The name Boracay is almost synonymous with a visit to the Philippines these days. While places like Palawan and Bohol are fast developing names for themselves, Boracay seems to be the first stop most casual travelers make when visiting the Philippines.
With my recent holiday to the Philippines featuring myself, two of my brothers, a soon-to-be sister-in-law, and my hetero life partner; starting things off with some relaxation, booziness, and decadence on Boracay seemed like just what the doctor ordered after a long and cold Nanjing winter.
I’m not usually a fan of crowded tourist traps, and even less so when it’s Chinese New Year and half of China’s ill-mannered population is headed there as well, but we wanted someplace ‘simple’ in terms of finding good food, good beaches, and things to do. And there’s definitely no shortage of things to do in Boracay. With that in mind, I was somehow given the role of tour coordinator and put in charge of organising everything. The perks of being the traveler in the family, I guess.
The Base: MNL Boracay
There’s no shortage of accommodation options on the Philippines’ most famous beach, but we opted for the MNL Boracay Hostel and couldn’t have been happier. After having a less than amazing experience at their Manila venue (more on that later), we were pleasantly surprised by this breezy, friendly hostel that had an awesome location.
Situated a two minute walk from one beach and a ten minute walk from the island’s famous White Beach, the hostel also had a pair of very good restaurants (The Point for comfort food, and a fancy sushi restaurant) downstairs as well as a couple more good ones (I particularly liked Munchies for local food and Mexican) within walking distance. A big, comfy lounge area with WiFi that even worked occasionally, a helpful and friendly staff, and a kick-ass rooftop lounge area complete with couches and a mini cinema made it an all around perfect place for a group of travelers of various levels of ‘expertise’.
We particularly dug the way dorms were set up, with beds in their own alcoves with independent lights and storage. It meant you could share with eight people without feeling like your personal space was being infringed upon, and that’s particularly handy if you’re a night owl like myself.
While I’ll probably get borderline lynched (like the girl who hates Filipino food despite not really having eaten any), I didn’t eat a great deal of local food while on Boracay. After six or seven months of the same 3-5 western restaurants and too much oily Jiangsu cuisine, we lapped up every opportunity we could to eat decadently on the island. As we were close to D Mall, most of our dining was done there.
Here are just a few of our food highlights:
- Munchies: Great little hole in the wall with cheap beers, free WiFi, and a good mix of Mexican and local comfort dishes.
- Lemon: Not cheap by any stretch, but arguably the best food we had during our visit.
- Ole: A mix of Spanish, Cuban, and Mexican, Ole stays open 24 hours and has a good selection for all tastes.
- Thai Basil: Great Thai food and a pretty impressive selection of drinks and smoothies too.
- Cafe del Sol: Great breakfasts right on the beach. Fantastic coffee.
- Mint Bar: Good drinks, hookah, and live music.
- Aria: Pretty good, if expensive, Italian cuisine. Right on the beach.
To say we ate like kings on the trip would be an understatement. We’d wake up for a full breakfast, eat a sizable lunch, and then dine with the sunset every day. I feel like we spent $40-$60 a day just on food, and I definitely noticed the different in my belly when I got home! If you’re looking for that kind of luxury, though, Boracay’s a great place to go.
Things to do in Boracay
Another reason we were drawn to Boracay was the sheer amount of things to do there. Google ‘things to do in Boracay’ and you’re likely to find more options that you can shake a stick at. Even with the seething mass of Chinese tourists that were crowding the beaches and eateries, there was always somebody willing to take us out on a tour or offer us a ‘special price’.
Actually, our hostel was very good in that they had a local guy who was on hand whenever we needed him to take us out and show us something. While we did spend the arbitrary days on the beach just swimming, relaxing, tossing around a ball we’d won at an arcade, or making idiots of ourselves trying to chicken fight – we also got out and did some more active stuff as well.
We spent our first day on the island doing a short but enjoyable ATV tour of Boracay, complete with stop off on the island’s highest point for some pictures. It’s hardly an adrenaline rush, but it was a nice way to see part of the island we likely wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
We also did the touristy thing and went out para-sailing, although I gave it a miss after being underwhelmed by the concept when visiting Hainan back in 2008. The others certainly enjoyed seeing the island from a different perspective, and I savoured a few moments of ‘me time’ after being tour guide for a few days.
We contemplated horse riding on the beach, but found it was all lead at a very slow pace, so a few of us opted to go see some cock fights instead. Being a civilized gentleman, I opted not to see it.
Or it could have been that I saw cock fights in Xinjiang…
To be honest, all I wanted to do on Boracay was lie on the beach and read, so the island hopping tour was a blessing. A few hours out in the warm, clear waters with just my snorkel and my thoughts was a welcome treat. Stopping on a secluded beach for coconuts and some R&R was lovely as well.
Simply put, you’re never going to want for things to do in Boracay. We were exceptionally lazy, and still managed to pack in the above.
Sexy Massage Time
Another facet of the island that I liked were the massages, which were plentiful and affordable by western standards. Our experiences varied from cold and clinical (blech) to an amusing encounter in which all five of our party – cramped into a tiny hotel room – were flirted with brazenly by our cute Pinay massage therapists.
Even the girl in our party wasn’t spared the “Ooh, you’re so sexy. I like massaging you”. It was a great laugh.
The Night Life
Boracay has a reputation as a party island, and we certainly took the opportunity to explore that on a few nights. What started as sneaky beers at Munchies soon devolved into hookah on the beach, doing shots with complete strangers in night clubs, and making out at dawn with a pretty local girl.
The club and bar scene along White Beach is as epic as you’d expect from a tourist island with a global reputation for knowing how to have a good time.
Between the Chinese New Year Fireworks and the seemingly nightly drinks specials and parties, it was easy to meet a bunch of friendly peeps and spend the night drinking and dancing until it was time to stagger home with the rising sun. But let’s spare a moment to mourn the loss of my brother’s poor iPhone.
I know people who hate ‘tourist traps’ like Boracay, but it was just what the doctor ordered after a long and dour winter in Nanjing. Good food, cheap drinks, brilliant weather, a night life, pretty locals, and some much needed R&R were all on hand and readily lapped up by our eager party of five.
While my brother Dom and his girlfriend would depart after Boracay, we remaining three still had Palawan and Bohol to go…
Have you been to Boracay? What did you like or dislike about the Philippines’ premium beach venue?
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