The idyllic white sandy beaches of Boracay are known globally to the best sand and sea you’ll ever experience. Boracay in the Philippines is treated as the centre of the Philippines, and it certainly has it all. Likened to Bali, Boracay has plenty of luxurious resorts, hotels and hostels to make you feel on holiday in an instant and make anyone not with you jealous. Combined with beautiful Filipino hospitality and quite literally the most perfect sunset, and you have a destination that is well and truly apart from the competition in South East Asia. I first visited Boracay in 2016, and for the second time in 2018. A little bit has changed it two years and a few more tips!
*Since visiting, the Filipino government has closed Boracay temporarily from April 26 for 6 months. This is due to some much needed infrastructure improvements on the island. Hopefully Boracary re-opens soon!
THAT ISLAND FEELING
Everyone comes to Boracay for one thing; the beautiful white beaches. And boy, are they are perfect! Crisp white sand that is so fine (and left my feet soooo soft afterwards!), beautiful turquoise clear water that is the perfect refreshing temperature, and the perfect westerly view for a sunset over the horizon.
The main beach in Boracay is White Beach, which stretches 4kms. The beach is quite wide, however a significant portion is taken up by massage parlours, restaurants and bars, sun loungers and market stalls. The beach is also affected by the tide. In the morning, the water is at low tide, however comes in rather quickly to high tide. Regardless of the sun loungers (which are at cost), you can of course still use a towel and lay on the sand 🙂
You will experience plenty of beachside vendors walking along the beach path and on the beach. They will just about try to sell you anything, from children offering to build you a sandcastles with your name, to a Boracay sandcastle, snorkelling trip, sunset sailing, someone selling hats, ice cream, peanuts, sunglasses… the list could go on and on. The beach is basically a living market. It can be somewhat bothersome, but just say no straight away and they will move on. If you entertain the idea for a moment, it will be much more difficult to have them leave you alone.
One of the most popular things to do on Boracay is watching the sunset. The beach will get crowded as people return from daytime activities, and will be by far it’s busiest between 5 and 6.30pm, with the sun starting to set around 6pm. There will be a lot of sail boats out on the water, which makes for a spectacular view from the sand. Grab a beer from 7/11 or a buko (coconut) and watch it set in peace.
Boracay’s White Beach transforms every night at sunset. Massage parlours and sun loungers will hide away, and restaurants and bars will setup tables on the beach so you can eat/drink/shisha on the beach. This also means that they are able to clean any garbage off the beach as nothing is a permanent fixture. The sand is generally quite ok because of this.
WHAT’S BORACAY GOT?
Boracay has a lot of the creature comforts one expects. However, there are no mass malls with air conditioning on the island. The closest thing you’ll find is a market called d’mall which is an open air mall. Within d’mall you’ll find a mix of restaurants, designer shops and stalls. Most sell knock off goods and lots of souvenirs.
Western brands like Oakley and Adidas have opened a store in the tourist centre (Station ⅔). There are plenty of franchise restaurants along the main strip; Starbucks, Shakey’s, KFC, and McDonalds. There is no lack of whatever you need. You can get it in Boracay.
COMPARING BORACAY TO OTHER FILIPINO ISLANDS
Boracay is easier to get to than most other islands and boasts luxury at its fingertips that others simply cannot match. However, this is mainly due to a constant supply of power, which many other islands do not have, and because of the star power of Boracay. Boracay is internationally known and recognised. Other islands are catching up, and some are doing a pretty good job. The Philippines is is hidden gem of South East Asia and Boracay is it’s leading tourist island. Boracay is for those that like all the amenities available to them. If you prefer a quieter holiday, and don’t mind going without the odd luxury or two (wifi is the most common luxury to go without), then other Filipino Islands might work better for you.
HOW DOES BORACAY COMPARE TO BALI?
Boracay does compares to Bali, however it falls a little short in my eyes. First up, there is a lack of resorts available that aren’t exorbitantly priced. Yes, there are plenty of luxury hotels, but these are all hovering around the 4 star mark. Not many have made it to that 5 star level. Secondly, the food. Whilst Bali used to be known for its troublesome food, it really cleaned up its act and is now producing some of the best food I know for a holiday destination. If you want to eat well, Bali has Boracay beat. Easily. The food on Boracay is relatively standard tourist food. And thirdly, the service. The service is good and Filipino people are the friendliest in South East Asia, however everything runs on island time. Sometimes things are forgotten. In Bali, things happen and you don’t get forgotten. Maybe I just unlucky in Boracay and very lucky in Bali?
WHEN TO GO TO BORACAY
A lot of people want to visit this island beauty, so be prepared to share the space with lots of people. You’ll find a large mix of tourists, however majority will be Korean, Chinese or Japanese. During my second visit to Boracay, I visited during Chinese New Year and the island was insanely packed. I strongly recommend avoiding Boracay/Philippines during this time (every February, exact dates change annually depending on lunar cycle) as it was rather overwhelming.
The best time to go to Boracay is between December and May. April is the hottest month. After May, the Philippines becomes much more prone to Typhoons, with them almost guaranteed in October. It is a huge risk to come to the Philippines outside of December to May and one I would not recommend.
WHERE TO STAY IN BORACAY
STATION 1,2,3 WHAT? This is how neighbourhoods are called in Boracay. Think about it like Station 1 as the 1st 1km, Station 2 as the 2nd and Station 3 as the 3rd kilometer 🙂
The oldest of the stations, Station 1 lies north most on White Beach. The further north inside Station 1 you go from Station 2, the less there is going on – perfect for those seeking a quiet and relaxing stay. There are also beachfront resorts here as the strip finishes. Hotel straight to beach.
When the strip does start, there are plenty of cheap yet upmarket hotels, lively bands and acts performing and people enjoying the atmosphere. Station 1 also has a few hostels if you need to take the budget approach. Just beware of roosters!
There is a dedicated area within Station 1 for sailboat parking, so a section of the beach is unusable for swimming purposes. But there is still plenty of beach.
There are plenty of restaurants and hotels to choose from in Station 1, with the iconic Jonahs Fruit Shakes being my favourite. Ask for a dash of milk, but no sugar syrup – the fruit is sweet enough
This is where all the action happens! Station 2 is in the middle of it all so the area will be more crowded. It’s ridiculously easy to find a place to eat, drink, massage, shisha and shop, and still have great access to the beach. The beach is good with no access limitations but it will be the most crowded in comparison to other areas
Much like Station 2, however slightly newer – it has a 7/11 (Beer for 26 Pesos!!). Station 3 has only slightly less going on than Station 2, so crowds are still likely.
WHERE I’VE STAYED
Located centrally in Station 2, Boracay Uptown is a 4 star hotel. The room was clean and modern complete with your own hammock – albeit inside the room? The shower had good pressure and the beds were comfy. The breakfast buffet was a little disappointing as it’s very geared towards Asian breakfast. The pool was a nice touch, looking out onto the beach and onto the horizon, and hardly anyone uses it. The hotel will provide you with beach towels, just ask reception.
The location of the Boracay Uptown is completely central, restaurants left, right and centre, making food the easiest decision, shopping area D’Mall immediately to the right and plenty other beachside vendors lining the footpath, and beachfront massages only meters away. A night at Boracay Uptown starts from $141USD.
CANYON DE BORACAY
The rooms was quite large, with a spacious bathroom. The water pressure was good, but hot water wasn’t quite hot enough and only like warm. Good air conditioning. Mattresses were very firm. Breakfast selection was small, and geared to Asian market, however egg station was available which rescued us.
The hotel is situated on the same road as the 7/11, allowing super easy access to cheap beers. A night at Canyon De Boracay starts from $157USD.
I WANT A RESORT WITH A BIG POOL
If you want that true 5 star experience on Boracay there are two major resorts at the very northern tip of Boracay, and several smaller resorts that are all isolated away from the crazy.
The Shangri-La Boracay is the most luxurious resort on the island. It has its own private beach, Banyugan Beach. The grounds of the hotel are simply gorgeous. A night at the Shangri-La Resort & Spa Boracay starts from $373USD.
Mövenpick Boracay is found in Punta Bunga Cove and also has its own private 200m beach. The resort is quite new, opening in December 2017. A night at the Mövenpick Resort & Spa Boracay starts from $245USD.
WHERE TO EAT IN BORACAY
There is a lot of food in Boracay on offer with plenty of good restaurants at decent prices. The food is typical tourist spread, catering to any and all, mix of international and Filipino food at almost every restaurant. Main dishes will set you back approx 400 pesos ($10USD) and drinks about 150 pesos ($3USD), cocktails 240 pesos, ($5USD).
I ate at Aria; pizza (not me) and calamari, Manana Mexican; enchiladas and margaritas, Epic; burgers and calamari, Mesa; fresh crab and eggplant, Don Vito; Paella.
For those with dietary requirements, gluten free isn’t too hard as there is rice available everywhere with a variety of Asian cuisines. Be wary, Filipinos love to deep fry everything. I ordered Hainanese Chicken (boiled chicken) and was shocked when it arrived with a crunchy fried skin!!! Always ask! There are lots of grill restaurants with skewers and meats. Playing it safe with these is probably best.
Unfortunately, vegetarians will have a slightly harder time. Filipino cuisine is very meat heavy. It can be done, but might require a bit more hunting through the menu.
THINGS TO DO IN BORACAY
You can go snorkeling, scuba diving, banana boat riding, parasailing, zipline, visit a day spa and even a sunset sail. There are also day trip excursions to Ariel’s Point where you can go cliff jumping.
At the very top of Station 1 is Willy’s Rock, a beautiful rocky shrine in the water.
There will be lots entertainment at every restaurant and bar along the strip. Most will have a live singer, and some will have a roaming fire performer. Fire performers are fantastic, however be prepared to tip them at the end.
GETTING TO BORACAY
Fun fact, you can’t actually fly onto Boracay Island! You need to fly nearby to either Caticlan or Kalibo airport, get to Caticlan Jetty and then take a boat. There are two options:
Caticlan Airport is the fastest option for flying into Boracay as it is just 400m from the jetty terminal. They are currently building a new airport at Caticlan. This includes a new runway, meaning jet aircraft can land here now (before it was propellor only!). The old airport terminal is used to process everyone which is very small. It also means when you land it takes a while to get to the terminal.
From the airport (as of February 2018), there are shuttle buses/vans and trikes available to take you to the jetty upon exiting the airport. Shuttle buses/vans cost approx 600-800 pesos pp with all your tickets included, or DIY it with a trike.
A trike will cost 50 pesos to the jetty for a maximum of 3 people per trike. A pumpboat ticket is 25 pesos, terminal access fee 100 pesos and environmental fee 75 pesos. On Boracay, a trike to Station 2 costs 150 pesos. It’s far cheaper, however you have to queue up and get the tickets yourself. To catch a trike from the airport, turn right when exiting and you will see a trike stand up ahead.
Kalibo Airport is an international airport, so allows for easier connections across Asia. When you land, you’ll then have to take a bus for 2-2.5hours to reach Caticlan Jetty.
The journey is much longer overall, and creates more stress when leaving Boracay due to the distance. Consider departing Boracay 5hrs+ before your scheduled flight from Kalibo in order to make it comfortably.
THE BOAT @ CATICLAN JETTY
The boat transfer is 1km and will take 15 minutes.
Overall, the journey takes 1hr from the airport/Jetty to upper Station 2. Plan your departing flight accordingly.
GETTING AROUND BORACAY
Don’t underestimate the footpath on White Beach. It’s 4km’s on a sandy pedestrian only footpath that runs parallel to the water, with no main road immediately nearby. So, wherever you walk to means you are walking back. There are a handful of trikes that can take you back, but no taxis as the main road is set back 300m from the beach. You might think the 300m is worth it, but that’s 300m up to the road, and then 300m back down the nearest road to your hotel, so it might not save you any walking at all.
There are also the iconic sail boats which cruise around Boracay. If you want to, hit up one of the many beach vendors and bargain hard.
GETTING TO YOUR HOTEL
As mentioned above, the main road on Boracay is set back 300m from the beach, which has allowed ample opportunity for beachfront hotels and restaurants. If your hotel is beachfront, your taxi will not be able to take you to the front door of your hotel. There is very minimal road access, so the taxi will drop you at the closest point it can reach, and the rest of the way will be on foot on sandy paths. Your luggage on wheels may struggle a little, but hey, you’re on Boracay!