climb

the anti-list: 6 beautiful places in the philippines to stop going to

perhaps the title is a bit too harsh, but that is the intention. on the surface, there seems to be no reason not to go to the places listed here, as they are beautiful regardless of what i have to say, and they deserve to be visited and be seen. but lately, these 6 destinations, at least in my view, are experiencing increases in tourist visits after getting featured in lists of must-see beaches and mountains. as a conscientious traveler, i often decide not to go to certain places because i feel they might be reaching a breaking point, and by encouraging more and more people to go there, it is my opinion that the unmitigated surge in tourism being experienced by these places is anything but sound and sustainable.

before i start, let me just say that lists are such lazy ways to write about destinations, and should be restricted to uncreative travel blogs, pretentious travel guides, disingenuous travel articles, and similar sources of information that quite frankly come across as brochures. i try to distinguish myself from that by giving vivid descriptions of what i see and talking about my thoughts and experiences, rather than just provide useful but tiresome suggestions on how to get there. this list is inspired by recent visits. i would probably be listing a lot more, but i guess i'm lucky that i don't always feel that all the beautiful, savage places i've been to should have less visitors.

1. mahabang buhangin, tinaga island, calaguas group



two months ago, i was in the shade of a makeshift cottage, digging my toes into the cool sand on the beach of calaguas while listening to a conversation of locals that summarized the problem of any place getting too popular for its own good. it was my second time to visit, and i reached the conclusion that mahabang buhangin was going through a radical transformation that might soon rob it of its tired description as a still pristine version of boracay. it is no longer as secret and as removed from civilization as one might imagine it to be, as the conveniences that urban folk look for are always quickly available. on rare occasions even during the summer months, one might find calaguas to be the portrait of paradise. but on most weekends when legions of tourists descend upon the otherwise beautiful place, it becomes less and less a place deserving of praise as the best beach in the bicol region.

2. mount pulag, benguet



with its fabled sea of clouds and an executive trail that accommodates anyone willing to submit to a tolerable 3-hour trek, the highest peak in luzon is an inviting destination for people who have chalked up "climb a mountain" into their ephemeral bucket lists. the fact that it involves a 12-hour ride from manila and near-zero degree temperatures during the early mornings have not deterred eager urban folk from leaving behind familiar comforts of home to "survive" mount pulag's otherwise accessible beauty. much has changed since a few years ago, and the long ride to mount pulag's babadak ranger station has been made easier by better road conditions, and organizing a trek has become as easy as making an email reservation: outdoor outfitters now offer camping trips for a price that's twice the usual cost, but with the perks of not having to worry about transportation, food, and accommodations. the result is that on most weekends during the dry season, the trails to pulag are trampled on by 300 pairs of shoes – and that's just those coming from outside the cordilleras. even the PASu has expressed concern about government projects that are improving roads to mount pulag. climb pulag outside of weekends, if you must, and if you truly care about the mountain, maybe give it a rest. some short term measures may be undertaken, such as limiting visitors to half the current number allowed by the PAMB on any given day.

3. caramoan peninsula, camarines sur



caramoan has been made famous the world over by at least 4 different editions of the reality TV show franchise "survivor". and with very good reason: packed in very small space are scattered islands of jagged limestone, some with pockets of cream-coloured beaches, and a still untouched countryside with primeval forests and endless rural landscapes. and it seems every tourist who fancies herself intrepid and adventurous is willing to undertake a torturous trip to naga, with connections to the port of sabang in the town of san jose, and still onward travel by boat to sagnay or guijalo. the effects on caramoan are felt not just by the environment, where wilderness is being cleared and rough roads are tamed to make way for the increase in tourism. it has resulted in visitors being held hostage by boat operators charging exorbitant fees, and the delicate balance under threat from the absence of any real regulations. if any, the closest any tourist will get to being a castaway on survivor is enduring the long trip to an otherwise beautiful place.

4. sagada, mountain province



while i think that sagada may have been built for tourism, the amount of tourist traffic this otherwise lovely upland town with its year-round nippy weather receives is staggering to a degree that we might actually have stretched available resources past their acceptable limits. anyone who has been to sagada just 5 years ago will tell you about how much the mountain town has changed: many new guesthouses were constructed, and some houses have been converted into places of lodging. the once cobblestoned path from the municipal hall to the trail leading to ampacao has been paved. in fact, most roads to and from the poblacion are now solid concrete. there is nothing terribly wrong with high tourism arrivals; we want that for the country, but it's an unsustainable model, and not appropriate for a place like sagada, which is tucked far away for good reason. the benefits of commercial success to the local economy are immense, but its ill-effects are immeasurable. many indigenous customs have changed, and old-time visitors no longer feel that welcoming, small-town charm.

5. the coves of anawangin and nagsasa, zambales



i used to feel responsible for sending fame to anawangin when i wrote about it 9 years ago on this blog. prior to that time, nothing had been written about it. when we arrived at the cove that january weekend in 2005, it was as if we had come upon a well-kept secret: which is how most places on this list are described, and which apparently is an effective way to lure tourists who fancy themselves adventurous because they don't mind to take the road less traveled by. but it was no secret, at least to the locals of pundaquit. when they came to the cove, however, they did not bring with them destructive urban habits that breed greed and produce too much waste. i have not been to anawangin lately after i had heard about its quick fall from grace. based on some pictures i've seen, it is an almost unrecognizable village of tents and fences and pretentious flags, its beach filled with parked boats and visitors doing poi. nagsasa is sometimes said to be a less crowded alternative to anawangin but unless i'm mistaken, nagsasa was first to have its own rooms with electricity. only on very rare occasions will either place provide you with the solace and peace that you hope to find when you first planned to go there.

6. mt. batulao, nasugbu, batangas



the almost reptilian jagged peaks of mount batulao can be seen from very far away, which all the more makes passers-by curious about getting there. the availability of public transport from manila to nasugbu makes it easy to visit the mountain on any given sunday, and this logistical advantage results in its appearance in practically all lists about mountains or day hikes close to the capital. as a result, the trails of batulao are battered and beaten by hundreds of pairs of shoes belonging to people who do not question the act of paying toll fees to strangers who neither own the land nor are authorized to make collections. although this form of tourism provides locals with some income on weekends, it has also resulted in even the littlest trees falling victim to vandals and the landscape being changed to accommodate visitors. it is also now very dirty and the makeshift toilet on peak 10 is disgusting.

i keep going back to the title of this entry. i’ve thought many times about changing it to something a bit more neutral. i'm pretty sure there are other places that have long been suffering unregulated tourism. but in this entry i've decided to focus on places that still qualify as wild, and those that could still be saved. besides, i report based on what i've personally seen and experienced. if i had a broader reader base i would expect to get rabid reactions. and that is exactly what i hope to achieve.
You won't get a rabid reaction from me
(Anonymous)
I completely agree with this, especially about Mt. Pulag. Nowadays, it has suddenly become commonplace to hear that your party animal drunkard friend has gone up to the grassy summit along with his ilk. "Yo, pare, chong! You been to Pulag? Hirap man! Pero I conquered it!" Really? Tell me more!

There was a time when one could be alone with the stars and wake up to the muted rustle of your 2 guides getting ready for the summit assault. Those days are gone - and the sea of clouds has become a spectacle for throngs of people who didn't even have to work for the treat, having been all but dragged up to the peak by their porters.

The locals are reaping the benefits, though - being a guide is lucrative and souvenir shops have taken over Babadak. But at what cost?

I guess what I would like to see personally is some kind of balance. Although I wish I could do more, all I have done so far to help is to stop going there.
Re: You won't get a rabid reaction from me
haha. your description of the kind of people who climb mount pulag these days is spot on. i think i may have encountered some of them in my last climb. i was half awake when i heard someone say outside my tent: i'm so going to the country club after this.

i've long advocated avoiding places that are suffering from too much tourism. it's been a common theme in this blog, which is also a bit strange because i'm always traveling. and i guess that's why i see that so much more could be done to save our last remaining wild places. thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.