Often the popular destinations for winter sun are teeming with like-minded sun seekers. Make the trip to the island of Boracay and enjoy your own slice of paradise
So you are the traveller who wants the sun without the crowds, the activities without mile long queues, world renowned massages without the price tag? It sounds unlikely such a place exists, but it does. If you know when to go of course.
Boracay is not a hidden gem anymore, but if you choose to go in November, missing the peak season and the monsoons, it might as well be. Crowds are limited, and the busiest beach on the island is home to only a few sunbathers and swimmers. Sun lounges dot the beach, made of wood and thatched parasols. You won't struggle to get one.
Put simply, Boracay is stunning. Its area is 10.32 square km so most of it is at your disposal. It's big on conservation, with one main road linking the whole of the island, except in the centre near White Beach, where it can get a bit hectic. Nevertheless, you'll be hard pushed to spot a car and the main transport is motorised tricycles. Even the busy centre is only the size of a large village. Buildings are made of wood or other material, no sky scraper interrupts the blue sky, and the hills are carpeted in forest. Tropical beaches dot the coastline, and the sea is like a bath. In other words, it's paradise.
This is the main beach on the island, where all the restaurants, bars and activity takes place. It is also the most beautiful. Award winning and regularly ranked top of the world's best beaches, it's impossible to come to Boracay and not sample its wonders. The beach is sectioned into three Stations, with Stations 1 & 2 being the busiest - this is where you'll find shops and restaurants etc. Station 3 is stunning, peaceful, and an ideal place to stay. You can walk the length of White Beach blissfully, with the sea on one side and the restaurants on the other. No motorised vehicles are allowed here, and you are shaded by the palm trees lining the beach. The sand is as white as you can imagine and as soft as powder. The sea doesn't disappoint, it's as clear as glass and beautifully warm. Once in, it's difficult to get out! There is a definite change of atmosphere as you stroll down the walk to a more intense energy - the closer to Station 1 you go, the busier it gets. This is the hub of the island at night, where you can watch live bands, listen to reggae, and sip cocktails on the beach watching the stars. Station 3 is the quiet part, crowds are virtually non existent, and the tranquillity of it here is breathtaking.
If you are looking for water sports then Boracay is a hot spot. Take a three minute tricycle ride to the other side of the island and you are at the centre for kite boarding and wind surfing. The water here is decidedly choppier than most other beaches, but the beach itself doesn't hold much for the visitor who isn't interested in the sports. Diniwid Beach & Puka Beach are the prettier alternatives. Jet skiing is better done at White Beach, where you can build up good speed on the glassy water.
Where to stay
Staying at Station 3 has to be the recommended option. It's the more peaceful end, and the choice of accommodation is greater. Angol Point Resort is run by conservationist Francis, and is situated on the beach, in a beautiful coconut grove. Accommodation is in a Nipa Hut cottage, with private veranda complete with wooden chairs and a hammock overlooking the beach - words cannot describe waking up to that in the morning. They will also bring you free coffee. It is pretty basic here with no hot water and a fan instead of air con. However the rooms are incredibly spacious that the fan more than suffices, and for the setting and the atmosphere of the place, it's definitely worth it. Prices in the low season are about £20 per night.
If you're on a tight budget, head off the path behind White Beach where you will find hostels and budget accomodation. Many of these are set in pretty little groves and even though the prices are cheaper, they match up to many other hotels on the main stretch of the beach. Right at the back of all of these is Ocean Breeze Inn. Family run, this is perfect for backpackers and families alike. They have one Nipa Hut Cottage in a beautiful garden. The hut is very small, the bathroom about 3' by 7'. However it's clean, with a TV, mosquito net and double bed. If you go be sure to take ear plugs, they have a very rowdy bunch of cockerels next door....and if the hut isn't for you, they also have air conditioned rooms in the guesthouse, these are larger, although the bathroom may have to be shared. Prices in the Nipa Hut are around £12 a night, with the guesthouse £15-20.
Nightlife and places to eat
You will never be short of places to go in the evening on the island of Boracay. Head to Station 1 & 2 for the most choice. You'll see plenty of All-You-Can-Eat beach BBQs which look brilliant - but don't be fooled, the food isn't great quality, much of it has been standing for hours and fish that isn't eaten is often covered up for the next day.
Nigi Nigi Noo Noos 'e' Noo Noo Noos - is not only the best named restaurant on the island, it houses the best burger. Freshly home made, with delicious chips and a side of salad, you can't leave Boracay without sampling it! They have a range of everything from fruit platters to Thai Curry and make pizzas to order. Great service here too, and the location couldn't get any better, with stunning views over the ocean.
Blue Mango is another great restaurant, situated further out than most at Station 3 it's definitely worth going. Owned by an American vet from Boston, this place is the only one we found on the island that will take chicken off the bone for you. Their dessert of Monkey Madness (a chocolate crepe filled with sliced banana, chocolate sauce and peanut butter, topped with ice cream) will certainly test those stomach muscles!
For a great breakfast Casa Pillar is the place to go. It's cheap, yet the food is hearty and will set you up for a day of lazing on the beach just fine. They have breakfasts from all around the world, including, yes, a full English. Again, fantastic views and outside seating.
Many of these places double up as bars to drink on a fine evening, with nearly all of them housing outside seating areas to relax on the beach. Boracay Regency Hotel hosts a live band every night. Called The Boss they are an incredible five piece, playing virtually any song you throw at them. Definitely worth a visit to see them, even if you just sit on the beach and listen. Watch out for the guitarist's solo.
What to do
Hiring a sailing boat and going island hopping to deserted islands which would be otherwise inaccessible is a must. With no power but that of the wind, the ride is peaceful, gentle and surprisingly quick. There is also no pollution from an engine. Often included on such trips is snorkelling - the island is surrounded by a reef and offers beautiful swimming and a vast array of sea life.
You will be inundated with sailors offering deals and bargains for their sail boat. Just be careful, these men are often working on commission for a big cheese on the mainland and prices aren't the cheapest. One company who don't hassle you are Red Pirates (www.facebook.com/pages/Red-Pirates-Pub/22699597376). Situated on S3 they are amazing value for a fantastic service. They can take you wherever you want to go; island hopping, snorkelling, sunset sailing, and if you ask nicely they'll cook you a private BBQ on your own deserted beach. The guys are funny and friendly, and are officially the coolest sailors on the island. Don't forget to have a drink in their bar. Prices for 2 adults sailing comes in at around £6 per hour. Not bad.
Diving is one of the many reasons why people come to Boracay. As mentioned above, it's surrounded by a reef and it knows how to do diving. More than 20 PADI diving centres dot the beach, providing basic Discover Scuba tasters, to open water diving, night diving, channel drifting and full PADI qualification courses. Some of the sea life you can expect to see include lionfish, puffers, butterfly fish, lobsters, white tip and reef sharks. Go to www.boracaydiver.com for detailed information about the different dive spots and the levels required.
If all that sailing and diving has worn you out, a massage is a must. Try and grab one of the women wandering the beach offering massages at cheap prices, and relax outdoors under the setting sun, having your troubles soothed away.
Flights from the UK with Cathay Pacific, flying in the middle of November cost around £460 return. For those flying from the UK you will have to transfer at Hong Kong. From there you will land in Manila and need to get a connecting flight to Caticlan where there is a boat to the island. I would suggest staying one night in Manila before going to Caticlan to re-adjust after the long flight. The Pan Pacific Hotel Manila is a beautiful place. 5* luxury for peanuts, the rooms are huge, with breakfast served either in the restaurant or in your room. Just what you need after a long flight. A double superior room costs about £74. When booking your internal flight, contact SE air who fly direct to Caticlan in about an hour for about £70-100. www.flyseair.com. The boat to Boracay costs the equivalent of £1-2.