by Jayna Valen
Boracay! The jewel of the Philippines, some say. Cerulean-turquoise waters, tropical sun, over seven thousand islands, fresh seafood, succulent mangoes and all the great things Southeast Asia has to offer. The place has always been a mystery to me, and I’m glad I finally set foot there.
Scenery, view and island vibe
The best thing about the combination of tropical sunlight, lush volcanic-soil vegetation and clear seawater is the way the colors come alive. Emerald-chartreuse greens punctuated by lazy seabirds, sparkling sapphire waters fading into the golden-white sand. A literal feast for the eyes. It’s the kind of island where you can sit around all day, eating dragonfruits and letting the purple juice run down your chin, taking in the dazzling brilliance of your surroundings and just do absolutely nothing. Yes, it’s that beautiful.
Vibe-wise, it’s laid back. Quiet and relaxed. Not overly crowded with touristy types. Most people on the island appear to be simple village folk. They live fuss-free lives, plying their trade, usually selling local produce and seafood. It’s a far cry from the booze-and-drug-fuelled-party-hype of Balinese and Thai beach nightlife; nothing like the backpacker islands on the Malaysian East Coast either. Boracay is like a legendary island princess – exotic, mysterious and modest, whose real beauty is to be seen and appreciated by the chosen few. Don’t come here for crazy drunken nights and full moon parties.
Seafood is cheap, fresh and plentiful. Prices are reasonable at tourist-standard spots. The main area in town where most restaurants are based is called D’Mall – not quite a mall, more like an open-air area of eateries, souvenier shops, clothing stalls and the usual stuff catering to tourists.
If you’re from Malaysia or Indonesia, be prepared for the ‘unusual’ taste of some dishes. I’m adventurous and adaptable enough, but I’ve heard many complaints along the lines of ‘Filipino food tastes very weird”. There’s a mini supermarket in town where you can buy stuff like toiletries, milk, cookies, instant coffee, bread and crackers. I found that prices at this place were quite high.
I’ll be honest; I didn’t quite like the fish and chips fried in coconut oil (yes, coconut oil of all things – The Hobbit Tavern) and the bland soup featuring a sad chunk of chicken with the life boiled out of it (Jeepney). On the other hand, the grilled squid was great, with just the right amount of flavor and tangy zest (Jeepney), as was the seafood pasta (The Hobbit Tavern). Stay away from the soupy stuff and you should be fine. Food in general is not overly spicy.
Local tip: A wonderful Filipino girl at Jeepney did this for me and my friend when we said we were Malaysian. She chopped up some bird’s eye chillies, put the pieces into a saucer and poured some salty soy sauce over it. Then, she squeezed lime juice into the mix and gave it a good stir, before telling us to use it as a dip for seafood. It was literally AMAZING. I would’ve never thought something so simple could bring out the subtle flavours of seafood so well, and it had just the right amount of zing. Perfect!
Places to stay
Accommodation is easily available, from budget to more high-end places. I stayed at Shangri-La Boracay because my friends work there, and we got the rooms for free (lucky me). And Shang being Shang, there’s nothing much to say about it except everything was literally perfect. The resort is gorgeous, the architecture and landscaping stunning. You’re waited on hand and foot by extremely attentive staff. In other words, Shangri-La = an impeccable experience in all ways. The only downside was that the resort was on the other end of the island, and getting ‘out’ was impossible by foot. However, they had regular shuttles to town for that purpose.
Forget it. If you already have experience travelling in Southeast Asia, there’s literally nothing new to buy here. It’s all the same stuff again and again. Beach dresses, shell jewellery, keychains, wife-beaters, mugs, tote bags and Rasta-themed red-yellow-green stuff (I never figured out Boracay’s obsession with reggae culture, but I bought a Bob Marley pareo anyway because I’m a huge fan). Virgin coconut oil is sold everywhere, as are local dried mangoes. And oh, they have purses made of real, whole bullfrogs, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Tropical mostly with occasional rain. Plan carefully around the island’s monsoon seasons as the weather can change drastically. We went out sightseeing one night and were suddenly caught in a full-blown typhoon that came out of nowhere. Best to carry a light raincoat or foldable umbrealla when you’re out and about.
Filipino pesos. It appears that exchange rates are far better in your own country, unless you carry US Dollars with you. Money changers are easy to find.
I didn’t go to any clubs, but the island seemed to generally lack good nightlife. Nobody tried to sell me drugs or sex either.
There’s the usual like snorkeling, diving, paraw sailing, catamaran, yacht, jetski and more. PADI courses are offered on Boracay, but I decided to do mine in the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia.
Great place to go for a couple, a bunch of friends or with family. Expect slightly higher prices and be wary of the monsoon season (the typhoons in the Philippines are not to be taken lightly). I wouldn’t recommend single travellers to go here as there isn’t all that much to do alone.