Should You Visit Boracay?
I was looking forward to visiting Boracay. I’d heard tales of pristine seas, white sand, and unforgettable sunsets. So when I got to the airport in Manila after a whistle-stop tour of Banaue and Batad, I was ready for a couple of days of pure relaxation.
The universe had other plans.
How Not to Visit Boracay
Upon arrival at the airport, I discovered that my early-evening flight was delayed by 2 hours. Which wouldn’t have been that big of a deal, except that I had chosen to fly to Kalibo instead of Caticlan airport (both airports service the Boracay resort area). Caticlan is a quick 10 minutes to the main resort area, a.k.a. The Stations. The price of landing at Caticlan, though, is substantially higher than it’s cheaper neighbor. Kalibo, while cheaper, is 90 minutes away and requires a bus and a ferry to get to The Stations.
I also failed to pre-book my accommodation, assuming I’d be arriving at the perfect time to finagle a deal. Who wouldn’t be willing to negotiate at 8 p.m., when most people had checked in for the night?
Unfortunately, my flight delay meant I didn’t get to The Stations until midnight.
There I was, trudging up and down deserted alleyways, desperately trying to find a budget guesthouse in one the of the most expensive parts of the Philippines, at a time when most places were closed down for the night. With the help of the transport company, who had ferried and bussed me over from Kalibo, I was deposited at the most basic of basic guesthouses. Where I was charged $20 for a box of a room that shouldn’t have been more than $10.
I had a policy when I set out for my trip: I would splurge on my accommodation every 2 – 3 months, saving it for a time when I felt I really needed a treat. After sleepless overnight buses in Luzon and this flight delay, I felt the time had come.
So I went to the beachfront first thing in the morning and found myself a hotel room full of luxuries I hadn’t experienced for a while: excellent air conditioning, a private hot shower & bathroom, and a queen sized bed with plush pillows and blankets. For $68 USD. A steal in comparison to hotel prices in the States, but a splurge for me in Southeast Asia.
With that taken care of, I set out to get to know Boracay.
The Stations: An Overview
Boracay is made up of three areas called Stations. They are numbered instead of named, so they are known as Station 1, Station 2, and Station 3. You can walk from end to end in about 40 minutes, or you can jump on a trike and get from one station to the next for about a buck.
Each of the Stations has it’s own unique vibe, and I experienced the essence of all three. Here are my observations.
This is the ‘upscale’ station, with fancy resorts, restaurants and the best beach.
It is the quietest of the three stations, with a more understated nightlife vibe focused on upscale cocktails and decent wine lists (for Asia). Since I was spoiling myself, I had dinner at Mayas Restaurant on the edge of Station 1. And the Mexican food was delicious. It was so nice to sit with my feet in the sand, the waves crashing a few yards away, hoeing into a plate of gourmet nachos.
Here’s the run down of Station One:
Stay Here If: You have money to burn and want a more luxurious experience while staying close to the action.
Average Hotel Price: ~$100 – $400/night
Average Meal Price: ~$10 – $40/meal (appetizer and main)
Average Drink Price: ~$2 – $7/drink
This is the ‘party’ station, with bursting bars, beachfront fire shows, and noise.
Station 2 is anchored by a retail complex called D’Mall, a heaving mess of tourists, souvenir shops, and a few restaurants. But it is the point of reference for pretty much anything in Boracay, and it’s hard to miss. The beach here is decent, but generally quite busy. Don’t expect quiet relaxation here; expect a social beachgoing experience.
Unsurprisingly, Station 2 is where the Backpacker’s Hostel is located (other hostels are located on the other side of the main highway from the beach). The rest of the available accommodation is a mix of high-end and mid-range hotels, with a few budget guesthouses thrown in.
Here’s the run down of Station 2:
Stay Here If: You want to be in the middle of the party, and don’t mind noise.
Average Hotel Price: ~$60 – $150
Average Meal Price: ~$6 – $15
Average Drink Price: ~$1 – $5
This is the sleepier side of Boracay — the beaches aren’t as full, the beachfront isn’t crammed with restaurants and bars, and the volume is dialed down. The downside? This is where all the boats park. So that beautiful aquamarine water is full of traffic.
Accommodation-wise, this is the budget end of town. Though you get less for your dollar in Boracay compared to less-trafficked parts of the country (hence my $20 box). However, my $68 room in Station 3 rivaled any of the mid-range spots in the other stations, but cost me at least $40/night less. So if your priority is keeping costs down while having a nice experience, this is the place to be.
Here’s the rundown of Station 3:
Stay Here If: You want to keep costs low and don’t mind a little boat traffic in the water.
Average Hotel/Guesthouse Price: ~$45 – $125
Average Meal Cost: ~$5 – $12
Average Drink Cost: ~$1 – $3
Overall Impressions of Boracay
Boracay is not off the beaten track. Not even remotely close! So if your travel style is to avoid hordes of tourists, you won’t enjoy the main drag of Boracay. There are other parts of the island where you can ‘get away from it all,’ but you will have to pay for it.
What would I do differently if I visited again?
- Book a flight for earlier in the day
- Delays are bound to happen, and ensuring a timely arrival is important!
- Pre-book accommodation
- Boracay isn’t a place where it’s easy to negotiate price on the spot. Save yourself the trouble and pre-book, especially if you plan to stay in the one beachside hostel on White Beach.
- Research the stations in advance and plan my time better
- Sure, I planned to just relax and spoil myself a bit, but with only two days to see what Boracay had to offer, I should have booked at least one activity.
But damn is Boracay beautiful! It lives up to the hype, and nothing feels better than stretching out on the white sand in the hot sun, taking a dip in the crystal-clear water, or treating yourself to a delicious meal while the waves crash a few feet away.
Is it the most exclusive beachside resort in Asia? No. But it is worth a visit?
That would be a resounding yes.