The island paradise of Boracay is not what it once was – but still pretty amazing.
If you listen to the New York Times, CNN, CondeNasTraveler, and other travel publications, the island of Boracay in the Philippines is one of the top islands in the world – or even #1. The slightly sad reality is that their reports are a few years behind the curve, and Boracay is already on the decline due to commercialization, crowds thick as flies, and the inevitable heavy ecological footprint that comes with it. But the good news is that while you may not be able to experience the island’s pristine past condition, it’s still a great and enjoyable place for visitors.
Named for it’s powdery white beach that spans about 2.5 miles (White Beach) along one side of the long, relatively narrow island, Boracay sits in the central Visayan grouping of islands in the Philippines. It’s also the country’s top tourist destination for foreigners and Filipinos alike, with more than 1.5 million visitors every year.
To get there, you actually have to fly into the nearby province of Aklan on Pinay Island and then take a short ferry over. The options include flying into Caticlan Airport (most convenient and just minutes from the ferry port) or Kalibo Airport (bigger and cheaper than Caticlan, although it does require a 2-hour van ride).
Once you take one of the little local ferry boats across the channel to Boracay, a trike driver (or van service if you’re staying at a fancy hotel) will take you the rest of the way to your hotel. The highlight of Boracay is the beach like I mentioned, and its perfect turquoise waters most of the year. Along that long strip of beach – broken into Station 1, 2, and 3 – runs a white-sand path right inside the first grove of beachside palm trees, which serves as the main “road” for tourists.
The small island is densely packed, not only with local towns but about 500 hotels and countless cafes, restaurants, and beach bars. Boracay definitely isn’t a cheap destination aimed at attracting backpackers, but there are accommodations for every budget, from luxury 5-star resorts to shared dorm rooms and family-style rooms that Filipinos love. I usually stay at Royal Park Hotel right at the end of Station 2 before the beach path ends into Station 1, which costs about $50 USD a night for this ideal location right on the beach.
Once you’re there, you could easily spend a few days or longer just strolling up and down the beach, relaxing and enjoying the beach and water. But if you’re an always-on-the-go type of vacationer, you can rent paddle boards, try parasailing, take a sunset sail around the island, or go scuba diving. Boracay is also world famous for its kite surfing, with most of those camps on the windier back side of the island.
Boracay used to be quiet, tranquil, and all about the nature, but nowadays, its become the preferred summer party spot for foreigners and Filipinos – sort of like their Vegas on the beach. So you’ll find way too many pub crawls, all-night discos, and drunken debauchery for my tastes, but it’s still a great place for families and you an avoid the craziness if you wish.
To get away from it all, take a long walk down the beach and visit Diniwid Beach and the famous Spider House restaurant-bar, or arrange for a sailboat to take you island hopping for the day (negotiate aggressively on the price!). The good news is that Boracay is still rather safe, and you can generally walk anywhere at any time including on the beach. But too often, you will see signs of tourists and Filipinos alike behaving badly like empty beer bottles, cigarette butts, and other trash on the beach – something that was unheard of on the Boracay only a few years ago.
But it’s still a fantastic place to see one of the most fun (if not the nicest) beaches in the world for solo travelers, families, couples (there are plenty of weddings held on Boracay) and, of course, foreign visitors to the Philippines.