We wanted to visit three different beaches in the Philippines. El Nido with its impressive karst hills and white sandy beaches seemed an obvious choice. Another one had to be Bohol for its famous Chocolate Hills and wonderful beaches on the adjacent little island of Balicasag. We were looking for an off the beaten track beach to complete the tour. The Philippines offers over 7000 islands to choose from! Since we were going to the famous Sinulog Festival in Cebu, we thought an isolated place nearby would work for us. Fabulous Camotes Islands fulfilled all of our wishes!
What are Camotes Islands Like
We loved every second we spent on Camotes Islands. The islands are very close to Cebu, but feel natural and magically isolated. They are scarcely populated, have no medical service, public transport and there isn’t much information online. The good thing is there are no huge hotels, horrible malls or any western commercial nonsense. What you will find for sure are great people that will take you around on their motorbikes and make sure you have a great time. So bring a big smile, small luggage and you will have the time of your life.
Camotes Islands is a group of three islands and one islet located in the Camotes Sea between the bigger islands of Cebu, Leyte, and Bohol. A bridge over dense mangrove forest connects the main islands of Pacijan and Poro. On the other hand, Ponson Island to the northeast and Tulang Diot just 500 meters north of Pacijan are less populated. In fact, there is only one village in Tulang Diot. Pacijan is by far the most interesting one. The island has a big lake, Danao, a couple of caves, and several sandy beaches to discover.
How to Get to Camotes
Ferry From Danao
Located just a step away from Cebu Island it wasn’t difficult to get there. We flew from Manila to Cebu airport, took a bus to Danao and then a ferry to the Islands. Jomalia Company operated the ferry we took to Consuelo Wharf on Pacijan Island. We had to wait because we did not have the accurate ferry schedule. No problem whatsoever! Time flew while we chatted and laughed with the Filipinos. They are truly interesting and fun. Almost half a dozen ferries depart each day from 5:30 AM till 9 PM. The journey takes about 2 hours.
Ferries From Cebu City to Camotes
The ferry from Danao is the cheapest and most reliable option to get to Camotes. Nevertheless, it is possible to visit the islands directly from Cebu City. There are two different ports of departure in Cebu. Oceanjet offers two daily departures on a fast boat from Cebu Port Pier 1 to Poro in Camotes. The journey takes approximately 1,5 hours. Jomalia offers two daily departures from Mactan Wharf (close to the Airport) to Consuelo Wharf on Pacijan Island. The journey takes about 2 hours.
Arriving From Leyte
As mentioned above, the Camotes Islands are strategically located between Cebu and Leyte. Boats from Leyte depart from Ormoc City to Pillar, on Ponson Island. From there you can take another boat to Pacijan or Poro. However, we’ve been told there are direct boats from Ormoc City to Tudela Wharf on Poro Island. As you can see, you won’t have trouble getting to the Camotes Islands. Just be sure to check with your accommodation beforehand. Filipinos will be more than happy to assist you.
On the Ferry
After a couple of hours of waiting our boat finally arrived. Filipinos have great manners, so nobody was pushing to get in first. Although there were many kids and a couple of dogs on the ferry the atmosphere was surprisingly quiet. Eitan was a little bit dizzy, so he lied down to rest while I went for a walk. I made some friends! I talked all through the journey with Krista, Eduardo and Cromwel, three young entrepreneurs from Cebu. They told me about life in Cebu and explained what it’s like to be young in the Philippines.
Transport on the Islands
There is no public transport on any of the islands. Instead, Jeepneys wait for the ferries at Consuelo port. Jeepneys are small, colorful buses used for local transportation all around the Philippines. On Camotes they connect Consuelo wharf with Santiago Bay Beach. For individual transfers, you can hire a motorbike with a driver. Our friends we met on the ferry had a car, so they took us to Santiago Bay. On the way back we hired two motorbikes and had to squeeze our luggage between our legs. It was a fantastic journey through fields, with kids waiving at us along the road.
Where to Stay on Camotes Islands
The Camotes Islands are still off the beaten track. Thus, and fortunately, there are no major hotel chains. You can stay on three beaches on Pacijan Island: Esperanza, Mangodlong and Santiago Bay. The first two are rather small and isolated. Much bigger Santiago Bay has better tourist infrastructure. On Esperanza stay at Silence and Sunset Holiday Home or Sunset Vista Sea Front Guest House. On Mangodlong you can choose between Mangodlong Paradise Resort and Mangodlong Rock Resort.
Santiago Bay Beach
Of course, we had to stay on the nicest beach, so we chose Santiago Bay Beach without hesitation. Since we hadn’t booked a hotel before our arrival, we checked a couple of basic hotels and went for a walk. At the end of the beach, perched on a small hill, we spotted what was going to be our home for the next 4 days. Santiago Bay Garden & Resort is a splendid hotel, with a big pool, good food and the most amazing views. We booked a standard room, but when we noticed a couple of rooms had a private terrace overlooking the beach we immediately upgraded.
There are no sandy beaches on Poro Island and accommodation options are limited. My Little Island Hotel is the fanciest hotel on the island, but there is no beach nearby. Though Camotes Flying Fish Resort is on the beach, it’s not sandy. On the other hand, Ponson Island has a couple of nice beaches with nice hotels. Moabog Reef and Resort and Cawit Resort and Café seem to be great options. Finally, there is no accommodation on Tulang Diot Island.
What to Do on Camotes Islands
All we did was walk, swim, snorkel, read and meet up with friends. We are both not professional divers, so to us Camotes was perfect to enjoy snorkeling safely and so easily. If you don’t carry proper gear with you, no worries, you can rent it there. I had never seen so much beauty! All sorts of colorful fish, corals, massive stars and even a snake. We spent hours intaking all this wonder. I got drunk one night. I didn’t notice that the tide was high and totally ruined my phone. Brilliant: no connection on the island!
Among the numerous caves around the islands, Bukilat on Poro and Timubo on Pacijan are the nicest ones. Lake Danao on Pacijan is a great place to swim or go kayaking. Busay Waterfalls on Poro is Camotes’ only waterfall. For culture lovers, there are two nice churches on the island: St. Joseph Parish in San Francisco and St. Nino Church near Poro port. If you are into relaxing views, go to the Altavista viewpoint. Finally, if you are a beach lover visit Camotes’ nicest beach on Tulang Diot Island. You can hire a small boat to take you there from Tulang Daku on Pacijan Island in just under 10 minutes.
One day Eitan stayed on the beach and I went on an excursion to Buho Rock with my friends and a couple of very cool Spanish girls we met on the beach. We cooked our own barbeque, drank beer and dipped in the sea. The rock has a couple of parasols and tables perfect for picnics. On our way there we stopped at the marketplace of Camotes’ largest town San Francisco. The road to Buho Rock goes through nice landscapes including a mangrove forest around the bridge that connects the two islands.
Future of Camotes Islands
On a sad note, our friends from Cebu told us that an important investor bought a big chunk of the islands and plans to develop a gigantic tourist resort. It can’t be true. Another nondescript monstrosity ruining paradise? Of course, we have nothing against it if that’s what local people want. We doubt it. Development is OK if it benefits the locals, the owners of Camotes Islands. And even if such is the case, it always comes with a price. What would you prefer: super fancy hotels with thousands of tourists (more likely Europeans and Americans with their obsession for consumption and their need for a constant flow of Starbucks, McDonald’s and the like), or a pristine beach with just a handful of visitors? Yeah, we are on the same page.