The rumors are true. There exists an island off the coast of the famed Boracay Island that also boasts of postcard-worthy shorelines sans the crowd, rows of commercial establishments, nightly parties, and other drunken debauchery. A tranquil island teeming with immaculate beauty where you can spend the entire day just lounging on the beach with a good book or listening to the waves and the sway of the palm leaves with a cold drink in your hand without the threat of unsuspecting tourists disturbing your solitude. In other words, off-peak season Boracay — only, it lasts all yearlong.
Locals call it Hambil, but outsiders most commonly refer to it as Carabao Island. Situated in the province of Romblon, a group of 20 islands and islets in the MIMAROPA region in Visayas, Carabao Island has talcum powder-like sand, crystal clear waters, a flat seabed conducive for leisure-swimming, budget-friendly beachfront accommodations, hospitable locals, a peaceful community, and an unlimited supply of coconuts — definitely all the ingredients you need for a perfect and unforgettable tropical island getaway.
Enveloped by the Sibuyan Sea on the north, east and south, and Tablas Strait on the west, Romblon Province has three major islands: Sibuyan, Romblon, and Tablas, which is the closest to Carabao Island. Romblon has rich deposits of high-grade marble found in great abundance all over the archipelagic province. These marbles are used for construction and artistic sculptures, with some experts even saying that marbles produced in Romblon can rival the quality of those from Italy, hence its acclaim as the “Marble Capital of the Philippines” and the “Marble Country of Southeast Asia”.
Carabao Island is accessible by boat from Caticlan in mainland Aklan, Boracay Island, and Tablas Island. For this particular trip, my companion and I rented a private boat from Brgy. Bolabog, Boracay Island for 2,500 pesos round-trip. The boatmen, soft-spoken and shy brothers Sherwin and Shiro, are locals from Carabao Island who have about two boats that ply the Carabao-Boracay Island route daily. We left Boracay Island after brunch and arrived in Carabao Island around 1:00 p.m. We were lucky the weather decided to cooperate, so it turned out to be a quick and pleasant 45-minute ride. It was sunny and breezy at the same time when we arrived.
Our boat docked at Said Port in Inobahan, where a couple of jovial locals with motorbikes parked on the sidewalk immediately approached us for an island tour. We haggled for a reasonably priced half-day tour around the island, and then asked to be taken to a budget-friendly resort close to the beach. The island tour costs 500 pesos per person. For such a small amount, you get to have your own motorbike with driver and a tour around the island and its natural tourist attractions.
There are several accommodations available to tourists along the beach within walking distance from the port. There is Republic of Inobahan Beach Resort that is owned by the Mayor of Carabao Island, Friedls Cottage managed by a French national, and a couple of other inns and homestays. We opted to stay at the newly built Terraza de Isla Carabao Beach Resort located near the tourism office and the “Welcome to Isla de Carabao” arch. For 500 pesos per person, you can sleep comfortably in an air-conditioned room with your private comfort room. Ask for the rooms on the ground floor with huge glass windows facing the unspoiled beach dotted with palm trees and small pastel-colored fishing boats.
Kuding-Kuding Cave is the latest cliff-side tourist attraction that opened on the island. Only about four-months-old, Kuding-Kuding Cave (or Pusa-Pusa in Filipino) has a small underwater opening that leads directly to the ocean. Our guide jokingly informed us that cats frequent the cave and its surroundings, hence its name. It takes about 30 minutes to get to Kuding-Kuding Cave by motorbike from Said Beach, and there is an entrance fee of 100 pesos per head. Kuding-Kuding Cave carries an appeal for the more adventurous type who loves to go cliff-diving or swimming inside caves. The locals installed wooden dive boards on the cliff and threw in a makeshift raft just outside the underwater cave opening where tourists and locals alike can play around. During our visit, a couple of high-spirited teenagers were swimming and jumping off the raft. My companion and I are self-confessed beach bums who possess close to zero swimming skills. Luckily, we met a charismatic nine-year-old local girl who willingly showed us just exactly how to enjoy Kuding-Kuding Cave, even effortlessly jumping off the cliff some five to eight times.
Ngiriton Bat Cave
Part of the half-day island tour is a visit to Ngiriton Bat Cave. According to our guide, Ngiriton means Smiling Face in English — perhaps because the mouth of the cave actually forms a huge grin. Ngiriton Cave is about 15 minutes away from Kuding Kuding Cave. There is an entrance fee of 100 pesos per person, which includes one fresh coconut taken straight from the coconut trees surrounding the cave to quench your thirst after exploring the small albeit fascinating cave filled with bats.
We got back to our lodging at around six in the evening. There wasn’t much to do in the island at night as there are no loud clubs and bars the likes you see in nearby Boracay Island. We had a quiet dinner of rice and grilled chicken by the beach at the in-house restaurant of Republic of Inobahan Beach Resort. We called it an early night and awoke early the next day to watch the island welcome another day with a breathtaking sunrise.
Let me tell you something about Carabao Island. Despite its proximity to the world-renowned white sand beaches of Boracay Island, it isn’t for nightlife luminaries looking for crowded beachside bars with raucous laughter and drunken conversations coming off from all corners. It isn’t for those who look for the conveniences of the modern world to complete their vacation. There are no fancy restaurants and coffee shops in this island. There isn’t even a proper souvenir shop. Electricity is sufficient. There is good water supply. But for those millennials who feel the need to give real-time updates on their Facebook and Instagram followers, a word of warning: internet connectivity in the island is almost slowed down to a snail’s pace. And that may just be the best thing about this island. Sometimes, all you need is just a day or two of total disconnection from your digital world. Log out, unplug, and just be in the moment. Relish the rhythmic sound of the waves crashing on the shore. Breathe in lungful after lungful of fresh ocean air. Dig your little toes into the sand. Experience all these without feeling the strong urge to go online and post a status or photo update. Social media can wait. Some moments cannot.
Carabao Island is for those yearning for silence, solitude, and serenity. And for my companion and I who just wanted a short break from the world and its demands, Carabao Island proved to be the best breather we’ve had in a long time.