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The search for the next Boracay: Carabao Island, Romblon

Art Fuentes, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 29 2018 04:22 PM | Updated as of May 29 2018 04:25 PM

The locals call it Hambil, but the rest of the world refers to it as Carabao Island. Also known as the municipality of San Jose in Romblon, this slice of tropical paradise has been described as Boracay from 30 years ago.

Located just roughly half an hour away from Boracay, it’s a beautiful place that is still relatively pristine, and with enough investment and proper environmental planning it could become a must-visit destination in itself instead of an afterthought for travelers going to Boracay.

For the longest time, Carabao Island has been like a satellite orbiting Boracay, its fortunes tied tightly to the latter’s tourism industry. Many guests in Boracay often take day tours to Carabao Island, or stay there for a couple of days to enjoy its more serene vibe before heading back to party in Boracay. A lot of the island’s residents also happen to work in Boracay itself.

The beachfront in Poblacion, Carabao Island. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

But Hambil can hold its own against its more popular neighbor. Carabao Island has its own powdery white-sand beaches, coral reefs and spectacular cliffs. Adventurous travelers looking for an adrenaline fix can try its numerous cliff diving sites, while those looking to simply relax can swim in the calm waters of its beaches or sit back and watch the waves crash on the jagged cliffs.

The island supposedly got its name because during the Spanish colonial period, it had lots of carabaos and cattle. But during our short trip around the island, we spotted just one carabao and a handful of cows. Though it seems to be now bereft of bovines, the association with the Philippines’ supposed national animal stuck.

 

HOW TO GET THERE

The easiest way to get to Carabao Island is to book a flight to Caticlan. From there it’s just 1 to 1.5 hours away by boat.

But since airlines have cut back on flights to Caticlan and Kalibo since Boracay’s closure in April, going to Carabao Island has become a bit more complicated as the nearest airport is in Roxas City, which is 145 kms. away. Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific have daily flights to Roxas City.

From the Roxas airport, you can get a taxi (standard fare is P300) to the UV Express terminal going to Kalibo. The van fare from Roxas to Kalibo is P120, while the van fare from Kalibo to Caticlan Jetty Port is P100. Travel time from Roxas to Caticlan can take anywhere from 4-5 hours. Vans also don’t depart until they are full.

From the jetty port, you will need to ride a tricycle to Sambiray port, where the boats going to Carabao Island dock. The 10-15 minute ride will cost around P50 to P70.

Visitors to Carabao Island take a scheduled boat from Sambiray Port, near the Caticlan Jetty Port to Boracay. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

There are 2 daily boat trips from Caticlan to Carabao Island. The first trip is at 9 a.m. with at least 2 boats taking on passengers. The second trip is at 3 p.m. with just one boat. If the boats fill up with passengers before the scheduled departure time they will leave early, so it’s best to get there an hour earlier.

From Tablas Island, Romblon

You can also get to Carabao Island from Tablas Island in Romblon. Cebu Pacific flies thrice a week to Tablas. From the airport, you will need to ride a jeepney to Sta. Fe port where a boat departs at 9 a.m. for Carabao Island.

WHAT TO DO

Enjoy the powdery white sand

Carabao Island has its own powdery white sand beach rivaling Boracay. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

The town center or Poblacion has a white sand beach where visitors could swim or just chill out. However, a lot of boats that are used to ferry tourists in Boracay are also anchored there, which sadly cuts into the beach space. If you want a bit more room, you can go to Sea Garden Beach Resort which is just a 5-minute walk from the pier. Entrance is just P20.

There are also beach resorts in Brgy. Lanas, although the sand here is not as fine as that along the Poblacion. There are several other smaller beaches with fine white sand scattered across the island, but you will also need to rent a motorcycle to get to them.

Dive off a cliff

Cliff diving is a popular activity at Cathedral Cave in Carabao Island. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

The island is blessed with numerous cliffs where you can jump to your heart’s content. One of the first things people see while approaching Carabao Island are the Kumpel and Angas caves and cliffs in Brgy. Pinamihagan where a cliff diving platform juts out from the jagged rocks. You have to careful though if you jump here as the waves can be quite rough.

You will need to ride a motorcycle or habal-habal to get there. Motorcycle fares for tourists range from P70 to P150 depending on where you are going or if you’re a solo passenger. Other more popular cliff diving sites are Koding Koding Point and Cathedral Cave in Brgy. Lanas.

Explore caves

The Cathedral Cave on Carabao Island. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

Koding Koding has a small cave that houses a shrine to the Virgin Mary. You can visit this cave without needing any special gear. Cathedral Cave, however, is much larger and will require a guide as well as a spelunking helmet and lamp. It can be quite humid inside the cavern and you will likely exit it soaking in sweat, which may motivate you to cool down later by jumping off a cliff.

Other popular caves are Kayapniton, Dingle and Ngiriton. You will also need guides to visit these places.

Snorkel and scuba dive

Various water activities can be done in and around Carabao Island. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

When you dive off Cathedral’s cliffs, you plunge into crystal clear waters that also happen to have some really nice coral reefs nearby. The corals here are better than the ones in Boracay according to the locals. You can rent snorkeling gear at Cathedral Cave, and book a dive with Carabao Backpackers Guest House.

WHERE TO STAY

Various types of accommodations are available on the island. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

Most of the resorts are concentrated in Brgy. Poblacion and Brgy. Lanas. Accomodations range from backpacker hostels which charge P500 per head to full-service resorts that charge P5,800 per room.

If you want to stay near the pier to catch the earliest boat ride back to Caticlan or Sta. Fe in Tablas Island, Said Beach Inn sits right next to the pier. If you want a backpacker’s dorm room with a view, Rocksbay offers the most affordable accomodations and it has a killer view of nearby Boracay too.

Poblacion

Said Beach Inn
Kameo Lodge
Terraza de Isla Carabao
Republic of Inobahan
Reynaldo’s Place

Lanas

The Beach House
Nipa Hauz
Carabao Rocksbay Resort
Lanas Beach Resort
Carabao Backpackers Guest House

WHERE TO EAT

The usual Filipino fare of seafood and sisig are available in some of the restaurants. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

There are only a few restaurants on the island and the menu is limited to familiar Filipino dishes like sisig, liempo, pork barbecue, fried chicken, fried shrimp, the occasional fried lapu-lapu and, of course, pizza. The beach resorts in Brgy. Lanas have their own restaurants.

But at the Poblacion, your choices are: BB Bar and Cafe, Cafe Terraza, and The Bamboo Bar and Restaurant.

As Carabao Island caters mostly to day trippers and visitors from Boracay, expect food prices to be a bit expensive.

NOTE: The island has no electricity from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Globe and Smart both have cell sites on the island, but don’t expect LTE mobile speeds there; 3G is the most you can hope for right now.

Credits:
Photos by Mark Demayo
Aerial shots by Art Fuentes

The search for the next Boracay series: https://news.abs-cbn.com/specials/next-boracay

TIPS FOR RESPONSIBLE BEACHGOERS

1. Respect the surroundings. Don't leave your trash on the beach. Better yet, don't create trash. Avoid buying drinks in plastic bottles, using plastic straws and plastic bags.

2. Respect marine life. Don't disturb turtles, fish and other creatures. Don't step on corals because those things are fragile.

3. Respect people. Avoid playing loud music that disturbs others. Be sensitive by wearing appropriate clothing. Wearing bikinis near churches, schools or offices may offend the locals.

4. Patronize establishments that don't pollute. If your hotel's drainage leads directly to the sea, maybe it's time to check other accommodations.

5. Pick a beach that doesn't get a lot of people as congestion puts stress on the environment.