Asia, Philippines
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Boracay Bliss

Boracay. It’s one of those places that locals keep coming back to and that foreigners often include in their Philippine travel plans. Before my trip this past week, I’d never been to Boracay (or Bora, as most Filipinos tend to call it), a fact that surprised a lot of my friends. I’d wondered whether it really was as awesome as people painted it to be or if it was simply overrated. When my sister invited me to join her, I figured it was as good an opportunity as any to go ahead and check it out for myself.

So, is Boracay all hype or is it the real deal? Read on to find out what I thought about it and to get some travel tips!

1) Boracay is beautiful.

More than once, I’d heard that Boracay gets busier and more polluted by the year. Some say it’s a price of its popularity as a tourist destination, but I would think that its reputation for being one of the country’s hotspots should make it all the more important to maintain. After seeing it for myself, I’m happy and proud to be able to say that Boracay is beautiful still. If this is how it looks when it’s been overrun with commercial developments, I can only imagine how much more gorgeous it used to be back in the day.

My first glimpse of the beach was through the alleyway exiting the local shopping area known as D’Mall. I saw towering shrouds of coconut trees, wide lipped beach umbrellas of green and white, and sparkling blue water beyond it. My first barefoot steps on the white sand confirmed that it was just as powdery fine as it appeared to be — and yes, the sand really is white. My first foray into the water was like a jolt to the senses, for how could the water be so cold and refreshing when subjected to such bright sunlight? The sand extends so far from the shore, and since I cannot swim, I loved that I could wander so far in the water and still be able to keep my feet on the sand.

And the colors. There’s the pure white sand, and the water that starts off with this pale blue green that brightens to turquoise and deepens to gorgeous cerulean. Everything’s so vibrant, from the colors of nature to the energy that permeates the salt-infused air. The atmosphere is a combination of lively and laid-back, two things that seem so opposite in definition yet suit a beach setting to a T.

2) It’s an awesome place to go food tripping.

There must be something about the sea breeze that stimulates the appetite. Whether it’s seafood, barbecue, Greek or Italian that you’re craving for, you’re bound to find something that will satisfy your taste buds. Most of the restaurants are located in Station 2 (known as Boracay’s commercial center and is home to D’Mall as well as tons of hotels and bars), but Station 1 also has some notable places to try out. One such establishment is Jonah’s Fruitshake. Obviously, their specialty is their variety of fruit shakes, but I suggest ordering one of their sandwiches or rice meals and make a lunch out of it. Their most popular shakes are the mango banana and the banana chocolate nut. If you’re conscious about your sugar intake, specify less sugar for your drink. Their shakes go for P95 to P185 (around $2.50 to $ 4.50), and you can expect to spend P300 to P450 ($7.50 to $12)  for a complete meal.

Another local staple is Real Coffee and Tea Cafe. Its claim to fame is its calamansi muffins, but it is also known for its all-day breakfast menu. My curiosity was piqued by its name alone, and since I was searching for a special coffee place to feature, I decided to give this a whirl. The calamansi muffin made for a great tropical-inspired snack (P45 each = $1), but the coffee was nothing to write about. For my lunch, I ordered Marc’s Melt (P245 / $6), which is basically a grilled chicken and cheese sandwich. It’s a hearty dish in both size and fixings, though I thought that everything was overpriced.

Looking for some grilled fare? Try Hawaiian Bar-B-Que in Station 2. This was where we had our first lunch and last dinner. Though the service leaves much to be desired, the portions are big (good for sharing, depending on how big your appetite is) and the food is awesome. Best of all, the prices are very reasonable. For my lunch, I got an order of pork barbecue (P185 / $4.50), which came in four packed sticks of deliciously flavored pork, and halved a serving of plain rice (P25 / $0.60). I didn’t even get to finish all four sticks; I was so full already! This here’s a definite must-try.

Not to be missed is D’Talipapa, Boracay’s answer to Manila’s Dampa. Loosely translated to a fish market, this is the place where you’ll find stall after stall of fresh seafood and produce. You buy them by the kilo and pay the stores to cook them for you in the way you prefer and in the sauce you’re craving for. This is a cheap, informal place to eat, and is great for group dining so you can buy several dishes for sharing. Unlike the other restaurants, it isn’t located by the beachfront but is easily accessible via tricycle.

For something to snack on while walking along the beach, try some of the street food! The choriburger is very popular — as the name suggests, it is made of chorizo slices sandwiched in a bun (P50 / $1.2o). It’s very tasty and surprisingly filling.  If you’re up for something a bit more exotic, you can order tenga (literally pig’s ear) which is skewered on a stick barbecue-style (P30 / $0.72). This snack is interesting, for lack of a better word. I’ll go one step further and embarrass myself by posting a series of photos of me trying this for the first time.

Let’s just say that it’s an acquired texture (yes, texture not taste, as the sauce is actually like barbecue sauce). A lot of stalls sell these, but my brother and his friends swear by Mymy’s, which is located before Summer Place in Station 2. I believe they went there nearly everyday that we were in Boracay.

3) The nightlife kicks ass.

Or so I’d heard. I’m no expert on this, but what I experienced was pretty darn cool. As the sun goes down and paints the sky in a dramatic wash of orange, Boracay comes to life in bursts of lights and music. A simple walk along the beachfront will treat you to a cacophony of sounds, running the gamut from reggae, house and club music to conversations in varying tongues, to explosions of laughter and revelry. Then there are the fire dancers who cannot fail to amaze passersby with their grace and skill with handling their chains of fire.

Tucked between restaurants, cafes and convenience stores are bars and clubs that never seem to run out of people. While some may charge a cover fee, most do not. Those along the beachfront usually have an indoor and outdoor section. Some offer live music that you can enjoy over drinks by the beach; others have a DJ to spin tunes for the dancing crowd. Since we were there for Halloween, there was a lot going on — the most memorable of which were the outrageously creative costumes that both tourists and locals donned for the night. There were the usual pirates, nurses and witches (raises hand), and then there were the Avatars, the walking dead and the life-sized feminine pad. Seriously.

For some live music, head to Tito’s Bar on Station 2. Further along, you’ll find Epic Bar. You can choose to either stay inside the modern, glass fronted club, or to chill on one of the lounge chairs near the shore. We enjoyed our stay outside, drinking Blue Illusions while playing pusoy-dos…until the rain suddenly poured, that is.

For more hardcore partying, walk down Station 2 past D’Mall and look for Summer Place. We spent our Halloween there, along with a few hundred and so costumed revelers. Come early if you want to snag a table for yourselves, and be ready to share sweat and spit with the crowd. One of their specialty concoctions is Shark Attack, which tastes like juice but packs a mean punch. When you’ve had too much of the heat and jostling, it’s a simple matter to go outside, sit by the shore, enjoy the cool night breeze. And head right back in. Good times.

4) There’s something for everyone!

They say that if you want peace and relaxation, go to Palawan. If you want parties and excitement, then Boracay’s for you. I disagree. While it’s true that parts of Boracay, particularly Station 2, is quite congested, that’s not the end-all of it. For less crowds and a more chill atmosphere, opt to stay in Station 1. The hotels are pricier than those in Station 2, but you really are able to unwind and enjoy the spacious stretch of White Beach. We stayed at Sur Beach Resort, which was right by the beachfront. The room was spacious, the beds comfy, the aircon and water strong, and the breakfast buffet was delicious. Best of all, we had unlimited use of the cabanas and lounge chairs. It’s perfect for just relaxing with a Kindle, indulging in a massage treatment or enjoying the resort’s happy hour. Boats aren’t allowed to dock in this area, so we could swim (or wade) to our hearts’ content.

For those looking for more action, there’s a lot of water sports on offer. You can go on a tour of Boracay’s beaches via paraw, a traditional double outrigger sailboat. One hour costs P200 ($4.90) per person. We were supposed to do a sunset trip; unfortunately, the group before us extended their ride so we missed the sunset altogether and had to cancel. Taught me not to schedule the important things on my last day.

Many local groups offer jet skiing, canoeing, parasailing and scuba diving. If you’re interested in learning how to skimboard, you can rent a board and hire a local to teach you by the hour. Just walking by the beach, you’re bound to run into at least one local who’ll offer to book you on a tour or an activity.

For those who are in it for the shopping, there’s D’Mall, where you’ll find a good mix of local and branded stores interspersed with food joints. Expect prices to be higher than they would be in Manila. There are also a lot of stalls by the beachfront, selling jewelry, hats, wood carvings and other souvenirs. Beside these are henna tattoo booths, wherein you can either choose one of the templates or have them make/copy a specific design. These usually start at P100 ($2.50), and go up depending on the size and intricacy of your design. Just be careful, as some people, including my sister, have discovered that they’re allergic to henna ink.

And of course, there’s the people watching, one of my favorite activities there. Whether it’s admiring the toned beach bodies, guessing the different nationalities or watching people get more inebriated as the night progresses, you won’t be short of free entertainment. I’ve got a really funny-slash-embarrassing experience with this, but that’s for another entry. 😉

5) It’s worth a second (and third, and fourth…) visit.

While my friends were amazed that it was my first time in Boracay, I was amazed that they go once, even twice, a year. After four days of soaking in the water, tanning under the sun, overindulging in food and drink, and gawking at scantily clad vacationers, what’s my verdict? IS Bora overrated?

Though I won’t be one of Bora’s many regular visitors, I definitely want to go back again. There’s still that paraw that I’ve yet to try, and maybe parasailing, if I can screw up enough courage and ingest enough Dizzitab to counteract my motion sickness. This first time, I did more of chilling by the beach, especially since my companions have all tried the beach attractions. Next time, I’ll hopefully be with other first-timers so we can enjoy the thrill of that first sail together.

People have differing opinions about Boracay, but I believe everyone agrees that it’s worth at least one visit. Have YOU been there yet? What are you waiting for?

// Thanks to my sister for some of the photos. More shots to follow over the coming days! 😉

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