One of the first things you face when you get off the “Banca” (a wooden, double-armed outrigger boat) onto the tiny port built on the beach at BORACAY is an old, off-white, rusted-through sign, imploring visitors to be “honest and trust-worthy”.
So to take this quaint island motto to heart, I’m telling you truthfully, for a quick time-out tropical escape, it took such an effort to get here, I initially thought it might not be worth it.
A snap street poll of the most popular and prolific paradise island holiday spots, probably wouldn’t place Boracay higher up the list than say the Maldives, Fiji, Phuket, Hawaii or Vanuatu and it’s not a relative of Tahiti’s Bora Bora. For the island-uninitiated like me, it is a small, yet stunningly beautiful bit of beach 3 kilometres south of Manila.
To get there, you need to travel to the Philippines, then fly in a small, usually-single prop plane to Caticlan, then take a Banca and intersperse those modes of transport with taxi’s, mini-vans and shuttles.
Only 20 minutes after arriving and only seconds after unlocking the door to our beachfront villa, slipping off our shoes, looking out onto the Greek Island blue and white colours of the sand, sea and sky just meters from our door, any last lingering memories of an arduous trip were instantly blurred.
My husband and I, on a quick 8 day getaway from our 5 lovely daughters (who are all the more lovelier once we’ve gotaway) decided on Boracay at the last minute.
We wanted to go somewhere tropical, relaxing, beautiful, relatively inexpensive and close enough to keep the travelling time from Australia to a minimum. Koh Samui, Samoa, Fiji, even Honolulu were considered, but as we also wanted to visit a location neither of us had been before.
An old colleague, who in an earlier career was a travel agent, suggested this unknown-to-me island.
Again, being honest I’m glad he ignored the brief of “keep travel time to a minimum” or we might not have had all our other pre-requisites filled to over-flowing and I now know that Boracay regularly makes international travel lists as one of the top ten beaches of the world.
And little wonder.
We stayed at “Fridays”, just one of the multitude of resorts that line the 4km long, appropriately named “White Beach” on the western side of the dog-boned shaped island. Ranging from the affordable to the affluent, the accommodation offerings will fit any budgets requests and requirements, but all have one key component in common: the location. Absolute beachfront!
Most of the restaurants, bars, night-life, dive-centres and general tourism-related businesses are found along the mid-section of this snow-white sandy strip, known as Boat Station 2. It’s easy to stop for a snack or a drink as you walk along the beach to this central visitors area, from station areas 1 or 3 at either end of the island.
At night the beach is well-lit but still with a hue of romanticism, so sometimes it’s hard to make it past the first drink as you sit, toes crinkling in the soft sand, attentive staff bringing you happy-hour priced drinks for as long as you want and watch the sun set brilliantly in a blaze of pinks and reds, over the seemingly close horizon.
And let me tell you the sunsets are as comparably spectacular to the top ten sunsets of the world. (I’m sure there is such a list)
If you do make it to Boat Station 2, you’ll find food offerings for every taste from Thai to Italian to Greek to Mexican: some authentic.
If we successfully made the meander in the mornings, we liked “The Lemon”, which offers fresh fruits and yoghurts and muesli for breakfast to interesting salad combinations for lunch.
For dinners it was hard to go past the many resorts’ beach buffets enticing you with seafood and chicken cooked to your liking, coupled with the local slant on potatoes and salad. Like the afore-mentioned cocktails, you can eat your meal with your feet in the sand and the stars sparkling above.
But forget coffee anytime of the day.
A pot-stop at any of the many bars at Boat Station 2 for a drink is worth it, just for fun. My hubby had a Mojito and I, a Margarita at the “Boom Boom” bar, which truly did put a fair bit of boom into it’s beverages, and we ended up sampling quite a few others I now can’t recall.
We both couldn’t though, quite come to stopping at the “Hobbit Bar”, which is staffed entirely by little people. It seemed very popular however, with the dwarf-sized manager on a stool at the entrance, cajoling as many tourists into his establishment as possible, using his small stature and his sense of humour.
We opted for a couple of early nights back in the resort as well.
Our villa was clean, spacious, romantic and perfectly located on the northern end of the powder white sandy beach and the staff friendly and helpful. The resort itself was a little tired, but not to an extent that you’d mind and with your days spent soaking up all that the outside had to offer it didn’t matter. It was tropical, beautiful, relaxing and not over-the-top expensive.
The shopping was typical of many south-east asian holiday destinations. Hawkers willing to flog “genuine” fake pearls found in waters off Boracay, sarongs, brand copies of watches and T-shirts. The air-conditioned stores were stocked with what you’d expect and there were some bargains, but I was happy to slowly browse and barter.
And so it went…A daily pattern of swimming, reading, sipping cocktails, eating fresh salads, sailing and relaxing.
That is until the cyclone hit.
Well it wasn’t really a cyclone but Boracay is at the mercy of tropical storms anytime of the year. They are more prevalent in our cooler months of June to September, but no matter the month they almost always arrive quicker than the Bancas.
One day we were under our favourite resort umbrella the next our favourite umbrella was under water.
First thoughts were that our paradise holiday had been ruined, and how do you make it out of here in a Banca in such weather but it eventuated that the mini-storm made our Boracay experience even better. Truthfully.
It’s not often on a small and short-stay island holiday you take the time to explore the backlots or sticky-beak into the spots where the locals live.
So while the staff at Fridays spent 2 days sandbagging and securing their resort we put our shoes back on and roamed around the rest of the island. We hired pedicabs to take us into the inner and outer parts, where most tourists don’t venture, had a beer with the locals, who weren’t fishing due to the rough weather, walked to the other side of the island called Bulabog Beach, which is more well known for windsurfing and kiteboarding (therefore not for those who are into relaxing) and watched the local children playing. It truly made the break more remarkable and much more memorable.
And just as we had resigned ourselves to exploring more of the bars of Boracay, the storm surrendered. We reclaimed our umbrella, the sun and colours came out even more vibrantly than before, and the relaxing and the romance began again in earnest.
I don’t think we even cared that we had to get back in a Banca. Honestly.