When a visitor in Boracay asks a resident where the best place is to have a seaside lunch, the common answer would likely be ‘Take your pick along White Beach’ (although I doubt that’s where he’d go himself).
Don’t misunderstand me. White Beach still is quite the stunner… just a tad too choked with tourists grabbing every opportunity to immerse themselves in the famed Boracay experience of seafood buffets on the sand, sun hat-protected strolls with fresh fruit shakes on hand and selfie stick-enabled photo ops for their Instagram galleries. But can you really blame them?
Unlike a few of those who are fortunate to call this island home, visitors will indeed try to cram as many activities on this world-renowned beach as they can in their 3-5 night stay.
However, if you happen to come round with a bit more days to spare (and if perchance you ask me the same question being a resident now for almost two years), perhaps I’d steer you more towards arranging a picnic at Puka, a quieter version of White Beach on the northern tip of the island or the less-explored Ilig-iligan around the northeastern corner from Puka, where a strip of paradise is still virtually untouched (as of this writing) by commercialism.
Or even better still, why don’t you have someone pack your lunch, take you on a day trip to the neighboring Carabao Island and leave you to soak in the raw beauty of rural Philippines?
Carabao Island was so named because legend has it, there used to be plenty of these water buffaloes roaming freely on the island. It is relatively undeveloped, with limited power and fresh water supply. It is home to about 12,000 people, who are simple folk relying solely on the fruits of their land and the bounty of the sea.
Located only 45 minutes away by boat from Boracay, Hambil (as it’s locally called) is part of Romblon province and is slowly attracting the attention of adventurous travelers. You can approach several tour companies who organize trips to this island. Usually, the rates include boat rental, your BBQ lunch, unlimited drinks and snorkel equipment.
One such company is Boracay Explorer. At Php 2,000 per head, you might think it’s pretty steep for a meal at a secluded beach but to be honest, it’s not a bad deal at all, bearing in mind you can easily spend that much on just a half-hour jet ski ride.
But there’s more. The crew makes you feel you can resign yourself to their care the minute you board their 26-meter dive boat, Maruja, which is equipped with a kitchen, a dining table and an outdoor grill plus a roof deck and massive outriggers where you can sun yourself to your heart’s content.
Once aboard, they offer you a choice of drinks — from chilled juices and sodas to local beers and classic cocktails. Tom and Florian, the two partners who run this group, make sure that every guest is looked after. It’s impressive that they even thought of the little things a guest might need during the trip, like anti-vertigo pills for those who suffer from motion sickness, especially for when Maruja mightily knifes through the channel that separates Boracay from Romblon.
Anchoring about three hundred meters from the shores of Tinap-an Beach, the guests are ferried to the island, six at a time, on a small dinghy. What greets you when your foot touches the sand will make your heart skip with excitement.
Five beach beds that mirror the clear, blue sky await the sun worshippers of the group. They sit on a seemingly endless stretch of white sand, the view only barely broken by a volleyball net. Behind, joining the backdrop of gently swaying coconut palms, a bamboo deck is littered with colorful bean bags for effortless lounging in the shade. A custom-built dining hut easily accommodates thirty hungry holidaymakers and a beach bar ensures not a single one of them becomes thirsty.
Out back, a buko station is set up, where a very friendly, bolo-wielding Bavarian gentleman hacks young coconut, its water offered as a fresh, natural heat-buster…or a great base for an expertly-concocted cocktail. Every now and then, plates of cold fresh tropical fruit are passed around and you can savor the sweetest Philippine mangoes, pineapples, watermelons and bananas while drinking in the gorgeous vista surrounding you.
Lunch is prepared on site. The menu is seasonal based on the availability of fresh catch and produce. Sometimes it’s decidedly Austrian-German with more than one type of sausage plus marinated chicken, pork chops, zucchini and aubergines, all grilled to perfection. Boiled potatoes blanketed in garlicky herbed butter accompany the proteins and a mixed salad of lettuce, cucumber and tomato completes the exceptionally-executed meal.
The portions are generous and it is quite likely that you will want to wash all that down with a very cold beverage. If by this time you haven’t yet been touched by inebriation, head over to the beach bar and ask the barkeeper to whip you up something tasty. Don’t even bother asking what he puts in it. He’s a first-class flavor magician and it’s guaranteed you will like what he makes.
Then comes the part where you have to make a difficult decision on how to spend your afternoon. With a book perhaps in the shade on one of the bean bags? With a delicious refreshment under the sun on a floating inflatable lounge? With a mask and snorkel on the surface of aquamarine waters?
And no, the choices do not end there. Before you have even made up your mind whether to take a short hike along the coastline or just sit around the bar ingesting more of that wonderful melon tipple, a roar of 10-12 engines fills the village air as local motorbikes ready themselves to take those who fancy it on a short sightseeing tour inland. I say, release the curious child in you, take up on this offer (it’s free of charge) and experience Philippines at its bucolic best.
With no real roads to speak of, the convoy of motorcycles follows instead a 2-meter wide paved path that snakes its way through isolated wooded hills, goes past small barrios all the way to a scenic halt at the hill tops for a breathtaking view of the ocean then through the town proper before stopping at Inobahan Beach, where guests may opt to take a quick swim or play a few rounds of pusoy dos (Filipino poker) with the motorbike guides.
The ride back is punctuated by warm hellos from local kids who do not usually see visitors on their island. There is still a little bit of time left for a game of volleyball or some frolicking in the water. As the afternoon draws to a close, the Maruja crew takes you back on their boat just in time for the gorgeous sunset to bathe everything in varying shades of copper.
Many restaurants will offer you the promise of an extraordinary meal by the beach on your visit here in Boracay. Ask me again and I say, forget extraordinary. This trip, this dining experience in quaint and picturesque Hambil… this is deliciously dreamy.
Boracay Explorer does daily trips to Carabao Island. Check out their Facebook page or visit them at Fisheye Divers, next to Paulo Collection, Beachfront St. 2, Boracay Island.