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Cuatro Islas: A Disappointing Island Hopping Adventure

Cuatro Islas

The Philippines is an archipelago of more than 7,000 unique islands. More than 7,000 cool adventures! Trekking, snorkeling, scuba diving, free diving—you name it, and each island is most likely to have one of these activities. That’s why we always look forward to every island hopping adventure in our list. Alas, that excitement didn’t happen in our latest sojourn in Cuatro Islas in Inopacan, Leyte, Philippines.

Along with us were our daughter Alexa as well as respected travel bloggers Ferna of Everywhere With Ferna, Lai of The Little Lai, and John of Wandering Feet PH. All of us were quite excited to have this pre-summer adventure going as we boarded the ship that would take us to Hilongos, Leyte.

We arrived at Hilongos on a dim, drizzling dawn. It was just a slight shower, but the skies were totally gray. As we walked towards the jeepney terminal, we hoped that the dreary day will somehow lift up later, just like the way the hot coffee and warm bread we had as painit revitalized our still-sleepy bodies.

Hilongos

We took a jeepney ride to Inopacan, our jump-off point for this adventure. It was easy to find the registration center and tourism desk; it’s conveniently located right at the beach and esplanade. After paying the necessary fees, tourism officials promptly assigned us a boat.

Inopacan

Our boatmen haven’t arrived yet; so we had time to eat a hot breakfast and buy a few supplies in the public market.

On the way back to the esplanade, we stopped to admire the beautiful mountains of Leyte far beyond the coastline. Many of these mountains are unexplored due to their inaccessibility and their purported reputation as being the realm of rebels on the run from the Philippine Armed Forces. We hope that someday, we can explore and climb these mountains; they must have amazing wonders hidden in their jungle-covered slopes.

Mountains of Leyte

The weather did not clear up. Although the seas were still and the wind was calm, the clouds began to thicken and rain started to fall.

But the first sign of real disappointment was not with the weather but with our boatmen. Since we set foot on their boat at the port of Inopacan, they seem to be trying to make us hurry up our adventure. “Where are your other companions? Are they still buying supplies? How soon can they board the boat? It’s already late.”

To boat operators and tourism officials of Inopacan, let me tell you that it is a mortal sin to nudge holidaymakers to hurry up. Remember, they have paid 3,000 pesos for an entire day of island hopping.

Our Cuatro Islas adventure starts

Cuatro Islas literally means “Four Islands.” Considering that we paid for a Cuatro Islas tour, presumably, that we are going to visit four lovely islands. However, for some bewildering reason, the boatmen won’t allow us to visit two of the islands.

The first no-visit island is Apid Island. When asked why we could not visit there, the boatmen simply told us there’s nothing interesting there—just a small fishing village. What the heck? What gives them the right to evaluate guest’s preferences? How do they determine what the guest likes? We LOVE visiting fishing villages and learning about their way of life.

According to an information board that we found on Mahaba Island, there are activities there including trekking, pandan weaving, mat making, cultural immersion, and more. These are potential winners as eco-tourism attractions, which sadly, are not capitalized.

Apid Island

Our second destination was Mahaba Island; in English, it’s “long island.” With its beach, forested crown, and rocky sea cliffs, this looks like a promising adventure island. The boatmen said we can dock here. Things were looking good.

Mahaba Island

With a grinding crunch, the sharp prow of our vessel plowed through the soft sand. One excellent practice we observed with the boatmen is that they moored their boat to the beach. This is a more environmentally friendly practice than throwing a heavy anchor on the reef.

Even at this early in the morning, several boats have already arrived in Mahaba Island where visitors can enjoy the warm tropical water.

Arrival at Mahaba Island

If only we brought our rock climbing shoes and chalk bags! The low overhanging cliffs are great for bouldering. They also act as a nice shelter from the burning sun or pelting rain.

We just wish that visitors and locals alike would stop treating the crevices of cliffs like these as garbage dumps. We saw piles of garbage dumped in the nooks and crannies of that lovely cliff.

Mahaba Island

Mahaba Island has a nice long stretch of powdery white sand beach that is just a joy to walk on barefoot. It was so comfortable that napping pooches didn’t budge an inch even though people were walking just inches away from their noses.

Just a cool trivia: don’t you know that the fine sand in all of those postcard-perfect beaches is partly made of parrotfish poop? Oh yes! The parrotfish eat coral. When that coral comes out of the fish as its fecal matter, it gets deposited on the beach as fine sand.

Mahaba Island

Open-air bamboo-and-nipa cottages, as well as picnic tables and chairs, are available for affordable prices.

Mahaba Island

An elevated grassy plateau makes a great beach campsite. Just be careful not to pitch or stay directly under those coconut trees. Coconuts are known to fall unexpectedly and can cause serious injuries.

Mahaba Island

All too soon, our visit to Mahaba Island was over. Do you know why? Well, you guessed it: the boatmen ushered us back to the boat in just 20 minutes! That’s barely enough time for us to explore and enjoy the island. Why are they so much in a hurry?

In an attempt to extend our island hopping time, we cruised to the third island in the group — Himokilan Island. It’s such a waste that we could not explore and enjoy their marine sanctuary, reputed to be one of the richest reefs in the region.

The bad thing is that we were made to pay an extra P 300 for cruising by the island because it is in the middle of a dispute between the municipalities of Inopacan and Hindang. Yes, guests are made to pay for their dispute! We did not dock, set foot on the island, or even swam in around the sanctuary. We just passed by! Now, that’s a cheap move!

Marine Sanctuary at Himokilan Island

It was a gray, dim day, so the seas were not exactly vibrant. Even then, we could see the huge telltale dark splotches under the water, indicating rich grassy seabeds and corals.

Rich corals at

At 10 AM, just a little over two hours after we left Inopacan, we arrived at Digyo Island, the last island in the tour. We were totally disappointed at the fact that we paid a considerable amount of money for a very short island hopping tour. Fortunately, we did have a great time in Digyo Island, and we think it is the only saving grace of our Cuatro Islas tour.

Arrival at Digyo Island

(Update 5/12/2018): We have encountered a lot of negative experiences from other people who experienced Cuatro Islas island hopping tour. All of them have the same issues—boatmen expediting the trip and demand for extra payment even while passing an island.

Until the LGU corrects their system and they practice proper tourism ethics, we strongly recommend you skip Cuatro Islas and Digyo Island. They are not worth your money.

It’s better to just go to Matalom and enjoy Canigao Island; they have better tourism ethics and systems there.

A Few Notes About Cuatro Islas

Our disappointing experience in Cuatro Islas may either be an isolated case or a frequent occurrence. Nevertheless, this is our observation and constructive criticism about the Cuatro Islas tour:

1. The Cuatro Islas island hopping tour definitely shows a lot of promise. Unfortunately, a potentially memorable experience is marred by extortionist boatmen who expedite your tour so they could earn an extra buck. In other words, they force you to hurry up so they can go back to Inopacan and pick up more passengers. That is just plain greed.

In all our island hopping adventures around the country, this is the first time we’ve experienced this practice. And it is absolutely UNFAIR. Guests pay the full price of a whole-day island hopping tour, so they expect and deserve a whole day of adventure.

2. According to an information board in Cuatro Islas, they have proposed activities on the island. Please do develop and capitalize on these; these are exciting activities that can truly draw a lot of tourists. In addition, these activities will help ease up the traffic in Digyo Island, distributing visitors all over the four islands.

Rates and Adventures

However, it is impossible for guests to experience these wonderful activities if you allow boatmen to expedite their guests’ tour. That totally ruins your visitors’ experience. Remember—bad news travels fast. If social media, word-of-mouth, and other channels will spread this unfavorable news, you will lose a lot of money and prestige.

3. Don’t be fooled by a KMJS YouTube video showing guests visiting the four islands and trying out their attractions and activities. Obviously, they were able to visit all four of the islands because the “guests” were a TV production crew.

4. The extra P300 to sail close to the shores of Himokilan Island is totally WRONG. First, the Philippine Government as a whole owns the Philippine Seas; not a municipality or a province can own an island even if it’s part of a municipality or province. Thus, if the boatmen are collecting P300 just to pass by Himokilan Island, then they are actually doing something against the law.

Second, if the LGUs are fighting over the jurisdiction of the island, please don’t let guests carry the burden of your squabbles by letting them pay extra. That is absolutely UNETHICAL, and you will lose tourists that way! If you are unable to compromise, then restructure your tours to include 3 or 2 islands ONLY! You may have to rename your area to “Tres Islas (3 islands)” or “Dos Ilsas (2 islands)” rather than “Cuatro Islas.”

5. Use part of the money you generate to clean up the islands. Assign personnel to strictly monitor and admonish guests and locals who throw trash or commit acts of vandalism. Regularly have cleanup sessions to maintain the cleanliness of these islands.

We are not sure if the Inopacan LGU knows about these unfair and unethical practices. We hope this will be rectified soon; you don’t want your tourism office or LGU to be labeled as money-milkers.

Tips

1. Unless the LGU changes their ethics and policies, we strongly recommend you skip the Cuatro Islas island hopping tour as well as a direct trip to Digyo Island.

2. If you do the Cuatro Islas island hopping tour, insist that you will follow your whole-day schedule. Stand on your ground and insist that you have paid for a whole-day island hopping tour. Do not be swayed by your boatmen if they wish to hurry up or cut short your adventure.

3. Take note that your payment is round trip. That means, if you have planned for an overnight stay in one of the islands, your boatman is supposed to fetch you the next day at an agreed time.  However, if you have successfully done No.2, there might be a chance that the boatman will not honor the agreement. That may be his way of “getting back at you” by leaving you on the island.

This is not to frighten you. Nor are we saying this has happened. But in any place, such unfortunate event is possible. Diligence and forecasting are always a good thing in traveling. In this case, we urge you to do the following before leaving Inopacan:

  • Take down the name of your boatman, his cellphone number, and the name of his vessel.
  • Take a photograph of your boatman as well as his vessel and its serial number.
  • Make sure that he takes note of the time you want to be fetched. You can send a text message to him by the time you reach Digyo Island, and let him see that you sent him a message.
  • Take the name and number of the tourism officers. We suggest you record three or four officers.
  • It would also be a good idea to get the number of the local police. They can assist you if things go downhill.
  • Get the name and number of another boatman for emergencies.
  • Once you get to Digyo Island, have a policeman (there are policemen in Digyo Island) accompany you to your boat so he can take a good look at it. These law enforcers know these boats, the boatmen, and their owners. They can help you if you get stranded.

4. Itineraries, rates, and other information will be posted in the next blog post about Digyo Island.

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About Adrenaline Romance

Rock climbers. Mountaineers. Sweethearts on adventure. Adrenaline Romance is a photoblog that belongs to a loving couple who has an eternal lust for adventure. The blog contains experiences, tips, itineraries, and other useful information regarding adventuring in the Philippines and beyond.

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65 comments on “Cuatro Islas: A Disappointing Island Hopping Adventure

  1. That’s one shocking thing to learn especially when we were thinking about putting Cuatro Islas on our itinerary for island hopping in April. Sad to learn that the boatmen are short-charging and you did not enjoy your trip. I am definitely not putting this in our list.

  2. Waaaah ganahan pa naman unta sad ko muadto soon. Skip skip skip.Haha.

    • Hi Janine,

      Mao gyud! It would be better if you just go directly to Digyo Island. We believe you can save money, and you’ll enjoy your experience in that island.

    • On the second thought, don’t go to Digyo Island. We just found out that the fare to go to that single island costs 2,500 to 4,000 Php, depending on the size of the boat. That’s just 500 less than an island hopping adventure around Cuatro Islas.

      Skip this destination to save yourself the time, money, and effort.

  3. I really agree with this! SUPER! I made a blog about the Cuatros Isalas too on Pathfinderph.org and had a bad impression on the boatmen who are somewhat greedy. sigh!

  4. 3k is not considerable amount of money!!!! how abour consider the boatmen’s whole day wait time, cost of renting the boat cause I don’t think he owns that boat and the expensive gas…3k doesn’t go far. i don’t think you mentioned that you can go as per passenger and it will cost only 250 return. That is very cheap. I’ve been there many times and it’s so beautiful beyong words especially on a sunny… it is your loss if you take this review seriously. I know what I paid them is fair and I don’t expect a royalty service from them poor boatman. I go there many times over and always greatful that there is abotaman willing to take me there for cheap price. If you are kind to them, they will be kind to you too..check your manners too. Have some considerations..don’t make them wait.

    • Hi Imelda,

      Please check our other island hopping adventures. If you have traveled around the country and experienced different island hopping adventures, you will see that in many other places that we’ve visited, 3K constitutes an entire day of island hopping. Even here in Lapu- Lapu City, Cebu—a highly urbanized city where we reside in which island hopping is a major tourism activity, 3K is equal to one whole day of cruising.

      There was no indication in your tourism information—or anywhere else for that matter—that 3K is good for only two hours and does not constitute a whole day of island hopping. If so, this should have been printed in your information board. Any sensible person who would see that rate without any other info other than “island hopping” would immediately assume it is good for an entire day.

      P 3K for just TWO HOURS—a TWO HOUR expedited trip—plus an extra P 300 just to PASS BY another island is simply unreasonable. Just to put that into perspective, your 2-hour expedited cruise is even more expensive than the whole-day island hopping adventures in Hundred Islands in Pangasinan, Concepcion in Iloilo, Islas de Gigantes, Siargao, Sohoton Cove, etc.

      “Beauty beyond words?” LOL! 😀 😀 😀

      Your boatmen’s wait time, cost of renting, etc. are not the guest’s problem. That’s not the tourist’s business. Those are concerns that LGUs/tourism offices should take into account beforehand. Remember that tourists willingly pay the price because they find the rate commensurate with the enjoyment that they perceive to receive. If you shortchange that investment, then you will be faced with disappointment and negativity. And when it comes to tourism, that is a very big deal.

      When pricing or when formulating your regulations, you should have taken your issues into account. Number one rule in tourism: do not disappoint, hassle, or inconvenience your guests due to your own problems and requirements. You have to structure your packages to constitute a win-win situation.

      You said we should be kind to them. For your info, we didn’t even do anything to upset them. We were actually friendly with them, asking them about their jobs, about the history of the place, etc. We didn’t even castigate them for fetching us one hour beyond our agreed scheduled time of departure in Digyo Island. The fact that we didn’t berate or argue with them even if they expedited our tour is a testament to our kindness. And one more thing, it is them who want to expedite the trip. And we complied. Isn’t that kindness enough?

      We never expected “royalty treatment” from your boatmen (or any mountain guide, caver, etc. that we pay for). Royalty service? Then we should have chartered a yacht! We are budget travelers, so we definitely understand, are at home, and are comfortable with the conditions and expectations not related to luxury. We, ourselves, are just average income earners. But we do expect to be treated fairly and accordingly to the conditions of our payment.

      You said don’t make them wait? How could we make them wait? They are the ones who are actually ushering us to hurry up.

      Manners? We have been traveling and adventuring for 10 years all around the Philippines, and we definitely know how to behave properly and professionally in places we’ve visited. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been regularly invited by the Department of Tourism, tourism offices, outfitters, hotels, etc.

      Note too that this blog is experiential. Meaning, we write what we experience. We didn’t experience your P 250 per person return, so we didn’t write it. Perhaps this refers to a round-trip payment to any ONE island only?

      If it’s any consolation for you, we wrote a positive article on Digyo Island because we had a good experience there.

      Yes, your islands are beautiful. Everything in Nature is. It’s your tourism policy that is not.

      P.S. 1 – Tourism offices and LGUs should be open to constructive criticism. Being defensive and in denial won’t do anything and will only exacerbate the problems.

      P.S. 2 – Check out the person commenting before you. Check out the commenter named “shoestringdiary.” They also has the same experience and opinions with us about the island hopping adventure. When people share the same sentiments and they gain traction, then perhaps it is time to study, analyze, and improve your systems and not blame or stay defensive.

    • The thing is, it should have been explicitly mentioned or informed that 3k is only good for 2 hours, else, the visitors will assume a whole day trip. Plus the phrase “cuatro islas island hopping” actually can plant an assumption that the visitors can actually visit the 4 islands. What happened was that we were only able to actually land on 2 islands. One for just more or less 20 minutes stay, and the other, Digyo island, where we just disembarked and the boat went back to the main island. The other 2 islands? Well, the boatmen just hovered the boat around them. Not even at a decent distance to get at least one good photo of the island.
      What I am trying to say is that, at least we should have savored what our money actual is worth. Mind you that not all travelers are “luxury travelers” who can afford to spend more than within the itinerary budget.

      • Hi Wandering Feet PH,

        Exactly and on to the point! That is what we’ve been trying to pound into the minds to those who are in charge of Inopacan’s tourism policies. Unfortunately, they are on the defensive.

      • And one more thing: the eco-tourism activities in the four islands are useless if the LGU is fine with boatmen expediting the tour. It’s common sense: how could tourists enjoy activities when boatmen hurriedly usher them to leave? It is also useless if they don’t fix their differences between neighboring municipalities.

  5. I agree that the Inopacan LGU should take your comments seriously. They are constructive critisms and I can attest that I had some guests from Malaybalay Bukidnon who recently availed of the Cuatro Islas Tour who complained that the boatman was rushing them and they had only 30 min to enjoy swimming in the island. They had the same fate as your group. I would like to state that the extra 300 pesos just to pass by Himokilan they are collecting does not go to the municipality of Hindang. Indeed greediness of people can lead to self destruction.

    • Hi Jo,

      Exactly. The problem with the Inopacan LGU is that they become defensive when it comes to criticisms (see Imelda’s post here).

      Secondly, we didn’t know that the 300 does not go to Hindang. So it goes to the boatmen’s pockets? Tsk tsk tsk! That’s greediness. As what we told them, they are only shooting themselves in the foot.

  6. Really disappointing, we’ve been there last year sobrang daming langaw sa whole Digyo island 😦

    • Hi Aidirenr79,

      We agree. When we went there, garbage was just dumped in a corner. Although we would like to believe that they are collected sometime during the day.

      There’s a huge difference between how garbage is handled in Canigao Island and Digyo Island. In Canigao, the implementation is strict and they have lots of bins. They even have a special “cage” solely for plastic bottles.

      The tourism policies in Cuatro Islas/Inopacan need a MASSIVE revamping. They are just shooting themselves in the foot.

  7. To all readers, we have read a lot of negative experiences from other people who experienced Cuatro Islas island hopping tour. All of them have the same issues—boatmen expediting the trip and demand for extra payment even while passing an island.

    Until they correct their system and they practice proper tourism ethics, we recommend you skip Cuatro Islas and Digyo Island. They are not worth your money.

    It’s better to just go to Matalom and enjoy Canigao Island; they have better tourism ethics and systems there.

    • I’ve been there last year and even posted an honest review on their Facebook page. It’s sad to note that it still has some points that needed to be addressed (boatmen, solid-waste management, staff, etc. I’m planning to bring a foreign backpacking friend to Cuatro Islas this weekend but reading this made me think twice. I guess I will be opting to the more affordable but equally enjoyable alternative which is Canigao Island (living in Baybay City, I’ve been there quite a lot.)

      • Hi Buen Jose,

        In general, we never discourage people to go to a place. But this is an exception. We are definitely with you on Cuatro Islas.

        Until they correct their system, it is better to stay away from Cuatro Islas and look for better alternatives.

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