My friend Lorena and I were in Aplaya Beach Bar drinking one of our last Red Horses together (in case you don’t know, Red Horse is the cheapest and strongest beer in the Philippines). Suddenly, a friendly refined waiter came to us and said: “the man at that table would like to buy both of you a drink”. Lorena and I looked at each other unsure if we had understood while the waiter insisted: “come on, choose whatever you want” and my friend, in a very humble way, replied: “well, maybe another Red Horse…”. The waiter started laughing at us and said, “don’t be silly, go for a cocktail. Mango mojitos are the best”. We had just landed in Boracay, the island in the Philippines with the country’s best nightlife and this seemed like the beginning of an unforgettable night…
However, after drinking that incredible mango mojito (probably the best cocktail I have ever had), we said goodbye to that gentleman from Dubai who had invited us and headed back to our Airbnb accommodation. The truth is, I was feeling out of place in Boracay. We had just come back from El Nido and I was missing it badly. Boracay was definitely beautiful but way too crowded for my liking and my first impressions of the island were not great: I did not want to stay in Boracay and compulsively started looking for tickets to go back to Palawan. However, since they were too expensive, I eventually decided to give Boracay a try and ended up staying there for 5 more nights. After a few more days on the island, I was glad that I did it! Boracay may not be my favorite place in the world, but it proved to have much more to offer than just crazy nights and the pretty, but overcrowded White beach. After I managed to acclimatize to the madness and explored the island in more depth, I certainly enjoyed it. In this post, I will give you some ideas to explore Boracay and make the most of your time (and your money) on the island.
Boracay is supposed to be the Philippines “crown jewel” and definitely is its top tourist draw. With its 4km-long, picture-perfect White beach and breathtaking diving opportunities, it is not difficult to figure out why. But, while it is really a tiny pretty island, Boracay is not for everybody. Crowded, overdeveloped and way more expensive than any other island in the Philippines, Boracay is seriously not the place for you if you are seeking for a quiet, relaxed vacation.
Everything around Boracay White beach seems to have been designed for tourists and there is not much of Filipino left on the island. For example, one of the attractions is a restaurant called See Breeze where the chefs put on a dancing show for tourists every night. I am not sure if these chefs were hired because of their cooking or their dancing skills!
Another thing that I did not like about Boracay was seeing many small kids building beautiful sandcastles along the beach. The sandcastles looked great, but I noticed the kids were up until late and some of them were aggressively asking for money from the tourists who wanted to take pictures with the castles. I am not sure if these kids go to the school every morning, but I am afraid they prefer making a living out of the money they get from the tourists.
Having said that, I can not say I did not like Boracay at all. After my initial shock and first impressions, I made an effort to explore the island in more depth and I certainly found incredible and uncrowded spots. I have good memories of my time in Boracay and the pictures I took there are probably the most captivating of my entire 3’5 months trip in Southeast Asia.
How to Get to Boracay?
Getting to Boracay should not be too difficult or expensive. From Manila or Cebu, you can fly to Caticlan (nearest airport), Kalibo (2 hours van drive from Caticlan) or Iloilo (4 hours drive from Caticlan). Just play around with Skyscanner to find the best deal! (AirAsia and Cebu Pacific often offer good promos to Kalibo International Airport). Being the nearest airport, flights to Caticlan tend to be pricey. You can fly to Iloilo if coming from Puerto Princesa (Palawan) and don’t want to go through Manila or Cebu first.
Once in Caticlan port and after paying 100php terminal fees, you need to take a ferry (25php) to access Boracay island.
White beach is the center of the action in Boracay and the only one most tourists see. It is split between three stations/areas: Station 1, containing top-class accommodation, Station 2, where most of the party and nightlife takes place and Station 3, having most of the budget accommodation.
With its pristine waters and excellent swimming conditions, I can not say I did not like the White beach. However, I certainly did not enjoy having hundreds of people around, including vendors and ladies continuously asking me if I wanted a massage (“massage ma’am??”).
To be fair with the White beach, I must also say I enjoyed there one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. But beware. the beach gets especially crowded at sunset time (around 6:00 PM).
If you want to run away from the crowds, I highly recommend exploring some of the other beaches Boracay has to offer. In my opinion, Puka Shell Beach (Yapak beach) is your best bet. Almost empty if compared to White beach, you can relax there as much as you want! Plus, the crystal blue color of its waters is equally impressive as the pristine waters of the White Beach. As a proof, the following pictures! I didn’t use any filters or photoshop in these ones, the deep blue color of the water is just this kind of surreal…
Getting there: from Boracay’s main road take a non-chartered tricycle to Puka beach (last stop). Just tell the driver that you are ok sharing the tricycle so that he can pick up more passengers along the way. The price should be 40php. Confirm this price with the driver before getting in and, if he wants to charge you more, just say “no, thanks” and take another tricycle. A chartered tricycle will cost you around 150php each way.
Another beach that you should not miss in Boracay is Diniwid beach. Situated away from the commercial center of the island, it is a quiet place to visit. A beautiful scenic walk from the north end of the White Sand beach will take you there.
If you make it till Diniwid, don’t miss having a drink at Spider House! Located on the rocky headland of Diniwid, it is the perfect place to chill out after the sunset while enjoying the beautiful life and a freezing cold San Miguel.
Tip> I recommend coming by walk from the White beach but, if you feel tired, a non-chartered tricycle should cost you not more than 35php from the main road of any of the 3 stations.
Going Out in Boracay, Philippines
I told you before I did not like the nightlife in Boracay when I first arrived, I felt there were too many (drunk) people around… However, after exploring a little bit, I found the right places for me. There is plenty of chill out beach clubs offering jam sessions or live reggae all along the White Beach. I loved sitting on the White beach terraces while enjoying nice live music, good company, and a cold beer.
I am not much of a party girl, so I can not give you more information on this, but if you like to party hard, I promise you won’t be bored in Boracay! Just go to the White beach when the sun sets and enjoy the madness! You will find plenty of bars, clubs, and people from all over the world around.
How to Visit Boracay on a Budget
Prices all along the White Beach are insane! However, I found it is still possible to visit Boracay without going bankrupt. Here you have some tips to consider if you are on a budget:
- Always take non-chartered tricycles (tricycles with occupants). Before getting in, tell the driver you are ok if he picks up more passengers along the way. If you look like a tourist, most drivers will probably try to charge you “tourist prices”. Let your driver know that you don’t mind sharing the tricycle with more passengers. There are fixed fares for non-chartered routes (for example, a ride from any of the 3 stations to another station should not cost you more than 20php).
– Always ask for a discount when booking accommodation. Remember everything is negotiable in the Philippines! And you don’t lose anything for trying. Some establishments may be willing to lower their rates if you’re traveling in low season (June to October) or you’re staying more than a week.
- Look for accommodation that gives you access to a kitchen. Why not trying Airbnb? There are plenty of inexpensive listings in Station 3. For example, I stayed at this one. It was quite simple, but with a perfect location (just one-minute walking distance to the White beach). If you are not using Airbnb yet, sign up now using this link to get a $25 discount on your first reservation.
- If you don’t like cooking, eat in any local restaurant in Boracay’s main road and avoid eating along the White beach. You will find lots of local restaurants in Boracay’s main road where you can have lunch/dinner for less than 100php (2€). This is much cheaper than the prices that you will find in beachfront restaurants, plus you will be supporting small local businesses.
- If you want to save money while drinking, try to catch Happy Hours. Most beach bars do offer 2×1 at certain times. Other than that, my only advise is sticking to Red Horse beers (I know, they don’t taste as good as mango mojitos, but you can get them from 60php). Beware, they are really strong and can lead to very bad hangovers!
Despite the crowds and the commercialization of the White Beach, Boracay remains a pure paradise and I can not say I did not like it. However, I am not that sure if I would like to go back in the future. Boracay is definitely beautiful, probably one of the most beautiful islands in the world (and as such it has been awarded several times) but next time I visit the Philippines, I guess I would prefer to build on my itinerary other destinations that are more in need of visitors. With this, I am not saying don’t visit Boracay! If you are looking for a vibrant island with plenty of accommodation options, restaurants, and good nightlife, go for Boracay. However, if you are seeking a more peaceful and quiet beach location where you can easily interact with locals, there are plenty of other options in the Philippines. If you decide to go to Boracay, I recommend going now before it gets worse, going in low season (June to October) and exploring more than just the White beach. I guess, once in a lifetime it doesn’t hurt…