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Debauchery in paradise: Letting loose in Boracay

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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 time in 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.boracay white beachAdmittedly though, Boracay and I were 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 island paradiseBoracay 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.

boracay white beachSo 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.boracay beach crowds philippinesAfter 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.Boracay chainsThe next morning when I woke up and walked down to the beach and I saw this:boracay water philippinesAnd 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.boracay white beach7I 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?boracay beach path philippinesWhen 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).beach fun boracaySpeaking 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 I’d been in Boracay after leaving the island, the first question was: ‘Did you party a lot?’. Apparently, Boracay is the Philippine’s party destination, but I was blissfully unaware of that (until I got there).boracay fire dancersDuring 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.boracay white beach6Every 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 😉boracay sunsetLike 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, stay away in January and February, when Boracay is the busiest.boracay beach palm treesEven 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.boracay sunset with boat1While 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.boracay beach bar philippinesLooking 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.Boracay collage

Practical information

Best time to visit: During dry season, between November and May. That’s when the water is calm and nice.boracay water funHow to get there

From Kaliko:

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.

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 PHP00 for a single person motorbike tricycle or PHP20 for a bigger one shares between 5 people.sunset boracay philippines1From 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.

Money: There are plenty of ATMs along the beach.boracay hostelsWhere to stay: 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.

For more accommodation options, check out all 236 Boracay hostels and hotels on Booking.com.boracay boat philippinesWhere to eat: My favorite places 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), and 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.jonys shakesBest sunset spot: 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).spider house boracay sunsetHave you been to Boracay? What did you think about the Philippines’ most popular island?

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Living it up in Manila

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I expected to hate Manila, but I ended up having a terrific time there and even spent more time in

On the CINNAMON Trail in Sri Lanka: My suggested itinerary for Sri Lanka

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This is the tour I’d recommend to anyone visiting Sri Lanka – it includes the essence of Sri Lanka: the main UNESCO World Heritage Sites, cultural and historical highlights, wildlife, beaches and city life in the capital.Sri Lanka Cinnamon Hotels MapI was recently asked by two friends to help them plan their trip to Sri Lanka, which is why I decided to put this guide together. My first week in Sri Lanka was a rushed one, but it was also an absolutely amazing one. The itinerary for our whirlwind tour of the country’s main sights had been put together by the Cinnamon Hotel group, which means I got to stay at Cinnamon properties throughout the week, and I fell head over heels in love with the chain. You all know that I am a hotel geek, with countless hotel reviews here on the site, and getting to know several Cinnamon Hotels during my time in Sri Lanka definitely contributed to how much I enjoyed the trip. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I loved Cinnamon Hotels so much, considering that they were named the ‘best hotel chain in Sri Lanka’ by Lonely Planet!Sri LankaWhile I was doing this tour on a rushed schedule, I think these places should be on every traveler’s itinerary to Sri Lanka, followed by a week of beach relaxation. I have no hesitations in recommending the (almost) identical round trip that I took with Cinnamon, including stays at Cinnamon Hotels in each place. My friends who’re going to Sri Lanka shortly are both on a decent salary, and considering that the Cinnamon Hotels usually are between $100 and $180 for a double room (mostly around $130) – 85 to 150 Euros, most of the chain’s room rates are a steal for them, starting at just over 40 Euros per person. See below what you get for this money and you’ll know what I mean.Cinnamon Hotels

Kandy – The Sacred City

Arrange transportation straight to Kandy from the airport. Kandy is only 100 kilometers from the airport, but expect it to take several hours to get there – traffic can be heavy on this route.

Kandy was the last capital of the Sinhala kings and home to the stunning Temple of the Tooth Relic (a popular pilgrimage site because of Buddha’s sacred tooth) and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Allow a day to explore the city center and the Temple Of The Tooth Relic and make your way up to the Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue on top of Bahirawakanda hill from where you’ll have fantastic views over Kandy.kandy temple of the tooth sri lankaWhere to stay: The Cinnamon Citadel Kandy

The Cinnamon Citadel Kandy is located a short drive from the city center, perched upon one of the hills surrounding Kandy. The hotel is home to a large outdoor pool with gorgeous river views – the perfect place to relax after a day of sightseeing, and to recover from jet lag.

The beautiful hotel, designed all in white, was one of my favorite Cinnamon properties in Sri Lanka. The restaurant with its large terrace, also overlooking the river, offers terrific sunset views while dining, the excellent food options make for a divine dining experience in a sensational setting.

Price: Superior double rooms start at $120 for two people, including buffet breakfast.

Book this hotel

Number of recommended nights: 1 -2kandy citadel poolHow to get here quickly: If you’re severely time-strapped, you can fly to Kandy from Colombo’s International Airport – instead of a 4-hour drive, it’s a quick 25-minute flight. Cinnamon Air offers daily flights.

Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa & Minneriya National Park

Sigiriya is the next UNESCO site, and probably the UNESCO site in Sri Lanka in the most stunning location. It’s about 2.5 to 3 hours from Kandy and is part of the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, being one of the ancient cities (the other two being Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura), but this one has one important feature that differentiates it from the other two: it sits on top of a giant monolith. The name Sigiriya means ‘Lion’s Rock’, given because of the gateway in the form of a giant lion built on a plateau halfway up the rock. Passersby would have no idea what treasure sits on top of the rock, and it takes a challenging climb up narrow stairs clung to the steep cliffs of the rock, to see the ruins on top of the plateau.

My recommendation would be to spend two nights in Habarana and visit the three nearby UNESCO sites (Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa and the Dambulla Cave Temple) as well as Minneriya National Park. The best way to do this: leave Kandy in the morning, and head straight to Minnerya National Park when you get to Habarana. You won’t need more than half a day for your jeep safari. The amount of elephants I got to see on my safari was astounding – I was hoping for six or seven elephants, instead I got to see entire herds!Cultural TriangleThe next day, I’d get up early to climb Sigiriya (it gets really hot – so the earlier you climb, the better). It’s unlikely that you’ll spend more than half a day here, so you can either head straight to Dambulla to visit the Cave Temple, or relax back at the hotel and head to Dambulla later in the afternoon.

On your third day, pack up your bags and leave your luggage at reception, and have the hotel arrange transportation to Polonnaruwa for you. The ancient city is about 45 minutes away.

Where to stay: Chaaya Village Habarana

Habarana is a small town that is conveniently located to visit Sigiriya, the Dambulla Cave Temple and Kaudulla National Park. Cinnamon has two properties here: the upscale Cinnamon Lodge and the slightly cheaper Chaaya Village, where I was staying. I also visited the Cinnamon Lodge (the two hotels are basically next to each other), but I don’t think I’d pay more to stay there – I loved my time at Chaaya Village and it was my favorite Cinnamon Hotel for wildlife sightings.

The dining and bar area is wide open (with a roof though, to protect you from the frequent monsoon rains) and looks out to the large swimming pool, behind which there were monkey families hanging out on a regular basis. In addition to the monkeys, there were several curious squirrels and lots of bird life around the hotel, which made this animal lover very happy!sri lanka cinnamon habaranaAll rooms are located in little bungalows in a beautiful lush green setting.

Price: Superior double rooms start at $103, including breakfast. A superior double room at the Cinnamon Lodge Habanara starts at $169.

Book Chaaya Village                           Book Cinnamon Lodge Habanara

Number of recommended nights: 2

How to get here quickly: If you’re severely strapped for time, you can fly to Sigiriya from Colombo – instead of a 5-hour drive, it’s a quick 35 minute flight. Cinnamon Air offers daily flights.

The Northeast: Trincomalee

Note: I recommend including this stop if you have time and are looking for a good spot to snorkel and whale watch. If you don’t have a lot of time, head straight to the next stop instead, the tea country.

While I didn’t make it to the Northeastern part of Sri Lanka on this trip, I’ve heard fantastic things about Trincomalee and will definitely visit this coastal town on my next visit to Sri Lanka. The area is known for its exceptionally clear waters which make for great snorkeling (particularly Pigeon Island) and there are a couple of noteworthy beaches nearby. In March/April and September/October, Trincomalee is also a fantastic place to join a whale watching tour – blue whales and sperm whales can be seen here.sri lanka coastWhere to stay: Chaaya Blu Resort

Cinnamon has one property in Trincomalee, the luxury 4* Chaaya Blu Resort, located right on the beach, a beautiful resort with open dining areas, a large pool facing the ocean and several restaurants, including a crab restaurant. Rates start at only $60 per night per double room here, which is an absolute steal!

Book this hotel

Number of recommended nights: 2

How to get there quickly: Cinnamon Air offers flights to Trincomalee from Colombo and Sigiriya.

The Tea Country

I don’t think a visit to Sri Lanka is complete without a visit to the tea country! In fact, my train rides through the tea plantations and green tea-covered hills are some of the fondest memories of my trip. I will write more about the tea country in a separate post, but if you have enough time, go back to Kandy and take the train to Nuwara Eliya or even all the way to Ella from here. There are some great hikes in this area including the trails in one of Sri Lanka’s most beautiful areas, the uplands of World’s End and Horton Plains (close to Nuwara Eliya) but even if you’re not into hiking, just seeing the scenery from the train and visiting a tea plantation would make the trip worth it.

Where to stay: There are no Cinnamon Hotels in the tea country (yet!), but check out Booking.com for hotels in Ella or hotels in Nuwara Eliya.

Number of recommended nights: 2Tea country Sri Lanka

Yala National Park

Even though Yala National Park is quite far from the Cultural Triangle, if you’re a wildlife lover, you can’t miss a safari here! (Note: if you don’t care too much about leopards, monkeys, birds, elephants, crocodiles, deer and other wild animals, I’d skip Yala and head straight to the beaches).

My main recommendation for Yala: Fork out the money for two safaris – it’s worth it. My morning safari was very different from my evening safari, and you’re more likely to spot a leopard if you head out twice. Jeep safaris with Cinnamon Nature Trails guides can be arranged at the hotel.

Where to stay: Cinnamon Yala

The Cinnamon Hotel in Yala is probably the most beautiful Cinnamon Hotel, and I wish I could’ve stayed here. Just take a look at the pictures! My friend Steve who stayed here even saw an elephant right on the hotel grounds, and that’s not an uncommon occurrence. In fact: you’re not allowed to wander the grounds without a guard accompanying you at night, because there might be an elephant right outside your chalet. Chalets start at $170 per night in low season, breakfast included.

Book this hotel

Number of recommended nights: 2

How to get there quickly: If you don’t have much time, you can fly to Yala with Cinnamon Air from Colombo.yala

The South Coast

After exploring Sri Lanka’s wildlife and cultural heritage, it is time to hit the beach! I’d recommend staying on the south coast, preferably around Galle, so that you can also fit in a day trip to this charming Dutch-Portuguese colonial town (another UNESCO site), which can easily be explored in a few hours.

The most popular beaches here are Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna and Mirissa, and no matter which one you choose, you’ll find yourself at a pristine, palm-fringed tropical beach, perfect for relaxation and recharging your batteries.sri lanka south coastWhere to stay:

If you want to be right at the beach, check out Booking.com for hotels in Hikkaduwa, Mirissa and Unawatuna in all price categories. You can find everything from basic guesthouses to luxurious 5* hotels, albeit the majority of luxurious hotels sits outside of the towns along the coast.

If you’d like to stay away from it all and enjoy a tranquil part of the beach outside of town, I recommend the 5* Cinnamon Bey in Bentota (double rooms start at $119) or the Chaaya Tranz (double rooms from $109) in Hikkaduwa. Note that Bentota is still pretty far north though – perfect if you don’t want to travel too far to the airport, but Hikkaduwa would be better for you if you’re planning to visit Galle.

Book Cinnamon Bey                 Book Chaaya Tranz

Number of recommended nights: 5

Tip: If you have a full two weeks for your vacation, I’d recommend spending an entire week at the beach, or even split your time between two beaches.Cinnamon Hotels South Coast

Colombo

If you’d like to experience some city life in Colombo before you leave, a night in Colombo isn’t a bad idea – if you don’t care much about drinks on rooftop bars and some shopping, extend your stay at the beach instead and head straight to the airport from there.

I’d recommend checking out the historic fort area, dining in one of the new restaurants in or around the former Dutch hospital (beautiful restored), and heading the ‘Red, the rooftop bar of the Cinnamon Red Hotel, for sunset drinks. If you’d like to see some of Sri Lanka’s dodgier bars, check out the Dodgy Bar Tour which I went on and really enjoyed.colomboWhere to stay:

There are three Cinnamon Hotels in Colombo, all of which are fabulous. Cinnamon Grand is the most exquisite one, Cinnamon Lakeside is a popular congress hotel (however, I have to say I loved their swimming pool and lakeside location) and Cinnamon Red is the young and trendy one. I’d probably stay in the latter, which also happens to be the most inexpensive of the three, with rooms starting at $90 per night per double room!

To help you make a decision which one might be the right one for you: Cinnamon Grand feels like a glam Vegas-type hotel with several restaurants, shops and cafes inside the hotel, two swimming pools and a spa, with rates starting at $137 (add $10 for the scrumptious breakfast buffet); Cinnamon Lakeside has 9 different restaurants, a large swimming pool and a health club – rates start at ; Cinnamon Red has the best rooftop pool and bar in the city (at least in my humble opinion) and is decorated in a modern, chic design (can you guess which color is prevalent here?) and has rooms for less than $100 per night.

Book Cinnamon Grand     |     Book Cinnamon Lakeside    |    Book Cinnamon Red

cinnamon red rooftop pool
Watching a fiery sunset from the Cinnamon Red’s rooftop pool

Number of recommended nights: 1-2

So, these are my Sri Lanka highlights with a suggested itinerary. You can find a complete list of my favorite places in Sri Lanka here on Trover:

Sri Lanka Highlights – a photo list by GlobetrotterGirls

Have you been to Sri Lanka? Which places would you suggest visitors can’t miss?

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