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Carabao Island is the southernmost (and smallest) of the islands that make up Romblon.
Carabao is also known as Hambil Island (its pre-Spanish name) or as San Jose (its legislative name).
Carabao is almost untouched by tourism. The beaches are deserted and quiet. It is nothing like Boracay. In fact, it is so laid back that there is hardly anything to do…
I made my own way from Tablas Island to Carabao Island.
The cost for the pump boat from Santa Fe, Tablas Island was PHP100. The trip was comfortable and took 45 minutes.
You get off the boat at the ferry terminal to find a sandy waterfront path about 400 metres long. Walk down this path to find the beachfront accommodation options.
At the end of the path is Poblacion village where you find the cheapest accommodation, shops and small eateries.
I still had my Globe SIM card that I purchased at Manila Airport when I flew in from Hanoi to Puerto Princesa.
I topped this up in Coron. Globe coverage is good on Carabao Island.
You will need your own Mobile Data Plan on Carabao. Many places do not have wifi and those that do may only have a ‘wifi zone’ in one of the common areas. The free wifi provided at your hotel can be very ‘variable’.
The best way to get around Carabao Island is by Moto.
The short trip from Hambil Beach to Lanas Beach costs PHP100 each way.
Scooter prices in The Philippines are higher than other South East Asian countries – but scooters on Carabao are the most expensive that I have found yet.
On Hambil Beach you only have 1 option: the Republic of Inobahan Hotel. They rent their scooter for PHP1000 / day. They told me that, on the western side of the island, they charge PHP300 / hour!
WHERE TO STAY:
Due to the lack of public transport, most people stay where their boat lands. In my case, this was Hambil Beach.
It is still possible to pitch a tent on the beach but, if you want to, come at the right time off year. An expat who has been living here for 15 years told me that the seas are rough for about 8 months of a year.
Otherwise, you are staying in one of the waterfront homestays / hotel.
Tucked behind Ate Luzvie’s you will find another hotel but I thought that it smelt of mould and that the rooms were over-priced (PHP1500) and run down (with broken aircon units).
At the northern end of Hambil Beach you will find one of the most well known (and biggest) place on the beach: the Republic Of Inobahan.
At the far northern end of the beach where the waterfront path turns into the village, you will find another hotel: the Terraza De Isla.
In town you will find cheaper accommodation options: Vista Violeta, TJ’s Haven, GP Lodge, and Freidles. Prices for rooms in these places are about PHP500. Just ask the locals and they will help you find them.
This is where you find the more up market hotels with aircon Double Rooms going for PHP3000 plus.
Lanas Beach is made up of broken corals and stones.
When the east coast seas get rough for 8 months in the year, the west coast remains reasonably sheltered.
The Lanas Beach resort area has a very different feel to it (compared to Hambil Beach).
The beach road is picturesque with modern resort buildings on the beach front. There are more being constructed.
ATE LUZVIE’s (HAMBIL):
The asking price was PHP1000 for a GRANDPAcking Standard Double Fan Room with cold water ensuite.
I negotiated them down to PHP900.
If you are staying a few nights, I would suggest that you should be able to negotiate them down to (possibly) PHP700 / night.
The hotel was nice and there was a balcony overlooking the beach – which was a pleasant place to sit in the evenings.
However, it is a quiet place where it would be hard to meet other guests.
They have a small eaterie selling ‘tin-pot’ cuisine in front of the hotel on the waterfront path.
REPUBLIC OF INOBAHAN (HAMBIL):
A Double Fan Room with a built-in bathroom ‘cubicle’ is priced at PHP750 / night; as I stayed 7 nights, they discounted this to a ‘friendly rate’ of PHP600 / night.
The Double Fan Room is BELOW GRANDPAcking Standard – mainly because of the bathroom ‘cubicle’ which has a cold water shower and a tapless sink. The room lacks some basic necessities – like a mirror. But, you get a small TV with satellite channels.
I preferred the Republic to Ate’s because it has a nice outdoor area to lazy around in and an open-air restaurant overlooking the beach; it just had better facilities than Ate’s.
The Republic also has a small ‘convenience store’ attached to it – but I found the prices to be inflated. If you walk 50 metres to the local shops you get better prices.
When I stayed at the Republic it had a water supply problem. This left my room without running water on my 3rd night; I could not shower that night nor use the toilet the next morning.
They semi-fixed the water the next day but they did not fix the water to my room; I had to use the shower & toilet in the vacant room next door. This was very inconvenient (especially at night) and the water in this room did not always work either. I found myself regularly checking the water in the room to make sure that the water bucket was always full – so that I could go to the toilet if I needed to and have water to flush the toilet. The problem was made worse by the fact that the bucket had to be filled up with the shower hose – which took forever.
This carried on for the remainder of my stay (another 4 days and nights).
It is, obviously, an unusual event but how an hotel deals with such problems is important. Even though they had other (but better) aircon rooms with running water available, at no stage did they offer to upgrade me to one of those rooms – they just expected me to suffer the inconvenience. They could have and should have done better. When I brought this to their attention at checkout, they discounted my room by PHP50 for the 5 nights that I did not have any water – at least that was something.
There aren’t many places to choose from. The only good restaurants are in the resorts. The 2 best restaurants are said to be the Republic on Hambil Beach and the Nipa Hauz on Lanas Beach.
THE REPUBLIC (HAMBIL):
The Republic is the only place on Hambil Beach that has a proper restaurant.
Something like a Chicken Alobo (chicken in a coconut sauce) with Rice costs PHP195. The price is the same for a Chicken Curry with Rice. Pork dishes with Rice tend to average PHP240, beef dishes PHP270, and fish dishes PHP300. Two Fried Eggs with Toast and Coffee for Breakfast costs PHP100.
I treated myself one night and had Chilli Garlic Prawns with Rice (PHP320).
THE REGGAE BAR (HAMBIL):
I don’t know its real name – I’m not sure that it has one.
They have a BBQ stall at the front and play a lot of Reggae music.
Their BBQ meals are reasonably priced. One night I had a Vegetable Noodle Soup as a starter followed by BBQ Chicken with a Dried Squid Kebab with Rice. The total cost was PHP120.
It is a ‘rustic’ little place where the locals gather to sing Karaoke in the evening.
You will find a couple of ‘tin-pot buffets’ on the beachfront and several more in the village. As usual, this is where you get your ‘cheap eats’.
The usual price for something like a Pancit (fried noodles) with a bread roll or a Mami (Noodle Soup) with a boiled egg is PHP40.
My favourite place was near the Elementary School as you head west out of town. When the road forks, it is on the left. This place is small and rustic but is the best value ‘tin-pot’ in town. It is run by a lovely young Filipina girl (R-G-May) and her grandmother (of 70 years old). They are as honest as the day is long – you just know that they will charge you the ‘Filipino’ price for everything. For PHP10 you can get a Breakfast of Rice Soup or Macaroni Soup (Sopas). A sweet bread roll is PHP5. A boiled egg is PHP10. Their Pancit and other dishes are PHP20. I had breakfast there many mornings: Macaroni Soup with a Boiled Egg and Sweet Bread Roll (PHP25).
A litre bottle of Golden Eagle beer will cost you PHP75 at the Reggae Bar. A Stallion of Red Horse PHP40. You get a bucket of 6 Stallion Red Horse for PHP200.
Near the ferry terminal there is a beachfront disco bar that has a Happy Hour between 5:00pm and 7:00pm. The Reggae Bar has a Happy Hour until 8:00pm with something like a Tequila Sunrise goig for PHP90.
Why not try a local rum (Tanduay): a 750ml Tanduay Dark (80 proof) costs PHP95 and a 1.5L bottle of coke PHP55.
There is no reason to feel unsafe in Carabao (IMHO). Quite the opposite. The people here are so friendly that it is hard to imagine that crime exists. The Romblons are known to be one of the safest places in The Philippines.
But, as with all poor places, be sensible. Don’t flash your wealth or leave things unattended.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
Relax. There really isn’t much else to do.
The Reggae Bar is a popular Karaoke Bar for the locals; you will catch them singing there most nights. The bar can get pretty busy late in the evenings.
The Republic also has a Karaoke Bar which is less popular.
It seems normal for singers to pay PHP5 for each song.
You will also catch small groups of locals singing in different places around town. If you are lucky, you may be invited to join them. It’s very relaxed.
Rent a scooter at the Republic for PHP1000 / day and tour the island.
Alternatively, rent a Moto Driver to take you around the island and show you the sights for PHP500 – the whole island trip will only take about 5-6 hours at a leisurely pace.
Here there is a bridge out to a small island.
The small island has diving boards if you want to go for a swim.
We skipped the cliff diving spot in the south of the island. I met Rolando the next morning whilst I was working in my hut on the beach. He invited me back to his house for lunch and to meet his twin boys. We sat and spoke broken English over a couple of 1L bottles of Golden Eagle. The rest of his family came and went. And, his mother served me a Filipino lunch of Pumpkin & Fish Soup with Rice.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
There are no ATMs. Bring plenty of cash.
There are some shops around where you can buy necessities. Otherwise, this is not a place to shop.
My next stop is Boracay Island. I need to go there for the Bureau Of Immigration (to renew my Visa).
I will tell you all about it when I post Carabao to Boracay.
You come to Carabao Island to relax, read a book, and sunbathe on a beach. There is, literally, nothing else to do. I found myself bored after just a few days.
The swimming in Hambil Beach and Lanas Beach is not very good. The waters are shallow with rocks close to shore. Therefore, this is more of a sunbathing destination than a swimming one. For that reason, I recommend that you go to Hambil Beach – it is the better beach – depending on the time of year.
There are only a couple of ‘western’ standard restaurants on the island to choose from: the Republic (Hambil) and the Nipa Hauz (Lanas). Given the quiet, uneventful days, you find yourself looking forward to a nice Dinner at night… this is your only ‘treat’ for the day. For that reason, a ‘local’ cafe doesn’t ‘cut the mustard’ and you find that you end up somewhere like the Republic and paying a premium for your meal. As a consequence, budget PHP200-300 each for Dinner.
Unless you really are ‘sunbathing bookworms’, you will find that 7 days on Carabao Island is more than enough. For this reason, it does NOT make it into MY RETIREMENT REVIEWS; it does not meet my criteria.
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