Quezon: A Hidden Gem Discovered

Lipata Island viewed from a beach on the mainland of Padre Burgos, Quezon
Several years ago Quezon was one of the last provinces near Metro Manila that we would look forward to visit. At that time little was being mentioned about tourist destinations in the province and the few trips we took to Quezon left us feeling rather unimpressed. But like a diamond in the rough, Quezon is now just beginning to show its real colors to intrepid travelers.

A previous trip to Quezon in the mid 2000's had taken us to the municipalities of Lucban and Tiaong. We didn't know what to expect back then and ended up at Ugu Bigyan's Pottery Garden for a tour of Ugu's impressive pottery work and his beautiful garden place. (It still is a nice place to visit and Ugu has now added a restaurant.) Lunch was at Kamayan sa Palaisdaan in Tayabas, a restaurant on a fishpond that was featured by Andrew Zimmern in his Bizarre Foods segment on the Philippines. (We do need to mention Lucban's Pahiyas Festival and Tiaong's Villa Escudero – both have been highly visible for years on the tourist circuit.) This was all we were to experience about Quezon for several years.

Puting Buhangin (or Lukang Beach) in Pagbilao, Quezon
There are white-sand beaches in this province after all: Puting Buhangin
(or Lukang Beach) in Pagbilao.

Going back still further to the 1990s, our travels to Boracay, Palawan and Puerto Galera had drawn us into an avid search for white sand beaches with crystal-clear waters in the Philippines. Sure we knew there were beaches all over Quezon but after an earlier trip we thought they were all the same – with unassuming gray or brown sand and dark, unimpressive waters. That all changed in 2011 when we found out about the beaches of Pagbilao and Padre Burgos and decided on a visit. That trip would change our perception about this province named after one of the country's presidents.

white sand beach and crystal-clear waters on Dampalitan Island, Padre Burgos
This beach on Dampalitan Island is one of several white, sandy beaches in Padre Burgos.

Padre Burgos: Dampalitan & Lipata Islands

Padre Burgos, the first town in the Bondoc Peninsula is around 4 hours of leisurely drive from Manila. We ended up riding on a public bus and van to this place but it was still not a long trip by our standards. There are a number of white sand beaches and islands here that are easily accessible from the mainland.

Dampalitan Island is just 10-15 minutes away by boat from the Padre Burgos mainland. From afar the beach on Dampalitan looks really inviting with its creamy white sand and crystal-clear tropical waters set against a backdrop of coconut palms and evergreen trees. The beach in Dampalitan is not outstandingly beautiful but it is nice and laid-back and offers a peaceful retreat from the crowded beaches of overdeveloped tourist spots such as Boracay.

outrigger boat on Dampalitan Island, Padre Burgos
Our outrigger boat docked on the beach at Dampalitan Island.

Lipata, another island off Padre Burgos, also has several white sand beaches and coves. This island is much larger than Dampalitan and, unlike the latter, is inhabited with a few huts and docked outrigger fishing boats scattered along its beaches. Borawan Beach is a stretch of beige, sandy beach on Lipata dominated by towering karst or limestone formations. It reportedly got its name from a combination of Boracay (for its white sand) and Palawan (for its karst formations).

karst formations and sandy beach on Borawan, Lipata Island, Padre Burgos
Borawan displays its massive rocks and creamy-white sand.

The beach in Borawan is not as conducive to swimming as Dampalitan but the almost vertical rock walls are perfect for climbing, bouldering and rappelling. There are now several forays being made into Borawan by climbers. One can even take a trek to Mt. Lipata on the island from where it is possible to see Grande Island to the west.

Puting Buhangin's white sand and crystal-clear emerald waters
Puting Buhangin is just one of a series of white sand beaches on Pagbilao Grande Island.

Pagbilao: Puting Buhangin Beach & Kuwebang Lampas

During our 2011 trip to Lipata Island in Padre Burgos we arranged for our boat to take us towards a cove located in the southeastern coast of Pagbilao Grande Island. We've seen pictures of this cove before but were surprised to discover how beautiful it is in real life. Puting Buhangin ("white sand" in Filipino) is the most scenic of all the beaches we've covered on our Padre Burgos-Pagbilao trip.

coconut palm on white sand beach, Puting Buhangin, Pagbilao
Puting Buhangin beach is also called Lukang Beach by the locals after its former owner.

Locals call the beach where we landed Lukang Beach after its owner – a Chinese businessman based in Lucena City. Its fine white sand and crystal clear emerald waters make it one of the best beaches in Quezon. The area immediately in front of the beach is clear of rocks and coral and ideal for swimming although one can venture into the rocky areas on both ends of the cove for some snorkeling. Kuwebang Lampas is a small cave on the right end of the cove with an opening out to sea and easily accessible via a short swim or trek among the rocks. It is possible to camp overnight in Puting Buhangin although there are but primitive facilities on this beach.

Kuwebang Lampas viewed from under the shade of trees in Puting Buhangin
Kuwebang Lampas is a small cave at one end of the beach with an opening to the sea
at its other end.

If you are in the vicinity of Pagbilao, it will also be worth your time to visit the Quezon National Park. This park has well-established concrete trails with enough rest areas where you can take photos. You can also take in the scenery that includes giant trees and several species of birds.

Mauban: Cagbalete Island and Waterfalls

Here's another one of those "never heard" places that gets featured in the blogosphere and literally becomes an overnight sensation. Cagbalete Island is really a part of the municipality of Mauban in Quezon Province with Lamon Bay separating it from the mainland. We first made it to Cagbalete in 2013 and visited again 3 years later.

the southern shores of Cagbalete Island
The eastern side of Cagbalete Island at high tide

Our main reason for coming to Cagbalete was to view its low tide phenomenon when the sea on the eastern section of the island moves back up to a kilometer from shore exposing a vast seabed of remarkable sand ripples. During our first visit we came in when the high tide was at its maximum meaning the sand will not get fully exposed at low tide. However we made the most of our stay by touring the long stretch of beach on the eastern side where most of the resorts are located including the mouth of the creek with a mangrove swamp. Cagbalete is also home to several species of birds and just in front of our resort we would see dozens of sand pipers, a few bright blue-colored kingfishers and the occasional migratory egret.

the Yang-In sandbar at the northwestern side of Cagbalete Island
Sand ripples at Yang-In sandbar at Cagbalete Island's northwestern side.

To make up for our mild disappointment at not seeing Cagabalete's fabled sand ripples, our tour guide Rose led us to another scenic spot – the Yang-In sandbar on the northwestern side of Cagbalete that was only becoming popular recently. According to Rose this was even more beautiful than the sand ripples on the eastern side of the island with the exposed sandbar stretching out 3 kilometers from shore at low tide. Since it was yet to be full moon we didn't see the phenomenon Rose was talking about but there was still a good deal of dry beach sand exposed – and with plenty of ripples showing.

waist-deep aquamarine waters at the Yang-in Sandbar
This portion of the Yang-In Sandbar turns into a vast swimming pool during high tide.

Rose mentioned that the views at Yang-In are equally remarkable during high tide with shallow, crystal-clear waters stretching for hundreds of meters from shore. This was confirmed during our second visit when we arrived at this sandbar at high tide. The whole place was literally transformed into a giant swimming pool with waist-deep water stretching out to scores of meters from shore.

Dahoyhoy Falls, Mauban, Quezon
Dahoyhoy Falls

Mauban has since become synonymous with Cagbalete Island but unknown to most visitors the town also has several heritage houses. Its natural treasures are even more remarkable with caves, forests and several waterfalls just outside the town center. Locals say there are as many as 20 waterfalls here, although only 3 are accessible for the moment. We got to visit one – Dahoyhoy Falls – in late 2016.


Pristine waterfalls, lush forests, fast-moving rivers for white water rafting, a coastline of rugged beauty, the raging swells of the Pacific for surfing and fresh seafood. Such are the attractions of Real – another travel destination that is only now beginning to reveal itself. The fact that is is just a 3-hour drive away from Metro Manila makes Real an ideal weekend getaway. The way to Real is the shortest route from Metro Manila to the Pacific Ocean making the town probably the nearest surfing destination to the metropolis.

fresh seafood at Real's fish market
Fresh, colorful seafood at Real's fish market.

Real has at least ten waterfalls, most of them tucked away in its lush forests and accessible only by trekking. Three however are quite accessible namely Balagbag, Nonok and Cawayan Falls. Balagbag Falls is the most poular of the three, easily accessible and probably the most attractive.

Balagbag Falls on an overcast day
Balagbag Falls' bottom tier with the second tier in the background.

Real also demonstrates that brown sand beaches are not always unattractive. The turquoise waters, the pounding surf of the Pacific and the rocky shoreline make for a ruggedly beautiful coastline. Also check out the sea food market along the national highway where you can shop for really, really fresh seafood. Many of the fishes here are so colorful we thought they were better displayed at an aquarium. We however had it cooked at one of the nearby stalls, dampa-style for a thoroughly satisfying lunch.

Our Quezon Bucket List

There are several more Quezon attractions in our radar that we are looking forward to visiting including the following:

Polilio Group of Islands. Another hidden paradise of 27 remote islands in an unspoiled location. If deserted white sand beaches, pristine waters containing diverse marine species and virgin forests housing endemic animals are what you are looking for, then look no further. Remarking about the colorful fishes for sale at Real's seafood market, a marine biologist friend said that many of those fishes were caught off the colorful reefs at Polilio which may be reached via the port at Real.

Jomalig Island lies southeast of the Polilio group of islands, reachable via a 6-hour boat ride from the port at Real. Why take such a long journey to a seemingly remote island in the Pacific? Answer: the incredibly pristine, golden sand beaches of Salibungot and Kanaway among others.

Balesin Island. This island might not pass as a shoestring traveler-friendly destination because it is dominated by a private resort that will not allow visits by people other than their guests. Still we think it is worth mentioning if only for its beautiful white sand beaches and fisher folk.

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shoestring travelers Leo and Nina
Diguisit Beach, Baler
Sabang Beach, Baler
Cagbalete Island, Mauban, Quezon
Cagbalete Island
Dampalitan Island
Puting Buhangin, Pagbilao
Balagbag Falls, Real, Quezon
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