This underrated travel destination offers plenty of surprises — from a quaint little town rich in history to surfing spots, serene beaches, beautiful waterfalls and historic caves.
About Virac and Catanduanes Island
A coastal city that’s not on most tourists’ travel radar, Virac is the capital of Catanduanes, the Philippines’ 12th largest island. Situated in the easternmost fringe of Luzon, just off mainland Bicol, the province itself has been dubbed the “Land of the Howling Winds”, as most typhoons brewing in the Pacific Ocean pass through its rugged and mountainous terrain. But storms aside, Catanduanes lures in tourists who are hungry for a quick escape with its unhurried, provincial vibe and a hint of adventure.
The municipality of Virac can be found at the southern tip of the island, with half of its land area remaining a forestland. The rest, meanwhile, has evolved into a mix of sleepy residential areas and a bustling town proper offering a bevy of urban conveniences such as hotels, malls and commercial centers. Within the city capital, locals and travelers can easily hop on tricycles, multicabs, jeepneys and buses to get around town and visit the myriad natural attractions nearby.
Now, Catanduanes is more popularly known as the “Happy Island”, a moniker that’s more apt, and not just because of the warm and friendly nature of its people, the Bicolanos. As a destination, it’s an eco-tourism paradise that’s home to beautiful waterfalls, caves and beaches — both for surfers and non-surfers alike. Here, you can spend all day pursuing happy trails and basking in the wonders of nature, all without necessarily going off the grid.
The best time to go is between January until the summer months, when the weather is most pleasant. The surfing season, meanwhile, peaks from July to October.
Highlights for the Traveler
Virac’s￼ Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is the physical and spiritual center of the town, and makes a good starting point for a day’s exploration. From there, you can walk along Rizal Avenue to the Museo de Catanduanes, located in the capitol building.
Puraran Beach in Baras, around 33km from downtown Virac, is where surfers flock to from July to October to catch the surf site’s “majestic waves”— a term used to describe the fast, right-handed, and heavy-barreling waves that can reach 1.8m high. If you’re a surfing newbie, you can easily sign up for lessons at the Puraran Surf Camp.
But if your agenda is to simply relax or swim in more serene waters, there are several other beaches for you. Contrasting with Puraran’s surfing waves, the Marilima Beach — just 12.5km from the town — offers calmer waters that are perfect for families and features a stretch of gold-tinged sand that’s usually uncrowded. The nearby Mamangal Beach in Barangay Balite also offers peaceful seas and is great for skimboarding and scuba diving.
If you’re more of a hiking enthusiast, make a beeline for Binurong Point or Balacay Point, cliffside summits that offer Instagram-worthy views of the Pacific Ocean. Both are accessible via a hike from Baras, around an hour away. After your workout, you can cool down at the secluded Maribina Falls on your way back to the town. The small freshwater falls are just about 6m high, and the area is a preferred picnic spot among the locals. West of the town, meanwhile, is where you can explore the island’s caves, such as the historic Luyang Cave Park, a bat-filled limestone cave 12km away from the town proper in Lictin. A bit farther is the Buyo Cave, which houses beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.
By Elaine N. Reyes, as of January 2020.