Do you love exploring more off-the-beaten-track locations? And do you like the idea of camping in the Philippines? Then Calaguas Island might be perfect for you!
Until recently Calaguas Island was largely uninhabited, undeveloped, and was known as ‘the virgin island’.
While this is not really true anymore it remains one of the more authentic opportunities to experience the natural beauty of the Philippines.
There are now a handful of relatively new beach huts scattered along the beach but still only a few permanent structures.
For the majority of the year this destination remains pristine, unspoilt, and one of the most stunning islands to visit in the Philippines.
Calaguas Islands – Everything You Need to Know For a Perfect Trip
The Magic of Calaguas
Calaguas, also known as Calaguas Islands, is a group of islands. It includes the larger and most popular Tinaga Island, which is the island you will be staying on.
The recent popularity of Calaguas Island is bringing in more travelers, especially during the summer.
It is a long journey to reach the island though. Up to 15 hours if you travel by land and sea from Manila!
But at that moment when you pull up to the beach, you will instantly feel that the trip was well worth it.
What struck me most was the color of the water. The aqua-colored glow radiates under the sun in a way that I have not seen before.
Yes, other popular islands flaunt the same thing. But not like this.
As impressive as a photo looks you just have to see it for yourself to fully appreciate the strength of the colors.
The water is amazingly clean and clear.
To illustrate the point, I lost my hat at one point and had not realized that it had been washed into the water by a rising tide. It was only the clarity of the water that allowed me to find it.
A quick scan of the water and I could see this blue hat on the seafloor quite easily – even though it was at least 10-15 meters away.
Activities on Calaguas Island
While there are things you can do to explore the island and keep yourself occupied, you should expect a very quiet itinerary.
A routine of swimming, laying on the beach, eating, swimming again, etc. will sum up most of your day… and that sounds pretty damn good to me.
The water is crystal clear and the tides are very mild.
You’ll be camping on the beach called Mahabang Buhangin. If you walk to the end of this beach and follow the rocks towards the headlands you will see all kinds of bright colored fish swimming around.
It gets deep fairly quickly so if you are confident in the water you will be able to explore the depths freely.
If you are not a strong swimmer then most of the tour groups have life jackets available. You can float around without much effort and still enjoy the beautiful underwater spectacle.
Late in the day when the temperatures start to fall, there is a popular walk up to the hills overlooking the beach.
It is a nice easy walk up a gentle incline.
Buy a coconut from the locals to take with you for just a few pesos. They are refreshing and tasty!
3. Beach Volleyball
There are nets set up on the beach and balls are also available on the island.
If you are with a few friends it’s a fun way to kill some time and get some exercise.
When was the last time you threw a Frisbee around? This was surprisingly fun and we kept this up for at least an hour.
The calm and shallow water makes diving around easy and can make for some good photo opportunities.
5. Island Hopping
Calaguas’ main island Tinaga is part of a cluster of islands that are completely deserted.
There is no set commercial offering of island hopping tours, but there are locals willing to take you around on a private boat.
If you can find someone to take you out you will have to negotiate on a price for the day out. This is likely to fall somewhere between PHP 1,000 – PHP 1,500.
Should You Book a Calaguas Island Tour or DIY
This is one experience where you will not miss out on anything by just getting on a tour.
The packages are cheap and take care of all of the basics like tent accommodation, and food (which is excellent!).
Yeah you can DIY, but that means lugging a tent, food, and cooking utensils around which would be more of an inconvenience to carry around for the rest of your trip.
Prices generally range from PHP 1,799 to PHP 2,999 for a one or two-night stay.
If you wish to stay longer than that you will have to negotiate with your tour operator or DIY.
Booking a Calaguas Island tour gives you the comfort of a fixed cost with no surprises from a local trying to overcharge you for transport.
Calaguas Island Tours are inclusive of:
- Meals (which were high quality)
- Boat and environmental fees
- Tent and beach hut access
- Snorkeling gear, volleyball, and frisbee use
Some tours will also include the round trip bus ticket from Manila to Daet. This gives you the chance to make a few new friends before jumping on the boat.
When booking your tour online you will not be able to pay via credit card like with most modern travel sites. You will complete an online inquiry form and then have some email back & forth to confirm details and organize payment.
This will vary by tour operator but is likely to involve:
- Making a cash deposit into a local bank account
- Cash on arrival to the bus terminal
When choosing your tour operator you will find that all booking services funnel customers into the same tour, with the same itinerary, and accommodation options.
I would encourage you to make inquiries with a number of operators and deal with whoever you find the most responsive, and easiest to communicate with.
Two of the more reputable options are:
The majority of visitors will pitch a tent in one of the camping grounds along the beachfront.
You will need to pay a fee on arrival of PHP 100 for your tent space. This will get you a patch of grass, and that’s about it.
Facilities are limited to a basic toilet and bathroom that will vary in quality depending on which camping ground you stay at.
Showers are non-existent and instead you will have to purchase a bucket of water for PHP 10 per bucket. But this does the job just fine.
Remember this is a virgin island with virtually no plumbing or permanent structures.
However, you can rent a beach hut overnight if camping in the Philippines isn’t what you were looking for. The cost is PHP 500 a night and unless you arrange this through your tour operator you will have to seek availability on arrival.
There are only a handful of these huts so best not to rely on them. Your hut will have two beds, and a small table.
There is also a resort on Mahabang Buhangin Beach called Calagaus White Sand Resort. And, Calaguas Island is definitely developing so the longer you wait the more tourism facilities the island will probably have…
How to Get to Calaguas Island
Unfortunately there is no easy way to get to the island. You are looking at three to four legs no matter what your preferred method is.
1. By Land (approx. 12-15 hours)
- Bus: Manila -> Daet – 9 Hours (PHP 650 – PHP 720)
- Jeepney: Daet -> Minaogan Port – 30 minutes (PHP 10 – PHP 20)
- Boat: Minaogan Port -> Calaguas – 2 hours
When you factor in all of the waiting time between legs you are looking at a minimum of 12 hours to reach the island.
Bus (Manila to Daet)
The most frequent service runs from the Superlines terminal in Cubao. They offer multiple class options for the journey and I would recommend the air-conditioned bus, or higher.
Expect plenty of bumps and windy roads on the overnight bus trip. This will make it difficult to sleep but is pretty standard for Philippines roads.
A first-class bus will not cost much more and will give you the best chance of getting some sleep!
If you have a larger group you can also hire a private van for PHP 15K-30K depending on your length of stay.
Jeepney (Daet to Minaogan Port)
The ride should only cost PHP 10-20 and take about 30 minutes.
Frequency and routes can be unpredictable so just ask someone at the bus station for confirmation of the best pickup point.
Note: You can also reach the island from Paracle. This a two-hour drive from Daet and can be reached by a van that will also leave from the terminal area.
Boat (Minaogan Port to Calaguas)
It is a long trip and the hard wooden seating can be uncomfortable. So you may want to have a pillow handy to prevent your butt from getting numb.
As you get further away from the mainland you will notice the water becomes clearer, and bluer. Watching that transition will help holiday mode set in after what would have been a testing journey at times.
Pro tip: If you sit at the front of the boat you will get wet so be wary of any electronics you may have with you.
Note that there is no set schedule for the boats. If you choose to DIY your trip to Calaguas Island you will have to ask around when you arrive at the port. So arrive early to ensure you do not miss the tour groups heading to the island, and try and organize your return journey at the same time so you have a way to get back to the mainland.
2. By Air (approx. 7-9 hours)
The advantage of taking a flight is that you won’t need to take that overnight bus ride and arrive on limited sleep.
It will save you some time, but perhaps not enough to warrant the additional cost for some.
The closest airport to Daet is Naga airport which is only a 45-minute flight from Manila, and then a two-hour journey to Daet.
A return flight costs anywhere from PHP 4,000 to PHP 12,000 depending on when you book.
For the sake of saving a couple of hours, in my opinion it’s not a recommended option.
When to Visit Calaguas Island
Rainy season in the Philippines runs from August to November.
With limited shelter and the tent accommodation, I would not recommend visiting during this time. It is also when typhoons are most frequent.
Given how isolated the island is and the size & strength of the boats it would be an all-around bad situation.
December and January can still bring big waves because of the trade winds and can, therefore, make it unsafe to travel.
From February to July you will be met with fairly consistent sunny weather and warm ocean temperatures.
Local Holidays to Avoid
I would avoid Calaguas on any long weekend that falls in the summer months.
There are no controls on tourist numbers on the island. As a result, the place can get transformed overnight from an island paradise to a crowded campsite with insufficient facilities.
This is exactly what you come here to avoid.
The Holy Week holiday (Easter) is the peak weekend for tourist numbers so avoid this at all costs. The dates will change each year so check your calendar when planning.
Final Word About Calaguas Island
This video, although a few years old, gives a good impression of what Calaguas is like and what the locals do to keep it as pristine as possible (the video has English subtitles).
The Philippines is blessed with thousands of stunning islands and beaches. But many of the more popular destinations have succumbed to mismanagement and have become a shadow of their former selves.
Calaguas Island is one of the few remaining spots that are relatively untouched, but also accessible to tourists. It’s Philippines off the beaten track.
But this is also changing fast so I would encourage you to visit as soon as you can.
I hope this guide has helped you understand how to get to Calaguas Island and what to expect once you’re there. Have a great trip, enjoy the Philippines and Calaguas Islands!
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