This Biri Island Travel Guide contains travel tips, a sample itinerary, breakdown of expenses, and hotel and tour recommendations. Last updated: June 2018.
2013 • 3 • 10
Biri Island is where the gods go to wage war. This is where the San Bernardino Strait combats the mighty Pacific as the latter pushes its tides into the Visayan domain. The elements, who bear witness to the ferocious duel, are caught trapped in the battlefield. The winds sometimes cheer, sometimes howl as they watch from above. The waves, in their desperate attempt to flee, lap up the edges of the shore. And the land, Biri Island, referees the constant clash but not without finding a silver lining, getting a hold of it, and never letting go. As it takes the beating from the seas, who just pound its hard face with one blow after another, it allows the gods’ skilled hands to shape its cliffs. Every punching wave is a stroke of art and every gusty storm is a painful dash of necessary sacrifice — the torture in art, the beauty in chaos. The result, staggering rock formations that intimidate not just with their immensity but, more importantly, their splendor.
I first set foot in Biri Island when my travel career was in its infancy. I still remember that moment when I reached the peak of one of the rock formations and had my first glimpse of the surrounding landscape. “This is the most beautiful place I have been to!” I shouted to my friend. Six years, four continents, and 40 countries later, I was able to finally return. Biri Island remains just as breathtaking as I remember.
WHAT'S COVERED IN THIS GUIDE?
Understanding Biri Island
Located 45 minutes off the northwestern tip of Samar Island, Biri Island is part of the 18-piece Balicuatro Group of Islands that speck the perilous space between San Bernardino Strait and the Pacific Ocean, and Samar and Luzon.
The natural beauty of Biri Island is almost untouched. Its beaches are pristine, rock formations enormous, and sights absolutely spectacular. The town is peaceful and very laid-back. Yet, when you look around, the imagined war between the seas is alive. Every day is a battle between the forces of nature, and Biri stands in the crossfire. In the middle of it all, however, the town brims with a calm, friendly atmosphere that the locals here effortlessly and charmingly create.
Here are more essential info bits about the island:
- Language: Waray. Most locals can understand and speak Tagalog and English.
- Currency: Philippine peso (PHP, ₱). PHP100 is around USD1.92, EUR 1.56, SGD2.52 (as of June 2018).
- Modes of payment: CASH! Withdraw cash before you board your boat to the island. There are no banks or ATMs on the island. There is a Cebuana Lhuillier branch in the Lavezares Port area, in case you need to receive money.
- Connectivity: Both Smart and Globe have strong LTE data signal in the island. (I was surprised, too!)
- Electricity Info: 220V, 60Hz. Socket Type A, mostly. Electricity is usually available from 12 noon to 12 midnight only.
Best Time to Visit Biri Island
February to May. Isolated on the eastern end of the country, Biri Island experiences weather patterns that are slightly different from major cities. For example, while December is generally dry for the rest of the country, it is Biri Island’s wettest month.
And while the drier period extends to later months, bear in mind that the entire Samar region is along the usual typhoon path so avoid scheduling your trip in July-November if you can help it because flights can be prone to delays and cancellation. Our flight was once cancelled before and we had to travel for 6 hours by land to Tacloban to fly back to Manila.
How to Get There
Gone are the days when all three major low cost-carriers in the country — Cebu Pacific, Airphil Express, and Zest Air — flew to Catarman, the nearest airport from Biri. Now, only Philippine Airlines remains the only big airline that operates here and they fly from Clark. But there are other ways of reaching this elusive paradise.
- If you’re coming from Manila, take a bus to Clark and then fly to Catarman, Northern Samar. PAL’s flight as of this update is PR 2675 (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, 08:00am). Travel time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
- From the airport, take a tricycle to the main terminal. Cost: P100 per trip if you take those trikes at the main parking lot of the airport. Travel time: 5 minutes
- Ride a jeepney bound for Lavezares. Tell the driver you intend to go to Lavezares port. (Emphasis on Lavezares. When you just say pier or port, they easily assume that you mean the much bigger Allen port.) Travel time: 1 hour. Cost: P50.
- Find a boat that goes to Biri Town. Normally, on a busy day, the cost is P50. But when there are not many passengers, you might just want to pay for the remaining seats or just split the cost with other passengers. A private one-way trip costs P750. Terminal fee: P25. Travel time: 45 minutes.
- From Biri jetty, take a habal-habal to your hotel or guesthouse. Usual cost is P10 per person.
If flying to Catarman is not an option for whatever reason, you may just travel to Matnog, Sorsogon and take a ferry to Allen, Northern Samar. Then take a jeepney to Lavezares town. You may also fly to Calbayog or Tacloban, although the latter requires a 6-hour land travel from Leyte to Northern Samar. The Tacloban route is great if you’re backpacking across Eastern Visayas because it will allow you to see and explore much of the region.
Where to Stay
Biri Island is very remote and development has yet to take over. While there are now more upscale accommodations like those provided by Biri Resort (around P2250 per room), there are many cheaper options like guesthouses and homestays that range from P100 to P500 per night.
On our first time here, we chose to stay at Biri Resort and Dive Center for a number of reasons. Firstly, we came from Laoang Island where not many hotels exist and where water is kind of scarce. We just really wanted to have a very comfortable stay and a hot/cold shower, even if it meant paying a lot more.
Secondly, the electricity on the island is only available from 12 noon to 12 midnight. This means that you would have to deal with the heat the rest of the night. This is going to sound lame but we picked Biri Resort because we wanted to take the room with large windows on the second floor, just in case it got too hot for comfort. And as expected, it did.
Here are other accommodation options in the island. I also included their FB pages and mobile numbers so you can contact them directly.
Biri Resort and Dive Center
Contact No: 09202884904, 09292884904
- Executive Room (AC): P2500
- Superior Deluxe (AC): P1500
- Family Room (Fan): P1750
- Deluxe (Fan): P1300
- Budget (Fan): P750
Villa Amor Hotel
Contact No: 09353661415
- Room for 4 (AC): P1500
- Room for 2 (AC): P1200
- Room for 4 (Fan): P1000
- Room for 2 (Fan): P800
Glenda’s Bed and Breakfast
Brgy. Sto. Nino, a bit far from the town proper
Contact No: 09394665011
- Standard Room (AC): P1500
- Family Room (AC): P2000
- Fan Room: P1000
Gloria Vista Lodge (Homestay)
Contact No.: 09472967737
- Room for 3 (AC): P1000
- Fan Room: P200/pax
Seacret Homestay Apartments
Contact No.: 09996986255
- Standard Room (AC): P1500
- Family Room (AC): P2000
Exequel and Wyn Lodging House
- Air-conditioned Room: P800
- Fan Room: P200/pax
Places to Visit in Biri Island
The rock formations are the primary reason tourists visit Biri. There are six major rock formations on the northern side of Biri Island. (I’m pretty sure there are other islets and rocks in some nooks and tips of the island but there are six giant rocks formations on this end alone.) The six are called (in order, from West to East): Magasang, Magsapad, Macadlaw, Puhunan, Bel-at, and Caranas. The Progress trail gives access to the last four, which look like it was purposely arranged on the shore to knock off the violent waves slap-approaching the island. The first two are on the other side.
Aside form these rock formations, Biri island also cradles dive sites. I’m not a diver, so I’m not that familiar with the treasures it keeps under the surface.
Biri Island Tour Rates
The motorcycle, locally called habal-habal, is the most common and the most convenient way to get around. As soon as you hit the port in Biri Island, you’ll be greeted by habal-habal drivers that will offer to take you to your resort. They will also offer to tour you around after checking in. Habal-habal drivers in the island are well-informed of the rules as far as tourism is concerned. They know what to do, what’s allowed, and what’s prohibited.
After checking in at your resort, you will be taken to the Tourism Office (right across the Municipal Hall) to register and pay the P50 environmental fee. You’ll also find the standard rates of tours and other fees. But to help you budget your trip this early, we’ve already compiled them for you below.
- Habal-habal ride from port to hotel: P10 (one-way)
- Environmental Fee: P50
- Habal-habal tour fare: P195 (per unit, NOT per person)
- Tour Guide Fee: P300 (1 guide for up to 5 pax)
If you ask your motorcycle to wait for you at any of the stops, a fee of P25 per hour per habal-habal applies.
Tourists are advised to settle any fee with a tourism staff at the Tourism Office and not with the driver.
The fees are also bundled into tour packages. Here are the all-inclusive rates. Yep, the rates below include all the fees listed above.
- 2 pax, 1 habal-habal: P595
- 3 pax, 1 habal-habal: P645
- 4 pax, 2 habal-habal: P890
- 5 pax, 2 habal-habal: P940
- 6 pax, 2 habal-habal: P990
- 7 pax, 3 habal-habal: P1525
- 8 pax, 3 habal-habal: P1585
- 9 pax, 3 habal-habal: P1635
A habal-habal can accommodate up to 3 passengers (+driver). Because tours are charged per habal-habal used, it is cheapest if the number of people in your group is divisible by 3. At least, in theory. The truth is, I find sharing a motorcycle with 3 other people slightly uncomfortable. It would be best if there are only up to 2 passengers per ride. But it’s totally up to you.
Oh, Biri Island’s rock formations are great spots to watch the sunrise too. If that’s something you’d like to do, just add P200 to the tour guide fee.
Where to Eat
Eateries are not common in Biri. In fact, during our first visit, we did not see any place where we could dine. Fortunately, at the time, the caretaker of Biri Resort accepts cooking requests for P50 per instance. We simply went to the nearby market, shopped for ingredients, and asked the caretaker to cook them for us.
But that has changed now. There are a couple of seafood restaurants in the island now. The most well-known is Lawud Park Restaurant. It’s your typical Pinoy lutong-bahay restaurant, serving mostly seafood. Crabs and saang (a mollusk living in a large shell) seem to be the specialty. I’m not an adventurous eater so we stuck with squid, fish, and crabs. It’s located between the two rock formation areas and food prep takes a lot of time, so what I suggest is to order after you visit one site and then return and eat after the other.
There are also several sari-sari stores and snack booths throughout the poblacion. You can always munch on fish balls, quail eggs, or canned goods if you get hungry and you want an instant solution.
Sample Weekend Itinerary
A weekend is enough to see all the major rock formations on the island. But if you’re into diving and you have more than a weekend, you should probably extend.
Here’s my suggested weekend itinerary. This is not what I followed on my own trip but when I return, I’d do it in this order. Note that you should adjust this according to the tide schedule. To get to Macadlaw and Magsapad, you will have to wade through water than can rise dramatically. The waves are also very unpredictable but expect them to be unforgivingly tremendous. Although I spent only half-a-day to each rock formation groups, I would gladly stay the whole day in Bel-at, et al. I wanted to do just that before but we just failed to bring lunch. Thus, I also recommend that you bring food if you wish to have a picnic here. Just remember to #LeaveNothingButFootprints and take whatever you bring with you when you leave.
08:00 am – ETD: Clark
09:40 am – ETA: Catarman Airport
10:00 am – Leave for Lavezares Town
11:30 am – ETD: Lavezares Port (take a boat to Biri)
12:30 nn – ETA: Biri Port, check-in at hotel
01:00 pm – Start Tour: Expolore Magasang and Magsapad
03:00 pm – Bel-at Rock Formations
06:00 pm – Dinner at Lawud Restaurant
08:00 pm – Rest
From here, it’s up to you what you want to do. You can spend a night in Biri Island and catch the sunrise the next morning. You can go diving the next day. Or you can arrange an early morning boat ride back to the mainland Samar to catch your flight. You can also explore Catarman or other parts of mainland Northern Samar the next day.
To read more about how my trip went, please check out:
Biri Island Rock Formations and the Bel-at Natural Pool