Fun and sun in the emerald waters and white sands of Boracay
It was the midweek of an off-peak season. Usually, times like this, I would expect to have the beach all to myself. But this was no ordinary beach. This was Boracay. And in Boracay, even a slow day is roaring.
Located about 2 km off the northwestern edge of Panay Island, Boracay is still very much in the midst of an upswing in popularity. Subsisting mainly on its coconut plantations and fishing for much of its modern history, it was only when a German travel writer named Jens Peter shared details of the island to the world in 1978 that it began to take root as a popular destination for backpackers. The wider travel community’s interest has well and truly been piqued in modern times as Boracay draws over a million tourists each year, both domestic and foreign.
Probably the most famous aspect of Boracay is its absurdly picturesque beaches. Although there is some uncertainty about the etymology of the island’s name, one theory is that it is derived from the local word “borac” meaning white cotton, which shares some of the same characteristics of the fine, powdery sands synonymous with the area’s shoreline.
Somewhat remarkable given the island’s limited dimensions is the variety in beaches. White Beach, probably the most popular among tourists, is located on the west coast and offers the kind of landscape that appears to be lifted directly from a postcard. Sugary sands, palm trees and calm, clear waters make it the perfect spot for a relaxing dip in the ocean.
The east side is host to Bulabog Beach, one of Asia’s most attractive destinations for kite surfers and a spot that enthusiasts of water sports simply have to visit. The higher winds and rolling waves combine to create a fantastic environment for the adventurous traveler to enjoy an exhilarating afternoon. Although these are perhaps the most well-known beaches, there are plenty of others to discover and explore. Yapak, Diniwid and Balinghai are all stunning in their own right, and a case could certainly be made that their relative seclusion could make them even more attractive to prospective beachgoers.
One thing irresistible in Boracay is the urge to get wet. The invitation from its enticing blue waters makes any excuse to stay dry futile and there are so many ways to get wet which go beyond just diving in. Right at the top of my list of must-do water activities was helmet diving. The helmet was a heavy fiberglass shell with a clear visor – heavy enough to rest on my shoulders while a constant supply of pressurized air from the surface, through a hose into the helmet, allowed me to breathe normally while pushing the water out through the opened bottom. While this doesn’t give the mobility that scuba diving or even snorkeling does, it did let me walk on the sea bed under several meters of water. It’s a wonderful way – especially for those who have not had the opportunity to take up scuba diving – to get a view of Boracay’s aquatic life.
The descent into the underwater world was down a ladder from a boat assisted by a certified scuba diver, whose instructions (what hand signals mean and when to use them) were important to follow. Dives are done in groups and once down, the 15 minute dive offered not just an opportunity to interact with those in my group, but also to take a few photographs and interact with the fish (a piece of bread is given to everyone to feed them).
There are dive centers everywhere and they operate as a cartel and so you will find pricing is consistent among them, helping to take the stress out of shopping for a bargain. The coral reefs surrounding the island beg to be explored and with a range of certifications on offer and companies catering to every level of experience, it wasn’t long before I was doing just that. One of the most popular sites is Crocodile Island, sitting about 20 minutes from White Beach by boat. Named for its distinctive shape, it is host to a wide range of marine life of which moray eels, nudibranch, sea snakes and lion fish are but a smattering.
Nightlife & Dining
The sun may be down, but Boracay is never out. Bass starts pumping, streaks of light pulsate with the beat and the energy is still rising – it’s party time in the island. I was looking for a place to relax over a few drinks while enjoying the cool breeze of the sea and came across Bamboo Lounge in Station 1 (Boracay’s 3.5 km long White Beach is divided into three parts: Stations 1, 2 & 3). I plopped down on a big couch around a low box table – which stood on a native hand-woven mat – and as the lounge music played I ordered a drink, met some locals and kick started our night.
After a few drinks, we walk towards Station 2, every step we were taking, we felt the bass thud harder and found the source of the beat at Epic Bar. Different streaks of light flashing with the house music playing and without even noticing, I was nodding my head to the beat. Epic Bar, during my visit, probably was the hippest place where everyone gathered for some moving and grooving in their bikinis, board shorts and flip flops.
Of course the partying lifestyle isn’t for everyone. A further stroll down the beach offers fire twirlers, or a bargain at the night market. Or maybe charter a boat for an evening sail and a few champagnes while taking in the neon lit island from afar. While famous for its booming nightlife, the good times are certainly not limited to the party animals.
With so many restaurants to choose from, every meal in Boracay might be a hit-and-miss affair. It’s very easy to fall prey to beachfront displays, buffet promos, and even free dinners, which turn out to be no charity work at all. So I made it a point to ask around first before stepping in. Among the rows of paluto restaurants in D’ Talipapa, I opted for Plato D’ Boracay Resto for most of my lunches since it had the most occupied tables; I had to wait 10 minutes for a table to become available my first visit there. The seafood was so fresh and delicious I often ate with my hands.
Dinnertime had me heading to Zuzuni, a Mediterranean restaurant located between Stations 1 and 2. It’s a warm and cozy place that’s best for people who dislike noisy and crowded places when eating or drinking. The star of the meal was the to-die-for Mati Chocolate Sin – a molten chocolate lava cake that’s known across the island as one of the most decadent delights legally available.
Boracay can be a place of relaxation and pampering by the beach. It could also be a place of endless activities from snorkeling, helmet diving and island hopping to endless bars and beach parties. Boracay can be anything you want it to be. Just make sure you pack the sunscreen.