Part of my goal as a solo traveller is to visit small islands in the country because whenever I check the map, I get curious of what are the beautiful spots and also wanted to face the challenge of going there. One of the places I wanted to visit is the Mercedes Group of Islands in Camarines Norte. It was my first time to visit Camarines Norte and at the same time, my travel buddies Marsha Godino and Niña Platero are from Mercedes. I took the opportunity to organize a group tour last June 10-12, 2017 and yes, it’s a group tour because it is expensive if go there solo.
Mercedes is one the municipalities of Camarines Norte. It lies in between Daet and Libmanan which are part of the Bicol Region. There are several barangays in Mercedes but this article will be featuring the seven islands which are not part of the mainland namely Apuao Grande Island, Apuao Pequeña Island Caringo Island, Quinapaguian Island, Canimog Island, Malasugui Island and Canton Island.
There are no direct flights going to Camarines Norte. By plane, you can book a flight going to Pili Airport to Naga City. Then from Naga City, you can either take a bus or van to Daet then another jeep ride to Mercedes.
Daily bus schedules from Manila to Daet through Superlines, Philtranco, DLTB, or Amihan with terminals in Pasay and Cubao. I preferred to take Superlines because of no recorded road accidents. Travel time may take up to 8 hours but you can also take their special trips every 9pm for 6 hours. However, you will arrive in Daet by 3am and there is still no available jeep to Mercedes. Tickets for air-con buses range from P550 to P600+ from Daet-Manila and vice versa. From Daet, you can take a 10-15 minute jeep or tricycle ride to Mercedes town proper.
Since my goal was to visit the seven islands of Mercedes, it is going to be difficult to go there solo. So, I organized a non- profit tour in order to save money especially for the island hopping. With the help of my travel buddy Marsha, she was able to get in touch with Sir Ruel Santelices, a local operator that offers the cheapest tour packages in Mercedes that includes food, island hopping activities and tent accommodation.
The Siete Pecados is composed of islands namely Apuao Grande Island, Apuao Pequeña Island, Caringo Island, Quinapaguian Island, Canimog Island, Malasugui Island and Canton Island. I decided to visit the first four islands in day one then the rest of the three islands in day two so we can take our time in enjoying the beach.
This island is roughly about 15-25 minutes from Pandawan Port in Mercedes. This was the first island we visited. Upon arriving at the shore, I was really amazed that there are no resorts in the island. This is the closest island to the mainland. There is also a small death pool on the other side of the island.
The Apuao Islands are two connecting islands with white sandy beach and pine trees connected by a sandbar to Apuao Pequeña Island. There is no usual beach resorts in the island but there are beach cottages and tents for overnight stay. The island is only for about 15-20 minutes away from Canimog Island.
Apuao Pequeña Island
This is an adjacent island to Apuao Grande which is connected by sand bar, sandbanks or gravelbars. This is the process when surface waves moves towards a shallow water like a beach shore and when two opposite waves pass through, it creates a sand bar. Through years of wave shoaling, it created a large sand bar that interconnected two separate islands. We decided to stay in the island because it is suitable for camping or installing hammocks and at the same time, the pine trees provide shelter. Take note that there is no electricity in the island.
This was the fourth island we visited after we had our lunch in Apuao Pequeña Island. This island is just near Apuao Grande and Apuao Pequeña. Good to note that our boat was much faster than the regular boats because it will only take you minutes to go from island to another island.
We went to Caringo Island the following day because of the fish sanctuary. According to the guide, the locals are prohibited to catch fishes along the hectares of the marine sanctuary since it is a breeding ground. I was able to witness what was underwater. A vast of live corals with a lot of different types of fish really amazed me during my free dive. The snorkeling fee is already included in the tour package. You just need to bring your own swimming gears so you don’t need to rent. Take note that you will need to transfer to a smaller boats because they do not allow motorized boats at the sanctuary.
The island is known to have a small sand bar facing the west side of the side suitable for sunset shots. This is the smallest island out of the seven and you can even navigate the whole island for less than an hour.
This was the last island we visited. We decided to do sightseeing only because the underwater current was so big enough that it will be difficult for us to dock. The island is facing Butauanan Island in the east and composed of stiff rock formations for cliff jumps. There are also series of caves in the island but we decided not to take the risk of going inside. But we were already satisfied of just looking at the island and appreciate its beauty.
We went back to Apuao Pequeña Island to have our lunch and prepared to depart by 1pm. Visiting the seven islands of Mercedes was an awesome experience and able to free dive at the marine sanctuary was epic. We arrived at Pandawan around 3pm and did a side tour at Bagasbas Beach in Daet before going to the terminal for our 8pm trip back to Manila.
Ruel Santelices (Tour Operator) – 09482345689
- Bus Fee (Manila to Daet) – Php 515 RT Php 1030
- Tricycle Fee (Daet to Mercedes Terminal) – Php 20
- Jeep Fee (Daet to Mercedes) – php 8
- Tour Package – php 1, 600 per pax with minimum of 10 pax
- All -in Package includes ( Day 1 (lunch & Dinner) Day 2 (breakfast & lunch), tent accommodation, boat transfer, island hopping fee, marine sanctuary fee, with alcoholic beverages & musical instruments for socials.
- 9:00 pm – 5 :00 am – Travelled from Manila to Daet, Camarines Norte via Superlines (deluxe) in Cubao Terminal. Travel time is 8 hrs. Take note that Superlines busses leaves the terminal on time. Then ride a tricycle going to Mercedes Jeep Terminal.
- 5:00 am – 5:30 am – Jeep ride to Mercedes, Camarines Norte for 30 minutes.
- 6:00 am – 8:00 am – Breakfast at my friend’s house which is also a travel blogger. She is the Travelling Teacher and a local from Mercedes.
- 8:00am – 8:15 am – Took another tricycle ride going to Pandawan Port in Mercedes where Kuya Ruel Santelices, a tour operator from Mercedes was waiting for us.
- 8:30 am – 10:30 am – Departed from Mercedes Port and our first stop was Canimog Island. We had photo ops and enjoyed the white sand beach.
- 11:00 am -1:00 pm – Next stop at Apuao Pequeña Island which was our camp site and adjacent to Apuao Grande Island through a permanent sand bar. We also had our lunch and prepared our things to continue with the island hopping.
- 1:30 pm – 2: 30 pm – Next island was Quinapaguian Island which was near Apuao Pequeña Island. We had photos ops and swimming.
- 3:00 pm – 4: 00 pm – Went back to Apuao Pequeña Island, our camp site and enjoyed swimming, photo ops while Kuya Ruel and his team where preparing our dinner.
- 4: 30 pm – 6: 00 pm – We went to some areas in Apuao Pequeña Island for bat watching and toured around the island.
- 7:00 pm – 8: 00 pm – Dinner time
- 8: 30 pm – 10:00 pm – Socials (Kuya Ruel prepared some cocktail drinks for everyone)
- 11:00 pm – Lights Off (But I waited 12mn to greet the birthday girl)
- 6:00 am- 7:00 am – Wake- up call while Kuya Ruel and his team were preparing breakfast.
- 8:00 am – 9:30 am- Start of island hopping and first stop is Caringo Island and snorkeling at the marine sanctuary. We were transferred to smaller boats because they do not allow motorized boats at the sanctuary.
- 10: 00 – 11:00 am – We visited the last island which is Canton Island but we opted not to swim anymore since the waves were getting bigger.
- 11: 00 am – 12:00 pm- Back to Apuao Pequeña Island and continued swimming while Kuya Ruel and his team where preparing our lunch.
- 12: 00 pm – 1:00 pm – Lunch Time and socials.
- 1: 30 pm – 2:00 pm – Prepared our things and departed from Apuao Pequeña Island.
- 2:15 pm – 3:00 pm – Departed Apuao Pequeña Island and arrived at Pandawan Port in Mercedes.
- 3:15 pm – 4:30 pm – Went back to my friend’s house to take a bath and prepared our things since our scheduled bus from Daet to Manila is at 8pm.
- 5:30 pm – 6:00 pm – Went to Mercedes Town Proper to buy pasalubong.
- 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm – Went to Bagasbas and had an early dinner. We decided not to check out the beach since our purpose was just to eat.
- 7:30 pm – 7:45 pm – Arrived at Daet Bus Terminal
- 8:00 pm- 4:00 am – Travelled from Daet, Camarines Norte and arrived at Alabang Terminal. Take note that Superlines busses leaves the terminal on time.