Update July 2014: I recently went back to Cordova and was dismayed with recent developments that affect Isla Romantika. It seems that the Best Western Sand Bar Resort, the hotel right across the island which was a mere skeleton when I first came to visit, has began an expansion project that involves extensive reclamation of the area in front of it:
When this reclaimed area is done, Isla Romantika will now be a stone’s throw away from the shore, stripping the island of its mystique:
There’s nothing romantic about being within striking distance of a resort full of people…oh well. What’s done is done. All we can do now is reminisce about the good ol’ days; here’s my original post below:
Isla Romantika is a small, man-made island less than a hundred meters off the coast of Mactan Island, Cebu. As artificial islands go, it’s nothing spectacular (it certainly doesn’t hold a candle to the Palm Islands in Dubai). What makes the island quaint and special is the unbelievable story behind it: Isla Romantika is entirely built by one fisherman in the course of over 30 years, without the use of any machinery.
That man is Noy Ben, a Cordova native. Everyday after work, he carried large rocks from the shore on his bangka to build the foundation of the island. He then hauled the sand immediately surrounding the base and piled the sand on top of it, which also served to create a shallow bathing pool around the island. Through the years he added a few embellishments — a simple hut here, a couple of small trees there.
As word about the island spread, curious and paying visitors started coming. Unfortunately, the island’s burgeoning popularity also brought some unwanted attention: apparently a certain politico in the area is trying to claim the island as his own (hay naku). He even tried to build his own island nearby (with an army of workers with modern machinery, of course) to “compete” with Noy Ben’s, but I’m guessing his plan failed since work on it seems to have stopped. A few foreigners have also offered to buy the island, but Noy Ben says he doesn’t plan to sell the island anytime soon. And perhaps rightfully so, as Noy Ben will probably get more windfall from tourists soon — a luxury hotel is being constructed on the coast across the island (rumor has it that it belongs to the Gokongweis).
Visiting Isla Romantika was a very enjoyable detour. It was astounding to step on the island knowing that it was solely built, with his bare hands, by one man with no background whatsoever in geology or engineering (take that, high-tech Palm Islands engineers). It’s a cool place to just hang out, relax, frolic in the water, and do some birdwatching.
Even now, Noy Ben is constantly making improvements to Isla Romantika. His children are helping him out now that it’s making them some money hehe. I do hope he fixes the waste problem soon, though — unfortunately, many visitors who go to the island for picnics or overnight camping leave their garbage behind. Noy Ben, for convenience, buries the trash, plastics and all, on a pit he dug on the island, which isn’t exactly an environmentally sound strategy. We counseled Noy Ben not to ferry back visitors to Mactan Island if they don’t bring their garbage with them.
How to get there
Make your way to Barangay Alegria in Cordova, Cebu. Once there, ask the locals for Noy Ben (everyone knows him). You can ride a trisikad to the shore; Noy Ben will then pole you to the island on his bangka. Go there early on a weekday if you wish to have the island all to yourselves.
Alternatively, if you’re prepared to get wet, you could actually wade from the shore to the island. If the tide is low, the water will be about chest-deep. If you choose to do this and not ride with Noy Ben, as a courtesy you should still pay him for the use of his island.