If Boracay Island in the Philippines isn’t the perfect tropical island getaway, it’s certainly darn close.
Visitors to Boracay enjoy unlimited access to beaches of powdery white sand, crystal-clear water, and a multitude of entertainment options. During the peak season between March to June, the weather obliges Boracay with clear skies and unobstructed sunlight – perfect weather for soaking up the rays or enjoying some watersports.
When the sun goes down, Boracay’s rowdy nightlife kicks in, drawing crowds to nightly revelries at D’Mall at Station 2.
Uncontrolled development threatened Boracay until recently, when a temporary closure and new rules for tourists put the resort island on a more sustainable path. Today, a cleaner, less congested Boracay has re-established its reputation as one of the top destinations the Philippines for visitors, if not the outright number one on the list.
Getting Your Bearings on Boracay
The shape of Boracay reminds one of a dumbbell or a cartoon bone some 4.3 miles long. Most of the fun takes place on either side of Boracay’s length – White Beach occupies most of the southwestern coast, while Bulabog Beach stretches across part of the northeastern coast.
Visitors to Boracay tend to refer to the “boat stations” along White Beach as geographical reference points, even as the new Cagban Port at Boracay’s eastern tip has made them obsolete.
Station 1 in the north combines posh resorts and relative peace and quiet; centrally-located Station 2 is Boracay at its liveliest, as the shopping district known as “D’Mall” is located there; Station 3 in the south offers plenty of budget beachfront accommodations.
The island can be subdivided into three communities called “barangays”: Yapak in the north, Balabag in the middle, and Manoc-Manoc in the south.
The beaches of Boracay are the island’s biggest draw – 12 beaches are distributed around the island, each having their share of resorts and seaside activities.
White Beach holds the lion’s share of Boracay’s popular establishments, as it has the island’s longest uninterrupted stretch of beach, with arguably the best sand and most favorable winds during peak season.
Bulabog Beach is directly opposite White Beach, and is more popular with the watersports crowd. Yearly surfing and kiteboarding competitions are held on Bulabog Beach during peak season, as the prevailing winds are stronger on Boracay’s eastern coast.
A handful of other beaches lie some distance from the main tourist stretch, but can be accessible by paraw or by tricycle: Puka Beach, Ilig-Iligan Beach, Diniwid Beach, Punta Bunga Beach and Banyugan Beach are all arranged around Boracay’s northernmost point in Barangay Yapak.
Challenging currents and less-than-powder-fine beaches make them less popular, but less crowded beach choices.
Where to Stay in Boracay
Boracay’s wide range of hotels can accommodate almost any budget. Most of the best places are clustered on White Beach – with some exceptions, the expensive ones tend to be on Station 1 and budget places on Station 3 or inland.
New rule: no walk-ins. A new “no booking, no entry” policy requires visitors to show proof of booking before they’re permitted to cross the sea into Boracay. The hotel should also be accredited by the Philippines Department of Tourism (see list here).
Transportation to Boracay
Boracay Island lies some 200 miles south of Manila. The narrow Tabon Strait separates Boracay from the larger Panay island.
All visitors to Boracay enter through two ports on Panay Island.
The port of Caticlan lies immediately across the strait from Boracay, making it a prime gateway for air and land travelers. The city of Kalibo is another two-hour drive away on Panay Island, and its Kalibo International Airport serves as an alternative airport for Boracay visitors.
Flying into Caticlan: Most air travelers prefer flying into Caticlan’s tiny Godofredo P. Ramos Airport (MPH). Many Boracay resorts also offer pickup services between the Caticlan airport and their premises, so inquire about airport pickup before confirming your stay.
Sailing into Caticlan: Ships travel from Batangas Port near Manila to Caticlan. While cheaper than air travel, this trip takes up to sixteen hours to complete, and is readily disrupted by inclement weather. Two transport companies service this route: Starlite Ferries and 2Go.
Flying into Kalibo: The capital of Aklan province, Kalibo is 90 minutes away from Boracay by bus. Its airport, Kalibo International Airport (KLO), is larger than the one in Caticlan, and can handle bigger planes and international flights.
To make the connection from Kalibo to Caticlan, visitors may ride air-conditioned vans (PHP220/$4.25) waiting at the arrivals exit.
Caticlan-Boracay sea crossing: From the airport, a motorized tricycle (PHP150/US$2.90) will take you a short distance to the Caticlan Port. From here, a motorboat chugs across the strait to Cagban Port in Boracay. (Outrigger boats cost PHP25/US$0.50; the comfier Oyster Ferry costs PHP75/US$1.50).
The ticket price will also have a few fees tacked on: a terminal fee of PHP100/US$2 each way, and a PHP75/US$1.50 environmental fee.
Getting Around Boracay
In the old days, Boracay visitors disembarked from Stations 1, 2 and 3 on White Beach. Today, most visitors arrive via Cagban Port in peak season, or Tambisaan Port during low season.
A motorized tricycle can take you from either port to your Boracay resort. Trip length depends on where your resort is located, but you will pay a flat rate of PHP100-250/US$1.90-4.90 per motorized tricycle – the lower range for hotels in Station 3, Angol and Manoc-Manoc; the higher range for resorts in Diniwid, Yapak and Puka Beach. To save on tricycle fare, you can split your fare with others going the same way.
You’ll find that these tricycles are quite ubiquitous in Boracay; you can flag one down on the main Boracay Central Highway, or find a tricycle queue in front of important landmarks like D’Mall and strategic spots throughout the island.
A shared ride - i.e. bus-style with other passengers - costs about PHP10/US$0.20. If you want the whole tricycle to yourself, pay about PHP50/US$1. Tricycles in Boracay are tricked out to accommodate seven passengers, but may not venture beyond the roads (i.e. no tricycles on the beach).
If you want to explore other beaches in Boracay, you can hire a tricycle by the hour for about PHP150-500/US$3-11.
Island-hopping by paraw. Paraw are traditional sailboats with outriggers. Originally used for fishing, enterprising locals have coopted the paraw for “island-hopping” trips around Boracay.
Island-hopping trips generally include jaunts to Puka Shell or Balinghai Beach, snorkeling trips, ending with a barbecue dinner. One paraw can accommodate up to six passengers, and can venture as far out as Panay Island and the neighboring Carabao Islands. Paraw rentals can be found up and down White Beach, or arranged through your Boracay resort.
Bicycle/motorbike rental. Bicycles and motorbikes are available for rent from many Boracay resorts. Rates for bicycles average about PHP50/US$1 an hour; motorcycles go for about PHP150/US$3 an hour. An international driving license may be required for motorcycle rentals.
Activities in Boracay: What to See and Do
The sea, sand and sun make Boracay an awesome setting for many activities. Ask your Boracay resort to hook you up with providers for the following diversions:
Scuba diving. Boracay is surrounded by over 30 dive sites suitable for beginners and expert divers alike. Newbies can try discovery dives that require no PADI certification, or take PADI certification courses. Experienced divers can pursue night diving, wreck diving, and advanced open water dives around Boracay and its neighboring islands.
Rates vary depending on the duration of the dive - a short discovery course may cost as little as PHP3,000/US$70 or, while a two-day safari might cost PHP15,000/US$346.
Kiteboarding is one of Boracay’s most popular watersports. Kiteboarders use a large kite to travel across the water on a small surfboard. From November to March, kiteboarders swarm Bulabog Beach to take advantage of the gusty habagat winds.
Local kiteboarding centers rent out good-quality equipment at reasonable prices, along with skilled instructors to guide new kiteboarders through their first few hours at sea. Kiteboarding centers offer two-hour “discovery” courses from PHP3,300/US$64.
Parasailing. Parasailers are attached to a parachute and towed behind a speedboat; the speed creates lift, and the parasailer flies over a hundred feet above the sea. The parachute is usually deployed about half a mile away from White Beach to minimize accidents.
Parasailing rates vary depending on the time of year; expect to pay PHP2,500/US$57 per person during high and peak seasons, but only PHP1,000/US$23 during low season.
Cliff-diving. Ariel’s Point offers a whole-day experience from their cliffs one island over, inclusive of a buffet lunch snacks, unlimited beverages, watersports and jumping from their five cliff leaps. Boats to Ariel’s Point leave every morning from the Boracay Beach Club, returning at day’s end.
ATVs are four-wheel buggies that can be rented by the hour to explore the dirt roads criss-crossing the hills in Boracay’s north end. Places like Tanawin Viewpoint and an aviary can be reached via ATV - these vehicles are not permitted to operate on the Central Highway. ATV rentals start at PHP1,200/US$23.25 per hour.
Spas & Wellness. The burgeoning spa industry in Boracay caters to travelers who want to relax when on the island. Beach massages have been banned since Boracay’s reopening, but you can still patronize full-service spas like Mandala Spa, Tirta Spa and Bella Isa Spa.
Golf enthusiasts can tee off on the golf course at Fairways and Blue Water to the north of the island.
Eating & Drinking in Boracay
Boracay’s international crowd has enriched the island’s culinary scene. Cyma serves authentic Greek cuisine, while Moroccan food lovers should try Kasbah. Dos Mestizos excels in showing off the Philippines’ Spanish side, with the best paella this side of the Pacific.
Jonah's Fruit Shake & Snack Bar serves a mango fruitshake unparalleled in richness and texture. Lemoni Café serves excellent (strong) coffee and the island’s best lemon tarts. For coffee with a more folksy atmosphere, try Real Coffee & Tea Café.
Boracay is heaven for meat lovers. I Love Backyard serves affordable but tasty Filipino grilled food. Two options in D’Mall cater to hardcore carnivores - Valhalla, with its generously-sized steaks, and Steampunk Boracay, a burger and fries joint.
At night, Boracay comes alive with partygoers looking for booze and an awesome experience to talk about back home. Both food and drink can be had in plentiful proportions among the restaurants and bars crowding the beachward side of D’Mall, Boracay’s primary shopping district.
Exit Bar is a tiki-themed beach bar with live music and a nice laid-back air. Nigi Nigi Nu Noos offers great international food AND a place to watch beachgoers while enjoying a beer under the stars. Epic Boracay has a noon-to-10pm happy hour and transforms into a laid-back party lounge late into the night.
Weather in Boracay, When to Visit
Boracay’s high season occurs between October and May, coinciding with local students’ summer break. The temperature rises to 82-100° (28-38°C), moderated by cool winds from the east.
These winds have totally different effects on White Beach and Bulabog Beach – during the peak season, White Beach has a pleasant, calm climate, while Bulabog Beach receives the brunt of the incoming wind. That’s why watersports enthusiasts find their thrills at Bulabog Beach during the peak season.
This easterly wind is called Amihan in the local language, and is the drier of the two seasons that affect the Philippines. The situation changes from June to September, as the Habagat takes over, bringing with it winds from the west, heavy humidity and rainfall. Amihan takes over again from November to May.
Give Boracay a miss during Habagat, but consider a visit when Amihan season arrives.
Boracay is most congested during three peak seasons - Chinese New Year, the week leading up to Easter (“Holy Week” to the Roman Catholic majority in the Philippines), and the Christmas break between Christmas Day and the New Year. Resorts add up to 25 percent premium on accommodations during these days, book in advance when arriving on these dates.