I’ve been to a lot of islands in the Philippines but one of the most beautiful and unique islands I’ve been to is Biri Island in Samar. Its rock formation is quite distinct from other destinations I’ve been to locally and even abroad, making this island a must-go-to destination in my country.
A trip down memory lane is when my family was invited to visit Northern Samar by my aunt, the wife of my uncle when she came home from the US with my cousins to have a vacation in the Philippines. Since we’ve never been to her birthplace in the province, my family joined them during their trip there in 2018.
We booked the cheapest flight we could find via Philippine Airlines from Manila to Catarman, Samar, which is also the nearest airport if you’re going to San Jose, Northern Samar. Flights going to Samar is a bit tricky since they don’t fly there daily and plane ticket is quite expensive compared to other destinations like Cebu or Boracay. Today when I checked it’s around Php5000+ one way and it can even go higher from what I remember back then.
If you take other airlines, there are flights landing in farther airports in Tacloban or Catbalogan, so the land trip will take more of your time if you book there even if flights may be cheaper if you’re lucky. Since we were only there for less than a week, we chose the cheapest flights (luckily we got a promo rate) in the nearest airport where we were headed to that we could find.
If you happen to be in the same town we went to, the best island to visit in this area is Biri Island in Northern Samar. I know there are other islands you can visit in this province but they are much farther from where we were at. You can take a day trip to Biri Island or perhaps an overnight stay if you wish. If you want to book a hostel, check out the current accommodations in Northern Samar on Agoda.
If you’re coming straight from Catarman, you can take a jeepney for more than an hour to Lavezares for Php 40-50 per person. If you’re coming from San Jose, it’s nearer and will only take roughly 20 minutes to get there. There are boats going to and from the island from Lavezares, which you can hire if you’re a big group for PHP1,000-1,500 depending on the size of the boat. It will stand by and wait for your group for the whole day on Biri Island.
If you’re traveling alone, there are pump boats locals take which you can hop on to Biri Island for Php50 plus a terminal fee of Php25. It will take approximately 45 hours to reach Biri Island. The tricky part of the sea travel to this island is the ocean can get quite choppy so prepare for big waves, but if you’re used to these conditions from your travels like us, it wasn’t that scary. I suggest visiting during summer so that the weather is hot and sunny.
Upon arrival at San Fernando port, there are habal-habals (motorcycles) you can book to take you to the tourism office or your booked accommodation. These can accommodate between one to two persons per bike. The tour guide costs around Php 300-500 for the whole day.
What to see on Biri Island, Samar?
The main spot to see here is the Biri Rock Formations, which has a total of seven rock formations you can visit including Magasang, Magsapad, Macadlaw, Puhunan, Bel-at, Caranas, and Pinanahawan. Since we were there only for a day trip, we only visited Bel-at & Caranas and Magasang rock formations. If you want to see all the rock formations, spend at least two days on the island.
Our guide took us to our jump-off point which is the beautiful vast mangroves. There’s a long boardwalk installed in the middle of the lush mangroves which is quite a walk but you can bare the heat because of the utterly gorgeous view of the area. Best to go here in the morning so that it’s not yet too hot.
At the end of the boardwalk is where you’ll start to see a better view of the Bel-at and Caranas rock formations with the picturesque saltwater pools between the beautiful limestone formations. You can take a refreshing dip in the tidal pools here or simply walk around the rock formations, take memorable photos and just enjoy the view that will take your breath away. I love how this destination is quite different from other rock formations I’ve seen in Ilocos or Siargao. I recommend that you visit this place at least once in your life to see it for yourself in person as photos or videos don’t do it any justice.
Next stop is the Magasang Rock formation which can be seen far from the ocean and travelers can wade through the shallow seawater to reach the rock formation. In 2018 there was a bridge with a nipa hut at the end but today the bridge in the middle of the ocean connects straight to the formation so you can cross it and reach Magasang Rock without needing to wade through the water.
We didn’t cross the ocean to climb up the rock formation since the weather turned from sunny to grayish skies so our tour guide wanted us to go back a bit earlier than planned to avoid riding the boat back to the mainland in bad rainy weather. So if you don’t want to go all the way to the rock formation, you can just enjoy the view and take photos. Afterwards, we headed back to San Jose after our day tour of the famous Biri Island in Samar.
If you plan to go here for an overnight trip, there are other places and things to do on Biri Island. Visit Busay which is one of the highest points on Biri Island to see the sweeping view of the magnificent landscape and neighboring islands. You can do surfing from June to December to catch the best waves or go diving since Biri has more than 20 dive sites boasting colorful reefs and marine wildlife such as sharks during the summer. If you prefer a laid-back stay, you can try beach camping at one of the resorts or nearby beaches such as Bani Island. There is also an old lighthouse you can visit on San Bernardino Island.
Since my aunt had family in Samar, they brought us to their island resort in San Jose, Cornico’s Tandang Island Resort, which is just a short boat ride near their house. What’s unique about their island is it’s so full of coconut trees all around the entire island which is quite rare from what I’ve seen during my travels in the Philippines. We enjoyed our time eating Lechon and other local cuisines as well as taking a quick dip on the beach and it was nice to have two families bond over stories.
It was one of the memorable trips I took with my family as we were treated and welcomed so kindly to my aunt’s hometown and it was quite lovely to know her side of the family. It was also the only time I got to bond again with my cousins from abroad whom we haven’t seen in person for decades since they last visited the Philippines when they were still babies.
We spent our time enjoying their local cuisine and eating so many fresh kinds of seafood! Their hometown in San Jose is quiet and simple but what made it a good place to visit is the warmth of my aunt’s relatives and friends whom we met. Indeed it was one for the books and hoping someday to see more of Samar during my future travels around the Philippines.