This is one of those times I’m writing about a popular tourist destination – the island of Boracay, in the Philippines.
That’s it, in the picture above, taken from the aeroplane as we flew in to Caticlan airport on the next-door island of Panay.
In April 2018, Boracay was closed because over-crowding, over-commercialisation, and a painfully inadequate sewage and draining system had turned the island into, in the words of the Philippine president, a “cesspool that smelt of shit”.
He ordered the entire island closed until it was cleaned up.
In October 2018, Boracay was re-opened with a very different approach, designed to protect its environment and restore it to its previous position as the ‘crown jewel’ of Philippine tourist locations.
Some strict restrictions have been imposed:
- There is now a maximum number of overnight visitors allowed – 19,000
- A big casino project that had been planned by Hong Kong-based Galaxy entertainment was blocked, and casinos are banned
- A prohibition on plastic straws and plastic bags was implemented
- Limitations on the places where tourists can smoke and drink alcohol were implemented
Although I’ve not visited the island since it re-opened, I am delighted with those restrictions.
I visited Boracay for a week in the quiet season, some time before the closure, when it was ranked in Travel and Leisure magazine as the best island in the world.
It was a magical trip.
And I was horrified when I saw pictures of what Boracay later became.
The following paragraphs contain my pictures and descriptions from that pre-closure trip.
White Beach, Boracay
Boracay is a small island just to the north of the much larger island of Panay:
You fly into Caticlan airport on Panay and take a small ferry across the 2km strait onto Boracay Island.
The island’s population is around 32,000 – people who work in the resorts, tricycle drivers, tour guides and those who keep the amenities working day-to-day. As a result, there’s a mall on the island, and this was the entrance when we were there:
We stayed at the Boracay Peninsular Resort, at Station 3 on the White Beach. Here’s the view we had from the breakfast area:
After breakfast we would wander out, across a narrow sandy track to the beach, and settle down for some serious relaxation.
Here’s the White Beach looking south towards Panay Island:
As evening descends, the beach-front restaurants move chairs and tables out onto the top of the beach – which makes for a very romantic dinner location:
If you can secure a table as near to the water as possible, you get to view a scene like this as you dine:
Seafood figured prominently in the menus of all the restaurants (not surprisingly!), and it was excellent – freshly caught that day. I’m guessing it’s still the same.
I was there during May, and the temperatures after dark were warm but comfortable. So an after dinner walk along the beach-front to settle the meal worked very well!
Island Exploration Trip
If you get tired of all the relaxation during the day, I recommend an island exploration trip.
We did that and were picked up in a banca, a traditional Philippine boat with outriggers, and set off around the island.
On the way, we sailed past World Champion Boxer and Philippine Senator Manny Pacquiao’s Boracay residence (that’s a banca on the right):
We were able to get off the banca at various points and here we climbed up to a crest on the island to see some traditional Filipino huts:
And another one at water level:
That was a half day trip and very well worth it – I’m guessing they still operate it and I would definitely encourage you to take it.
As I said earlier, all these pictures were taken on our trip prior to Boracay’s closure, and I have not been able to find any pictures online that show if, or how, Boracay has changed since it re-opened.
From what I have read, though, it is back to its pristine best and the restrictions I referred to at the top are intended to keep it that way.
That being the case, I do recommend a visit. It’s beautiful.
Unless you’re already on one of the islands, you’re going to need to fly to Caticlan airport, on the neighbouring island of Panay.
Caticlan is about an hour’s flight from Manila, and when we did it the aircraft was a turbo prop Bombardier, with high wings. Because of that, we flew at around 15,000 feet and could easily see the country as we passed over it – an added benefit!
From Caticlan airport it’s a short tricycle ride (10 minutes or so) to the ferry and then a short ferry trip (another 10 minutes) across to Boracay.
It’s all very painless and, generally, if you book one of the resorts on Boracay they can have someone meet you at the airport and shepherd you across to the hotel on the island.
Just one tip: take as little luggage as you can and preferably avoid any heavy cases! This is because once you’re on Boracay you have to walk to your resort and, when we were there, that was along sandy paths – not good for dragging heavy cases!
Have you visited Boracay, either before or since it was cleaned up? Let us know in the comments!
The Expat Traveller