I’d never considered the 7000 plus islands of the Philippines as a holiday destination, and possibly wouldn’t have if not for the fact I was invited to attend an event there. But if you’re looking for an alternative to Thailand or Bali within a budget, then Boracay is definitely worth a look!
Boracay was ranked number one island in the world in 2012, and with good reason; undulating white sands, crystal clear aqua waters teeming with fish, sunny days, amazing food, local culture and a nightlife to rival the big cities.
And the Boracay sunset is truly a sight to behold!
Getting to Boracay
Boracay is a small island serviced by the airport on nearby Caticlan, a short boat ride away. Air Asia fly to Caticlan from Kuala Lumpur but otherwise the easiest way to get to Boracay is to fly to Manila and hop on local carriers Cebu Pacific or Philippine Airlines. I found Philippine Air had a good range of flight choices and were friendly and efficient. Beware they will charge on excess baggage though!
If you’re looking for adventure or maybe save some dollars you can take an overnight ferry from Batangas to Caticlan, which will set you back $10 – $60 depending on what kind of accommodation you want. The catch is you need to make it from Manila to Batangas to get on the ferry, while there is a bus things work a little differently in South-East Asia and it won’t leave until it’s full, potentially a problem if you’re on a schedule. You can hire a driver for around 4000 pesos, roughly $100.
Getting a boat taxi from Caticlan to Boracay, and a taxi to your motel from there is easy enough, but it’s worth getting a quote on your hotel arranging transfer for you. I made my own way over but had the hotel arrange the transfer back and the 400 pesos (about $10) they charged was well worth the convenience of being transferred door to airport. Plenty of porters are available to help with luggage but keep coins handy as they will ask for a tip. Around 40 pesos is standard.
Where to stay in Boracay
Where to stay in Boracay depends on the kind of holiday you’re looking for.
Boracay is a long island with stretches of beach on each side. On one side is Bulabog Beach, famous for kitesurfing due to the winds channeled by the island’s hills, which also make it slightly cooler. I only went to this side during the night so I can’t say what it was like at day, but at night it was quiet.
The other side is White Beach, a 4km stretch of white sand that is the tourist centre of the island and always bustling with activity! There are plenty of reasonably priced resorts lining the beach to choose from, or houses you can hire as a group.
Make sure your accommodation is air-conditioned. It will make your stay a whole lot more comfortable. Regardless of which side you stay it is only about a 15minute walk to cross from one side to the other.
We stayed at Casa Pilar Beach Resort. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was clean and comfortable and breakfast was included. It was also centrally located and on the beach.
When to go to Boracay
The low season runs May – October. There are less tourists however higher rainfall and cooler temperatures.
During high season, October – May, White Beach is protected from the winds on the other side, but it is also peak season for tourists. Temperatures range from 28-38 degrees and humidity can be high depending on the direction of the winds. Expect tropical temperatures and don’t pack much in the way of clothing, it doesn’t cool down significantly at night and you’ll mostly wear swimmers, t-shirts and shorts. Most hotels will offer you an overnight laundry service for cheap rates.
Best restaurant in Boracay
The food is amazing and there is plenty of variety! I can only recall having one average meal and that was because I didn’t like the flavour of the particular fish, not through any lack of quality in the dish. There’s also a beachside McDonalds, which had to be tested though it looked out of place! It had more menu options than Australia and was the best McDonalds I’ve had in my life!
If you love your seafood, you NEED to visit the fish market (D’Talipapa) located in the centre of a square. Buy your seafood directly from the fisherman who caught it that morning, some of it still alive! Whatever they quote you, halve it and give that as your first offer. Once you’ve purchased your seafood pick one of the cooking services surrounding the square, choose from the menu how to have it cooked, pay your money and take a seat. I can recommend Plato D’Boracay Resto – the food was amazing and even a local told us it was the best! We had a 1.2kg Lobster cooked in red coconut curry and 2kg of Prawns cooked in chilli, for about $70 between three of us. Don’t expect the same prices on meat though, it’s imported and $30-$40 for a steak.
Basically, try everywhere!
Things to do in Boracay
There’s plenty of things to do in Boracay but in my opinion if you aren’t looking for a holiday where you lounge around not doing much then it has a lifespan of about a week before it all starts to feel a bit the same.
During the day White Beach is a bustling strip of restaurants, shopping and locals selling their services. I found one of the hardest things to adjust to was the value of money. Being a 3rd world country what is so little to us equates to so much there, and you will be quoted ‘foreigner price’, which isn’t alot of money but is still overpaying. Feel free to bargain at the street stalls and with street sellers, it feels a little mean but it’s the done thing. However in the proper stores and restaurants you pay what is asked. As a general rule, if you have to ask them what the price is you can negotiate.
At night White Beach transforms into another world! Restaurants and bars materialise on the beach serviced by the permanent establishments there during the day. Performers earn their living on the strip with fire dancing, music, acrobatics, beach sculptures and whatever talents they can. Save coins up during the day for strolling the strip at night as there are some exceptionally worthy performers. Alcohol is amazingly cheap, during happy hour you can expect to pay around 150 pesos for two cocktails, that’s about $3.75, and there are plenty of bars and clubs to party.
Don’t miss the chance to have a massage! At about $12.50 for an hour full body massage you could try a different place every day! I recommend the Paradise Gardens resort, which happened to be near my hotel. They have a closed in canvas tent set up on the beach which is cooled, you have complete privacy, an amazing masseuse and the soft lapping of the ocean to lull you.
From White Beach you can organise Helmet Diving, Scuba Diving, Glass Bottom boat, Island hopping, Parasailing, jet boating, island tours, snorkeling and a range of other activities. While these will be offered by spruikers all along the strip I’d recommend finding the actual stores selling them. A sunset cruise is worth it with a group, and I really enjoyed the afternoon on a glass bottom boat.
Boracay has some of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen, definitely take a stroll on White Beach at sunset. Purchase a waterproof pouch for about 100 pesos, which comfortably fits your phone and money and enables you to strip off and run into the warm waters whenever you please. Any valuables you can’t keep on you should be left locked in your room. You will need cash, but the strip has plenty of places offering competitive exchange rates, and a number of ATM’s. I recommend changing some cash before you go and taking currency with you to change there and save on ATM fees.
You need a Typhoid shot before you go, and it’s a good idea to carry a travel medical kit with you. The biggest battle we had was staying hydrated so packing hydration tablets is wise. The tap water isn’t safe to drink, and we were cautious to not have ice in drinks until we found out that it’s produced from filtered water on the island.
If you’re new to this part of the world be prepared to see a lower standard of living outside of the tourist hub. Beggars, particularly children, are common in the tourist parts. Which is why you can’t leave any valuables lying around.
I spent eight nights in Boracay and four in Manila. Flights, accommodation, all food, alcohol, activities and spending money set me back less than $2500. It’s a beautiful part of the world and I couldn’t help but look around and wonder how long it would be before we destroyed it.
On that note Boracay is currently closed for six months from April 2018, to allow time for the island to regenerate. Definitely one to look at for 2019!