Often when you travel to other countries, the locals always talk about that one place that “you must visit”. I think everyone becomes an enthusiastic tour guide in their home country. People’s eyes light up with excitement as they tell you about amazing destinations in their own back yard. In India, they talk about Goa or the Kerala back waters, in Italy it’s the towns on the southern coast and in the Philippines it’s Boracay or ‘Bora’ as affectionately known by the locals.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the Philippines on business trips over the last few years, but I’ve always got stuck in Makati in Metro Manila. Not literally stuck, I just mean that the convenience of the cities modern bars, restaurants, malls, and high-end hotels with warm staff kept me trapped in my Makati Bubble as it was all so easy.
However, like clockwork, as the work week wound down, my Filipino colleagues would always ask “where are you going for the weekend?” followed shortly by “have you been to Boracay?” They spoke promises of white sand beaches, night clubs where you can dance in the ocean, and dramatic island scenery. Eventually, I got so sick of hearing about it, I booked a weekend in ‘Bora’ to check it out…
Our plane rumbled in breaking the jungle silence. Engines thrust, dramatically thrown into reverse to stop our plane on the small runway in the humid darkness. We had arrived at Caticlan Airport and the plane erupted with excited cheers. After making our way to the ferry terminal, I had to navigate a narrow, long and bouncy plank of wood that stretched from the tall jetty, down to the boat below. I had my large Samsonite suitcase with me which must have looked quite comical, but made things incredibly difficult. Luckily a small Filipino boy grabbed my suitcase from me and strapped it to the roof of the boat. We finally pushed away from the mainland jetty to the slap of gentle waves against the bow, and the boat filled with excited conversations. We motored further into the darkness as smiling locals began their first (of many) selfies. Arms stretched out, rigid and steady they smiled in to their smartphones, giving a peace sign with their free hand. The whole vibe was really that of a weekend getaway from the city which had everyone excited!
We finally arrived at the Boracay jetty and after another tight-rope worthy performance, I managed to walk my suitcase off the boat and get back on land. The jetty was surging with activity as trikes (motorbikes with an enclosed sidecar) buzzed and rattled around, hungry for passengers. My Samsonite got strapped to yet another roof as we crawled into a small trike and began our way to ‘Station One’. Boracay is split into four stations. There is no ‘station’ to speak of, it’s just a way of splitting up the main beach into understandable geography.
Our trike struggled and whirred up the hill and I’m sure we almost started to roll backwards between gear changes as the driver struggled with the clutch. Like anywhere that you arrive a night, the terrain was confusing. We wove our way along a small road densely packed with hotels, bars and restaurants on either side. It seemed strange that the road was so narrow when the hotels looked so big inside. However, after peering intensely between the buildings at the darkness beyond the lights I realised that these were, in fact, the back of hotels that faced the beach. The main strip of the town isn’t actually the road… It’s the beach and we’re merely driving on a back lane!
After arriving at the hotel to a fresh juice and complimentary frangipani bracelet, we stepped out the front and onto the fine, powdery, white sand of Boracay beach. It was dark however, the artificial lights from the hotels and bars were enough to light up the small lapping waves.
We followed the sound of a dull, muted base up the beach to ‘Guilly’s Island’ and ‘Club Paraw’. Both bars had large dance floors and tables. The beach is so narrow, that the waves literally lapped the steps of the clubs at high tide and people were drinking and dancing in the water. We sat at a plastic table, it’s legs buried in the soft sand as the waves crashed over our feet. We sipped cocktails, danced to house music and watched the sandy, wet and inebriated people. The main beach is full of bars, loud and quiet. Dance clubs at one end to laid-back reggae bars at the other. You can podium dance next to the waves, or sit under a palm tree in a hammock as a dude with dreadlocks serves you a ‘Bob Marley’ cocktail.
Parts of the beach have large marquee-style bars with all sorts of entertainment from singers to fire-twirlers. Sit in a bean bag on the sand, sip a cocktail and have someone twirl fire around your head… Just another night in Bora.
Apart from the established bars, the beach also has many food and drink vendors… Charcoal barbeques on wheels line the beach as their tasty smoke wafts through the palms. I’ve had some of the best BBQ I’ve ever had in the Philippines, so this is a must try! Just choose your meat carefully… I wasn’t a fan of the pig ear I got.
Between the pulsing bars and restaurants, there are parts of the beach that plunge into darkness and allow you to just sit and watch the lights of the fishing boats on the horizon. However, the beach is generally a happening place with many people walking up and down the sandy strip. Young children build elaborate sand sculptures with ‘Boracay’ and the date perfectly carved in them. People line up to get their photo taken with them and give the young Michaelangelos a tip… Yes, even the kids are making a profit from the tourist dollar on Bora!
After a swim in the warm waves, we returned to our hotel and took a dip in the swim-up bar. In most resorts, such areas would be crowded, but we were the only patrons of this unique bar as we sipped fruit cocktails and paddled around.
The next day we woke to a bright white beach with incredible azure water. Puffy white clouds hung in the blue expanse above us as the palm fronds rustled in the gentle breeze… It really was perfect. Our hotel had beach huts with hammocks where we spent the morning relaxing and swimming.
Boracay is touristy, but I didn’t meet any other Australian’s and most of the tourists were European, local or Korean. I laughed at some tourists who stepped on to the beach in their high-heels with their sun umbrellas… Not sure why you’d bother coming to a beach if you don’t like sun and sand, but I’m not one to judge.
We spent our days relaxing, followed by activities like parasailing and jet skiing. There’s also many island hopping tours you can do from Boracay. The whole beach is essentially designed to eat, drink, dance, get henna tattooed, hair braided and a massaged… Pretty much the essentials for a tropical island.
It really is a tropical paradise playground that caters for everyone. Just don’t go there expecting complete solitude. It really is the Phuket or Bali of the Philippines, and if you make friends with any Australian’s on a Qantas flight to Manila, I guarantee you that they’re always heading to a wedding on Boracay. If you really want paradise but without the crowds, head to El Nido instead. You can read my blog about my visit there.
One of the highlights of Boracay is the ‘golden hour’. Sunset in on the island is really sensational. The beach faces west so the sun sets in the ocean creating dramatic skies of orange, blue and violet. Grab a a table at one of the many bars and watch the sun fall in to the ocean as the sailboats navigate the gentle waves and the local kids play in the shade of the palm trees.
After the weekend, we put out tanned, henna tattooed bodies into another trike as we and my suitcase made our way back down to the ferry terminal to fly back to reality.
Boracay is only an hour flight (or less) from Manila and really is an easy weekend getaway. If you are in the Philippines, don’t just get stuck in Manila like I did on so many trips… Jump one of the many cheap domestic flights and go and explore some of the 7,107 islands that make up the Philippines!
How to Get There:
Fly from Manila to Caticlan Airport. Caticlan is a 50 minute flight from Manila. You can easily get a trike from the terminal to the ferry wharf (5 minutes). You can buy tickets for the boat at the wharf.
You can also fly to Kalibo Airport as there are more frequent flights to Kalibo. However, Kalibo is a 1.5 hour drive to the ferry terminal. You can hire one of many drivers in Kalibo to do the trip for you.
If you go to a travel agent, you can of course, get a package which includes flights, transfers and the ferry. However, in my experience you will always pay more for this ‘convenience’.
Where to stay:
Boracay is full of budget, middle of the road, and high-end hotels. We stayed at ‘Estacio Uno‘ at Station 1 for approx $120 AUD a night which included breakfast and buffet dinner. The room was small and simple, but the location, bar and beach huts were sensational.
How to get around:
Walk. The only time we got a trike was when we arrived and when we left. It’s very easy to walk up and down the beach to meet every desire you have.