Some 350km south of Manila, and just off the northeastern tip of Panay, the island of Boracay is famed for picture-perfect 4km White Beach, a wild nightlife scene and activities from scuba diving to kitesurfing, Boracay has something for everyone. It may be only 7km long and 1km wide at its narrowest point, but there are over thirty beaches and coves, and the sunsets are worth the journey in their own right. A short walk along the beach takes you past restaurants serving a veritable United Nations of cuisines, including Greek, Indian, Caribbean, French, Thai and more. The beach is also dotted with interesting little bars and bistros, some of them no more than a few chairs and tables on the beach, others where you can now sit in air-conditioned luxury eating Chateaubriand and smoking Cuban cigars.
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Of course, unchecked development has had its downsides and it can be hard to relax with the constant blare of music on the beach and the hum of tricycles on the island’s main road. The authorities are finally waking up to this and a new bypass will mean that Main Road should soon be one-way. A beach smoking ban has also been enforced, and threats to demolish resorts that have been built without permission may (eventually) come into effect. Many resort owners are aware of how fragile Boracay is and organize beach clean-ups and recycling seminars. Unlike the rest of the country, topless sunbathing is common at Boracay but the authorities are keen to keep the island as a family destination – in 2011 a “sex on the beach” ban was mooted after some Western couples were filmed being over amorous on New Year’s Eve.
Most visitors fall in love with White Beach, but don’t miss Puka Beach on the north coast, which is famous for shiny white seashells called puka. A pleasant way to get there is to hire a bangka on White Beach (P500 one-way), and then take a tricycle back (P150). To the north of White Beach sits the little village of Diniwid with its two-hundred-metre beach, accessible from White Beach on a path carved out of the cliffs. At the end of a steep path over the next hill is the tiny Balinghai Beach, enclosed by walls of rock.
On the northeast side of the island Ilig-Iligan Beach has coves and caves, as well as jungle full of fruit bats. From the beach here a path leads a short way up the hill through the scrub to Bat Cave, which you can climb into and explore. It’s fantastic to be here at dusk when the bats leave the cave in immense flocks.
Diving around Boracay
Boracay’s diving isn’t as varied or extreme as diving in Palawan or Puerto Galera, but there’s still enough to keep everyone happy. The dive sites around the island, all easily accessible by bangka, include gentle drift dives, coral gardens and some deeper dives with a good chance of encounters with sharks. At Crocodile Island, fifteen minutes southeast of Boracay, there’s a shallow reef that drops off to 25m and a number of small canyons where sea snakes gather. Big and Small Laurel are neighbouring islets with some of the best soft coral in the Visayas and shoals of snappers, sweetlips, eels, sea snakes, morays, puffers and boxfish. Probably the star attraction for divers here is Yapak, where you freefall into the big blue, eventually finding at 30m the top of a marine wall where there are batfish, wahoo, tuna, barracuda and cruising grey reef sharks. On Boracay’s northern shore are the Bat Caves, where after a swim through a cave you’ll emerge into an immense cavern inhabited by thousands of fruit bats. The smell is unforgettable. Lapu Wall is a day-trip from Boracay to the northern coast of Panay, but the diving is some of the most challenging in the area, with overhangs and caverns. Another good day-trip is north to Carabao Island, in the province of Romblon, where there are splendid reefs, some peaceful, powdery beaches and one resort if you want to stay overnight.