|Biliran boasts of beautiful rice terraces. These are the ones in Barangay Caucab, Almeria.|
An incredible four-day trip around Biliran took me around the mainland and some offshore islands. Separated from Leyte in 1992, it is an independent island province wedged between Leyte and Samar islands. Brimming with natural attractions from active volcanoes, lush springs, picturesque rice terraces, countless waterfalls and heavenly white-coral islands and rock formations offshore, this undiscovered destination can easily rival popular island provinces like Bohol, Camiguin and Siquijor.
|Bagongbong Falls pours into a narrow gorge in Almeria|
|Inch-small frogs call Bagongbong Falls their home|
While Agta Beach – as with other beaches on mainland Biliran – are lackluster, it serves as the jump-off point to Dalutan Island, which has a lovely pocket of white-coral beach with crystal waters. During our stay, Agta Beach served as our home base for exploring the mainland’s attractions. The brown sandy beach with great sunsets was named after the mythical Visayan agta, a cigar-smoking, tree-dwelling giant – similar to the Tagalog kapre of Luzon – that locals believe inhabit this shoreline. More than its shoreline, Dalutan provides an incredible vista of the entire Biliran mainland, best enjoyed in the early morning when the morning mist floats above the base of the volcanic peaks that dominate the province’s landscape – one of them the active Caibiran Volcano. Other beach options are Higatangan Island in Naval, with its shifting white sand bar; and Sambawan Islands in Maripipi – the jewel of Biliran – which I will talk about in greater detail in a succeeding post.
|The sulfurous waters of Kinaraha Cascades provides natural swimming pools and water slides!|
For an island its size, there’s surprisingly an inexhaustible number of waterfalls, thanks to the abundance of rainfall and steep mountain slopes. Tinago Falls in Caibiran is the most popular one, which, despite its name, isn’t “hidden” anymore. It’s easily reached by a concrete access road from the highway. Equally impressive Bagongbong Falls in Almeria, on the other hand, is set amidst natural surroundings, pouring into a narrow gorge. It requires some 20 minutes of hiking to get to from the end of a dirt road. Pundol Falls in Almeria, past the Iyusan Rice Terraces, are popular with local children, who perform daredevil stunts diving from 100 ft high rocky ledges, and sliding down the waterfalls. The waterfalls I enjoyed the most though were the refreshing Kinaraha Cascades in Caibiran. It may not be as majestic as the other falls on the island, but has the clearest waters I’ve ever seen. Carving swimming holes down a rocky slope, it is fed by hot springs upriver, giving the water a slightly acrid taste. “The water tastes like vinegar!” a German backpacker we met exclaimed when he jumped into one of the crystal clear rock pools. The cataracts flowing down smooth rock also makes awesome water slides! If you prefer a hot bath, head instead to the Mainit Hot Springs which overflows into a stream. There are several more waterfalls on the Biliran, namely: Busai, Recoletos, Ulan-Ulan, Casiawan, Casabangan and Tomalistis – the last of which locals claim delivers “the sweetest water in the world”.
|The most popular and developed falls in Biliran – Tinago Falls|
Lastly, the mineral-rich volcanic soil makes Biliran very fertile. The lowlands are carpeted in coconut groves for copra production. Traversing the “cross-country” highway to the eastern municipality of Caibiran, you will come across Little Baguio, a cool-weathered highland area suitable for growing fruits and vegetables like pomelo, sayote (chayote) and kalabasa (squash). But the most impressive agricultural landscape would be the cascading rice terraces carved along the mountain shoulders across the island. The prettiest ones can be found in the municipality of Almeria in the barangays (villages) of Iyusan, Caucab, Salangi and Sampao. After the world-famous Ifugao Rice Terraces, these were the most spectacular I’ve seen so far in the country. From its white-coral beaches to terraced interior, Biliran brings together the best of the country’s natural beauty. Here, nature truly spoils you with choice.
|Fiery sunset at Agta Beach, with Dalutan Island in the distance.|
HOW TO GET THERE: Naval, the provincial capital of Biliran, can be reached from Tacloban or Ormoc in Leyte (2 hours by van, PHP 130). To get to Agta Beach, hop on a Naval-Kawayan jeepney (PHP 25, 30 minutes). Agta Beach Resort offers boats to Dalutan Island (up to 10 pax, PHP 700 return trip, 15 minutes).
Since many of the attractions are undeveloped, hiring a habal-habal (motorbike) is the most convenient option to tour Biliran island. A day tour on habal-habal (up to 2 pax) costs PHP 500, plus gas (approximately PHP 200). Our friendly and very accommodating drivers were Jimmy Badanoy (+63 9182661505) and Benjie Salidaga (+63 9997611704).
WHERE TO STAY: There are cheap sleeps in urbanized Naval, but we opted to stay closer to nature at Agta Beach Resort in Brgy. Talahid, Almeria, a private resort recently opened to the public, which has double fan rooms at PHP 400 and A/C double rooms at PHP 600. Contact Millette Kiamko at +63 9072951650. The VRC Resort next door is more popular, but we found the karaoke-loving guests bothersome, and preferred the peaceful grounds of Agta Beach Resort.