Read any tourist guidebook about Cebu, and you will certainly come across a paragraph or two about how beautiful Mactan’s beaches are. Indeed, many foreigners dub it as a “resort island,” due to sun-kissed beaches, magnificent resorts, world-class hotels, and five-star restaurants that dot the coral island’s coastline.
Okay, so you visit the resorts and find out that they are all excellent. The lawns and gardens are immaculately sculpted as if you have just entered the Garden of Eden. You sit on the lounge chair sheltered by swaying palm trees as you wait for the staff to bring you your favorite drink.
However, you feel that something is missing in all these man-made paradises. Well, if you look closely, you’d see the white-sand sand being kept trash-free by diligent staff. You may also see ugly seawalls that demarcate one beachside property to another, often resulting in a “fenced” beach. And during the rainy season, Yes, these paradises, no matter how spectacular are, are too man-made.
So where is that endless pristine, white-sand beaches that I saw in the photos? you might ask. Where is that turquoise lagoon that I saw in the postcard? Where are the colorful tropical fish that nibble at your feet? In short, where is the real paradise? Am I being scammed?
Well, you don’t need to worry. The paradises (note that we used the plural form) that you’re looking for are just a few miles offshore, nestled in the tiny islands that jut out of the Hilutungan Channel. You can get to these paradises in just 20 to 30 minutes by riding an outrigger boat called a pump boat. Getting to these pockets of heaven on earth via an outrigger boat is called island hopping, a term that once had a military meaning. In Mactan, island hopping is a must-do activity during summer.
Members and staff at JAM Fitness Gym, the gym where Sweetie and I work out, celebrated summer last May 19 through an island hopping trip. Not only was this a chance for everyone to have fun but it was an opportunity for gym members to show off their lean, sexy summer bodies!
We went to JAM Fitness Gym at 6 AM to meet up with the other members. An hour later, we were on our way to the drop-off point behind S2 Cebu Club Dive Marine Resort in Maribago, Lapu-Lapu City.
The tide was a bit low at that time so our assigned pump boat was moored some distance away to prevent it from running aground. To get to the pump boat, we rode this human-powered barge and paid the tower P5 per person.
It’s not difficult to know why Mactan is often categorized as a first-class, world-renowned resort island. The eastern shore of Mactan is chock-filled with these 5-star hotels, resorts, rest houses, and condominiums. And despite the massive seashore development, the coastal areas are still quite pristine. Just look at that clean, aquamarine water!
Mactan Island is practically the capital of marine recreational activities and sports in the Visayas region. Outfitters provide a plethora of services and equipment for scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, windsurfing, jetskiing, parasailing, and many others. Here, a group of happy tourists paddled past our boat.
Sweetie and Alexa were so excited with this trip that they were the first ones in the pump boat!
Half an hour later, everyone was all accounted for. Foodstuffs? Check! Waterproofing? Check! Life vests? Check! Sun protection? Check! Cold drinks? Check! We were all set to go!
Goodbye, Mactan Island, for now. We wouldn’t be surprised that in a few years from now, that skyline will be filled with magnificent skyscrapers, hotels, corporate towers, and condominiums. In a few years from now, that skyline would become very Miami-esque.
A lovely eternal dance of sea and sky,
Blue lips meld but only in an endless distance,
With the absence of touch and tenderness, they only have eyes for each other
As man passes between them, oblivious to their infinite love
Nalusuan Island Resort and Marine Sanctuary
Our first stop (somewhat) is the popular Nalusuan Marine Sanctuary way behind Olanggo Island. What we saw at first glance as we approached Nalusuan is a one-hectare island that is filled with structures with a long walkway that serves as a port for pump boats.
We arrived at the resort and sanctuary. Look at that lovely aquamarine water! That deck on stilts is the staging ground for divers and snorkelers who wish to view the magnificent coral reef around the island.
This is just the outer perimeter of the reef. As you can see, the rocks are encrusted with gorgeous corals.
Unfortunately, the rates are so expensive that they literally made everyone’s jaw drop! The entrance fee to the island is P200! And that does not include the cottage rental rate. The corkage is just mind-boggling. Just imagine, bringing in a bottle of Coke will cost you P50 per bottle. Bringing in a bottle of alcoholic drink will drain you of P350! And we just didn’t bring a bottle, but more like 5 cases of softdrinks and liquor! We wouldn’t want to imagine how much we need to spend for the recreational activities and the rooms offered there.
While our guide and gym-mate Ryan negotiated with the officer-in-charge, I took the opportunity to have a nice swim in the cool, clear water.
Unfortunately even after all the negotiation, we were still left at a financial disadvantage. So, screw it. We decided to move on to a cheaper alternative: Caohagan Island, which was just 20 minutes away from Nalusuan.
After slowing down and carefully negotiating the shallow waters as we closed in on Caohagan, we finally reached a rocky bay at the rear end of the island. This rocky bay serves as a dock.
There was no way to get your feet dry to go ashore. Thus, gym-mates jumped into the water and helped each other carry our picnic “equipment.” Sir Eddie, JAM Fitness Gym’s owner, carried his wife Ma’am Maita to the shore. Now that’s real love. 🙂
As we reached the shore, we quickly realized that Caohagan, which is just several hectares big, is not just an island. It’s actually a thriving rural community with a chapel, a community hall, a number of stores, several homes, and all other aspects that make up a community. They even have a small patrol of coastal watchmen! And everywhere, there were children laughing, young men chatting or playing basketball, and women chattering with neighbors.
We just found it amazing considering that a community that is so near yet so disconnected from an ultramodern civilization thrives here. For starters, just consider the relatively massive amount of money and logistics that these islanders have to consider so that they can go to the mainland to buy supplies.
Everywhere we went, we found evidences of a vibrant but rural community. For instance, nipa huts still dominate the type of residential structures found in the island. Staff from a day care center houses, educates, and entertains children while their parents are away. Also, since the groundwater here is brackish, people set up large jars to collect fresh rainwater.
The swimming area is located at the other side of the island, which can be reached by a 15-minute walk right in the middle of the community. We couldn’t help but admire Caohagan’s effort in maintaining the beauty of their island. Even though Caohagan Island is densely populated, there are still shady trees that add color and vibrancy to the island.
We reached the swimming area, which is actually a lagoon enclosed in sand (see the first photo of this blog post). We’re very glad to know that this small middle-of-the-sea community is very serious in promoting Caohagan as a top but cheap tourist spot.
We set up our lechon and other foodstuffs for lunch.
Now, that we’re talking about lunch, let’s start with Caohagan’s culinary delights. There was a makeshift “market” on the side that sells all kinds of seafood. Best of all? Most of them are exotic and alive, meaning, you are assured of their freshness. We saw living rock lobsters, shellfish, and abalones among the usual squid, fish, and meat. Since we brought our own food, we saved money and didn’t order anything here. But as we went home, we suddenly blurted out, “We should have tried the lobster.”
We also saw these ugly Stonefish. These are extremely venomous, so they have to be handled very carefully. The pain from the sting of one of its spines is said to be so horrible that victims have been known to beg to have the affected limb amputated.
After choosing your meal, you can have the organism cooked with a minimal fee. How do you want it? Grilled? Boiled? Inun-unan style? Adobo style? You name it, and the madams in the island will cook it. Mmm! They looked very delicious!
Caohagan’s efforts to promote tourism in their place are not in vain. Do you want evidence? Well, check out this boatload of Japanese tourists enjoying freshly cooked seafood under the sun. The fact that foreigners were able to locate this secret nook is a testament that their campaign is working. We are pretty sure that the campaign includes trying out exotic Cebuano seafood.
After taking our lunch, Sweetie, Alexa, and I headed out to the lagoon. It was low tide, so the water was ideal for snorkeling.
While wading towards deeper water, we encountered these kids who proudly showed us their catch, sea creatures that we’ve never seen before. Is that a huge pentagonal starfish?
During low tide, these spiny black urchins become abundant. Watch out for their spikes because they sting and break off when you step on them. Elsewhere, a different, less menacing type of urchin hid in a crevice as we approached nearer.
At low tide, we witnessed the lagoon come to life. Less than a hundred yards away from the shore, we saw a large school of small fish.
See those dark patches in the sand? Those are colonies of bivalve mollusks. Thus, the next time you walk barefoot on the sand during low tide, you might want to keep in mind that what you’re stepping on may not be sand or rocks . . .
What in the name of heavens is this thing? I told Sweetie it was a sea cucumber, but now, I’m not so sure. Perhaps someone might want to shed light on what this strange creature is?
We dipped for quite awhile before our gym-mates called us to head back. On our way back, we encountered this little fellow. We later learned that this was a variety of stingless jellyfish.
Before leaving Caohagan, we bought a couple of souvenirs displayed in the many stands along the lagoon. Don’t haggle; the souvenirs here are very cheap, and the craftsmen/sellers who are making them are getting razor-thin profits.
We didn’t buy shell products though. Yes, they may be pretty; but by purchasing them, you are encouraging the slaughter of cones, cowries, and other seashells. Stay away from buying products made of seashells or other marine creatures because that is NOT eco-tourism.
Snorkeling at the Outskirts of the Hilutungan Marine Sanctuary
Our gym-mates called us because they wanted to go to deeper water, which is more fun. So, we left Caohagan Island and cruised for half an hour. We stopped by the edge of the Hilutungan Marine Sanctuary. We didn’t dock at the sanctuary itself to avoid a payment of P100 per person.
As soon as the boat dropped anchor, we immediately jumped in. Looking into the water, we realized we have anchored at a kantil, the very edge of the island’s shelf. See that extremely blue section at the top of the photo? That’s the very edge of the cliff and into the abyss.
Ryan promised the group a bunch of fresh sea urchins (called tihi-tihi in the dialect) that we can eat. He didn’t renege on his promise, and he brought us a huge catch of tihi-tihi, which went very well with rice.
We saw a carefully hidden trap a few meters below the surface. Fishermen use this to catch crabs, fish, and other marine creatures.
One of the guys took the trap out so we can get a closer view. It was empty, which probably means it was placed there not long ago. In a few days, the trap would most probably be filled with sea creatures that will later end up as meals.
The joy of the sea, the starfish. We found several lying on the bottom of the sandy shelf. Although they look cute and would serve as great decorations, you shouldn’t get them out of the water. Remember these are living things and are important to the reef’s ecology.
Our gym-mates realized that we have a waterproof camera. So we goofed of and had some underwater shots. The boys had fun!
The girls had fun!
Of course, I had fun!
Remember that huge bunch of tihi-tihi that our guys brought from the seabed? Well, there was still a bunch left, so we devoured them. Just crack the shell and scoop out the yellow meat. They taste salty and with a very similar texture of the fat of a crab.
Island hopping is truly an excellent way to beat the summer heat and to experience summer fun in Mactan. And definitely, it is a way to escape to paradise!
This is our entry to Pinoy Travel Bloggers Blog Carnival for the month of November 2016 entitled, “Retracing Steps and Other Homegrown Stories” hosted by Celine of the award-winning travel blog Celineism.
1. For guideship services, contact Ryan Augusto at 0929-1910360. Ryan is also a divemaster, so for scuba divers out there, he’s your guy to get in touch with for dive adventures safaris. Ryan also arranges jetski rides, city tours, and Bohol tours. For some reason, he also offers massage services.
If this is your first time island hopping in Mactan, ask Ryan to recommend a number of islands to visit. Just tell him the activities you wish to partake —snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming in a secluded beach, etc.—and the number of people in your group so he can help plan out your itinerary and budget as well as arrange a pump boat and other equipment for you.
2. Boat rental and island hopping service fees depend on two main factors: the size of the pump boat and the islands that you plan to visit. As a rule of the thumb, you need to spend P3,000 to P5,000 to rent a pump boat. Needless to say, the larger the vessel or the farther your destination is, the more you will need to pay. Considering the relatively hefty rate, it is best to go island hopping as a group so you can divide the rate among the members of your group. Note that the rental price does NOT include the entrance fees to several of the islands.
3. Island hopping tours in Mactan are whole-day affairs so make the most of your money by maximizing the day.
4. Many of the islands in your tour have entrance fees ranging from P50 to P100, perhaps more for “touristy” islands. So you need to factor in the entrance fees in your budget. In some islands, you can avoid paying the fee if you don’t dock or wade ashore.
5. If you visit marine sanctuaries like the Hilutungan Marine Sanctuary, be prepared to pay a fee even though you have no intention of wading ashore. The collected fees are used to pay the Bantay Dagat personnel who constantly guide the area and for reef maintenance.
6. We recommend letting Ryan (or a travel agency of your choice) to arrange your island hopping trip. If you do it yourself, you will be accosted with extra fees, arrangements, and other hassles that will make your supposedly fun and exciting trip into a nightmare. Let your provider do all the work so you can sit back and relax.
7. Don’t worry if you or certain people in your group can’t swim. Just tell Ryan or your service provider about the situation so they can provide life jackets for you. In fact, most pump boats have a stash of life jackets that you can use. Using them and snorkeling equipment may be free of charge or can be rented for a very minimal fee. Of course, you can bring your own snorkeling equipment, diving equipment, life jacket, and other toys.
8. The best time to go island hopping is from March to June. During these summer months, the seas are calm and clear. Come rainy or windy months, the waters in Hilutungan Island become choppy and murky.
9. If you want to save money, bring your own meals because foodstuff sold in the islands is relatively expensive. Of course, you can set aside a budget if you want to taste exotic seafood such as lobsters, clams, and stonefish.
Additionally, many pump boats have spaces for grilling so you can prepare grilled food while you’re at sea. Your pump boat may also have a cooler to keep your drinks; you only need to provide the ice.
10. Pack light but bring the following:
- water (at least two liters)
- sandals or booties
- umbrella, hat, or sarong
- snacks and soft drinks
- bathing suit and swimming attire
- a small bottle of vinegar (for jellyfish stings)
- extra clothes
- extra money for emergencies
11. Be sure to waterproof your stuff that are vulnerable to damage when wet. An easy way to do this is to place them inside Zip-lock plastic bags or dry bags.