Romblon’s Carabao Island: The promised land

I admit I knew little of Carabao Island except that, standing an hour away from Caticlan, it’s a quick escape from the noise of the party island Boracay. I remember searching about it online a year before, but the photos didn’t really impressed me.

The photos I’ve seen apparently were not able to capture the sightly clear beach of Carabao Island or the adventure offered in Koding-Koding Point, with its underwater tunnel and cliff-jumping area.

On the boat ride from Tabon Baybay port to Carabao Island, my curiosity was piqued by the shirt our boat captain was wearing. Underneath “Carabao Island,” it says, “The promised land.”

Exploring Carabao Island

The beach in Carabao island has white sand, with clear white-blue waters. There used to be a marine sanctuary here about 3 years ago; now the beach is open to the public.

An hour away from Boracay. (Photo by Hali Navarro)
The clear beach in Isla de Carabao, Romblon. (Photo by Hali Navarro)
Sea urchins, star fishes and sea anemones can be found farther along the beach. (Photo by Hali Navarro)

Amazingly, we didn’t need to go far to see the beach. It’s in the same stretch where the port is located and goes alongside the main road, separated by lines of coconut trees. In the late afternoon, the water recedes to reveal a field of seaweeds several meters away, where there are sea urchins, star fishes and sea anemones. In the morning and afternoon, everybody is free to frolic in its tropical waters.

Aside from the beach, there are also landmarks in Carabao Island to visit: a farm with an overlooking view of Boracay Island, Koding-Koding Point and Ngiriton Bat Cave.

After hours of swimming, we rode habal-habals through steep hillsides until we reached a coconut tree plantation. Past the farm’s wooden gates is a spot that overlooks the whole of Boracay. White Beach is at the other end.

We rested here for a bit. The farm caretaker even harvested fresh coconuts for us for free, doing an impressive tree climb.

A farm with an overlooking view of Boracay Island. (Photo by Hali Navarro)
A visit to a province won’t be complete without fresh coconuts! (Photo by Hali Navarro)

We stop next at Koding-Koding Point. The rocks here are pointed and ragged, and a wooden diving board has been set up for those who want to jump to the sea below. Unfortunately, it was Habagat season and the waves were too strong. Hali kept hinting about diving anyway, and his guide kept hinting back that it wasn’t safe.

Cliff jumping site in Koding-Koding Point. (Photo by Hali Navarro)
Are you gonna jump? (Photo by Hali Navarro)

We went inside a cave, where there’s an underwater tunnel that leads outside. Similarly, it wasn’t safe to go through it. Hali tried, and it seemed as though the waves would thrash him against the walls and cave ceiling. Nonetheless, he told me it was amazing underwater and I should’ve taken a peek, too.

Inside the cave. Underneath this pool is a tunnel leading to the sea outside. (Photo by Hali Navarro)
Hali swimming in the underwater tunnel in Koding-Koding Point. (Photo by Hali Navarro)

Our last stop was Ngiriton Bat Cave. There’s nothing much to see here, to be honest. It used to be an excavation site, and there used to be thousands of bats living in the cave. The bat population had since gone down. I’d already seen the bat caves in Samal Island, Davao, so this one was unremarkable for me.

The ride back from the land tour to our lodging was nice. We passed a road with flowering plants on both sides and then another long road along the beach. The beach’s sand wasn’t as white as the one earlier, but who can say no to a cool sea breeze?

Carabao Island: What’s in a name?

We asked our local guides why the island was named as such, and they told us there used to be lots of carabaos in the island. For the non-locals, carabaos are also known as water buffalos and are the national animal of the Philippines.

Reading online gave a different answer: apparently the island topography looks like a carabao. I’m not sure how this is so though. Another local we’ve talked to confirms that the name came from the island’s shape, saying that the local term Hambil is actually from the word “anvil.”

(We actually didn’t go around asking where Carabao Island got its name. We were just doing small talk.)

Carabao Island environmental management

The beach in Carabao Island is almost perfect, except that it needs thorough garbage clean-up. In the late afternoon when it was low tide, we spotted a few plastics buried in the sand along the beach. Similarly, the beach in front of Kameo Lodge seems to be a garbage dump of some sort. Perhaps this can be moved out somewhere else and the trash collected properly.

We also talked to a former government employee who said that, for years, there has been strict regulation on construction of buildings and resorts, following a specific distance from the beach. Accordingly, structures are now being allowed past this perimeter. It will be nice to have a clarification from the local government in Romblon and an investigation if this is proven true. If not, I think that will be a relief for all of us.

Travel Guide to Carabao Island

Going to Carabao Island

Carabao Island, referred to as Hambil by locals or its fancier Spanish-derived name Isla de Carabao, is part of Romblon province.

From Caticlan, ride a tricycle to Tabon Baybay port where there are daily passenger boats to Carabao Island, for P100 per person. Boat schedules are 8-9AM daily. Return trips to Caticlan are at 6AM daily.

From Bolabog Beach, it is also possible to charter boats from the locals for a day trip to Carabao Island. Rate depends on boat size and can range from P2000 (good for 4 people) to P3000-4000 (10-12 people), depending on your haggling skills.

Tours and accommodations

There are a few resorts and lodging available in Carabao Island. We stayed at Kameo Lodge, about 15 minutes away from the port. The rate is P500 for 2 people.

Kameo Lodge, contact no: 0917-548-7960

Beach in Carabao Island, Romblon. (Photo by Hali Navarro)
View from veranda in Kameo Lodge. (Photo by Hali Navarro)

The rate of habal-habals for a land tour is P500 per person. You’ll go through hills, rough roads and mountain trails, so only one person per habal-habal is allowed. There’s an entrance fee for every site visited, so prepare at least P150 each.

 

P.S. You might also be interested to see the other places we’ve been to in our 4-day vacation in Panay Island.

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