With well over 7000 islands to choose from, it is easy to forget that individual islands have their own character, especially with the larger, flashier ones drawing all the spotlight. Biri Island is undoubtedly one of those gems, quietly tucked away in Northern Samar.
Civilization has thankfully not yet clawed its way here, and the 12,000 or so inhabitants of this little island go about their slow-paced lives without much of a care for the rest of the world.
Biri Island is best known for its large rock formations, and it’s time to begin exploring them!
It’s these seven rock formations that have helped Biri Island draw the eye; so much so that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has named the island one of the five gems of the Philippines.
As such, a compulsory ₱50 fee is collected for environmental reasons, and a mandatory ₱300 fee is to ‘hire’ your own guide for the day! Keep in mind, it is not advisable to see all seven in a day, especially if you want to be able to relax and take in the sights and sounds, so break it down into at least a weekend-long trip!
The seven are as follows: Magasang, Magsapad, Macadlaw, Puhunan, Pinanahawan, Bel-at, and Caranas.
Cool! Where can I stay over the course of the trip?
Few things to note about Biri Island – there is no electricity from midnight to noon every day, cellular access is surprisingly good for a remote island, and the only vehicles allowed on land is the habal-habal.
With that out of the way, when it comes to accommodation, Biri Island is like many others just like it; the lack of corporate presence means there is a distinct lack of high-class hotels here. Granted, nowadays there are a resort or two standing, but the general consensus of tourists to the area is to live either in the hostels or a homestay, a room in the home of a generous local for a small cost.
The resorts may offer the use of a generator for half the time the power’s down, plus the upside of hot and cold water. On the other hand, living with a local could open up access to home cooked meals and personalized care and advice, so it really is up to you.
Speaking of meals, what about food?
There are no restaurants or food stalls outside of the main accommodation areas, so be sure to stock up before you leave for the rocks! There should be a cook wherever you’re staying, and more often than not, they will cook whatever you bring to them from the local fishermen and shops for a price (check before you do this).
Otherwise, there are small shops that sell small food stocks that you can purchase relatively late into the night. Remember, their under-reliance on civilization has meant their two main sources of income are from tourism and fishing, so any purchase here on the island is supporting local!
Quick tip: Pack your meals before you head out. Many have mentioned wanting to stay at the rock formations longer, but having to leave early because they did not pack enough and thought there would be food readily available.
What is there to do?
You came to Biri Island because you heard of the rock formations, so go on; watch the rocks to your heart’s content (it rocks)!
Seriously, though, because this island is almost all natural, almost everything to do revolves around these time- and weather-worn rock formations. Take the time to scale them and marvel at them, as it is here that you are truly in God’s domain. If you had searched up photographs beforehand, be prepared to be amazed anyway, as nature has a mysterious way of not being able to be completely captured in a photograph.
Other than the rock formations, there is the Bel-at pool, located at, you guessed it, Bel-at. Hidden between Bel-at and Caranas, this shallow pool is shielded from the storming waves and provides a safe haven for not only wildlife but also tourists to have themselves a quick dip without being washed away.
There is also another natural pool wedged between Magsapad and Magasang which is a little less protected from the elements, making it much less popular but equally beautiful. The huge waves would be perfect for surfing, too, if not for the absence of any sandy beach and the coastline almost completely covered by rocks, making it way too dangerous to surf or engage in any true oceanic activity.
Looking to do something to give back to this naturally gorgeous environment? Well, look no further than the Biri Resort and Dive Center, one of the only registered hotels on Biri Island. There, penthouses overlook the ocean and an al fresco dining area accompanies the kitchen, making it one of the most luxurious accommodations on Biri Island. Star-gazing is understandably quite popular at many of the more seafront locales.
It is here that you can ask around and find out about volunteering while diving; that way, you are able to go about your regular fun activities while doing something good for the environment! The Biri Initiative, a non-government organization, was set up for this exact purpose – protecting the marine life found on and around the island. Volunteers are here almost year-round from all over the world to help remove pests from corals, so as to protect the sanctity of not only the biodiversity but the livelihoods of the local fishermen too
Biri Island is tiny (only covering 24.62km2), but what it lacks in size and stature, it more than makes up for in personality and charm. Photographs do not do justice to the majesty of the landscape or the seascape, and you have to come here to fully experience it yourself. Seven rock formations may not seem like a lot, but you will be wishing for more time to spend at each one as time speeds by.
On your next vacation/staycation, give civilization a miss, and make the trip the Biri Island – if only to experience life at its simplest, and nature at its very finest.