Get your bearings. Boracay, a small island 300 kilometers south of Manila, fringed by the Sulu Sea to the west and the Sibuyan Sea to the east, is one of the most popular beach destinations in Asia. It’s not hard to see why. It has one of the world’s most beautiful milky white sand beaches, attracting over 2 million tourists last year. This popularity has come at a cost, with the 3.98 square mile island reeling from overdevelopment and its environmental impact. On April 26, 2018, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the closure of Boracay island for a six-month period to allow for its repair and rehabilitation.
On October 26, it soft opened, this time with stricter environmental rules. There are plans for tourist caps, limiting the number of visitors to the island. Single-use plastics will also be banned. The existing ban on drinking and smoking on the beach is now strictly enforced to prevent cigarette butts and broken glass left on the sand.
It’s still a work in progress for the island, with some establishments still closed and others not in full operation. Some water sports are also not allowed. The road system and other critical infrastructure of the island is still underway. Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat encourages tourists to manage their expectations as rehabilitation work continues until the end of next year. She said the island’s opening comes in three phases, with another opening slated for April 2019 and the full opening in December 2019.
She expressed hopes the new Boracay will be the start of a “culture of sustainable tourism” in the Philippines.
So what’s IN and what’s OUT?
1. LAZE ON THE BEACH
Boracay’s main attraction is White Beach, a beautiful 4-km-stretch of perfect white sand lapped by turquoise, tropical waters. It has three landmarks: Station 1, located at the northwestern side where you will find the famous Willy’s Rock. Most of the top-end hotels and resorts are in this area, as Station 1 boasts of the finest and whitest sand, and the widest beachfront along the coastline. It is also the quieter portion. Stations 2 and 3 are at the center of White Beach, and are the busiest and the most commercial. This is where most of the shopping areas, restaurants, and other services are located, interspersed with many budget accommodations, from rooms for rent to hostels and smaller hotels. Angol on the southern tip offers a very peaceful and relaxing ambiance, referred to by locals as the “old Boracay”.
At last, the beach can breathe! In place is a 30-meter easement zone from the shoreline, with no beach beds, stalls, and clutter
And if you do tire of White Beach, Boracay actually has a dozen beaches and coves, with others such as Puka Beach — on the island’s northern coast — considered gems in their own right. On the island’s eastern coast, at Bulabog Beach, the onshore summer winds make it a perfect location for kiteboarding and wind-surfing. Also referred to as Back Beach, the 2.5-kilometer Bulabog is the second most popular beach in Boracay, running parallel to White Beach on the eastern side. It is the Number One Kiteboarding Beach in Asia, for its flat and shallow waters, and strong winds. It’s just a 10-minute walk from the Main Road by D’Mall of Boracay (Station 2). With the newly paved Circumferential Road and Bulabog Boulevard, strolling down is a breeze.
The 200-meter long Diniwid Beach is a convenient getaway from the more crowded and active White Beach. This area has excellent restaurants and bars.
Also referred to as Yapak Beach, Puka Beach is the second longest beach in Boracay, approximately 800-meters long and situated along the island’s northern end, directly facing Carabao Island. Its name is derived from the humble, porcelain-like puka shells that make this beach’s terrain incredibly astounding. Relatively secluded and away from the crowds, the vast location gives you a feeling of remoteness, with verdant views of an untouched forested area of the island. The beach is also home to sea turtles, monkeys, lizards, birds, snakes and the endangered Flying Fox fruit bats. To get to Puka Beach, take a tricycle ride from Station 2.
A tiny beach cove at the northern tip of the island, Balinghai Beach is protected by rock formations that hide it from the rest of the island, making for the perfect private getaway, save for the occasional island-hopping visitors that make it a quick stop. It’s best approached from White Beach on a paraw, particularly at sunset.
2. CATCH THE SUNSET
Back in the old days, the greatest joy on the island was to sit on the sand at White Beach, beer in hand, watching the sunset and the world go by. These days drinking on the beach is no longer allowed, but it’s not such a great spoiler with bars and restaurants along the beach giving you some of the best seats to watch the magnificent sunset. Chill and enjoy happy hour special rates.
TOP BAR PICKS
White House Beach Resort. They’ve got a few seats at their beachfront pool lounge facing the beach at the prime Station 1. Try their frozen Pink Panther. White Beach, Station 1, tel +6336 288 3675.
Epic Boracay. Centrally located along White Beach, this is the place not just to sunset watch, but to party and dance the night away. Try their Epic Mojito. D’Mall of Boracay Beachfront, Station 2, tel +6336 288 1477.
Hey Jude South Beach. From the same owners of the legendary Hey! Jude Bar, HJSB as locals call it has the home court advantage at the quiet “old Boracay” portion of White Beach in Angol. Beachfront, White Beach, Station 3, Angol, tel +6336 288 2401 to 03.
3. TOUCH THE SKY AT MOUNT LUHO
Mount Luho Boracay is the island’s highest peak at about 100 meters above sea level, offering magnificent and sweeping 360 views of the island from the viewing deck. You can get to the peak by trekking from Bulabog Beach, heading northeast. Locals are friendly and all you need to do is ask for directions. If you’d rather do it the easy way, book a private e-trike (electric tricycle) or arrange for the hotel’s shuttle service to take you there.
4. KAYAK, PADDLE BOARD, JET SKI, GO ON A BANANA BOAT RIDE, PARASAIL, SNORKEL OR DIVE
Water sports which is big on the island, is now heavily regulated and assigned designated areas to preserve marine biodiversity. Boracay Water Sports Association (BWSA) president Russell Cruz says the water activities allowed at the moment are kiteboarding, from P3,300 for an introductory course; windsurfing, from P750 per hour of equipment rental and P2,250 for a two-hour beginner course; kayaking, P1,000 per hour; stand up paddle boarding, from P300 for a half hour; jet skiing, from P2,000 for 15 minutes; banana boat ride, from P250 per person, minimum five; parasailing, from P1,800 per person, solo, for 15 minutes; UFO ride, P600 per person, 15 minutes, minimum three people; speed boat rental, P5,500 an hour, minimum five people; island hopping with lunch, from P1,000 per person; and scuba diving and snorkeling, from P3,000 for an intro or discover dive.
Most of the Pacific Ocean fish species can be found in Boracay, including manta rays and turtles. Although some areas are protected to prevent damage caused by tourism-related activities, there are still several dive sites to explore. Snorkeling is allowed only in special designated areas.
Kiteboarding and windsurfing are allowed for certified shop owners, instructors, and private enthusiasts of these sports, however, due to the ongoing rehabilitation work along Bulabog Beach, kiteboard and windsurf centers are currently closed until further notice. Freestyle Academy Kitesurfing, Bulabog Beach, tel +63977 790 6970.
Head to BWSA tent at the primary water activities hub at Boat Station 1 to find out more about water activities, and how to book with accredited operators.
5. SAIL AROUND THE ISLAND
A great way to explore Boracay’s beaches and beautiful coves is by sailing on a paraw, a native double outrigger boat with nets that serve as hammocks. Or get off the tourist traps by booking a private charter or a Sunset Cruise aboard the Boracay SunCruiser, a customized 65-footer outrigger boat for up to 60 passengers. It features a 20-foot high Boracay SunCruiser Super Slide and Jump-Off Launch Pad — the only ones in Boracay.
Book a sailing tour with Red Pirates Pub & Sailing Tours, tel +63995 151 6738. Or get in touch with MASBOI Sailboat Service Cooperative at tel +6336 272 4102 or www.boracay-activities.ph. They offer a day trip from P1,800 an hour for two people and a sunset cruise, from P2,000 for two, for half an hour.
Book a private boat charter or a sunset cruise with the Boracay SunCruiser. Tel +63917 555 8282, [email protected]
6. CATCH THE FLYING FOXES IN FLIGHT
This might come as a surprise but Boracay is home to the endangered Golden Crowned Flying Foxes (Acerodon Jubatus) or fruit bats, the largest flying mammals in the world, endemic to Boracay Island and to Philippine forests. They roost on the cliffside hills and mountain ridges of Barangay Yapak and on the trees at Puka Beach (during the Amihan season) and Ilig Iligan Beach (during the Habagat season). Your best chances of catching these fruit bats in flight is to head to these areas on the northeastern side of the island at dusk.
The flying foxes play a vital role in Boracay’s ecosystem, dropping seeds on the land that enable the reforestation of Boracay and the Northwest Panay Peninsula. The forests in these areas supply Boracay’s fresh water. The bats also keep the insect population under control, as one insect bat can eat up to 2,000 mosquitoes on a single night.
For more on the Flying Foxes, contact the Friends of the Flying Foxes Boracay (FFF) at tel +63917 328 0540 or check out their Facebook page.
7. SWIM LIKE A MERMAID
Mermaid swimming has gained a following in Boracay, with fans as young as eight, all wanting to learn how to be Disney’s Ariel. The Philippine Mermaid Swimming Academy (PMSA) teaches young and old alike how to mermaid swim, with mermaid swim costumes to boot. PMSA is a dream come true for its founders Normeth Preglo-Parzhuber, Anamie Saenz, and Franziska Limmer.
It was the brainchild of Preglo-Parzhuber, a licensed scuba diving instructor whose fascination for mermaids led her on a quest for a Halloween costume, and in so doing, discovered an online mermaid community, inspiring her to come up with the mermaid swimming concept.
Courses on offer include an Introduction to mermaid swimming, from P2,200 up till December 14, and Daily Mermaid Swimming, from P2,000 per person. PMSA offers a Mermaid Photo Op complete with a 30-minute tail rental.
Book through Kite Asia, D’Mall of Boracay, Station 2, Boracay, tel +63 917 324 3947, www.philippinemermaidswimmingacademy.com.
8. ENJOY A CULINARY ADVENTURE
The influx of tourists to Boracay island has brought about a wide variety of restaurants, catering to both local and foreign travellers.
WRITER'S PICK OF THE BEST RESTAURANTS
Dos Mestizos Boracay. You can’t leave Boracay without going to Dos Mestizos, known for its home-style traditional Spanish-Filipino dishes. Bestsellers include the Paella negra (freshly harvested squid ink with aioli), the Cochinillo (succulent and crisp 4-week old suckling pig roasted the Castilian way) and classic favorites from the Tapas Menu such as the Gambas al Ajillo and the Salpicao de Vaca. Special mention goes out to the Lentejas con Chorizo, a personal favorite enjoyed with a Salpicao de Pescado. Calle Remedios, tel +6336 288 5786.
The Sunny Side Café. Known for its all-day breakfast right by the beach. Don’t miss the fluffy pancakes, bacon and mango grilled cheese sandwich, the sunny-side café roesti, and their version of the classic Boracay Chori Burger. Bread here are baked in-house and this is also the first restaurant on the island to serve specialty coffee. Tel +6336 288 2874.
Lemoni Café is known for everything healthy, from big salads, sandwiches and wraps served on homemade bread, soups, pastas, risottos, and fresh seafood. Drinks include refreshing healthy detox juices and shakes. Don’t miss their famous signature pastries, all baked on site. Located at D’Mall of Boracay (right in front of the Ferris wheel), tel +6336 288 6781.
Tindahan It Boracay is the cleanest market in Boracay, offering a wide array of fresh and frozen produce delivered daily from Kalibo, Iloilo, Roxas, Antique and even as far as Mindoro, Manila and Baguio. You can shop at the market and have your ingredients cooked the way you want it, or order from the à la carte menu, then dine in a garden setting. The market is open from 5AM to 9PM, Sitio Kipot, Manoc-Manoc (off the Main Road by AKY Gas Station), tel +6336 288 3214.
Epic Boracay serves a fusion of robust Asian and Western flavors. Favorites include steak and eggs, tapa and eggs, Epic US Angus beef salpicao, gambas, baked Chilean mussels, Epic popcorn shrimps, hot wings, nachos, sisig, tomato, basil and bread soup, spicy tuna salad, ham and Gruyère croquetas. Epic Boracay soft opened on November 30, with a grand reopening on December 26 to 31. Open from 11am to 3am, tel +6336 288 1477.
Pig Out Bistro for European fusion cuisine, and a fine selection of diverse dishes. Don’t miss the crab burger, octopus tentacles and calamari. Tel +6336 288 9089.
Nonie’s for chicken and pork adobo, ceviche, beef short rib kare kare, pineapple pandan pancakes and the Kesong Puti Cheesecake. Tel +63912 394 8948.
Jammers for great 100% Australian beef burgers, tacos, authentic hero sandwiches, the chilidog, the New York Spaghetti and Meatballs, the XL Bacon Cheese Burger and Chicago Hot Dog, and the best Buko milkshake. Open 24 hours a day, tel +6336 288 5564.
Smoke is a favorite after-party stopover for Filipino comfort dishes like beef bulalo, sizzling bulalo with rice, beef salpicao, the best-selling kao pad, spicy tuyo with red eggs and tapa with eggs. From P60 a meal. Tel +6336 288 6014.
Mayas Filipino and Mexican Cuisine comes highly recommended for its pork sisig, lechon kawali, kare kare, crispy pata, and from the Mexican menu, the skirt steak burrito and the carnitas taco. Balabag, Station 1 (in front of Jony’s Beach Resort), tel +6336 288 6325.
HAMA Japanese Cuisine serves authentic Japanese dishes using the freshest ingredients, totally hitting the spot. Try the Sashimi Boat, Teppanyaki, Yakitori, giant crisp Ebi Tempura and hot Ramen. D’Mall of Boracay, tel +6336 288 5978.
Thai Basil has a huge variety of vegan and vegetarian dishes and a fresh juice bar. The Thai iced tea (or coffee), healthy tonics and fresh fruit juices and shakes are perfect for a hot day. D’Mall of Boracay, tel +6336 288 2787.
True Food Indian Cuisine. Bestsellers here are the Tandoori Chicken, Lamb Rogan Josh, Kashmiri Fish Curry and Vegetable Samosa (stuffed vegetable dumplings). White Beach pathway, Station 2, tel +6336 288 3142.
Real Coffee and Tea Café for all-day breakfast, vegetarian dishes, and a menu using all-natural ingredients with no preservatives or artificial flavors. Try Jack’s Omelette and don’t miss the original calamansi muffins and freshly baked Chocolate brownies. Tel +6336 288 5340.
Cyma Greek Taverna, a tiny hole-in-the-wall gem serving great Greek and Mediterranean food. Try the Paidakia (Greek lamb chops), Cyma Roasted Crabs, and Pastisado (Greek Osso Bucco). D’Mall of Boracay, tel +6336 288 4283.
Aria Cucina Italiana for al fresco Italian dining. Try the crisp organic arugula with refreshing chunks of watermelon and pine nuts in a balsamic vinaigrette dressing, matched with the freshest tanguigue scaloppato con pinoli e finocchio, or pasta with garlic, olive oil and chili. Also the best place for wood fire oven baked pizza. Tel +6336 288 5573.
Aria Gelato serves 18 flavors of gelato in a cup or cone. D’Mall of Boracay, tel +6336 288 5573.
Jonah’s Fruitshake and Restaurant is the place for shakes, with bestsellers choco banana peanut, banana mocha, and avocado and papaya shakes, from P75 to P90. Main Road, Balabag (next to 24/7, Crown Regency), tel +6336 288 3281.
Halomango is popular with Korean tourists, for its shaved ice and fresh fruit topped by soft-serve mango ice cream, a twist on the traditional halo-halo. It always has a long line of customers. The number one favorite here is the mango halo-halo topped with mango ice cream. D’Mall of Boracay.
Despite the government imposing a ban on beach parties, fun can still be had in bars and indoor spaces. Walk along the White Beach pathway along Station 2 and take your pick from the rows of bars and clubs.
TOP PICKS FOR BARS:
Aplaya Beach Bar & Italian Restaurant. Music lovers are treated to live DJs nightly, playing House music and the occasional hip hop. White Beach pathway, Station 2 (end of Station 1), tel +6336 288 2851.
Exit Bar on most nights, a crowd spills out on to the pavement. Drinks are cheap here and rather strong. Try the famous and potent Rum Coke and the Exitcutioner (tequila and Baileys) if you dare. They have the occasional DJ sets playing blues and rock n’ roll in the afternoons and House or hip hop by night, but you will never hear EDM here. White Beach pathway, Station 2.
BomBom Bar. This place is as local as it gets, with Rastafarian bartenders and tribal drumming. The famous live performances on the beach are no longer allowed so the show has been moved indoors. White Beach pathway, Station 2.
Pats Creek Bar. For a more laidback and relaxed evening, enjoy soothing live acoustic music and jam with the band at Pats, or play pool. Try their signature Pat’s Power, a gin-based Boracay-inspired long island iced tea. White Beach pathway, Station 2, tel +6336 288 5668.
Epic Boracay. Epic Beach Club takes over the spacious restaurant, turning the dining room into the main club area. Expect three long bars, a high ceiling which adds to the “concert-type” feel of the main dance floor, an elevated DJs booth, and a chic new mezzanine with its own bar on the second floor. The prime central location along White Beach makes this the perfect stop, with resident DJs serving up dance music. There’s intelligent lighting and moving heads, incredible audio and semi-soundproofing so as not to disturb the neighbours. D’Mall of Boracay Beachfront, Station 2, tel +6336 288 1477.
More bars are located along White Beach Station 1 and Station 2 but were still closed as of press time.
Boracay PubCrawl. If you’re looking to meet new people from all over the world while painting the island red in one night, Boracay PubCrawl has your name on it. The PubCrawl captains take guests bar hopping (pub crawling) to five different stops around Boracay. For a P990 fee to join the five-hour pub crawl, you get two free shooters in every stop; drink specials from partner bars, and free entrance. Icebreaker games in-between some stops help encourage building connections, and a professional photographer takes photos throughout the night so you can focus on the fun. Photos are uploaded on their Facebook page so be warned. We love that there is a “sweeper” who makes sure that every guest stays with the group and that there is no trash left in their tracks. Book via www.pubcrawl.ph or their Facebook page.
10. A TASTE OF MALAY CULTURE AND A SPOT OF SHOPPING
One of the best places to go to learn more of the local culture is Motag Living Museum, an interactive living museum in Barangay Motag, Malay, Aklan, giving visitors a chance to experience the rural country life of the Malays before the influx of tourists.
You’d be able to try your hand at ploughing, harrowing, planting, threshing, pounding, and then cooking rice, and see a traditional Aklanon home and rustic kitchen, still using claypots over wood fire for cooking. Or learn about traditional crafts and try riding the carabao, a Philippine water buffalo used by most farming families to plow the field.
Museum rates are from P500 for students with student ID, and P700 for adults. The Motag Living Museum is open from 10am to 2pm, Tuesday to Sunday. Visit motaglivingmuseum.com, tel +63 921 556 3111.
For shopping, D’Mall, D’Talipapa and E’Mall in Boracay sell some unique buys on the island, from beach clothing, t-shirts, sandals, accessories to local crafts and homeware. Custom and fine jewellery are also sold in stores, some made of pearls, corals, shells, and gemstones. For gifts to take home, buy a box of calamansi muffins from Real Coffee and Tea Café, a local favorite. D’Mall boasts of over 200 business establishments. For some souvenir shopping, E’Mall, an outdoor mall sells most everything from quirky rubber slippers in outrageous shapes and sizes, sarongs, beachwear, funky sunglasses, to handicrafts
NEXT TIME, CHECK OUT…
Here & Now Boutique. This is a showroom and a manufacturing outlet selling beautiful cotton clothing from Bali to one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry by local Boracay artists. The best finds are the EcoVie bags and accessories made from recycled and reused materials. D’Mall of Boracay, www.ecovie-export.com
Whatever! Boutique. This mother and daughter-owned boutique is a dream walk-in closet of boho-chic tropical lifestyle clothing sourced from Bali and Boracay. Choose from beach cover-ups and floral jumpsuits, to punchy tropical dresses and gorgeously printed soft cotton maxi dresses. Pair your find with eco-friendly handmade rattan and woven bags from Indonesia and Boracay, and you’re all set to go from day to night. D’Mall of Boracay, (right next to Aria by the beachfront)
Nothing But Water. This shop is the go-to boutique for elegant, high-quality swimwear and for chic tropical lifestyle clothing, accessories and shoes. Native woven Banago bags from Samar are a great find. We also love their Water Refilling Station that offers free water refills at the store. D’Mall of Boracay, www.nothingbuth2o.com
HOW TO GET THERE. There are several domestic carriers operating from Manila to Boracay via Boracay Airport in Caticlan, Malay, Aklan. Once in Caticlan, make your way to the Jetty Port, where you’ll take a 10 to 15-minute boat ride (P50 per person, or you can coordinate transfers with your hotel) to Boracay Island. Expect to pay an Environmental Fee of P75 and a Terminal Fee of P100 per person. Tourist passenger pump boats dock along White Beach. There are also flights from Manila to Kalibo International Airport, about a two-hour drive to Caticlan.
WHERE TO STAY. Boracay Island offers a wide range of accommodations. Make sure you have a hotel reservation before heading to the island as this is required before boarding boats.
Discovery Shores Boracay is a 99-suite luxury resort offering a panoramic view of the island’s White Beach and sunset. Signature Suites with a separate living space and private infinity lounge pools are from P26,300 a night. Beachfront, White Beach, Station 1, www.discoveryshoresboracay.com
White House Beach Resort is a family-run beach resort, designed for families and big groups. Rooms are from P6,500 a night. Beachfront, White Beach, Station 1, whitehouseboracay.com.
Diniview Villa Resort on the cliffs above Diniwid Beach has seven dreamy self-catering thatched hut villas perfect for holing yourself in Boracay. All villas have seaviews, living, dining rooms, well-equipped kitchen, a verandah and all mod cons. Salt Villa, one of the largest of the villas, was designed by Swedish designer Alexander Lervik in what can be described as Scandi-Filipino style, all white, clean and crisp, using local furniture and accessories. The resort offers a daily shopping and cleaning service. The Moon Villa, which can accommodate up to five people, costs P12,000 a night. Hillside, Diniwid Beach, www.diniviewboracay.com
Lazy Dog Bed & Breakfast is a charming boutique escape, serenely tucked away in a private tropical garden sanctuary situated in Bulabog Beach. Expect rustic accommodation with A/C, cable TV, hot and cold showers and Wi-Fi service. A standard room for two is from P2,400 a night. Bulabog Beach, www.lazydogboracay.com.
The OUT LIST
1. UNLIMITED TOURIST TRAFFIC. A limit on tourist entry will ease the stress on the island’s environment.
2. LAIDBACK ENTRY. A strict “no-reservation, no-entry” policy is enforced. Tourists must present their booking confirmation at DOT Accredited hotel/resorts at the verification booth at the Caticlan port before being granted access to the island. Those with no prior reservations may book their rooms at the Caticlan port from a list of accredited resorts posted.
3. PLASTICS. Single-use plastics and Styrofoam have been faced-out to make way for the shift to environment-friendly packaging.
4. BEACH PARTIES. Parties are confined to enclosed indoor spaces to regulate noise and to maintain the cleanliness of the beaches.
5. SMOKING AND DRINKING ON THE BEACHES. Look for designated smoking areas and do not take your alcoholic beverages beyond the 30-meter easement zone.
6. UNREGULATED WATER SPORTS. Water sports and other activities are heavily regulated and assigned to designated areas with prescribed orderly routes to preserve marine biodiversity and the water’s pristine quality.
7. VENDORS. Ambulant vendors no longer disturb the peace along the beaches.
8. CROWDING OF THE BEACHFRONT. Beaches are much wider with a 30-meter easement from the shoreline, without temporary structures, obstructions, stalls, beach beds, umbrellas, tables and chairs.
9. SANDCASTLES. Sandcastle making is regulated to stabilize the natural sand
10. Fire dancing performances using kerosene are banned.
Published December 2018. Copyright @2018 Dornier Media International.