Boracay, small though it is, has something to meet every traveler's need and budget in terms of accommodation. Just as in any city of the world, there are inexpensive, no-frills, basically furnished lodgings in which to lay down your head, as well as expensive, high-class, air-conditioned suites complete with all modern amenities. Your choice of accommodation will depend on three factors: your budget, the length of time you plan to stay, and the level of comfort you are willing to pay for.
On Boracay, you will find accommodations for the well-heeled yuppie and the budget-conscious backpacker, with plenty of choices in between. Under the first category fall Fridays, Le Soleil, The Greenhouse, Boracay Regency Beach Resort and Club Panoly Resort. Budget travelers can find homey and comfortable quarters at such places as Sunshine Place, Mika's Place and Bans Beach Resort, while the "in-between" crowd will feel very much at ease at Red Coconut Resort, Lorenzo Main, Club Ten Beach Resort, Pink Patio Resort, Boracay Gold Crowne Club and others.
Hotel prices in Boracay vary according to season, promotional packages, mode of payment and location. Most prices at the higher end of the spectrum tend to be quoted in U.S. dollars, while those at the lower end are invariably quoted in Philippine pesos.
As far as accommodations are concerned, there are three seasons. One is the super peak season of Christmas, New Year and Holy Week, when hotel rates are at their highest. At these times, reservations will almost certainly be necessary for the more sought-after establishments. The second is the high season of October through May, exclusive of the above dates, when the weather is at its best and tourism to the island is very popular among Filipinos and foreign visitors alike. The period of June through September, when the island is sometimes lashed by storms, comprises the low season. (Actually, this is not a bad time at all to go. Some establishments close down, but most stay open, cutting their tariffs by up to 50 percent to attract guests.)
Accommodation charges also vary according to whether they are published rates, walk-in prices, or special promotional packages available through the Internet, from travel agents and sometimes direct from the resorts. A popular deal is three days/two nights with airfare, airport transfers and breakfasts included. This will save you money over paying on a day-by-day basis, in which case you would be charged the published seasonal price. A "walk-in" price is basically what you can get through bargaining or asking for a discount for a specified length of stay when you walk into an establishment. In the low season, you might find some really good bargains, though you should not count on it. So as not to waste time scouting around for accommodations, most people book theirs through travel agents before setting foot on the island.
Location is all important, with those establishments within proximity of famed White Beach charging premium prices—Willy's Beach Resort, Boracay Royal Park Hotel, Pearl of the Pacific, White House Beach Resort, Sea Wind Resort and so forth. Other locations boast their own pluses, such as Club Panoly Resort, which has its own private beach, and Mountain Resort, which affords a panoramic view of the island and the surrounding sea, as well as fresh mountain air. Banana Beach Guest House offers you the option of staying in a fully furnished house, attended by a staff of three.
When paying for hotels where credit cards are accepted, be forewarned that a service charge of six percent or more is added, presumably as payment for the convenience. You will also find that most hotels add 10 percent service charge plus 10 percent government tax to your bill.
A final word on hotels before you go: Consider whether you would really want air conditioning, cable television, or a room mini-bar. After all you are on a tropical island communing with nature, and there are plenty of nice, comfortable rooms with a ceiling or floor fan. In fact, some hotels (for example, Nigi Nigi Nu Noos "e" Nu Nu Noos) feature rooms without telephone and television as a matter of policy so as to enhance the feeling of "getting away from it all." Jony's Beach Resort, on the other hand, is set amidst palm trees and greenery that give it an atmosphere of privacy.
Whichever hotel you finally decide on, you need not worry too much about check-in and check-out times. Hotel managers allow their guests a certain amount of flexibility in this respect, knowing that visitors to Boracay come and go according to flight schedules.
Virtually all visitors to Boracay come for only one experience the sea, sand and sun. This, after all, is what Boracay is all about. You would be very ill advised if you came here in search of history, art or culture. The truth of the matter is that Boracay does not have much of a history. There are neither grand old buildings to admire for architecture nor flea markets to browse for antiques. Until only a couple of decades ago, Boracay was nothing more than just a scattering of fishing villages. The typical local house is a bamboo-and-nipa hut that can barely withstand a strong typhoon, let alone the passage of time.
To get a glimpse of how local folk lived, and still live, a ride to Manoc-Manoc Beach will take you past one of the island's earliest settlements. Another place where you can get a taste of local life is the Cockfighting Arena, though you should be prepared for some bloody scenes that would offend an animal lover. A fire in 2005 destroyed the large talipapa, or flea market, but smaller markets selling everything from food to tourist souvenirs have since sprung up around the main drags, albeit without the full ambiance of the old one.
The onset of tourism changed Boracay completely. As word of its exceptional beauty--specifically the immaculate white sands of White Beach spread, tourists began arriving, first in dribbles and then in droves. Suddenly, from a sleepy, sparsely populated island, Boracay was transformed into a major destination on the international travel circuit. Whether the change was for the better or worse is an open question, but it was certainly a turning point in the "history" of the island.
The first foreigners to discover Boracay were backpackers budget travelers who required nothing more than a place to rest for the night after exploring the island's unspoilt grandeur by day. The early forms of accommodation were rudimentary. A mattress on the bamboo floor of a native-style hut was considered a "luxury." There were no such niceties as hot and cold showers, televisions, telephones, or even restaurants. Electricity did not come to the island until the early 1990s. Until then, candles and kerosene lamps provided the only man-made light under the glittering stars or the brilliant tropical moon.
For some reason these first visitors were mostly European, particularly Swiss and Germans. This was so true that for a while Boracay was jokingly referred to as a canton of Switzerland. Even now there is a conspicuous Swiss/German presence that can readily be seen in such places as the Swiss Inn Restaurant & Bar and Bavarian House. The owner of Mango-Ray Resort is one of several Swiss citizens who opted to settle on the island.
Today the foreign community comprises a truly multinational collection of British, French, Belgian, Austrian, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Australian and American nationals, in addition to the aforementioned Swiss and Germans. One of the earliest Western-style establishments to go up was, in fact, a British import the English Bakery. Here you can enjoy traditional English tea (or breakfast), accompanied by such English specialties as muffins and scones. Cocomangas Shooter Bar, a drinking "institution" closely identified with Boracay's nightlife, is owned by an American.
As the number of tourists increased, it became obvious that modern accommodations were needed. Thus did more sophisticated versions of the traditional bamboo-and-nipa hut sprout to welcome the influx of visitors. One of the earliest to rise near White Beach was the Red Coconut Resort. Somewhat later, hotels constructed of concrete, such as Willy's Beach Resort and Pearl of the Pacific, appeared on the scene.
Interestingly many of these places were built by members or branches of one family--the Tirols who owned much of the land along the beach. The Sea Wind Resort is owned by a Tirol, as are many others, and stands next to the Gloria & Robert Tirol Heritage Museum, where you can see a small display about Boracay's past, along with some antique Philippine and Chinese ceramics excavated from old graves. (If you are interested in indigenous art, the Center for Art Creativity and Consciousness is also worth a visit.)
How was Boracay discovered by international travelers? The answer to that question is largely conjecture, but some say a visiting movie crew was the first to come back with tales about the island's natural splendor. Others say it was a rave review in a German traveler's book that piqued people's curiosity. The fact is that Boracay today is visited by roughly 100,000 tourists every year, making it one of the Philippines' premier tourist destinations. Given the fact that the island is just some seven kilometers long and three kilometers wide, that is a quite considerable number.
The old magic of being "lost" in a tropical island paradise may be gone forever, but in its place you now have the convenience of modern amenities. Some hotels, such as Fridays, Lorenzo South and Roman Palace, boast rooms that are world-class in standards. Still, even with the coming of modernity, Boracay remains a place of surpassing beauty. It certainly can continue laying claim to the title of "the world's most beautiful tropical island."
A mecca for wining, dining and partying, as well as for a full range of outdoor activities, Boracay is perhaps the Philippines' premier entertainment center outside Manila.
While most people come to this tropical island to simply relax and commune with nature, there is plenty to occupy those who would rather do more than just sit in or out of the shade. The island is dotted with some 10 different beaches, all within reasonable commuting distance of the main tourist area. The most famous of these is White Beach, which is largely the reason why most people come to the island in the first place. This four-kilometer stretch of powdery white sand on the western shoreline is a favorite spot for swimming, strolling or just hanging out. All sorts of marine sports are available here, such as snorkeling and scuba diving. Many of the island's 20 or so dive shops are located nearby. Outlets such as Calypso Diving School (PADI), Victory Divers and Aquarius Diving offer a wide variety of programs, from half-day courses to full PADI diver certification. Some, like Fisheye Dive Safari, also organize outings to explore undersea coral, or longer trips in search of sunken galleons from days gone by.
If you like sailing, Boracay is certainly the place for you. You can sail around the island by yourself or with some excellent local boatmen as crew. A trip around the island will take you about three hours in a paraw (a native wooden sailboat with outriggers), but budget for a longer time, especially if you wish to stop off at some of the more interesting places along the way. Most people circumnavigate the island in a clockwise direction, so Puka Beach makes a good stopping-off point.
Hobbie cats, modern sailing craft based on the design of a catamaran, are available by the hour--as are jet skis, water skis, speedboats and banana boats--from Tommy's Sea Sports. A banana boat is an inflatable towed at high speed through the water. The object is to stay aloft without being thrown off as the craft twists and turns. This ride seems to be particularly popular with girls. Windsurfing can be enjoyed on both sides of the island, depending on which season the wind blows best. Sunset cruises are available from some of the resorts, and from time to time a parasail can be seen plying through the sky.
If your daytime entertainment preference leans more toward land-based operations, there is tennis at Lorenzo Main Tennis Court and Tirol and Tirol Tennis Club, golf at Fairways & Bluewater, horseback riding at Boracay Horse Riding Stables, bowling at the town's "bowlodrome," and, of course, beach volleyball. You may also rent a motorbike or mountain bike to roam the island and explore its scenic beauty. There is certainly plenty to see: The Bat Caves, Dead Forest and Mount Luho are main destinations, but you can make equally interesting trips to lesser-known places. For a look at local history and culture, visit the Gloria & Roberto Tirol Heritage Museum or the Shell Museum overlooking Ilig-Iligan Beach. There are also intra-island extreme sports such as trekking and "canyoning" (rappelling down a canyon) under the supervision of Panay Canyoning Tours.
A favorite late-afternoon occupation is to stroll along White Beach Path and check out your fellow travelers. The local markets, scattered about since the main Talipapa market burnt down, are full of people browsing the local shops. Boracay lamps, colorful bags, accessories and native handicrafts can all be found here. You might even want to drop in for a body tattoo at Noel's Tattoo Studio.
Head for the beach as twilight descends. It is an opportune time to cool off with a sundowner. Watch the last scarlet and crimson rays of the tropical sun from a favorite venue. Wahine Beach Bar is one place that readily comes to mind. Many of the establishments along the beach have happy hour, which offers patrons free seconds of beers and selected local cocktails. Salut! Or, as the locals say, Mabuhay!
After dinner, you might want to look into one of the many Internet cafés on the island--Inso Internet Café and Alice in Wonderland Internet Café, to name but two--to check your e-mail or just surf the Net. Or you could go for a stroll and drop by one of the island's many bars; try listening to the mellow sounds at Bom Bom. As the night wears on, the younger crowd usually makes for the discos like Beachcomber Bar & Disco, or the rowdier bars like Summer Place Bar & Restaurant, where loud techno music is played. Now is the time to dance the night away under the stars!
Dawn brings out the early birds in this tropical island paradise, some jogging along the beach. But the late-night revelers still have a ways to go before they find their promise of another day!