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