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Oh, Boracay. I don’t even know where to start..
Debauchery: excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures.
This pretty much sums up my visit to Boracay. When I first set foot on the white sand that made Boracay famous, I had no idea that my stay there (or should I say: my behavior?) would be rather scandalous, but if you’re hoping for some juicy stories, I have to disappoint you. I decided to adopt the good ol’ Vegas slogan for this party island paradise: What happens in Boracay stays in Boracay. It will remain on top of my unforgettable travel experiences for a while, that’s for sure.Admittedly though, my visit to Boracay was off to a bit of a rough start. For the first couple of days on the island, I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. You might think ‘Look at this view, what’s not to like?‘.Boracay was one of these places where I had a certain image in my head of what it would be like, and this little island was just so different from what I had pictured. I’d been wanting to visit Boracay ever since I first saw photos of this incredible white beach and the stunning colorful sunsets. Posts like this and this that made me add Boracay to list of my dream destinations. The photos I had seen of Boracay evoked a feeling of a tranquil, serene island paradise like I had experienced in Koh Rong or Little Corn Island.
So when I arrived in Boracay on a hot night at the end of January, I quickly checked into my hotel and headed straight to the beach, overjoyed to finally be there.
What I saw was just not what I had expected. Hundreds of people were strolling up and down a narrow sandy path, lined with restaurant, bars and shops. I was completely unprepared for how busy it was. I am not sure if there is ever a time when Boracay is not busy, or at least less busy, but at the end of January it was crazy how many people there were. It was overwhelming.After recovering from this initial shock, I started my quest to find something to eat, not sure if I should turn right or left. To my left, I saw the huge yellow M sign which belonged to a shiny new and giant McDonald’s. So I headed left (south) instead. Here, I walked by a Subway, and later that night I discovered Johnny Rocket’s, Sbarro, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and other well-known fast food jaunts. I had just never been to a tropical island with so many fast food chains right on the beach, and found it a bit off-putting. This is not how I had pictured my visit to Boracay.The next morning when I woke up and walked down to the beach and I saw this:And I couldn’t help but relax immediately. White Beach is the most famous beach in the Philippines for a reason after all, four kilometers of white sand so soft and powdery that I wouldn’t mind feeling it under my feet every day for the rest of my life.
The beach is separated in three divisions, Station 3 in the south, Station 2 in the middle and Station 1 in the north. I knew that the further south or north I would walk, the quieter it would get and the less people I’d encounter. So I started walking towards the northern end and soon enough the beach felt less crowded. This was much more what I had in mind for my beach getaway in Boracay.I had two choices: I could be upset about the crowds or I could simply accept it for what it was and make the best of it. And how can I blame all the people from Taiwan, Korea and China who have such a glorious beach paradise only a short flight away for wanting to enjoy what’s the definition of the perfect tropical beach? Of course everyone wants to visit Boracay and its famous White Beach!When you visit Boracay, you can make it exactly what you want it to be. If you’re looking for solitude and quiet beach time, stay in one of the hotels at the far north end of station 1. If you want to party and be right in the middle of it all, stay in station 2. If you want to do kitesurfing, don’t stay in White Beach at all, but stay on the other side of the island on Bulabog Beach (Boracay is still small enough to get from one side of it to the other it on foot, at least on its narrowest part in the middle of the island).Speaking of party: I must be the only person in the world who didn’t get the memo that Boracay was a party island! Whenever I mentioned to people I’d been in Boracay after leaving the island, the first question was: ‘Did you party a lot?’. Apparently, it is the Philippine’s party destination, and lots of young Asians visit Boracay solely to party, but I was blissfully unaware of that (until I got there).During my stay right in the middle of it all in Station 2, I had all the parties right around me but no one to party with. So I decided to move out of my hotel into a hostel further north towards Station 1. Station 1 meant an emptier beach during day, the hostel meant partying at night. Because I was in the mood to dance and let loose. The beach parties reminded me of my early 20s when I danced until the sun came up on the beaches of Ibiza and I remembered how much I loved these beach parties.
Moving hotels was the best decision I could have made because my hostel was exactly the social place I needed to meet new people after the anonymity of my hotel. I stayed at the Frendz resort, which has a big open bar and restaurant area (with super cheap drinks) in the center and bungalows based around that, only 2 minutes from White Beach. The resort even has free sun chairs at the beach.Every night, a group of party-hungry travelers would gather at the hostel bar and drink until they’d kick us out, and we would make our way down to the beach bars where we danced in the sand until the early hours. Or until everyone disappeared with their boyfriend / girlfriend for the night. Yes, that’s the kind of place Boracay is 😉Like I said though: It is completely up to you what you make of your stay on the island. If you are not into partying, just stay further north or south on the beach. If you don’t like crowds, don’t visit Boracay in January and February, when the island is the busiest.Even though the (over?)development on White Beach can be hard to take, there are still places on the island where you can find tranquility, for example on Puka Beach (Shell Beach) at the northern end of Boracay or Ilig-Iligan Beach in the northeast. (Check out this comprehensive guide for Puka Beach).
In the end, I had a hard time leaving Boracay. It is just so easy to get sucked into this lazy life of beach, work, beach, and dancing the night away.While it might not be the serene island experience that I was hoping for, and overwhelmed me at first, it turned out that Boracay was exactly what I had needed.Looking back now, my time on the island was the favorite part of my Philippines trip and I can’t wait to go back. And speaking of going back: I’ve mentioned a few times already that I will go back to the Philippines, but mainly to visit places I didn’t make it to this year. Boracay, however, is the #1 place I want to return to.
Things to know before you visit Boracay
Best time to visit Boracay:
During dry season, between November and May. That’s when the water is calm and nice.
Visit Boracay: How to get there
When you plan your visit to Boracay, you have two options: you can fly into Kalibo Airport or into Caticlan Airport. Flights to Kalibo are usually cheaper, but it takes two hours from there to Boracay. From Caticlan, it’s only 30 mins by van and ferry to the island.
Getting to Boracay from Kalibo:
Don’t buy the transfer tickets (van/bus) on the plane if you arrive on an AirAsia flight. They are selling them for PHP500, but they’re half the price if you buy the tickets right at the van.
The terminal is tiny – walk outside and you see half a dozen of minivans that are waiting to bring passengers to Boracay. They are selling tickets for PHP200-PHP250. Look out for the guys whose sign say 200. The ride to the ferry terminal takes about 90 minutes.
Note: While the ferry ticket is included in the van ticket, you still have to pay a PHP75 environmental fee and a PHP100 terminal fee. The ferry ride takes about ten minutes. (Note that you have to pay these fees also when leaving Boracay).
At the terminal in Boracay, there are tricycles waiting to bring passengers to White Beach. They’re either PHP10 for a single person motorbike tricycle or PHP20 for a bigger one shares between 5 people.
Getting to Boracay from Caticlan:
If you fly into Caticlan, you can actually walk to the ferry terminal (5-10min walk), or take a tricycle for 50PHP.
Note: Flying into Kalibo is usually cheaper, since it is a bigger airport than Caticlan. Caticlan can only be served by smaller planes that only allow 15 kilos of luggage. Kalibo also offers international destinations such as Seoul, Busan, Taipei, Shanghai, Chengdu, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
ATMs / Money in Boracay
Where to stay in Boracay
I enjoyed my stay at the Frendz resort and would definitely recommend it, especially if you’re traveling alone. There are bungalows that house dorm rooms (divided male / female) for PHP600 /US$13.60), private bungalows with fan (PHP900 / US$20.50) and deluxe bungalows with AC (PHP1,000 /US$22.70). There is free WiFi throughout the resort.
Booking.com put together a list of the 30 best hotels in Boracay based on guest reviews.
I highly recommend you book your accommodation before you visit Boracay, because accommodation options have been limited and they do fill up, especially during high season.
Where to eat in Boracay
My favorite places were:
- True Food, an Indian restaurant with lots of vegetarian options
- Jony’s Shakes right on the beach in Station 1 (the avocado banana shake is to die for)
- TiBraz Sunday Crepes Happy Hour (50% off!)
- Fuel vegan restaurant (they share a space with TiBraz)
- Zucchero Cafe in Station 2 has good coffee and an upstairs with great views over the beach
- The cheapest Happy Hour beer I could find was Kurt’s at Station 3 where a Happy Hour beer was only 35PHP (US$0.80).
There are several other cheap (and quieter) sunset bars in Station 1.
Best sunset spot in Boracay:
The Spiderhouse, a bar perched onto the side of a cliff on the far end of Station 1 (you can walk there from White Beach – about 30 minutes – or take a tricycle. The Spiderhouse is also a resort; rooms start at PHP2,980 (US$67).Have you been to Boracay? What did you think about the Philippines’ most popular island?