Camiguin: The Island Born of Fire

Camiguin: The Island Born of Fire


The distinct, volcanic peak of Camiguin rose from the still ocean ahead of me as the ferry slowly edged closer to my destination. I was travelling to Camiguin Island, a rugged, small piece of rock that’s found in the sea, wedged between the islands of Bohol and Mindanao in the southern Philippines.

It’s a place that few foreign tourists ever travel to, it’s fairly remote and being very close to Mindanao has ended up being lumped in with travel warnings for this often volatile region. I had travelled through mainland Mindanao already though, and I knew that those travel warnings were too broad and that Camiguin would anyway be a safe, tropical haven, of white sand beaches and epic mountain scenery.

The ferry docked into the port and above me, I could see more clearly now the towering crater of Mount Hibok-Hibok, an active volcano that has in the past caused havoc on Camiguin. The locals call their home ‘The Island Born of Fire’, because of the eruptions that have in the past shaped the scenery and because they live their lives in the shadow of the volcano.

For the next few days, I too would be living in the shadow of this volcano, to explore what I soon discovered is one of the Philippine’s most beautiful, and untouched islands.

At the far end of Camiguin, facing out over the Bohol Sea, I could see just a few kilometres away the shimmering sands of White Island. This is Camiguin’s most prized natural possession and after walking along the black sands of the volcanic shorefront I soon found a local fisherman who would ferry me over to this spectacular sight.

White Island is a flat, featureless sandbar that is formed from the whitest, softest sand I’ve ever stood on. A few local fishermen and boat captains were sitting under umbrella shades in the scorching midday heat. I walked along the sands and found myself alone at the edge of this white island. Behind me, the dark shape of Camiguin filled the horizon while around me the sun glinted off the silica.

Camiguin is just 60 kilometres in circumference, but for a small island, it’s full of an array of spectacular sights and beautiful vistas. After returning to the black sand beach I’d left after the excitement of standing on a sandbar for the first time in my life had subsided, I rented a motorcycle to navigate the solitary, winding road that traverses the coastline.

Along the road, the cliffs rose and fell dramatically, while the clouds continually shifted around the summit of Mount Hibok-Hibok above me. I soon found the peculiar shape of a large, Christian cross a few hundred metres from the shore. A shopkeeper nearby explained to me that this was the Sunken Cemetery, a memorial that was built by the nearby villagers to mark the spot of the local cemetery that sunk into the water when the volcano last erupted, back in the late 19th century. It was a peculiar sight, but now I was beginning to understand why Camiguin was really known as ‘The Island Born of Fire’.

Continuing my journey around the island, I was stopping every few kilometres to photograph the raw, rugged scenery. I was driving through picturesque fishing villages, along black sand beaches and past green, watery rice paddies. At the southern tip of Camiguin I rounded the huge form of the island’s second largest peak, Mount Vulcan, which I learnt later was formed from the same eruption that sunk the cemetery I’d seen earlier.

Around the island, the locals would wave at me as I drove past. Compared to other Filipino islands further north, there were almost no tourists on Camiguin. Life here was quiet, and even at the most popular and spectacular waterfalls that I found in the mountains, there were just a scattering of other visitors.

The scenery was beautiful, the beaches were almost untouched and island life was slow and easygoing. This was how I’d always imagined the Philippines to be. Scenic, beautiful and friendly. I stayed on Camiguin much longer than I intended, before eventually and reluctantly departing on a ferry to Bohol a week later, leaving the peak of Mount Hibok-Hibok behind me in the ever-present clouds, slowly watching the Island Born of Fire disappear.

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SEE – Photos & Videos

WSE Travel - Camiguin - The Island Born of Fire - Sunken Cemetery.
Sunken Cemetery
WSE Travel - Camiguin - The Island Born of Fire - Sunken Cemetery
Sunken Cemetery
WSE Travel - Camiguin - The Island Born of Fire - White island
White island
WSE Travel - Camiguin - The Island Born of Fire - White ISland with Camiguin in back
White ISland with Camiguin in back
WSE Travel - Camiguin - The Island Born of Fire - Katibawasan Falls
Katibawasan Falls
WSE Travel - Camiguin - The Island Born of Fire - Katibawasan Falls
Katibawasan Falls

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GO – Getting There

Camiguin is located just 10 kilometres away from Mindanao, the second largest island in the Philippines. There is a small domestic airport serving nearby islands, including the transport hub of Cebu international airport which is just a short flight away.

There are regular, almost hourly connections to the port of Balingoan in Northern Mindanao. Balingoan can easily be reached by bus from the large city of Cagayan de Oro, which has ferry and flight connections across the Philippines.

Ferries run once a day – generally speaking, always check locally though as this route can be unpredictable – from Camiguin to the port of Jagna on the island of Bohol, which is a popular place for tourists in the Philippines to visit.

Getting around Camiguin, to all the impressive sights, is best achieved either by hiring a motorcycle and driving yourself or hiring a driver. There are jeepneys and tricycles which run set routes between the villages, however, these are slow with dubious schedules. Travelling non stop around the entire ring road would only take an hour

WSE Travel - Camiguin - The Island Born of Fire - Map
Camiguin – The Island Born of Fire – Map

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Do – Activities & Attractions

Camiguin is a beautiful, quiet place to explore and there are lots of things to see and do across the island.

The main attraction is White Island, an incredibly photogenic, white sandbar that lies a few kilometres off the northern coast. There are plenty of fishermen waiting to ferry travellers across, and it’s easy to spend a few hours relaxing on the pure white sand and snorkelling in the shallows. Just bring some shade!

The Sunken Cemetery is a unique attraction that’s not found elsewhere. The cross marks the spot of the island’s old cemetery and you can even take a boat out to snorkel among the old tombstones if you desire. Nearby, there are also the ruins of the town’s old colonial church and a few buildings which survived the volcanoes last eruption.

At the southern end of the island, can be found a few white sand beaches – the rest are black and volcanic – and here there can also be found the fascinating Giant Clam Sanctuary, a local collective which breeds and protects the endangered giant clam in the water off the coast. You can swim and snorkel through the ocean sanctuary.

Camiguin is home to many spectacular waterfalls too and even a hot spring resort. The best waterfalls to visit are Tuasan Falls and Katibawasan Falls, both of which can be swum in.

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Stay – Accommodation

Camiguin is still a relatively underdeveloped island in terms of tourism and the accommodation options are limited in comparison to other, more popular places in the Philippines. There are hotels spread around Camiguin, however, the best area to stay is west of the main town of Mambajao, in Yumbing Barangay. This is directly opposite White Island, and the range of accommodation offers budget dorms and fancier hotels.

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Eat – Restaurants

There are small, locally run restaurants all over the island serving up cheap, Filipino delicacies such as Chicken and Pork Adobo and Pancit Noodles amongst many other dishes. If you are looking for a more international fare, then head to Mambajao or the touristy Yumbing areas to try the many locally run restaurants which serve up a wider range of food, including the odd Filipino style pizza. The best restaurant here is ‘CheckPoint’. They have an all you can eat breakfast buffet, serving Filipino breakfast classics such as corned beef and rice, and for lunch and dinner, they have a great selection of both local and international dishes.

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Time – Seasonality & Schedules

March to May is the hottest and driest time of year to visit Camiguin Island. This is when the weather is at its best, and the chance of rain is minimal. The rest of the year, expect some showers, while between October and November there is always the potential for typhoons to hit the island.

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Safety – Possible risks

Mindanao, just a few kilometres away to the south of Camiguin, is generally given travel warnings by most governments due to the potential for conflict and terrorism. Camiguin is perfectly safe though, despite its close proximity, and locals are friendly and welcoming to visitors. Be careful on the roads if driving a motorcycle, and on White Island, be careful of the brutal sun on the white sands. Take shade and plenty of water.

Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.

Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.

Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).

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Pay – How much does it cost?

Costs on Camiguin can be higher than other islands of the Philippines, due to the isolated nature of it. Almost everything has to be imported, so expect to pay more for food and drink. A basic private room in a hotel will cost a minimum of $15 per night, while motorcycle rental for one day costs $7. Entrance to most sights, even the waterfalls, will incur a small conservation cost, usually just $1. Transport across to White Island will cost $10 per person, for a return journey.

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Responsible Travel – Best Practices

Camiguin is still very much a developing island, and unfortunately, it’s common to see lots of plastic waste in the villages. So far, locals have managed to keep the main sights very clean, but if the visitor numbers rocket then the infrastructure could struggle to cope. Try to avoid unnecessary plastic waste on the island and keep the island clean for the future.

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Reality Check – Be Aware

Camiguin is still very much a developing island, and unfortunately, it’s common to see lots of plastic waste in the villages. So far, locals have managed to keep the main sights very clean, but if the visitor numbers rocket then the infrastructure could struggle to cope. Try to avoid unnecessary plastic waste on the island and keep the island clean for the future.

Additional Resources:

White Island Camiguin Travel Guide
The Giant Clams of Camiguin Island

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JOIN US! WSE Travel Packages

This sounds like quite the adventure, right? We thought so too! Though we realize it can be pretty intimidating to get out there into the world on your own, especially when travelling to some of these off the beaten path locations. We love it when our readers give it a shot and try it for themselves! In fact, please leave us feedback if you do!! If trying something ‘this’ adventurous on your own is just a bit outside of your comfort zone, WSE Travel is here to help!

Follow this link for our ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Tours – packages that are highly personalized and tailored at your request.

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Have you ever been to a city that had a really unique historical or cultural feature? Where was it and what made it so unique?

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