Boracay Island is an unusual mix of tropical paradise and Filipino commercialism.
In a country where so many getaways are difficult to access, the relatively advanced infrastructure (I use the term loosely) makes it an accessible weekend destination.
But it is also somewhere you could happily stay for a week enjoying all the activities on offer.
I have visited Boracay at least ten times over the years for these reasons. It was an easy break from the concrete jungle of Manila.
So I have put together this detailed post to try and share as much of the knowledge I have gathered over the years, and give you a head start when planning your holiday.
This is a long post so use the menu below to jump ahead to the section that interests you the most.
In This Post:
- Realistic Expectations
- The Boracay Lifestyle
- Where to Stay
- D’Talipapa (Wet Market) – Bonus Food Tip!
- Boracay Activities
- Safety & Legal Risks
- DIY vs Travel Packages
- DIY Boracay Travel Guide
- Final Word
Boracay is a stunning place and I have always loved coming here. But any natural wonders that you are seeking are likely to be diminished from what they once were.
Over the years the commercial invasion of the island has been well known – and that is half the appeal of the modern Boracay experience.
The over-development and exploitation of the island came to a head in 2019 when it was closed to tourists for six months (a complete overreaction in my opinion and a decision made with very little planning or long term objectives – but don’t get me started on that).
The new Boracay is (apparently) all about responsible and sustainable management of tourism. Which is of course, a good thing.
But you cannot escape the fact that while swimming in glowing turquoise waters you will be staring back at a beachfront Starbucks.
I guess my point is that if you are looking for unspoiled island beauty then you will find plenty of options elsewhere.
If you can accept Boracay for what it is then you will find a destination that is purpose built for the modern tourist (with a hint of Philippines thrown in).
While this is not unique on a list of global tourism hot spots it is actually unique for the Philippines.
Other islands in the Philippines are mostly less developed, have no nightlife, have poor accessibility but will be a much more cultural experience.There are also plenty of unusual experiences to be found elsewhere that are exclusively Filipino.
Modern Boracay doesn’t pretend to be any of these things.
It is the only local destination that offers natural beauty, relatively convenient infrastructure, good food, good nightlife and plenty of decent accommodation to fit any budget.
It is just a fun place for a relaxing and/or action packed holiday.
The Boracay Lifestyle
You have so many options to choose from that the island allows you to be as active or inactive as you like.
Boracay offers water and land activities that are great fun! My first visit there was quite active and I had a great time trying out the various activities.
Every other visit I have taken the laid back route and just enjoyed the water, food, and sunshine… With an afternoon nap whenever I feel like it.
Where to Stay
Boracay is covered in hotels, and half of them seem to be under a constant state of renovation. So if you can find a modern (and complete!) hotel, near the water, for a reasonable price, then you are sure to have a good experience.
The main beach is broken up into four stations which helps you get an easy read on the location when skimming for a deal.
I have included comments on some of the hotels that I would recommend for each station aside from Station 4 – because I have never stayed there.
This is located at the northern end of the island and is where you will find the five star hotels, and a handful of four star.
If you are chasing luxury then this is where you would stay. But unless you want to have a hotel resort experience, where 90% of your time is spent within the hotel then I wouldn’t bother.
The cost is not worth it if you are always out.
But, there are some stunning hotels here with beachfront views, exclusive beach beds, swimming pools and restaurants that can make it needless to go anywhere else.
Not exactly an authentic Philippines experience, but hey, not a bad way to spend a few days.
Station 2 & 3
I have lumped these together as they sit in the central part of White Beach on either side of the main D-Mall.
This is where most of the action is, and has been my go to for all but one trip.
You will be surrounded by plenty of bars, restaurants, hotels and shops. It is also the starting point for most of the water sports.
The price point of the hotels is mid range and the majority are three and four star. You will find some decent budget options too and a handful of hostels.
Middle of the beach, mid price point, middle class people… you get the idea.
If you are traveling with a group of 3-4 people and splitting the cost then a hotel will be as cheap as many in station 4.
Hey Jude – Well Located Budget Hotel
Located right in the center of D-Mall, you cannot get a more convenient location at a bargain-basement price.
The hotel is old and does not have any fancy inclusions like pools, room service or anything like that.
But the rooms are large, nice enough, and the price is very cheap.
Blue Marina – Well Located Mid Range Hotel
This is a much smaller place and hidden in a back alley, and has a feel like you are staying at someone’s house.
It calls itself Station 2, but this is definitely in the Station 3 region. So more of a walk to get back to where the action is.
The rooms are basic but adequate. You will spend most of your time outside anyway and this offers a nice clean option to come home to.
Tides Hotel – Rooftop Pool & Bar
You have a few tiers of room quality to pick from, but all have a nice clean and new feel about it.
The rooftop pool is a highlight. There are day bed, a bar, and relaxed music being played to create a nice atmosphere when you want to get away from the crowds.
Boracay Summer Palace – Stunning Pool!
My stay here was a strange one due to a typhoon that rolled in halfway through the weekend.
The swimming pool area is spectacular. I just didn’t use it – for obvious reasons.
The only thing I didn’t like about this hotel was the alleyway you had to walk down to get to the entrance.
If you recall my story from the Massage section earlier…. This is that alleyway.
This is where you will find the cheaper accommodation of the four areas.
You will not find anything too flashy here, but it is perfectly fine if you just want somewhere to sleep.
Maybe pay a little more attention to the cleanliness of the hotel in reviews prior to booking your hotel. But the vast majority are normal hotels.
I have never actually stayed at Station 4 so I have no personal recommendations. My comments here are based on the many people I have spoken to who have stayed here.
Choose carefully and read reviews and you can find a decent stay for cheap here.
No matter what station you are staying in the view of the water will be just as magical.
You can find some great value hotels with water views from your balcony.
The value in these since the recent crackdown on drinking on the beach has increased if you want to have a quiet beer while you watch the spectacular sunset.
Victory Divers Beach Resort – Affordable Beachfront Hotel
This is one of the cheapest hotels where your balcony overlooks the beach.
The rooms are large and fairly old, but comfortable and the view amazing.
Perfect for those looking to scuba dive. Navigating all the gear at the entrance can be a challenge for those not so inclined.
Boracay Uptown – Rooftop Swimming Pool Overlooking Beach
It is hard to miss the colorful façade of the building, and if you have ever been tp Sparros then you will know where I am talking about.
The swimming pool area sits on the rooftop and overlooks the water in what is one of the more impressive spots on the island.
The price is higher but still manageable for such a great location.
You will find restaurants all along the beachfront and in D-Mall.
Fresh seafood features heavily but it is expensive compared to D’Talipapa Market (more on this later). But you are paying for a more upmarket restaurant experience.
You will find all kinds of cuisine on offer. If you wander around you will find something to suit your mood.
If you are looking for cheaper options then just venture back from the beach and walk along the main road. Here you will find plenty of typical Filipino styles restos.
The quality of food is fine and you can have a decent meal for p100.
At the opposite end you will find most of your western favorites here; McDonalds, Subway, Starbucks, KFC, Pizza Hut etc.
So I wanted to mention a few that sit somewhere in the middle that are worth visiting:
Jonah’s Fruit Shake & Snack Bar
- Location: Beachfront – Station 1
- From D-Mall: 15 minute walk north
- Great for: Breakfast & lunch
This is the go to restaurant for fruit shakes and I make a point of getting one every day!
The banana choc, or the avocado shakes (which are rarely available) are excellent! I would also recommend the watermelon shake as a good hangover cure.
A mid morning visit fruit shake, followed by a swim right out the front of the restaurant is a good lead in to lunch if you wanted to hang around.
They do an exceptional sinigang!
Mesa Filipino Moderne
- Location: Beachfront – Station 2
- From D-Mall: 5 minute walk south
- Great for: Lunch/Dinner
Mesa aims to be an upmarket Filipino restaurant. It is not fine dining by any stretch, but good hearty Filipino food.
Just about every local dish that you could think of is on the menu.
Don Vito Ristorante
- Location: Beachfront – Station 2
- From D-Mall: 5 minute walk south (if you get to Mesa, you have gone too far)
- Great for: Lunch (pizza) and Dinner (seafood)
This is located at the front of the Mandarin Hotel and has seating inside the restaurant, outside near the pool area, and beachfront.
The menu is a mix of classic Italian dishes with some half decent pizza and salads.
If you are in a seafood mood they also have the fresh seafood displays available if you wish to select your meal here.
At night there is usually some live entertainment with a relaxing vibe that makes it a nice place to sit for dinner and a few drinks.
The hotel swimming pool outside the restaurant is the most refreshing thing you will see on a hot day or night.
The way the waterfall flows alongside the dining area just screams jump in me! (which I did once when walking past at 2am and was promptly told to leave by the on-site security guard).
Sea Breeze Café
- Location: Beachfront – Station 2
- From D-Mall: 5 minute walk south (just past Mesa)
- Great for: Lunch (pizza) and Dinner (seafood)
This is a buffet style restaurant where the food looks better than it tastes.
I am not a big fan of the place but it is worth a mention purely for the dancing chefs. Luckily you don’t have to eat there to see them.
After dinner just go to a bar nearby and when its showtime you are free to walk over and watch the spectacle.
This happens a couple of times a night and is entertaining for a few minutes.
D’Talipapa (Wet Market) – Bonus Food Tip!
I wanted to include this as it was my favorite part of the Boracay experience. But unfortunately the D’Talipapa complex was damaged by fire in 2017 and closed down.
A new market has opened up near Station 3 called Tindahan it Boracay. I have not yet had a chance to try it but I would assume it to offer much of the same thing.
I made a daily trip to D’Talipapa in the mid afternoon for a big feast of lobster, prawns (shrimp), crab, squid, or anything else I felt like on the day.
Sounds expensive right?
In my experience, two to four people could eat until they drop for about p2,000 all up ($50 US) depending on what you buy.
Much cheaper than you will find at the waterfront restaurants!
Of course, you will have to haggle on price. Again the best tip here is to have a local negotiate on your behalf if you are traveling with one, or have met one along the way.
The market was surrounded by restaurants that cook up your recently purchased seafood for a couple of hundred pesos with your choice of sauce and rice included.
I am sure that some enterprising locals have setup similar offerings around the new market.
It was not a flashy experience in terms of your surroundings, but the food was amazing!
Here we will provide you with just an overview of what is on offer. As you can see there is a lot and it really needs it’s own post.
Be sure to check out our detailed post for a complete list of Boracay activities for all the details on each activity, and more!
There are lots of beaches on the island. The majority of which get very few visitors.
They are all just a short tricycle ride away if you are in the mood to do some exploring.
- White Beach – where all the action is!
- Puka Shell Beach – northern tip of the island.
- Ilig-Iiligan Beach – quiet and isolated island hideaway
- Bulabog Beach – hub for water sports
There is a long list of water sports and you will see both White Beach and Bulabog beach a hype of activity every day, and into the evening with these activities:
- Banana Boat
- Cliff jumping
- Helmet Diving
- UFO Ride
- Paddle Boarding
- Jet Skiiing
- Mermaid Swimming
- Island Hopping
- Scuba Diving
- Glass Bottom Boating
- Aqua Fun recreation Park
- Kite surfing
- Wind Surfing
Plenty on offer for those who prefer dry land. This list is excluding nightlife – which we will get to shortly.
- ATV Tour
- Tindahan it Boracay (Wet) Market
- Regular Markets
- Shopping in D-mall
- Rock Climbing
- Reverse Bungee (p1,700)
The nightlife is the best you will find on a Filipino island. But this is mostly because other islands have none!
The bars can be very hit & miss. One night a venue will be buzzing with people and have a packed dance floor, with great tunes playing.
The next it will be deserted with cheesy garbage blaring through the speakers.
Best to not get attached to any one spot and float around until you find a vibe that you enjoy.
There are countless quiet bars along the beachfront area. Those mentioned below are more geared towards the party side of things.
Wave Bar & Lounge
This is my favorite bar as it has a few options for your surroundings, and probably the only place with a bit of class (the indoor part anyway).
There is an upstairs area with bar, dance floor and gets a pretty good atmosphere when it draws a crowd.
If it doesn’t the pub crawl will roll in at some stage and the place will be packed for half an hour.
Downstairs is an outdoor bar, and across from there, you can sit on the beach area.
This venue sits right at the entrance to D-Mall facing the beach.
During the day it is a restaurant, and by night it transforms into a bar with loud music playing.
The layout is very open and faces the beach. Seating outside closer to the water is also available here if you need some quiet time.
This is usually the last place that is open and can become a bit trashy in the early morning hours.
A walk into the darkness in either direction will also probably lead to some kind of approach from a hooker – both female and shemale.
If you are traveling solo then this is your best chance to find a group of people to drink with for the night.
You will visit four to five bars on the night and will have the chance to get loose with a new group of people every night.
Always good for a laugh.
We also have detailed the epicness of the Boracay pub crawl in a separate post.
These guys will show up to many of the restaurants and bars up and down the beach, and will likely wow you on your first visit.
But the more you see them they can actually become quite annoying.
The skill level they show is impressive and the novelty of having someone twirl flames inches from your head, or land a flaming ball in your lap for a second definitely has the shock value.
Of course, they will want tips for the show – which is fair when you want it. When you don’t they will hang around longer and sweat all over you.
Safety & Legal Risks
Boracay is generally a safe place and as long as you behave yourself it is easy to stay out of trouble.
Many laws were given an overhaul after the reopening of the island in late 2019 so you may want to ask on arrival if you have any concerns.
Laws are often selectively enforced throughout the Philippines you can expect that little leniency will be shown to a foreigner, and any concessions will cost you a ton.
Aside from all the usual precautions, you should take when engaging in water sports and swimming there are a few additional things that you should be wary of on the island.
This is a big industry on the island, but not on the same scale as you will find in other tourism hot spots.
So it is easy to ignore and does not pose a threat of any kind.
However, there are a number of scams attached to illegal prostitution in the Philippines. If you choose to get involved you are putting yourself in a vulnerable position.
Instances of theft are fairly low here and the same common sense you would apply anywhere is adequate.
Two pieces of advice here:
- Don’t get drunk and fall asleep on the beach at night.
- Try not to leave valuables on the beach when swimming.
The current Government has taken a very hard line on drugs and is something that any foreigner should avoid at all costs.
Drinking & Smoking
Since the closure of the island in 2019 drinking and smoking on the beach is now banned.
This limits what was once a very open attitude towards these activities and you should look for updated guidance on the current rules on arrival.
DIY vs Travel Packages
Boracay is such an easy destination to travel to that I would always recommend that people DIY.
Plus I think it is important to have control over the hotel accommodation that you stay in. There are so many to choose from and the quality varies a lot!
However, the domestic packages on offer are great value! Airfares, transfers, and hotels for as low as p7,000 ($160) for a two night stay.
These will be very basic, but they are more than adequate for a fun weekend!
DIY Boracay Travel Guide
Caticlan is right near the port. Just a two minute tricycle ride.
It is a small airport with limited capacity so you will find that the flights here can be expensive – especially for the Caticlan -> Manila leg of the journey.
It will save you a stack of time though so check the price of flights anyway. You can get lucky from time to time.
This route is much cheaper and therefore much more popular.
Kalibo is about 45 minutes from the docks ate Caticlan and there are transport options running constantly between the two. Your options are:
- Bus – The buses are nice and air conditioned. It is a slower trip but it is cheap and comfortable.
- Van – It is slightly faster, but very cramped and uncomfortable. Unless you are in a hurry stick to the bus.
- Private car – this is up for negotiation and a fair price is p1,000. If you have people to split the cost with, do it! Best money you will spend on this journey.
Once you come out of the airport there will be desks everywhere selling tickets to the desired option.
Boat (Caticlan -> Port)
The whole terminal experience is the perfect case study in inefficiency that plagues the Philippines (but at least it provides a few extra jobs).
If you are a first time visitor you won’t care but by the tenth visit, it does get a little trying.
The ticketing process will take you to multiple windows to pay the plethora of fees
- Boat ticket
- Terminal Fee
- Environmental fee
All I am happy to pay, but one window/payment/ticket would surely achieve the same!
The closure of the island in 2019 for environmental reasons makes you wonder where the proceeds of this environmental fee have gone over the years…. But I digress.
You then walk through an airport like security process with bag screening. The only difference is that no one is really looking at x-ray footage, or checking bags at all.
But someone does stand there making sure everyone walks through the little gate.
From there you have to fill out a form at a wide desk with your name, nationality, hotel stay address and a few other things.
To this day I don’t really know why…. But just smile and get it over with.
Then you proceed to a gate where someone rips off one of your three tickets. Then to another gate where someone rips the next ticket.
After a short wait for the next available boat, you then have another ticket ripped upon boarding.
Warning: Your bags may be placed on the roof of the boat. They do cover them but if there is rain they will get wet.
Before the boat leaves everyone has to put on a life jacket (a relatively new rule after an accident took place) and sign a waiver form (another form!).
This all takes much longer than you would expect and it is a relief to finally pull away from the dock for the boat ride.
Which will take all of five minutes!
Tricycle (Port -> Hotel)
Once you get off the boat there will be a line of tricycles waiting to take you to your hotel.
This will be the most expensive tricycle you will pay for on this trip (by a long way) but the fares are standardized (p120-p150)so you can have some confidence that you are not being ripped off.
You can fit up to four people and luggage on a tricycle – but don’t expect a comfortable ride if you do!
The journey should take 10-20 minutes depending on which end of the island you are staying.
Sometimes longer if there is traffic and/or a flooded road. This happens a lot!
What I love about Boracay is the freedom to do as much or as little as you feel like it on the day.
There are so many possible activities that you will not get bored. But I found that most days I opted to eat, drink, and swim.
It is a relaxing tropical atmosphere that is a great escape from everyday life, that comes with most of the comforts that a westerner would be used to.
Do not expect this to be an authentic cultural Filipino experience. It is a tropical paradise that has been overrun with commerce – but it is what it is and I have always enjoyed visiting the island.