Finding Happiness in Catanduanes (Part 1)

To kick off the sizzling summer season this year, my husband and I went on a four-night journey to Catanduanes, a province popularly known as the "Happy Island". Geographically nestled in the easternmost side of the Bicol region, the island province is the first landmass among the 7,107 or so others to kiss the vast Pacific Ocean.

A view from Balacay Point

Why is it called the Happy Island, you ask. That same question ran in my head since the time we booked our flights to and from Virac (the only airport in the province) last year. How " happy" is it to be in the island that was once dubbed as the "Land of the Howling Winds"? For it used be the province frequently hit by typhoons that belt from the Pacific. In fact, just last Christmas, the province was again devastated by the typhoon Nina. After our almost five-day sojourn through the verdant hills and virgin beaches of Catanduanes, that question was clearly  answered. And you will too, when you get to see how fortunate the locals are for having a paradise that they call their very own.

Sunrise and a sea of clouds

The postcard-perfect view from the plane window
Aboard the plane, we were on seats A and B, so we were fortunate to have witnessed the sun as it painted the horizon with hues so vibrant that left us in awe. And as the aircraft started its descent, snapshots of clear waters and lush mountains welcomed us. This, for a start, made us smile. A sweet prelude, that is.

How to go there:
The easiest and most convenient way to reach Catanduanes is by plane. Cebu Pacific flies daily to its capital town of Virac. It is just a swift one-hour flight. From the airport, you can hire a tricycle to bring you to the city proper. Most resorts or hotels in Virac also offer airport transfers.

Catanduanes is also accessible via Legazpi in Albay. Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines ply the Manila-Legazpi-Manila route daily. You can also travel by land (car or bus) from Manila to Legazpi, which will take about 10-12 hours. From Legazpi, go to Tabaco Port where you can ride a ro-ro or fastcraft to San Andres Port (3-4 hours) or Virac (4-5 hours) in Catanduanes.

Where to stay:
Virac is home to an array of accommodation options, from pension houses to modern inns. Choosing your accommodation depends on what you value most. Do you want to be right in the town center where all the action is and all the conveniences (that you also have in the city) are, or would you rather stay in a quite neighborhood that's halfway from the town center and the other tourist sites in the province?

For those who prefer the latter, Queen Maricel Inn is the best option. While tucked in a secluded area, the inn is not too far away from the capitol and the staff would be glad to hail a tricycle for you should you wish to go around the town proper. It's like meeting half way--you are far from the hustle and bustle pf the town but near enough when you need something from let's say a fastfood, grocery, or even a hospital.

Queen Maricel Inn's entrance
Queen Maricel Inn offers rooms for every budget: clean and well-maintained fan rooms for the budget-conscious (Php 400/12 hours or Php 550/24 hours; deluxe air-conditioned rooms (Php 650/12 hours or Php 1000/24 hours) for those who want comfort at a fair price; and an executive room that has its own private parking perfect when you have brought a car all the way from Manila! All rooms are good for two but you can add an extra person at Php 100/pax/night. The additional guest may or may not avail of the extra mattress, which is priced at Php 100/pax/night. Breakfast are excluded but can be availed from the inn's 24/7 restaurant. There are also two state-of-the-art videoke rooms for rent (don't worry as the rooms are soundproofed so no one will hear you from outside, or the way around. You are guaranteed to sleep well even when someone has occupied the videoke rooms. Packages start at Php 700 and up.

The reception

Double Deluxe (air-conditioned)

Double Deluxe's bathroom

Ordinary (fan room)

Ordinary room's private bathroom

Ordinary (fan room)

Videoke Room

Queen Maricel Inn is located at San Isidro Village, Virac, Catanduanes. 
For inquiries, you may reach them at +639204179974 or +639178683954.

If you'd rather stay right at the heart of Virac, you may check out the following:

Rakdell Inn
San Pedro, Virac, Catanduanes
+63915 8413871 or +_639088850569

-We stayed here for three nights and while the room was clean, I think it needs a little revamp.

Catanduanes Midtown Inn
San Jose Street, Virac, Catanduanes
+63947 5638165

- This is just a few steps away from Virac Port.

ARDCI Corporate Inn
San Roque, Virac, Catanduanes
+63998 9882476

-This is by far the newest and most modern among the accommodation options in Catanduanes.

Where to eat:
While in Catanduanes, we spent most of our days outdoors eating meals in between, either on the beach or while mobile. However, on our third day, we were able to check out the famous Sea Breeze Restaurant right beside the Virac port. The al fresco restaurant serves Filipino cuisine including a variety of seafood (lobster, crabs, prawns, etc.). It is famous for its chicken, either sizzling or fried, drizzled with a signature sauce that will make you ask for more rice. The Bicol Express is also good--tender pork slow-cooked in a rich, spicy coconut cream sauce. We had tuna kilawin for starters and the fish was so fresh, albeit drenched too long in vinegar. Average cost per person is about Php 200-250.

Tuna kilawin

Sizzling chicken

Bicol Express

These are just a glimpse of what you need to know about Catanduanes. On my next entry is a travelogue of our first day on the Happy Island. Off the northwestern part of Catanduanes is the Palumbanes Group of Islands in the town of Caramoran, which for me is a must-see when in this side of the planet. Diver or not, the islands have something for you. So stay tuned! Meanwhile, have a look at this short video that gives a sneak peek of the Happy Island. The video can also be viewed on HD (720p or 1080p). Enjoy!


Dios mabalos Ms. Carmel Garcia, Shiela Idanan, Marjorie Avila, and  Allan Sarmiento 
for making our trip to Catanduanes an enjoyable one!!! Happiness on the Happy Island indeed!
Know more about Catanduanes. Visit their Facebook page here.


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