Credit: Allan Donque (https://www.flickr.com/photos/allandonque/4755336720/)

Credit: Allan Donque (https://www.flickr.com/photos/allandonque/4755336720/)

“Our small island has seven major volcanoes. One is still active. If it blows up, it’s bye-bye Camiguin.” Our guide Bebok’s words, as we stand atop Mount Hibok-Hibok at 1,332 meters, do not exactly fill us with confidence. Perhaps remaining stoic in the face of this possibility is the price you must pay for visiting this paradisiacal island.

Most travelers in the Philippines head straight to Boracay’s mega resorts in the Visayas region. It’s harder to get to, but if you head a little further south, Camiguin offers unspoiled beaches (no hawkers pushing sunglasses here) and a wild interior. Though small enough to circumnavigate in a day—the island is only 23 kilometers long and 14.5 kilometers wide—it has enough natural beauty to keep you exploring for weeks. Yet it’s a beauty that could disappear at any moment. As we clamber up a path of boulders that were once a molten lava flow, Bebok recounts Hibok-Hibok’s last eruption in 1951: “My father reached a boat in time and got out to sea. He watched the lava cover his town.” Today, thankfully, the island’s volcanology observatory promises more warning for residents and visitors alike.

The view from the summit—not just to Camiguin’s own shore but also the islands beyond—is expansive and memorable. When we reach the bottom three hours later, I am grateful for the Ardent Hot Springs that lie at the foot of Hibok-Hibok and provide a natural Jacuzzi. Nearby, (everything is nearby in Camiguin) is Katibawasan Falls, which appears lifted straight out of a Gauguin painting: water plummets 76 meters through impossibly green foliage as oversized butterflies loop by.

Camiguin’s landscape is equally rich offshore. One day, we ride out 10 minutes on a fisherman’s hopper to White Island. Little more than a sandbar, it is a great base for snorkeling. The seabed is crowded with perfectly shaped starfish, color-camouflaged bottomdwellers and clownfish hiding in purple anemone. An hour is quickly lost beneath the waves. On our return, the tides have transformed the sandbank. “Sometimes it’s shaped like a U, sometimes an S, sometimes an E,” laughs one of the fishermen, as he hands us opened urchins, pulled from the sea just minutes ago and seasoned with calamansi lime. Elsewhere on the island, a sanctuary run by local volunteers provides a haven for six clam species, including the onemeter- wide giant clams that have been harvested almost to extinction.

Though small, Camiguin has an important history. The explorer Magellan is said to have landed here in the early 16th century. In 1901, during the Philippine-American war, Camiguinons led a speared rebellion against the occupying American soldiers, and later generations fought the invading Japanese during World War II. The most visible traces of its past are its Spanish colonial-era churches, the most atmospheric of which is found at Bonbon. With its thick stonewalls and cliff-top position, the ruins have the imposing impact of a fortress. But it could not withstand Mother Nature: an earthquake in 1871 toppled the church’s roof and today it stands overgrown with moss. Nearby, a sunken cemetery, which slipped into the sea during the same earthquake, is marked with a giant cross, which makes for a beautiful, if eerie, sunset vista on our last night.

When we discover that the ferry service from Camiguin to Bohol is suspended, I am almost glad—I could easily spend another week here. But I have plane to catch, so I ask Michele Hess, the manager at Action Geckos Resort, to organize a charter plane. She smiles and says, “Transport can be tricky, which is why not too many tourists make it here. But we like it that way.” As I fly out that afternoon, looking for one last time at Camiguin’s dramatic peaks, I can’t help but agree.

First appeared in Travel + Leisure Asia in October, 2012.