Mention a long weekend getaway on a beach resort island and places like Phuket, Langkawi or Bali comes to mind usually. These are all time favourites of Singaporeans and many other tourists. However, there is another island getaway that is within reach of our Little Red Dot and although it is well known, it doesn’t usually feature on the radar of our local vacationers. This is the island of Boracay in the Philippines.

Getting There

Getting to Boracay from Singapore isn’t the most convenient journey which may explain why it isn’t as popular a long weekend island getaway as compared to places like Phuket or Bali. As Boracay lies in the Philippines, a flight there itself takes almost 4 hours from Singapore. Add to that another 2-3 hours of additional transfers and almost the whole day is spent on travelling there.

There 2 routes to get to Boracay. The first way is to fly to Manila (4 hours flight time), then catch a domestic flight to Caticlan (1 hour flight time). And from Caticlan airport take a tricycle taxi to Caticlan jetty (5 minutes).

The second way is to fly to Kalibo (4 hours flight time) and take a bus/minivan to Caticlan jetty (1.5-2 hours). This route is more popular now because of international budget airlines like Tiger Airways and AirAsia which fly to Kalibo.

From Caticlan jetty, take the ferry service to Boracay which is around 10-15 minutes ride.

Either way, Your total journey time is going to take easily between 6-7 hours. For ourselves, we left Singapore in the morning to Kalibo and only checked into our hotel in Boracay at around 7pm in the evening. So if you are in a rush to enjoy your long weekend and want to maximize your time, then Boracay may not be the right destination for you.

Kalibo to Boracay

This blog is about the second option since this is the one that we took for this trip in June.

Kalibo airport 1
Kalibo airport is designated for international flights and is able to handle larger planes compared to Caticlan airport. However, it’s still a small airport, so don’t expect first class facilities. Another plus is that flights to Kalibo are cheaper than flying to Caticlan.
Kalibo airport 2
If you decide to take the Kalibo route, you will need to book your land transfer to Caticlan jetty and ferry to Boracay. You can do everything yourself, or like us, we got the hotel to arrange everything for a small premium. The main transport company is Southwest and their counter is on the right side of the airport after you exit the building. They are wearing the bright orange shirts.
Southwest 1
We got an air-conditioned coach when we arrived in Kalibo. The bus journey took 2 hours to get to Caticlan jetty because of rain and slow traffic.
Kalibo town 3
A passing glimpse of Kalibo city as we travelled towards Caticlan.
Kalibo town 2
There are no taxis. This is the main form of public transport in Kalibo and the surrounding villages. If you are flying into Caticlan airport and need to get transport to the jetty, this will probably be what you will be taking.
Caticlan jetty 1
Caticlan jetty’s terminal building where you have to go through security before boarding the ferry to Boracay. There are additional environmental and terminal fees to pay if you are going about on your own. However, all these are included in the land transfer package and the porters will hand you the required tickets and guide you through the jetty terminal.
Caticlan jetty 2
Depending on your luck, you may end up taking these out-rigger boats, or for ourselves we managed to get a large ferry. Either way, enjoy the ride.
Boracay jetty 1
We finally reached Boracay jetty and were met by our hotel pickup. One thing to note is that many of the hotels on White Beach are not directly accessible from the main road. If you get your own transport to your hotel from the jetty, they will let you down at the closest side street and you have to drag your luggage through the sand to your hotel. For us, we booked through the hotel and they sent a porter to carry our luggage through the beach.

Boracay Back to Kalibo

Again, you can arrange the transfer from Boracay to Kalibo yourself or get your hotel to arrange it. We got our hotel to arrange it and it was seamless as we didn’t have to worry about buying tickets for the ferry or looking for the correct bus. The total cost of a round trip transfer from Kalibo-Boracay-Kalibo is around 1,400 pesos if you book directly with Southwest.

Kalibo town 1
On our return trip from Boracay to Kalibo we got a minivan which was faster and took around 1.5 hours to make the same trip.

For the return flight to Singapore on Tiger Airways, the flight is at 3.20pm.This means that we had to leave our hotel by 10am latest. We arrived at Kalibo airport by 12pm and we had more than 3 hours before boarding our flight. Being a small airport, there aren’t many options for food inside the airport.

Kalibo airport 3
On the second floor of the airport after passing through immigration into the transit lounge are several duty free and souvenir shops. A good thing if you want to clear your pesos or buy that last minute item. They do accept SGD but at a discounted exchange rate.
kalibo airport 4
There are a couple of snack shops selling tit-bits and the most filling food is cup noodles.

So if you want more substantial food like a full lunch, you’d be better off exiting the terminal building and making your way to the various restaurants across the road. However, if you have already entered the terminal and checked in your flight and exit the terminal, you will have to go through security checks again at the entrance of the terminal when you come back.

Kalibo airport 5
For better food options at Kalibo airport, go to the restaurants and cafes across the road. You can do this before you enter the airport, otherwise, you need to go through security checks again if you leave the terminal building.
Airport tax counter
An important point to take note of is that you need to pay a 700 peso airport tax (per person) before you leave Kalibo. This can only be paid in cash and in pesos. So put aside 700 pesos for this and don’t spend all of it in Boracay.

Boracay

At 7km long and less than 3km at it’s widest point, Boracay is really tiny. It earned it’s fame in 2012 when it was declared one of the best islands in the world to visit in Travel & Leisure magazine. Along with fame has come commercialization, and these days the island is not known just for it’s beaches but also as a party destination. If you are looking for sun, sand, sea and booze (and sex if you are single) then this is paradise. But if you are looking for a cultural experience then you are better off looking elsewhere.

The main tourist hangout is White Beach on the western side of the island. Here you will find the majority of hostels, hotels, restaurants, pubs and beach front activities. There are a few other luxury resorts located in more secluded areas of the island and if you want privacy and peace away from the crowds on White Beach then these resorts are probably your best choice to stay at. They come with their own private beach and the only other people you see are other hotel guests.

For ourselves, we booked a hotel along White Beach. It’s the convenience of finding restaurants, shopping and entertainment that makes White Beach popular. However, be prepared to put up with touts and vendors who come up to you every few minutes to sell island hopping tours, massages, hair braiding, hats and sunglasses. There was even one property agent trying to sell houses in Boracay to tourists.

White beach 1
White Beach is a long stretch of beach that runs on the west side of Boracay. This is where majority of the visitors hangout.
White beach 4
Running perpendicular to White Beach are small lanes which lead to small markets and the main road. The largest is D’Mall where you can find lots of shops and restaurants.
Flip flop shop
One of the more interesting shops that we found was this one selling flip flops. You could customize your own flip flop design or buy one of their whacky designs.
vendor
The man with many hats. This so reminds me of Edward De Bono’s 6 Thinking hats theory. Vendors like him prowl the promenade along White Beach pestering tourists to buy stuff.

Things to Do

Feast on Fresh Seafood at the Local Market

One of the things to do on an island is to eat seafood, and what better way to do it then to experience it the local way.

Talipapa 1
One of the more ‘local’ things you can do is to go to D’Talipapa market and buy fresh seafood, bring it to the restaurants around the market and get them to cook it for you.
Talipapa 2
D’Talipapa market is quite small, consisting of one block of stalls selling from fresh seafood to dried food.
Talipapa 3
Displayed prices are not cheap as commercialization has taken hold. Everything is up for negotiation though, so sharpen your bargaining skills and be prepared to haggle hard.
Talipapa 4
What’s available and ending up on the dining table. We got our scallops cheap (150 peso for half kg) because our stall keeper got into a bidding war with another stall keeper for our sale. But he probably made his money back from the large clams and tiger prawns.
Talipapa 5
We decided to let this restaurant cook our seafood. No particular reason, just that they had available tables and more shade from the hot weather.
Talipapa 6
Besides the cost of the seafood, you still have to factor in the cost of cooking which ranges from 100-400 peso depending on the weight and cooking method per dish. Again, you can bargain, so don’t feel shy to ask for a discount.

Feed the Fishes Underwater

Maybe you’d like to dive into the ocean but don’t know how to scuba dive and don’t have time to learn. Well, there is helmet diving, where you wear a heavy helmet which is continuously being pumped with fresh air. So you don’t have to learn to breathe through your mouth using a regulator.

We decided to try helmet diving and booked our tour through MyBoracayGuide. They are quite popular with tourists to Boracay and their prices are reasonable. We called them to make the appointment and their guide came to our hotel to fetch us. We took a minivan to a beach on the eastern side of the island and set off from there in a boat to the diving platform.

helmet dive 1
Our boat approaching the diving platform.
helmet dive 2
After a short safety briefing by the diving instructor, we were ready to go underwater. The helmets are really heavy (20+kg), but weigh less than 2kg when underwater and filled with air.
helmet dive 3
As you climb down the ladder and just before submerging into the water, the helmet is placed on your head. A diver then pulls you underwater and makes sure the helmet doesn’t fall off. On the way down you may feel your eardrums starting to hurt because of increasing pressure. Just swallow, yawn or pinch your nose and blow hard to equalize the pressure. There is enough gap between the helmet opening and you to put your hand inside to do that.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Good thing I have my Gopro for underwater shots. They will also take photos and a video of your dive, save it on a CD and send it to your hotel. A good thing if you don’t have underwater cameras.
Helmet dive 5
The diving depth is around 10m and just a couple of artificial reefs for us to gather around. I guess they don’t want tourists standing on real reefs and damaging the corals.
Helmet dive 6
Each group has a diver to accompany us for safety and also take photos of us feeding the fish. Fish food is provided by the diving instructor.

If you have never done scuba diving before but would like to get close and personal with the fishes then this could be something interesting. The dive is around 15 minutes long and you have to sign an indemnity form. If you suffer from high blood pressure, are pregnant or have cardio-vascular conditions, then you are advised not to do this. Likewise, you are also advised not to do this activity if you are going to take a flight the next day. It cost us 1,500 peso each and includes the hotel pickup, boat ride, dive, return to hotel and a CD with photos and a video of the dive.

Island Hopping

One of the more popular activities is the island hopping tour which takes up almost the  whole day. From what I see, we only ‘hop’ onto one other island, while most of the activities are actually centered on Boracay itself.

Island hopping 1
The boat to taking us island hopping. It was a rainy morning when we started.
Island hopping 2
The first activity was snorkeling off White Beach which can be seen in the background. By then the rain had stopped and it was hot and sunny again.
Island hopping 3
After the snorkeling we were off to Puka Beach. The first mate stood at the front of the boat to look out.
Island hopping 4
The next stop was Puka Shell Beach which is on northern end of Boracay.
Island hopping 5
The weather was really hot and the sun burning. We decided to just chill in the deck chairs with a cocktail.
Island hopping 6
Some tourists were having a beach volleyball game on the beach.
Island hopping 7
Chilling out with a coconut shake and watching out boat parked right on the beach. That’s island life for you.

Puka Beach is definitely less crowded than White Beach and not so commercialized. So if you are looking for a rustic beach experience, Puka Beach will probably be a better option to hang out. One of my readers, Paul Fournier from Boracay Compass, has made a guide to Puka Beach and all things Boracay. So if you like to find out more, please click on the link: Boracay Compass.

Island hopping 8
We were off again to our lunch venue after leaving Puka Shell Beach.
Island hopping 9
For our island hopping tour, a buffet lunch was provided. You should check if meals are provided when you book your tour. Cheaper tours may not include meals.
Island hopping 10
Our last stop of the day was Crystal Cove Island. This is a small island next to Boracay and has a resort hotel on it. We had to pay 200 peso to enter the resort portion of the island (which is like 90% of it). Although if you don’t want to pay, you can just hang out on the beach in front.
Island hopping 11
Crystal Cove Island looks volcanic in nature with black basalt rocks forming most of the island. A small trail runs round the island and you can completely walk round the island in 30 minutes.
Island hopping 12
There are several lookout points on the island like this Baywatch tower.
Island hopping 13
One of the highlights of the island is Cove 1 where you descend a narrow stairs into an underwater cave and swim out into the sea here. However, it was so crowded with people trying to squeeze into the cave that we decided to give it a miss.
Island hopping 14
Another lookout point where you can see boats floating in the crystal clear waters above coral reefs.

After the visit to Crystal Cove we headed back to White Beach and we got off the boat onto the beach, walked through the surf and back to our hotel. We paid 1,500 peso per person for the tour and prices are around that range depending on whether you visit more places or lunch is included.

Watch Sunset from White Beach

I must admit that they really keep White Beach clean and free from litter. The sand is fine and powdery with no rocks along the beach. The gentle slope also exposed a lot of beach during low tide and makes it rather safe for children to play here. This is a place where people actually gather in the evenings to watch sunset. And the sunsets here are spectacular.

White beach 2
As the day ends and the sun starts to set. Sailing boats (they are called Paraw locally) line up on White Beach to take visitors out for a sunset sail.
White beach 3
People start gathering on the beach to watch the sunset.
sunset 1
With sunsets like this, you don’t have to go anywhere else.
Sunset 2
After the sun sets, everyone adjourns to the restaurants and pubs along White Beach. This mother and her child still continued to play on the beach.
Sunset 3
Having dinner on the beach while admiring the sunset. That’s island life.
Fire dance 1
There are so many restaurants along White Beach that some of them have live entertainment like these fire dancers to draw the crowds.
Fire dance 2
Sitting in the front row has it’s perils like the risk of having your hair catch on fire.

Sail into the Sunset

If the idea of sailing into the sunset sounds romantic to you then sailboats are available at White Beach for sunset cruises.

Sunset 4
Paraws like this are available for hire. You can book these from the vendors along White Beach promenade or you can just walk along the surf and the boat captains will approach and hassle you to take a cruise on their boat. Cruises near sunset time are more expensive compared to earlier times. For ourselves, we paid 600 peso per person for a sunset cruise, although I think you can bargain even lower if the captain is desperate to fill up his boat before the sun sets.
Sailing 3
Once you paid the captain, it’s time to load up. Customers sit on nets stretched out between the out-rigger booms. You will get wet somewhat as you have to step into the sea to board and get off the boat.
Sailing 1
The boat men had to push the sailboat out to sea from the beach.
Sailing 4
For ourselves, we only needed to sit back, relax, and enjoy the sunset. The cruise itself is around 20 minutes.
sailing 2
Spectacular sun rays which lit up the sky towards the end of our cruise.
Cover photo
A thunderstorm in the distance was blocking the setting sun and forming these spectacular sun rays.
banana boat
Of course if sailing is too slow, then a banana boat ride is a more thrilling option to see the sunset.

Other Things to Do

Besides the activities above, there are other things that visitors can do while in Boracay. These include various sea sports like scuba diving, stand up paddling, para-sailing, jet skiing, ATV riding, zip line, horse riding and visiting Ariel’s Point which is a cliff diving spot on Panay Island. Besides White beach, the rest of Boracay town isn’t much to shout about as roads are quite bad making walking around an unpleasant experience.

Boracay town 2
A view of Boracay streets from the back of a motor tricycle. These vehicles are the main form of public transport on the island.
Boracay town 1
The streets of Boracay from the jetty to White Beach. The poor road conditions makes it difficult to get around and explains why most of the tourists just prefer to hang out at White Beach.

When to Go

So you decided to jump on the next plane after reading this blog and are wondering when would the best time to come here?

Boracay is tropical and like most South East Asian countries has a distinct dry and wet season.

The high season is from November to May. This also coincides with the dry season where rain storms are less and waves are smaller on White Beach. Prices of hotels are also around 30% higher than in low season.

The low season (June to October) is also characterised by more rainy days, strong winds and waves. We went in June which is the low season, although based on the crowds of tourists it didn’t seem any different to me. There were a couple of days with rain but it cleared by mid morning.

6 thoughts on “Boracay

  1. Love the detail in your pics Edwin. What camera did you use to take those shots?

    Cheers, Paul

    P.S. You should be able to fly from Singapore to Caticlan airport soon since that airport is in the process of finishing an upgrade after which it can handle international flights.

    1. Hi Paul,

      Photos were taken with a Canon 5Dmk3. Thank you on the info regarding Caticlan airport. It will save a lot of time if International flights can land there.

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