Carabao Island: The Next Boracay? (San Jose, Romblon)

White sand beach

I have always been a frequent visitor to Boracay, my father-in-law being a native of Malay town which has jurisdiction over the island.  During this latest visit, for a change of scenery, my son Jandy and I opted to visit the nearby 28.9 sq. km. Carabao Island, touted as the “Next Boracay.”  This  island, part of Romblon province, was so named because of its carabao shape but is commonly called, by its natives, as Hambil.  It is 3 times bigger than Boracay and can be viewed from Boracay’s Mt. Luho View Deck. Relatively-unknown until lately, the prices of real estate in San Jose, Carabao Island’s only town, which is virtually occupied and owned by its original settlers, is also much cheaper compared to Boracay and foreign investors from the European Union, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan have shown interest in relocating to San Jose after they discovered the island’s white sand beaches and crystal-clear waters said to rival, if not equal, Boracay’s.  Reportedly, investors were also discouraged to find taxes on Boracay Island to be “quite high.” 

Carabao Island seen from Boracay

I wanted to visit this still pristine island before the onset of continuous and uncontrolled Boracay-like development spills over to the island.   This is inevitable as plans are now underway for San Jose to be the site of the Romblon Special Economic Zone and that  work on a modern PhP5 billion international airport with a 4,000 m. long runway, to accommodate large-bodied Airbuses and similar aircraft, is expected to begin.  A boat to the island leaves, once daily, around 7:30 AM, from a landing near the Caticlan Jetty Port.  My co-passengers included a French couple, with their two cute little daughters, and Lanas barangay captain Ms. Emerita Sombilon whom I chatted with along the way.  The boat trip took about an hour, passing by Boracay’s rapidly developing east coast and Puka Beach on the north, the closest part of Boracay to Hambil. We again touched ground on Hambil’s jetty around 9 AM and decided, together with the Frenchman, to walk along the beach to the first resort that came our way: Ivy Vine Beach Resort.  We were welcomed by amiable British couple Graham and Pamela “Pam” Hill who were managing the resort in the absence of owners.   We instantly fell in love with the place and decided to stay, billeting ourselves in two of its 7 fan-cooled rooms with bath.  The resort also has a 3-4 pax dorm.  

Graham Hill of Ivy Vine Resort

After lunch (ordered in advance) at the resort’s restaurant, Jandy and I decided to walk long  the coast as far as our legs would allow, surveying the wonderful and bucolic scenery and the existing tourism infrastructure such as Nipa Hauz and the currently closed Carabao Beach Resort.  There are no jeepneys or tricycles for getting to and from the island’s 5 barangays as the narrow, single-track and partially concrete (but mostly rough) road only allows for motorcycles and mountain bikes.  We bought cool, refreshing drinks and halo-halo at small stores along the road.  

A bucolic scene

Come dusk, I decide to forego going to the town proper which was celebrating its fiesta (the Feast of St. Joseph, the town’s namesake).  Instead, we opted to have a quiet dinner at the resort and chat with Graham, Pam and the guests. It was also an opportunity to view its beautiful, uncluttered sunset which I found to be much better than Boracay’s which is usually obstructed with numerous boats and swimmers.

A beautiful Carabao Island sunset

Unlike many foreigners who fell in love with and stayed in Boracay, Graham and Pam fell for Carabao Island.  Graham, a divemaster, manages the dive shop, the only one, so far, on the islandPam helps manage the resort.  Both left high paying but mentally draining and stressful jobs to be in this piece of Shangri-la.  However, old habits still remain as they installed a satellite disk, to watch their favorite English football games, and internet (so far, the only one on the island) to keep in touch with relatives, friends and the latest developments in England.  Still, if things go their way, they plan to make the island their permanent home.  I can see why.