My grip on to the side of the boat tightened as the huge waves tossed us up in the air. Our boat was like jumping over a hurdle while forging through the swells that were about a meter high. Even with a life jacket on, I was a bit concerned and my imagination ran wild. Will our small boat be able to make it to Carabao Island without capsizing? All thanks to our young but skillful boat men, my paranoia was wiped out about 45 minutes later when we arrived safely in Carabao Island. However, it wasn’t quite the Carabao Island that we were expecting it to be.
Our Awaited Arrival
We don’t know much about the place. I was walking along the White Beach in Boracay when I saw a photo of Carabao Island on one of the posters. I thought that it would be nice to check it out on our next island hopping tour.
The water was crystal clear however, a rocky coast with seaweeds washed up ashore welcomed us upon landing to this part of Carabao Island. We were then approached by locals and we asked them if we were indeed in Carabao Island. They confirmed that we were in one of its barangays, Barangay Lanas. These locals have been eyeing us from afar and have been waiting for our arrival. They are habal-habal (motorcycle) drivers who offer tours around Carabao Island.
After haggling with the price, we agreed to take a tour to Hambil Beach, their version of Boracay White Beach, which was on the other side of the island in Barangay Poblacion. As much as we wanted to do other things, we have little time to spare. We only have the boat chartered for four hours (10 AM – 2PM) from Station 1 in Boracay. So, without wasting anymore time, we hopped on to their habal-habal and made our way to Hambil Beach.
Carabao Island Backstory
It was originally known as Hambil Island until one of the Spanish voyagers who visited the island changed its name to Carabao Island or Isla de Carabao as it bears resemblance to that of a water buffalo from afar. But other stories say that a lot of Carabao roamed freely on the island’s terrain some time ago that’s why it was called Carabao Island. Today, Carabao Island is officially recognized as the island municipality of San Jose, Romblon located at the southern tip of Tablas Island. Not too far away, separated by Hambil Channel, is the world-famous island of Boracay.
The “Habal-Habal” Ride
The main mode of transportation to go around Carabao Island is the habal-habal. Navigating its narrow roads reminded me of our trip to Gigantes Norte in Gigantes Islands. The pathway was just wide enough for 2 motorcycles side by side to pass through. It has a series of ascends and descends traversing through coconut plantations, open fields and tree-laden path.
I particularly enjoy habal-habal rides because during these drives I get the opportunity to talk to or sort of interview the local drivers about their place. How things were and how things are now, what are their hopes and wishes for their place and how the surge of tourists affected their daily lives. More often than not, they were willing to share their thoughts. However, not all of them are very knowledgeable. There are even some who take advantage of travelers. But if I get lucky, I chance upon those who are genuine ambassadors of their respective places.
It took us about fifteen to twenty minutes to finally get to Barangay Poblacion. Along the road, Hambil Beach was already in sight just a few meters away from the town’s welcome arch. Our drivers dropped us off at one of the cottages then it was time to explore.
Carabao Island, A Diamond In The Rough
I stepped out from the cottage and moved closer to the shore to scan through the long stretch of uncrowded white sand beach which was kind of unexpected, given that it was close to Boracay. There was only one other group of tourists aside from us at that time.
The sea was fairly calm on this side of Carabao Island with minor waves delicately rushing to the shore. I made some more strides until I have felt its remarkably fine sand under my feet. The turquoise water was so clear and inviting and I couldn’t help to just gaze at it any longer so I joined my mom and aunt as they dipped in. It was noticeable that the seabed was as fine as the shore with few specks of minute stones.
After soothing our bodies with the refreshing water, I meandered along the shore to observe and to take a few more shots.
Lucky are those grade-schoolers whom I saw passing by this stunning road-side beach as part of their daily grind. The cottages have become an after school “tambayan” for some of them. At one end of the beach was the Port of Said, at the other end was the local tourism office.
Separating the beach from the main road and residential houses are the towering and gracefully bent coconut trees in perfect array along the coast. Truly an Instagram-worthy sight!
Carabao Island is a diamond in the rough; an untapped paradise that is brimming with potential to be one of the most sought after destinations if it will be well taken care of. Since it is a public beach, the shoreline has some bits and pieces of plastic bottles, soda cans and other garbage. It is an easy fix if both locals and tourists would take ownership and commit to the “leave no trace” policy.
Although it a was very momentary first meeting, the rawness of Carabao Island made a mark on me. I hope to take another trip here to do some more exploring as it was more than just an escape to the neighboring world-class island of Boracay.
How to get to Carabao Island – Boracay Day Tour
From Boracay, we chartered a boat from Station 1 for a day tour to Carabao Island for Php 3,000 and docked at Barangay Lanas. Then we took a habal-habal to bring us to Hambil Beach or White Beach for Php 300 per person. You may contact our habal-habal driver for a tour around the island. His name is Kuya Carlo and you can reach him at +63 930 928 7281.
It if is a bit steep for you for a day tour with limited time, there are also some boats going to Carabao Island from Bulabog Beach. Chartering a boat from here maybe cheaper as these are mostly the locals from Carabao Island who are working in Boracay who go back home in the afternoon around 2PM -5PM. When trying to get a ride from here use the name of Hambil Island rather than Carabao Island.
How to get to Carabao Island – From Caticlan – Longer Stay
According to our guide, there is also a boat that goes to Carabao Island directly from Caticlan. From Caticlan, take a tricycle and proceed to Tabon Baybay Port. From there you can take a passenger boat going to Carabao Island. Boat leaves at 8:30 AM and travels for about one hour to Port of Said in Barangay Poblacion (White Sand). Fare is Php 100. If you’re going back to Caticlan, the boat from Port of Said leaves at 5:30 – 6:00 AM the following day.
There is also another route from Sante Fe, Tablas, Romblon going to Carabao Island.
Other Things to do in Carabao Island
- Cliff Diving at Kuding-Kuding Cave (With Underwater Tunnel)
- Visit Ngiriton Cave (Bat Cave)
- Diving at Barangay Lanas
- Sunset Watching at Tagaytay Point
Read my other posts in this Panay Island series:
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How about you? Have you visited Carabao Island? How was your experience? We would love to hear from you. Share your thoughts.