Camiguin Island: Snorkeling at the Sunken Cemetery

Snorkeling at Sunken Cemetery
Snorkeling above the old cross marker of the Sunken Cemetery in Catarman, Camiguin
Minacious clouds curled up around the volcanic peaks of Camiguin as our outrigger canoe slid past the three-storey high concrete cross looming over a sunken graveyard.   The violent birth of Mt. Vulcan ­­– a volcanic cinder cone of Mt. Hibok-Hibok – caused some areas of the Spanish colonial town of Bonbon, most notably its cemetery, to subside from 1871 to 1875. The earthly upheaval also destroyed the town church, leaving picturesque remnants of the Gui-ob Church Ruins, equally admired by visitors to this so-called “Island Born of Fire”.

Today, the Sunken Cemetery is perhaps the most photographed attraction in the province, especially when set against a tangerine sunset. At the viewpoint overlooking the giant cross that was erected in 1982 to mark the site, cheery villagers encourage tourists to creatively pose for the camera, capturing clever photographic illusions of them cupping the giant cross in their hands. Boatmen ferry tourists to the base of the marker, pulling their bangkas along ropes that run across the water from the black-sand beach.

As nothing of the original graveyard is seen above the water, my friends and I hired a boat to take us past the cross marker and, donning our masks and fins, our sense of adventure drove us to survey what the Sunken Cemetery really looks like beneath the waves. The overcast sky suddenly cleared right on cue, as we jumped into the sea. Our taunts of aquatic zombies yanking us into the deep blue abyss were immediately replaced with squeals of delight the moment we beheld what lay right below the boat. “I expected to see seaweeds creeping over tombstones,” says travel blogger Christine Fernandez of, “But it was surprisingly beautiful with lots of fish and colorful corals everywhere!”

Snorkeling at Sunken Cemetery
A few crumbling tombstones are the only vestiges of the 19th century cemetery
After almost a century and a half, a vibrant coral reef has brought such revelry of life to this hapless resting place. We circled five to six feet of clear water above a kaleidoscope of neon-blue damselfish, yellow butterflyfish and green-striped wrasse that darted in and around labyrinths of coral and anemone. It was among the best snorkeling I’ve experienced in the Philippines. Amused by the plethora of marine life, we almost forgot where we really were, until the receding tide carried us above another big crucifix laying on the seabed. It was the old cross marker, which, our young boatman explained, was destroyed by a typhoon decades ago.

Sunken Cemetery
The classic sunset view of the cross marker at Sunken Cemetery
We held onto the bamboo outrigger, allowing the canoe to pull us to shallower waters, while we continued to marvel at the underwater vista. Before pulling us ashore, we floated above a coral dome topped by two broken tombstones, the only relics of the 19th century cemetery that somehow survived the coral reef takeover.

Along its 70-kilometer coastline, Camiguin has an impressive number of community-based marine protected areas, numbering to 31 sites, which includes the Pasil Reef Sanctuary of the Sunken Cemetery, and the popular coral gardens of Mantigue Island and White Island. Another fascinating spot is the Giant Clam Sanctuary in Guinsiliban, where snorkelers can get up close and personal with endangered species of colossal Tridacna clams.

HOW TO GET THERE: The Sunken Cemetery at Catarman town can be visited on tricycle a full-day tour (one to four persons, PHP 700 to 1000) of Camiguin Island. Our friendly and hospitable driver was Kuya Gogo, mobile: +63 9059515847.

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