Boracay is a small island in the Western Visayas island group of the Philippines. It is only about seven kilometers long and in its narrowest point less than one kilometer wide. There are no cities on Boracay. The island is divided into three barangays (a Filipino term for a village or district): Manoc-Manoc, Balabag, and Yapak. It is about 315 kilometers south of Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. If you’d like to have a quick look at the map, here it is:
Why do people come to some small Filipino island with no cities on it? This is a good question. If they don’t happen to live or work there, most of them come to Boracay because of White Beach. It is one of the most beautiful tropical beaches that you will find anywhere in the world. Seriously. It is four kilometers long and the sand is really white. White as snow? No, not really, but very bright indeed. If you like snow, Antarctica has lots of it. But, as the song goes: It’s More Fun in the Philippines!
How to get to Boracay?
Most foreign tourists and backpackers usually fly to one of the two airports serving Boracay: Caticlan and Kalibo. They are both located on the nearby Panay island, which is much larger than Boracay and there are several larger cities and towns on it.
Option 1: Caticlan
Godofredo P. Ramos Airport is commonly known as Caticlan Airport or more recently Boracay Airport. Its IATA airport code is MPH. At the time of writing direct flights to Caticlan were possible only from Manila, Cebu and Angeles (Clark). The airport is very close to Caticlan Jetty Port and from there it is just a short trip by ferry to Boracay Island.
After you arrive on Boracay you can take a taxi or a trike that will bring you to your hotel or accommodation. If your hotel is located close to the beach, in Station 1, 2 or 3, in some cases taxis or trikes might not be able to bring you directly to the hotel’s entrance because the only way to get there might be the sandy White Beach Path. If this is the case, the taxi will drop you off on the island’s main street (Boracay Hwy Central) and from there you will have to walk with luggage to your hotel. Alternatively, you can arrange that your hotel picks you up from the airport. It shouldn’t cost much and they will take care of everything and carry your luggage if necessary. I recommend checking with your hotel how much they charge for airport transfers and if you’re OK with the price, booking it is definitely a good idea.
The advantage of the Caticlan option is the very short distance to the ferry terminal. This option has also some disadvantages: at the time of writing Caticlan airport only served domestic flights and because of the short runway the airport was able to accept only smaller planes. Therefore, the airlines flying there may have very strict limits on the baggage that can fly with the passenger. Sometimes the baggage arrived on another plane and was delivered to the hotel later. Not a good solution at all, if you ask me. Arriving on a tropical island and waiting for your suitcase to arrive? I would like to avoid it.
Things might improve soon in Caticlan, because as I have read, the runway was extended to 1,800 meters in November 2016 and the airport is now accepting Airbus A320. Philippines Airlines and Cebu Pacific can land their A320s in Caticlan now. Nevertheless, as far as I can tell, the airport still serves only domestic flights, so if you’re flying from another country you would need to change in Manila, Cebu City or Angeles (Clark). Anyway, before you book your flight to Boracay I recommend checking with the airline the maximum weight and size of luggage you’re allowed to take with you. It applies to both check-in and hand luggage. This way you will avoid very unpleasant surprises which might spoil your trip to this beautiful destination.
Option 2: Kalibo
Another option is flying to Kalibo and this is what I did. Kalibo is a town located about 68 kilometers from Caticlan. As the name suggests, Kalibo International Airport (KLO) handles also international flights. At the time of writing you can fly to Kalibo from: Beijing (PEK), Busan (PUS), Cebu City (CEB), Hangzhou (HGH), Hong Kong (HKG), Kuala Lumpur (KUL), Manila (MNL), Seoul (ICN), Shanghai (PVG), Singapore (SIN) and Taipei (TPE). KLO can accept larger aircrafts, but by international standards it is still a relatively small airport. Therefore, as in the case of Caticlan Airport, it is highly recommended to check the luggage limits and what plane model flies the route that you would like to book.
After you leave the airport terminal, you will see many vans, buses and taxis waiting for passengers. I had arranged airport transfer with my hotel, so a hotel representative was waiting for me holding a sign with my name in the arrivals hall. He showed me the van that took me and several other passengers to Caticlan Jetty Port. The trip took about 90 minutes and in Caticlan another hotel representative was already waiting with tickets for the ferry. We took the boat trip together and when we disembarked on Boracay island there was already a taxi waiting for us. The taxi was not able to bring me directly to the hotel’s entrance because the only way to get there was the sandy White Beach Path, so the driver dropped me off on Boracay Hwy Central, close to the hotel. But I didn’t have to worry about that in the least, because the hotel had sent two bellboys to carry my suitcase and show me the way to the hotel. As it was raining they also brought an umbrella for me!
I was very impressed how well the whole airport transfer was organized and how smoothly it all went. Truly multimodal transportation and you’re probably curious how much it cost me. 1,700 Philippine pesos for the round trip, which at the time of writing is about US$35. Value for money: excellent, can you do it cheaper on your own: most likely yes. Do I recommend it? Yes, because it saves you hassle and you don’t have to worry about anything after a possibly tiring flight.
Theoretically, you could also take the ferry from Bulalacao to Caticlan. The trip takes about 3 or 4 hours, depending on the boat. Not so bad, you might think. But you probably haven’t heard about Bulalacao before and you must get there in the first place, in order to be able to take the ferry to Caticlan. Bulalacao is on the island of Mindoro and to get there you can take a plane to San Jose Airport (SJI). From SJI you can take a bus or jeepney to Bulalacao and the trip takes about an hour. You could also get to Bulalacao by road and ferry from Luzon. There is a ferry line between Batangas on Luzon and Sabang on Mindoro. Sabang is quite far from Bulalacao, however. This option could be interesting if you’re on Mindoro already, otherwise it is quite inconvenient and time-consuming.
It is also possible to fly to Iloilo City (ILO) or Roxas City (RXS). Both of these airports are on Panay island (the same as Caticlan and Kalibo). A bus trip from Iloilo to Caticlan takes 6 to 7 hours, whereas from Roxas it is about 3 hours. ILO is an international airport, but RXS handles only domestic flights. These options are not popular among tourists visiting Boracay.
A company called 2go operates an overnight ferry service from Batangas on Luzon to Caticlan. Travel time: about 10 hours. I think I will stick to planes…
White Beach is divided into three sections: Station 1, Station 2 and Station 3. You can find good accommodation also in other parts of the island. If you feel like splurging, there is a 5-star Shangri-la resort at the northern tip of the island… It must be great, but also very expensive. I chose a 4-star hotel in Station 2 and I am convinced that it was a good decision.
If you can talk of “downtown Boracay” at all, then it must be Station 2. The pedestrian zone of Boracay is called D’Mall and it is located in Station 2 between White Beach and Boracay Hwy Central. You will find there mostly souvenir and clothing stores and restaurants. There is also a small supermarket nearby and an ATM. I tried to use my European EC-card and it didn’t work for some reason. I didn’t try to withdraw money using my credit card, because there were several places exchanging foreign currencies. The exchange rates were quite reasonable and I didn’t need much cash anyway.
There is a laundry service near the place where D’Mall meets Boracay Hwy Central. The prices for this service were very attractive, much lower than what an average hotel would charge. You can usually pick up your laundry on the next day and it comes back clean, nicely ironed and folded. I was very happy with that service and always gave the lady a nice tip. That convenience was one of the reasons why I think that staying in Station 2 was a good choice.
To get around on Boracay (if you have to or want to get around) you will use motorized tricycles, commonly known as trikes. If it’s your first visit to Southeast Asia, this may be new to you. Before you get on, you tell the driver where exactly you want to go and he will quote you his price. As a tourist you can expect to pay slightly more than the locals, but the price will still be very reasonable. There are very many trike drivers on Boracay, the competition is great, so you don’t have to be afraid to be ripped off. Unlike on Phuket in Thailand, there is no trike / tuk-tuk mafia on Boracay. These guys on Boracay work very hard and usually are quite friendly, so don’t haggle too hard and let them support their families performing the service that you need.
Things to Do on Boracay
If you’re a photographer and you come to Boracay, you will definitely take photos of the sea and the beach, sunsets, sunrises… Perhaps selfies so that your friends can envy you when they are stuck in an office somewhere in chilly Europe or North America while you’re chilling on a beach chair on beautiful White Beach, sipping beer or eating ice cream? But apart from that, what can you do there, especially if you’re coming with your family?
On White Beach Path and sometimes on the beach itself, you will notice people offering you all kinds of activities. They will tirelessly try to convince to try some “activitity”. They work very hard for their commissions but if you politely decline they will usually understand. I never had any problems with them. You can take a boat tour of the island, try snorkeling, scuba diving or even parasailing.
And then of course, if you like to swim, very few places can compete with Boracay if the sea is relatively calm. The water is crystal clear and very warm. I was there in December, which is the cooler season and the water temperature was just perfect, even on overcast days. Many hotels are just a few meters from White Beach, so you just leave your room key at the reception and they will gladly provide you a beach towel and there you go! You can run into the crystal clear water and swim as long as you want. When you get tired you can relax on a beach chair and order a drink or two… Sounds like a perfect vacation, doesn’t it?
The linguistic situation in the Philippines is fascinating. Depending on what you classify as a language and what as a dialect, there are between 120 and 175 languages in the Philippines. Filipino is the national language and basically it is a standardized form of the Tagalog language spoken as a first language by a quarter of the country’s population, mainly on Luzon. English has also an official status in the Philippines and 19 other languages are official auxiliary languages.
Filipino or Tagalog are not native to Boracay but are understood or spoken as a second language by many Filipinos living or working there. Most locals on Boracay speak one of several Visayan languages as their mother tongue: Aklanon, Illongo or Inati. The Visayan languages, also known as Bisaya, are unsurprisingly mostly spoken in the Visayas, an island group in the center of the Philippines and one of the country’s three main regions. Cebuano is the Visayan language with most speakers, but it is not spoken natively on Boracay.
What’s fascinating about the Philippines, is how all these groups can peacefully coexist with each other. I haven’t read about any major linguistic conflicts there.
What’s even more fascinating is that practically everyone can speak also English. The language of Shakespeare has an official status in the Philippines. Certain school subjects are taught in English. Therefore, most Filipinos can speak three or more languages: their mother tongue, Filipino/Tagalog and English. The level of proficiency in English depends on the speaker’s education or linguistic talent. Some Filipinos achieve native-level or near-native fluency in English, others are obviously less fluent. They usually speak the American variety of English, sometimes with a Filipino accent. If you speak English, you will be understood everywhere on Boracay. The situation of English in the Philippines resembles that in Malta, except that most Maltese speak British English. Many Koreans come to the Philippines to learn English.
Safety on Boracay
Boracay is very family-friendly. Despite the crowds of tourists that arrive there every year, White Beach is kept surprisingly clean and I don’t think I have ever seen there broken glass or other nasty things that stupid people like to leave behind them. As far as I could tell, most tourists in December seemed to be from South Korea, and they don’t have a reputation of being troublemakers. You will see many families with small kids and I assume they enjoy the time spent on Boracay. Yes, there are also some young people who like to consume alcohol in the evenings but it is not really bad at all on Boracay. Certainly you will have a difficulty to spot any drunken bums on Boracay, maybe because for most drunken bums it is too expensive to get there in the first place.
Boracay seemed very safe to me. My hotel was in Station 2 and that part of White Beach seemed very safe at any time of day and night. I would not walk in some dark alleyways away from the tourist areas alone late at night, but I would not do that anywhere in the world anyway. All the local people that I met on Boracay were very friendly and during one week that I spent there I never had any unpleasant situation.
The most unpleasant or rather surprising situation was coming back to the hotel room and finding a small lizard in a glass with some Coke left in it. When I turned on the light I got scared at first because it jumped and I didn’t know what it was. 🙂
And my usual safety tip for travellers: not getting drunk outside of your room significantly improves your safety and significantly reduces the chances of finding yourself in an unpleasant situation. And if you absolutely must get drunk, do it in the safety of your hotel room.
Have a look at some of my photos taken in Boracay:
White Beach on Boracay Island in the Philippines must be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. However, from the photographer’s perspective, there are hardly any landmarks apart from Willy’s Rock. It is basically white sand and crystal clear water for several miles. Boringly beautiful. Willy’s Rock is very picturesque, but usually there are many random people getting into the frame. The landscape changes if you take a long walk in either direction on White Beach, there are fewer people and you can find some rocks, big and small, both on the shore and in the water as this one. […]
The main attraction of the Boracay Island in the Philippines is the world-famous White Beach. It is a 4 kilometres long stretch of bright, gorgeous sand. It must be one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited but is it really interesting for photography? As beautiful as it is, there are not too many characteristic features (with the exception of Willy’s Rock). In the central part of White Beach there are quite many tourists, so you may end up with random people in your photos. The situation changes if you take a long walk on this beautiful beach. […]
The small island of Boracay with its famous White Beach is considered to be one of the greatest tourist attractions of the Philippines. And rightly so. The beach lives up to its name, as the sand has a very bright colour indeed. The water in the sea is warm and crystal clear.