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In my more than 20 years of traveling in every destination I can lay my hands on in the Philippines, I sometimes cannot help but think that maybe I’ve seen it all and nothing can excite me anymore. Its becoming really hard keeping that air of wonderment and excitement visiting a new destination. There were times that I would wonder whether I’m doing the right thing leaving my home for a few days to discover a new place, new experience, new culture.
But I am so glad to be proven wrong so many times. The thought that beyond the next bend could be a better place has always been my comfort phrase.
Take the case of Camotes Islands in the province of Cebu. For so many years, this group of islands located in the middle of the Philippine archipelago had been regarded as a backward place with almost zero visitor facilities, rough roads, high seas, and simply a difficult place to reach. Even for many Cebuanos, the Camotes Islands is a far, far-away place.
But lucky are those with enough travel and discovery spunk in them and are able to visit the place. And I belong to that lucky tribe. I also declared to myself and the whole world that Camotes Islands is a poetic destination (and I have never declared that in any other place I’ve explored in the country). It may sound so in-your-face thing, but I simply could not help thinking of it that way.
While riding on a habal-habal (a motorcycle that can sit one or two passengers, and is the usual form of transport in the islands), one would smile at the rustic scenes flanking the smooth roads that cut through communities that look like an unending set of carefully-laid out movie background. Tall trees line the streets, school children walking along the roads, beams of sunlight between trees and canopies… man, any poet would call this place a vacation heaven!
There can be a lot of ultimate places within the Camotes Islands that include perhaps white sand beaches, craggy coastlines, coral reefs that are protected by communities, even caves. But perhaps the bestest sight is Danao Lake. This is a 400+ hectare body of water that has been protected by the communities and the local government units. As of now, not much can actually be done by the visitors except visit the site for five minutes for the usual picture-taking. But if you stay long enough, perhaps get on the only boat that brings tourists around the lake on to an islet, then you would discover that serenity, added by scenic views and the calm waters of the lake could make you compose those little, romantic notes that you bring with you for the rest of your life.
And if you like diving or snorkeling, this group of islands has many marine protected areas (or sanctuaries) that are zealously guarded by the locals against illegal and destructive fishing.
I can’t stop raving about Camotes Islands, but I have to remind everybody that its tourism infrastructure and facilities are not developed yet. Although there are now resorts lining some parts of the coastline (even the crags!), it still lacks quite a lot of requirements that can accommodate many visitors. For now, the destination is for the poets, the adventurers, the snorkelers and divers, and for itinerant travelers like me who are willing to be humbled by a place like Camotes Islands.
Camotes Islands can be reached by fast ferry from Cebu City or RoRo (roll-on, roll-off) ships and ferries from Danao City.
The thing that brought me to Camotes Islands was my career as a tourism consultant for a project of USAID called Ecogov that is being implemented by Development Alternatives, Inc. With Camotes Islands opening itself up to a more responsible form of tourism, it can actually teach its visitors that there can be places that remain rustic, simple, clean, decent, and yes… a great place to visit.