Sustainable tourism in the Philippines: the coral gardener




I remember the first time I met Jomar. We’d just arrived on the shore at Tugawe Cove Resort after a fairly bumpy 1.5-hour boat ride at sea.

Quiet, yet helpful, he helped load our bags onto the back of a small jeep to take to our rooms. On the surface, he seemed like just another young guy working at our resort.

We didn’t realize it then, but Jomar would be the one who’d teach us about sustainable tourism in the Philippines.

Ready to learn — sustainable tourism in the Philippines

There we were, a small group of tired, yet curious, westerners, in the Caramoan Islands. A region so spectacular, that words or photos don’t do it any justice.

Every detail you imagine when you think of a paradise island comes to life here. Powdery white sandy beaches, dramatic deep caves and warm waters. It’s lesser visited than Palawan — which isn’t a bad thing, considering the increasing number of visitors heading there.

Above all, the Caramoan Islands are a place that the local people love, and want to preserve. And learning how to practice sustainable tourism is something in which everyone can play a role.

Traveling to the Philippines

If you’ve not yet visited the Philippines — and you definitely should — here are some basic facts.

  • There are over 7,100 islands in the country;
  • They can speak English (American vernacular more than British); and
  • Rainy season is typically from June to October; the hottest months are April and May.

The Caramoan Islands are in Caminares Sur, which is in the Bicol region of the country. From the capital, Manila, it’s a short 45-minute flight to the airport of Naga. After this, it’s about another 3.5-hour drive to the port, followed by a 1.5-hour boat ride.

Yes, the Caramoan Islands aren’t the easiest place to reach, but, trust me when I say, it’s totally worth it.

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The sun setting over the Caramoan Islands


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A lone house in the hills

Being a responsible traveler

Arguably, one of the best things to do in the Caramoan Islands is island hopping. After all, island has an ‘s’ there for good reason. Its island range is also why American TV show, Survivor, chose to film there. Don’t be surprised if you hear this on repeat — it’s something the locals are very proud of.

Climb on board a colorful fishing (passenger) boat, let the wind entangle your hair, and lose yourself in the landscape. You’ll be glad you did.

Leading by example — sustainable tourism in the Philippines

It was on the first island, Pitogo, that we had our first glimpse of sustainable tourism in action. While the rest of us were admiring the beauty of our new environment, Jomar was focused on something else.

Without saying a word, he began collecting plastic bottles and bags that’d washed up onto the shore. Following the example of our young guide, we too began collecting any trash that we found.

Though such a simple action, it felt good to help keep the beach just as pristine as we’d found it.




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Pitgo Island, Caramoan


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Katanhawan Island


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Pristine beach, Catanhawan Island


Visiting Catanhawan Island (big and small)

Our second island of the trip was to big Catanhawan (ca-tan-how-wan) Island. Much larger in size than the first, we saw even more sustainable tourism in action.

For lunch, the resort had arranged a picnic. It came complete with Filipino desserts, which they set up in the shade of the coconut trees.

Jomar and his friends set the table using a large banana leaf as a cover. The same plants also provided our ‘plates’ for the meal, and we used our hands as cutlery.

For drinks, we drank directly from freshly cut coconuts — with straws. However, we left nothing behind and took any leftover food to the people living on the island. We made sure we left the scene exactly as we’d found it, bar our several footprints in the sand.

 “There are people in this world that talk, and those that do; Jomar falls into the latter.”

A coral gardener in our midst

Later that evening, we were enjoying our final dinner that the staff had prepared for us down by the beach. As the evening wound down, with the conversation (and wine) still flowing, our guide, Miguel, called Jomar to join us.

What first began as a conversation regarding Jomar’s clear love of photography, soon turned into something entirely unexpected.

When asked about his interests during his days off, we were all expecting an answer typical of a 22-year-old guy. Instead, he told us he spent his spare time re-planting coral in the sea.

A humbling evening — sustainable tourism in the Philippines

We sat there, each of us listening quietly and with intent as he continued. Jomar spoke about replanting the coral for his younger siblings, so they could also enjoy it when they grew up.

His love of his environment and the Caramoan Islands was so inspiring, it made me reflect upon my own actions. I’ve been lucky to meet some incredible people while traveling, but no-one as humble or as proactive as Jomar.

There are people in this world that talk, and those that do; Jomar falls into the latter.

So passionate about replanting coral, he even asked his friends to return from Manila, offering to pay them to help. No-one took him up on his offer.

Alone, yet undeterred, Jomar continues his mission solo, but it’s clear he’s more than happy to do so.

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Jomar holding up coral ©


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A banana leaf picnic on the beach ©


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Jomar and his friend preparing coconuts. ©


Leaving and learning

My time visiting the Caramoan Islands, though short, proved to be a real eye-opening experience. It made me even more conscientious about practicing sustainable tourism and being a responsible traveler.

After seeing several examples of inspiring sustainable tourism in the Philippines, I realized how easy it is to do. It just takes some small actionable steps, supported by some extraordinary people. Truth is, it’s easy for us to act responsibly while traveling; sometimes we just need to see it in action. 

We can all learn something, however small, and put it into practice in our respective environments. And collectively, we can make a big difference.

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Sipping on freshly cut coconuts


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Sustainable village on Catanhawan Island


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Leave the scene clean


Where to stay in the Caramoan Islands

It’d be amiss of me not to mention where we stayed during our trip to the Caramoan Islands.

The incredible 4-star Tugawe Cove Resort is the kind of place that lets you detach — temporarily — from the world. Soak up the stretching views from the comfort of the infinity pool, and bask in the lush green gardens.

What’s more, the resort is a big advocate of sustainable tourism so you’ll be in good hands. Rooms are in the form of individual huts, and very spacious inside.

Over to you. How often do you practice sustainable tourism while traveling? Are you pretty good at it, or is it something you need to work on? Let’s be honest with ourselves, and each other. Leave me your thoughts in the comments below.

Till next time, happy boutique travels x

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that I’ve recommended. Thank you for your support.


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Lisa Rivera

Lisa Rivera



Welcome to my site! I'm Lisa, founder of Following the Rivera. I write primarily for a ‘flashpacker’ audience, a demographic (late 20s onward) that enjoys glamping over camping and staying at boutique/luxury boutique hotels. Flashpackers also like to indulge in the local food and wine, cultural activities, as well as a spot of wellness on their travels. Want to know more? Read on....



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