Only an hour flight from Manila, the island of Boracay feels a world away. It is a land of sand and sunshine, exotic fruit shakes, and world-class diving. From the moment I stepped off the ferry and felt the cool island breeze, I knew I’d arrived somewhere special.
Of the over 7,000 islands that make up the Philippines, tiny Boracay is known as the “Pearl of the Archipelago.” Located a stone’s throw north of Panay Island, Boracay is a tropical paradise matched by few others on earth. Crystal-clear, turquoise water laps across a flawless beach of fine white sand. Lush palm trees sway gently beneath a brilliant blue sky that is punctuated by robust, white clouds. Arriving here after 5 days in the hellish heat and humidity of Manila, I truly felt as if I’d taken a flight from Hell’s kitchen to Heaven’s front yard.
But as is so often the case with traveling, getting here was no easy feat. On Tuesday afternoon I headed to the Manila airport to catch my Cebu Pacific flight to Caticlan. Caticlan is a town on the north shore of Panay Island and the main departure point for ferries to Boracay. Arriving at the airport I learned the flight was delayed by over an hour. This disappointing news was amplified when I was told that due to weather conditions we would be landing in Kolibo, some two hours away from Caticlan, then shuttled to our intended destination. In the end this meant that instead of arriving in Boracay around 5:30 p.m., I actually didn’t arrive until after 11:00 p.m. Exhausted, I checked into a recommended hostel called “Friendz Resort” where I ran into a Dutch couple I had met my first day in Manila.
The next day I awoke to a cup of strong black coffee and feasted my eyes on glorious White Beach, a lovely stretch of coast that is the epicenter of activity in Boracay. Stretching nearly the entire west side of the island, White Beach is the place to lay-out, dine, swim, get henna tattooed, massaged, or to just sip a fresh mango shake and squeeze the sand between your toes. The beach is over three miles long and packed with restaurants, resort hotels, massage parlors, touts, souvenir shops and juice bars.
Although modern conveniences can often enhance the experience of a beautiful, natural setting, Boracay’s, and especially White Beach’s main drawback is it’s over-development and over-popularity. On the whole, though, my experience here was great, but the throngs of Korean package tourists and Starbucks coffee shops, at times, brought to mind the term “Paradise Lost.” Like so many other once pristine locations around the world like Bali, Koa Samoui, Cay Caulker, and Maui, the world has long since discovered Boracay and shortly thereafter built a McDonald’s. Well, not a McDonald’s exactly (thank god there isn’t one on Boracay), but you get the point. A fellow traveler expressed his disappointment with the existence of a Starbucks here, shortly before ordering a java-chip frappuccino. I reminded him that there is a Starbucks everywhere in the world, including the Forbidden City in Beijing.
I’ve spent most of my time here relaxing on the beach and partying with a vast array of travelers from around the world, including a troupe of Brazilian acrobats who work for Cirque de Soliel in Macau, China. But the highlight of my time spent here was sailing around the entire island and snorkeling in two prime areas. I was walking the beach one afternoon when I ran into two Canadian guys I had met at the guest house I stayed at in Manila. The three of us decided to do a three hour sailing and snorkeling tour. We began by sailing to the south end of Boracay and snorkeling near Crocodile Island. Unfortunately, I don’t have an underwater camera but, take my word, it was as good or better than any snorkeling I’ve done in Belize, Hawaii or Indonesia. There was an abundance of tropical fish, coral and sea urchins. Sailing around the island also gave us a glimpse of several untouched beaches far away from the commercialism of White Beach. While sailing back we saw one of the most glorious and spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life.
Today I flew back to Manila and tomorrow I’m flying to Ho Chi Min City (Saigon), in Vietnam. I’ve heard a lot about Vietnam, and the general opinion is that it is great if you can get over the fact that you’ll be over-charged for everything if you are a foreigner. More from country 62, Vietnam, in a few days.