Boracay: World's best beach?
Boracay the famous holiday island of Philippines had been previously closed for unchecked tourism, with beaches left soiled, crammed with people and the island was pushed to its limits. We had read sewerage from restaurants and hotels was going straight into the water and for its party atmosphere seemed out of control. So, now the island has been reopened, is it worth going to? What has changed since the re-opening? Is it suitable to take a young family? We went in February 2019, as a young family consisting of two adults, (one extreme extrovert and an extroverted introvert) and one high energy nearly four-year-old.
I would say. Most definitely...YES.
I feel like this is the perfect destination to take the children as it felt very safe at Station 2 (even at night). There is a huge awareness around caring for the environment which is fantastic and the beaches are super clean. I may have only spotted a couple of pieces of litter in my entire time, which I hastily picked up.
How do you get to Boracay?
Upon doing thorough research (a lot of blogs we found are now out of date unfortunately), we decided we didn’t have money to burn. I did have one or two lollies in my pocket to tie my son over while we figured out where we needed to go.
You can either fly into Boracay Airport or (Caticlan Airport), Philippines closest airport and hitch a ride by motorised tricycle for five minutes to get the Caticlan Boat Jetty from the airport if you don't mind squishing a little. Upon exiting the airport doors at Caticlan, there will be a line of people asking if you want a ride to the boat terminal. They're the ones to go with if you want everything sorted for you, (including paying all your fees and buying your tickets delivered to your hotel door), if you're going this route, I would do everything on-line before you arrive. However, the pricing is significantly higher than arranging everything yourself.
If you want cheap and cheerful, you need to walk out of the fenced area onto the main road where there will be a line of tricycles waiting. We managed to squish my husband and I with my four year old on my lap inside the trike, with luggage (Two adult suitcases, plus one Trunki) onto the back no problem. And it was fun zipping around on the roads for around five-ten minutes (Don't try walking it's too far and the road is not smooth for luggage to be pulled.)
The alternative is to fly in to Kalibo which is a significantly cheaper airfare but one-hour drive to Caticlan Boat Jetty or 90 minutes by bus. If you have a small family, I’d recommend flying into Caticlan.
Caticlan Boat Terminal
Have your passports and itinerary handy when you arrive because on entry you need to show proof of where and how long you are staying. Once checked you can walk through to a sitting area. Our strategy was one person to mind the kids and luggage and the other would queue and buy tickets.
· Ferry Terminal fee
· Ferry ticket
· Environmental fee
Once all purchased you get your luggage scanned like you do at the airport and walk through to board a boat. You may get asked repeatedly if you need help with your luggage, but bear in mind they expect a fee at the end. If your luggage is particularly large, it might be worth it to get them to help as you will have to put your suitcases on top of the boat. I did feel nervous watching my husband sweat it out trying not to incur extra expenses. To board the boat, you have to walk on a narrow plank of wood, but they help to assist you to hop on with the smaller children who may look a little weary. The boat ride is around 15 minutes.
Once again, the crew offer to help get your luggage off for a fee and you walk on this floating plastic deck which makes it very safe to disembark and walk onto the beach. You can join a queue of tricycles (there are small and larger options), to take you to your accommodation. If you are staying off on side streets off Main Road, it may be helpful to have a map printed out, so you can show the driver where to go. In February, the roads were in progress of being widened and re-concreted. I'm glad we didn't bother in bringing our umbrella stroller, wouldn't have been worth it.
The three stations:
Station 1: Where the five-star resorts, more private beaches and beach volleyball Station 2: Most suitable for families, closer to D'Mall for shopping and places to eat, can get over crowded Station 3: Laid back and less foot traffic, but not many restaurants
Great range of accommodation.
On Boracay, you can stay top of the line, stay middle of the range or you can backpack. As a young family, we opted to stay within the narrow part on Station 2 in Boracay. I had read in particular Boracay Balcony Inn had a very down-to-earth family feel without cracking the budget and had these scrumptious breakfasts with a wide variety of options to choose from. We just fit into their studio units, which were very clean and modern. They had a kitchenette which gave us the option of eating our own meals, or having leftovers. The Bulabog Beach side of Station 2 had cheaper accommodation and was a lot quieter than the White Sands Beach side. Couldn't hear a thing at night from our units which was bliss. Our son was able to walk to the distance to get to D'Mall no problem, and then walking through D’Mall made the time pass quicker to get to the beach. But if your children aren't used to walking, then maybe opt to stay White Sands Beach side. Who knows how loud/quiet it is at night though?
The shopping, the food and the beach
The heat was a little unbearable during the day, (pack your sunscreen as you definitely feel the burn.) So we opted to hit White Beach after 2:30pm. To kill time in the mornings we opted to explore the neighbouring streets close to D'Mall where you can find shops and markets. D'Mall had everything a young family should need, shopping, food and toilets! (Note that there is only one toilet in D'Mall to use for a small fee and have tissues handy.) I was surprised in the range of quality of stores as I was expecting to breeze through pretty quickly. But we were all a little tempted. Our son even found some toy Avengers!
What really ticked the box was the huge range of food options to suit your wallet and palette. Filipino, European, Japanese, Italian, Thai, Chinese, Greek, Mexican, seafood, steakhouses, we were really spoiled for choice. If you're looking for a meal on a budget, we'd recommend getting a Chicken Adobo or Sinigang (sour soup) from Munchies or try Island Chicken Inasal in D'Mall. Great for its grilled chicken and Lumpia (Filipino spring rolls) and ideal for families. We also really enjoyed a more modern take on Filipino cuisine at Titos who were fantastic with dietary requirements.
McDonald's and Starbucks can be found on Main Road and there's a huge line eateries and juice bars that along the boardwalk should you get peckish if chilling at the waterside.
Hawkers aren't allowed in D'Mall, but on the street and at the beach, you may get asked repeatedly (but politely) by if you want to go island hopping or paddle boarding. We may have been asked by a few different people about five or six times at which they got the message but at no point did they become aggressive. We would just say a very loud clear "No" as soon as they started to speak, and they left us to it. I was very impressed overhearing the range of languages vendors were able to speak (e.g. their Chinese was far better than mine)
After some bargaining, we opted for island hopping which our four-year-old enjoyed. It was a great way to explore around the island by boat, and see other beaches like Puka Shell Beach. The beach was very quiet apart from one other boat of tourists and we had one vendor come sell us a delicious Banana Cue which was welcomed. I'm glad we had our bright fluro Ocean Pack dry bags, (buy them from the waterfront markets rather than the stores), which kept our belongings safe and dry.
Leading up to this trip I was wondering how I would handle the heat, and if I'd enjoy just hanging at the beach all afternoon. I'm one to usually suffer from heat stroke and get super itchy and eczema flareups or be too chicken to stay in the water for too long. However, the beach was sheltered by a lot of palm trees which gave enough shelter from the sun and the water was glorious, warm and calm. There were no dips in the water so you don't have to have a tight leash on your children while they play. The white sand is the softest I've experienced in my life and it didn't burn my feet like other beaches do. (I don't know that's possible in this heat.) There were no sharp rocks or shells so you didn't have to be mindful of your child's feet and was perfect for small sand castles and burying small children.
Around 4:00pm the White Beach packed out with crowds of people so we just stayed put to avoid the masses. They were all eagerly waiting for the sunset with cellphones ready to capture the perfect shot. At that moment I was feeling claustrophobic and my view was partially blocked by people taking selfies, but then afterwards mostly people disappeared off the shore.
There are drinking and smoking restrictions on the beaches so even by night we casually strolled along the beach along with our son without worry of encountering drunkards. I have read other blogs that people have seen an abundance of prostitutes, substance abuse and blaring music, but we didn't see/hear anything of this. The bars all seemed well behaved with people casually sitting around inside and fenced off and music was playing but in no way did I feel the noise level was intrusive on our casual walk. Our son would ask to stop and look at vendor's selling toys that would light up and spin in the dark.
We also explored Station X, which is a combination of restaurants and businesses that share a common area which is fantastic for young kids to explore including life size Jenga and Chess. Was a great way to allow our son to have a run around in an enclosed area while you can sample a wide variety of cuisines and buy a few gifts for home, including a bi-lingual children's book in Tagalog and English and some dried fruit chips. To be honest, we have tasted better food on the island, but the atmosphere and environment definitely made it a worthwhile trip.
In the end we were sad to leave but it was a perfect way to end our overseas travel through Philippines. We were very glad that our friends recommended going to Boracay. To sum it up, Boracay definitely exceeded our expectations.
Thanks to April and Jozelle for their fantastic recommendation to come to Boracay and what foods to try while we were here.