I'm thinking of surfing the waves of Pugudpud as a new reason to visit Ilocos Norte again, and, ummm, the really cool afternoon sea breeze while enjoying the panoramic view from Cape Bojeador.

For travel guide to Ilocos Norte, click here.

Kapurpurawan Rock Formation

Monday, January 6, 2014

2013 In Review: My Best Travel Year


Before moving forward to the new year, allow me to look back at and honor all the amazing travels I had for 2013.

What a year that was: 

1 year. 12 months. 28 cities. 54 provinces.  

Two biggest accomplishments:

1. Completing the 80 Before 30 Challenge 
2. BookSail (Book drive for the children in Palumbanes Island)

Massive thank you to everyone who joined me in this incredible journey around the Philippines. Special thank you to Anchi for braving the odds traveling with me in Mindanao. I wouldn't have made it all without you. Thank you!

♥♥♥

Highlights of 2013



January 

 Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela (Ilagan City, Santiago City), Quirino, Cagayan (Tuguegarao City), Apayao, Ilocos Norte (Laoag City), Ilocos Sur (Vigan City), Abra, La Union, Pangasinan, Tarlac (Tarlac City), Pampanga



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