Bagacay Beach, Mandaon, Cataingan, Ticao Island, Burias Island

Bagacay Beach 
The sand at Bagacay Beach, 14km south of Masbate town and 2km down a dirt road from the barangay of Bagacay, is not as blindingly white as some, but that's a minor quibble. Some 2km long, the beach, with palm trees at the edge and beautifully clear shallow water, is still an exceptionally pretty crescent bay that has lost none of its easygoing rural charm to development. The only place to stay is Bituon Beach Resort (t056/333 2342; 1-3), a humble development of bamboo huts and more recent concrete rooms with a balcony. There's nothing sophisticated to eat, but the staff will rustle up a rice-based breakfast in the morning and some fish for lunch and dinner. As for entertainment, you can watch the sunrise and the sunset. That's the good news. The bad news is that you won't feel quite so alone at weekends, particularly on Sundays when half the population of Masbate Town seems to descend to eat, drink, be merry and make a great deal of noise. Try to time your visit for a weekday, when only local fishermen and their families are around.

There are tricycles and jeepneys to Bagacay from Masbate Town. The jeepneys stop on the main road, from where you can either walk to the beach or take a tricycle down the track.

The town of MANDAON, the fourth largest in the province of Masbate, is 64km west of Masbate Town on the opposite coast of the island. The trip by jeepney (P40) is a rugged one, taking you along a scenic but rough road that passes pastureland, paddy fields and a number of isolated barrios inhabited only by subsistence farmers and ragged children. Once you get to Mandaon there's not much to catch your eye in the town itself, but it's a good base for exploring two of the island's most noted natural wonders, Kalanay Cave on the northwest coast 40km from Mandaon, and Batongan Cave, 20km inland from Mandaon. Both make intriguing day-trips, but Batongan is the better, with immense caverns and a large population of bats whose guano is collected and used as fertilizer. About 100m away is an underground river, said to have been discovered only a few years ago by agricultural students on a field trip. It's easy to get lost in these parts and if you fall and get injured you might not be found for days, so don't explore the caves or the river without a local guide. In Mandaon you can ask at the town hall; the mayor or his staff will appoint someone to take you. The going rate is about P500 a day, and the guide will expect you to buy food and drinks for
him at sari-sari stores along the way.

The port town of CATAINGAN, 70km south of Masbate Town, sees very few travellers except islanders looking for a cheap ferry south to Cebu. Large bancas and the occasional ferry leave for the eight-hour trip at 6am and 7am. It's a potentially exciting but risky journey, the sometimes old and overcrowded vessels crossing an open sea that can be rough even in the dry season. There are plenty of dilapidated old local buses from Masbate to Cataingan and several jeepneys a day from 7am.

If you have to spend the night in Cataingan, the only option is Jayvee's Lodge (1) close to the wharf, with tiny, spartan singles and doubles, some with cold showers, though most rooms share a couple of showers on the second floor. The daily menu in the canteen on the ground floor might include squid adobo and rice and fried chicken. The wharf area is noisy, so expect to be woken up early by the din of cargo being moved and jeepneys revving their engines.

Ticao Island 
The rarely visited island of TICAO, across the Masbate Passage from Masbate Town, can be reached in less than one hour on one of the big bancas (P40) that go back and forth from Masbate pier to either Lagundi, on Ticao's southwest coast, or Costa Rica, a little further north. You can also explore Ticao by chartering a banca in Masbate Town (P500-1000) or, from Bulan in Sorsogon province, you can catch a ferry across the Ticao Passage to the east coast fishing village of San Jacinto, from where you can get a jeepney to Lagundi.

Ticao is worth the trip: the island is beautifully rural and as you cross the Masbate Passage there's a decent chance of seeing pods of dolphins. Arriving in Lagundi or Costa Rica by public banca, you can hire another banca and ask the boatman to take you to Catandayagan Falls, about an hour along the coast. In a country known for its waterfalls, this is one of the most impressive, plunging more than 30m into a gin-clear pool at its base, ideal for swimming. The island's finest beach is Talisay, on the southeast coast, 25km south of San Jacinto. There's a rustic resort here where you can pay P100 for overnight accommodation in basic huts.

Burias Island 
There is no accommodation for tourists on the remote island of Burias, a threehour trip by ferry northeast of Masbate Town. This is a backwater even by provincial Philippine standards, most of it not electrified and populated only by subsistence fishermen, farmers and their carabaos (buffalo), and by American missionaries who have established a number of churches here. Burias holds some intriguing possibilities if you can get up early for the ferry, which leaves Masbate pier at 5am for the town of Claveria on Burias's southeast coast. You can also reach Claveria on the daily early-morning ferry from Donsol in Sorsogon province.

Burias's most prominent landmark is topographical: the dormant volcano Mount Eganaso (428m), which you'll see in the distance as you approach from the sea. From December to May keep your eyes peeled for whale sharks, which are often seen feeding in the Burias Passage. The island is too big to explore in a day, so aim to limit yourself to the area around Claveria, which has some pretty beaches known for their impressive rock formations. A little further north, the church at San Pascual is said to be the oldest in the Philippines. It was built in 1569 by Fray Alfonso Jimenez, one of the priests in Miguel Lopez de Legazpi's sixteenth-century expedition from Spain to the archipelago.

Article Source: The Rough Guide to The Philippines (written and researched by David Dalton)

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