Getting the best out of Boracay
So you’ve heard about Boracay. You’re not alone. In the past few years this small island in the Philippines has ridden a global wave of media attention to become one of the world’s top island destinations. But that notoriety presents a new challenge for the visitor: sorting through the endless options of where to stay, what to eat and what to do.
Gone are the days when you settled into your nipa hut charmed by the fact that it had no electricity. Today the centrepiece of Boracay, glorious White Beach, is lined from one end to the other with hotels, restaurants, bars and dive shops several blocks deep. Much has sprung up elsewhere in Boracay, too. There’s no doubt that you can find what you want, at any price level – you just need to know where to look. Here are a few of our top picks in White Beach, Diniwid Beach and Bulabog Beach to get you started.
If you’re a budget traveller looking for a place to stay, fear not, Boracay has not forgotten you. A short walk from White Beach brings you to Frendz Resort, where you’ll find a winning recipe: cosy rooms, attractive prices, and a community atmosphere enabled by live music, bar food and cheap cocktails. Best of all, they have their own beach beds.
Moving up the scale, the new Hey! Jude South Beach offers large and attractive minimalist rooms, all facing the sea. Breakfast is taken by the beach path, the perfect start to the day. Taking the design award is Boracay Pito Huts, a collection of seven (‘pito’) wooden bungalows that are completely unique, with angled walls and twilight interiors that captivate after a day in the sun. They sit on poles over the sand, in a private stockade, which feels amazingly secluded for its location.
At the high end, you cannot beat Discovery Shores. Its fantastic modern design, like a small white city, boasts chic one-bedroom lofts that are the best rooms on the island, while its private beach, bar, and lobby all flow into one another like a well-mixed cocktail. And if you think you’ve encountered fine hospitality before, a few moments with the well-trained staff here will forever raise your standards.
While you can find excellent accommodation elsewhere, White Beach remains the centre of the island’s dining scene. Think of it as a linear food court.
For breakfast, the hot new favourite is Sunny Side Cafe, where even the most standard menu items are given a fresh spin. With its artsy mellow vibe, and alfresco Mediterranean cuisine, another newcomer, Aplaya, will capture you for hours – particularly in its beachside beanbag chairs. Another new waterfront favourite is Cozina, where the progressive Spanish menu rivals the best of Barcelona and Ibiza.
Burnt out on White Beach? For peace and quiet, just head around the headland at the northern end. Here you’ll find Diniwid Beach, an attractive scallop of sand between a verdant valley and the sea.
Diniwid is a world away from the package-tour scene, while still offering some high-quality, and very interesting, accommodation.
The iconic Spider House is a bamboo hotel that clings to the headland at the far end of the beach. You approach through a cave, then wend your way through stairs and ladders into thatched rooms with astonishing views. This is not just a hotel, it is an experience, and one you’ll long remember. Nearby Nami is a higher-end cliffside hotel, with a bamboo elevator (you’ll need it) and its own restaurant. Oozing tropical romance, it’s a honeymooner’s delight.
For those wanting a truly private getaway, you can’t beat Diniview. These five beautifully designed villas high up the valley offer grand views from dreamy decks, lots of space, and everything you need for an extended stay, including full kitchens, hammocks to die for, and a communal pool. It’s a hike to the beach but an electric shuttle is coming, and quite frankly, you may wish to stay put!
The other main alternative to White Beach, Bulabog Beach is the island’s watersports capital, noted for its attractive, laid-back community vibe. This is one of the world’s windsurfing and kitesurfing hot spots, so if you’re reasonably athletic, don’t miss the chance to get lessons from an expert.
Places like Hangin Kite Center & Resort also offer beachside accommodation, so the opportunity exists to have a completely sporting vacation with like-minded folks. Otherwise some great new places to stay have sprung up here in recent years, at both ends of the price spectrum.
High-rise MNL hostel has rapidly become the budget choice on this side of the island, with a rooftop lounge, free breakfast, and karaoke nights. Palassa Private Residences is an artsy boutique hotel decorated with the outstanding works of an eccentric local painter, Antonio Gelito San Jose, Jr, whose studio is at one end of the building. Stylish decor also defines nearby Pahuwayan Suites, with its grand ocean views, and the impeccably furnished Aissatou Beach Resort. Room 12, a fantastic waterview one-bedroom, is great value.
Boracay nightlife and spas
To culminate your stay, Boracay gives you a choice: either go out with a bang, or submerge into bliss.
The former is epitomized by the Area 51 Secret Party Facility, which is not only one of the best club names ever, but also host to the best, and largest, parties on the island (and that’s saying something). Hidden just south of Bulabog Beach, you’ll find plenty of food, drink, fire dancing, tribal drumming, and 500 new friends, as long as it’s a full or black moon.
If you’re inclined in the other direction, surrender yourself at the Asian temple of Tirta Spa, or the natural Eden of Mandala Spa, and have one of their 90-minute signature massages. Just beware: while it’s never easy to leave Boracay for the real world, these alluring retreats make it nearly impossible.
When to Go
Finally, a word of caution: think twice about visiting Boracay during the off-season, June to October. Strong wind, frequent rain, and the occasional typhoon translate into unsightly windscreens, hotels under renovation, and the potential for a cancelled trip. Outside this period, any time is a good time to go, but it’s wise to try to avoid the holiday crush during Easter, Christmas and New Year.
Paul Stiles has covered islands from Madagascar to Indonesia and Hawaii for Lonely Planet. Most recently he has been on the road researching in Boracay and Western Visayas.