Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific)
Once Asia’s best-kept secret, Boracay is emerging as the region’s hottest island destination. Tamsin Cocks takes the plunge to see what's on offer
Boracay proves the best things come in small packages, as the tiny Philippine island boasts one of the world’s best beaches, famous nightlife and a diverse list of activities
The crown jewel of Philippine tourism has all the makings of paradise: miles of powdery white sand, crystalline azure waters, legendary nightlife and a full list of hedonistic activities.
The star prize is the four-kilometre White Beach – repeatedly voted one of the best beaches in the world with its super-fine, unblemished sand. The smooth golden sweep is the perfect place to relax under the shade of a palm tree with a fruity cocktail and a dip in the sparkling, turquoise sea.
Things get even more beautiful as the sun goes down. Vivid hues of blood orange and magenta fill the sky as silhouettes of paraws (native fishing boats) traverse the horizon.
While White Beach is the most famous, it’s by no means the only option. Even though the tiny island is just seven kilometres long and one kilometre wide in parts, it packs in over a dozen beaches. On the eastern side of the island, Bulabog beach welcomes seasonal winds from November to April that make it a watersports haven, while the secluded Ilig Iligan beach offers a romantic hideaway.
Hiring a boat and island hopping is a great way to appreciate Boracay from every angle, and four-hour itineraries can be arranged through various companies for around PHP1,300 (US$29). A popular stop is Crystal Cove. Here you can swim in underground caves, snorkel off the sandy shores, visit a shell and mollusk “museum” or watch brave locals and tourists alike showing their mettle with cliff-diving antics. Entrance to the private island costs PHP200 (US$4) per person.
Opt to have lunch included and you’ll find yourself with your toes in the sand at Puka beach or Carabao Island, dining on a buffet of exquisite fresh seafood and being serenaded by the soulful tones of local Filipino singers.
UNDER THE SEA
There’s no doubt Boracay is beautiful from the land, but there are priceless treasures hidden under the surface. For a spot of snorkelling, head to Crocodile Island – considered to be one of the best sites. Take a piece of bread with you and you’ll quickly be surrounded by schools of radiantly coloured fish, nibbling hungrily at your fingertips.
Scuba diving in Boracay is also absolutely incredible and there are plenty of PADI certification courses available. Expect clear visibility for at least 20 metres to admire diverse marine and coral life. There are around 25 dive sites, with options for more experienced divers including the Camia shipwreck. Most centres charge the same price, so choose one you’re comfortable with. Single dives cost around PHP1,800 (US$40).
For a novel experience - why not try sea walking. Large helmets are pumped full of air to keep your head completely dry (there’s even space to adjust your glasses or scratch your nose) and you’re free to wander around the ocean floor. Guides with underwater cameras are on hand to capture the moment. PHP1,500 (US$33).
For those with an appetite for adventure, there is more than enough to keep you entertained. Every watersport you can think of is happening around the island, from jetskiing to parasailing and banana boating. For land-based adrenaline activities, how about an ATV or Buggy Car ride up to Mt Luho – Boracay’s highest peak – followed by a zipline through the jungle? Prices start around PHP1,250 (US$27) for ATV, 1,900 (US$41) for Buggy Car and PHP1,300 (US$28) for a zipline, with a return cable car ride. At night, the paradise island turns things up a notch and
unleashes the power of its legendary nightlife. There’s something for everyone, from the chilled-out reggae vibes of the Bom Bom Bar to beach-front discos like Guilly’s Island and cool modern venues such as Epic.
WHERE TO EAT
Boracay is not a foodie’s paradise – but there are gems to be found if you know where to look. For aweinspiring smoothies head to Jony’s Fruit Shakes, in Station 1. While there, try lechon kawali – a Filipino delicacy of roasted pork belly at Maya’s restaurant.
For fabulous seafood head to the Sizzling Crab in D Mall – if your eyes can stand the smoke from the spicy sizzling platters, you’re in for a treat. The best squid ink paella in town (or any paella for that matter) is to be had at Cozina on the beachfront. This bright airy restaurant serves up an array of Spanish food, with free wifi and an unbeatable vista.
In the evening, you can also dine at plenty of beachfront restaurants, such as Boracay Mandarin Island Hotel, where a troupe of fire dancers wander through the a audience swirling their fiery batons around y your head.
M Modern, luxurious and smack-bang in t the middle of the action at Station 2, District Boracay is a great choice. The hotel offers 48 luxurious rooms and suites, with contemporary decoration and modern facilities. The Star Lounge restaurant serves a brunch buffet while the third floor bar offers a gorgeous secret rooftop terrace to enjoy a few sundowners. Metres from the beachfront, the resort also offers an outdoor pool with a jacuzzi. Deluxe rooms start from PHP14,100 (US$306) per night (thedistrictboracay.com).
For a slightly more peaceful option, try the Two Seasons Boracay Resort in District 1. This boutique beachfront accommodation has 34 rooms and suites, tastefully decorated with minimalist design and a zen-like feel. Go all out with the fabulous Presidential Suite and enjoy a private verandah and infinity pool overlooking the white-sand beach. The restaurant also offers uninterrupted ocean views while serving up an array of local dishes including oyster sisig and crocodile curry. Standard rooms start at PHP6,200 (US$135) in the low season from June to October (twoseasonsresorts.com).
Boracay truly is a paradise island, with an exhaustive list of activities to keep everyone entertained. So what’s the catch? Well, it’s a bit of a mission to get to.
The closest airport is Caticlan, to which daily flights are available from Manila. You’ll need to change from the international to domestic terminal, which takes around half an hour (free shuttle bus available). Be prepared to have yourself weighed, along with your luggage, before boarding a tiny plane. On the positive side, it’s only a five-minute transfer to the Caticlan Jetty Port, from where you can catch a 10-minute ferry to Boracay.
Alternatively, bypass Manila and fly directly to Kalibo International Airport. Cebu Pacific, for example, has relaunched flights from Hong Kong to Kalibo, which is about an hour’s bus ride from the jetty. For either option, it’s a good idea to pre-book transport. Southwest Tours offer roundtrip packages with airport pick-up to hotel drop-off starting from PHP1,075 (US$23) per person (southwesttoursboracay.com).