In light of the horrible storm that hit the Philippines this past week, I decided it is time for me to write about this beautiful country. Over 10,000 people died and more will probably die from infrastructure problems in the country. Today, I am not here to talk about that horrible disaster, but to give you a small look into the Philippines and one if its most beautiful islands, Boracay. This is in hope that once these hard times pass you make a choice to visit. Before I get into the beauty of the island, here are some Boracay travel tips to make your trip to Boracay perfect.
Boracay Travel Tips
I still remember the first time the Philippines came into my travel consciousness. I was working at Nordstrom and one of the sales associates was showing me pictures of the B&B she was building. The pictures were stunning, everything was lush and green and full of life. I was intrigued. It was not until much (much) later that I’d finally get to see this beautiful land and meet its lovely people.
I can’t help but feel torn about my feelings for the country. The Philippines is a place of dichotomy. It is paradise one second, and hell the next…not for you, the tourist, but for its people. I cannot get the image of what one can barely call houses standing on the side of an obviously polluted river in Manila (the government has recently built walls to hide – not fix – this issue). The country is hit over and over again by horrible storms (just like they did this week to a death toll of over 10,000), earthquakes, and natural disasters. Politicians stuff their pockets as the people they are supposed to serve live in squalor. Yet, the people of the Philippines fight on. It really puts life in perspective.
You may think from the start of this post that I’d tell you not to go to the Philippines. You’d be wrong. Take your travel dollars there. When you meet the people of the Philippines, you will be amazed by their spirit. I think anyone who has traveled to the Philippines can tell you that Filipinos are some of the nicest people you can meet. They are also polite, hard working, and fill its streets with music. Besides, the country is stunning, especially when you hit up the islands.
One of these islands is Boracay. This tiny island is marked by white sandy beaches, aquamarine waters, and lush landscapes. You’ll have to do a little work to get there, but it will be worth it. What type of work? First, you’ll need to fly for an hour on a prop plane into Caticlan Airport. Once you land, you’ll pay a terminal fee and an environmental fee. These are nominal, around 125 PHP or around $2.50 USD. Then, you’ll wait in an un-air conditioned waiting area. Once you’re nice and sweaty, you’ll hop onto the transfer boat.
IMPORTANT: Do not skimp on price here. This means the difference between a super bumpy ride that may have you stopped in the middle of the ocean for forty five minutes (didn’t work out so well for Antonio who gets sea sick), or a super fast 10 minute ride to land. You want to spend your money here. It will be worth it.
The island is only about 6 1/2 miles long, but there will be plenty for you to do and see. Boracay is divided into five sections.
- Station 1 – Located on the North-Western area of White Beach, this is the swankiest area. This is where White Beach is widest.
- Station 2 – This is where most shops, restaurants, and bars are located. There are both upscale and mid tier hotels here.
- Station 3 – You will still find some Filipinos living here since this was the last area to be developed in White beach. his was the last section of White Beach to be developed. If you like quiet, this is probably your best choice if you want to remain in White Beach.
- Station 4 – I think this is where the locals live, I didn’t really get to explore this area too much.
- Station 5 – This is where I stayed. It’s further away from the center of town and there’s not much to do there.
WHERE TO EAT
Dos Mestizos: Cute little Spanish restaurant with solid food. You’ll enjoy your meal and the service. Remedios street, Sitio Manggayad, Boracay Island, Malay, Aklan, 5608 Tel 63 919 329 255
The Sands at Discovery Shores: Cooking when the temperature is reaching the hundreds with no air conditioning is harsh. The kitchen in the apartment we rented was NOT equipped with an AC unit. The choice was clear, we would be eating out the next day. We ended up at the Sands restaurant at Discovery Shores. It is located at Station 1, which is a bit swankier than Station 2 (the more touristy area). At Station 2, you can expect people to try to sell you things every five steps. Not my cup of tea. Station 1 is less crowded, but you can expect to pay more on this part of the island. I would highly recommend that you try it. We even returned for a second visit. Do not leave without trying their garlic soup, it is to die for.
Bakers Brothers: At some point, you will be craving a good roast beef sandwich. This is your spot – awesome sandwiches and killer bread. Remedios street, Sitio Manggayad, Boracay Island, Malay, Aklan, 5608 Tel 63 919 329 2557
Smoke: Good traditional Filipino food, affordable too. The bulalo is a hangover killer. D’Mall in Station 2 – 36-288-6014
Epic: Grab a seat at this beach-side restaurant and enjoy really good people watching. They make good ribs & chicken adobo. Epic was nice, not perfect but nice. I ordered the chicken Inasal which was quite tasty, but slightly undercooked. The other dish we ordered: a club sandwich minus the mayo, came with mayo and was not that great. The service is slow, but this is something you can expect to find throughout the island. We returned to better experiences there later during the trip. D’Mall in Station 2 – Tel 036 288-1466
Lemoni Cafe: Great little place for sandwiches and lemon cakes (maybe you’ll find Sansa Stark there once she becomes the Queeen of the North). It’s bright, cheery and affordable. D’Mall in Station 2 – 36 288 6781
Cork: One of the few places in Boracay where you can get a decent glass of wine. It’s calm, relaxed and refreshing. Main Road Station 2, Regency Lagoon Resort 906 225 3455
WHAT YOU SHOULD SEE
D’Mall: Located in Station 2, D’Mall has around 100 stores and restaurants. This is where we found ourselves most when we left the hotel. You can find anything from a massage parlor, clothing shops, wine shops (although they are usually not air conditioned which means cooked wine). We felt pretty safe there and had no issues whatsoever. Station 2
Cool Waves Ranch – Bacon ipsum dolor sit amet jowl bresaola leberkas drumstick, meatball rump sirloin bacon andouille pork belly salami shank spare ribs corned beef jerky. Rump beef ribs ground round tri-tip ham hock t-bone tail. Short loin flank swine, filet mignon ham shank brisket salami turducken. Pancetta bresaola venison prosciutto, fatback andouille kielbasa boudin cow ground round hamburger strip steak beef ribs ribeye salami. Boudin frankfurter short ribs, pancetta chicken shankle corned beef prosciutto ribeye kevin ham short loin beef. Station 5
D’Talipapa: By now most of you have figured out I have a thing for farmer’s market. D’Talipapa is the closest to what I remember in my childhood in Colombia. I think for most Americans it will take some getting used to. You will see flies on your meats, but that’s the nature of an outdoor market. Then again, here you can find the freshest fish on the island (unless you go fishing yourself). There are also “restaurants” in D’Talipapa, but I skipped them since I had a serious stomach bug the first week in Boracay. Station 2
Mt. Luho: This is the highest spot on the island. Make it a point to go there for the most beautiful views on the Island. If you’re into hiking, this will definitely be your spot. If you’re not, you can rent an ATV to get you up the hill…or…you can have a tricycle take you up. They are the primary form of transportation on the island and will cost you around 150 PHP (around $3 USD). Once you get there, you will pay around another $3. Station 4
Manny Pacquiao’s House: It is no surprise that Manny ‘Pacman’ Pacquiao has a home on Boracay island. Maybe, if you get lucky, you’ll run into him, but probably not.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO
Island Hopping: If you feel like island hopping, you can charter a sailboat to take you. Your course will depend somewhat on the direction of the wind. Just make sure your sailboat is equipped with an engine in case there is trouble. If you take one of these tours you can end up in some truly pristine islands and beaches. You can also take a dip in the clear cool waters or go snorkeling. You’ll probably end up in Carabao which is just 20 minutes away and has gorgeous, quiet beaches.
Spas: There are tons of places for you to get a massage in Boracay. If you want a fancy experience, check out one of the high end hotels like the Shangri-La. If not, you can get an awesome massage (like I did) for around $20 over by Station 2.
ATV: Have some fun and frolic on the island on your ATV. Loads of fun…just don’t drink & drive.
Zip Lining: If you head to Mt. Luho and are feeling adventurous, you can take a nice zip line ride. I did not zip line in Boracay, but I did so in Argentina and I LOVED IT! Super fun and a great rush of adrenaline. I can just imagine what it is like checking out the view as you zoom down the mountain.
Eat Balut: I think I am insane some times. The first day I was feeling better after my horrible 1 week bout with stomach sickness (make sure you get all your shots before visiting the Philippines or you will waste much time being sick), I decided I’d try balut. My opportunity came on White beach as a street vendor came up with a bag full of this Filipino delicacy. What is balut? It’s a fertilized duck egg. They crack the top open, give you a vinegar-like sauce and you chomp down on the little ducky bones, feathers and all. It’s a horrible sensory experience, but it tastes damn good. Would I eat it again? Probably not, but I’m glad I did.
Windsurfing: I’m not the best swimmer, so I haven’t gone windsurfing, but I hear that Boracay rivals Guanacaste when it comes to the sport. It did look like everyone was having lots of fun.
Beaches: I have to admit, I am a beach addict. I like few things more than laying on the sun and hopping into the water for a swim when the heat gets to be too much. I can do this all day. Here’s the breakdown on the beaches in Boracay:
- Baling Hai Beach – A nice spot for snorkling and swimming. Bring a book and enjoy paradise.
- Bulabog Beach – This beach was not designed for people like me (lazy sun worshipers), this is the beach for those super sporty types who are looking for the best wave. Go here if you’re looking for your skydiving adventure.
- Puka Beach – If you’re looking for secluded white sandy beaches, this is your spot. You’ll run into locals collecting puka shells to make jewelry to sell at the more popular white beach. The water was choppy here, so while it may not be the best for a swim, it’s great for sunbathing. Make sure to bring food with you since there aren’t too many places where you can pick up a snack here.
- White Beach – This is Boracay’s most famous beacblue and clear (unless the algae has been bothered. On a good note, there are lots of restaurants and shops here. On a bad note, this is where locals will bother you to purchase trinkets. Buy if you want, but understand that this will be a daily occurrence. you will see small children building sculptures out of sand. Feel free to take a pictures, but make sure to pay them for their work. A coin or two will do. White beach is made up of three sections, Station 1, Station 2, and Station 3 as discussed above.
WHERE TO STAY IN BORACAY
Where not to stay: We stayed at two different places in Boracay. We hated the first. It was called Lingganany. We chose this place because it offered full apartments with kitchens and a private beach. Why did we hate it? The air conditioning did not work in our room or the conference room we booked for our business meetings (yup, we were there on business). The food was seriously sub par. The ladies at the kitchen tried, but they only made Filipino food, which was pretty much rice with fried m eats. It was all very unhealthy. Also, the private beach (next to Bulabog Beach) was choppy and rough rendering it useless except for photo ops. On a positive note, the grounds were lovely with tons of bugs (I have a thing for insects, flowers, and lots of photo ops). The rooms cost around $250 per night.
Where to stay: We moved over to the Shangri-La. It was heavenly, but ridiculously expensive. We paid around $500 per night, but the air conditioning worked, the water was filtered (I think the culprit of my sickness may have been the water at the Lingganany), and the grounds were still stunning. The Shangri-La also had some awesome restaurants and food. They made an awesome Bulalo and a Lechon. We spent some time in the recreation room playing rock band, billiards, and having a great time. Their ferry back to Caticlan was super fast and convenient. I’d recommend staying here since everything else on the island is so inexpensive. There were plenty of pools to make up for the choppy beach and we even saw a resident eagle there.
HOW TO GET THERE?
BY AIR: You can land in one of two airports:
- Caticlan (Godofredo P. Ramos Airport) – Think of really small noisy planes here. The airlines flying into Caticlan include South East Asian Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air, and Air Philippines which come in from from Manila, Cebu and Clark. Once there, you can pick up a tricycle, walk 10 minutes, or have your hotel’s van take you (my preferred method) to Caticlan Jetty Port. Don’t expect to bring lots of luggage. There are weight restrictions.
- Kalibo International Airport – This is a much bigger airport, but it’s much further away from the jetty port (1 hour and a half). There are significantly more airline options here. Once you land, you can grab a minivan or a bus to the jetty port, but this can seriously cut into your time since the minivans won’t move until they are full.
Once you’re there, you’ll probably take a tricycle to get around. Most of the hotels also offer van service into D’Mall and you can make your way from there.
- Get your shots: Don’t do like I did (since I’m deathly afraid of needles) and skip out on your recommended shots. These will probably save you all the pain I endured due to food poisoning and save you valuable beach time. Shots include Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, encephalitis, malaria, rabies, yellow fever and Typhoid.
- Drink bottled water: and make sure the seal snaps when you twist.
- Don’t drink ice: Stick to wine and not mixed drinks which can contain water which will make you really sick.
- Wear sunblock: You don’t want to age early, right?
- Watch your valuables: although the majority of people in the Philippines are lovely, just like in any other place there are exceptions. Take the necessary precautions.
I went to Boracay in mid-March and had an amazing experience. One day as I looked out my window, I noticed that the water that had once been deep and lush had receded about a mile out into the ocean. I figured I was done, my first thought was Tsunami, but then I saw all the locals out in the water. I am still not sure what happened, but for almost the whole afternoon, the water was ankle deep. Locals happily picked up sea urchin for sale at the market. I photographed all sorts of sea life that I never thought I would have ever seen. The experience was surreal and amazing. Probably one of the best experiences of my life. The next day the water was back to normal and I was glad to have pictures as proof that I was not insane. Maybe if you go there next March you can find out more about this and let me know what it was. So far my google searches have led to nothing. If you’re interested in this, it’s all the pictures where it looks like there should be water, but there is not.
Need more specific Boracay travel tips? Have a question? Leave it in the comments.