Boracay Island, Philippines

Tips and Survival Guide for Boracay

Photo by Greg Rodgers

Boracay Island in the Philippines boasts one of the longest, cleanest, white-sand beaches in Southeast Asia, making it the most popular stop in the archipelago. Unfortunately, Boracay isn't much of a secret -- you're going to have to share!

Crowds and prices can get out of control on Boracay. Use these tips to get the most out of your stay in paradise.

Where to Stay

You'll find a very wide range of accommodation in Boracay ranging from luxurious boutique resorts to budget guesthouses; all are generally more expensive than the rest of the Philippines. The small handful of budget places found along White Beach fill up quickly; book in advance!

Accommodation on White Beach tends to be cheaper in the south around Station 3 and generally gets pricier as you move north toward Station 1.

Tip: Surprisingly, not all resorts on Boracay maintain 24-hour water and electricity -- ask before you book.

Food and Drink

As you walk the sandy path along White Beach between Station 2 and Station 3, you'll encounter a multitude of seafood buffets -- some are large operations with dinner shows. While most are priced fair, don't expect quality food! Despite the romantic notion of eating on the beach, seafood is rarely fresh. Arrive early when buffets first set up for the evening. Sample small portions initially; you could be asked to pay for wasted food.

The beach path is literally lined with restaurants for all budgets. You'll find many more options around the open-air D'Mall at Station 2, along with some familiar fast-food favorites. Food can be surprisingly low quality and quite expensive on Boracay; a little research is worth the effort.

Nightlife on Boracay tends to be centered at beach bars and large clubs around Station 2. Even after regular bars shut down relatively early, there will always be an afterparty or two with thumping electronic music until 4 a.m.

Managing Money on Boracay

There are a small handful of ATMs located inside the D'Mall in the center of White Beach around Station 2. You'll find one or two more hidden in kiosks along the main beach path. The machines do sometimes run out of cash, and long queues can form during the high season -- don't wait until the last minute to take money!

Drivers and vendors may balk at cashing large denominations such as 500-peso and 1000-peso banknotes. Try to keep some smaller change by breaking big banknotes in busy bars and restaurants.

You can pay with credit card in larger resorts and at dive shops, however, a commission will almost always be tacked on.

Booking Activities

A horde of touts patrol up and down White Beach hoping to book you for watersports, sailing, and every other beach activity imaginable. While tourists are under constant sales pressure, competition is fierce. You can negotiate for any activity, even more so if you team up with other people.

If you want to give kiteboarding or windsurfing a try, head over to the windy Bulabog Beach on the other side of the island. You can get there via a 15 minute walk just by crossing the main road opposite of the D'Mall.

Getting Around Boracay

You can walk from one end of White Beach to the other, either on the soft sand to avoid some sales pressure or by running the gauntlet of touts on the parallel beach path. You can also flag down one of the many motorcycle tricycles plying the main road from north to south. Prices are somewhat fixed, depending upon the distance traveled.

Scooters are available for hire, but unlike other islands in the Philippines, prices for rentals on Boracay are relatively expensive. If you do decide to rent a scooter, first read about renting motorbikes in Southeast Asia to stay safe and avoid some common scams.

How to Get to Boracay

While Caticlan Airport (MPH) is the closest to Boracay and is serviced by Cebu Pacific Air and Philippine Airlines, only small planes can land there. Both airlines have strict luggage allowances for checked luggage and carry-on bags. Unless you leave a bulk of your luggage behind, you'll most likely be overweight; paying for additional luggage is not an option. Flights to Boracay via Caticlan Airport are notorious for lost or delayed luggage as carriers must worry about weight limitations of aircraft.

In order to fly with all of your luggage, you may need to book a flight to Kalibo International Airport (KLO) located around two hours away. Once you arrive, you'll find desks for booking cheap transportation onward to Caticlan Jetty -- the jump-off point for Boracay Island. Transportation from Kalibo usually includes the ferry ticket over to the island.

Once in Caticlan, you'll wait at the busy jetty for a boat until you are called. As with many other places in the Philippines, you'll need to pay a terminal fee at the counter as well as an environmental fee. The boat to Boracay Island takes less than 30 minutes.

After arriving in the southern part of Boracay Island, you'll find a fleet of motorbike tricycles waiting to take you to your hotel.

When to Go

The dry and busiest season in Boracay is known as Amihan and runs between November and April. Prices can triple around Chinese New Year (usually January or February), Easter, and Christmas – book ahead or plan accordingly and avoid the crowds altogether!