By Harry Bedford
Thirty years ago Boracay was a desert island paradise, with no electricity supply or motorised vehicles in the heart of the Philippines archipelago. Today, Boracay’s beautiful White Beach is lined with McDonalds, Starbucks, Seven-Eleven and countless hotels, bars, restaurants and clubs, rapidly becoming the country’s number one tourist destination.
For many in the western world the Philippines can feel like a remote, isolated and inaccessible destination; further away and more expensive than the likes of Thailand and Bali, the Philippines is totally eclipsed by them. But look a little closer and you will discover that it actually makes the perfect getaway. The long period of Spanish and American colonial rule here makes the Philippines feel like a home-from-home for westerners; with many English speaking locals and American culture in abundance, yet prices very much akin to the rest of Southeast Asia.
The island of Boracay is around five miles long and less than 500 yards wide, reachable by a ten-minute boat ride from the Aklan port of Caticlan. The golden sands, clear water and palm trees drifting into view are the perfect realisation of a workday daydream in the middle of a British winter. Wading the waters is relaxation at its best and watching the sunset is so surreal it can almost feel fake. Make no mistake about it: Boracay is paradise.
Speak to the locals and they will tell you that things have changed a lot for Boracay over the last thirty years or so as they reminisce of the days ‘when Boracay really was paradise’. Nowadays it really is a tourist island.
However, if you are willing to overlook the few annoyances that come with that, you will find that the island has become a great holiday resort overflowing with things to do and great places to eat and drink.
In recent years, the east-side of the island, with its strong winterly winds, has evolved into a kite-surfing Mecca with enthusiasts coming here from all corners of the world to be carried along the waves by the force of the wind. If surfing isn’t your water activity of choice, head over to one of the three boat stations along White Beach to check out the array of activities on offer. Go for a scuba diving lesson with PADI-certified instructors; gently drift high above the sparkling-blue sea on a para-sailing trip; take a day trip ‘island-hopping’ and witness the natural beauty of this part of the world; and you can even fulfil your childhood dream by slipping into a tail and having a mermaid (or mer-man) lesson. Boracay certainly has it all.
The nightlife on White Beach is very much geared towards 18-to-30s; music pulsates loudly from every bar and fire-dancers work their way from restaurant to restaurant forcing tips out of people trying to enjoy their dinner. Nevertheless Boracay does contain a few secluded spots to enjoy the evening, such as Tribe Bar on the far side of Station-3 and Spider House, a hotel and restaurant built into the cliffs that overlook Diniwid Beach.
There is something for everyone on this small Filipino island, whether you want to relax by the sea and drink cocktails or get drunk on adrenaline every day. There are many up-market hotels offering a luxurious perspective of Boracay, however if you are a more of a budget backpacker then there is no better place to stay than Trafalgar Lodge – just a short walk from White Beach – owned by Filipino Joel and his British wife Julia who have made their island dwelling into a welcoming guesthouse with a friendly atmosphere.
Fly into the Philippines via the nation’s capital of Manila and either take a connecting flight to Kalibo (close to Boracay) or head south to Batangas where you can catch an over-night ferry to Caticlan. If you find yourself wanting some culture from your time in the Philippines, be sure to visit the old Spanish town of Intramuros in Manila and take a trek to the summit of the active volcano Taal that sits in the middle of a lake in between Manila and Batangas.
The Philippines will inevitably become a major holiday destination in the coming decades and Boracay will be its jewel in the crown. It may be a paradise lost for the locals but for the world it’s only just starting to be found.