CANIGAO ISLAND, Matalom, Leyte ? It?s the nearest thing to Boracay!?
So says a first-timer to the little paradise islet of Canigao, seven minutes by boat from Nonok village in the town of Matalom on mainland Leyte.
?It?s a paradise,? gushes Dianne Go, a resident of Maasin City.
The place is a haven for swimming, kayaking or camping. The right place to commune with nature.
These are just a few of too many praises for the famous Canigao, a seven-hectare island with shores of fine white sand.
As visitors approach the island, excitement is already palpable as white sands glitter over crystal clear blue water.
One only has to pay P45 for a round trip and hours of enjoyment on the island.
Just bring your own food and water because there is no restaurant or drinking water. But there is water for sale for wash-up.
Seafood and fish abound for a cheap price.
One can choose from at least 10 open cottages on Canigao, each facing the islands of Leyte and Bohol.
There is no residential house, and until recently, only the caretaker of the lighthouse resides there. The lighthouse was erected to guide boats and stop them from running aground in the shallow reefs along the marine life-rich Danajon double barrier reefs off Bohol, Mactan in Cebu and Leyte.
Today, especially during weekends, a group or two could not resist staying overnight to catch the sunset or sunrise on the beach.
One can put up a tent or lie down on a mat under the shades of trees that cover the whole island. The shoreline is only a few meters away. One can walk around the island in less than an hour.
An outrigger motor banca that plies the route is only allowed to carry 22 sitting passengers, but during summer, which is the peak season, the captain usually allows eight more. The names of the passengers are not listed.
Smaller bancas carry four to eight passengers.
A crew member says the number of visitors averages at 300 a day.
Councilor Adriano Idjao of Bontoc town in Southern Leyte, 35 km from Maasin, recalls that on Easter Sunday, Canigao was teeming with people. ?I could say the island was overloaded.?
Idjao recalls that the owner of the banca they took when he and his family went there on Easter Sunday had said he earned P50,000 from more than a thousand passengers that came that day.
The operator owns several bancas traveling between Nonok and Canigao and from another jump-off point nearby Tab-ang village in Bontoc.
Before Canigao became famous, only residents from nearby villages went there for a day swim, says Idjao.
But now, beach lovers come from as far as Tacloban or Ormoc cities in the north and Sogod town in the south.
Two years ago, the local government of Matalom started to develop the island by constructing two open cottages. A fee of P300 was collected for day-long use.
A two-room building is under construction. About a dozen bathrooms are available to beachgoers.
Officials led by Matalom Mayor Eric Pajulio say they want the island to stay pristine, particularly since it is a naval reservation. Pajulio says the local government wants to prevent commercialization.
?We will just provide small amenities like cottages and bathing rooms, and maybe rooms for those opting for an overnight stay,? says the 26-year-old mayor.
?As much as possible, we will make sure that the island stays as it is and available for the common ?tao,?? adds Pajulio, a dentist, who regularly shuttles to and from the island in a speed boat.
He adds that caretakers paid for by the municipal government are assigned to the island to take care of the environment. ?I hope everyone who goes to the island would not throw their garbage anywhere.?
So come, enjoy and frolic on the long stretch of fine white sands that surround Canigao, because it?s the nearest thing to Boracay, the mayor enthuses.