Carabao Island, is billed as “an emerging island paradise”, and is located at the southern tip of Tablas Island, Romblon, just a short boat ride from Boracay. There are grand plans to transform the island into a mega-resort destination complete with an international airport to provide direct access from other Asian countries (the land for the airport has been cleared for some time now, however construction is still yet to begin).
There are two main beaches on Carabao Island – Lanas beach on the western side of the island and San Jose beach on the east. Lanas beach is the closest to Boracay and is a good destination for divers (45 minutes boat ride). You could actually see Puka Beach from here and the lights of the huge resorts at night. There are a number of good dive sites within easy boat ride from Lanas, and at least one resort (Ivy’s Beach Resort) offers diving tours. The beach itself, however, is not particularly stunning. The sand is quite coarse, not the powdery white sand of Boracay, and there is a fair amount of sea weed washed up on the shore. There is no coral directly off the beach for snorkelling either.
Despite this a number of resorts have already sprung up along Lanas Beach with more being built. No doubt the proximity to Boracay is fuelling the development and will ensure the future popularity of these resorts as people look to escape the chaos of “Boracay”.
On the other side of the island is San Jose beach. San Jose is the largest community on the island, and has a port where ferries from mainland Tablas dock. The San Jose beach really is beautiful, and sports the same white powdery sand as can be found at Boracay. The area, however, is nearly totally devoid of tourist infrastructure. There is a road along the beach with residential buildings (the most magnificent of which belongs to the mayor); however there are not really any guest houses, resorts or restaurants currently operating.
The only official accommodation at San Jose is at the mayor’s place, named “The Republic of Inobahan”, however this is quite expensive for long term travelers like us (room rates start at Php1000). You can stay cheaply in a two-storey nipa hut just at the port, however the accommodation there is very basic. Another option is camping on the beach, which is permitted according to one of the local councilors. He also showed us some properties for sale in the area although we didn’t have any intention of buying one. It was nice though getting some local information about the place even unsolicited bits on who owns this land, that resort or that big house.
North of San Jose, accessible by motorbike, there are a few more beaches which, while they are not great places to visit right now, one could imagine that they might be quite nice with a bit of a cleanup. There is also a beautiful and secluded beach and cove just near the ferry port – you just need to scramble over some rocks to gain access to it.
So is Carabao Island the “emerging island paradise” that it claims to be? Well, visiting the island today it’s hard to imagine that this island will ever become “the next Boracay”. The San Jose beach is certainly beautiful, however the infrastructure on the island has a long way to go, and it will take a lot of investment for it to become a world class destination. Certainly if the planned international airport pushes through (some residents on the island are skeptical that it will) it will provide the boost needed to propel the island into the limelight. Until then, go there to enjoy an uncrowded powdery beach or some nice diving away from (but near to) the maddening crowds of Boracay.
How to get there
From Manila or Batangas: Catch an overnight ferry to Odiongan port, Tablas. From there take the first jeep of the day to Santa Fe where you can catch ferry to San Jose on Carabao Island (45 mins). You’ll probably need to stay overnight on Tablas somewhere (either Odiongan or Looc would be good options). If you miss the public ferry to San Jose, you may be able to charter a private boat to take you.
From Boracay/Caticlan: From Caticlan you can arrange a boat ride to San Jose (about 45 mins). Timetables and prices vary, so ask around in Caticlan or Boracay.
San Jose to Lanas Beach: To reach Lanas beach from San Jose take a habal-habal (P120 for 2 pax).