If you had asked me what I thought about Boracay a few months ago, I probably would have responded with, “I love eating boracay, I have a friend from El Salvador whose mom makes great boracay.” No shame in my game, I had never heard of it. Okay, I lied. I had heard of it in passing, but legitimately knew nothing of it aside from the fact that it is one of the dozens of islands in the Philippines. I spent five days in Boracay last week. Two words: book now!
I want to start off by saying this in very simple terms, Boracay is the closest thing I’ve seen and experienced to heaven on Earth (with the exception of MAYBE Tobago). It’s breathtaking. It’s awe-inspiring. It’s mind boggling. It’s beautiful. I also want to say that due to my complete unawareness as to how much of a party island Boracay is, my keen observational skills were blurred by my beer goggles. I recruited the assistance of some Filipino friends I made while on the island to compliment my own research to give you the best information to make your trip to Boracay an enjoyable one.
GETTING TO BORACAY
I’ll admit it, I’ll admit it. I had initially planned on going to Manila for five days. After being convinced that I’d enjoy Boracay much more, the next hurdle came; getting there. This will easily be the least sexy part of your trip. Getting to Boracay requires some leg work.
KALIBO/KLO: This airport is much further from Boracay than Caticlan. Once you’re off the plane, you’ll have to drive for an hour and a half to get to the island. The good news is, by going to Kalibo, you get to avoid Manila airport entirely (which I strongly suggest!). The air conditioned shuttle buses outside the airport will take you directly to Boracay, but will set you back PHP 250. If you’re arriving early, you won’t have any issues. If you’re arriving in the late afternoon or evening, you may want to factor in that the small ferries to Boracay stop around 7-8 pm. Show up early or book a room for the night. If you’re coming in from South Korea, Malaysia or Singapore, you can catch a direct flight to KLO.
CATICLAN/MPH: This airport is much closer to Boracay than Kalibo but you’d have to get there via Manila airport (again, due to terrible staff and protocol, avoid if possible). This little airport is set to expand and accommodate international flights as of 2016, but right now, it only services smaller domestic flights. I flew from MPH with Cebu Pacific because they offer a free shuttle bus to connect between the Manila terminals and it was only a one hour flight. On your flight with Cebu Pacific they’ll offer you a “deal” which includes all the necessary island fees, transportation to the island and luggage transfer for PHP 400-500, don’t take it, you’ll save yourself about PHP 200 by doing it on your own. You’ll also have to pay a fare for the ferry, terminal fee and environmental fee for a total of roughly PHP 200.
Caution: the planes are pretty much the size of toy planes. Make sure you check the amount of checked baggage weight allowed before you book your ticket. Air Asia and Philippine Airlines also fly into MPH, check them for flights as well, not only Cebu Pacific. Once you arrive at Caticlan, you can walk to the Jetty Port or take a trike there (haggle for a lower price). The Jetty Port is a 10 minute boat ride to the other side of the island, from there, you can take another trike or taxi to your destination for about PHP 25 if you split the ride with other passengers. It will cost PHP 80 or more if you go alone. They will highball you.
If you’re looking for the cheapest flights into MPH or KLO, check my blog post on the the 25 sites for the cheapest airfare possible.
Broacay is a little tropical island in the western region of the Philippines a few hours south of the capital, Manila. It’s one of the world’s top destinations for rest and relaxation. It has absolutely stunning weather. And the island itself, along with its photoshopped looking beaches have won more awards than Sam Smith at the Grammys.
When I say small, I really mean small, as in small enough to walk from one end of the island to the next (north to south) in twenty minutes. The part of the island you’ll likely be spending your time on is called White Beach (one of six beaches on the island). It’s broken into three Stations; 1, 2 and 3. You can walk from one end to the next in thirty minutes (east to west). As a general rule, the east and west extremes of White Beach are quiet(er) than the centre, where the action is.
Boracay has something for everyone. Want to unwind and watch a beautiful sunset? Go to Boracay. Want to get drunk every day (and night) and chase after ladies, or boys, or lady boys? Go to Boracay. Want to scuba dive? Go to Boracay. Want to eat delicious food and not empty your bank account? Go to Boracay. Want to … you get the point.
BEST THING TO DO: CARABAO ISLAND DAY TRIP
If you don’t get a chance to do anything else, make sure you go on this trip! With every ounce of honour in my body, I promise, you won’t regret or forget it. It will be the best PHP 2000/approx. CAD $55 you’ve ever spent. What to expect?
- Unlimited drinks and snacks for the entire trip!
- A ride on a party boat with music and great company (perfect for tanning making and making friends).
- A deliciously prepared barbecue lunch (fruits, juices, different types of chicken, rice and potatoes).
- A motorcycle ride through the natural landscape of Carabao island (trees, hills, beaches, locals).
- Beach volleyball.
- Watch the sunset from the party boat on the water.
- Again, unlimited drinks for the entire trip!
At first, I was a little skeptical about being in the company of complete strangers for the better part of a day. Those worries were erased within a few minutes of meeting the other day trippers, most of which came from Frendz hostel. All of whom became my friends during that trip (I’ve even added them to Facebook to cement it). I can’t speak highly enough about this day trip, don’t miss out! These trips are not every day so if you want to reserve a spot, grab some friends and do it as soon as you can.
MORE TO DO IN BORACAY
- Parasailing: I tried this for the first time in Boracay (somewhat reluctantly) and absolutely loved it. It was one of the most jaw dropping views; a near perfect combination of beach sand, water, fluffy white clouds embedded in a blue sky with lush green mountains as a backdrop. I highly recommend this (unless you’re deathly afraid of heights).
- Jetskiing: I jetskiied once upon a time in Mexico (movie fans get it), so I didn’t feel the need to do it in Boracay. It’s definitely a fun activity to try if you’re a first timer to water sports. It may even be a little addicting (Beware, those little machines go from zero to a hundred, real quick … Ha).
- Flyfishing: What is flyfishing? Not to be confused with actual fishing with a fly as a lure. Boracay’s version of flyfishing involves being pulled along the water by a speedboat on a giant inflatable fish. I didn’t get around to doing this, but it looks fun. It’s also inexpensive compared to most of the other activities.
- Banana Boating: I skipped this activity. Honestly, it looks boring. But hey, different strokes for different folks, right?
- ATV Riding: Another activity that is loads of fun! And that I highly suggest!
- Buggy Car Driving: Another activity I didn’t get around to doing because, well frankly, I was probably napping or drinking or doing another activity. This does seem like fun though. Maybe you can try it and let me know how it went!?
- Go-Karting: Go-karting is one of my favourite pastimes. Don’t let the size of those little karts fool you. Those suckers go fast! Try it out!
- Flying In A Helicopter: I genuinely wanted to do this! But I couldn’t haggle down a good enough deal so I decided to pass up on it. Besides, I don’t think they’d actually let me fly the helicopter … And where’s the fun in that?
- Zip Lining With A Cable Car: I’ve never really cared for zip lining. But this isn’t about me. It’s about you! If you love the idea of gliding down a thin line with the support of nothing but a harness and a cable car. Go for it!
- Speed Boating: Now this is fun and also relaxing. Watching the waves go by is hypnotizing.
- Sail Boating: Another activity that I passed up on but that I’ll get around to doing on my next trip to Boracay (oh yes, I’ll be back).
- Scuba Diving: Something that I plan on taking much more seriously when I have more time! Five days in paradise just isn’t enough.
- There are loads of cheap or free activities to do on the island too. I’ll put together a comprehensive budget traveller’s guide in a later post!
NOTE: The picture above is on of the actual cards that the guys (and girls) lining the narrow white sand beach path will solicit you with dozens of times a day as soon as you step foot on the beach. They will also try to sell you “waterproof” cases for your smart phone, “Ray Ban” sunglasses (even if you’re already wearing a pair?) and any other type of item they have available, including silly little laser pointers. Tiring as it may be, it is their means of earning income, don’t be rude when they approach you. Even if you aren’t buying something, smile, nod, say “hello,” say “goodbye,” say “no thank you,” or better yet, strike up a conversation, because you’re an awesome traveller and not a disgruntled tourist.
TIP: HAGGLE and BARGAIN everything. The locals on the island are charming and friendly, and I want to believe that most of it is sincere. But the minute they identify you as a non local, they will charge you what I like to call the “foreigner price,” anywhere from fifty percent or more than what a local would be willing to pay for it. If you feel like you’re being charged too much, you are. Stick to your guns and bargain down or go elsewhere. The same services are available in multiple locations on the island.
BORACAY EATS: BREAKFAST, LUNCH AND DINNER
I write this in complete uncertainty, but Boracay must hold some kind of record for the smallest island most densely populated with delicious restaurants. You can’t throw a stone in any direction without possibly hitting an eatery. There’s a borderline ridiculous amount of culinary diversity on this island.
With great variety comes a great variety of prices as well. You can find food from PHP 140 to PHP 600 and up. There are cheap places to dine in Boracay but you need to know where to look (that’s where I come in). I’m an advocate of living like a local any time you travel. This applies to food as much as anything else. If you want to save on food and still eat well, in any country, you need to get down with street food—skewers, sandwiches, wraps, salads, fruits, you name it. They’ll always be your cheapest and tastiest bet. Boracay is no exception.
Here’s a short list of restaurants both cheap and not so cheap (but all delicious) to look out for in Boracay.
Project Pie (picture above): My first night in Boracay, I was walking along the beach toward Station 3 and stumbled onto this place. Custom artisan pizza made fresh in a matter of minutes. Their staff is perfect. Their music is perfect. Their beers are … okay, well a little overpriced but the rest is worth it. Go here and thank me later.
Real Coffee And Tea Café: Because who doesn’t need some coffee or tea after a proper night of partying? I’m told it’s also known for its calamansi (the baby love child of lime and mandarin) muffins.
Smoke’s: Located in D’Mall, this is one of the most popular restaurants on the island. It’s reasonably priced and damn good! Give it a try, it won’t disappoint. There are two other locations on the island as well. Ask around.
Kasbah: For a delicious taste of the middle east try this spot. Try the rib eye steak or the lamb pizza. There’s also live performances. You’ll love it.
Boracay Kitchen: This restaurant caters to budget eaters very well. Great Filipino dishes that do right by your tastebuds without demolishing your wallet (or purse). Find it on the main street in Station 1, at the back of Club Paraw.
Ti Braz: This French crepe house and bistro is known for its delicious crepes. Have them for breakfast or have them for dessert. I also tried the baked breaded chicken strips there, suffice to say, I’d sacrifice at least one of my family members to have another bowl. Insider tip: Boracay’s island pub crawl starts here. There’s also a good view of the Boracay fire dancers from here at night.
D’Talipapa (wet market): Strangely enough, seafood in Boracay is one of the most expensive things to eat. I mean good seafood is always more expensive, but I figured the islands would be a little different. Regardless, D’Talipapa is your go-to location for cheap seafood. Buy seafood, pay based on the weight, and take it “home” to cook it yourself or have it cooked at a nearby restaurant. It’s also a great place to finesse your bargaining skills.
Crafts: Looking for authentic Indian food and a place to hangout? Look no further. Don’t be thrown off by the supermarket downstairs. There’s a bar on the roof!
Tres Amigos: This is the only Mexican restaurant I recall coming across, so by definition, that makes it the best! Jokes aside, you can grab some pretty delectable Mexican eats here for easily less than PHP 200/CAD $5.5.
BORACAY ACCOMMODATIONS: HOSTELS, HOTELS AND GUESTHOUSES
Remember how I wrote that “Boracay must hold some kind of record for the smallest island most densely populated with delicious restaurants?” Well, it should hold another record for the smallest island most densely populated with accommodations as well. I kid you not. While walking around the island, I saw rooms for rent as low as PHP250/CAD $7. Online, I’ve seen bookings that go as high as PHP32,000/CAD $914 (a fella can dream).
The Rabbit Hole: Thirty second walk to White Beach in Station 1. This was home base for me for my short-lived time in Boracay. It’s a quaint guesthouse with fans and air conditioning. Abi, the manager there, is a sweetheart and will do her best to accommodate you comfortably.
Frendz: So many of my friends stayed at this resort/hostel that I feel like I had a room there too. Frendz is definitely the go-to lodging if you’re traveling solo and want to make some new buddies. There are cabin style rooms, a pool table, cheap drinks, music, trivia nights and even pasta nights. I’m told the only thing lacking from the rooms is air conditioning (which is available in some rooms and will be available in all rooms, eventually). And the cherry on the cake? It’s a sixty second walk from White Sand beach.
ClubTen: This is a clean and simple resort that has gotten more popular with time. It’s located near Station 1, so you’re guaranteed to have a bit more “quiet” time. It’s also very affordable. As good as it gets in terms of basic accommodations.
The Lazy Dog Bed & Breakfast: This bed and breakfast is a stone’s throw from Bulabog beach (on the opposite side of the island from White Beach) and doubles as a café. Good food and a relatively reliable Wi-Fi connection, you know, in case you’re a blogger or something.
Ernest’s Place: Suggested by some of my friends on the island. Legend has it this place is very neat, cleanly and modern. The owner (not actually a guy named Ernest?) is also said to be a cool lady. Located near D’Mall on White Beach—the centre of all the action.
Hangin Kite Centre And Resort: Located on Bulabog beach, it’s known for its chill atmosphere, sweet parties and all around good vibes. It’s been an established kitesurfing school for more than a decade and by the looks of it, also a pretty cosy place to stay.
Levantin: I didn’t spend much time on the Bulabog part of the island, there was just so much to do on the White Beach portion. However, Levantin, located along Bulabog beach has a relaxing vibe, big bar, quaint rooms, and if you get bored on that side of the island, you can make it to the opposite side in just twenty minutes or so.
Spider House: This resort and cafe is by far one of my favourite places on the island. It’s a little costly as a resort but the cafe prices are reasonable. The best part of Spider House is that you can dive right into the sea from the restaurant deck, no exaggeration (there’s a ladder from the restaurant deck to the water a few feet below). Also the perfect place to go for some quiet time or to watch the sunset.
White House: This family run beach resort has been around since the nineties! Located in the ever popular Station 1 section of the island. This resort has a terrific beach lounge on White Beach, modern design and top notch amenities. If it’s in your budget, you’ll enjoy your stay here.
Microtel: This is an international style beachfront (Diniwid Beach) hotel resort. Everything here screams international hotel chain. When you walk in, you may even forget you’re on a small tropical island in the Philippines. You’ll get all the peace and quiet available in Boracay. Not particularly my style of travel, but I’m sure it caters to some of you out there. So check it out. It’s very close to Spider House (mentioned above).
Astoria Boracay: Stay here if you’re looking for a more luxurious feel to your stay. It’s a beach resort in Boracay’s Station 1. It’s located on the beachfront, seconds away from any and everything you may need or want.
TIP: When you book a trip to Boracay, you’re not booking so you can get away and stay cooped up in your hostel/hotel/guesthouse or whatever other type of accommodation you may be staying in. You’re booking for the sun, beach, water, activities and fun. In other words, all things that take place outside. Don’t give yourself a headache trying to find the ideal place to sleep. You’ll be outside most of the time anyway. Who needs rest when you can party?
ANOTHER TIP: Boracay has two seasons high (October-May) and low (June-September). I went in August, and though I booked ahead, I would’ve had no problem finding a place to stay had I not booked at all. I would not have had that luxury had I showed up unannounced in high season. I’m told there are so many people that you can’t see the sand (yikes). Moral of the story, book in high season, wing it in low season. Prices will obviously vary.
NIGHTLIFE: BARS AND CLUBS
You don’t go to Boracay without partying. It just doesn’t work that way. Not a nightclub person? Fine. You’ll be in a bar or lounge or somewhere on the beach with a cold beer or glass of liquor in your hand. That’s a promise. Here are a few places to either let loose on the dance floor, hangout have a few drinks, chat or just plain relax.
Congas: This is the perfect spot if you want to get away from the Station 1 and 2 crowd. It’s at the end of Station 3, has lots of beach space, great food, music and a spacious dance area. If you go on the right day, you may even get to check out the live drummers pump out some rhythms as the sea settles and the sun goes down.
Red Pirates: This low key spot right next to Congas in Station 3 is an authentic style beach pub. The mantra here is “NO shoes, NO shirt, NO PROBLEM! LIVE SLOW…….SAIL FAST!” That should tell you all you need to know about the kind of laid back hangout spot this is. They also offer sailing on their twelve person capacity sailboat.
Club Paraw: I went to Club Paraw (pronounced Parrr-Ow) after being referred to it by at least five different locals. It gets wild. The music is intense (electro/EDM). The booze is always flowing. And the dance floor is always packed. I felt like I was walking into a rave. I also saw three people passed out in the sand just in front of the club–two of which were two men, cuddled up in fetal position (if love wasn’t in the air, alcohol certainly was). It’s at the end of Station 1.
Exit Bar (picture above): This is the most popular bar on the island, and for good reason. The dance floor is the same fine white sand that you’ll find on the beach near the water. The staff is phenomenal. I went there four consecutive nights (don’t you dare judge me), and not once did I have a remotely bad experience with anyone working there. The music is pretty good on most nights and there’s usually a pretty decent crowd around midnight. The beers are also really cheap. If you go to Boracay, you’ll end up at Exit bar. It’s inevitable. There’s even the occasional art exhibit in the day time.
BomBom Bar: Walk less than two minutes past Exit bar in the direction of Station 3 and you’ll find BomBom bar. Another great venue with bumping music (live and mixed), affordable drinks and an altogether righteous crowd of people.
Cocomangas: This location is a good old fashion shooter bar, known around the island for its fifteen shot drinking challenge (challenge accepted … just kidding, I’ll have a beer). This bar has been around for a long time and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon. Stop by, have a few shots, have a great time.
Summer Place: This is one of the only venues that I saw with an entrance fee (although I’m sure there are more) PHP200/CAD $5.5. I’m not really sure what to make of this place. It was suggested to me by a few people on the island. I passed by several times and heard great music. The venue itself is spacious and had a bunch of people inside … But not a single person was dancing (boom, mind blown).
This is a long post, but I need you to be well-equipped when you arrive, this is a labour of love. But I know you like pictures too, so here’s a bit of eye candy (no not that kind) for you (click on ’em).
A MORE SERIOUS NOTE:
In speaking to several of my friends, locals and other travellers, one thing is blatantly clear–this island paradise is now falling victim to major commercialization. What exactly does that mean for a small island like Boracay? It means, billion dollar companies like McDonald’s, Starbucks, Pizza Hut and others are slowly but surely moving in and setting up shop.
I was also informed that a Marriott Courtyard is set to begin construction next year at the end of Station 3 next to Congas. The island charm and warmth will not be there forever. In more practical terms, it means a rise in costs, which has already began. Another effect of commercialization will be way more visitors and increased strain on the island’s natural resources, plus increased pollution.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?
When you arrive, act like a local. Spend your money in local businesses the way locals would. Haggle for the same local prices that locals would get. Clean up after yourself. Don’t leave your litter and other junk on the beach or in the water just because you aren’t from there. You shouldn’t be taking a vacation from common sense and consideration. What I’m trying to say is don’t be an *sshole. Treat this place as though it were your home, it is home to some twenty thousand+ awesome Filipino people.
I wrote this post in an attempt to show you this beautiful island and its people. I also wrote this post to show you that you can travel to somewhere exotic without spending your life savings. I sincerely hope you take my advice and visit Boracay before it changes for the worse. It really is worth seeing. I’ll definitely be back in a hurry, that’s for sure. The energy there is too good not to.
For a much shorter post on an equally awesome island, read my post on the beautiful beaches of Trinidad and Tobago
Have you ever been to Boracay? Did you like it? Did you love it? Was this post helpful? I’d love to hear from you! Hit me in the comment section! Let’s share our knowledge and make traveling better for everyone. You can also mention me on Twitter [at]DriftAway2015 or on Facebook at Drift Away – Travel Blog. Hope to hear from you!!
Until next time,