Caramoan is often included on the top ten list of best mountain biking destination in the country- but of course, for those who have been to the place and since only a few have done this, this status is a bit questionable.
Caramoan is an overnight sensation after it has been chosen by a handful of Survivor episodes from different countries like Israel, Bulgaria, Serbia, America, Sweden, French and Indian editions of the Franchise. The popular destination is very similar to Coron, islets of limestone karst simlar to that of world famous Halong Bay of Vietnam. This one though seems more remote and rustic compared to Coron. This may be attributed to the fact that it is more difficult to access the place, i.e. a 2 hour boat ride from San Jose Camarines Sur although lately it is seems more viable and accessible via Virac Catanduanes. When we first explored the place sometime 2010, I have already wondered how come the place is not accessible via land transportation from Naga. Are roads nonexistence or is it just inconvenient to commute by land? Apparently there are existing rough roads to Caramoan and that became our starting point to find out for ourselves how this route would fare as a mountain biking destination.
Internet was not that useful as there are close to no information on travelling to Caramoan by land. Although there are some mentions of riding to the place (both bicycle and motorcycle), the details are blurry it’s either they are reluctant to share the information or the trip didn’t really happened. So armed with very little information, we set out the Halloween break of 2013 to explore this promising mountain biking destination. With me were Dindo Narciso, the usual companion and Lea Latayan- our athlete amazon replacing Deo Cas who was unavailable this time as our usual bike-explore buddies plus our SAG driver Mang Lando (my daughter’s school bus driver who is very much interested to explore new places). We met at around dinner time at Angono Rizal and had some drinks before heading off- sort of a send off party or sort of a pre-plane ride ceremony to ensure falling asleep during the trip. I did not as I don’t fall asleep when in any form of moving vehicles even in a 16 hour long haul to the US so I will b e riding the next day without any sleep. This is the reason why I also prefer spending a day onsite before any long ride. Anyways- armed with an unreliable Bicol map from the E-Z map collection, we traveled to Naga that night expecting to arrive at Naga by early morning to start
our adventure. The original plan was to have our SAG vehicle go with us only up to Goa and stay there while we continue on with the ride to Caramoan expecting that the vehicle will not make it to Caramoan so better leave it at Goa. Then we planed to spend the night at Caramoan and maybe a day there exploring before heading back to Goa to meet our SAG and then to Naga to complete the loop before going back to Manila. We arrived at Naga by 7 AM and as custom, we had our breakfast at Biggs- the regional fast food delight. We were not that hungry though after finding out that there is a Mc Donalds along the way at Gumaca Quezon and its open 24 hours.
Thinking that there are more information as we get near the place- we asked several people at Naga regarding going to Caramoan- how far it is, the road condition and if we can take the SAG with us. All answers were positive but a bit sketchy- that we can bike the place in a day (not sure how long) and we can take the SAG with us (as if they have driven there). The most helpful information was when the ever helpful security guard of Biggs gave me a calling card of a tour operator whom I called to verify the information I had. The same guard provided us tools when we were fixing the disc brake of Dindo that warped after we got bumped from behind by a drunk driver on our way to Naga. There were no scratches on the truck or even the bikes, only the warped disc brake- a bit odd. We were not able to fix it so we decided to remove Dindo’s front disc brake- hardcore !
We rode from Naga to Pili then to Ocampo and had a short break at Ocampo then proceeded to Goa where we had our lunch at around 11 AM. Since we were already 100% sure that our SAG will go with us to Caramoan, the question now was more on the distance- if we can make it to Caramoan in a day. And mostly we were told that we can do it before sun down- roughly. Lagonoy was the last town before entering the Caramoan Peninsula and were we expect to close our Caramoan Loop. We already rode 50 kms from Naga to Lagonoy and the next town, Presentacion was around 32 kilometers from Lagonoy. We got excited and felt it’s was really doable. Assuming that from Presentacion to Caramoan will be lesser or around the same distance based on map proportions.
The ride from Lagonoy to Presentacion was fun and exciting with great views and great roads. Although it’s around 70+% paved, the remaining unpaved was really muddy (maybe more manageable during the summer months when the roads are dry). The road was going around the coast of the peninsula with rivers and mountainscapes and the grade was pleasant- rolling with just the right challenge to spin the bike. I remembered a spot where our boat ride took us during our first visit to Caramoan few years ago- Kinahulugan Falls so when we reached it, we had a few minutes break to see the falls. As we near Presentacion, we were already tired as the slopes became steeper. We reached Presentacion at around 3:00 PM. Our SAG by the way went ahead towards Caramoan due to mis-communications.
It was in Presentacion that we found out that Caramoan is still far. Though the villagers, most of whom haven’t been to Caramoan despite it’s only a neighboring town (but on the other side of the mountain), were not in agreement how far Caramoan is, they all agreed that we will not make it before sunset. What made the decision to ride the SAG from Presentacion to Caramoan easier is when they told us its not safe to travel those roads at night time- as rebels/insurgents are still present in this part of the country. We called our SAG and asked him to go back and fetch us. While waiting, we searched for hot foods and cold beers and it was a bit challenging to find one at that place. The ride from Presentacion to Caramoan took us 3 hours over rough road, muddy roads that seems not passable but thank God, our Sag was able to pass those obstacles. From this portion, I would say it’s the opposite with 60-70% unpaved portions. All in all the distance from Presentacion to Caramoan was 44 kilometers. It’s a mountain pass wherein you cross the backbone mountain of the Caramoan Peninsula. So the total ride from Naga to Caramoan will be around 125 kilometers. We agreed that in doing this ride- it’s better to start at Lagonoy and ride to Caramoan for a day with around 74 kilometers total distance. By the way, on our way back the other day, the travel time was half- 1.5 hours so I guess it’s easier to ride during the day. Also since construction of the road is continuing- we think that within 5 years’ time the entire route will be fully paved (which will include progress and less insurgents). Not sure if it’s an advantage as sometimes, the fun in doing mountain bike rides is from riding rough terrains and the value of adventure is increased by the inaccessibility of the place. We also found out that there is no route (or if there is its definitely worst) from Caramoan back to Lagonoy via Garchitorena- so our plans of doing a loop is not possible and the E-Z map is not accurate to show a road passing through Garchitorena and back to Lagonoy.
We spent a day in Caramoan. I would truly say, this is a wonderful reward at the end of the ride (in our case, we will no longer ride going back to Naga so this is our end point). But we actually didn’t explored the place (in my case, I have been here before), we just had some few walks but spent most of the day sitting in the beach drinking and food-tripping. The ambiance was wonderful we really enjoyed sitting there and at the end, our food bill was more than 10 times our accommodation bill- we either really enjoyed the ambiance or we were so drunk we kept ordering food or maybe both. So this explains why instead of loosing weight on these adventures- its the reverse. Who cares- good ride, good friends, good food and good drinks- that’s the life!
After the ride, I would also consider this loop a part of my top 10. Maybe not in the top 5- but surely within the top 10. The best thing in doing this is the reward of the beautiful place called Caramoan at the end or midpoint of your adventure ride. So planning for this ride- either you do it two days going and two days back from Naga to Caramoan vise-versa or a day from Lagonoy. You can actually spend a day at Lagonoy for rest before the ride since there are cheap places to stay at Lagonoy. The most important thing is- to spend a day or two at Caramoan. Staying at Gota Village (www.gotavillage.com) is not that expensive as the huts are rented for Php 1.2k per day only. The food is more expensive though so you can have your meals at Caramoan town proper.
When you ride this route and you had a girl with you, make sure she will ride behind the boys as you will get a lot of heckling from the children along the route. Thanks Lea for making us a couple of sissies.
Map of the Trip
For more map details please visit my Everytrail at: http://www.everytrail.com/my_trips.php?user_id=46765