Cuatro Islas: A Throwback to Leyte’s Gems

We first saw a picture of this group of islands in a postcard in the early 2000s but it would take more than 10 years before we finally got to visit the Cuatro Islas. Two years ago we visited a friend in Ormoc City, Leyte and together with him and other friends did a 3-day tour of some of the attractions on the western side of the province. On our second day we finally got to visit the island group that had been on our crosshairs for some time.

Digyo Island, Cuatro Islas

Digyo Island, the smallest of the Cuatro Islas group

To reach the four islands in the group we first boarded a commuter van from Ormoc, rode along the coastal road to Baybay and alighted near the municipal hall of Inopacan. Along the way we caught a glimpse of what was in store for us as two islands appeared just off the coast on the final approach to Inopacan. The nearest one flashed a long stretch of white sand against a backdrop of ocean blue.

Liquid Crystal

At the back of the municipal hall of Inopacan is the pantalan or docking area for boats taking tourists to the Cuatro Islas. From there it was a short and uneventful 30-minute boat ride to our first island: Mahaba.

Mahaba Island

view of Mahaba Island from approaching boat

Approaching Mahaba Island

As its name suggests, Mahaba Island is elongated in shape and is the second largest island in the group. Covered in lush vegetation it is barely inhabited with only a tiny village in the northwest. There are white-sand beaches on the southeastern and northwestern sides. Our boat landed on the southeastern beach which was larger and practically uninhabited.

Mahaba Island's southeastern beach

The beach at the southeastern side of Mahaba Island

crystalline waters and rock formations at Mahaba Island

Crystal-clear waters and rock formations at the southernmost part of Mahaba

The first thing we noticed about Mahaba are its remarkably clear and crystalline waters. The sand here is powdery white; rock formations on the southern end and a long sand-bar running parallel to the beach add to its beauty. The island is actually a protected marine sanctuary and sea turtles have been observed on occasion. We spotted only a few fishes while snorkeling at the beach but found out that the coral reef is several meters away from shore where the sea bottom drops off suddenly to form a reef wall.

dead tree and fine white sand, Mahaba Island

Powdery white sand

sandbar at the southeastern beach of Mahaba Island

The sandbar at the southeastern beach. The sand is so soft here you can sink knee-deep at some points

Mahaba is perfect for beach bumming but also offers plenty of shade if the sun gets too hot – which it did on the day we visited. We found out belatedly that a rare and elusive specie of red shrimp may be found in the lagoons and streams inland. All that was needed was a short trek to the forested interior.

Digyo Island

Digyo Island

Digyo Island: the beach at the island’s northwestern side

It was almost lunchtime before we packed up and made the 20-minute crossing to the next island in the group: Digyo. This island is the smallest of the Cuatro Islas – it’s easily covered via a 15 to 20-minute walk – but competes with Mahaba for the title of most beautiful island among the four. The whole periphery of the island is covered in white sand. Our boatman revealed that Digyo was even more beautiful before – until resort builders from another province carted off a huge quantity of Digyo’s white sand.

coconut palms trees at Digyo Island

Coconut palms at Digyo

huts at Digyo Island

Huts at Digyo Island; a white sand beach encompasses the whole perimeter of the island

There are sand bars jutting out from both ends of the island with the one in the south longer and more beautiful. Just like Mahaba the waters here are crystal-clear. We did not see much corals and fish at the waters immediately off the beach on the western side of the island but, as in most cases, one only has to venture out less than a hundred meters from shore to observe a proliferation of corals and reef fishes.

boat at a sandbar in Digyo Island

A boat parked at the sandbar in the southern section of Digyo

There are no resorts or fancy accommodations here, just huts or small cottages that you can rent for the day. There are a few houses – probably for caretakers of the island. Restrooms are rudimentary and have no running water but kids on the island fetched water in pails from the sea to take care of that problem. There were practically no visitors when we arrived here in the summer of 2015. It’s a different story these days it seems, as more and more folks discover these islands.

Himokilan Island

Clouds and Corals

Himokilan is actually the nearest of the four islands to the mainland at Inopacan but we chose to make it our last stop. Our boatmen was about to dock at a curving white sand bar on the northeastern part of the island when we realized that the beachfront here contained a small village. (Himokilan is the second most populated island in Cuatro Islas.) We decided to go on a boat tour around the island instead.

writer's boat landing at Himokilan Island

About to dock at the sandbar at Himokilan.

Our little tour would take us past some pretty beach bays on the northeastern part of Himokilan and plenty of coral reefs around. The southwestern part of the island is a sanctuary where fishing, snorkeling and diving are all strictly prohibited. But in those areas not classified as sanctuaries, we should have asked our boatmen to anchor about 100 meters from shore and snorkel where the corals are abundant.

Himokilan Island, Cuatro Islas viewed from boat

Circumnavigating Himokilan Island.

Apid Island is the most populated of the Cuatro Islas and is located farther out west than the other three. We decided not to visit Apid. According to our boatmen it was the least appealing of the 4 islands and we would have been charged an additional P500 for adding it to our itinerary. We were running out of time to get back to Ormoc anyway. Passing Apid on our way to Himokilan Island we spied a fishing village sitting on the island’s white sand beach; boats were docked along its length.

Getting There and Around

The town of Inopacan is the starting point for boat rides to Cuatro Islas. If you are staying at Ormoc like we did you can take a van bound for Inopacan. The terminal for these vans is located near the Ormoc City Park between Larrazabal St. and the bay walk. The vans usually make the trip in 1.5 hours with a brief stop at a terminal in Baybay. Ask the driver to drop you off the Inopacan municipal hall. It is best to go early in the morning to maximize your time at Cuatro Islas.

Sandbar at Low Tide

If coming from Tacloban you can take the commuter van to Maasin (or Hilongos) via Baybay. You can take Van Van, Duptours or Grand Tours, each with their own terminals in Tacloban City proper. We’re not sure about the amount of travel time to Inopacan but it could well be close to 4 hours.

After getting off at Inopacan proper head for the municipal hall. The pantalan or dock for boats headed for Cuatro Islas is right behind the municipal hall. Since there are no restaurants or food stalls at the islands (with the possible exception of Apid) better bring packed meals and everything else you will need such as eating utensils and drinks (no drinking water on the islands also). There are food stalls in the area adjacent to the municipal hall where you can buy food.

tour boat at Digyo Island

One of the boats used for island-hopping at Cuatro Islas anchored off Digyo Island

Most of the islands are a mere 30 minutes away by motorized outrigger from the port at Inopacan. The boats going there are usually built for 10 people or more. (We had wanted to publish boat rates on this post but we’re pretty sure those rates are not current anymore.)

We’ve learned from sources recently that boat tours from Inopacan do not include Himokilan Island in their itinerary anymore. Apparently, because Himokilan is part of the town of Hindang rather than Inopacan, the local government there does not allow boats from Inopacan to dock on the island. The same thing is true the other way around. It’s another case of politics rearing its ugly head but hopefully this issue can be resolved soon.

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