By now, many of us are well-acquainted with the whale sharks of Donsol. Captivating in every sense of the word, these natural wonders offer but a smidgeon of Sorsogon, Luzon’s southernmost province. As one might expect, more Sorsogon attractions like these have remained under the radar to travellers for years. But perhaps not for long.
Born and raised in the municipalities of Bulusan and Irosin, I can personally vouch for my province’s astounding charm. Yet since moving to Metro Manila, I’ve missed out on many of these underrated Sorsogon attractions. I owe it to fellow Sorsoganons online who stop at nothing in discovering and capturing these places to help others know what’s what.
Take Ron Camara, for example, a 34-year-old explorer whose photos of Sorsogon’s hidden spots continue to enamour travel-hungry netizens like myself. By the looks of it, Sorsogon’s tourism industry is headed in the right direction with the help of locals like him.
Traveller, tour operator, and photographer in one
Bulusan resident Ron is a traveller, a tour operator, and a travel photographer. On his Facebook and Instagram pages, he has been actively promoting tourism in Sorsogon by sharing spellbinding photos of the province’s top attractions that one wouldn’t normally see in travel guides.
“Around 2005, after high school, my friends and I went on a nature trip to San Bernardino Island in Bulusan. There, I grew a liking for travel,” he told TripZilla. “Even before, I enjoyed reading travel magazines. I would see photos of Batanes and I realised we had a Batanes of our own in Sorsogon, and that is San Bernardino Island.”
Ron also found a form of escape in travelling locally after going through a traumatic experience in his family. “My mother passed away and travel became more than just something I would do for fun,” he shared. “It became a coping mechanism as I faced depression.”
When he first learned that he could share his travel pictures on Facebook around 2010, Ron looked to travel photography next. He’s consistently used the platform to do just that while tracking down underrated Sorsogon attractions. “I saw that there’s a huge advantage in promoting places on social media. I was even more motivated when I began joining photography contests.”
As he saw more of these places, Ron decided it was time to let others experience them for themselves. “I became a tour guide in Bulusan in 2012. Then, I thought about organising tours of my own,” Ron said. “At first, it was more for fun and getting free travel perks, but it ended up being my full-time job.”
Sorsogon and the province’s thriving unseen beauty
Initially, Ron would only operate tours around Sorsogon. Now, he also brings his clients to nearby Samar and other Philippine provinces.
From exploring popular corners of the country, he’d realised the unparalleled potential of Sorsogon. “Compared to other places, Sorsogon is a complete package. From white and pink sand beaches, waterfalls, natural springs to rolling hills and mountains, the province has them all,” he asserted.
In 2018, Ron shared photos of a certain Starfish Island in the municipality of Prieto Diaz, which caught the attention of a major news media. The following year, Donsol upped their whale shark interaction tourism which attracted many more visitors. Not to mention, a local folk dance festival made news shortly after for breaking a Guinness record as the biggest one of all.
Those years saw Sorsogon’s tourism grow multifold. Ron considered this as an opportunity to improve his tours by promoting lesser-known attractions in Sorsogon.
A treasure trove of underrated Sorsogon attractions
Still spending most of his time in Sorsogon, Ron developed a special liking towards a few of the local attractions. “My personal favourite place is Bulusan, which is my hometown. As for my favourite attraction, it’s the San Bernardino Island. One doesn’t need to go to Batanes to experience the same charm,” the Bicolano traveller said.
Bulusan is famously known for having one of the Philippine’s most active volcanoes. But Ron also recommends visiting the scenic Bulusan Lake in the surrounding area. Amongst dense greenery, the lake stands out for its calm emerald waters that are home to endemic freshwater fish species.
The town also boasts of San Bernardino Island, which lies about 15 kilometres off its coast. The island offers plenty of activities, according to Ron. There’s fishing, camping, paragliding, and swimming. He added that getting to the island is relatively easy. From Bulusan, it only takes 45 minutes to San Bernardino Island by boat.
Ron further recommends visiting Tikling Island in Matnog, where one will find two of Sorsogon’s mysterious pink beaches. After travelling by land to Matnog, hire a boat at the municipal port to take you to the island. The travel time only takes around 20 minutes.
It’s places like these that Ron believes more travellers should take notice of Sorsogon. He hopes that one day, the province will be recognised as a must-visit destination not just in the Philippines, but the rest of the world as well.
Giving importance to responsible local travel
Introducing virtually never-been-seen destinations like these underrated Sorsogon attractions often come with risks, the worst of which is inviting irresponsible travellers. For this, Ron reminds visitors to be more cautious.
“For those who love to travel and plan on visiting Sorsogon, be sure to connect with the local tourism authorities to know the policies in visiting the attractions,” he noted. “Follow the ‘leave nothing but footprints mentality’ and always respect the culture and whatever beliefs of the locals in each place.”
In the case of Halabang Lapis Island, visitors are advised not to lift the starfish out of the water to avoid endangering their lives. Tourism officials of Prieto Diaz also advise travellers not to bring food or leave plastic materials in the island, especially with hundreds of these creatures found in the vicinity.
With domestic travel now getting more of the spotlight, Ron likewise calls on Filipino travellers to explore more of the country. According to him, it does more than just boost tourism. “Travel the Philippines first. Let’s remember that for each place or province that we visit, it’s a huge help not just to the country, but also to the people who rely on local tourism for their livelihood,” the proud Sorsoganon said.
The quotes above have been translated and edited for grammar, clarity, and flow. Featured image credit: Ron Camara | Facebook