This is going to sound cheesy, but you know that postcard-perfect island? You know, the one with the white sandy beaches, pristine blue topaz waters, the coconut trees swaying in a crisp refreshing tropical breeze? Yeah, that’s my “happy place”. That’s Digyo Island in the Philippines. Sometimes, when I am feeling stressed at work and I need to go to my happy place, I pull out a picture of it and take a tiny imaginary vacation.
I’ve been coming to Digyo (pronounced dee-JOH) for several years now, and of all the beaches I’ve visited in the Philippines, it is still my favorite go-to spot for a day of swimming. So many other beaches in the country hog the spotlight, like Boracay or Palawan; those places are nice…if you enjoy the resort scene or sharing the beach with hordes of tourists. But, it is worth the effort to go off the beaten path to visit this precious hidden jewel. I’m a little hesitant to divulge the secret of this little-known getaway with you…but what can I say, I am a kind-hearted person!
Digyo is the smallest of a quartet of islands known as the Cuatro Islas, located off the west coast of Leyte, about an hour away from Inopacan by boat. It is so tiny that a leisurely stroll around it takes only half an hour. Chances are, you will have the island all to yourself, except for a few caretakers who live there; in any case it is never crowded. The island is not developed and there are no stores or lodging, so make sure to bring plenty of food, water, booze, friends, music, and a tent (if camping). There are some public toilets available toward the center of the island among the trees.
The tricky thing about getting to any of the Cuatro Islas is that there’s not an official boat line or schedule. You will have to ask around the locals for private individuals who own a boat and are interested in earning money. In Inopacan, it’s a little easier to find someone by going to the “reclamation area”. Ask around for a banca (pump boat). Bring your bargaining skills—price will depend on how many passengers there are and how long you want to go for. Expect to pay around 2500 Philippine pesos (about U.S. $60) for a day trip. If you’re on a very tight budget, it sometimes helps to have a Filipino friend do the bargaining while you hide behind a bush–I’ll be honest, foreigners with lighter skin are often seen as dollar signs with legs!
Baybay is a little further from Digyo but it is a more convenient point of departure for some. Once again, you must ask the locals for an available boat; look for the “Pride of Baybay”—they’ve always been reliable, and you should expect to pay around 5000 pesos. I also like to tip the boatmen and pack some extra picnic lunch to share with them.
Once on the island, you can rent a cottage with picnic table. A caretaker will come around shortly after you arrive to collect the fee (10 pesos per person). If you want to camp overnight, you may do so for an additional fee. Also make special arrangements with the boat guys; if they are not willing to stay overnight they will have to make another trip the next day to fetch you.
So, you have arrived in paradise! Spread out your picnic lunch on the table and chow down, turn on some tunes, slather on some sunscreen, and soak in those rays! Make acquaintances with the local marine life—there are clown fish, starfish, crabs, all sorts of critters to be found. Float in the calm waters listening to the sound of solitude. Stroll around the island and stop to examine the strange plants that look like they came from a different planet. On the way to and from the island, you may be lucky enough to have some dolphins swim alongside your boat with you, which happened to my companions and me on one magical occasion! (Note: The noises in the video are not the dolphins, but rather children on the boat who were particularly excited to see the dolphins).
I hope you come see this place while you can—last I knew, there was a “For Sale” sign on the island, so if someone purchases it, who knows if they’ll share this piece of paradise with visitors. It’s hard to believe one human being could possess heaven. Say, does anyone want to pitch in for a private island?!