Aside from Manila, Boracay is arguably the most internationally well-known destination in the Philippines, and that’s for 2 reasons – beaches and parties; it’s even received critical acclaim for it (most notably the No.1 beach in Asia via Tripadvisor, and the No.3 best ‘Party Beach’ via Huffington Post). Some people had told me about it prior to my moving here in September 2012 and it was always a regular suggestion from my friends in the office when choosing which island to visit for a weekend trip. If you’ve read my other ‘Island Adventures’ posts then you’ll know I have already visited the lovely Bohol, Davao and Samal Island, (and others which I am yet to write about) but after my visit to Boracay I was struggling to understand why I hadn’t gone here sooner.
I finally had an opportunity to go there thanks to a lot of national holidays around the end of April/beginning of May last year (long delay since my trip and this blog post), and I wanted to blow off some steam as I had been working hard and completely sober on weekends for several months prior to that.
I left for the airport early on Friday morning. I’m starting to get accustomed to the local airport now so the beginning of the journey was fine, however after the flight was over I soon realised that I hadn’t actually landed on Boracay itself, rather Caticlan the neighbouring island. They don’t have taxis here but motorbikes with attached side-carriages (or ‘trikes’), so on arrival I foolishly asked the driver of such a vehicle to take me to my hotel, and instead of a hotel I arrived at a small port with a ridiculous amount of tourists with excessively large bags queuing out the door.
Despite this, I got a ticket and joined the slow queue of people who were clearly not well-versed in the art of queueing (us Brits are known for good queueing), they were leaving large gaps in front of them, cutting in, queuing from different sides, it was an absolute disgrace of a queue. Twenty minutes later and I was at the front about to go in, when the guard told me that I needed to also purchase a separate ‘pollution fee’ ticket, along with a 3rd ticket for a reason I can’t remember. It was perhaps the least logical ticketing system I have ever come across, and each ticket had to be bought from separate ticketing booths to add to the madness. After following this insane ticketing process, I re-joined the back of the queue and became quietly but intensely frustrated.
After yet more moronic and disorganised queueing inside the port, I finally got on a boat for the last leg of the journey. When we arrived, I got another trike and this time was more confident I would actually be taken to my hotel.
I remember not being particularly impressed with the scenery of the place on the way, as most of the island seems to be wooden huts and empty space, however I could tell I was near when I started seeing an increasing number of tourists. As my hotel was on the beach front, there was no access for vehicles and so after the ride I still had to walk 5 minutes down a narrow alley to get there. Eventually though, I arrived and could not have been more relieved to end the frustrations of my journey.
The uniquely titled ‘Red Coconut‘ hotel itself was surprisingly good, and better than I had expected. I chose it because of it’s prime location in ‘station 2′, which was allegedly where most of the action is in terms of nightlife. I wouldn’t say it was cheap for a Philippines hotel, but it wasn’t over the top either.
This was actually the first time I had ever gone on holiday completely alone or without knowing anyone at my destination, so this feeling was something new to me and I’m not the sort of person who ever goes to places like restaurants or bars on my own. At the time I felt slightly daunted by the prospect of spending a whole weekend like this, and I was also rather uncomfortable when I went out to eat that evening, thinking that people would see me as a bit weird for being alone. I ended up eating something light 20 yards from my room in the quiet hotel restaurant, before heading to the hotel bar right next to it. The barman even asked me ‘Where’s your girl?’.
The bar itself was lit up with neon lights and had a good vibe, with a lively staff and good DJ. It was actually a good place for a solo traveller like myself as it had bar stools and I could see 1 or 2 people on the other side who also looked like they were on their own. I didn’t really know what to do with myself so I just spent most of my time trying to engage my friends into conversations via apps on my phone.
Many mojitos later, I was going to leave when I ended up chatting to some Korean guys from Gangnam (Gangnam style), who were very generous and friendly towards me and bought me a number of shots, which evidently I couldn’t refuse. I was at this stage rather ‘rat-arsed’ as my dad would say, and so instead of exploring more of the nightlife I merely stumbled back to my room and slept.
The next day I just about managed to get myself out of bed in time for breakfast. Still dazed, I sat down and waited for someone to bring me a menu, before realising it was a buffet. It was a typical ‘pinoy’ breakfast buffet with some breakfast options I’ve now come to expect from this country i.e. fried pork and rice, but they did also have eggs and bacon. After breakfast I started to feel slightly normal again, so decided it was time to explore the famous White Beach.
Walking onto the beach for the first time was one of few moments where I have been completely inspired by my surroundings. Boracay has an undeniable, perfect beauty that has to be considered as one of the top beach destinations in the world.
The sea felt more like a bath and had the clearest water I’d ever seen. Any stress I had prior to entering the water completely disappeared. I don’t particularly like swimming but I must have stayed in the sea for at least an hour.
The long Easter weekend is the peak season there, as it’s typically the sunniest time of year in the Philippines (there are two seasons – rainy season which lasts from June to November, and dry season for the rest of the year, although it rains the least around March/April and it’s always hot). I was told that it would be completely overrun with tourists, but these people haven’t seen what England is like in Summer, where it’s hard to find a square metre of space in parks and beaches at the first glimpse of sunshine.
By comparison, the beach was very quiet for somewhere so spectacular and it’s also very clean as it’s against the law to smoke or litter on the beach. I just hope it stays that way, as I think people fear it could become the next tourist hot-spot like Thailand in another 10 years or so. However, I think the Philippine islands’ distance from your typical backpacker locations in SE Asia should help prevent this (it’s a 3-4 hour flight from Hong Kong).
Despite living in a tropical climate, I very rarely spend much time outdoors and so I’m generally no more tanned that I was in the UK (in fact I’m most likely paler, as I used to spend a lot of time outdoors on my bike). I was determined to rectify this by spending as much time in the Sun as I could manage. I’ve had issues in the past where I had a sun cream that was so strong that I didn’t actually tan at all, so I opted for Factor 30 in the hope it would be a good level for me. Ultimately though, this was a pointless exercise as it was so hot (34 centigrade) that all the sun cream seemed to sweat off me, and ultimately resulted in my sunburn later that evening.
Later that afternoon I walked down the whole beach front just to look around and explore. Most of the shops, bars & restaurants are indistinguishable, but all decent nonetheless.
I stopped at a Chinese restaurant for a late lunch of steamed fish and vegetables, as well as a delicious green mango shake…
I chilled out there for a while before heading back to my room to sleep before the evening. As you can see from one of the above photos I was very sunburnt and in any other situation I would most likely have stayed in, but I was only there for 3 nights so ultimately I had no choice but to go out every night that I was there.
The evening started (and ended) in almost identical circumstances to the previous one i.e. I ate at the hotel restaurant (which was actually pretty good) and quickly went to the hotel bar before too many people saw me sitting alone eating. I ended up speaking to a few more people over the course of my time sitting there – I think people there are ultimately friendly (sympathetic) to people who are sitting alone, but it kept me from being too bored anyway.
I ended up doing one of the bar’s drinking challenges which involved drinking a burning cocktail from a tower of cocktail glasses – it seemed like a good idea at the time (and I normally can’t say no to peer pressure) but did feel like I might actually catch fire immediately afterwards.
I was just about to leave when the same Korean guys from the previous night showed up and offered me more free shots. I had a good time chatting to them and there was a good atmosphere at the bar, so I felt comfortable there. I went back to my room and only planned on sleeping for 30 mins to an hour to try and get some energy back to go to some other bars but ultimately this power nap turned into a full on sleep and I didn’t wake up until the next day.
So the final full day came around very quickly, and I was a bit gutted to be leaving the following day as I had really enjoyed my brief time there. The hotel I was staying in was well known for making some of the best Pizzas in Boracay, so I was determined to work up an appetite/burn some calories before lunch. I ended up swimming probably as much as I ever have for the next 1-2 hours, mixed in with some final day make-the-most-of-the-sun tanning, before stuffing my face with possibly the best pizza I have had in the Philippines.
It really was delicious and I felt like I had ‘earnt’ it with all the swimming that I had done. After lunch I explored some of the shops and walked to the end of the beach and back – it turns out that not a lot changes towards the end but it’s perhaps slightly more quieter and less busy towards station 1, although the beach isn’t quite as good there.
I had a tip from someone I spoke to the previous night to go to check out another beach on the island called Puka beach, which was about a 20 minute ride away on a trike. The journey itself allowed me to see some of the more rural areas of the island and judging by the looks people were giving me it’s not a part of the island that as many foreigners go to, although I did see some on the beach itself.
Puka beach is very different to White beach – it’s significantly less commercial and much quieter. I walked the whole length of the beach and took in the scenery, feeling fortunate to be in such a tropical paradise.
After the phenomenal sunset I got a trike back to my hotel to relax before the evening.
That evening I met some American/Australian tourists at the same bar and hung out with them for most of the evening. I explored some of the other bars there but as it was raining I think most places were less busy than they would have been on previous nights, although there was still a decent number of people. One negative was that it was very bright in most of the bars I went into – generally after a few drinks I prefer darker rooms where people can’t see how drunk I am, but the internal light was quite sobering at times.
After I was done I went home and slept again, setting my alarm for 6am to make an early flight the next day. Unfortunately I managed to sleep through my alarm and woke up around the same time as my flight was due to take off, so in a hungover panic I looked at other flights that day and it turns out that the next flight wasn’t until 3pm, meaning that I would be late for work. When I got back I was slightly embarrassed by the day’s events as I was late and significantly sunburnt, and it felt strange to be back in an office so soon after lying on a beach. I’d enjoyed my long weekend trip in Boracay though and I’m sure that I will go back – for anyone visiting the Philippines, this is the place to go.