Boracay Island in the Philippines reopened its doors to local and foreign tourists late last year after a six-month rehabilitation project. Even after the closure, it remains one of the top beaches in Asia, according to a recently released TripAdvisor poll.
This guide will walk you through the changes to Boracay, and offer up our tips to make the most of this paradise. With the new enhancements that are being done in phases, Boracay is now even more beautiful.
Why Was Boracay Closed Originally?
In 2018, Boracay was shuttered by the government after reports of trash littering the island and untreated sewage finding its way to the island’s beaches and waters. After these reports and a viral video of sewage spewing into the ocean, a personal visit by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte resulted in an order that the island be shutdown. He described the conditions as a “cesspool.”
The beach was closed from April to October 2018.
The government spearheaded cleanup measures and forced businesses to be compliant to new sanitation requirements. Additionally, new visitor capacity controls went into effect.
As of today, the government has imposed a limit of 6,405 visitors allotted each day, making a trip to Boracay a rare treasure. This number is based on a calculation that the island as a whole could only handle 19,215 people, with a third allocated to tourists.
Boracay After The Cleanup
The first soft opening to locals happened last October. Another soft opening to tourists is happening in April 2019. Finally, a full grand reopen is scheduled for December. The result is a cleaner, safer and less-crowded paradise.
Airlines are being told to reduce their flights schedule to keep to the new tourist caps. Additionally, single-use plastics will also be banned from the island.
The island features several distinct white sand beaches found in its less than four-square-mile area.
In 2018, Boracay was at the number two spot out of 25 Asian beaches in TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Award. TripAdvisor’s ranking of beaches is determined by the quality and quantity of reviews and rankings for beach destinations, restaurants, hotels, and attractions on the islands, and traveler booking interest.
Boracay’s most popular beach is White Beach, famous for remarkable sunsets and pure white sand that stays cool even in hot Philippines weather.
Aside from Boracay, two other Philippine beaches located in El Nido made it on TripAdvisor’s list including Nacpan Beach and Las Cabanas Beach.
When to Visit Boracay
The Philippines has two distinct wet and dry seasons. The wet season begins around June and ends late in October. The dry season, obviously the best time to visit, can start as early as mid-October and runs through May. June is historically the wettest month while February is the driest.
Getting to Boracay
The easiest way to get to Boracay is flying from Manila. From the U.S., Philippines Airlines has nonstop service to Manila from Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Vancouver. Otherwise, there are plenty of one stop options to get to Manila.
From Manila airport’s domestic terminal, you would then fly to the island of Panay in the Visayas. You have two options of airports: Caticlan (closer, but much smaller with fewer flights and often higher fares) or Kalibo, which is farther away but has more carriers that serve the airport and offer cheaper fares, more flights, and more reliable service. The flight time from Manila to either airport is about one hour.
There are also a few direct international routes to Kalibo like from Seoul, Singapore, Beijing, and more.
If you’re buying your tickets with cash, I suggest using a card like the American Express Platinum that earns 5x Membership Rewards points per dollar for airfare. If you are using Membership Rewards points to book, the best card is the American Express Business Platinum Card where you could get 35% of the points back with your selected qualifying airline.
Juicy Miles: Award Booking To Boracay
Transferring From The Airport To Boracay
Once you get the airport of your choice on Panay Island, you will need to take a ferry to Boracay. The ferry port is located in Caticlan. Getting from the airport to the ferry terminal in Caticlan is most often done by a 1 ½ to 2 hour trip by air conditioned bus or private mini-van, called V-Hires.
After arriving in Caticlan Jetty Port, you will board a bangka (local name for a motorized pump boat) and pay the required tourist fees:
- Bangka Ferry Boat: 30 Pesos/USD $0.60
- Environmental Fee: 75 Pesos/USD $1.50
- Terminal Fee: 100 Pesos/USD $2
Once on the island of Boracay, trikes are the most common mode of transit for locals and visitors in the Philippines. If you haven’t tried it yet, it’s an experience!
Boracay Island Layout
Boracay is a small island of only four square miles.
White Beach is the prominent part of the island and is divided into three “stations” or areas where the ferry has a stop. Station 3 is where the ferries from Caticlan let passengers off onto the island of Boracay.
A Mini-Guide To Boracay’s White Beach
These stations run north (Station 1) to south (Station 3) on the thin strip (4 ½ miles long with the narrowest point being about one-half mile wide) which make up the island.
Right off of Station 1, visitors will find the Blessed Virgin Mary Grotto, a religious shrine built upon what is referred to as Willy’s Rock by the locals. The rock is a volcanic outcropping found about 100 meters from the beach. At low tide it is an easy walk to the spot. It is often said that visitors to Boracay haven’t really visited if they don’t get a picture with the grotto in the background. It is the most photographed landmark on the island.
White Beach has two sections that that run parallel to each other. First, there is the White Beach path and second, there is the actual beach. The path runs in front of the hotels, shops and restaurants facing the world-class beach. It is separated from the beach itself by rows of palm trees.
This is a great feature of White Beach as it keeps foot traffic down while you are lounging.
White Beach is a very good place for swimming, since the water is usually calm, has no current and only gradually gets deeper as you move outward away from the shore. Visitors can sometimes walk out 100 meters before reaching neck-deep water.
Is White Beach Super Crowded?
During morning hours, the beach is relatively quiet. In the afternoon, more people start to come to the beach especially as sunset approaches. Sunsets to be experienced from the western-facing White Beach are simply glorious. Sunset times are pretty consistent as the island sits fairly close to the equator; about 11 degrees north. You can expect sunsets to occur around 6:00pm — as early as around 5:30pm in November and December and as late as 6:30pm in June and July.
What Else Is At White Beach?
The main attraction of White Beach is not only its beauty, but also its hotels, restaurants, nightlife, and activities.
In the evenings, the bars get crowded and the island’s nightlife kicks into gear. A reminder though that with the new changes in effect, alcoholic beverages are forbidden on the beaches of Boracay. You will find that this is strictly enforced so you are better off drinking at the bar, restaurants, pool or your hotel room.
Other Boracay Beach Choices
Besides the award-winning White Beach, Boracay has numerous other selections which can satisfy the wishes of beach-goers. Here are the top beaches on the island:
- Balinghai Beach
- Bulabog Beach
- Diniwid Beach
- Ilig Iligan Beach
- Puka Beach
- Tambisaan Beach
Lesser Known Local Boracay Beaches:
- Cagban Beach (close to the jetty where tourists arrive on Boracay)
- Lugutan Beach (primarily mangroves)
- Malabunot Plaza Beach (my favorite local beach that is less crowded with very few tourists)
- Manoc Manoc Beach (used as a supplies point for the island)
- Tulubhan Beach (local beach; you’ll probably never see another tourist)
Accommodations In Boracay
As a result of the conditions and restoration of the island, all hotels must be certified by the Philippines Department of Tourism (DoT). As of this writing, there are 180 hotels that are approved. If you do not have a reservation with one of these certified hotels, you will not be able to travel to and set foot on Boracay.
Of the 180 hotels, you will find hostels, bed and breakfasts, hotels and resorts. However, most Airbnb listing are NOT approved by the DoT so unless they are listed under the ownership of an approved hotel, don’t risk booking as you may be denied entry into Boracay.
My Favorite Hotel On The Island
One of the island’s best properties is the Mövenpick Resort & Spa Boracay. It has 312 rooms on approximately 8 ½ acres. It sits in a secluded hideaway far from the all the island action. However the main three areas of White Beach (the aforementioned stations) are easily reached.
It shares the partially exclusive cove with high-end neighboring resorts Crimson and the Shangri-La, and also has the biggest pool on the island.
This is my favorite hotel on the island, and I love the Mövenpick product in the Philippines. Mövenpick is a Swiss-based company that was acquired by AccorHotels with more than 80 properties across the globe. They have two properties in the Philippines; Boracay and Mactan (the island on which the Cebu-Mactan Airport sits).
Rooms and beds can be found in Boracay for as cheap as $20 (in the form of hostels) to more than $400/night for a luxury resort. Good accommodations, including free breakfast can be found easily for around $36/night.
In its 2019 Travelers’ Choice Award, TripAdvisor said Boracay Island’s “calm, warm waters, and gently sloping sand made it possibly the most beautiful beach in Asia.”
Now re-opened, the cleanliness, improved infrastructure and daily capacity limits certainly make it a more enjoyable experience for the just over 6,000 guests given the unique opportunity to visit each day.
My suggestion? Book now before the rest of the world catches back up to this island gem.
Is a visit to beautiful Boracay Island on your bucket list?