After finding a good last-minute deal online for hotel+flights, I headed off to the island of Boracay in the Philippines for a long weekend. I have to admit, I’d never even heard of the place until a friend informed me that it was one of the most beautiful places they had ever visited and I started to look into it. Turns out Boracay has won numerous awards for its long, white beaches and now I can see why – it’s absolutely stunning!
I stayed at the Shangri-La at the northern tip of the island. While it’s a bit pricier than most of the other hotel choices, it’s well worth the extra money for the transfer to and from the hotel alone. On top of that, the hotel has amazing facilities, private beaches, an incredible spa and huge rooms (I was in the cheapest one and it was still massive). The airport transfer really puts this hotel in a different league to the others: Boracay can only be accessed by boat from the mainland airport of Cataclan, and the Shangri La has it’s own jetties with air-conditioned waiting rooms for you to chill out in as you wait for a private speed boat that takes you directly into the hotel.
As a result of going during the off-season (hence the cheap(er) deal on the whole thing), the weather was not fantastic. After one day of blue skies and sunshine, it was stormy the rest of the weekend, making the water conditions too dangerous for any boat trips or snorkelling. To keep me occupied inside, I signed up to the yoga class (ouch), the aerobics class (double ouch) and then decided to go through a full work out plan with one of the hotel’s extremely good personal trainers. I realise this makes me sound like a masochist, but the buffet breakfasts were so good that I had to do something to justify eating that much every morning!
During my one sunny day, I managed to explore the rest of the island, starting from the D Mall shopping area. Heading north, takes you along “Stage 1” of the White Beach, where the more upmarket and trendy hotels are; “Stage 2” has some cool restaurants and bars and is a bit less expensive; then “Stage 3” is where all the hostels are and many locals live.
As day turned to night, the beach really came to life and many of the restaurants and bars extend onto the sand, a few of them also hosting “fire shows”. At these, the dancers (mostly lady-boys) swing fire poi around on the beach, occasionally coming closer to swing them worryingly close to the audience members’ heads… Definitely worth checking out after dinner for a few drinks (although avoid the ones that make you pay an entry fee; go for the ones where you only have to buy a drink).
I ate so much at the hotel’s breakfast that I never managed lunch, but going out for dinner ended up being one of my favourite things about Boracay. I headed over to D’Talipapa Market, where you can buy fantastic live seafood for a cheap price (very cheap if you’re willing to spend some time and energy haggling and playing stall holders off one another) and then pay per 100g to have it cooked whatever way you like at the restaurants surrounding the market – it’s such a great system!
I enjoyed some wonderful garlic shrimp and chilli crab for a fraction of the price I would have paid in any other restaurant on the island, and it was so fresh that it had been kicking around just minutes before.
How to get there: there are flights every hour from Manila airport to Caticlan; just make sure that your hotel can arrange a boat transfer from Caticlan to Boracay island for you.
Holly’s Top Tip: get dinner from D’Talipapa market!