When my wife told me she wanted to go to Iloilo, she also mentioned that she wanted to visit Guimaras because it was just a boat ride away. I hadn’t heard of Guimaras, so my initial thought was that it was a small island with a beach and some shade. I was right about the island part, but I discovered that it was its own island province with its own capital and local government.
It is very near to Iloilo, in fact it’s just a 20 minute boat ride away. Daily commuters take a bangka with a capacity of up to 60 passengers (and a motorcycle or two) for only 14 pesos. The boats leave frequently and don’t require much queuing. I’d argue that it was a better commuting experience than the LRT/MRT. However, I can’t imagine how scary it would be if there was a typhoon. The Ortiz wharf is a bit outdated, with steps that have eroded from constant waves. But the boatmen are very helpful; they guided my wife, who was carrying our baby, down the steps and carried some of our luggage to the boat.
At the Jordan Wharf, we were greeted with more barkers offering us a ride on a tricycle, multi-cab (jeep), or private van. After logging our names in the visitors log, we asked the tourism officer how to get to Raymen Beach Resort in Nueva Valencia. The officer said that the rates are fixed and that it would cost 250 pesos for a tricycle, 450 pesos for the multicab, or 600 pesos for a private van. Based on my experience as a new father, I opted for the private van as I wanted my family and in-laws to be comfortable. But that’s one thing I appreciated about Guimaras, the rates are standardized so you’re not pressured to haggle with the locals.
It took less than 40 minutes to drive to Raymen, but the roads are well paved and the ride was comfortable. At one point, the driver stopped to give us a hill-top view of Santa Ana Bay.
We arrived at Raymen earlier than expected (around 10am) but couldn’t check-in. So we decided to leave our luggage with the front desk and go island hopping that morning . We signed-up for the tour, changes clothes, and quickly bought food (mostly bread and turon) before we set sail. Regarding the cost, if your party has 6 people or less, the rate is 400 pesos for the first hour and 150 pesos per succeeding hour.
Our first stop was Ave Maria Island — a small sandbar on an islet off the coast of Guimaras. When we arrived, there were several other boats and tourists there. They rented out snorkels as there were plenty of colorful fish and coral to see. The water was quite shallow too, so you could easily crouch down and swim on your belly to see the marine life. There was also a local fisherman who was catching crabs. He approached us to sell some of his morning’s catch, and our boat’s crew offered to cook the crabs for us. We bought two kilos for 300 pesos. The crab was cooked without any extra ingredients, but it was fresh and salty. You could literally suck the meet from the crab shell. The fisherman later came back with lobster (!) but we had to turn him down as we were already full and were itching to go to our next destination.
Unfortunately, the Igang Marine Station and Turtle Island were closed during our visit. But I wasn’t personally excited to visit those places anyways. So our next stop was Baras Cave. They allowed us to get off the boat to take pictures inside. It’s quite dim inside and the only light available for the photo is from the two openings from the cave. So most of our selfies ended up blurry.
Our next stop was an island with a statue that you would climb steps up to. I don’t remember the name and can’t find information on it online, but what I remember about the island is that it had steps with a railing and near the top it had a viewing area that looked over several small islets.
Our last stop was the Natago Beach Resort. We bought biko (rice cake) and buko juice and ate on the beach. There was already a resort built on the hill overlooking the water, with electricity but no fan or AC. But I imagine that it is breezy at night. They reassured us that we wouldn’t be eaten by mosquitoes. Our boat crew told us that the previous owners of the beach had passed away and the area (a hectare of land) was on sale for around 40 million pesos. If only had the money.
The boat ride back seemed shorter that I expected, meaning we hadn’t driven that far away from the Alubihod beach, where Raymen was located. Once we returned, we checked-in and relaxed for the rest of the day. We went out once or twice to enjoy sitting on the beach, but for the most part we just relaxed at the resort.
With that said, I found island hopping at Guimaras to be safe and fun even though we were traveling with a 9-month old. We went around noon when the waves weren’t as choppy, and despite the noon sun, we found ways to avoid burning up. That was one of our main worries, can my daughter (who has very pale skin) be exposed to the harsh sun for a long period of time? We took precautions, applying sun block on her arms and legs, fitting her in a rash guard, and donning on her a fishing hat to block the sun from hitting her neck. She seemed to really enjoy the Ave Maria sandbar, much more than the beach of Pico de Loro. Maybe the water wasn’t as turbulent or as cold, I’m not sure. But she enjoyed kicking her feet in the water and sand. We’re fortunate that she wasn’t fussy or hyper during the boat ride. It was a much more enjoyable experience compared to the airplane (haha).