A TRIP TO THE BABUYAN ISLANDS
May 2010
     
The Babuyan Islands are part of Cagayan Province, just North of Luzon. They consist of five major islands: Calayan, Camiguin, Babuyan, Dalupiri and Fuga, and many smaller islands. Four of the main islands form the municipality of Cagayan while Fuga is part of Aparri. To get there, we drove 15 hours to Claveria in Cagayan Province, and from there took a heavily loaded commercial bangka to Calayan Island.
Babuyan
Map of the Babuyan Islands and North Luzon showing our route
Babuyan map
More detailed map of the islands

The crossing.
The bangka left from the fish port of Claveria, and passed between Fuga and the small Barit Island at the West end of Fuga, between beautiful white sand beaches on both sides. Many sea birds were seen along the way, particularly large groups of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. We then passed Dalupiri Island on our left before reaching Calayan Island in six hours on a calm sea.
Babuyans
The fish port of Claveria
Babuyans
Approach to Fuga Island
Babuyans
The white sand beach of Barit Island near Fuga
Babuyans
Sea birds feeding on fish: Wedge-tailed Shearwater and Common Tern
Babuyan
Dalupiri Island seen from the East on the way to Calayan
Babuyan
Approaching Calayan Island from the South
Babuyan
The landing in Calayan Island
Babuyan
Our bangka from Claveria to Calayan
BabuyanThe regular ferry from Sta Ana (Cagayan) to Calayan

Calayan Island. We landed on a beach near the main town, Centro. There is no hotel and no restaurant on the island, but homestays are easily available, and your host can arrange to have your food cooked. There is electricity from 6pm to 6am, cellphone signal, and three tricycles. We stayed in the house of Totong Duerme, a few minutes by tricycle from Centro, a beautiful wooden house fronting the beach, with rice fields at the back and the forest in the distance.
Babuyan
Our homestay in Calayan Island
Babuyan
Rush hour on the main highway
Demoiselle Crane. The first thing our host told us was that they had an unusual and beautiful bird living around the house. He brought us to a small river bed nearby and I was surprised to see a Demoiselle Crane (Anthropoides virgo), a migratory bird that normally breeds in Central Asia and winters in South Asia, a beautiful, elegant, almost lady-like bird. Totong told us that three birds arrived in October 2008, one was shot the same day, the second one flew away, and the third one remained behind. I was told later that it was probably captured and its flight feathers disabled to prevent it from flying. The bird can be seen every day in the river bed, or walking in the rice fields at the back of the house. This particular bird is the first record of this species in the Philippines. How the birds went so far off course from their usual route remains a mystery.Babuyan
Demoiselle crane

The Calayan Rail. The next day, we walked for about 5 hours to Sitio Longog, Barangay Magsidel, in the center of the island. We reached a clearing in a beautiful primary forest where we settled in a homestay. With the help of our excellent guide Jam Reynon, we looked for the famous Calayan Rail (Gallirallus calayanensis). This bird was only discovered in 2004 and is endemic to Calayan Island. Our guide called the birds in the forest with a recording and a small speaker. The birds often responded, but they are difficult to see as they are shy and run away in the dark undergrowth of the forest. I was lucky to see one in bright sunshine, but was not able to take a picture. The bird is protected on the island, but the forest is not. This is a lowland primary forest where we saw huge Almaciga, Red Lawan, White Lawan and Narra trees, but we also saw many areas of the forest recently cleared for agriculture.  
Babuyan
Rice fields in the forest
Babuyan
Our homestay in Sitio Longog
Babuyan
Small settlement in the forest
Babuyan
Calayan Rail (courtesy of Carmela Espańola)
BabuyanA majestic Almaciga treeBabuyan
Stick insect (Phasmid family)
Babuyan
Rural life in Sitio Longog
Babuyan
Preparing dog meat
Babuyan
Clearing the forest

Sibang Cove. A 10-minute tricycle ride and a 30-minute walk away from Centro lies Sibang Cove, a stunning fine white sand beach surrounded by limestone cliffs and scenic rock formations. Camiguin Island can be seen in the distance while White-bellied Sea-Eagles circle overhead. This beach alone is enough reason to visit Calayan, and I place it among the top 5 most beautiful beaches in the country.Babuyan
Stunning Sibang Cove
BabuyanWhite-bellied Sea-Eagle
Babuyan
A faint Camiguin (Norte) Island seen from Sibang Cove

Babuyan Island. Babuyan Island (known locally as Babuyan Claro) is a 3-hour bangka ride away to the Northeast of Calayan. It is a hauntingly beautiful volcanic island, with black sand beaches, old lava flows, volcanic boulders, and a lush vegetation. Landing is difficult even in the best of times, and we could not land near the main barangay. We landed at Sitio Asked, home of a few families of shy people. There is an utter feeling of remoteness here, more than in any other place I have visited in the Philippines. The weather conditions make the island difficult to access outside of the late summer season (late April to early June), and the people here live in complete isolation for most of the year. There is no road, no electricity and of course no signal. Didicas Island can be seen in the distant South. This was initially a submarine volcano that erupted and emerged from the sea in 1952 and is still an active volcano with an elevation of 228m. There is no regular transport to Babuyan. The trip can be risky and it is highly advisable to rent a bangka with double engine plus a reserve engine. Two of our three engines conked out during our trip back to Calayan!
Babuyan
Ghostly Babuyan Claro Island looming over the horizon 
Babuyan
Babuyan Claro Island seen from the South West
Babuyan
Mt. Babuyan, also known as Smith Volcano (688m)
Babuyan
Mt. Pangasun, also known as Babuyan Claro Volcano (1,080m)
Babuyan
Our bangka anchored in Babuyan Island
Babuyan
Black sand beach in Babuyan Island
Babuyan
House in Sitio Asked
Babuyan
The shy people of Babuyan Is.
Babuyan
Solar cells on Babuyan Is.
Babuyan
Babuyan
BabuyanBabuyan
The various faces of spectacular Mt. Babuyan (or Smith Volcano)      
Babuyan
Leaving unforgettable Babuyan Island
Babuyan
Back to Calayan, seen here from the Northeast, with Panuitan island to the right

Back to Luzon. The return trip to Claveria took about 5 hours on a bangka loaded with 10 pigs, 15 people, some chicken and all kind of cargo, on a perfectly flat sea.
Babuyan
Now we know why they are called Babuyan Islands
Babuyan
Unloading the pigs in Claveria

Babuyans
Babuyans
Organizing a visit to the Babuyan Islands may be daunting, but the rewards more than make up for the hardships. Visit the Babuyan Islands!

Christian Perez
Muntinlupa City