It’s known as the most idyllic island in the Philippines, home to white sand beaches, crystal clear waters and beautiful resorts. However, in the time since we visited Boracay in January last year, the Philippines government pulled an extremely bold moved and actually CLOSED the island for 6 months last year from April to October. Yep, closed. No visitors were allowed to arrive for 6 whole months while the little island underwent a clean up and make-over.
Over-tourism, a poor drainage and sewerage system and an abundance of littering had left the little island of Boracay struggling, with some hotels draining waste into the ocean and rubbish being piled up in the middle of the island. Not really what you think of when you picture this beautiful honeymoon hot spot, is it?!
It would be remiss of us to write a post about Boracay without mentioning it’s recent issues and closure, so in an attempt to educate anyone planning on travelling to Boracay here’s everything you need to know about the new rules, and what to expect when you arrive.
In this post:
Where is Boracay?
Boracay is a small island in the middle of the Philippines, located in the West Visayas Region which is part of the Aklan province. The island follows the Philippine Standard Time Zone – GMT + 8. It is one of the most popular places to visit in the Philippines, with thousands of people visiting the island each year.
Getting to Boracay
There is no direct flights onto the island of Boracay, so the main airport for this island is Caticlan Airport (MPH) which is located on the neighbouring Panay Island. Direct flights to Caticlan Aiport fly from Manila (with Cebu Pacific, AirAsia, Philippine Airlines and SkyJet), Cebu (with Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines) and Palawan (with Air SWIFT and Air Juan).
From Caticlan Airport you’ll then need to get a lift to Caticlan Jetty Port where you take a 10-20 minute boat ride to the island, before getting another ride to your hotel. By far the easiest way to organise this is through the hotel you’re staying at on Boracay Island. They can organise a painless transfer for you that will pick you up at the airport and take you right to your hotel without having to worry about anything else.
Where to stay in Boracay
As part of the new rules, it’s important to note that your hotel stay on Boracay must be booked and confirmed before you can access the island. You won’t be able to arrive without a booking anymore.
Since Boracay’s closure last year, every single hotel on the island needs to be approved and deemed compliant of the new rules in order to be able to book guests to stay. When you arrive at the Caticlan Jetty Port you will be asked to show your hotel reservation in order to confirm you are booked at an approved hotel.
You will then be issued with a special tourist ID to ensure compliance of the new rules and a hotel voucher. It’s all getting very technical now isn’t it!
At the time of writing this post there were 339 properties on Boracay Island that had been approved and passed their compliance tests, so there’s still a lot of options to choose from! You can find a complete list of hotels that are approved on My Boracay Guide. It’s a good idea to check in regularly with the approved list if you’re planning your trip, as they are regularly updated with more hotels being approved.
Understanding the Stations in Boracay
The main area to stay in Boracay is along White Beach, where there are three different sections known as Station 1, Station 2 and Station 3. Many travel agents and guidebooks place a pretty big emphasis on the difference between the three stations, but to be honest, we didn’t really notice that much of a distinction, especially between stations 1 and 2.
Station 1 is meant to be the nicest area to stay along White Beach, with the most perfect white sand, beautiful clear water and the most luxurious of the hotels that you can find around the island. You’re definitely more likely to pay more if you’re staying in Station 1, just for the location.
However, for a better deal it’s a good idea to check out Station 2. Situated right next to Station 1, this part of White Beach is still beautiful and the hotels and beach clubs along this part of the beach are still great! There are often lots of discounts available for resorts in Station 2, so you might be able to get a great discount for your stay as well.
Further along the beach, Station 3 is where you will find more of the backpackers hostels and budget accommodation. It’s a little bit more of a hectic area to stay, with lots of the transport boats and ferries coming in around this area and lots of the water sports happening right off the beach here. Great area for super cheap accommodation but probably a little less relaxing.
Checking in: The Ambassador in Paradise
During our visit to Boracay we stayed at the Ambassador in Paradise, which is included on the approved list of properties you can now book. We had a lovely stay, with the staff at the hotel making an extra fuss because it was Thom’s birthday while we were there, surprising us with cake after dinner and a decorated room!
The hotel itself was in a great location, right in the middle of the main beach, with a restaurant right on the sand. It is within walking distance of the local market and heaps of good restaurants, bars and cafes to eat, drink and enjoy a relaxing holiday. It’s also within easy walking distance of the hub of water sports. If there’s anything you’ve ever thought about trying before, from kite surfing to helmet diving, this is the place to try it.
Boracay’s recent issues
When we visited Boracay last January we could see that the island was struggling. There was constant flooding after rain, issues with sewerage and rubbish everywhere in the middle of the island. Yet if you just stayed on the beautiful white sand beach you would never have known any of the struggles that were going on.
However, this pretty little island was actually under even more stress than we realised, and in April last year it was closed by the Philippines government for 6 months due to the effects of over-tourism and the island’s incredibly underdeveloped sewerage system. Many properties did not even have a discharge permit, with some just running waste directly into the sea. I mean, gross right.
The 6 months when the island was closed was a time for repair, restoration and a complete clean up. Police and soldiers were actually positioned at entry points to turn tourists away who refused to change their travel plans and tried to visit anyway.
In October last year, Boracay re-opened for business, being signed off as ‘very clean’ and safe for swimming again according to the government’s Environment Secretary. The beaches have been completely cleaned, restoring the island’s former glory of white sands and crystal clear waters.
However, with the re-opening of the island came a new set of rules and regulations that are to be followed by anyone travelling to Boracay.
Boracay’s new rules for visitors
To make sure the same situation doesn’t happen again on Boracay, and so that the island remains the picture perfect paradise that it always has been, there are a few new rules that visitors to the island must follow during their stay.
+ Only 6,000 visitors are permitted on Boracay at one time, down from the previous 19,000 to give the island a chance to get back into the swing of things.
+ Travellers must book into an accredited hotel that has had its sewerage system signed off by the government and show their government-approved hotel booking on arrival to the island.
+ There are no parties to be held on the beach, and drinking alcohol, umbrellas, deckchairs and beach beds have also been banned.
+ Additionally, pets and single use plastics (including plastic cups, water bottles and straws) are banned, grilling meat is no longer allowed on the beach, and visitors are not allowed to litter or vomit in public (really, hopefully no one had that as a bucket list goal anyway!).
+ There are no fireworks after 9pm anymore, casinos are not permitted to operate on the island and water sports are only allowed in the correct zone.
+ And for the cherry on the cake and maybe the most unbelievable of all the new rules, there is to be no building of unregulated sandcastles. Yep, that’s right, all sandcastles and structures built out of sand are subject to official approval. So be careful before you pull out your bucket and spade.
Things to do on Boracay
Although the new rules might seem a little bit extreme, there is still plenty of fun to be had on Boracay, and it is still one of the top destinations around the Philippines.
Enjoy an abundance of water sports
The tiny island of Boracay offers just about every water sport or activity you could image. From snorkelling and scuba diving, to jet-skiing, windsurfing, parasailing and helmet diving, they absolutely have it all.
We actually tried helmet diving for the first time in Boracay and it was great fun! I generally have a pretty difficult time with water activities like snorkelling (asthma and sinus issues give me enough trouble breathing above water, let alone while submerged), but helmet diving was completely different.
The helmets didn’t feel heavy at all once you were at the bottom of the ocean and I felt free to breath easily and explore the reefs around us! It’s incredible how those helmets work, because it really seems like there’s nothing stopping the water from getting inside, but it absolutely does not – it’s a great way to try snorkelling if you’re nervous about it.
Head to the D*Mall for all your shopping
Boracay really isn’t a place to head if you’re hoping for lots of shopping, but it does have the D*Mall, which might just curb some of those cravings. The D*Mall is a bit of a random mixture of cute boutique stores, mixed in with pharmacies, bargain stores, chain restaurants and even the local grocery store.
The mall is located along the White Beach at Station 2 and is really the best place to start if you need to buy something or you’re hoping to pick up a souvenir or two. It’s all outdoors and can be quite nice on a sunny day, although the crowds can be pretty big – especially around lunch time.
Adjacent to the D*Mall is the D*Mall Wet Market – where you can find all kinds of fresh produce, organic fruit and vegetables and a huge fish market. A great place to visit if you’re planning to cook a lot of your own meals while you’re on the island.
Rent a scooter to explore the island
Get off the beaten track and explore a little more of the local side of the island by scooter. The whole island of Boracay is pretty easy to navigate and if you’re confidant on a scooter it’s a great way to explore.
Head away from the White Beach to find secluded beach spots, beautiful views over the ocean and a look into more of the local way of life.
Head out on a couple of day trips
Unfortunately, we had some pretty terrible weather while we were visiting Boracay. It rained heavily two and a half out of three days, the road conditions were horrific, with giant puddles blocking huge portions of the road and limiting where we could visit. Disappointingly, we couldn’t get out to explore as many of the hidden hot spots that I would have liked, but that doesn’t mean you can’t!
Some of the top places in Boracay to take a day trip out to include –
Ariel’s Point – on the western edge of Buruanga, towards the northern tip of Panay Island, Ariel’s Point is about a 40 minute speedboat ride from Boracay. It’s a beautiful hidden little paradise, offering cliff jumping, water sports and a wonderfully idyllic place to spend the day.
Crystal Cove – only a 10 minute boat ride from Boracay, Crystal Cove is it’s own private inlet and offers some of the best snorkelling in the area. Cave exploring and trekking are also super popular for visitors to Crystal Cove.
Crocodile Island – shaped just like a crocodile, this little island is only a few hundred meters off Tambisaan Port along the southeast coast of Boracay. It’s home to a huge amount of marine life and is another great spot for snorkelling and scuba diving.
Experience life as a mermaid
A huge highlight for many visitors to Boracay is their infamous Mermaid Academy, where you can pop on a shimmery mermaid tail and spend a few hours living life under the sea. While there are lots of places around the world where you can try out being a mermaid now, the academy in Boracay was the first of it’s kind, with people from all around the world wanting to try out life as a mermaid for a while.
The classes are actually conducted by a IMSIA Certified Mermaid Swimming Instructor (who had any idea you could actually get qualified to be a mermaid teacher) and include a tail fitting, mermaid swimming lesson, how to care for your tail and a directed photoshoot, giving you the ultimate Insta shots to take home with you.
There are actually a few Mermaid Academy’s around the Philippines now, including one on Cebu Island. Check out there website here to find out more information.
Check out Willy’s Rock
You can’t miss Willy’s Rock. Sitting in the ocean, right out the front of Willy’s Beach Club Hotel, this strange rock formation has become a little bit of a landmark and a highlight for visitors coming to Boracay.
On top of the rocks there is a statue of the Virgin Mary that has been carved into the volcanic rock that make up this little attraction. It’s a popular spot with visitors and even the local Catholics, and it can attract quite large crowds at different times of the day. There is a small staircase that can take you up to the top of the rocks, but trying to get a moment up there by yourself is a lite of a challenge.
Whether you’re a religious person or not, it’s still a lovely and quite interesting site to check out while you’re walking along the beach.
Details for visiting Boracay
For most visitors to the Philippines, visas are not required for stays of less than 30 days as long as you have a minimum 6 months validity on your passport and an onward ticket to your next destination. This includes visitors holding passports from Australia, New Zealand, USA and the UK.
You can check whether you require a visa on the Philippine Embassy website. Just scroll down and select your passport country for all the details.
Most hotels on Boracay offer wifi, although many of them have an extra charge to be able to access it in your hotel room – make sure you check out the details before you make your booking if you really need wifi in your room.
We generally didn’t have any trouble finding wifi around Boracay. Most restaurants and beach bars would offer wifi when you’re dining in, just ask your waitress for the password. If you need to stay connected, it’s not hard around the island.
We’d love to visit Boracay again since the clean up and all these new rules have come in. Although some of them might seem a little bit extreme (like their ban on unauthorised sand castles), I believe they will truly help this little island paradise from falling into the same over-tourism issues they’ve faced before.
If it’s your first visit to the island, make sure you respect what they have gone through over the last year or so, and follow their rules and guidelines as best you can. It’s the only way to keep Boracay open to visitors and a beautiful place for everyone to experience.
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