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With its imposing mountainous cones looming on the horizon, visitors to the beautiful island of Camiguin would find it difficult to ignore the island’s dramatic volcanic history. However, today visitors can explore a more peaceful landscape of natural springs, beautiful beaches and pristine sandbars, along with some interesting underwater landscapes and great muck diving sites. And yet for all these beautiful attractions and the great diving on offer, Camiguin remains one of the Philippine’s best-kept secrets - offering tranquil escapism for those seeking unique dives, stunning hikes and eco-friendly retreats.
As well as its beautiful scenery and fantastic beaches above the waves, Camiguin is known for some great diving on peaceful sites, unspoilt by mass tourism. Located in the Bohol Sea, it is of little surprise that the diving around Camiguin rivals more well-known areas such as at Dauin and Alona nearby. And yet the diversity here can take divers by surprise and Camiguin has started to gain a real reputation for interesting muck diving on several black sand dive sites around the coast. Seahorses and pygmy seahorses, Ambon scorpionfish, flambuoyant cuttlefish and mandarinfish can all be found, as well as the extraordinary wonderpus and other unusual cephalopods. Whilst other locations such as the Lembeh Strait in indonesia may have a wider range of muck diving sites, Camiguin offers the same species, but on sites with few or no other divers to be seen.
Away from the macro diving sites, other unique experiences can be found on the west coast beneath the looming Camiguin Volcano. An eruption several decades ago blew large blocks of the volcano down into the sea. These blocks now rest in a tangle of interesting structures on the sea bed, creating some fascinating topography to navigate as well as the priding the perfect home for soft and hard corals that flourish in the nutrient-rich currents.
Other sites, including Kantaan, Cabuan Point and the slopes and walls of Jidgup, are all great for beautiful seascapes and corals, patches of anemones, as well as stingrays and sleeping whitetip reef sharks hidden in crevices or under table corals. Day trips to Mantique Island Nature Park to the east of Camiguin are popular for divers but an absolute must for snorkelers with the potential for large schools of jacks, barracuda, and other schooling reef fish. With a beach picnic often included, these day trips make for an unforgettable day out.
Given the easy conditions that can be found around Camiguin, it is not surprising that the island is perfect for snorkelers. The best locations are found around Mantigue Island with its schooling fish, White Island, Kabila White Beach and the ‘Sunken Cemetery’ at Catarman. The latter was created during Mt Vulcan’s last bout of activity, when volcanic eruptions and earthquakes caused the coastline around the village of Bonbon to subside - including its old cemetery. The site is easily found as a large cross now marks the location from the surface and snorkelers can ride over to the site on bangka ferries run by local fishermen.
Camiguin - pronounced cah-mee-geen - is a pear-shaped island located in the Bohol Sea, just off the northern coast of Mindanao. Its moniker is the ‘Island Born of Fire’ - appropriate for an island with more cinder cones per square kilometre than any other island in the world and more volcanos - 7 - than there are towns - 5.
Mt Hibok Hibok was particular fitful in the late 1940s, with constant tremors and landslides, but it wasn’t until 1951 that the volcano erupted in a spectacular explosion that destroyed 19 square kilmotres of land and claimed over 3,00 lives. A sunken cemetery, one of Camiguin’s most famous landmarks, used to be part of the old capital but slowly sunk beneath the waves after successive eruptions of Mount Vulcan caused subsistence along the nearby coast; it was marked by a large cross in 1982 that was then destroyed by a typhoon and subsequently replaced by a new cross more recently - a testament to the natural forces that have played such an important role in shaping Camiguin’s landscape.
Today the volcanoes are peaceful once again and the slopes of Hibok Hibok and the other volcanoes are covered in green forests and scrubland. The island’s small size makes it ideal for exploration and with its lush scenery, waterfalls, hot springs, beaches and fantastic diving, it is no wonder this small island is often seen as a hidden gem in the Philippines.
The most convenient and fastest way to reach Camiguin is by air. Cebu Pacific have two direct flights from Cebu Mactan to Camiguin every day, departing early morning or mid-afternoon. Flight duration is 50 minutes. The return flights to Camiguin are usually just 20 minutes after the outbound flights arrives, so again you can expect an early morning or mid-afternoon departure. Fares can start as low as USD60 return.
For those keen to explore the Central Visayas a little more, it is relatively easy to reach Camiguin by ferry. Visitors can head to Jagna Port on the southern coast of Bohol, about an hour and half drive from Tagbilaran City. From Jagna, there are two daily options - the Ocean Jet fastcraft that leaves at 1:30pm and takes about 2 hours to reach Camiguin; or the Super Shuttle Ferry, a typical Filipino inter-island boat that leaves at 2pm and takes about 4 hours. These ferry crossings are very much weather dependent. We advise reaching Jagna before 1pm on the day of travel, or even earlier during the peak season between November and April, to give you plenty of time to buy a ticket. Tickets cost around Php500 one way (USD10).
Camiguin can also be reached by ferry from ports in Northern Mindanao including Cagayan de Oro and Butuan City. However many foreign governments to advise against all but essential travel to Mindanao because of ongoing troubles in the southern region, and we recommend consulting with your relevant foreign office before making plans to visit this area. Although technically part of Mindanao, Camiguin’s isolation and location to the north means it remains untroubled by the tensions on the mainland to the south.
Tourism on Camiguin remains very low key and whilst there are plenty of different accommodation options, all are tiny hotels or homestays rather than big resorts. Most of the places to stay on the island are concentrated in the north, not far from White Island, around the Blue Lagoon and Kabila White Beach areas in the southeast or around Pilgrim beach on the southwest coast road. There are also a couple of small homestays up in the mountains. Over the last few years, several dive resorts have sprung up offering both accommodation and in-house diving services. These include Caves Dive Resort that works in conjunction with Johnny’s Dive, Camiguin Souldivers and Camiguin Volcan Beach Eco Retreat and Dive Resort.
The best time to visit the Philippines is the dry season between November and April. As temperatures are at their highest in March and April, we would recommend visiting in the cooler months earlier in the season. The wet season falls between May and October, but like many tropical environments, the rain is usually dramatic yet short and rarely has any real impact on travel plans. Typhoons are the only major threat to your holiday but fortunately Camiguin’s location puts it to the south of the main typhoon belt that heads up through the Visayas and Luzon. However, that doesn’t mean one isn’t possible. Typhoons usually occur in September and October but can happen as early as August and as late as January.
Islanders would suggest the best time to visit is during the yearly Lanzones Festival, usually around the third week of October. Lanzones, a sweet, fleshy, beige-coloured fruit, that grow particularly well on Camiguin with the island’s highly fertile volcanic soil.