Travel: Beautiful Boracay
Boracay almost needs no introduction. This slice of heaven in the Philippines has regularly made “best” lists for decades and was finally named Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Island in 2012. Alex Garland, the author of that quintessential backpacker book The Beach, is said to have based much of the book’s main setting on Boracay, and our friend used to encounter him there regularly in the early ’90s. This is an island that has everything anyone could want: swanky resorts, affordable cottages, quiet nooks, thumping nightlife, international cuisine, dirt-cheap street food and, of course, the turquoise waters, fine sand and mind-blowing sunsets that have more than occasionally lured travelers into staying for decades. While the beauty of the place smacks you in the eyeballs as soon as you step onto the beachfront, there are aspects of the island that only reveal themselves after multiple visits.
The whole island is only about seven kilometers long and a couple of kilometers across, but knowing the different areas will help you get the most out of your stay. The three main divisions are Station One on the north end, Station Two in the middle and Station Three on the south end—the names are relics from the past when different boat stations used to sit on the beach. The shoreline has since been regulated and all boats are now restricted to docking at a main jetty on the southern tip. This western side, which is what most tourists visualize when they think of Boracay, has White Beach, named after the long stretch of powder-fine white sand. On the eastern, windy side is the smaller Bulabog Beach, home to kiteboarders and those seeking a more laid-back setting.
If you are looking for a quiet getaway, then Station One and Discovery Shores should be your home away from home. The property has the advantage of being situated far up the northern end of the island where the beach is wider and away from the main tourist areas, but it is also within easy walking distance of the hustle and bustle of the shopping and nightlife scene, should you chose to venture out of your paradisical cocoon. One of only two five-star properties on the island, Discovery does the best job of maintaining top hotel standards while unobstrusively ensconcing itself in its island surroundings so that there is no break in atmosphere as you move from sea to sand to your luxurious room. With an award-winning spa, stunning beachfront, two restaurants and butlers to attend to you at every step, you could spend days on Boracay without ever leaving Discovery’s bubble.
If you’re the type that likes to be right in the middle of the action, then Station Two is your best bet and The District should be your retreat from the endless swimming, sailing, eating, shopping, dancing and carousing options at your doorstep. This luxury property sits right along the main pedestrian walk that most restaurants and bars are found next to, but heading inside takes you to a quiet world where the well-appointed suites boast some of the comfiest beds around, and attentive service abounds. There are two restaurants, and a rooftop bar and lounge area raises you above the fray at ground level and gives you access to both sun and a beautiful view. It is also conveniently located right next to the commercial collection of shops and restaurants known as D’Mall and Epic, one of the island’s best nightlife spots.
Both Discovery Shores and The District have transfer services to get you comfortably from whichever airport you fly into—Caticlan or the further away Kalibo—straight to the hotels. Discovery’s premium service keeps the tedious lines and small fees that greet most travelers to Boracay out of sight and gets you to the island on a private speedboat, and guests are welcome to wait at their lounge at the Caticlan airport on their way back. The District has someone greet you and get you through all the red tape both coming and going, so you don’t have to lift a finger.
While you can suss out plenty about the island with a simple internet search, there are some things we think every visitor to the island should do at least once. Drink copious amounts of mango (and other fruit) shakes from Jonah’s. Rent a paraw, one of those sailboats with bamboo outriggers, and go sunset sailing with the water lapping at your bottom as the sky turns salmon then purple before you. Go to the wet market at D’Talipapa and buy loads of fresh seafood—local fish, crabs, scallops, giant prawns and squid—and take it to one of the many restaurants that ring the market. They offer cooking services and you can have yourself a feast for mere dollars. Take the Sex Shooters challenge at Summer Place then dance the night away. Book a day trip to Ariel’s Point, where you can go cliff jumping, snorkel and lay out on a floating raft. Finally, walk to the very northern tip of White Beach and trek the stony path that takes you to Diniwid Beach around the corner and spend an afternoon hanging out at Spider House. The house is a more rustic location that tourists are starting to become savvy to, but it still gives you some idea of what the island was like before its recent boom.
Boracay changes every year, and many feel it’s worse off for the commercialization. But every year, we find ourselves sitting in our favorite spot in those pristine waters and it still feels like the most perfect place in the world.