Boracay is a funny one. A classic case of British marmite – you’ll either love it or hate it. This once idyllic island located in the centre of the Philippines has become so popular over the years, that tourism and development have truly over ruled what was once a middle-of-nowhere piece of paradise. With high end resort style hotels, fast food joints, as well as an abundance of bars and clubs, it’s clear to see why the island receives such mixed reviews.
I travelled for three weeks within the Philippines and couldn’t help but feel that I was missing out by not including Boracay on my itinerary. I’d read a lot of bad reviews and blogs about the island, but figured I would never know until I visited myself. So off we went.
A little homework always pays off, as you’ll find the south of the island couldn’t be more of a contrast to the north, and most certainly to the centre of the island, home to everything many may choose to be the reason not to visit.
So, what else should you know about Boracay before you book your tickets? Read on to find out.
The star attraction to Boracay (and quite possibly the only place some might see on the island!) is White Beach. A stunning 4 km stretch of soft powdery sand that you would expect from any exotic island, White Beach runs from the northern tip to the very south on the west coast of the island. There are three key boat stations, named boat stations one, two, and three, where clusters of accommodation can be found, however each boat station varies quite dramatically from one another.
On the east of the island along a 2.5 km coastline lays Bulabog Beach, the islands epicentre for all water sports. The best time for kite surfing and windsurfing is between November to April, however out of season the action continues over on White Beach. Centrally located, 5 minutes from D’Mall and 10 minutes from White Beach, you’ll have no shortage of choice for kite surfing and windsurfing companies to choose from. A range of different accommodation can be found on this side of the island, but be aware, prices get hiked up once the season for water sports begins! It was pretty quiet when we visited out of season, but I would have loved to see everyone out there surfing. We hired a scooter and passed through here on our way to Mt Luho, so was only a brief stop.
At the northern tip of the island you’ll find Puka Beach, named after the abundance of crushed Puka Shells that are scattered across the beach mixed in with the sand. A small restaurant can be found on the beach along with a handful of sun loungers that sit directly in front. Puka beach is often included in most day trip itineraries and therefore a steady line of fishing boats sit in the shallow waters at any one time. If you have your own wheels, then definitely head out early morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the day trippers!
For stunning views across the entire island, visit the Mount Luho Viewing Deck which is the highest point on the island. It’s a pretty steep climb up a windy road so either be prepared for the hike or take a moped for around 150 PHP / £2.40. FYI, we thought we’d hike and I’m pretty sure it took us FOREVER so only do this is you are super fit! There is a small entrance fee of 120 PHP / £1.90 per person and there was a small café up on the deck where you can grab a cold drink from (which you’ll need if you were the brave few to hike).
The climb to the top of the deck isn’t difficult and you’ll be greeted by an incredible panoramic view of the island. A tacky ‘Love Point’ has been created at the top of the deck, where a number of people have placed padlocks along the fence in honour of their loved ones. Padlocks can also be purchased for a 150 PHP fee, but I wasn’t a fan of this (despite it making for a good photo as below!).
Whilst I personally don’t dive, we did see a lot of dive shops scattered around town. Any keen diver will know there are several world-renowned dive sites within the Philippines, Apo Island and Coron Island being amongst the most popular. Boracay simply cannot compare, however the island still remains a popular place for divers to gain experience and for those just starting out to obtain their PADI certificate. Prices are reasonable (approx. 1,800 PHP / £27) and dive locations range between 5 – 30 minutes off shore. I heard the two main spots for diving are either Crocodile Island or Puka Beach, but I’m not the expert so of course check localy!
Your island visit should absolutely include a boat trip and this should be top of your to-do list during your time on the island. Boat trips are a fantastic way to see the Island and there was an abundance of tour companies dotted across the island operating daily trips suitable for everyone budget. Luxury sailing, group day tips or private hires can all be arranged. This is the part where I should be telling you to make sure you find a reliable company to book via, however I’m going to have to scrap that. We totally winged our trip and got talking to a friendly local outside our hotel who offered to arrange a trip for us. Sounds a bit dodge? It probably was. He basically took my friend and I out on his (very) small fishing boat, and should something have happened, then we wouldn’t have had a reliable company to revert back to.
We travelled from Angol along the west coast up to the north of the island. I’m not sure I can describe the boat as a ‘boat’ as it was more like two planks of wood with a fishing net strung across it which didn’t bode well with my delicate tummy in the choppy waters as we caught the wind a few times. In retrospect, we basically hired a fishing boat from some local and his pals, which is fine as these guys grew up in the water and no doubt know the waters inside out. I do however suggest you check the boat out BEFORE committing to anything, to avoid handing over your cash and then having that awkward “is this what we are going out on?” conversation.
We travelled during April and the waters were too rough on the east coast, so our boat only took us along the west coast up to the north and back. Island hopping tours can be arranged during peak season on bigger boats for around 1,400 PHP / £22 per person, and will take you to Crocodile Island, Puka Beach and Magic Island for snorkelling, swimming and cliff jumping.
For me, the best part of any Asian destination has to be to affordable spa treatments that can always be sought out and Boracay is not exception to this. Treat yourself like a princess and opt for a full out luxury treatment at The Mandala Spa where massage prices start from cost a hefty 3,200 PHP / £51.
A more purse friendly option can be found at The Yasuragi Spa, part of the Boracay Surfside Hotel, where massage prices start from a more reasonable 1,000 PHP / £15. Better still, hotel residents get a discount which is how we came across this spa as we were staying at the hotel. Masseurs can also be found all along the beach, but best to ask around for recommendations.
I’m not entirely sure where to go with this. It sounded funny so we thought we’d check it out, but once we got there and realised what it was, we were quick to get on out of there. This restaurant slash bar sums up exactly how tourism can ruin what was once a blissful island.
Part of a small chain with another branch in Manila, this small eatery is decked out with a quirky interior and stocks an impressive 150+ types of worldwide beers, however given the name of the venue it’s no surprise to see that only midgets and dwarfs are hired as wait staff. This tacky establishment is a mockery to those who work there, but the sad reality is that many of the staff choose to work there as a way of personal acceptance that they wouldn’t normally otherwise receive in their culture.
Anything and everything can be found in this 24/7 collection of shops, bars, eateries and market stalls. Located between boat station one and boat station two, D’Mall is most certainly the heart of the island. Small souvenir stalls line the dusty beach path that lead into the mall’s maze of restaurants and bars.
A good size supermarket can be found at the rear, there was a small fairground when we visited along with a rock climbing stand for children. Once the sun begins to set, cocktails flow as happy hour steers the vibrant party crowd onto the beach front as the clubs and bars begin to get lively. It was pretty busy during the day, but it was HEAVING at night time – so much that you were shuffling along at the pace of a 90 year old man.
Portrayed as the ‘party island of the Philippines’, the saying probably isn’t too far off. At boat station two, you’ll find more nightclubs, bars and lounges than you’ll have time to visit. Clubs get busy around midnight and most places were open till around 3am. Set along the beach front with huge stages, live DJ’s, fire eaters and generous happy hours, it’s no wonder this is a thriving party island that so many love to experience.
Seriously? You need more to keep you busy? Well good job there is no end to the entertainment that Boracay has to offer! If the adrenaline junkie in you wants something a bit more upbeat to fulfill your day, then try your hand at any of the below activities:
Quad Biking – Cost: 1250 PHP per hour. Discover another side of the island, with these on road and off track bikes.
Parasailing – Cost: 2,500 PHP solo / 2,300 PHP double. Enjoy a view from above as you glide across the waters.
Helicopter Island Tour – Cost: 5,200 PHP. A very brief 10 minute flight will take you across the island.
Land Tour – Cost: 2,800 PHP. The inland tour takes 2 hours and includes a visit to Puka Beach, The Wildlife Expo (which is apparently a mini zoo) and also a stop at Mt Ludo’s viewing deck.
Jet Skiing – Cost: 2,500 PHP. Hire a jet ski (that fits up to two people) for 30 minutes of fun time.
Segway Tours – cost: 2,300 PHP. An alternative way to explore the island. Tours last one hour.
Discovery Tunnel – Cost: 600 PHP. The largest underwater walk through tunnel in the Philippines, which can be called home for 900 species of marine life.
If you are still thirsty for even more action, then check out this handy website for more options, including additional information on all the above activities.