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26 Apr 2012

I Dream of Boracay!

I've been back from Philippines for a whole two months now and I am only just getting around to posting about it. Some of the details may have faded, but I will try and tell you as much as I can remember. So sit back and get comfy, as this post is going to be about as long as the journey itself.

The main reason I was going to the Philippines was to celebrate my Grandmother's 90th birthday, which was of course fun, filled with family, and all the tasty food I could eat. Eating was a big part of this holiday.

Anyway, whenever I visit the Philippines, we usually just hang out with family and don't do many touristy things. However, this time was different. Mr B was coming to the Philippines for the first time ever and so we were going to fully embrace being tourists. After all, (to quote their current tourism slogan)  "It's more fun in the Philippines!" 

One of the things we were most excited about was going to Boracay. Frequently featured on the World's Best Beaches list, could this small island live up to its hype?

Errrm, yes.
Station 1: White Beach

We had talked about going to Boracay as part of our Philippines trip, but we didn't actually book it until two days before we were due to leave for Boracay. I can't remember the reasons for leaving it so late, and yes doing that did make it a bit stressful, but we got there in the end.

FLIGHTS
Boracay is only an hour by plane from Manila, and we had wanted to ideally fly from Clark airport, but there were no flights. Turns out, we were heading out to Boracay during one of the busiest times - Chinese New Year! Flights to Boracay though are very frequent and there are lots of airlines to choose from.

We booked our flights online with Cebu Pacific which was easy and relatively hassle free. We paid extra to be able to choose our seats on the plane. On the way to Boracay it was fine, but on the way back we weren't allowed to sit in our chosen seats; so that was a waste of money that we were not refunded for.

Tips: There are two airports that serve Boracay - Caticlan and Kalibo. I would suggest going to Caticlan as the transfers from there to the resorts/hotels are shorter, so you can start your holiday much sooner.

Traditional boats that take you from Caticlan to the island
HOTEL
We wanted to stay at the Boracay Regency Beach Resort based on the recommendation of friends who had previously been to Boracay. However, due to it being Chinese New year, there was no room at the inn. In fact, there were hardly any rooms anywhere. After much searching and desperation starting to set in, we booked a hotel that could accommodate six of us and ended up staying at Boracay Holiday Resort which we booked via Agoda.

A quick check through of our booking revealed that hotel transfers were not included, so we got on the phone to the hotel who sorted it all out and organised transfers with Southwest Tours.  Don't expect luxury with this company, but they are friendly and efficient.
In fact, here we were waiting at the jetty (which had free wi-fi) for our boat...

Obligatory family photo 
Boracay's White Beach is made up of three sections - Station 1, Station 2 and Station 3. Simple.
Station 1 is where you'll the high end resorts, Station 2 is where you'll find most of the restaurants and bars, and more hotels, finally Station 3 is where you'll find more budget accommodation. However, I think the lines of where you'll find high-end and budget accommodation are being blurred between the stations as new resorts and hotels crop up.

We stayed at Station 2.

Normally I love a hotel. However, on this occasion I did not love Boracay Holiday Resort. The staff themselves were lovely and attentive, but the accommodation itself let them down. They were trying hard to provided a 5* service, but with only 3* tools.

The resort consisted of two buildings. We were initially given rooms in the first building and they left a musty smell in our noses. It seriously smelt like these rooms had not been used for a while. We asked to move as we weren't happy and the smell was overpowering. They accommodated our request no problem. We were moved to the second building to a much bigger room sans the musty odour and with views overlooking the pool. The noise of the road below though as tricycles zoomed past was noticeable, not very good if you're a light sleeper.

I'm probably making this hotel sound extremely bad, and it wasn't that bad. I just think it was over reaching and trying to do more than it could handle. Big rooms that felt unfinished where things just didn't work quite as they should, a gym that looked like nobody had ever used it, a bar whose opening times we could just not figure out, and housekeeping that was only done on request, all made for a very random hotel experience.

Anyway, I don't want to make it seem like our time there was terrible, it wasn't. The food was lovely, the staff as I said were friendly and accommodating, and they had wifi.

There are no shortage of hotels on Boracay, and whilst we were there new resorts were still cropping up, so there will be plenty to choose from if you should ever venture down to the island.

THE BEACH
The island is not very big - only about 7km in length  - and I don't think there is much I can say than will get across just how soft the sand was or how clear the sea was.  I'll let the pictures tell you...

A walk along the beach in the hot hot sun. Photo by Mr. B
Our patch of beach. Photo by Mr. B
When the sun got too much... Can you see me? 
Watching the sun go down. My fave sunglasses from Retrosuperfuture.  
The Phoenix Firedancers (photo by Mr B)
You could literally turn up to Boracay with nothing but your passport, wallet and the clothes on your back, as everything you could need will be sold by a vendor on the beach. Need sunglasses or a hat to shield you from the sun? Done. Need a sarong for cover up? Got it.  Feeling stressed from turning up with nothing? That's ok, have a massage. 

We had big plans to do so many activities like parasailing, going to the highest point on the island, a boat trip, and helmet diving, however we did none of them.  We were seduced by the beach and just could not tear ourselves away. 

At night the beach was bustling with activity from late night swimmers (dangerous activity if you ask me) who were afraid of the sun, to beach acts that truly wow the crowds. We didn't see any of the sand sculpture folk who normally create amazing 3D works of art. I think they were there, I just don't think we looked hard enough. Rubbish tourists. 

However, our favourite night time act were the Boracay Phoenix Fire Dancers. They were bloody impressive. They were dancing with FIRE! They even came up to us and twirled fire above our heads. It was so close you could feel the heat! I'm sure they singed a few hairs. Unfortunately, we have no pictures of this as we were all too scared to move in case our heads went up in flames. 
I would definitely recommend going to see them. They are located at the Beach Bum Bar (Station 1).

FOOD
Catering to a plethora of tastes, you'll find everything you could possibly want to eat on Boracay. I didn't actually take that many food pictures as I was too busy stuffing the delicious food down my throat. Sorry. From traditional Filipino cuisine to a restaurant catering specifically for Danish folk and everything in between, I was quite overwhelmed by the food choice. I would have needed to stay longer than four days to sample everything. 

My favourite thing however were the fruit juices, specifically watermelon shakes. Oh how I wish I had one to drink now. Sweet, refreshing holiday memories. I didn't just have these on Boracay, but throughout my whole stay in Philippines.  However, the best place for juices on the island is - Jonah's Fruit Shake Bar, located in Station 1 near Friday's Grotto. They also serve food, but we didn't get a chance to sample it. 
Watermelon shakes. My drink of the holiday
All in all, we loved our time in Boracay and will definitely be going back. Mr B enjoyed himself too and was able to take many a photograph thanks to the amazing scenery. Photographers - both amateur and professional - will not be disappointed.

Just one of the many beautiful sunsets we saw
Thinking of going to the Philippines or Boracay? Maybe you've been before. Let me know what you thought.

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